Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chile Earthquake 8.8 -- Hawaii Tsunami Warning at 6 am Hawaii -- California Tsunami May Follow

Collapsed bridge into river Biobio near Concepcion. Chile Earthquake. February 27, 2010. Photo Reuters.
Collapsed bridge into river Biobio near Concepcion. Chile Earthquake. February 27, 2010. Photo Reuters.

Chile was hit overnight by an 8.8 plus earthquake.

There are Tsunami warnings from South America to Hawaii, to Aisa. A small Tsunami has already been reported.

Over 80 people have already been reported dead by the Chilean Interior Minister. There is wide-spread structural damage. UPDATE 8:20 AM PT: The number reported dead has been increased to over 120, according to the President-Elect of Chile.

I've been watching Live TV streaming from Chile.

A Tsunami Evacuation Order is posted for Hawaii. If you live in the Islands, evacuate from anywhere near the ocean. Close the computer NOW and get to high ground.

A possible Tsunami is being warned for parts of California.

If you live anywhere on the Pacific Coast anywhere, PAY ATTENTION. This means anywhere from Australia and New Zealand to Japan, from  South America to Central America to Mexico, to California (San Diego, LA, the mid-coast, San Francisco Bay, Northern California), up through Oregon, and up the Washington Coast, to British Columbia and the Yukon, and ALL THE WAY to Alaska.
 
TURN ON YOUR RADIO and PAY THE FRACK ATTENTION TODAY. Big Water is on the move all across the Pacific Ocean and where it will move, where and when it will come ashore, no one is yet quite certain.

UPDATE: Actually, NOAA knows how the water is moving, when and where it will come ashore. Except for the aftershocks that is. But based on the ORIGINAL 8.8 mother-fucker, look at the MAP which is trying to appear below. If a really cool mostly yellow/red/blue map isn't there yet (if a text line below this paragraphs says "view-source:http://" followed by a URL of some type), then click on any NOAA knows link, then click back to GNB -- the backspace button -- and the map will shortly appear below if it hasn't already. To see the map BIG, click any NOAA knows and then click on the Map again. Gawds I LOVE scientists. They are so cool. Look at what they/we can do!

view-source:http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/chile/chileem.jpg

Aftershocks -- BIG aftershocks -- are still happening. Five point five so far plus/minus. It's not at all out of the range of probability (let alone possibility) that we'll get a 7+ aftershock, and yeah, that could set water moving again.

The Red Cross will tell you what you can do to help. The disaster team at Google has this up: http://chilepersonfinder.appspot.com/

TWITTER has amazing reporting. Check #chile, #earthquake, #tsumani, #redcross.

Please add more info as you have it in comments. I'm posting now rather than trying to gather more.

Disclosure: I have close friends in Chile. My most influential mentor ever (I worked for him for six years, traveling everywhere with him) is currently a two-term Senator in Chile (one of 38 Senators) and ran for President of Chile. I've  twitter out looking to see if they're alright, but like most people with folks in the target zone, I'm just waiting for him to surface and post something, anything, that says he and his family and staff are personally alright. His Senate Seat is way out of the zone. But Santiago, the capital of Chile (where the Senate meets) is kaBAM, right near the epicenter. And got hit hard.

Updates: I've been updating off and on during the morning. What you're seeing now is NOT what I originally posted back around 5:35 am PT. Lots more date, photos, maps, stats, links, commentary.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

GNB Late Night: Religious Ad

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A Cry For Help From and For All of Us

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



No other words possible, or necessary.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Energy Breakthough? The Bloom Box


Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes interviews K.R. Sridhar, founder of Bloom Energy.

Sridhar holds a block in his hand.

The block is a complete power plant, a fuel cell. Oxygen goes in one side, fuel in another. Combined, kaBoom, electricity.

As Huffington Post reports (and as I'm paraphrasing), Google, Walmart, FedEx are on board already. Bloom Energy's big coming out is this week. Sridhar says one to two small bricks will power a home. Sixty-four will power a good-sized business. The trick of course will be to get the costs down to where the fuel cell production costs are competitive with big energy and will beat clear energy (solar, wind.)

The output of the fuel cell, at least, we are assured is clean. *smiles*

A real breakthrough in energy. Clean, portable, inexpensive (relatively.) And a box smaller than a breadbox can power a HOME. Start imagining how EVERYTHING changes with (essentially) unlimited power.

Right now we're almost to the point where we have free bandwidth. Call it $30-50 USD a month for most of us for all-you-can-eat bandwidth. Imagine a world where $30-50 a month for most of us gives us all-you-can-eat power. I don't mean enough to run your home. I mean UNLIMITED power. Enough to run your own manufacturing plant. Not on Day 1. But we're not quite at unlimited bandwidth yet either although the day is clearly coming, and not over wires or fiber either, though that's clearly an interim step. Thirty to Fifty years from now EVERY human being on the planet will have unlimited bandwidth all the time anywhere from at least low earth orbit to (likely) 50-100 meters below ground at multi-gigabyte wireless speeds for themselves and any and all devices they wish, free of charge (or at a cost so minimal it is included as a "basic human right" that is SO fundamental to what it is to be a human being that it is not even taken away from prisoners.)

By thirty to fifty years from now, power -- electricity -- will be at least to where we are today with bandwidth, and likely more, as our ability to accelerate scientific progress is much better now than is was fifty years ago. We not only have better tools, but we know more. My guess is, thirty years from now people will have unlimited power. Then just as people are now inventing possibilities with the Internet that were never imagined 30 to 50 years ago, with every person having access to 300-500 Mega-Watts an hour, hell, what if 30 years from now an individual person had access to 5,000 GigaWatts an hour, that is (if I have my math right) about 2,000 times the amount of power Seattle currently uses in one hour at peak load, that is 2,500 MegaWatts an hour. Giga should be 1,000 times more, and 5,000 is twice as much. But... with Moore's Law we've absolutely had that kind of growth with hard drives and RAM as well as transistors. I'm being very very conservative in my estimates, simply because no one has YET got Moore's Law working on power generation. But it IS coming; that's my point, and the moment it does, kaBOOM...

Power which is currently a limited and dirty resource which only the first-world has enough of, barely, will become a clean-green and abundant resource, eventually too cheap to meter. *smiles* Which is of course, precisely where we are headed with bandwidth. And RAM. And a lot of similar stuff, which is going to become amazingly abundant as soon as either a) we get power handled, or b) we get out of LEO and start hanging out at the asteroids. Any one average sized one of which has an estimated value of about $20 Trillion USD, and there are roughly one million -- if I remember my numbers correctly -- of the "average" size in the belt. It's raining money; all we have to do is have the fucking big brass ones to get off the planet and go get it. Not to mention that it solves our power issue, as there is, literally, unlimited power as soon as we get to LEO. It's called THE SUN and it works 24/7.

If anyone had suggested to me back in 1975 when I was messing around with 4 bytes of RAM (yes, that was bytes, and four was a LOT of RAM, thank you) and an IBM Punch Card, that people would carry 64 GB of memory on their key-chains, or that PetaBytes and more would be storage sizes (coming soon to a CostCo near you for only a hundred bucks... probably within 3-5 years) and that RAM could be defined in hundreds of GB and climbing with tens of thousands of computers linked together in Data centers so big they are placed by BIG rivers to take advantage of inexpensive hydroelectricity for air-conditioning to keep them cool.

