Thursday, March 30, 2006

The next world giant

I'd keep an eye on Brazil if I were folk wanting to plan for the next generation's giant of the world. Yes, I mean economic powerhouse. Yes, I know they're presently 93d in GDP per capita (world factbook, 2005 est.) Of course, China's number 118 on that chart. By the same token I know they're already pretty big in the gross numbers area, being ranked 17th if GDP's considered by Official Exchange Rate, and 11th by GDP-PPP. But all that's secondary.

Money - investment - tends to go where the cost is low as it make potential profit higher. And Brazil this year will be reducing a major cost. Effective the end of this year, Brazil will not be using petroleum to fuel the cars and truck on the road. It'll be using ethanol produced from sugar cane. It's been working toward this for a long time and is literally facing the end.

A few interesting notes. First, the process is break-even against petroleum based fuel when the price of oil is about $45 per barrel. Second, ethanol isn't quite as energy efficient as petroleum - slightly fewer miles per gallon available. On the other hand ethanol burns with a lot less complex waste - less pollution per period of operation. And for those wanting to jump, corn ethanol is more expensive to produce than sugar-cane ethanol. Still, in the United States approximately half the crude oil we bring in goes to producing finished motor gasoline (per the IEA).

Back to the original point. I fully expect - based on what the experts in the industry are saying - that oil is going to continue to get more and more expensive (call it peak oil or something else). Brazil's gotten off that risk line, and the higher it goes the more tempting its local costs are going to be for outside investors. Them that have, get, and Brazil's got.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Peak oil is/is not

I want to take a short bit of your time to mention Peak Oil, again.

Peak oil is going to happen. At a certain point we'll discover we're unable to produce as much oil as cheaply.

Peak oil is not, however, reaching a point where we suddenly discover we have no oil. The apocalyptic doomsayers need to get a grip.

Frankly, we're going to know about the peaking of oil production about six months to a year after it actually happens. We're going to notice that the rate at which production increases has come to a crawl, and even flatlined. It'll cost more and more to get each barrel out of the ground as more exotic measures are required - most of which also happen to reduce the quality. But we'll have a year to a decade of more-or-less the same production just costing more and more.

And at a certain point, other methods of petroleum production get feasible. That is, the cost of selling oil is high enough that it gets a profit when 'this technique' is used. This will mean that the flatline will not turn into a decline, and might even turn into a resurgance of climbing production overall. Of course if we are careful we'll see that more and more comes from shale and sand and coal and such. Oh, and alternatives such as biofuels and nukes and sun and wind will gain larger segments as well.

Bottom line - it's not going to be the end of the world, and it's not going to happen overnight. But with the price of oil and oil products tripling (yes, that's my guess) over the space of a handful of years, a lot of things are going to get changed. What's going to replace it? dunno yet, though I've got some things I'm watching.

Life is change. Deal with it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

My mind's not big enough

I just can't quite accept the idea the Bible is 100% accurate and infallible. And it's the internal contradictions that do it to me. Yesterday I ran into the one that first caused me to stumble, and I thought I'd post it here. Both of the following are from the King James version - it's the one most folk think of as definitive. It's the tale of the end of Judas Iscariot.

First, Matthew 27: 5-8
5And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. 6And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. 7And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. 8Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.

Then Acts 1: 18-19
18Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.

Yes, you doubters, the "he" in both is identified in preceding verses as Judas Iscariot. It's "concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus." (Acts 1:16, part)

He threw back the silver - no, he bought a field - no, the priests took the money he threw back and bought a field. He hung himself - no, he fell headlong with such force he burst apart. The only agreement in the two is that the field was thereafter known as the field of blood.

Sorry, I cannot accept the Bible as literal with such a glaring internal contradiction. Doesn't mean I don't have faith, but it means I accept the Bible was written and edited by men - imperfectly trying to reflect perfection.

Monday, March 20, 2006


In an email to a list I'm on, Austin Bay was asked (by me): "What was our STRATEGIC objective in going to Iraq?"

He responded:
BLUNT FORMULATION: Pull the gun away from the head of Arab moderates.

POLI-SCI FORMULATION: Foster modern political alternatives to terror and tyranny in the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East. From that comes states that police terrorists and don't empower them. And yes, that means evolving Saudi Arabia and the other autocrats. Also means breaking the Hell formula -- terrorists, rogue/failed states, and WMD. We can't get WMD back in the bottle, but we can go after tyrants and failed states.
I like the strategy - it's clear and at least nominally attainable. What I don't like is that I don't think we're succeeding.

See, an implied (at least to me) element of this strategy is that the gun stays away from the moderate Arab heads even when we're out of the picture. That's because for all intents and purposes if we're standing right there then we're the ones holding the guns. Now, I don't think we're really doing so. It's just that when you've been bullied for a long time and a bigger person comes along and kicks the previous bully to the curb, the initial perception is that you've just had a change of bullies. The only way for you to know they're not really a bully is by the test - do they leave you alone, or do they force you to go along?

So far, we haven't left them alone. We're right there, supervising and criticizing. Frankly, we have to. We have to for many reasons, not least because the gun's still at the head. (I say so because of the recent news of an Afghani citizen condemned to death because he converted to Christianity some years ago. That's a major bullet in the original gun, and one we are supposed to be striving to pull away.)

Of course, the reality is that we're never really going to leave them alone. We're going to be back every time it looks like they're accedinng to the wishes of those who attack and vilify us, who hold cultural norms opposite our own, who are or appear to be our enemy. Which means in the end that we're going to be perceived as the bigger bully for a long, long time.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Beginning of the fall

ARG has just done the first poll about making Bush accountable for his missteps. The majority of the poll is about whether he should be censured via Feingold's bill, and there is a question about impeachment in there as well. While it's a pretty big deal that a plurality of respondents think he should be censured, and the "no" vs "yes" for impeachment is only a 7-point margin, that's not the big deal.

The big deal is that a polling agency normally accepted as 'one of the big ones' has asked the question. The ice is broken. Many polling agencies will ask the question as well, either to show they matter too, or to show the ARG numbers are wrong (one way or the other). And they'll keep asking to demonstrate a trend.

And that means it's now officially part of the public consciousness. People will be able to talk about it without sounding like they're coming out of nowhere. It's not going away.

Bush - and the GOP - have a surprisingly short list of options. They can defuse, distract, or diminish. Oh, they could accept it - but I don't see that happening. IMO the smart action is defusing. Basically, cause the explosion to go off prematurely. Bring the censure to the floor. Debate it. Vote on it. Note I didn't say bury it or translate it or anything else. What this is, is the standard recommended way of dealing with scandal. Get it in the open, take the lumps and go on. "OK, we got censured. Which means we can stop the impeachment actions with an argument that it's double jeopardy."

However, that requires an ability to say, "we were wrong." I don't think the current admin's capable of that. This means they can distract or diminish. I'm betting they try diminishing first and distracting second. Not least because it's already going on - a host of rants of how the proposal was from nowhere and not even the rest of the senators think it's a good idea. Ridicule and dismissal. However, see point one. It's officially in the public consciousness, and it's not an insignificant minority opinion - not when almost a third of YOUR PARTY thinks the censure should be approved.

Which means distraction. "Look over there." I expect to hear the drums of war beat louder and faster, actually, as that's the area where historically President Bush has had his largest margins.