24th March 2012


The New York Times had a front-page article yesterday titled “US Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence“. This made me froth at the mouth, because it is pure, uncut horseshit. There has been a bit of crowing recently about how oil and gas production is way, way up, and things are looking bright for the world of fossil fuels. But this jubilation is a purely seasonal phenomenon; that is, the press is merely carrying water for the President in an election year where gasoline prices are once again back at their all-time pinnacle.

It’s true that, thanks to the opening of previously off-limits offshore areas, oil productivity is up in the United States for the first time in a long time. In fact, production is up since 2004 by a whopping 4.7%.

“Wait, what the fuck?” I hear you asking.i Yep, sorry to bust the bubble that quickly, but there really isn’t that much of a bonanza. Individual regions might be more productive, but the US as a whole is way past its oil heydey. And in case there might be any air left at all in that bubble, let’s kill it with a graph:

Now you can see that we’ve managed to increase our oil productivity so much, it’s all the way back up to what it was in 2003. Hey, great!

The obvious lesson here is that American oil productivity is over. There simply is not that much oil left in the ground in the United States; we pulled out about half of it by 1969, and most of the rest since. There might be a small bump from the untapped resources offshore, but this is expensive and difficult to get at, and in case you’ve forgotten, as the New York Times seems to have, sometimes there are problems associated with this kind of drilling.

You’ll also note that the total of production & imports is down since its high point in 2004.ii That is, the “glut” is merely the result of conservation resulting from high gasoline prices combined with severe recession and economic contraction.

The story for gas is only slightly different. Unlike oil, gas is a bit more local, meaning what happens on the American market can actually affect prices. And while it stagnated for a long while, gas production really is up again, by almost 25%, which is a real meaty number for a change. Check out this graph:

Hey, all right! Production is back up to what it was in the 60s. Great news, right? Well, okay, but let’s just add in consumption and see what’s happening:

Aww, seriously? Well, at least here we can see that production has a hope of crossing over consumption at some point in the next decade, so we might become a net exporter of the stuff if the trend continues. This boom, of course, is purportedly thanks to the much-ballyhooed and maligned hydraulic “fracking” fracturing technique, which allows us to access lots of previously inaccessible gas trapped in shale deposits. How much is recoverable this way, you ask? Well, the USGS believes that the Marcellus Shale, the huge deposit underlying the eastern United States, probably contains 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, which at our current consumption rate of 24 Tcf/year should give us an additional err, um. Yeah.

Anyway, that’s all that’s worth saying about that. The rest of it, the lunacy of cheering a move in the wrong direction, the slavish toadying to kiss the boot of power, you know all that stuff. I’m tired of repeating myself.

  1. Which leads me to ask – what are you doing in my room? []
  2. It’s a bit harder to plot actual consumption of crude oil, since it gets refined into so many products, but since the US doesn’t really export the stuff any more, the total is a reasonable proxy for consumption. []

posted by saurabh in Energy, Galloping idiocy, Petrolatum | 0 Comments

8th August 2011

A wretched hive

So, following the downgrade and the resulting stock-market plunge, it’s worthwhile to shine a little light on S&P, to eradicate my own ignorance, anyway. If you wish to peer over my shoulder, I’m noting down my observations here. The company is a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill (yes, the guys who made your Geometry textbook), led by one Deven Sharma, a Bihari of relatively modest background (he has a degree in business management from OSU). Mr. Sharma last year penned an editorial in the WSJ complaining that they may be held to account (that is, face liability) for their rating standards, and calling for the repeal of ratings requirements on the debt held by certain investors. That is, the correct response to the colossal failure of ratings agencies to correctly identify CDOs, etc., as radioactive bombs, should be to remove ratings requirements from debt – that is, debt could simply be unrated, and a rating is merely a suggestive imprimatur bearing no significant or determining weight.

It’s quite clear why S&P’s president feels this way; he wants to punt. In the boom time he was happy to rubber-stamp junk and collect his commissions on it; now that the obvious deficiency of his agency (viz., their complete lack of any accountability for their ratings) has come to light, and some people in Congress are proposing an accountability mechanism, suddenly, S&P ratings should only be considered “just one of many tools”.

