War. Famine. Pestilence. Death - Part 2  

Posted by Big Gav

Six months have passed since I first introduced the peak oil portfolio, so I figure its time to have a look and see how its been going.

The same disclaimers as last time applies - this isn't investment advice, I'm not a financial adviser and don't ever invest based on the rantings of strangers on the internet, particularly pseudonymous ones !

Bearing in mind that over this period, the oil price has dropped from around US$68 to US$66 (negative for this portfolio), while the A$ has declined from 75 cents to 71 cents (positive) and the ASX has risen from 4600 to 5100 (positive), here's how things are looking:

Oil Search (OSH)2520$3.92$9,878
Woodside (WPL)280$44.15$12,362
BHP (BHP)445$27.60$12,282
Alinta (ALN)865$11.03$9,540
Origin (ORG)1355$7.27$9,850
Worley Parsons (WOR)965$18.72$18,064
Centennial Coal (CEY)1980$3.81$7,544
ROC Oil (ROC)3570$3.24$11,566
GRD (GRD)1755$2.24$3,931
TAP Oil (TAP)1690$2.23$3,768
Paladin (PDN)2200$5.04$11,088
Solco (SOO)16,665$0.25$4,166
Aust Renewable Fuels (ARW)3185$1.83$5,828
Karoon (KAR)2560$1.63$4,172
Compass Resources (CMR)3155$2.14$6,751
Downer EDI (DOW)820$8.80$7,216

By way of comparison:
WTI$68 (approx)$66-3.00%
WTI (adjusted to A$)$91 (approx)$932.00%
ASX 2004600510011.00%

While I've beaten both the index and the oil price over that 6 months, I must admit to feeling like an abject underperformer when I look at the stellar performance of a lot of energy related stocks - particularly recently listed uranium miners at the dodgy end of the market like Toro Energy, up 500% over the past week.

A lot of the recent uranium miner action (which has also affected the larger players like ERA and Paladin) has been driven by Chinese interest in acquiring or developing Australian mines.
China began its mission to become a nuclear power in 1951, when it signed a secret deal with Russia under the guise of developing clean nuclear energy. But half a century later its voracious energy needs mean it is actually focusing on developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

China's energy self-sufficiency ended in 1993, when it was forced to become a net importer of oil to meet the demands of its surging economic growth, and although it is the world's second-largest consumer of oil after the US, its fuel of necessity is coal. It is the world's biggest producer and biggest consumer of coal, but the environmental degradation resulting from its reliance on freely polluting coal, much of it brown coal with a high sulfur content, is unsustainable.

China is estimated to have 70,000 tonnes of economically recoverable uranium - more than enough for its military purposes, but insufficient to meet its energy demands. Of Australia's existing three uranium mines, South Australia's Olympic Dam alone has known reserves of 1.5 million tonnes.

It is believed that domestic supplies of about 750 tonnes a year, mainly from the several mines in Gansu province, meet about half of China's demand. China has discovered deposits in many provinces but many of these remain undeveloped due to technology constraints and expense.

The rising uranium price has probably helped fuel the stockmarket rise too - as north american miners seem to be behaving the same way, though some commentators are warning this bubble is going to burst.
Summit Resources, one of the more advanced explorers, has gone from 27c 11 months ago to $1.41 yesterday. It is now capitalised at $265 million - even though the Labor Government in Queensland where it is based is the nation's most obdurate in banning yellowcake production.

The one Australian company that is developing a mine, Paladin Resources, has still to come into production in Namibia, but is now capitalised at an extraordinary $2.37 billion.

Even if the much hyped Chinese investment flows into our uranium industry, the money from Beijing will be talking to BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, which - unlike most of the stocks in the eye of the speculative storm - have substantial undeveloped uranium resources here and exploration data to back them up.

Enthusiasts pointed to the rising uranium price and the growing world shortage of uranium, but analysts said any of the new explorers were four or five years away from production - at best. Uranium at $US40.50 a pound is no use to a company that is still drilling its first holes.

Analysts who specialise in junior resources stocks were yesterday unanimous in warning that investors are heading for a fall by pumping up uranium stocks. Fat Prophets's Gavin Wendt called the speculative wave "ridiculous". Far East Capital's Warwick Grigor blasted investors as being "naive". Stock Resource analyst Steve Bartrop called one of the recent listings and market darling Toro Energy "overpriced grassroots exploration".

Another category 4/5 cyclone is passing over Australia today, with Glenda disrupting oil and gas production in the North West, but apparently not causing any major damage to facilities at Karratha as far as I can tell.

ETRM notes that investment banks like Credit Suisse Group and Lehman Brothers and piling into energy trading, after "witnessing the billions of dollars that competitors at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley have made as Wall Street’s two top commodities players". The same post points to an article about Africa's impending fate as another victim of the curse of oil (my spin, not theirs). They also note the UK energy regulator is predicting further energy price rises ahead.

Jeff Vail has a post evaluating different oil investment stategies (following on from his recent look at the dearly departed M3 measure of monetary growth). While I do like reading Jeff's economic analysis I must admit I miss his more theoretical posts like "The closing of the map" and "The logic of collapse".
A Note on Using Oil Vehicles as a Hedge:

Beyond “investing” in oil (which is, itself, a debatable label—more accurately it is “speculation”), it is also possible to use the above vehicles as a hedge against rising oil prices. Briefly, a hedge in oil will offset the increased cost incurred by each of us as oil prices rise. For example, if one personally plans to use $1000 in oil each of the next 5 years at current prices, then by investing $5000 in the oil ETF you will lock in that cost for the next 5 years. So if oil doubles in price, your cost to use the same amount of oil will also double, but you will recoup that added expense through profit on your oil ETF. Roughly, this is what Southwest Airlines has done (they are hedged through 2010), and is why they remain the only profitable airline. An oil option is the most efficient hedge mechanism because it requires tying up less money to hedge against a given quantity of oil usage, without incurring the risk of losing more than you paid for the option. Such a hedge is valid against several potential future problems: the decrease in suburban home values, the cost of commuting, the cost of home heating and electricity, potential losses in index mutual funds, possible hyper-inflation, potential downturn in the economy leading to unemployment, etc. However, calculating exactly how to hedge for each of our individualized risk-sets can be challenging and imprecise.

While the proposed Iranian oil bourse may have disappeared from view (FTW had some detailed commentary for subscribers recently - and no, I'm not amongst them), but the confrontation over their nuclear plans is still lurking in the background, with a 30 day deadline being imposed by he UN security council for Iran to "comply with demands that it abandon uranium enrichment activities".

In local news, the Rodent and Lord Downer of Baghdad are complaining about Indonesian propaganda directed against them over due to rising tension over West Papua. Some sections of the Indonesian population seem to think Australia intends to break up the Indonesian federation. While this isn't official policy, I guess a tinfoil analyst could point to East Timor and some of our policies towards Papua (more from the morality driven side of politics rather than the Liberals) and suggest that they could be right (especially given the rather rich load of natural resources enjoyed by these regions in particular). Personally I think Australia always should have opposed Indonesia's seizure of East Timor and West Papua, so tough luck to the Indonesian nationalists and good luck to the Papuan separatists. But I suspect any Australian policy will be driven by our interest in resources rather than doing the right thing by the local inhabitants.

On a big brotherish note I see new surveillence powers have been passed into law here with barely a murmur from anyone. A mostly benign police state is still a police state, unfortunately. Talk of controls on the usage of these powers tends to bring to mind the law limiting intercepts in the US that Bush is flagrantly ignoring.

But hey - at least we're not in Iraq.

And finally, there was a call for revolution today - a green revolution. Before any spookier types of reader get upset, I should note that the would be revolutionary is Tony Blair (looking rather unhealthy lately), who is still trying to balance out the bad historical karma he will endure for invading Iraq with lots of rhetoric about dealing with global warming before it is too late.
Tony Blair has called for a "technological revolution comparable to the internet" to slow global warming.

Speaking in New Zealand, he said it was important to develop machines which produced fewer emissions, while maintaining economic growth. Mr Blair promised to push for an international framework to supersede the Kyoto Protocol when it expires.

The speech came after the government admitted it was unlikely to meet its target for cutting greenhouse gases.

The Party of Fiction  

Posted by Big Gav

The Nation has an article on global warming policy making by the party of fiction (or whatever you'd like to call institutionalised reality avoidance).