Or on the flip side, that a company with the Beatles's logo would release a 1.5 pound machine that plays movies and music and games so real you forget they are games plus tells you how to get from one place to another, as well as shows my beautiful pictures of my children and lets me read books. Truly I'd have never believed it for REAL in 1975, not that it would be REAL in only 35 years. Real in my lifetime, yeah, sure. But not in 35 years, not before even the IBM PC was out, not before the Osborne 1 or the Apple, not back in the punchcard days. Yet, 35 years later, here we are.

That's why I'm saying that 30 years from now -- and we have all of this computer technology as a base to grow from, all of this ability to LEARN quickly, the entire Internet to reference knowledge and to store information and new and improved ways of learning and thinking which are growing and unfolding and doubling and tripling our base every year or so... AND we have peak oil breathing down our necks to motivate the hell out of us -- with all of this I say we will have power in MegaWatts to large for us to imagine now in any realistic terms. Thirty years from now we'll have passed into the Singularity in Information, in Medicine, in Power, in Biology and Nanotechnology, in Genetics, in Space, and hopefully in ethics.

What each of us and our children will be able to do thirty years from now will be to drawn more or less any amount of power to do damn near anything anytime... that is a world which I suspect will be very very interesting.

H/T Huffington Post.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

On Washington's Actual Birthday

First, a link to an interesting historical essay by Acilius at Panther Red, The Labors of Hercules, which begins "George Washington may have been in some ways uniquely admirable as a political leader, but as a slaveholder he was no better than he found it convenient to be."

And, an oldie but goodie, the Washington Rap. NOTE: NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR CHILDREN. Seriously.

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Minstrel Shows

("Drinking melted snow water in Richmond, Vermont", photo by Oak LoGalbo)

A day with physical limits at the forefront, so I will push elsewhere.

The whole question of "should white people do art based on/coopted from POC culture" is on folks' minds today. It's a big question with a complicated answer. As a writer myself who creates nonwhite characters (main characters), I constantly revisit my assumptions, my sense of entitlement, my intentions. Who am I writing for? What would (insert various friends) think or say about this scene? Am I challenging the status quo, raising the energy, or simply perpetuating existential hopelessness? Can I find a similar lesson from my OWN culture and use that instead, with more integrity?

After watching the first episode of White Teeth this weekend, I assumed Zadie Smith was Jamaican, i.e., the character Clara. Turns out, she is more or less Irie, the daughter of Jamaican Clara and white working class British Archie. I haven't finished the series, but it has thus far gone off into Pakistani culture as experienced by Irie's family friends Magid and Mallat. The writer clearly knows it inside out, and thus far I'm willling to trust her as the voice bringing us this other world.

But is that because I'm white and my ability to experience "the other" is most comfortably brought to my doorstep by border crossers?

I have noticed that Archie's character is rather one-dimensional, and benevolently dim despite his early suicide attempt and history of a war crime.

In my scifi world, I slice through the Gordian knots of gender, race and class by constructing a post-cataclyscmic, isolated culture where values attached to physical differences have been eliminated. The productive tension of diversity comes from elsewhere. The feedback I'm getting is that it works. But it is serious internal work to give authentic voices to these characters, and I'm well aware they may be off in ways I cannot imagine. The fear of all writers.

In Ginny Bates, my POC characters are frank border-crossers who have picked some "good white folks" to make family with but never entirely lose their irritation with the conditioned whiteness of Myra, the character based on me. I modeled this after how I approach gender, how the men I love and trust must still occasionally encounter in me a wall put there by our different gender upbringing and I expect them to do at least half the work of scaling that wall. At LEAST. It's the lesbian-feminist in me that won't make excuses or cut extra slack. I find it an ethical, if challenging, way to live, and I respect that mirrored choice in the POC I know.

I agree with Jill Cozzi that the ice dance pair doing a traditional Indian dance showed smarts and ethics by having it choreographed by an Indian expert. But the show itself, especially the judging, is overwhelmingly white -- how does that not make it a sophisticated minstrel show? My gut rebels, in the same way that watching middle-class drag kings portraying their take on the brutish masculinity of working class males for sexual arousal of screaming mostly middle class (or aspiring thereto) women struck me as sick-making cooptation.

"Queering" or "subverting" in contexts where permits have been issued and "we're all the same really" is the mandatory message is not contradiction enough, and almost always tends to reassure the imagined liberal default, instead of fomenting actual thought-provoking discomfort.

The route to actual parity of voice will not be found by white folks going on travel adventures or Avatar-like saviors who become Lakota because they can't bear their own culture any longer. It will mean ripping out at the root (i.e., radical) all the gender, race, and class-based constructs of our current "reality" and shivering naked in the floodwaters that come to reshape our social terrain.

Some art takes us in that direction. Some does not. I can only tell you what works for me, and share it with you here.
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Just a Little Funny

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Choose Something Like a Star



O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.


Robert Frost - 1947

The times when I find myself unable to write anything coherent I take comfort in those who reached the sublime in the art.

Enjoy.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Austin Plane Crash Deliberate Attack on IRS


Update 20100218 1213PST: Two taken to trauma center; One missing

As I deal with the travel / family consequences of an ER visit in St. Louis, a story is breaking about a plane crash in Austin. On twitter my web host is asking how to get her child to school. In between calling Frontier Airlines, calling Sara, and checking web sites, I see:

(Source: http://twitpic.com/13yxsb)

Then I read this:
If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time. The writing process, started many months ago, was intended to be therapy in the face of the looming realization that there isn’t enough therapy in the world that can fix what is really broken. Needless to say, this rant could fill volumes with example after example if I would let it. I find the process of writing it frustrating, tedious, and probably pointless… especially given my gross inability to gracefully articulate my thoughts in light of the storm raging in my head. Exactly what is therapeutic about that I’m not sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
It appears (as of now -- obviously in any breaking story information is changing rapidly) that Joe Stack took his plane and attacked (link offline at federal request 20100218 1148PST) the IRS with it at 10am local time (8am Pacific).

[20100218 1149PST Update: embeddedart.com link offline -- text of manifesto is still online at news story above, linked just before quote block]
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why I Loves Me Some Nevilles



City done gone and died. Folks are still planning to build them some kind of Epcot Center version of "NewOrleensLand" that will have little or no relation to the vibrant, flowing, and dancing place that was unique and pleasing.

The Nevilles still sing. Bless you boys.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not To Invoke Godwin's Law

But whenever I read about the current power struggle on the Right, my mind pulls up this scene from Cabaret:

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Double, double, oil and trouble

(Photo: An explorer at work in Hoima, from
Epic quest for oil in Uganda, by Francis Mugerwa, no photo credit)

Let's face it, short term predictions about oil prices, supply, and demand are one of two things: simple because you presume a straight line, or bullshit either because something in the world changed that you didn't/couldn't account for or because the short term is too short to be useful. And long term, they're easy -- eventually prices get high and both supply and demand drop. Of course, exactly when "eventually" is does remain a question.

With the exception of the Saudis and a few dead-enders, everyone accepts that an extraction peak is coming. Whether that peak is recently past, coming soon, or a decade or two out is still a legitimate subject for debate (although that last is most unlikely, I think). Similarly, almost everyone expects a continuing worldwide increase in demand, especially from India and China.

