2 stars

Great recession caused the dirty oil boom? (plus bonus self-indulgent whinge about writer's block)

Here's something (PDF) I didn't know: monetary easing (QE and near-zero or even real-terms-less-than-zero interest rates) might have been responsible for the dirty oil boom and the subsequent price drop. (That's via a little summary of Helen Thompson's book).

It does also make the 'recessions always correlate to oil price hikes' claim you'll see being made by people I might call oil determinists. As she does here, even the recent mortgage credit related crash looks like an oil-triggered thing through this lens. Others, however, see e.g. the 70s oil crisis being made much worse by governments whacking the steering wheel in the wrong direction in reponse to what happened.

But this story about how massively expensive dirty fuel exploitation got going makes sense - and fits with the kind of up-down pattern we can probably expect without anything to counter it. Though I'm trying to picture how that ends and can't - if, for example, renewables continue to undercut fossil fuels, demand for them drops, their price drops... and what's the new equilibrium? How do you eventually see the end of an old energy source, as we have several times before?

Dunno. But I'm going to post this anyway, and try and post anything else interesting I find, as all I've been doing recently is writing abortive chunks of whinge about how I can't write any more. The first thing I need to do to fix that is (a) post little things like this even when this new 'you don't know enough about this' warning light I seem to now have courtesy of academia starts blinking in the cockpit and (b) even when I write horrific sentences like this, still post it because that's better than filling folders full of words that never get posted (well, maybe not for anyone reading...) and (c) work up slowly to the larger topics I keep on trying and failing to find a way to articulate.

I do want to write about what's happened to the writing (and thinking etc) because there's something important there. But it needs working up to and I'd feel better about doing it if I've got the wheel going a little under its own inertia.

The short of it seems to be: I used to love writing but I'm not sure a love of writing can survive in academia. No, correction: not sure my love of writing can. If there was some way for me to find a happy marriage of my own needs and what's required of me... but there, starting to whinge about it, I'll save that for later.

Let's see if it's another year to the next post.

Truth 2.0

... or as the U.S. military calls it, degrading the enemy narrative. It's particularly amusing that, by using sock puppet systems where one person can pretend to be many (with very thorough work done to make sure that's undetectable), they aim to "follow the admonition we practiced in Iraq, that of trying to be 'first with the truth'." One's truthiness is a little compromised if you lie about who you are. (Guardian story. )

Persona management software is catching on more generally, and the idea of pretending to be someone you're not isn't new (recent example). I wonder, though, whether there's a tendency for square-eyes like myself who spend too much time on blogs to overplay the importance of online comments for actual opinion forming. The implicit idea behind one person managing many personas seems to be that heavy information assault can work just like any other artillery. To an extent, that must be the case, but I hold out a perhaps forlorn hope that in some things, reasonable people can shortcut hegemonic assault with, you know, reason and shizzle.

One man one pound

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, talking to Raj Patel on the Today Programme:

The free market operates like a perfect rolling referendum, with the prices representing the outcome of millions of individual decisions.

The Adam Smith Institute said something similar a few years back:

Independent providers are nearer to public demand than public authorities can ever be. Their perpetual search for profitability stimulates them to discover and produce what the consumer wants. In that sense the market sector is more genuinely democratic than the public sector. It involves the decisions of many more individuals at much more frequent intervals.

Climate scientists politicised by default?

Comment in response to Roger Pielke Jr. accusing Realclimate of becoming 'pathologically politicised':

If I may have a go at articulating why I think you're wrong? First-off, let me see if I've got your argument correct. You say Realclimate have politicised the science, and this is shown because they attack anyone who questions that the science of climate change is certain, like Sen. Inhofe, Fox News etc.

First point: there is probably scientific illiteracy right across the political spectrum - but the truth is, it tends to be right-leaning thinkers who question climate science. If you're interested, I've written about how this affectively hides most left-of-centre scientific illiteracy from climate arguments.

This means that one can imply Realclimate as 'taking a political position' by default. But I think you muddy the picture then: this most emphatically does not mean Realclimate writers are politicizing science. By your reasoning, the only way Realclimate could become politically neutral would be to "even themselves out" by arguing with left-of-centre climate skeptics. Obviously, that's ridiculous: Realclimate cannot be held responsible for who decides to question the science, and it's certainly false to assign them to a political position "by default" in the way you seem to be doing.

Chicken big: the protein detection arms race in water-inflated poultry

Some facts are proverbial bolts of lightening on a dark night, fully illuminating an otherwise hidden landscape. Much chicken in the poultry industry is bulked up with water, increasing its apparent weight by up to 35-40%. The water is held in place with dried animal protein, often beef or pork since they're the cheapest. The illuminating fact is what happens when this practice comes under scrutiny. It's actually legal to water-inflate chicken, as long as the label makes it clear that's happened. But - as a Panorama programme from 2003 revealed - DNA can be tampered with to make its origin undetectable.

How many songs are there?

"Assuming the world doesn't end, will there come a day when all the music it's possible to write has been written? It's finite isn't it?" - Claire W, via Twitter.

Excellent question. Yes, there are a finite number of songs in the universe - with the one condition that no song can last forever. Let's make it more restrictive and say no song can last for more than 5 minutes (though we could choose 20 or 30 mins and come to the same conclusions.)

Given that, though, it turns out it might not make very much difference that its a finite number...

Peak oil a go-go

On Wednesday, UKERC is launching its report on peak oil - the ‘assessment protocol’ via that link is a great lit review for the smorgasbord of energy future opinions. UKERC is, as far as I know, the first ‘mainstream’ academic body to examine the peak oil issue.

I’m attempting to incorporate energy into models of food production, though rather than directly asking about peak oil, the model will hopefully say something about what could happen, given x or y energy scenario. The aim is to (try to) keep it simple: most approaches to the problem, e.g. at the Oil Drum can feel a little like you’re being beaten to death with graphs.

Medieval evil genius

John the miller grinds small small,
The king of heaven sees all, all.

In the fourteenth century, the village of Codicote, in Hertfordshire, was owned by St.Alban's Abbey. Michael Wood, in a 2008 BBC4 programme, traces the story of one woman, Christina, through the obsessive record-keeping carried out by the abbot's secretaries.

Boiling stones, feeding cars

Stuffed and Starved has an article, written for the The Nation, that compares Bill Gates' Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA, better funded than many government programs) with the earlier post-second-world-war one. (Which was also a magnate-sponsored affair.) In a previous post I said:

The stark facts are difficult to surmount: the Green Revolution turned Mexico from a wheat-importing to an exporting country in 20 years.

Raj Patel's post makes clear why this doesn't say anything useful about whether that helped Mexicans to eat.

A toast to Karl Otrok

I've watched three films about food recently; I'll write about them together at some point, continuing the '3' theme. Right now, I want to raise a glass to one man with a walk-on part in the Austrian film We Feed the World, currently available via Google video and we join Karl Otrok in his four-wheel drive at about 39 minutes.

Karl Otrok is - or, I suspect, was - director of Pioneer's Romania operations. Pioneer is a US-owned seed company, second only to Monsanto. They're owned by DuPont. Karl begins his tale in what appears to be full High Modern mode: contrasting the four-wheel-drive lifestyle of a Pioneer director to the horse-drawn power of much Romanian farming. But while he begins as ambassador for Pioneer - and clings to his company loyalty throughout - we witness a rapid landslide of his veneer of self-belief.

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