It's bad enough that science has taken a back seat to politics under the Bush Administration, but even more disturbing is the way some GOP lawmakers are trying to make science out of fiction.

Senate Environmental Committee chair James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who famously described global warming as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," turned to science fiction writer Michael Crichton for expert opinion during a set of hearings on climate change in late 2005.

Then, as the New York Times recently learned, President Bush invited Crichton to speak to a private audience at the White House last year about his techno-thriller State of Fear, in which a group of eco-terrorists undertake a phony global warming scheme to earn government grants. Someone who attended the event said President Bush and his guest "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement."

If that wasn't enough to prove Crichton's science is sketchy at best, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists saw fit to give Crichton its 2006 Journalism Award, despite the book's appearance on the New York Times list of best fiction sellers. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration tries to muzzle real scientists, like James Hansen of NASA, who have spent their lives researching the threat of climate change and are telling us that earth is approaching a point of no return.

Politicians, however, can't be given all of the blame. In his new book The Winds of Change, journalist and author Eugene Linden describes the media's coverage of climate change as "timid and fitful," focusing too much of its effort on the dissenting opinion, despite the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community.


This dramatic shift among members of Bush's traditional base is significant, but public awareness will remain largely unchanged as long as the media continues to tell the same old "on the one hand, on the other" narrative on climate change.

"It speaks volumes that I was on The Daily Show," Linden said. "To get the message out, I go on a Comedy Central fake news show with a fake news anchor in order to talk about real things. It's kind of sad, but it's true."

But The Daily Show is a place for those serious about climate change to connect with the crucial demographic of 25- to 34-year-olds, who are tuned in to the realities of climate change.

At the risk of exceeding my tinfoil quota for the month, I liked this section of a post on RI today - in the same way that global warming activists are now reduced to going on comedy shows to raise awareness (which is itself a symptom of the phenomenon that to get real news you now need to watch a comedy show - which is a hallmark of a society in a state of political atrophy), some political analysis now gets done under the guise of tinfoil. Now while there is plenty of tinfoil that is largely deranged or just a low grade form of propaganda, I like the better quality stuff because it makes you think about how much truth (if any) there is in what is being theorised - which is how you should think about all the information you receive.
Whatever it is we do that gets labelled "conspiracy theory" needs to be interdisciplinary, because power, which is our real subject, is itself boundary-defying. Politics, we know, is a category of insufficent weight to account for the rulers of this world. "Deep Politics" is better, though while the depth may be right, the breadth is too narrow. Wherever there are means to power there will be attempts made by the already powerful to restrict access, reclassify knowledge and extend their own authority by secrecy and disinformation.

Energy Bulletin has posted a John Quiggin article from Crooked Timber on peak oil and how the real problem isn't that we don't have sufficient hydocarbons - its that we have too many. While I think he ignores the EROEI issue at the end of the day I'm tending to believe we are more likely to cook ourselves than we are to run out of fossil fuels - a lot of peak oil analysis seems to assume we won't take certain courses of action because of the environmental consequences - in spite of all historical evidence to the contrary. Which is why its better to push clean energy alternatives than it is to simply believe collapse is coming.
Suppose though, that availabilty of oil is going to decline to levels far below those of today. The question is, so what? A decline in the availability of oil would have a significant impact on various activities, but the availability and relative price of different goods change all the time. The increase in the cost of health care, for example, is much more significant than anything that has happened to oil or is likely to happen. Where do the Peak Oil crowed get their predictions of disaster?

The trick in the argument is to equate oil with fossil fuels in general. This is plausible enough for natural gas, which commonly occurs in the same places as oil, and is also in fairly limited supply. But the elephant in the corner in these arguments is coal. The US has enough easily accessible coal to supply hundreds of years of consumption at current rates, and the same is true of the rest of the world.

The Salon article mentions coal only a couple of times in passing. Yet coal and coal-fired electricity already compete directly with oil in all major uses except personal transport. If current oil prices are sustained for long, we can expect to see electricity displacing oil in home heating, and electrification of rail transport at the expense of diesel, reversing the trend of recent decades when diesel has been cheap. This is already happening.

As for cars, there are at least three well-established ways in which they could be fuelled by coal. First, there are electric cars. Second, there is coal liquefication, used on a large scale by South Africa in the sanctions period. Third, gasification could be used to replace liquid petroleum gas. All of these options have problems, but none are insurmountable given a high enough price; they might be competitive if oil stays above $60 a barrel long enough, and they would certainly be competitive at $150/barrel. Then there are more exotic options, like fuel cells using coal-based methanol.

The real problem with fossil fuels is not that we have too little but that we have too much. If we keep on burning them at current rates, we’ll cause highly damaging climate change. If we burned enough coal to run seriously short, we’d risk setting off a runaway greenhouse effect and making the planet uninhabitable. If Peak Oil is coming, it’s probably a good thing.

One final note on that - the "peak oil is good" concept is the same one noted by Thom Hartmann and Noam Chomsky.

To close, here's one more cyclone created wave photo - at Bronte, from the guys at AquaBumps. According to the Manly Hydrological survey wave height peaked at 8 metres.

The River Of Gold  

Posted by Big Gav

Tonights episode of Foreign Correspondent had a couple of interesting reports - one on the aftermath of Sudan's civil war, including the largely Chinese driven oil exploration gold rush. The other report was on "Iraq's Missing Millions" and the river of gold flowing out of the country (unfortunately most of the transcript isn't online, at least not while I'm writing this). I believe that this episode will be viewed in retrospect as the largest frenzy of pillaging (both of Iraq and the US Treasury) in history.

While the dollar cost of the war in Iraq is still being counted, it’s estimated that about $US50 billion has already been directed to private contractors, most of them American, to rebuild and secure the country.

But auditors say that vast amounts are unaccounted for. The BBC’s Peter Marshall has been investigating startling allegations of cronyism, contracts and war profiteers. “It was the most blatant disregard for the procurement regulations I have ever seen,” says Bunny Greenhouse, a Contracting Officer in the US Army.

The report examines the remarkable story of one company, Custer Battles, who won a contract for $US17m to provide security for an airport. They demanded, and received, $US2m upfront, in cash. They were unable to do the job, but were paid the full amount in any case. A senior US official tells Marshall that Custer Battles were “opportunistic, aggressive, and took advantage of a chaotic situation to make a lot of money.” The company is now being sued for $US10m, for fraud.

According to Marshall, one contract for repairs to a cement factory was awarded to a US contractor for $US50 million. They were unable to carry it out, so the same job was eventually done by an Iraqi company for $US80,000.

Marshall says that the Houston oil and gas company Halliburton has cornered more than half of Iraq’s reconstruction work. The US Vice President, Dick Cheney, was Chief Executive of Halliburton for five years, immediately before becoming V-P. One $US2.4 billion contract – to restore Iraqi oil wells – was awarded to Halliburton without any competition. Auditors say the company overcharged by $US200 million, but they don’t have to pay it back.

Meanwhile Bunny Greenhouse, who first blew the whistle on the contract, has been demoted.

Past Peak has an excellent post linking together a number of commentaries on the situation in Iraq, and concludes with the same message that I occasionally try to deliver from my soapbox here (and I wish that more people understood the linkages):
In its latest Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon stopped talking about a war on terror. Instead, they're talking about "the long war". They're not kidding.

It's all one big Gordian Knot: Iraq, peak oil, global warming. We need to understand that and not forget it. If we don't deal with energy, we will be stuck with war and catastrophic climate change. It's all one problem.

Past Peak also has a great post on the propaganda system. While on the one hand this sort of thing always makes me grimly acknowledge Orwell's ability to describe the world he lived in in an elliptical way, I can't help but be impressed at how the system has evolved.
Americans are naive. We're brought up to believe that we've got a free news media, we've got real representative politics, and so on. The game may be rigged in other countries, but not here. So, we know that the NSA listens to every scrap of electronic communications overseas, but we take it on faith that they don't listen to communications here in the US. But then it turns out they do.

We know also that the CIA is skilled in manipulating the news media overseas. We know they manipulate other countries' political processes, funding this candidate, smearing that one, bolstering a regime here, creating chaos there. But we take it on faith that they don't apply those skills internally. Why? If they believe the national security is at stake, why wouldn't they conclude it is their duty to bring to bear every tool at their disposal?