He also says:

[O]ur criteria for rating a security [following post-recession corrections] as AAA (our highest designation) include consideration of what could happen to a security if the country faces an economic scenario on par with the Great Depression.

Bear in mind that this was written well over a year ago. Now, it’s arguable that S&P was spot-on for rating all of that crappy debt AAA, since as it turned out, it was backed by the U.S. government. The government took the hit on behalf of all of that shitty debt, and now that its debt situation looks precarious, S&P wants to downgrade THEIR rating. This is high irony – if they had just done their fucking job correctly in the first place, instead of being greedy banksters, there would have been no need for a downgrade of U.S. government debt. S&P screws the pooch twice – first by not doing the job a ratings agency should (actually rating debt correctly), and then pillories the government (and the entire world) for cleaning up after their mess. Die in a fire, S&P.

None of which is to say, of course, that we don’t deserve a downgrade. We’re like a Bantustan right now, except without the political cohesion.

posted by saurabh in Galloping idiocy, Government, Rhinocrisy, Schmapitalism | 2 Comments

18th November 2010

Quantitative Easing

Obviously there’s plenty to disagree with, here (like, deflation is probably bad). Still, the egregious handouts to banks is worth highlighting.

posted by saurabh in Bad People, Echo-gnomics, Galloping idiocy, Schmapitalism | 2 Comments

27th May 2009

Peter was a Leninist

Reiterating the hypocrisy of right-wing Christians in this country is a fruitless exercise, and I’m not exactly sure why I am about to embark on it. I suspect my rational mind must compulsively disentangle their dissonance.

Observe one Paul Broun, a Republican Congressman from Georgia, who wants us to proclaim a “Year of the Bible”, so we can get back to the Biblical principles our laws and fundamental values are based on. He’s most worried about a totalitarian government:

We are headed toward a total government control of everybody’s lives — a loss of freedom, a loss of our money, a loss of our private property — and it’s extremely critical now for us to go back to those foundational principles that this country was founded upon.

I find this infuriating, because it suggests to me that Mr. Broun has never actually read the Bible. The first Christian community, made by the Apostles, whose example we’re all supposed to follow, outlines principles diametrically opposed to what Broun describes above. In Acts Chapters 4 & 5, it clearly describes how the first Christians were meant to live – that is, they were expected to sell all their property and surrender their wealth to the Apostles, who would then dispose of it in the interest of the community. In fact, there’s even an incident where someone cheats a little bit, with drastic consequences:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.

And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.

This seems pretty clear to me: as I’ve suggested before, the early Christians lived according to something resembling Marxist democratic centralism, with a Politburo controlling the community’s wealth and decision-making. This conflicts with Broun’s claim that the Bible upholds the sanctity of private property; whence, then, does he make that argument? The Bible is not text to him, to be read and understood – it’s just a totem to be waved around. I thought that this was the problem that was supposed to have been corrected by the Protestant Reformation, when people first started reading the thing, and saying to themselves, “Wait a minute – none of this shit you’re saying is actually in here.”

posted by saurabh in Bible study, Galloping idiocy, Religion | 0 Comments

26th March 2009

Burning down the house

J. Schwarz over at A Tiny Revolution points us to a 1999 New York Times article on the repeal of a portion of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, specifically the portion that prevents banks from offering both savings and investment services. For those more cognizant than I this is probably old hat; you others playing catch-up, like me, might want to read this article by former World Bank economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, where he attributes the current mess to five pieces, including the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act, legalizing maneuvers and consolidation between banks and investment houses that had already occurred (illegally), such as the merger of Travelers Group and Citibank to make Citigroup:

The most important consequence of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was indirect—it lay in the way repeal changed an entire culture. Commercial banks are not supposed to be high-risk ventures; they are supposed to manage other people’s money very conservatively. It is with this understanding that the government agrees to pick up the tab should they fail. Investment banks, on the other hand, have traditionally managed rich people’s money—people who can take bigger risks in order to get bigger returns. When repeal of Glass-Steagall brought investment and commercial banks together, the investment-bank culture came out on top. There was a demand for the kind of high returns that could be obtained only through high leverage and big risktaking.