But right now, we are riding a delicate balance between reduced demand (caused largely by the economic downturn) and at-best-stable supply. Prices are a far cry from the $147 we saw or the historical $20, but have been reasonably stable between $70 and $80 for some time. I've said before that I don't see long-term $40 oil again, and I don't see any reason to change that. Unless we make substantial changes, economic recovery will drive demand for oil, which will drive prices, which will reduce recovery, and the cycle will continue. Our ways out are limited: reduce demand (through conservation, efficiency, and alternatives) or discover a new way to increase supply (through exploration and improved extraction technology). The first is under our control, the second less so. Unfortunately, we seem determined to avoid conservation and alternatives on a large scale. If we fail to address the fundamentally unstable close match between oil supply and demand* we will continue to follow this sort of cycle.

* Economics says that supply and demand curves cross and that cross is a stable market price for a good. But classical economics doesn't say a lot about the dynamics of that process. We know it's not instantaneous. We also know that the assumptions behind classic supply/demand curves are not necessarily valid in the real world (the whole concept of peak oil denies the assumption that rising prices will continuously raise supply).


Signs of Declining Extraction Rates
ExxonMobil announced it will recover an additional 40 million barrels of oil at the Hawkins Field in northeast Texas, equal to the annual energy needs of more than one million Texas households.

The project will extend the life of the field, discovered by the oil giant in 1940, for an additional 25 years. Though a small part of ExxonMobil's reserves the extension of life for such a mature oil feed is at least some evidence that new technologies can help push back the reckoning of the world's "peak oil" moment.
This is a 70 year old field, so it's no surprise that extraction rates are low. What's interesting is that ExxonMobil is willing to spend a lot of money to extract another relatively paltry 40 million barrels (a bit over two months US demand) over 25 years when they could spend that money elsewhere.

Maybe there's no where else for them to spend it?
State oil giant Saudi Aramco plans to inject carbon dioxide into the world's biggest oilfield by 2010, a year ahead of previous plans, a government official said on Monday.

The giant field Ghawar pumped 5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2008, more than half of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia's output. The kingdom announced plans last year for a pilot project to pump the climate-warming gas into the field to both improve production and reduce emissions.
...
The kingdom plans to inject 40 million standard cubic feet per day (cfd) of CO2 into the field, and has said this is part of the global push to trap emissions rather than because it needs to enhance oil recovery from the field.
Saudi Arabia is famous for being close-mouthed about their level of reserves, and is widely suspected (as are most OPEC members) of inflating their reserves, because OPEC allocates extraction quotas partly based upon reserves. Although Saudi Aramco claims that injecting CO2 is "part of the global push to trap emissions rather than ... to enhance oil recovery", there's no question that gas injection will increase extraction. Gas injection is considered a "secondary recovery" technology.

Sign of declining discovery
One tally pegged the Giraffe field -- anyone want to guess how they came up with that name? -- at some 400 million barrels. Heritage's CFO, however, suggested that the wider "Giraffe-Buffalo" field, which encompasses some 3,420 square miles, could contain several billion gallons of crude.

The find is the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa in at least the past 20 years. Previously, the largest onshore fields discovered in sub-Saharan Africa were at Rabi-Kounga in Gabon, where 900 million barrels were found in 1985, and at Kome in Chad, where 485 million barrels were found in 1977.
Four hundred million barrels of oil is about 22 months of US demand and less than 5 days of worldwide demand. The suggestion that the Giraffe-Buffalo field might contain several billion gallons has no real basis -- it's essentially a marketing claim and it does not suggest reserves (which depend upon recovery rate) but total oil in place.

Peaking? Duck!
Gabrielli states in his presentation that the world needs oil volumes the equivalent of one Saudi Arabia every two years to offset future world oil decline rates.
Gabrielli shows world oil capacity peaking in 2010 as shown in the translated version of his chart below. He shows historical world oil production to 2008. Next, he applies a decline rate of 5% per year to existing production represented by the lower light blue area. He then forecasts capacity additions from sanctioned projects estimated from Wood MacKenzie's Global Oil Supply Tool. These oil capacity additions are in four categories: OPEC new projects, OPEC expansion projects, non-OPEC new projects and non-OPEC expansion projects. In 2010 the biggest contributor is OPEC expansion projects which includes about 1.3 mbd from Khurais and 0.8 mbd from Khursaniyah. These additions include both crude oil and natural gas liquids and are sourced from Saudi Arabia's official statements which lack independent verification.
2009 was a banner year for oil discoveries, with a lot of headlines being generated by finds in Brazil and the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, we saw discoveries on the order of 10 billion barrels of reserves, the highest rate since 2000 when the giant Kashagan field in Kazakhstan was discovered. However, the world is consuming around 83 million barrels a day, which equates to 31 billion barrels a year. So even in this banner year, we are barely replacing one third of the oil we consume.
...
When you look back at the East Texas oil boom early last century, oil wells were being drilled a few hundred feet deep. In the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, giant oil fields are so close to the surface that you could practically stick a straw in the ground and strike oil. These big, easy finds were relatively inexpensive to develop.

But check out where we're looking now: The latest Gulf of Mexico discovery, Tiber, is a well drilled to a depth of 35,000 feet and lies beneath 4,000 feet of water. Think about that; the well is a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall. It will likely take 7–10 years before this discovery produces anything. While this is a significant discovery, it certainly isn't cheap oil.
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Let's put oil-field declines in context. World oil production is roughly 83 million barrels per day. Various estimates place the underlying global decline rate somewhere between 4% and 8% per year. That means that each year we have to add about five million barrels of new production to keep production flat. Step five years out, and we have to replace 25 mb/d of production, or about three times Saudi Arabia's current production. That's a lot of new wells that need to be started just to offset declines.

Plus, this does not account for any growth in oil consumption. Absent global recessions, underlying oil demand is increasing by about 1% per year. This means that five years out we'd need another 5 million barrels of oil per day just to keep the current equilibrium. Frankly, we're not certain that we'll be able to reach that level of production.
A top Saudi energy official expressed serious concern Monday that world oil demand could peak in the next decade and said his country was preparing for that eventuality by diversifying its economic base.
...
Al-Sabban said the potential that world oil demand had peaked, or would peak soon, was an "alarm that we need to take more seriously" as Saudi charts a course for greater economic diversification.

"We cannot stay put and say 'well, this is something that will happen anyway," al-Sabban said at the Jeddah Economic Forum. The "world cannot wait for us before we are forced to adapt to the reality of lower and lower oil revenues," he added later.

Some experts have argued that demand for oil, the chief export for Saudi Arabia and the vast majority of other Gulf Arab nations, has already peaked. Others say consumption will plateau soon, particularly in developed nations that are pushing for greater reliance on renewable energy sources.
Saudis say don't worry about peak oil (2010.01.28):
There is still plenty of oil in the ground and the world should put aside fears about "peak oil", the head of the Saudi state oil firm Saudi Aramco said on Thursday.
Of course, the Saudis could have no possible reason for encouraging the world to continue to guzzle oil like there's no tomorrow. In all seriousness, as noted above, the Saudis have incentive to inflate their reserves, and no incentive at all to encourage the world to switch from petroleum to alternative energy sources.

Let me begin with the narrative that all of my energy economics students must know perfectly after my second lecture. The Russian oil output is probably close to peaking, and in any event the director of one of the largest Russian firms says that his country will never produce more than 10 million barrels per day (= 10mb/d). This number may be slightly wrong, but it happens to be one-tenth of the amount (= 100 mb/d) that the present CEO of Total (the French oil major) says is the absolute maximum for world production. (Another Total executive recently suggested 95 mb/d).

If this is not sufficient, consider the following. The discovery of what we think of as conventional oil peaked in 1965. In the early 1980s the annual consumption of oil became larger than the annual discovery, and at the present time only about 1 barrel of (conventional or near-conventional) oil is discovered for every 3 consumed. According to a BP (BP) document, of 54 producing nations only 14 still show increasing production. 30 are past peak output, while output rates are declining in 10.