Actually, we don't have to guess. In 1977, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame wrote an article for Rolling Stone that exposed the fact that hundreds of American journalists, including some of the biggest names in news, had secretly carried out assignments on behalf of the CIA
The recent cyclone actvity here has had a couple of positive side effects - quite a lot of rain and some big surf - surfers may be one group who appreciate global warming.

Mobjectivist has an update on UK oil depletion, which includes some excellent graphs of the production profile, segmented on a field by field basis. This sort of graph is a great way of illustrating peak oil, even for the few remaining regions that haven't peaked - to believe otherwise you would have to believe that we will always find more fields...

Mobjectivist also points to the tale of some wingnut blogger who has been outed for plagiarism and nominates Noam Chomsky as his replacement at the Washington Post. The blue voice also comments on the topic, and points to Billmon's latest epic.
A couple of years ago, I published an op-ed in the LA Times on the Selling of the Blogosphere -- for which I received an enormous amount of shit, much of it from bloggers (such as Michelle Malkin) who were most aggressively peddling their talents, such as they are, in the media marketplace, even as they decried the influence of the evil MSM.

Although much of what I wrote then turned out to be unadulterated myopia, one of my predictions looks rather spot on now:
What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise. In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers — those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy — is gaining larger audiences and greater influence.

This is not the product of some inherent hierarchical tendency of the blogosphere, which has proven to be a hell of a lot more fluid than I expected -- i.e. you're only as good, or as important, as your last post. But the eagerness of the corporate media to roll out the red carpet for the rhetorical bomb throwers of the right has been every bit as impressive as I expected, and then some -- to the point, as others have already noted, where it's getting hard to find a major conservative blogger who doesn't have some sort of MSM gig or affiliation, and/or isn't constantly being shoved down the optic nerves of the cable TV news audience.

Maybe this is just the flip side of the '60s radical chic memoralized by Tom Wolfe -- when the liberal establishment of the day tried to make kissy face with Weathermen and Black Panthers. Maybe pasty-faced Young Republicans in bow ties really are the new black. But it feels a lot more calculated and cynical, not to mention mutually exploitative. The liberal mavens who feted Angela Davis and Huey Newton were powerful -- or at least privileged -- people who felt vaguely guilty about being powerful and privileged. The corporate suits now opening the journalistic doors to the propagandists of the authoritarian right are powerful and privileged people who hope that appeasing the blogswarm will help them remain powerful and privileged -- or at least avoid the fate of Eason Jordan and Dan Rather. This, as I (and many others) have already noted, bears a striking resemblance to a successful protection racket.

The Minnesota Daily has an article on "Peak oil and failing mass media" which asks how we can solve a problem most people don't know exists ?
nitially, I had planned on writing my final column in this series on the politics of the oil industry. However, after observing the ongoing neglect of peak oil in the media for the past few weeks, it occurred to me that our nation’s complacency in addressing our energy crisis might have less to do with the corruption of our elected officials than the tight control of information exercised by today’s mega media conglomerations.

Corporate media’s failure to report on the urgent discussions now under way among government agencies and petroleum geologists concerning our energy situation has left the American public dangerously oblivious.

The facts are not in question: Reports commissioned by the U. S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have warned that the days of cheap energy rapidly are drawing to a close. Global oil production is poised to decline sharply in the next two decades — if not sooner — leading to steep and irreversible energy price hikes. The permanent loss of inexpensive petroleum will pave the way for an economic crash unparalleled in U.S. history.

The mass media remain silent.

Where were the national media when an internal report from Mexico’s state-owned oil company was leaked last month, disclosing that Mexico’s super-giant Cantarell Oil Field — the world’s second-biggest reserve — recently passed its peak and now is facing significant production declines? Considering that Mexico is the second-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, one would expect this kind of revelation to spark discussion and widespread trepidation. Hardly a word was spoken.

Heritage seeds are a topic which I tend to view fondly, although the sad state of the lone Kentia Palm on my balcony would attest to the fact that I'm no gardener. "A Crack In The Pavement" has a post on heritage seed resources.

The Energy Blog has a post noting that the cost of wind-generated electricity for consumers is now less that of electricity from conventional sources in some markets - which is a trend I see continuing as oil and gas depletion proceed and uranium starts to become a hot commodity

WorldChanging's weekly roundup of sustainable transportation news is always a good summary of whats happening.
One of the most powerful cyclones to hit Australia in decades blasted ashore near Cairns, Queensland, with winds of up to 290 km/hr (180 mph). Larry flattened sugarcane fields and banana crops, ripped roofs off houses and uprooted trees in a 300km-wide swath (186 miles). The area is the heart of Australia’s banana industry and also accounts for 25% of Australia’s sugar cane production.

In the US, Accuweather forecast that the northeast US coast could be the target of a major hurricane, perhaps as early as this season. The forecast suggests that in terms of number of storms, the 2006 hurricane season will be more active than normal, but less active than last summer’s historic storm season.

Researchers at Georgia Tech applied a new methodology to the analysis of global hurricane data and concluded that the increasing trend in the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes for the period 1970 to 2004 is directly linked to the trend in rising sea surface temperatures (SST).

A set of papers published in the 24 March issue of Science suggests that the ice sheets covering both the Arctic and Antarctic could melt more quickly than expected this century.

A study published in the 14 March online early edition of New Phytologist suggests that rising levels of ozone starting at the Earth’s surface (tropospheric ozone) could reduce soybean harvests.

A new study released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlights that human exposure to increased pollutant concentrations due to traffic in densely populated urban areas remains high.

Oil production from Alaska’s North Slope oil fields is declining faster than expected. State officials have admitted they have been too optimistic in their production forecasts, and produced a new, more conservative estimate.

Chevron reported that its combined oil and natural gas production for January and February in the US increased 5%, driven by the on-going restoration of storm-related shut-in volumes in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). However, the company stated that combined international liquids and natural gas production—which accounts for about two-third of Chevron’s upstream output—declined 4%.

Collapsists may be alarmed to read a report on MSNBC that the World Bank is warning of a new Great Depression this year - the story itself is on Hamas' budgetary difficulties - has anyone seen any other references to the bank's report ?
If you think you have a lousy job, meet Omar Abdel-Razeq. Last week the soft-spoken economist was named as Hamas's choice to be the Palestinian Authority's next Finance minister. The 48-year-old professor happened to be in an Israeli jail when his Islamist colleagues won an absolute majority in the Palestinian Parliament two months ago. And as he sat in his cell, Abdel-Razeq recalls, he found himself hoping he might stay there until after Hamas had finished forming its cabinet.

No such luck. Released a week ago, Abdel-Razeq says he hasn't yet had time to sift through the World Bank's dire projections for 2006, warning of an economic downturn equivalent to the Great Depression.

I haven't been paying attention to events in South America in recent months, though I did note with some cynicism moves in Paraguay last year as it became clear that the spread of Bolivarianism was likely to encompass Bolivia and its natural gas reserves.
Other challenges to this leftist shift are posed by the US government and multinational corporations. The US military has set up a base in Paraguay , 200 kilometers from the border with Bolivia. Hundreds of troops are reportedly stationed there. Analysts in Bolivia and Paraguay who I've spoken with believe the troops are there to monitor the Morales administration, leftist groups in the region and to keep an eye on Bolivia's gas reserves (which are the second largest in Latin America) and the Guarani Aquifer which is one of the biggest water reserves in the hemisphere.

Apparently the US military base in Paraguay is now open (according to Bellaciao anyway). The subject of the Guarani water aquifer always seems to get raised along with Bolivian gas reserves whenever this subject is commented on (which is rarely and usually in way out to the left outlets) which has me somewhat baffled - the US isn't known for seizing control of foreign water resources and I'm not entirely sure what good it would do them unless you have some particularly apocalyptic vision of the future in mind. Anyway - this tale of a Moonie colonisation of the aquifer region was thrown into the mix, for what its worth (it claims they are planning to create an "ecological paradise").

The topic of Bolivia popped up (elsewhere ?) in the tinfoil world last week, with RI posting about a bizarre incident where a (seemingly crazed) american was arrested after bombing one or more hotels (it also explains the rain of frogs scene in the movie "Magnolia" for those who were confused by it).

On the subject of tinfoil I must admit that 911 conspiracy theories do seem to be increasingly popular, with over 80% of respondents to a recent CNN poll agreeing with Charlie Sheen that "the U.S. government covered up the real events of the 9/11 attacks".

