The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, December 07, 2007

Power out

The power was out this morning. Damned inconvenient, but it jelled some thoughts to me. First, I wanted to apologize to Erich. I can understand how my comments could sound condescending to those who have Right wing views, or support the invasion of Iraq. To his great credit, HE was the one reminding me that both sides consider themselves on the side of the Angels. Just flat true. And I know how my comments got skewed, too—listening to too much political radio while I drive. Yuck.
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But there was a possibly important piece that came from that listening, specifically to the Thom Hartman show. He’s dry, but quite smart. I felt he was being less than totally clear in his conversation with a lady discussing the nuclear power industry however. While stumping for renewable energy, I felt she made an excellent point about something she called “Base Load” energy. Now, I’m not an engineer, so if someone out there can correct my impression, I’d be grateful. Her point is that solar, and geothermal, and wind power can’t run factories. Nuclear, hydroelectric, and Petrochemicals (coal and oil) can. To the degree that this is true, it’s possible to see a wider, disturbing but not evil implication to the Iraq adventure. If instead of saying “no war for oil” we looked at the things that oil means: heat, jobs, transportation, food, communication, and so forth, I remember a line from a movie some where, where the shadowy villain reminds the upright hero that if the grid crashes due to lack of energy, America won’t ask so many questions about morality. It will ask why we didn’t go over there and get the damned oil. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Saddam was sitting on the world’s second largest oil reserves. But it is also impossible to ignore that Americans are perfectly willing to pay upwards of three dollars a gallon for their precious gas. It is also true that, just like Global Warming, by the time everything crashes its too damned late. It is too easy to see a room full of good, decent people determined to keep Granny from freezing next winter, looking at Saddam and thinking…well, that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

The fact that everything has gone so wrong is a tragedy. The fact that billions of dollars have been wasted and diverted is the same. The fact that he was a genuine monster crushing his people is incontrovertible. There are so many strands here, and I don’t think it is at all possible to unwind them and produce “good guys” and “bad guys.” There are individual personalities that make my skin crawl, but I think that the issues here are so huge, and most people don’t want to think about how fast we could revert to barbarism if there wasn’t enough bread or water to go around. And as long as there IS that bread or water, we can afford to act high up on Maslow’s hierarchy, kind of like 20th Century folks who look back and think Southerners were “evil” for owning slaves. My opinion? If the grid crashed, we’d have slavery again by noon tomorrow. And warlords. And rioting like America has never seen.

Human beings have too much fear in their hearts. And not for nonsensical reasons, either. It is very, very important for me to remember to keep a balanced view. I want the whole world to survive this. Especially us.

16 comments:

Frank said...

Look, Steve, clearly Iraq was about Oil, in the sense that we can not let out enemies control it's price. Nor can we let our stateless enemies, aka, the Islamists have control of such wealth and the resulting infrastructure. God knows we have enough enemies with oil wealth already. Of course none of them appear to be completely off their rocker; well except Iran.

But if it was just about oil, we could have cut a deal with Saddam to get it. Certainly the French and the Chinese were already trying to get the sanctions lifted so they could activate deals they had.

We could easily have let Saddam buy our vote in the Security Council in exchange for exclusive, cheap oil. Real Real Politik.

So be careful.

In the Sci Fi realm, Frank Herbert understood the problem "The Spice must flow" There is no doubt in my mind that he wrote Dune specifically with the Middle East, and oil, in mind.

But also understand this; what the Bush Administration is pushing for is for the "Federal" Government in Iraq to share the oil wealth with all of the ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. It is not a situation where we are trying to steal the oil.

We just need to keep it flowing, and we need to have the stateless enemies remain stateless, or at least without oil wealth.

One Iran is quite enough.

dwesley said...

A few years ago when I lived in Maryland for a short time, a hurricane blew through to the south and disrupted the whole region. We were without power for five days (mostly because of lines down when trees blew over).

On the first day everyone emptied their freezers and handed out all the icecream treats to every kid in the neighborhood, letting them gorge themselves silly while the adults grilled every piece of meat they could find. By the fifth day, people were sitting on their front steps watching the tree's grow and becoming quite agitated at the power company, the government, and even the guy down the block who had his own generator. There were areas nearby that had power restored, so you could still get food and other necessities, but it's hard to realize how much we rely on that power until it's gone. And the only thing that keeps you from going a little nuts is knowing that it will be back on in the very near future.

But imagine if the power went off in the whole State and no-one could tell you if or when it would ever come back on. You'd have no money because it only exists as bits and bytes in a computer. How would you survive?

I'm afraid that if we ever see a deadly pandemic sweep across this country, one that has a significant death toll, that the ultimate threat would be to our infrastructure. What percentage of the population could die before it becomes impossible to keep the lights on? And if you can't keep the lights on, how soon will our civilization crumble? And how many people will die with the fall of civilization as the strong seek to survive over the weak?