Non-OPEC countries produce 60% of world oil, and that output has peaked. It is also my opinion that while Russia may not join OPEC – or be allowed to join – it will go along with OPEC’s production agenda. OPEC is the arbiter of the world oil economy today and in the future, although that topic is too complex to be taken up in this note. Output in the U.S. peaked in 1970 at 9.5 mb/d, and production turned up when the giant Prudhoe field in Alaska came on line, but the previous peak was never attained. Instead the new peak was 7.5 mb/d. Today it is less than 6 mb/d, and steadily falling. North Sea oil (Norway + UK) peaked just before the end of the 20th century, and the super-giant Cantarell Field in Mexico – the third largest in the world – peaked slightly before that. Its decline is steeper than students of Mexican oil could possibly have expected.

Roughly two years ago the Saudi oil minister stated that his country would soon be producing 15 mb/d of oil in the not too distant future, and that output could be held for 50 years, but Saudi production has almost certainly peaked at less than 10 mb/d, despite what appears to be exceptional efforts to raise it to 10 mb/d after about 2005. Of course, as far as I am concerned, it does not make any difference what an oil minister or foreign oil expert says about Saudi intentions. Thirty years ago or so it was decided that (sustainable) Saudi production would never exceed 10 mb/d, although a surge output of 2 mb/d might be made available.
Whither Prices?
It has been 18 months since we all worried very much about high oil prices. Starting in July 2008 gasoline prices took an historic plunge dropping from a U.S. average high of $4.11 a gallon all the way down to $1.70 in January 2009.

In retrospect this price drop was a good thing for it did more to slow the downward spiraling recession than most people realized. In the last 12 months however, the situation has reversed and the average price for gasoline is pushing $2.80 a gallon. An increasing number of commentators are starting to talk of the return of $100 oil and $3+ gasoline.
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There are numerous factors that will affect the balance of forces determining gasoline prices six months from now - the economic situation in the OECD nations, the pace of economic growth in China, India, and several other Asian countries, the stability of the U.S. dollar, the weather, stability of Iran, and perhaps even an OPEC decision to increase oil production if prices get too high.

While it is difficult to foresee clearly the interaction of all these factors, the conventional thinking is that U.S. and OECD oil consumption will remain flat, the Saudis will continue to withhold a couple of million barrels a day (b/d) from the markets, and China will continue to grow rapidly in 2010. Many believe the Chinese are coming up on a massive real estate bubble-burst one of these days, but this still seems to be a couple of years away and is unlikely to have much to do with gas prices next July.
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Perhaps the most important of these are the announced plans of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Treasury to stop supporting the financial industry, the housing industry, low interest rates, and whatever else they are overtly or covertly subsidizing by the 1st of April. The idea would be to let the U.S. economy try to stand on its own feet prior to the November mid-term elections without the help of hundreds of billions in government subsidies. Whether this plan actually comes to pass is problematic, another couple of months worth of bad economic news may lead to a decision to continue the programs.

The greatest danger from hasty removal of government intervention is the likelihood that interest rates will increase substantially and that the U.S. dollar will fall thereby sending dollar-denominated oil prices higher no matter what happens to supply and demand.

At the minute, a substantial drop in oil prices in the next six months seems unlikely without a major untoward development. Shortages from insufficient global oil production are still a few years away, so for the time being the value of the dollar and the demand for oil will be the controlling factors. A Chinese economic meltdown still seems to be some years off. A better bet is the collapse of the U.S. equities markets which have been disconnected from reality for the past nine months.

We are already getting some numbers showing that the demand for gasoline in the U.S. is slowly dropping - this probably has something to do with the unemployment rate is which is realistically over 20 percent. As gasoline is so important to the average person in the U.S. reductions in automobile use will likely be slow and undertaken reluctantly. The inconveniences of less driving still outweigh the cost of gasoline for most.
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Unless there is a major geopolitical upheaval in the next six months, oil prices are likely to creep up as they have been doing since last May. Gasoline prices will continue their tradition winter/spring climb likely passing the $3 per gallon mark which seems to be psychological point that impedes the sale of large cars.

How much further prices will go is impossible to responsibly forecast for there are simply too many unknowable variables involved.

The only thing we can be sure of is that this increase is going to damage, perhaps fatally, prospects for a U.S. economic recovery. With more and more money being sent away to pay for "essential" gasoline supplies, there is going to be less and less to pay for everything else.
...the key issue is not whether petrol and diesel prices should reflect today’s oil price of $75/barrel. It is that booming Asia will in a decade push oil to $200/barrel and maybe $300/barrel. India must prepare for a world of scarce, expensive oil instead of pretending that astronomical subsidies can ensure price stability.
In its latest economic brief on the oil market and budget developments, NBK noted that, crude oil prices fell sharply in the second half of January, moving closer towards the $70 per barrel (pb) level. After reaching the $80 pb mark on January 11th, the price of Kuwait Export Crude (KEC) fell by $9 to $71 pb by the 26th. Two factors seem to have been catalysts for the fall.

First, rising risk aversion across global markets saw a flight to the US dollar, which traditionally puts a damper on crude prices.

Secondly, the announcement of new measures to stem the growth of credit in China raised concerns of slower oil demand; China has accounted for 40% of the growth in global oil demand in recent years.

Yet despite the latest leg down, more bullish analysts still expect crude prices to remain range bound between $70-80 pb over coming weeks, before pushing higher as tighter crude market fundamentals (including rising demand and shrinking inventories) start to reassert themselves.

...This seems to reflect the view that current price levels – despite some volatility – are essentially well supported, backed by a recovering world economy and commitment from OPEC to keep prices in the $70-80 pb range.

...The Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES) has revised up its forecast for incremental oil demand in 2010 for the second month in a row, this time to 1.2 million barrels per day (mbpd), at a 1.4% growth rate, from 1.0 mbpd a month earlier. This compares to its forecast of 0.7 mbpd in November. The centre expects year-on-year growth in demand in every quarter this year, although decelerating as the year unfolds as the base effect from weak growth in 2009 recedes. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has retained its bullish forecast for growth in oil demand of around 1.4 mbpd (1.7%). Both institutions (and others) expect practically all of this year’s growth to come from countries outside the OECD. The so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – for example, could account for half of all the increase in global oil demand this year.
There's more...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Do We Want It Enough?


No one said any of this was going to be easy. BUT damn.

So each day I wonder, where has my political fervor gone? I worked my ass off from 2002 till last year. Not a day went by where I did not do something political. And I mean way beyond blogging. Registering voters, making phone calls, going on political trips to learn more and do more. I worked on the Dean Campaign, The Kerry Campaign, The 2006 midterms and the Obama Campaign. I wrote, cried, and shed a lot of blood sweat and tears.

But summer 2009 till now... it has been the hardest ever. I just feel my will weakening under so many disappointments. And I ask myself. Do I want it enough? I mean nothing is going our way fast enough and the voices of the progressive movement are being shouted down in every arena.

Do we want it enough?

What is IT?

It is the whole deal... social justice, human rights, peace, health care, civil rights, women's rights, a sane world where science is real and religion is between you and your god.

That is IT. And what is clear is that if we want IT> we are going to have to keep working. Because "they" don't want it, or don't understand it, or are too afraid of it. And we are the only things slowing the slide into crazy land. Really I don't want to diminish the humans on the right but it is crazy...

a snapshot of what they believe...and do.