Of course, once you’ve let the bull out of the paddock, it’s not going to come back in willingly…

UPDATE: See also this excellent Matt Taibbi article documenting this mess with AIG as a case-study.

posted by saurabh in Echo-gnomics, Galloping idiocy | 1 Comment

18th June 2008

Hair of the dog

The stakes are high for our citizens and for our economy, and with gasoline running at more than four bucks a gallon, many do not have the luxury of waiting on the far-off plans of futurists and politicians.

This, from a speech McCain is to give on the subject of opening up offshore drilling. Some of you may recall that when last we left it, the question had been broached and approved in the House, which voted 232-187 in favor of allowing offshore drilling beyond 50 miles from any coast (with an option to ban in the 50-100 mile range by individual states). Subsequently it languished in the Senate, and has now been reintroduced as the “Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act of 2008″ (with exceptions for Florida and California, the most beach-dependent and therefore most recalcitrant).

Bush has done McCain one better and also proposes opening up a bit of ANWR for exploration and development. Politically this is a good time to propose these things, because the price of gas is absurdly high (round these parts nearing $5/gallon) by American standards. It’s a moment for feel-good solutions, even if they won’t manage to actually stave off the high prices for the next few years. Oil companies still rely on exploration, and exploratory drilling, all of which takes quite a while even before you get to the point of setting up a well. So charitably speaking, even if we manage to pass this bill and open up the outer continental shelf for exploration by 2009, it won’t make a lick of difference to oil prices for, minimally, the next few years, and realistically the next few decades. As campaign rhetoric goes, this is merely, well, campaign rhetoric.

The department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service estimates that there are about 86 billion barrels of technically recoverable reserves waiting for us in the US outer continental shelf. To put this in perspective, current US total reserves amount to less than 21 billion barrels. This represents quite a bit of oil, and at current prices of $136/bbl, it’s also a lot of money ($11.7 trillion). Ostensibly, of course, the goal of this effort is to reduce that bloated figure, but it’s not necessarily the case that it will do so. All other US reserves are in terminal decline. Oil production follows a more-or-less bell-shaped distribution, as once a region is open for discovery it is methodically explored and exploited. US productivity history looks like this:
US oil production
In about thirty years we’ll be bone-dry if we don’t develop our offshore resources. Most of the rest of the world is in the same situation. So by the time we do get those offshore fields into production, it’s probable they won’t be able to make up for the intervening aggregate loss in production.

This isn’t necessarily catastrophic, if we ignore our various environmental concerns. Developing our energy infrastructure need not be a zero-sum game, and we can certainly imagine that this offshore exploration might continue apace with the development of other technologies that obsolesce it before it even becomes problematic. Political will, however, is definitely no better than a zero-sum game, and probably has diminishing returns over time. Adopting more oil production as our forward-thinking energy model doesn’t set the stage for the kind of century I had in mind.

ADDENDUM: For some typical commentary, see this one by Charles Krauthammer (presumably so named because he is the scion of a family of cabbage-beaters), where he excoriates McCain for not going far enough with his oil-exploration madness, but ignores the fact that the exploration he is touting won’t actually earn us any energy independence, especially as compared to, say, developing alternative energy sources. I will never understand why, when you are discussing questions that depend on fundamentals of geology, you ignore the fundamentals of geology.

posted by saurabh in Galloping idiocy, Petrolatum | 13 Comments

24th February 2008

Absence of evidence finally proves evidence of absence!

In this article in the LA Times, one Heather MacDonald contends that there is no “rape crisis” on college campuses and the idea that a significant number of young women in college are raped every year is a ridiculous myth advanced by crazy feminists. Her evidence for this claim is that college rape crisis centers don’t receive many calls. Using similar logic, I have deduced that no one actually uses this new-fangled “Internet” contraption because our blog readership still hovers in the low single digits.*

MacDonald spends a good deal of time critiquing the methodology of one Mary Koss, who did some pioneering work in the late 1980s on the subject of date rape on college campuses. MacDonald finds Koss’s methodology suspect and concludes it is designed to inflate the numbers and manufacture a “rape crisis” so that feminists can get on with the program of reducing men to castrated tote-bag holders and baby-nappy changers. Rah rah rah!

