Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Peak Oil's Not So Bad, Shit Happens

When I was in middle school and high school, I was a big fan of what Paleo-future refers to as "apocalypse porn"--that is, media that preaches an imminent Armageddon, at least in our lifetime. Apocalypse porn has been around for a long time and appeals to people without any hope in their place in the prevailing socio-economic system, such as Roman plebeians or angsty sixteen-year-olds.

My favorite piece of apocalypse porn was probably the most believable--peak oil. If you haven't heard of peak oil, it's a pretty rational and straightforward idea. Every oil field has a rate of production that increases and decreases in a bell curve. Hubbard, the guy who thought it up, predicted a peak for the United States during the 1970's. While the oil industry laughed at him, production peaked. His predicted peak for the world was ~1995. This was delayed by the oil crisis in the 70's. Many experts think we have hit peak production; others think we are very close.

What makes peak oil so bad is not that we'll run out of oil--there will always be oil. The problem is that the price of oil will go up. As supplies remain constant or decrease, demand increases in the developing world.

Generally, oil is associated with driving, so this, at face value, sounds like it will just be more expensive to drive. Driving, however, is critical to the economy as a whole. Nearly all products and services involve an automobile somewhere in the course of their purchase and delivery. Therefore, higher fuel prices make all prices higher; they add friction to the economy and slow growth.

A lot of the peak oil literature delves into apocalypse porn at this point. People predict virtually spontaneous changes in prices and, as a result, food shortages, wars, and the breakdown of law and order.

The reality is not spontaneous. Prices can be thought of as direct, mathematical relationships, but in actuality, there's a delay in the communication and adjustment of those prices. This slows economic changes. The price of bread will increase steadily, but we won't wake up one morning where no one can afford food.

These price changes will increment over time. The actual adjustments will have to move around the economy a bit. Here's an example--let's say Farmer Joe has to increase the sale price of his wheat. Steelworker Bob then must pay more for wheat, and his wages increase once his union goes on strike for them. This increases the price of steel, which increases the price of tractors, which increases the amount Farmer Joe will have to spend reinvesting in capital.

The economy is full of many deeper, intertwined chains like these. Actual price changes take time to move from one part of the economy and reach equilibrium. As a result, the increases in prices are slow. This isn't a bad thing. Some people are barely at the line where they can afford to commute in an automobile. As the price of fuel increases, these people won't be able to afford to commute, and they'll have to chose an alternative mode of transportation such as carpooling, cycling, mass transit, or moving closer to their job so they can do one of those. Either way, these people stop spending money on gasoline, lowering demand a bit and bringing prices slightly down.

The price of oil will continue to increase, though this trimming of the hedge will soften the blow. This won't stop the price from continuing to rise, however, and demand for cheap transportation will drive the development of alternatives. Either serious money will be put towards developing alternatives, or people will change their life styles into more affordable ones--that is, they will move into cities instead of living in suburbs and commuting.

In either case, civilization will not collapse. The blow will be cushioned. Since more money will, for a time, have to be invested in transportation, the standard of living may decrease, but people will have to deal with that. It's nothing to panic about, and when the time comes--as it is now--the economics will redirect our goals and motives. It won't be pretty, but shit happens.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why People Hate Police

This evening, I was dropping my girlfriend off at her dorm. As I rolled on to campus, I glanced in my mirror and noticed that there was a cop following me.

This is never a problem for me. I'm a white male,* I drive a plain car, and I always drive the speed limit for a few reasons--the strongest being that I think cops are assholes, and I prefer to avoid interacting with them. Nevertheless, I find the situation unnerving. It's as if a starving predator is eying me or--less metaphorical--the cop behind me is judging all of the driving I ever do in that single moment. One little slip of some obscure traffic regulation that wasn't mentioned in the driver's ed packet, and I'm short $100 or more.