I guess Osama bin Laden might be able to shed some light on "what really happened" if anyone actually bothered to catch him. Apparently he used to be a keen Arsenal fan when he lived in London, so perhaps they should try searching the now seat-covered terraces at Highbury (assuming he manages to sneak in now he's banned, which might be difficult for a tall, bearded dude trailing a dialysis machine).
In his 2001 book Bin Laden: Behind The Mask Of Terror, author Adam Robinson claims that bin Laden became a fanatical supporter of the north London giants in the 1990s, when he was living in England. He was apparently on the terraces when the Gunners reached the final of the 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup, and even bought a replica shirt for his eldest son. On hearing the reports in 2001, Arsenal promptly banned the terrorist for life from the club.

Via a recommendation from the intrepid Tim of Suburbia, I recently watched the 911 conspiracy documentary "Loose Change", which is quite well done (though I have no way of telling which parts are true and which are just fantasy) - I especially liked the voiceover for the first part, featuring a Hunter S Thompson interview on Australian radio. It had some interesting historical references in there as well, including one picture of a B-52 crashing into the Empire State Building in 1945 (which was actually a B-25 - the filmmaker is claiming dyslexia though it seems) - which didn't cause the building a great deal of harm.

While I'm on the topic of history, when I was doing some research on world war 1 a while back I came across the story of the Czech Legion, which is quite intriguing (and probably would make the basis of a good movie - I vaguely recall reading somewhere thay actually managed to keep hold of one car of bullion and founded a major Prague bank with the loot after the war - one more example of a river of gold).
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Bolshevik government concluded the separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and it was agreed between the Bolsheviks and the corps to evacuate the Czechs and Slovaks to France to join the Czechoslovak corps and continue fighting there. Because the European front was blocked by German and Austrian armies, the evacuation was to be done by a detour via Siberia, the Pacific port of Vladivostok and the USA.

The slow evacuation by the Trans-Siberian railway was exacerbated by transportation shortages – as agreed to by the Brest-Litovsk treaty, the Bolsheviks were at the same time returning German, Austrian and Hungarian POWs from Siberia back home. In May 1918 the Czechs and Slovaks stopped a Hungarian train at Chelyabinsk and shot a soldier who had apparently thrown something at their train. The local Bolshevik government arrested the Czech and Slovak culprits and to free them their comrades had to storm the railway station and subsequently occupied the whole city.

Some time later Leon Trotsky, the then People's Commissar of War, ordered the disarming of the Legion. As a result, the Legion took over a considerable area around the railway just east of Volga River, in the process capturing eight train cars of gold bullion from the Imperial reserve in Kazan. After that, the Bolsheviks had to negotiate a new deal – gold for the free passage home (1920). Eventually, most of the Legion was evacuated via Vladivostok, but some part joined the anti-Bolshevik army of Admiral Kolchak.

To close, I'll quote some Virgil, which caught my eye because it mentioned Janus - the god of the West.
There was a sacred custom in Latium, Land of the West, which the Alban Cities continuously observed, and Rome, supreme in all the world, observes today when Romans first stir Mars to engage battle, alike if they prepare to launch war's miseries with might and main on Getae, Hyrcanians, or Arabs, or to journey to India, in the track of dawn, and to bid the Parthians hand our standards back. There are twin Gates of War, for by that name men call them; and they are hallowed by men's awe and the dread presence of heartless Mars. A hundred bars of bronze, and iron's tough, everlasting strength, close them, and Janus, never moving from that threshold, is their guard. When the senators have irrevocably decided for battle, the consul himself, a figure conspicuous in Quirine toga of State and Gabine cincture, unbolts these gates, and their hinge-posts groan; it is he who calls the fighting forth, then the rest of their manhood follows, and the bronze horns, in hoarse assent, add their breath.

[Virgil, Aeneid, 7.601-615 ]

On Controversy  

Posted by Big Gav

Doonesbury investigates, via the Washington Post.


Posted by Big Gav

Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series looked at some themes common to the peak oil world - the end of empire and collapse (as well as the flip side of my favourite topic of propaganda - psychohistory). It seems Isaac also considered the idea of peak oil itself when he was a youngster (PDF) - via Energy Bulletin.

I read that [science fiction story "The Man Who Awoke"] when I was thirteen. I started thinking. I didn't think in syllogisms then, but I now realize as I look back on it that it amounted to a syllogism:

Major premise: The Earth's volume is finite.
Minor premise: The total volume of coal and oil on the Earth is less than the total volume of the Earth.
Conclusion: The volume of coal and oil is finite.

You would think this was so obvious! Now, let's start and make this conclusion the major premise of the next syllogism.

Major premise: The volume of coal and oil is finite.
Minor premise: We are burning some every day.
Conclusion: We will use it all up eventually.

Well I got that in 1933.

The FCNP continue their series on peak oil with a look at the military and peak oil (a common theme in recent weeks). Some of the points made don't sound that disimilar to those considered in the tinfoil world in recent years (though the spin is a lot different of course) - we may all start to see a lot more military intervention in internal affairs than is healthy in a democracy.
Among the largest consumers of energy in the world is the US Department of Defense (DoD). It uses about 4 percent of the fuel consumed in the US . Planes, ships, tanks, trucks, bases— the list of uses for oil, coal, natural gas and electricity the US defense establishment has discovered in the last century is endless. However, for an organization that prides itself on planning and more planning, DoD has, until recently, been silent about just how they are going to get along when the oil starts running low. They have had an "Assured Fuels Initiative" going since 2001 seeking to encourage US industry to produce liquid fuel from domestic coal, but little else is readily evident.

Last week, however, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett brought a DoD-sponsored report to the world's attention during one of those late night special orders speeches on peak oil he has been giving recently. It seems that somebody in the Army Engineers' Research and Development Center is charged with worrying about how to keep all those Army bases running in the decades ahead. That person must have heard energy might be getting a little tight, so a study was commissioned on “ Energy Trends and Their Implications for US Army Installations.” Last September the study came in and, believe it or not, the contractor reported, with all the appropriate citations, that not only is peak oil imminent, but that the Army better get onto this right now. The report concludes with a lot of sensible recommendations about conservation and renewables.

One report, however, does not change an institution the size of DoD. It is doubtful that, prior to last week, more than a handful of people had read it and still fewer had grasped its import. You have to start somewhere, so just examining the problems of keeping bases running with diminished energy supplies is as good a place as any. While this report and the Assured Fuels Initiative are a beginning, they do not seriously address the potential consequences of peak oil or the role DoD will have to play in the coming crisis.


Nobody knows what American society, or others, would look like after a few years of declining oil and natural gas supplies, but there are a number of books out there predicting very bad things. If even a fraction of these come to pass, America, and of course, most other countries, are going to need some very solid, well-disciplined institutions to get us through the decades between the age of plentiful oil and whatever is to follow. If, as many believe, there will be much social disorder, then there may develop a need for DoD help in insuring the domestic tranquility.

For DoD, we are talking about a very big paradigm shift. Throughout history, armed forces have existed to insure the security of their political entity either by offensive or defensive action or simply by deterrence. This may be about to change.

Some believe the first of the "oil depletion wars" already have begun and are predicting that we shall see more of these as governments struggle to get a share (fair or not) of whatever oil is left.

ENergy Bulletin points to a pair of articles on Saudi Arabia - Michael Klare considering "what if" Saudi Arabia has less oil than is commonly imagine (the evil twin of my old theory - what if Iraq has a lot more oil than we imagine) and another on the Saudi connection to the breakfast you'll be eating tomorrow morning.