It may surprise you to learn, however, that Koss’s paper was not the only one on the subject! Using my favorite methodology, “a few minutes of careless searching”, I found one of these papers, which you can read here (but only with a JSTOR subscription). The authors are quite careful about their methodology (which is relatively unambiguous in its manner of questioning), and they find 20% of women reporting unwanted attempted intercourse and 10% reporting unwanted intercourse (rape – 71% said “no” explicitly) out of a sample of 518 college women. Female alcohol use was present in the majority of cases (65% in the third category), but even if this puts rape in a “gray area” (as MacDonald suggests), this only eliminates 65% of incidents, still leaving a substantial number of rape incidents going on every year. Criticisms could be made of this methodology, of course, but we shouldn’t expect the numbers to change by an order of magnitude. Shockingly, MacDonald presents no studies that manage to knock down the basic claim.

Most interesting to me, however, was who the women described unwanted incidents to:

Unwanted contact Attempted unwanted intercourse Unwanted intercourse
No one 23% 30% 41%
Roommate 41% 38% 25%
Close friend 59% 54% 41%
Counselor < 1% < 1% 4%

Saaaayy… do you think that might explain why no one is ringing up rape crisis centers? Because talking to a stranger is like, the hardest possible way to deal with a rape? Surely no…

The real problem, as Heather MacDonald tells us, is that women are tarting it up instead of keeping their chastity belts on:

Many students hold on to the view that women usually have the power to determine whether a campus social event ends with intercourse. A female Rutgers student expressed a common sentiment in a university sexual-assault survey: “When we go out to parties and I see girls and the way they dress and the way they act … and just the way they are, under the influence and um, then they like accuse them of like, ‘Oh yeah, my boyfriend did this to me’ or whatever, I honestly always think it’s their fault.”

And that, my friends, is evidence you can take to the fucking bank.

* Hi Bob!

posted by saurabh in Faminism, Galloping idiocy | 9 Comments

15th February 2008

Required reading

William Kristol is one of the pre-eminent neo-conservative mouthpieces. He was one of the most consistent defenders of Bush administration policy in the leadup to the war, supported unequivocally the idea that Saddam’s WMDs proposed a threat, claimed that we’d be greeted as liberators, and to this day asserts that the outcome in Iraq will be roses and custard pie, resulting in a strong, stable democracy and an American ally emerging in the Middle East.

Needless to say, William Kristol is frequently wrong. And not just wrong, like, “I forgot to add the fabric softener,” or “I chose the wrong drapes to go with this wallpaper,” but catastrophically wrong, like, “Nearly every important factual claim I’ve made in the past five years is incorrect, and the policies I advocated resulted in a million deaths.”

The correct thing to do when someone’s entire worldview has been discredited and the president whose policies they’ve supported is a laughingstock with an abysmal approval rating is, of course, to give them a column in the nation’s most prominent newspaper, the New York Times.

But, before you stab your eyes out, you should read this excellent article by Jon Schwarz dissecting Kristol’s idiocy.

posted by saurabh in Bad People, Galloping idiocy | 0 Comments

9th January 2008

Robot with a soul?

Three of the most-viewed videos on YouTub today are of Hillary Clinton allegedly crying, or “tearing up”. I, for one, don’t buy it. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

Clinton is giving a relatively boiler-plate speech about how much she “cares about our country”, and how she “passionately believes” in what she is doing. That, I DO buy: her passion is lust, and we all know what she’s lusting for. But what is she “tearing up” over? Who can tell?

This morning I woke up to some lady on NPR marveling at Hillary’s display of genuine emotion. She interviewed the lady who asked the question, and several others who testified that Hillary’s tears* had convinced them to vote Clinton! at the very last minute. After vomiting on my pillow, I thought to myself “How the hell am I going to clean this up?” “My God, are we really so starved for political theater that we’re willing to swallow whatever horseshit act some politician can throw at us?” The lady who asked the question, incidentally, did NOT vote Clinton – she voted Obama, because the previous night, Obama’s stirring speech had “moved her to tears”.

I’m truly astonished that people can maintain this level of vacuousness. And not, apparently, a small handful of people – the majority of American adults. Shouldn’t there be an epidemic of head-implosion going on?