Declaring how our great health care system is and resisting change as we slip into nationwide medical bankruptcy and hover at the low 30's in quality health care.

Denying climate change as DC gets more snow than they have had in over 100 years and other places see record rains, drought, heat, hurricanes, etc.

Denying evolution as the rest of the world celebrates the life and contributions of Darwin.

Shouting at Tea Party rallies as families lose their homes.

Yammering on about founding fathers and the consitution as the highest court in the land grants unlimited election influence to corporations with money and limits voting access to regular Americans with election fraud claims and voter discrimination laws.

Taking control of a woman's body while women make advances around the world and lead many nations into the new decade.

Those are just some of the choices. I am sure we can all name more. That is what they want. Do we want to stop them?

Do we want it enough?

If the answer is yes, then we damn well better figure out how to get the Dems to do what is right as they are the only choice we have right now. We better force that spinal transplant any way we can.

And I better get back to political action each and every day. I better find the will to keep on fighting. How about you?

There's more...

Subtle Training Aid

I give you the "G Point Mouse", from Yanko Design. h/t Gizmodo

There's more...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sez It All


(from GraphJam, hat-tip to Kat)
There's more...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Like Hell Needs A Heat Wave...

(Photo From Associated Press)

“When the Caribbean catch a cold, Haiti...she catch the bubonic plague.”
Unidentified West Indian Man on the 4 Train From Brooklyn, Jan. 14th, 2010

I live in one of the western hemisphere's largest West Indian communities outside of the actual Caribbean, in jerk-spiced, heavily patois-ed central Brooklyn—Crown Heights, and the talk for the last week on the streets has been of the highly animated variety as that section's huge Haitian component is in an utter panic over the literal upheaval in their mother country, Haiti. The monster quake that struck the impoverished island nation—a 7.1 temblor (Quick: How many of us out there knew there was an apparently major fault line running under the sea in the west's main vacation region? Not this geology geek, so you'd better believe I'm now checking up on every place remotely close by) laid brutal waste to a country one news industry friend of mine unfortunately dubbed based on its treatment by neighbors, the “taint” of the hemisphere. Already compromised by scores of years of benign neglect and outright plunder by the more monied interests nearby, the quake shook down the flimsy housing used by the country's dirt-poor majority.

Clapboard, chipboard, plywood, drywall—every third-line material you could use for building a home (as opposed to their intended use of merely finishing a solid home's interior) was found more than wanting in the wake of the earth's vigorously shaking its head “No...this will not stand.” A wall one minute, mere powder, or worse yet—layers of painful, trapping debris the next, much of Port-au-Prince lay like this now. Sadder still is the fact that while you wish a disaster like this on no land, you could not pick a worse place for hell to come a' calling and then brusquely re-arrange all the furniture.

The Presidential Palace is only rubble now. The Hotel Montana in Port Au Prince collapsed into a mess of masonry with nary a whisper from the pile. (The fear is that there may be over 150 dead beneath it all). The U.N. headquarters in Port Au Prince? Flattened.

And these...these were among the country's buildings that boasted structural integrity.

______________________________


I came of age in a section of Queens where many of Haiti's bourgeoise elite skittered to when their patron saint, dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier decided to break out like the chicken pox when it became clear in a post-Marcos, post-Pinochet world that despots were on the way out whether they liked it or not. These people took whatever was left after the U.S. government-enabled Baby Doc kleptocratized Haiti's treasury (fleeing to the country's “parent” colonizer, France...Cést la vie.) , leaving only an angry, impoverished majority and a skeleton crew of untouchable, well-connected and heavily armed elites. The old government's hatchet men (said armed elites), the infamous, machete-wielding Tonton Macoutes were driven underground and many away to my neighborhood where through the thick Creole talk you could hear their laughing tales of brutality at the people's expense as they lived their new, secondary lives in the “do-over” USA.

You could hear their prideful talk of the class schism there and how they looked down on the teeming poor they beat dissent out of.

They chortled about how backward and awful the country was beyond the iron gates and concrete walls of their encampment-like homes down there. These folks got a good, old fashioned re-boot here, parlaying monies and assets grabbed from home into real estate scams here. The unfortunateness back home? There would be a hard suck of the teeth, a mocking laugh, and a dismissive wave of the hand at all that. What did it matter? They were here and not there. Not terribly tired, no need to huddle en masse, but still yearning to continue getting the “free” lunch at the expense of someone else. Liberté, indeed.

______________________________


Haiti if you didn't know, was the western hemisphere's first “of color” people to aggressively shake off the bridle of colonialism and achieve independence. It did so in the late 1790s and early 1800s under the generalships of the legendary Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jacques Dessalines and it has seemed that ever since that day the country has been made to do a penance for such an insolence—with that independence being twisted into a rough abandonment, save for the plundering by nearby powers, Haiti unfortunately still needed to get by from day to day. The U.S. is one such power of course, having occupied Haiti for the first quarter of the last century) but the closer one—backed and supported by us was always the Dominican Republic, sitting to Haiti's east across a nearly vertical border—as if drawn in a scraggly marker line by an angry sibling down the middle of a room they shared—an island nation divided. After many battles for power between the island's Spanish and French peoples—Haitians claiming leadership by sheer numbers, the Spanish taking power through better connections in terms of trade and commerce, The republic's brutality towards her immediate neighbor was eventually manifested in the usual way, the awful, vivid “color” line of lighter-skinned folk considering themselves more valuable than their darker skinned countrymen. No one wants to be low man on the sociological totem pole, so racism's “shadings” work exceptionally well in warping folk against one another in that mad scuttle to not be the least desirable. The Dominican Republic effectively used Haiti's Black populace as a domestic staff, bottom-barrel agri-workers (notably the de-facto slaves in the prosperous sugar cane fields) and a general menial labor force, all the while denying them basic worker's rights and more importantly, human rights, particularly during the brutal Rafael Trujillo regime where that hard line between light and dark calcified enough to almost actually split the one-island / two nations into two separate countries drifting away from each other amidst a sea of blood. The massacre in 1937 of nearly 30,000 Haitians living along the countries shared border by Trujillo's troops on a racial purification whim helped to roil that sea mightily.

But...how did Haiti end up so easy to exploit?

______________________________

Pat Robertson is a proudly, piously evil warper of words, a twister of truths, and a leading liar of legend. He also cannot suffer enough for my tastes for his coarsening of discourse in America and his un-Christian tendency to cast vile aspersions on the meek and weak among us. This Anti-Christ (as he constantly espouses things that go four-square against the core tenets of the religion he claims to be a leader and spokesman in) saw fit to make blood-soaked hay of the tragedy in Haiti by going on his sacrilegious little show on his sacrilegious little network and through those grinning, sharkish teeth of his and saying the following...

“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. So the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.”

“Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another,”


Pat's like herpes—a nettlesome virus, always annoying, and he never really goes away. You have to love his barely masked racism—basically saying that Haiti's quest for freedom from French White rule is what damned them and in effect implying that they'd be better off had they just kept quiet and under 'un pouce Gallic' (the French thumb)—a twist on Trent Lott's infamous statement on how America would have been better off had über-segregationist Ol' Strom Thurmond been elected President in 1948. If this blasphemous charlatan knew thing-the-first about Christ, he'd have a deeper understanding of the multiple meanings of one's being made to suffer, and if he had so much as an inkling of knowledge about economics—beyond knowing what trinkets to buy with the money he's snatched from that week's collection plates—he'd know that Haiti's troubles stem from some terrible economic policies that this country helped to enforce.