We live in a technological age and I don't believe there is any turning back, nor do I want or advocate turning back to a simpler time. But, I think the energy distribution network needs to be robust with excess capacity built in. People need to get over their irrational fear of radiation and take advantage of the clean, carbon friendly, home grown power that nuclear energy provides. They need to do it before the lights go out.

Dan Moran said...

I'm optimistic, long term. Fairly pessimistic, short term. Shale oil technology is profitable around $70 a barrel -- we passed that making speed. And about two thirds of all oil shale reserves in the world ... are in the US, and almost all of that on federally owned land. The oil economy is going to have some shocks, but peak oil is only a concern (today) if you limit yourself to easily extracted liquid oil.

Short term -- $6 a gallon gas? Sure, wouldn't surprise me a lick. But we'll survive that. We'll accelerate the adoption of alternate fuel sources, people will actually learn to conserve --

Forty years ago, except in the depths of winter, my grandfather heated all the water on his ranch with solar power. He kept the hot water in an insulated tank and blew air across exposed pipes at night to heat his bedroom. The house ran off batteries and only connected to the grid when the batteries got low ...

His electric bill was a tenth what other ranches in the area dealt with. Had he been able to sell excess capacity back to the grid (you couldn't, in those days) he'd have made a profit -- or more of a profit, since the electric savings paid for the gear several times over during the time he had that ranch.

The only things we as a society have to worry about are other people and our own stupid decisions. For what our Middle East policies are costing us, directly and indirectly, we could be generating our own energy and selling excess to the world. Only our own stupidity is preventing us.

Anonymous said...

No offense taken!

One of several reasons I read this Web site routinely, and post to it fairly often, is that it's actually possible to disagree about politics here, yet people do it sanely and respectfully. Imagine that, huh?

There's not much doubt in my mind that it'd be easier to have productive political dialogues in this country if more people were aware of their inner demons. Which, of course, is what Lifewriting, FlowFit, et al. try to guide people to do. Without such a self-awareness, political argument can be yet another example of "waking the Kundalini backwards". Unfortunately, instances of that abound...


--Erich Schwarz

Nancy Lebovitz said...

There is slavery in the US and other first world countries. It happens to illegal immigrants, and sometimes to legal immigrants.

It's not on a large scale, it's not public, and there aren't any slave auctions so far as I know.

As far as I can tell, people have no innate inhibitions against owning slaves. For comparison, they do have some inhibitions against killing people in their social group.

Any place that slavery is absent or rare is a place with powerful social and legal pressures to prevent slavery.

We deserve credit for having those pressures and owe gratitude to the people who made it possible, sometimes at the cost of their lives. However, as with gas and electricity, those pressures only continue if they're maintained. It isn't a matter of our innate wonderfulness, and it's all too easy to think that it's the latter.

Pagan Topologist said...

I do not believe that "factories cannot run on wind, solar, or geothermal power." Lots of factories can, perhaps a few cannot. There are engineering problems to solve, sure. But a robust, varied energy supply, including solar, geothermal, wind, and nuclear is the best hope for our long term survival. We desperately need to stop burning fossil fuels, since there is almost certainly a limit to how much carbon the planet systems can absorb. The fact that we do not know just what this limit is is not proof that it does not exist. I still cannot imagine why people ignore Venus as a clear example of what can happen to a planet when the greenhouse effect gets out of control.

Josh Jasper said...

There was (and is) no one cohesive "Islamist" group that controls oil wealth. Iran and Saudi Arabia are not co-islamist in any sense, nor is Baharain, Jordan, or any of the nations in the region. The only one place where Islamic leaders really control the nation is Iran.

So, of course, we invaded secular, Iraq, wasted huge amounts of money, and are no closer to being a credible threat to Iran, the one group you actually identify as a threat.

Oil flowing is important to the world as a whole. But the only actual damage that's been done to that has been through our invasion of Iraq.

Before we invaded, the situation was controllable. Right now, Iran has huge amounts of leverage because an invasion of Iraq on our part would mean loosing Iraq to violence on a scale we've never seen there before. We handed them a damoclean sword to hang over our head in the middle east.

Th Iraq invasion will, in my estimation, go down in history as one of the costliest, most horrific military and political blunders ever.

But beyond that, the Bush administration has sat on it's ass in terms of creating and encouraging a conservation lifestyle in Americans, and the core right wing support of Bush is almost exemplified by the desire to be wasteful and consumptive in order to somehow piss of environmentally conscious liberals There's so much work we could have done to promote alternative fuels, hybrid cars, or even nuclear power. If we had poured the money we spent on Iraq into just building a network of nuclear power plants and making a major industrial push to move to hybrid or alt fuel cars, how much better would our economy be, how much cleaner would our air be, and how much closer would we be to not having to care about Islamic control of oil in the middle east?