* Which, frankly, are not in evidence in the video to mine eyes. Can you see ‘em?

posted by saurabh in Dumbo-crats, Galloping idiocy, Schmadvertising, Travesty, We're Doomed! | 2 Comments

20th December 2007

What’s happening?

A missive from the hedgehog woke me from my torpor, and I realize that I should give this blog its due diligence.

I wish I had a good story to explain the long silence. I was visiting a community of Arab exiles in Paraguay, whom I became acquainted with through a friend who trades in refurbished stereos with Arab expatriates all over the world. I found an old boot containing half a kilo of cocaine and an ancient illuminated copy of “The Lives of the Saints”, and had a devil of a time getting rid of both. I contracted a multiply-resistant strain of Staphylococcus and spent the month groaning in a hospital bed, my skin covered in sores that made it look like dried dates, while my doctors attempted to defeat the bug with various combinations of antibiotics. I unfortunately laughed at a man who stepped in a puddle of murky ice-water, who it turned out was a not-so-forgiving Jewish gangster, and spent the month hiding out with my old roommate in Ithaca until the whole thing blew over. I attended a conference in China and lost my passport, and so had to sneak back into the country with the assistance of a parade of smuggler groups, one of which made me work as a driver along the southern border of Panama for two weeks before allowing me to travel north again. I was trapped in a glass bottle by a djinn, and was only discovered a few days ago when my roommate mistook my prison for a bottle of Trader Joe’s olive oil. I went scuba diving and got my foot trapped in the maw of a giant clam, and had to take my air through a long tube until the clam (apparently popular as a local tourist attraction and therefore more valuable than my foot) released me. Meanwhile the skin on my hands partially rotted and they nearly had to be amputated. A fit of mania seized me and I took it upon myself to dig a well in the backyard; the frozen ground made it impossible to identify the water table, and I dug thirty feet down before I realized this. My yoga instructor spent a weekend in samadhi and conceived some brilliant insights about the nature of being, and enlisted my help to translate his fevered and fragmentary memory of his brief wisdom into a vernacular text. We argued almost constantly and in the end wrote almost nothing down. I experimented with a low-sodium diet that resulted in me dropping into a coma. In my comatose state I dreamt I was a salmon, desperately struggling upriver against the current, with the vague desire to spawn glimmering in my mind like a flickering beacon to guide me. Along with some friends I built a stone tower thirty feet high in a local park, working under cover of darkness and sleeping during the day. It collapsed after the first snowstorm and now resembles a ruined battlement. While drunk at a party I received a brief instruction in Tibetan throat singing. But poor coaching led to me developing two completely separate voices, which warred constantly whenever I attempted to speak and often expressed contradictory viewpoints. Recovery required learning to swallow my own tongue without choking. I received an envelope in the mail addressed to a former resident of my house, which I opened; the contents included a letter from the real Santa Claus and one of Baba Jaga’s iron teeth. My subsequent attempts to interest a society of cryptozoologists (some of the most frustrating, and, ironically, close-minded individuals I have ever encountered) in either of these items proved fruitless. A botanist I know isolated a phytoestrogen from a Colombian vine that he claimed suppressed homosexual urges and promoted heterosexual ones. A society of gay ninjas determined to destroy his research solicited my help as a mole. A new brand of long underwear I recently began wearing resulted in an unusual level of static accumulation, which caused me to destroy any keyboard as soon as I touched it; I proved unable to isolate the source of this problem for several weeks. My roommates discovered flatworms in a bunch of tripe they had purchased with the intent of making rennet for use in a homemade Havarti cheese, and got the rest of us tied up in their bullshit legal dramatics with the provider of the infected meat. Fuckers. I stumbled across some bones while jogging, which turned out to be those of a dromedary camel, a mystery which eventually led me to discover a defunct bestiality society which used to run around these parts in the 1920s.

But the truth is it’s winter, and I’m depressed, and tied up with work, and my own guts are strangling me. Which seems an ill excuse not to write. I’ll try to pick it up.

posted by saurabh in Bloorg, Galloping idiocy, Navel-gazing | 2 Comments

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