Neal at Cleantech has a report on Kleiner Perkins' plans for investing in green technology. Interestingly KPCB have already invested in ultracapacitors (a possible foundation of the smart grid, via EEStor) and thin film solar cells (via Miasole).
Cleantech IX is in full swing at the Marriott in San Francisco this week. The largest turnout yet. Among the best received speakers were John Doerr and John Denniston of Kleiner Perkins. Kleiner Perkins, one of the best known players in venture capital, recently announced that they would be spending $100 mm on cleantech investments of their new funds. I don't usually blog on other people's thoughts, but theirs were certainly well received, and worth repeating, as well as informative summaries of why Kleiner is interested in investing in Cleantech, and what they are looking for. They described three core global problems driving their interest in Cleantech (or green technologies, as their press quotes have described it):

* Oil Addiction
* Urbanization
* Climate Change

And called for joint efforts of private sector and policy to solve them. As part of this high level discussion, they gave a big plug to author and journalist Thomas Friedman (whose books I heartily endorse), quoting his statement "Green is the New Red, White, & Blue", and referring to a recent OpEd piece he wrote (I haven't read it yet) on 6 threats to national security that our oil addition has caused. The ones they mentioned 1) When the US exports dollars to "unaccountable" countries in return for oil, we risk those dollars coming back to haunt us, 2) Rises in oil prices impact poor countries more than rich ones, and provide recruiting fields for terrorists, 3) Globalization amplifies these risks, and 4) We are in a new flat world where we compete for oil with developing nations, too.

I liked Neal's closing piece on successful management teams - having seen plenty of mercenary managers in my time (and probably just one genuine missionary, though a few others probably thought they were), I'd have to say that their analysis seems spot on. Personally, I've always been entirely mercenary I'm afraid, even during my one stint with a real missionary, and I think I'm starting to pay the price for it - though bizarrely, I'm soon to spend a day working on a sustainable inner city farm run by a homeless group, courtesy of my present client, who seem a bit unusual for a corporate behemoth (I can't imagine too many companies pay consultants to go and do that sort of thing).
One other theme that I found interesting in their speech, they said that after the tech bust happened, the partners at Kleiner sat back and tried make sense of why some internet deals survived post boom and others failed, and what lessons they could learn. Their conclusion, the key ingredient for success (and lesson to be learned) was in the values and culture of the management team. They referred to it as businesses with missionary vs. mercenary management teams. According to them Missionary vs. Mercenary means:

* Driven by passion vs. driven
* Strategic vs. opportunistic
* Whole life plan in work/life balance vs. "deferred life plan"
* Concerned about the big idea vs. concerned about the pitch or the deal
* Looking at the long-run vs. looking at the short-run
* Obsesses with customers vs. obsessed with competitors
* Meritocracy focused culture vs. Founder focused culture
* Focused on the mission statement vs. the financial statement

Values count. Even in venture capital.

Past Peak has one of those tales which always make me shudder at the hypocrisy of the likes of Bush when they talk about being in favour of free markets (when in actual fact they simply seek to enable cartels of well connected corporation to act in anti-competitive ways - so long as these cartels support the party). In this case the soviet style bureaucracy that governs US agriculture has deemed testing for mad cow disease to be forbidden to meat producers who want to guarantee the quality of their product.
This is one of those stories that's so outrageous it just leaves you sputtering. Just to be clear, Creekstone wanted to do extra testing, not replace the USDA's testing. And it wanted to do the extra testing on its own dime. It wanted to respond to a market need. It wanted to produce a safer product.

Four companies — Tyson, Smithfield, Swift & Co., and Excel Corp. — control 80 percent of US meatpacking. Government "regulators," the White House, and much of the Congress dance to their tune. Who's looking out for consumers? Nobody.

Whenever big business and their hired guns in government start mouthing platitudes about competition and the free market, remember this story. And put your hand on your wallet.

Syndey Peak Oil organiser Dave Lankshear is stepping down to concentrate on some other interests after putting in a lot of good work over the past year or two. Ian and Rowan are now running the show...

WorldChanging has a look at which US cities are the most Oil Crisis-Ready (which is no doubt a relative term - I'm sure most cities aren't ready for a real oil crisis at all).
WorldChanging friends SustainLane today announced the initial results of a study of the fifty largest cities in the United States, ranked on the basis of readiness to respond to an extended oil crisis. SustainLane revealed the top ten cities today, and will provide the full ranking next month. In June, they will present a longer study of overall sustainability rankings of the same set of cities (we covered their list of most sustainable cities last year).

The top ten cities are: New York; Boston; San Francisco; Chicago; Philadelphia; Portland; Honolulu; Seattle; Baltimore; and Oakland.

TreeHugger has an an interview with green architect Rick Cook.
Of the many rising stars in the field of green architecture, Richard Cook is arguably the brightest. He has a theoretical rigor and passion for sustainability on par with William McDonough. He has the design ingenuity of Frank Gehry. So it’s not surprising that Cook is quickly making his name known among the vanguard of 21st century architects.

In 2003, Cook joined forces with Bob Fox, one of the original pioneers of green architecture who designed the ultra-glamorous Conde Nast building in Manhattan’s 4 Times Square -- the first skyscraper in the country to incorporate green-design elements and rooftop solar panels. Known as Cook + Fox, their firm is now constructing one of the world’s most ambitious sustainable building projects: A 54-story tower of glass and steel at One Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. It will include high-performance green elements ranging from copious natural lighting and waterless urinals to on-site electricity generation and laser sensors that turn off lights and appliances when not in use.


LIME: Describe your vision for an urban utopia in the future -- say, 2050.

COOK: Using the word “utopia” is always scary, since these visions of the future never seem to work out as intended. But going forward, for the sake of the future, we must attack the way we build our environment and address CO2 emissions from buildings and the potential catastrophic impact of carbon loading in our atmosphere. I believe we must strive for net-zero CO2 buildings that will be healthier, happier places to live and work.

I think we will make great strides in energy use and developing renewable strategies, but the real key is CO2. In transforming how we think about buildings and architecture, we’ll start to see buildings that listen to nature, and learn to coexist with and even restore the natural environment. This is what biomimicry means, to learn from nature rather than thinking of ways to deny our place in it. It’s the only way we can have a long term, sustainable future.

To close, a reflection from Warren at TreeHugger on the passing away of a 255 year old tortoise in India. The creature was apparently given to General Clive as a pet when it was young - who would have guessed that it would outlive the British Empire by over 50 years back then ?
Aeons ago I read an interview with a person of significance (whose name alas escapes me), in which he was asked a question that went along the lines of, “If there was one thing you could do to improve the health of the planet, what would it be?” His answer was: make it so humans lived to see 500 years pass. He reasoned that we commit so many environmental blunders mostly due to our own short-sightedness, thus creating mess for following generation to try and clean up. If we lived long enough to be faced with the consequences of our actions, he argued, we’d make more responsible decisions. Was reminded of this thought, with news that one of world’s oldest known animals has just died. A favourite at the Kolkata zoo in India for the past 131 years, ‘Adwaitya’ (The Only One) was thought to have been born between 1705 and 1755. His real age will now be determined via carbon dating. What choices would you make ... if you knew you going to be around for 250 years?

The Bullroarer  

Posted by Big Gav

I seem to be running ever shorter of time lately, so tonight is mostly just links...

It seems to be heretics week this week so I'll start with Bill Moyers' declaration that this is a time for heresy. As usual, he has all sorts of good stuff in there, including bullroarers and an Economist article I've quoted occasionally here over the past yar or so.

Pain comes with freedom – it’s just the deal. The little gods don’t want you to grow, learn, think for yourself. But you have to test their truth claims against your own life’s experience – against your own faith and reason. To cross over to freedom you have to show the bogus gods at the border that you have a mind of your own.

It’s fascinating what is revealed to you. Joseph Campbell told me a story (also recently recounted by Davidson Loehr) about the Australian tribe that used the bullroarer to keep people in awe of the gods. The bullroarer is a long flat board with notches, or slits, at one end, and a rope at the other. When you swing it around your head, the action produces a musical humming. The sound struck the primitive tribes as other-worldly, causing them to tremble in fear that the gods were angry. So the elders would go into the forest and come back with word of what it would take to placate the gods. And the people would oblige.

Now when a young boy in the tribe was ready to become a man, a ritual took place. Wearing masks, the elders would kidnap him and take him into the woods, tie him down, and with a flint knife slice the underside of his penis. It was painful, but the medicine man said this is how you became a man.

It meant shedding one’s innocence. At the end of the ritual one of the masked men dipped the bullroarer in the boy’s blood and thrust it in his face, simultaneously removing his mask so the boy could see it’s not a god at all – it’s just one of the old guys. And the medicine man would whisper, “We make the noises.”

Ah, yes – it’s not the gods after all. It’s just the old guys – Uncle George, Uncle Dick, Uncle Don. The "noise" in the woods is the work of the old guys playing gods, wanting you to live in fear and trembling so that you will look to them to protect you against the wrath to come. It takes courage to put their truth-claims to the test of reality, to call their bluff.