Here's something few people beyond us so-called Chomsky-ites know about the roots of Haiti's empty pockets, failed infrastructure and long-standing hopelessness—via Maggie at Boing Boing through Crooks and Liars:

Summary: Haiti was forced to pay France for its freedom. When they couldn't afford the ransom, France (and other countries, including the United States) helpfully offered high-interest loans. By 1900, 80% of Haiti's annual budget went to paying off its "reparation" debt. They didn't make the last payment until 1947. Just 10 years later, dictator François Duvalier (ed. note: a.k.a. “Papa Doc, “Baby Doc Jean-Claude Duvalier's father) took over the country and promptly bankrupted it, taking out more high-interest loans to pay for his corrupt lifestyle. The Duvalier family, with the blind-eye financial assistance of Western countries, killed tens of thousands of Haitians, until the Haitian people overthrew them in 1986. Today, Haiti is still paying off the debt of an oppressive dictator no one would help them get rid of for 30 years.

The rest of the world refuses to forgive this debt. So, in a way, maybe Robertson is right. Haiti is caught in a deal with the devil, and the devil is us.


Somewhere beyond us all, Walt Kelly's prescient “Pogo” gives a knowing nod of acknowledgement...and then watches today's news...and cries his eyes out.

______________________________

Did you know that after François Duvalier's greedy scion (“Baby Doc”) took over the razored crop of dictator, and after some years when he found himself at the mercy of a citizenry bent on deposing him, he looted the country's coffers for what millions he could (Approximately five hundred million) and was flown out of Haiti on a U.S. Air Force aircraft after back channel negotiations with the Reagan administration?

His immediate legitimate successor, the socialist-minded, but wildly popular cleric Jean Bertrand Aristide never stood a chance. A lock-stepped GOP congress would obstruct virtually every attempt to aid Haiti, publicly diminishing him by painting him as insane, choking off funding for infrastructure rehabilitation and educational reform, and even playing politics with the U.S. military when President Bill Clinton wanted to send Marines in to help quell the violence from the near civil war that broke out when what remained of the Tonton Macoutes and their influential backers violently sought to quash the people's quest for independence, “2.0”. (Unlike their bat-blind support of our incursions into the direct threats like Panama and worse, Grenada during the Reagan regime) We found out that folks like hardcore Duvalier-ista Emmanuel “Toto” Constant were hustled here (into my old neighborhood in Queens) on the “hush hush and very Q.T.” because they'd had ties to our intelligence agencies—doing what, we'll never truly know. These thugs ran a violent insurgent operation back home under the the acronym of FRAPH—ostensibly standing for The Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti but ironically translating phonetically into the French word for “hit” or “to whip”.

They did this from our shores. With the aid of people Pat Robertson called friends in our government. They undermined the freedom movement at every turn, helping to spiral Haiti drain-ward ever moreso to where it was pretty much anarchy, with roving bands of partisans on both sides attacking their foes and exacting revenge with extreme prejudice. Bodies of the casualties of this in-civil war would be left in the gutters at twilight. By midnight, feral pigs would emerge from the fields to claim their reward, gnawing greedily at the corpses. Daylight would come and the sundered bodies would remain there, fear gripping anyone who claimed them, thinking a decent burial signaled partisanship one way or another.

So there those bodies lay. Torn open. Violated. A vivid metaphor for Haiti herself.

______________________________

God lives there. In Haiti. In spite of the lunatic dribblings of Pat Robertson. He would have people believe that at night the country is full of wild, painted-faced witch doctors dancing about, tossing chicken bones here and there and sticking pins in rough-hewn, blue-eyed, blonde-haired dolls for shits, giggles and goofabout evil. It's a fantasy he probably has about folks in Watts and Bed-Stuy too. But God lives there in Haiti and lives there hard—the land is about eighty-five percent Catholic, which could explain about thirty percent of Pat's syrupy venom in recent days. (The other seventy percent is straight-up Mandingo fear n' hate.) 'Horns and hooves on them damned Pope lovers!' is Robertson's people's mantra. I saw a report on CNN where a woman was rescued from being trapped in collapsed roof and wall debris for two days and what struck me was her odd calm as she was carried prone from a certain, crushing death—as well as her matter-of-fact confidence in a God that Robertson says her people forsook...



“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
--Mohandas Gandhi


Amen.

______________________________

Here's something I did not know until this past summer at my family's first family reunion since the early nineties—my family tree, once root-cut at around the time of Lincoln in spite of our best efforts to pull an Alex Haley and get to the beginning of things, now goes back a touch further and links with Haiti. Senegal is where we hail from, the details noting a group of warrior brothers from there ending up in Haiti fighting against Napoleon's troops for Henri Chrsitophe—a L'Ouverture General. Deemed outsider rebels, even after victory they could not remain and were sent to Louisiana and sold into slavery. But, the “laws” of that sin being what they were, they were split up with some sent to Mississippi as no more than two purchased slave brothers could be enslaved in the same state.

My last name is a French one—presumably not from the Haitian adventure that started my family's time here in the Americas, but from the Louisianan who evidently owned us. This is information we're still sussing out.

My odd ties to Haiti. There the hell they are.

______________________________

If you live in Black Brooklyn, you've seen the barrel trucks and their accompanying barrel services. Many West Indian families after a time here have a ritual they observe—a giving back to home in the method of shipping large, sturdy transport barrels to whence they came. Folks will fill these barrels with all manner of inexpensive, but necessary things that the less fortunate or less able to acquire back home are only too thankful to receive. Walk the streets of Brooklyn and you'll see the trucks bounding down the potholed streets and you'll go by the small international shipping storefronts that handle the big, spool-like parcels stuffed with toiletries, bedding, underwear, children's clothes, and nearly unperishable boxes of Ramen Noodle foodstuffs. In the last few days I've seen at least five times the usual number of these trucks going by, and the stores peppered with people looking at the barrels displayed outside, mentally gauging just how much they can cram into them to get something...anything they can back home to help.

And therein lies the irony. These barrels are shipped inexpensively via container ships landing at Haiti's capital, the natural harbor of Port-au-Prince, meaning quite literally “Port of The Prince” (As in “Le Prince”, the famed ship that docked there in the 18th century to protect it against British attacks.). But the port itself, the docks and unloading cranes—are simply gone—torn asunder or just shaken to the bottom of the Gulf of Gonâve like the downy fluffs at the bottom of a snow globe. The nearest alternate access port is some sixty miles away, forcing transportation of supplies over shattered roads that have been deemed at best, impassible, so the barrels accumulate here while people go hungry and thirsty there. There is no “port” anymore, and certainly nothing prince-like or remotely royal remaining to accept the bottlenecking necessities being packed up here some 1500 miles northwest.

It is but a coastline now. Côte de Pauvre...“a coast...of paupers”.



I saw a skinny man, his clothes hanging off him like a blowsy flag on a pole on a news feed in the midst of a group of frantic Haitians snatch a box of what appeared to be MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) from an aid worker and run away, stopping and wheeling about only to realize there was absolutely nowhere to hide with it—as all about him had been flattened. Another Haitian desperately yelped “That's for all of us!” They mercifully cut away from the madness, but to scenes of people wandering about the devastation in what were obviously either hand-me-down or as noted above, sent-bulk-with-little-thought-to-exact-sizing clothes. Odd, irregular items and things shipped there to be desperately ditched from the wealthy universe beyond Haiti, like printed T-shirts from sports championships that never happened. Would-be winning locker room memorabilia. Dreams that never came true, commemorated in clothing the dreamers wanted no one to see, on people no one really cared about. Oh, the mysterious ways in which things do move.