The drop off went without a hitch, and as I was waiting to pull out of the parking lot by her dorm, I saw two cars drive by me: one, an SUV, the other, a police car with its headlights off--only some dim yellow lights in their stead. The cop that had followed me earlier was a cruiser, like this one, and he followed the SUV and pulled it over. My guess is that it was the same cop, and that bastard was out for blood, tonight.

Something about the whole situation seemed wrong--perhaps not wrong, but at the least, predatory. The fact that the cop crept up on the SUV with his headlights off--as if he needed to sneak up on his target and lunge for the kill--exceeded necessity.

Cops are frightening. When I see one, I feel the same way as if I'm passing a bees' nest; I'm not necessarily going to be harmed financially or physically, but I could be for some reason that I may not be aware of. Bees sting without any real reason other than "feeling threatened." Police pull you over using convoluted traffic regulations,"because your tail light's out," "because something dangling off your rear view mirror could obstruct your view," or "because the tint on your windows is too dark."

The only reason a cop even gets on the road is for that purpose--to find you doing something wrong. Other cars are actually going places. Cops are out to nitpick your driving and charge you for it.

To aggravate matters, cops are "allowed" to break the rules. They can conduct high-speed chases, and in a more subtle context, they can drive over the speed limit to look for and catch speeders. They can use those little laptops while driving. In fact, it seems they can text while driving too:

In an individualist society like our own, things like this piss people off. Each person is recognized as, fundamentally, having equal value to others and equal rights, but the fact that certain individuals are excluded, no matter what reason or justification, makes us mad. They're people, just like us, why should they get to do something we can't?

Despite these behaviors that make people itch, cops aren't completely to blame for people disliking them. This is how cops enforce the law, and no one has thought of a better way yet.

People's distaste for police is most strongly correlated with how they justify breaking laws. They refuse to blame themselves for bad things that happen in their lives, and any opportunity to contribute ill-fortune to an outside source is welcome.

This allows us to maintain our pride, and we like that. If a cop pulls someone over for speeding too fast, it's easy and comforting to blame the cop. He's the one who brought the bad news and gave out the ticket. After all, he didn't need to single that particular driver out. People attribute punishment to cops, not to their own illegal actions. With responsibility displaced, the punishment achieves little.

*Police do profile individuals based on race. It's deplorable, but so are most police.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dubai's Submarines

About four years ago, I started hearing about this place I'd never heard of with a name as exotic as "Timbuktu." This place was called Dubai. From what I read at the time, the place was a glittering paradise in the making, with billions of dollars being invested in capital. The goal was simple--invest dwindling oil profits in real estate capital, and the real estate capital ought to pay back in taxes in the long run.

As I learned more, there were cracks in the glittering Dubai facade. Dubai hired thousands of foreign construction workers for cheap, paying them minimum wage to complete the world's largest construction projects, including what is now the world's tallest building.

It wasn't until recently that I saw this, a brief documentary exposing Dubai's darkside, making the desert miracle a mirage, centering around a Frenchman publishing a book about his own Dubai nightmare. He started a company to make personal-sized submarines. The company went bankrupt, and now the investors want to collect.

In America, the corporation would have taken the hit and sank. In Dubai, however, there aren't corporations, and the individual is responsible. They go to jail until they can pay their debts--jail makes that condition difficult.

Reflecting on this, some pieces came together. I remembered an old essay by Paul Graham called "The Submarine." In short, the article portends articles like the ones on Dubai. These articles are virtually written by PR firms, hired by businesses and countries to promote products and services with the validation of "journalism." The articles on Dubai wreak of the qualities described in The Submarine.

Then the irony really hit me; the video bashing Dubai itself, that too was a plug from a PR firm for that Frenchman's book. It's as if anything you hear about that damn place, some one paid for. Do they really do anything there but spend?