We need such courage today. This is a time for heresy. American democracy is threatened by perversions of money, power, and religion. Money has bought our elections right out from under us. Power has turned government “of, by, and for the people” into the patron of privilege. And Christianity and Islam have been hijacked by fundamentalists who have made religion the language of power, the excuse for violence, and the alibi for empire. We must answer the principalities and powers that would force on America a stifling conformity. Either we make the heretical choices that will inspire us to renew our commitment to America’s deepest values and ideals, or the day will come when we will no longer recognize the country we love.

Here’s what I mean.

Two years ago, the American Political Science Association produced a study entitled Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality . The report said people with wealth – privileged Americans – are “roaring with a clarity and consistency that public officials readily hear and routinely follow” while citizens “with lower or moderate incomes are speaking with a whisper.” The study concluded that “progress toward realizing American ideals of democracy may have stalled, and even, in some places, reversed.”

The following year – 2005 – the editors of The Economist, one of the world’s most pro-capitalist publications, produced their own sobering analysis of what is happening in America. They found great and growing income disparities. Thirty years ago the average annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was 30 times the pay of the average worker; today it is 1000 times the pay of the average worker.

They found an education system “increasingly stratified by social class” in which poor children “attend schools with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries.” They found our celebrated universities increasingly “reinforcing rather that reducing” these educational inequalities.

They found American corporations no longer successful agents of upward mobility. It is now harder for people to start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchy by dint of hard work and self-improvement.

The editors of The Economist studied all this evidence and concluded – and I am quoting a pro-business magazine, remember – that the United States “risks calcifying into a European-style, class-based society.”

TomDispatch has a pair of interviews with Chalmers Johnson on "Our Military Empire" and "Our Fading Republic".
From George Bush's point of view, his administration has achieved everything ideologically that he wanted to achieve. Militarism has been advanced powerfully. In the minds of a great many people, the military is now the only American institution that appears to work. He's enriched the ruling classes. He's destroyed the separation of powers as thoroughly as was possible. These are the problems that face us right now. The only way you could begin to rebuild the separation of powers would be to reinvigorate the Congress and I don't know what could shock the American public into doing that. They're the only ones who could do it. The courts can't. The President obviously won't.

The only thing I can think of that might do it would be bankruptcy. Like what happened to Argentina in 2001. The richest country in Latin America became one of the poorest. It collapsed. It lost the ability to borrow money and lost control of its affairs, but a great many Argentines did think about what corrupt presidents had listened to what corrupt advice and done what stupid things during the 1990s. And right now, the country is on its way back.

The Oil Drum (which just turned one - happy birthday guys) has a good roundup of military related peak oil matters, following on from Energy Bulletin's recent collection of this sort of article. They also have a post asking "Can sustainable farming feed the world?".

Jeff Vail has a look at the oil markets and wonders if the phenomenon of backwardation in futures prices is significant in terms of market acceptance of peak oil.

The opening of Iran's oil bourse has apparently been delayed with Qatar now talking about opening a gulf state energy bazaar instead.

There is some speculation the US may be considering the old Ottoman and British empires tactic's in Iraq, and making the Sunnis their local surrogates instead - prompting cynical speculation that Saddam may be wheeled out as president again (I think he may have been demonised a little too much for that to be feasible).

Salon has a good roundup of the peak oil world for those new to the idea.

Democracy Now has an interview with Kevin Phillips on his book "American Theocracy".

Past Peak has a look at the "twin peaks" - the other being the little considered peak in net oil production, which may be behind us...

Mobjectivist comments on Greg Palast's latest rant, which praised Bush for actually completely his (real) mission. The idea that the peak could be 10 years away still but the oil companies have repeated their 1970's bonanza through deft political maneouvrings is one which I'm often inclined to give a lot of credence to.
There you have it. Yes, Bush went in for the oil -- not to get more of Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing too much of it.

You must keep in mind who paid for George's ranch and Dick's bunker: Big Oil. And Big Oil -- and their buck-buddies, the Saudis -- don't make money from pumping more oil, but from pumping less of it. The lower the supply, the higher the price.

It's Economics 101. The oil industry is run by a cartel, OPEC, and what economists call an "oligopoly" -- a tiny handful of operators who make more money when there's less oil, not more of it. So, every time the "insurgents" blow up a pipeline in Basra, every time Mad Mahmoud in Tehran threatens to cut supply, the price of oil leaps. And Dick and George just love it.

Dick and George didn't want more oil from Iraq, they wanted less. I know some of you, no matter what I write, insist that our President and his Veep are on the hunt for more crude so you can cheaply fill your family Hummer; that somehow, these two oil-patch babies are concerned that the price of gas in the USA is bumping up to $3 a gallon.

Not so, gentle souls. Three bucks a gallon in the States (and a quid a litre in Britain) means colossal profits for Big Oil, and that makes Dick's ticker go pitty-pat with joy. The top oily-gopolists, the five largest oil companies, pulled in $113 billion in profit in 2005 -- compared to a piddly $34 billion in 2002 before Operation Iraqi Liberation. In other words, it's been a good war for Big Oil.

As per Plan Bush, Bahr Al-Ulum became Iraq's occupation oil minister; the conquered nation "enhanced its relationship with OPEC;" and the price of oil, from Clinton peace-time to Bush war-time, shot up 317%.

Australian Resources Minister Ian McFarlane thinks Australia is well prepared for peak oil (cough !).

Sir David Manning from the British Embassy in the US has declared that energy is the "burning issue for foreign policy". No kidding.

The Saudis have announced a new 300,000 barrel per day project.

China is rapidly ramping up solar panel production.

The renewable energy indusrty is becoming a big job generator in Germany, while Spanish solar projects are booming.

The Need for Heretics  

Posted by Big Gav

Cyclone Larry has caused quite a stir in recent days (although thankfully the area damaged isn't very densely populated - and it is probably worth noting a "Category 5" Australian Cyclone equates to a Category 3 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale of things).

The main casualty other than buildings in the Innisfail area appears to be the Australian banana and sugar cane crops, with Woolworths undertaking emergency banana price stabilisation operations.

I imagine this could have some impact on local ethanol prices (though I'm not sure how much is made from sugar cane) and possibly on global sugar prices (which are tipped to soar anyway). I suspect I won't be seeing any cheap bananas this winter either.

I'll make a rare positive mention of Mr Bush by noting he offered help within 24 hours of the disaster - I bet Katrina victims would have enjoyed that sort of response time...

Cyclone Wati is ollowing a similar path but isn't expected to make landfall.

While Larry is the strongest cyclone to hit Oz in many years, and there is no shortage of analysis showing tropical storm intensity is increasing thanks to global warming, I have to say that my personal impression is that we had more cyclones in the 1970's. But it could just be that I pay less attention as I get older, especially as I live in a city that doesn't get hit by them (though who knows what will happen 10 years down the track).

On the topic of global warming this FAQ is a great resource should you ever find yourself arguing with some idiot global warming denier - its more accessible to the layman that RealClimate too (link via RealClimate and WorldChanging).

Energy Bulletin has a good roundup of recent global warming news.

Bruce's latest Viridian Note (461) takes a look at Freeman Dyson's address on "The Need for Heretics" - a concept which I wholeheartedly applaud, being somewhat heretical in nature - see the note for the speech, which is yet to appear online as I type this. Freeman also has an article at Technology Review declaration that the Darwinian era is over. Bruce comments on Freeman's global warming heresy:

Freeman Dyson is the heretic's heretic and the visionary's visionary. In this speech, Dyson opines that climate science is too reliant on brittle computer models and isn't paying enough attention to the facts on the ground: that the warming is indeed very real, but simply not as threatening to us as certain other challenges our civilization faces.

I really hope this old gentleman is right. I've seen him be right before. When I'm as old as Freeman Dyson is now, and I somehow find myself putting my stocking feet up during balmy winter nights when everything else is just peachy, man, that prospect will be grand.

I won't be one bit embarrassed or ashamed that I howled about a wolf that time revealed to be a small, friendly pup. I'll just apologize at equal length and volume to anyone who will listen. I'll be really grateful to have been that mistaken.

Speaking of Bruce, there is a interview which supposedly mirrors his speech at SXSW up at The Well, WorldChanging have an SXSW roundup along with one attendees perspective on Bruce's talk.