______________________________

And then there are the un-mysterious ways. There are some things certain people clearly wanted to see in this...to almost encourage and wish into 1080p / 7.1 Surround-Sound reality, namely televised total anarchy. It is one thing to understand and note the distinct possibility of civil unrest what with the enveloping horror in Haiti. It's something else again to appear to be stoking the fires of said unrest with breathless and incendiary reportage. All three cable networks seemed to be engaging in this, but none so brazenly as the usual suspect / expected worst offender, Fox, who spent the first ten days whipping up the same sort of false frenzy they went so overboard with in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Which is kind of ironic when you consider that their initial coverage of the earthquake covered all of seven minutes on the first big night while MSNBC and CNN devoted the amount of air coverage you'd expect with an international disaster of this magnitude.

Seven...fucking...minutes.

Which miraculously turned into nearly seven fucking hours (What a little bit of public shame can do!) of Geraldo Rivera arm-flexing in short sleeves in front of what must be the same shaky-handed cameraman from “24” while madly barking “What's going on, officer? What's going on?!” at peacekeepers patrolling the streets, all the while hoping for the ultimate Fox News-ian “money shot”—a Black guy taking lots of hot lead at the wrong end of a rule-of-law crackdown.

There was no such luck for poor Fox in spite of Geraldo's wheedling and prodding. We instead got more horrible things to look at...like the Associated Press shot that tops this piece. It is one of a type seen in the first few days after, showing the depth and breadth of the death in Port-au-Prince, post-quake. Shots like this were preceded on-air by disclaimers of “graphic content to come” and sadly, they did not exaggerate. The images are “Jonestown” on steroids—veritable roads and even plazas of corpses spread from the camera-person's feet, to the walls of the buildings in the middle ground and worst of all, at times spilling past that center and towards a heat-shimmering horizon. These are the sad victims that can be found and pulled from the rubble. Countless more lay beneath, life ebbing and nature putrefying. Dead-center at the bottom in the AP photo, a man lay with rigor mortis having frozen him in a crucifixion pose.

There is no one under him, but he lies there, back arched, as if he, or something inside of him was being lifted away. Did he die atop something or someone long since pulled from beneath him? Was he contorting to free himself from being pinned when death simply won the battle? We have no clue. All we have is the sad tableau that is the last way anyone will ever see him. The way death leaves you. Fighting. Splayed. Or just appearing as if you'd gone to sleep and could wake at any moment...which of course, you never do. There was another picture of yet another almost acre of bodies with nary an inch of earth to be seen between them—they were packed so close—and strikingly, in the midst of it all was an upthrust, red-sleeved arm and hand. It was a still photo, and I hoped, hoped, hoped that perhaps it was a relief worker's hand in that carpet of death signaling to someone or hailing a co-hort to come over and help with a person found alive amidst all that. But on closer inspection, that hand didn't appear to be waving at all. It was quite literally clawing at...something. Maybe at a beam that had trapped and eventually killed the person attached to it, or more eerily—at a departing soul leaving it for parts unknown, to freeze forever just like that as it vespered away. Grasping.

Grasping. For the meaning of it all...as we all do in our small ways every day, but that hand doing so at the unbelievable moment the very earth we walk on shook and then opened its rocky jaws to gobble up a not small chunk of hope in a place where hope had been in short supply since...well, since damn near forever.

And still the people of Haiti go on. They do not quit. Images came in every day of some ashen soul being carried out of the crush, as if they were just chisel-hewn from the concrete—dusty and a bit broken of course, but still alive with a thumbs up for the camera as they go by. Trapped for days in rubble with only their will, their faith—they almost to a letter claimed prayer to God sustained and saved them—to keep them going, these are the things that have kept me going in spite of witnessing the overwhelming awfulness of the tragedies of those we see stacked in the streets, or pulled from the wreckage only to see life ebb away later or be frantically unearthed without it's flicker at all. The eleven-year old girl trapped because her leg was pinned under a bar for a day as the struggle to extricate her reached almost epic drama proportions and who died frustratingly because simple triage and post-trauma care was impossible to get to due to the capital's shattered infrastructure. Or, the other little girl named Winnie, all of eighteen months old, but miraculously yanked from a small air pocket under the concrete slab that had crushed and killed her parents next to her. Her small hand reaching out to a cajoling rescuer and then, there she was, powder-dusted like a small caramel beignet for a moment, but then bathed in repeated pours of bottled water to cleanse her, big eyes blinking as she looked around at the hub-bub, and the carnage...the barely settling back to earth of everything on its surface after being upset by hell quaking below. A friend I was watching this with said, “Thank God she's so young. Maybe she won't remember this stuff.”

They repeated the clip and I looked at her huge, searching eyes again and wondered how she couldn't help but retain something of this.

I hear of a friend of a co-worker heading there to help out in the relief efforts, a former Peace Corps volunteer with medical training and I am pained. What can I do? I still fuck up getting a Band-Aid on straight. And in typical American fashion, the solution is...to throw money at the problem.

It's what we do best, really.

In the case of this poverty-drenched place, (look at that income table above again and let the numbers sink in deeper) it can actually help more than a little, so I do what I can.

Something to Oxfam, and something to The Red Cross (via Apple's simple donation portal in iTunes—which they get no cut of for hosting—a nice touch). Question: Do I feel better afterward? Answer: Well...not really. But, you do what you can—and that goes not just for me, but for you the readers. Be it money you contribute or time, or as the Port-au-Prince airstrip has re-opened somewhat, items you donate that will be shipped there now, relief drives and benefits abound—small, like the local one my brother went to on Sunday that simply requested people bring items to donate for shipping, and large like the weekend's millions-raising, pan-network (save for Fox News, as if you didn't already know) telethon.

Do what you can.

______________________________

Numbers: Nearly 150,000 people are estimated as having died in Haiti's quake, with the toll expected to crest above some 200,000 when all is said and done.

Numbers: 400,000 Haitians are being moved out beyond Port-au-Prince's perimeter to ease the health-compromising crowding, and to facilitate the clean-up of post-quake debris—the man-made variety and the organic...of every sad sort. Imagine the population of New York's borough of Staten island being moved miles away from home all at once and you then understand the swollenness of that figure and the wild ambition in making it happen.

Numbers: Ninety percent of the schools in Port-au-Prince have been totally destroyed.

Numbers: Close to five thousand American citizens are listed among the unaccounted for in the quake's wake.

Numbers: Eleven Days from the day of the temblor's initial fury, Wismond Exantus, was pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Napoli through a hole almost no wider than his shoulders. He was in the small wooden grocery shop / stall when it struck and found himself cocooned with a couple of beers and a soda to subsist on for 11 days. He'd heard voices outside for a while, then as they drifted away, sought only to survive on those few non-nutritional foodstuffs about him until someone came near again. Fortunately, someone did.

“I was hungry,”' Exantus told The Associated Press from his hospital bed soon after the rescue. “But every night I thought about the revelation that I would survive.”

From his hospital bed, Exantus turned to his family and said, “When you are in a hole I will try to reach out to you, too.”

“It was God who was tucking me away in his arms. It gave me strength,” he added.


______________________________

Throughout this disaster's playing out, a quiet, but oft-repeated mantra has been heard. You've probably contributed to the massed murmur yourself, saying “Well, just when you think you have it rough, you see somebody who's got it really rough.”