Friday, March 12, 2010

There is a Comet Running into the Sun

Comets are large chunks of ice and rock floating around in space. When they get too close to the sun, they start vaporizing, literally, which is why they have giant, pretty tails. They orbit around the sun in gigantic, eccentric orbits. The earth too orbits around the sun, but its orbit is much less eccentric. Sometimes, however, various circumstances slow the comet down a bit, and it will make a final plunge into the sun. That looks like this:

That bright thing with the line is the planet Mercury. The long streak on the left is the comet.

You don't need to worry about the sun. It's a giant ball of plasma and fire that's been around for 4 billion years and has had plenty of comets--and probably at least one or two earth-sized objects as well as many, many others--smash into it in that time. Now, the comet, on the other hand... heh. At the least, I can assure you that comet will never harm the earth or anything else, ever.

For now, you can read more about it here:

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Beer Mug: Rendering Bowls Obsolete Since 2010

I live in a house. It's a house with four bachelors and two soup bowls--that is, bowls that can hold a large amount of hot stuff. We have some bowls that can hold hot stuff but are too small, and we have some bowls that are big enough for soup but only hold cold stuff.

As you can imagine, a house full of bachelors eats a lot of soup, so this causes problems. What if three people want to eat soup? What if two people want to eat soup, but both bowls are dirty? Sometimes, I just don't eat soup as a result. Yes, that's pretty sad, but so is only having two soup bowls.

Today the soup bowls were dirty, I didn't have any other food in the house, so I needed a solution or I would starve. I always eat cereal out of cups, so why couldn't I eat soup out of a beer mug?

It worked. In fact, it worked so well, I'm never eating soup out of a bowl again. In fact, I don't think I'll use them for anything. Fuck bowls, they're useless.

Consider the soup eating method:
+ Stick spoon in soup.
+ Eat the good bits.
+ Drink broth.
+ Repeat until soup is vanished.

It does not differ greatly from the cereal method:
+ Stick spoon in milk/cereal mixture.
+ Eat the good bits
+ Repeat until good bits are gone.
+ Drink milk.

Bowls are not conducive to drinking--crucial to both cereal and soup consumption. Check this out:

It's like the mug was made for drinking!

The only part of the consumption method I haven't covered is the spoon sticking part, but I assure you, there is no conflict. You can't see the good bits in a bowl anyway.

The mug also has a neat property--a handle. You can pick up the mug and walk around with it, unlike a bowl, where you burn your goddamn hands moving it from wherever you warmed it to wherever you intend to eat it.

If anyone can think of a good use for a bowl, let me know. Otherwise, when I get my own place, I'm not buying any. I'm just buying a bunch of beer mugs. These things are cheap at Wal-Mart--like, $2, maybe. I can't remember. Either way, I was surprised how cheap they were, and now that I know I can use them for everything, I will.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"Then surely the party of God are they that shall be triumphant."

"Then surely the party of God are they that shall be triumphant" is from the Quran and is on the Hezbollah flag. In fact, Hezbollah itself means "Party of God."

The irony of this phrase is that it could be completely turned on its head. If it's the party of God that shall be triumphant, then the party of God is defined by winning. If Hezbollah loses, they're not really Hezbollah anymore and never were.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Trains vs X: Trains always win.

I'm a regular reader of a blog called Geekologie. They have posted there two videos of trains in epic circumstances. One of them is a train in a flood:

Another is a train going through a tornado. That's right, a tornado:

I decided to see if there were more train vs X videos. Continuing with the weather theme, here's Train vs Snow:

Here's Train vs Tank from one of the James Bond movies:

There's some with animals. They're a little more morbid. NSFW language here... and animal death in Train vs Cow:

Not to be outdone, the Middle East tries to one-up the US with Train vs Camel:
Looks like camels are the Middle Eastern equivalent of squirrels.

Canada has its own flavor--here's Train vs Camel:

Of course, it's sad watching animals die. They don't really know what's going on. This guy did know what's going on:
And yes, I do know that it's not called "train vs truck." The ones with that name suck.

The lesson to be learned on top of all of this--trains always win. They will crush you--literally.

This is my 500th post.

Now I'm going to make 501.