WorldChanging also has the latest US wind rankings (don't giggle). Wind power is growing fast, with California expected to be overtaken by Texas as the largest harvester of natures bountry next year.

TreeHugger has a number of relevant posts up - a note on a green power glut in the US Pacific North West (which may be soaked up Oregon's push for all state agencies to be powered entirely by renewable energy by 2010), an article on a flexible LED based substitute for neon lighting (which reduces energy costs by about 70% - on a related note the SMH has an article on energy efficient street lighting in Sydney) and a post on a burger chain that is turning waste oil Into biodiesel.

For fans of peak oil doomer memes, try this piece at CounterCurrents, which bundles together all sorts of interesting ideas.
I had a mild epiphany the other day: it’s not President Bush who’s living in a fantasy world, it’s most of his critics who are. I’m no apologist for Bush – I neither like nor dislike him. He’s no more significant to me than a fly buzzing around outside my window. So permit me to explain my reasoning.

People look at Bush’s invasion of Iraq and see a miserable failure. But a failure to do what? Democratize Iraq? Eliminate Iraq’s WMD arsenal? Reduce global terrorism? If those were, in fact, the reasons for invading Iraq, then the invasion would have to be classified as a failure. But what if the real reason was to secure Iraq’s oil supplies, perhaps not for immediate use, and perhaps not even for use by the United States? Then the invasion of Iraq would have to be judged a success, a “mission accomplished,” so to speak.

Or take Bush’s seemingly irresponsible handling of the domestic economy. How can any sane person fail to understand that cutting revenue while increasing spending will produce deficits, and that those deficits cannot increase in perpetuity? Sooner or later that accumulated debt has got to have consequences. Bush appears to be acting as if there were no tomorrow. But what if there really were no tomorrow, financially speaking? In that case, the reckless economic policies of today would not only be irrelevant, but might actually be shrewd. I mean, if one knows that he is not going to have to pay back his debts tomorrow, then why not borrow money like crazy today? In fact, if civilization is coming to an end, then why not use all that borrowed money to stock up on guns and vital resources, such as oil?

Now, I’m just one person. And I’ve been closely studying economic, environmental, and energy issues for only a few years. And I’m no expert. Yet I’ve come to the conclusion – and I don’t want to be a “Chicken Little” here – that civilization as we have known it for the last century is doomed.


What will matter in this future? Commodities, principally energy, food, and water. Everything else is secondary. Money is far down the list in importance.

So how would you, the government, prepare for a future world in which commodities are king? By securing today as many of those commodities as possible. Hence, the U.S. government’s binge of military base building throughout the commodity-rich regions of the world. What would you not worry about? Money. The only concern you might have for money is to prevent its premature demise. Hence, the smoke and mirrors used to paint a pretty but false portrait of the economy. Some will argue that the government needs more than just energy, food, and water to survive. True, but by controlling the bulk of the world’s key commodities, everything else can be procured, including human labor and loyalty.

I'm glad to see Billmon has started posting again, taking a look at both Zalmay Khalizad's GroundHog Day and John Snow's awesome record of economic achievement.
Just now I came across this passage, describing the furious hotel-room struggle waged at a pre-war meeting of Iraqi exiles in London:
Chalabi was flying in from Tehran after cutting a deal with the Kurdish and Shiite parties to form a provisional government in spite of the Americans. Then the Sunni delegates revolted over their scant numbers. Khalizad, an Afghan-American who understood the bazaar nature of regional politics, brokered the horse trading. Sunnis and independents were added, watering down the Shiite numbers.

You could easily have ripped that passage from a New York Times article on the latest political negotiations in Baghdad. Same faces, same factions, same issues, same conspiracies, same cynical manuevers, same tired lies.

After three-and-a-half years and three elections, this is what "democracy" has achieved in Iraq: a chronic case of deju vu. And, of course, approximately 100,000 to 150,000 casualties. And the death squads. Shouldn't forget about them.

I just wonder: Does Zalmay Khalizad wake up every morning, like the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day, wondering why he's been condemned to live the same day over and over again?

Zalmay may either be a monster or perhaps just an apparatchik stuck in a swamp, but he has at least managed to avoid getting nominated for Crooked Timber's "Wanker of the week" award, which was prompted by a slew of unreason (amongst saner positions adopted by more rational libertarians) in "Reason" magazine featuring Christopher Hitchens, Glenn Reynolds and Louis Rossetto (who gets my vote - I can't believe he founded Wired - he sounds like a brainwashed zombie) on the best course of action to take in Iraq.
1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes, both the one that didn’t happen in 1991 and the one that did in 2003. But Iraq is not the war, it is a battle. The war is The Long War against Islamic fascism.

2. Have you changed your position?

If anything, I believe even more strongly in actively combating Islamic fascism throughout the Global Village. Everyday is Groundhog Day for the anti-war movement, which is stuck re-protesting Vietnam — while we are confronted by a uniquely 21st century challenge: a networked fascist movement of super-empowered individuals trying to undo 50K years of social evolution. Waiting to get hit by an NBC weapon is not an option. Dhimmitude for me or my children is not peace. Righteous forward defense is a necessity.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

The US should persevere militarily until we defeat the fascists in Iraq, as we did in Afghanistan, as we must everywhere. The US’s biggest failure has not been on the battlefield — where we are relentlessly reducing our enemies — but in waging media war against the Islamists and their fellow travelers on the Left, and in rallying the American people, who are confused, and perhaps angered, that once again we are being called upon to save the world.

To close, George Monbiot is apparently now a (undeserving) hero amongst the law and order set in Britain. I thought the interesting part was actually the big brotherish note about security camera vision quality these days, with the British being the world leaders at total urban surveillence (during my time in the UK I never ceased to be impressed by how quickly the police appeared at incident scenes in London thanks to the omnispresent camera network).
I ran round the corner but there was no sign of him. I ran up and down the streets for a while and then, coming out of the back of a big commercial building, I saw an old man with a limp, carrying a bag.

“Excuse me please.”


“May I see your bag?”

“Of course.”

It was a paper takeaway bag.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that someone’s been mugged and the mugger came this way.”

“No trouble.”

He hobbled off, and I went back to the woman who had been mugged.

“I spoke to a man with a limp, but it wasn’t him.”

“How do you know?”

“He only had a paper bag.”

“What did he look like?”

“Gaunt face, sunken eyes, shaven head, small grey beard.”

“That’s him!”


I ran back, and of course he had disappeared. Just inside the gates of the offices was the woman’s bag, torn open, its contents scattered on the paving.

By the time the police arrived, they had caught him on the other side of the city.

“As soon as we get a report, we look out for the suspect on the TV screens. We saw him coming into town.”

“But how did you know it was him?”

“The cameras are so good now they can read the numbers on the cash tills.”

American Theocracy  

Posted by Big Gav

Karavans points to another reviw of Kevin Phillips' book "American Theocracy" in The New York Times.

There's a book review in today's NY Times of American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips. For those who don't recognize the name, he is a long-time Republican party strategist dating back to the 1960s. In 1969, he published The Emerging Republican Majority and then went to work for President Nixon's administration.

His new book covers the three big trends he sees threatening America's future and that of the world as a result. The reviewer sums them up thusly:
...he identifies three broad and related trends — none of them new to the Bush years but all of them, he believes, exacerbated by this administration's policies — that together threaten the future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt — current and prospective — that both the government and the American people have been heedlessly accumulating. If there is a single, if implicit, theme running through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.

Furthermore on the oil issue, the reviewer sums up Phillips' thinking:
The American press in the first days of the Iraq war reported extensively on the Pentagon's failure to post American troops in front of the National Museum in Baghdad, which, as a result, was looted of many of its great archaeological treasures. Less widely reported, but to Phillips far more meaningful, was the immediate posting of troops around the Iraqi Oil Ministry, which held the maps and charts that were the key to effective oil production. Phillips fully supports an explanation of the Iraq war that the Bush administration dismisses as conspiracy theory — that its principal purpose was to secure vast oil reserves that would enable the United States to control production and to lower prices. ("Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath," an oil analyst said a couple of years ago. "You can't ask for better than that.") Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, tyranny, democracy and other public rationales were, Phillips says, simply ruses to disguise the real motivation for the invasion.