Just 'cause it's a cliché doesn't make it any less true.

Maybe your cable bill's a bitch this month. The car's passenger side window leaks onto the seat when it rains and it's rained a lot. Your kid's retainer is cracked in two because he won't use it and left it strewn someplace where he stepped on it. That “special” girl you met at the internet café un-friended you and won't respond to your e-mails. A volcano-like zit has manifested itself on the tip of your nose on the morning of your job interview.

Ugh.

Let's step it up: Your unemployment benefits are running out. You can no longer afford the car payments. Your spouse is spending way too much time hanging with their “work wife / husband” outside of the job and doesn't seem to really like you any more. That mystery “lump” near a key part of your body won't go away and feels like it's gotten bigger. Mom had to be prompted more than a little bit to remember who you were when she woke up after bedrest for that bad cold.

Ugh squared.

Take all those things. Multiply them if you wish. And then...take almost all of your money away, remove whatever creature comforts you have left, abandon all hope of work getting better—if you were lucky enough to have work, and top it off with the most basic of rough family drama. By the way, make sure to live on an island where your immediate geographical neighbor country hates you and your kind.

Now...shake the earth beneath you for a good eight seconds or so (that feels like it lasts eight hundred years) as the clapboard, chipboard, plywood and drywall world around you literally comes crashing down around you, onto you, Goddamn it...into you...with no governmental superpower safety net / infrastructure support in place to help you, much less save you.

That is having it “rough”. And that is life in Haiti now.

You see, it's easy...as easy as hell for those who thanks to the largesse of the deluded to take this tragedy as an opportunity to make said ill-knowledged among us somehow feel superior to people they're just a few missed paychecks and a major stumble away from being not very dissimilar to. The likes of Robertson and the doubly embittered Limbaugh (who I pray the next time he is hospitalized ends up in New York or Florida with an extremely news-savvy West Indian nurse controlling the drip on his painkiller i.v.), and Beck have their scripts and know their parts. They will do what they do because just under the gauzy veil of their fulminations they know that to deal in matters of truth would require effort and worse, an exposure of just how weak and cowardly they actually are. 'Don't help them!' 'It's God's punishment!, they bleat about the unfortunate. Were you to take these...“men”, and put them in the same situation as Mr. Exantus noted above, trapped with virtually nothing to live on, well they would most surely snap and reduce to something lower than the climactic brutality of “Lord Of The Flies”. We would probably unearth the trio, only to find them linked to our eternal horror in a macabre, cannibalistic wheel—Limbaugh greedily gagging on Robertson's legs, Robertson, beatifically goitered on Beck's body up to the hip, and Beck, eyes a' tearing from gorging on ol' Rush past even that fabled pilonidal cyst, their animal hunger winning out over humanity after but a day's worry. Cathode-rayed and transistor-amplified tough guys who would project their fears and anxieties on others. Remember how in the aftermath of the last Presidential election these very folk supported and in many ways fed the fires of violent anarchy in this country with their spiteful words? Encouraging Americans to arm themselves and prepare for what?—We still don't quite know. Very few missed meals among this bunch. More than a little bit comfortable. Health care...excellent health care an absolute given for them. Disaster brings out the oddest things in people. For those directly affected it can spur nearly superhuman levels of heroism or drive people otherwise separated by the gulfs of class and race into a peculiar but necessary and oddly beautiful teamwork. For those on the sidelines it can either move them to a raw empathy, prompt them to bold, altruistic action or for the minority who feed on misfortune because of the relative shallowness of their own lives to project that hate onto the victims.

The victims and their behavior become a justification for every awful thing in the minds of the hateful. Except...for when those for whom hell has opened up and scorched, magnificently fail to live down to the hopes of the truly evil among us.

We entered Haiti like a lot of the folks entering Haiti, down right nervous. Haiti has a history of horrible acts of violence against its own people and visitors. Journalists have died in Haiti. There are many guns and many vendettas. It's not just that there is an earthquake whose aftershocks could rattle away at what remains.

There is an expectation of danger, a question in the air. Will these desperate, disheartened, wounded people rise to violence and theft in the wake of this latest, largest disaster?

We landed without incident in the yard of the Dominican Embassy with precious supplies brought in by relief organizations. A CNN convoy laden with water and money and fuel followed us in by land without a hitch. And in the days that followed, we did not see a population breaking into buildings or fighting over scant resources. The Haiti we saw is not a land of fires and violence and looting.(Emphasis by LM) This is a land where desperation has been supplanted by despair.

Anguished mothers wait patiently with children wounded and wailing. No one complains. No one pushes.

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The Canadians posted guards at one gate to keep folks from getting to the piers where they brought in supplies, but no one was trying to get in anywhere around this huge dock. They stood in line at distribution centers, grabbed a broom or shovel to help the soldiers clear streets.

When the French erected a mobile medical unit, the people formed a peaceful line and repeatedly expressed their gratitude. These are people with injuries that make you gasp. Many amputations have been done by amateurs in bad circumstances. It's hot. No one said a word. We followed the directors of an orphanage as they traveled through some of Port-au-Prince's poorest neighborhoods. They didn't have many supplies, but they wanted to share. No one tried to rob us. A woman broke down in tears begging us to help us find her son. She ignored our bottles of water and food. She just wanted her son.

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The story of Haiti, at this time, is not one of unending violence, looting and a population angry enough to fight over scant resources.(Again, emphasis by me) But the people we met were wounded and weary and afraid to go back inside. The earth could shake at any moment and death could visit once again.


Very unkind people here in our land of plenty practically prayed for “Dawn Of The Dead”-like madness to ensue, and it didn't even come close to coming close. Why was there hope for such? For the sheer morbid, vicarious entertainment of seeing humanity stripped down to its raw and titillating “Fuck it!¸” core for one thing. To weakly justify their hatred of people browner and poorer than themselves is another reason. And...and...to distract from the sick sort of crazy they not-very-far-beneath-the-surface fantasize about occurring here to hopefully purge the land of those they deem undesirable—namely, anyone not like them.

Good ol' nihilistic projection. More on that in a later post.

Meanwhile...weeks after the quake, a man is found beneath the rubble. Four weeks to be precise. Alive. No one knows how, but there he is...in spite of it all. Simply unexplainable. There is much we'll learn about ourselves after this, and much we've sadly seen confirmed already. The image in this whole situation that will stay with me is an odd one, though. On day three of this crisis I believe, I saw a report on MSNBC about life, or what was passing for life in Port-au-Prince in the quake's immediate aftermath. It was a long shot near the embassy where there were practically ramparts of bodies stacked to and fro, and there just past those hillocks of humanity was a group of Haitian children blithely kicking around a soccer ball as the field reporter—Ann Curry it was—noted the surrealism of the scene. In the face of the utter disruption of everything...EVERYTHING—probably the most affected people there—the children—boldly...maybe even crazily aspired to something beyond normalcy. A hyper-normalcy.

Logan Abassi / AFP/Getty Images via United Nations

I really don't know if there's a lesson in that—them kicking that ball around. But it did make me think about life here in general. What we obsess on...what we take for granted as we rail about our “awful” travails and obstacles. Those kids kicking that ball around.

While we, in every selfish and stupid way possible it seems, just keep kicking the same old cans down the road.
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

National Debt Pie Chart, FY1950-2009

(Infographic: Cumulative US Federal Debt in Constant $2008, FY1950 - 2009
by Evan Robinson, Group News Blog)

A private correspondent reading my previous post suggested a chart showing cumulative debt instead of by year. So here it is.
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