The Financial Review this weekend had a number of articles on the overuse of fear as a political tool, with the "Lies and Statistics" column mocking bird flu paranoia and a book review of "The Politics of fear: Beyond Left and Right" urging readers to begin thinking for themselves again.

In a similar vein, Bruce Sterling's SXSW speech this year reminds listeners of an old Eastern European dissident motto: "Make no decision out of fear.". Onya Bruce.
... his keynote speech at South by Southwest, which you can listen to here, is an entirely different beast altogether. While Bruce throws the crowd some juicy technical tidbits here as well, primarily the SxSW speech is about the future we're building, and what we ought to do about it:
"When you actually ignore reality for years on end, the payback is a bitch brother! ... We're seeing just frantic collisions of fundamentalist delusion with objective reality... We're on a kind of slider bar between the unthinkable and the unimaginable now, bteween the grim meathook future and the bright green future. There are ways out of this situation; there are actual ways to move the slider bar from one side to the other, except that we haven't invented the words for them yet."

The challenge, Bruce says, is that the worst people in the world -- genocidal ethnic mafiosos, fundamentalist fanatics, Washington lobbyists -- are running the show, American government has become the new Soviet Union (ossified, corrupt and widely perceived as illigitimate by the rest of the planet) and things are not good in much of the world. That said, if you look honestly at the world, you see a new story emerging, with millions of smart, dedicated people locked in a struggle to steer us towards a better future using every tool in their power, and that "that's a big story!" Finally, he reminds those of us who are part of that story of the motto of the old Soviet-era Eastern European dissidents: "Make no decision out of fear."

The Oil Drum has a post on dwindling Canadian natural gas supplies and the likely effect on tar sands oil production (something many peak oil commenters, even your humble scribe, predicted long ago). No mention of when the nuclear plants in Alberta are going to get constructed...

The Oil Drum (UK) also has a look at the gas situation worldwide.

The SMH notes that in Australia we're planning to burn as much gas as we possibly can and liquefy then ship off the rest. Thankfully its warm enough here that we won't have to worry about freezing when we are devoid of energy sources in 30 years time (assuming our present path of inaction on the renewables front continues, which I hope is a mistaken assumption).
A NEW alliance between government and industry aims to make natural gas the main source of energy in Australia and ensure the nation gets its share of the booming export market for liquefied natural gas.

The federal Resources Minister, Ian Macfarlane, will announce the alliance at a conference in Perth today, organised by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.

The alliance aims within 10 years to ensure that natural gas is used for up to 70 per cent of all new electricity generation and that LNG exports more than triple to 50 million tonnes. It will seek to double the use of natural gas as a feedstock for resource processing.

The plan will attract the scrutiny of the coal industry, which argues - with the Federal Government's support - that clean-coal technologies and other greenhouse gas abatement measures will in time make gas a less greenhouse-friendly fuel source.

Protests are continuing in Ecuador over a "free" trade deal being negotiated with the US and ownership of local oil fields.
Conaie is opposing the signing of the free trade treaty between Quito and Washington, despite the fact that the negotiations ironing out the pact are in the final stretch. Delegates from Ecuador and the US will meet in Washington at the end of this month to negotiate the last part of the treaty, which deals primarily with agricultural issues.

Conaie is also demanding the termination of the country's contract with Occidental and the renegotiation of such petroleum exploitation deals with all foreign oil firms operating in Ecuador.

Crude oil is the main export product of this Andean nation, and revenues from its sale abroad finance about 35 percent of the country's annual government budget. The state-run Petroecuador and the attorney general's office have suggested that the Oxy contract be cancelled because they contend the firm violated it by transferring -- without telling the government -- 40 percent of its shares to the Canadian firm EnCana, which last month sold the interest to a Chinese oil consortium.

The highway blockades, which typically characterize protests on various matters by Conaie, were implemented later on Monday in other provinces including Tungurahua, Carchi, and Imbabura.

Conaie chief Luis Macas said that the Indians were also demanding that US military forces at the Manta air base leave the country. The base, located in western Ecuador, is equipped with powerful radars and other hardware used in the anti-drug fight in the region.

The Indians are also calling for the nationalization of the nation's petroleum and for a constitutional assembly to be convened to carry out a profound reform of the country's political system.

The US is bizarrely declaring an interest in negotiations between Norway and Russia over rights to Barents Sea oil.
Norway should resolve its decades-old Barents Sea border dispute with Russia as it's a security of supply issue for the U.S., the new U.S. ambassador told Dow Jones Newswires late Thursday.

Disagreement between Moscow and Oslo about how to demarcate the border stretching into the Arctic sea has made the 173,000-square-kilometer disputed area - estimated to hold 12 billion barrels of oil equivalent - all but untouchable for exploration and development for the past 30 years.

"We see the border dispute...from an energy security perspective," newly-appointed ambassador Benson Whitney said on the sidelines of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event here. "We have an interest in it and would like to see it resolved."

The political uncertainty caused by the dispute can inhibit development and production in the Barents Sea, "and that can have an impact on the global market."

As the world's largest consumers of energy, the U.S. is increasingly looking to diversify its imports away from politically unstable areas such as the Middle East. The Barents Sea - estimated to have a total of more than 40 billion BOE in the combined Norwegian, Russian and disputed areas - could offer the U.S. a stable alternative supply of both crude and liquefied natural gas.

Elsewhere in the Arctic the campaign to drill in the ANWR has started in the US Congress again. Meanwhile the demographic drift to the exurbs continues unabated.
As the U.S. population rises, more and more people are moving into compact, smartly planned, energy-efficient cities. Ha! Ha! Sigh. Actually, the fastest-growing areas of the country are fringes: suburbs and semi-rural areas on the edges of expanding metropolitan regions. "It's not just the decade of the exurbs but the decade of the exurbs of the exurbs. People are leaving expensive cores and going as far out as they can to get a big house and a big yard," says demographer William Frey, compactly summarizing everything wrong with this crazy country. Americans are drifting to the West and South, seeking low-density areas and affordable housing. Thirteen of the 20 fastest-growing counties are in the South (the census data, from July 1, 2005, does not take into account Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent relocation). Don't come running to us when the cheap oil runs out, people!

Following on from yesterday's Gibson review of "V For Vendetta", Past Peak thought it was OK while Rigorous Intuition seems a little disappointed.

Alan Moore himself (who has a pretty impressive wild eyed anarchist / prophet of doom look about him) seems disgruntled by the whole thing - "The Beat" has a pair of interviews, along with a roundup of other reviews of the movie (Roger Ebert liked it - The New Yorker didn't).
The Beat: Can you in any way encapsulate the political climate that gave rise to V for Vendetta?

Alan Moore: At the time when I wrote it, it was of course for an English alternative comic magazine around about 1981. Margaret Thatcher had been in power for two or three years. She was facing the first crisis of her, by then, very unpopular government. There were riots all over Britain in places that hadn't seen riots for hundreds of years. There were fascists groups, the National Front, the British National party, who were flexing their muscles and sort of trying to make political capital out of what were fairly depressed and jobless times. It seemed to me that with the kind of Reagan/Thatcher axis that existed across the Atlantic, it looked like Western society was taking somewhat a turn for the worse. There were ugly fascist strains starting to reassert themselves that we might have thought had been eradicated back in the '30s. But they were reasserting themselves with a different spin. They were talking less about annihilating whichever minority they happened to find disfavor with and talking more about free market forces and market choice and all of these other kind of glib terms, which tended to have the same results as an awful lot of the kind of Fascist causes back in the 1930s but with a bit more spin put upon them. The friendly face of fascism.


So I decided to use this to political effect by coming up with a projected Fascist state in the near future and setting an anarchist against that. As far I'm concerned, the two poles of politics were not Left Wing or Right Wing. In fact they're just two ways of ordering an industrial society and we're fast moving beyond the industrial societies of the 19th and 20th centuries. It seemed to me the two more absolute extremes were anarchy and fascism. This was one of the things I objected to in the recent film, where it seems to be, from the script that I read, sort of recasting it as current American neo-conservatism vs. current American liberalism. There wasn't a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity.

And to close, a note on the third anniversary of the liberation of Iraq.
We're coming up to the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. I'm not sure how Bush is going to mark the occasion. I think we can rule out landing on an aircraft carrier and declaring mission accomplished. — Jay Leno

But to be fair, most pundits did forsee that this adventure in oil capturing would be a challenge - didn't they ?


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