I'd like to remind conservatives here that the front runner for the Republican nomination, Rudy Giuliani, has his foreign policy advisor, Norman Podhoretz, on record as being one of the leading voices in favor of a military assault on Iran. This is despite an NIE report that Iran suspended it's covert nuclear program. Podhoretz clams that this is because the CIA is trying to undermine Bush, something he has no proof of.

Frank said...

Josh Jasper said

There was (and is) no one cohesive "Islamist" group that controls oil wealth.

Of course, that is precisely what Saddam's Ba'ath Party was all about: Pan Arabism. And while he was was not "Islamist" it's what drove him to attack both Iran and Kuwait.

Also, militarily, he was the biggest and baddest military power on the block.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not co-islamist in any sense

No they are not. In fact the Saudi's fear Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons as much as Israel does. Pretty much for the same reason they didn't like Saddam a whole helluva lot. Which is what lead them to allow US bases being stationed on their soil: fear of a move by Saddam to take the Saudi oil fields by force. Which is precisely what he tried to do in the Gulf war: Kuwait was first, but the next stop was definitely Saudi Arabia.

Oil flowing is important to the world as a whole. But the only actual damage that's been done to that has been through our invasion of Iraq.

Ridiculous. Iraq's oil was off the market except for what was proscribed by the Oil for Palaces program. Liberating Iraq, allows for a whole lot more oil onto the market once Iraq is back fully on line. Attacks against Iraq's oil infrastructure have been greatly diminished over the last year and their oil output is steadily increasing.

Before we invaded, the situation was controllable. Right now, Iran has huge amounts of leverage because an invasion of Iraq on our part would mean loosing Iraq to violence on a scale we've never seen there before. We handed them a damoclean sword to hang over our head in the middle east.

Yeah, well, we've got one of those ourselves. And in fact what you see is Iran withdrawing from Iraq. Why? For a bunch of reasons one is that since we cleaned out al Qaida, that left excess resources that began targeting Iran's "Special Groups" operating within Iraq which met with great success for our side, that is. But the other ace we hold is the ability to blockade gasoline shipment into Iran if we so chose. It is not widely understood that while Iran does sit on vast amounts of oil, the import most of their gasoline because that have few refineries.

There is already a whole bunch of political unrest within Iran as their economy slides downhill for an number of reasons. And they have already had a taste of how that is exacerbated with gas rationing. They certainly do not need anymore of that.

But beyond that, the Bush administration has sat on it's ass in terms of creating and encouraging a conservation lifestyle in Americans, and the core right wing support of Bush is almost exemplified by the desire to be wasteful and consumptive in order to somehow piss of environmentally conscious liberals There's so much work we could have done to promote alternative fuels, hybrid cars, or even nuclear power.

One could argue the details of one energy policy over another, but to say that Bush "sat on its ass" with regards to this is misrepresenting what has been done. Or perhaps you are unaware.

For instance, the Energy Plan he signed into law in 2005

Authorized loan guarantees for "innovative technologies" that avoid greenhouse gases, which includes advanced nuclear reactor designs;

Increased the amount of biofuel (usually ethanol) that must be mixed with gasoline sold in the United States to triple the current requirement;

Authorized subsidies for wind energy, and other alternative energy producers;

Added ocean energy sources including wave power and tidal power for the first time as separately identified renewable technologies;

Contained several provisions aimed at making geothermal energy more competitive with fossil fuels in generating electricity;

Authorized the Department of the Interior to develop plans for production, transportation, or transmission of alternative energy resources from Outer Continental Shelf lands (Section 388), including wind, wave or solar power alternatives;

Provides tax breaks for those making energy conservation improvements to their homes;

Requires that Federal Fleet vehicles capable of operating on alternative fuels be operated on these fuels exclusively;

Of course none of these will come about if Congress, now in the hands of Democrats, appropriates the funds to make it happen.

This is despite an NIE report that Iran suspended it's covert nuclear program.

Gee, what got Iran to suspend it's nuclear weapons program in 2003? Was it negotiation?

I don't think so.

And there is no consensus in the NIE about whether or not Iran's nuke program remains suspended currently. Certainly, the UN's IAEA has no such assurances.

AF1 said...

..."and the core right wing support of Bush is almost exemplified by the desire to be wasteful and consumptive in order to somehow piss of environmentally conscious liberals"

I think this is a very accurate statement.

It's sad to see the glee with which some people flaunt their wastefulness, just to spite the environmental liberals.

If the Earth ever goes to crap, how will future generations view such behavior? Kind of like Nero fiddling while Rome burns?

Frank said...

AF1 sez

It's sad to see the glee with which some people flaunt their wastefulness, just to spite the environmental liberals.

Oh, you mean like Al Gore whose home alone consumes 20 times more energy than the national average?

Oh wait. He wasn't flaunting it. He was trying to keep that under wraps....

Josh Jasper said...

Way to report Republican talking points, Frank. On a per square foot basis, Gore's house is less consumptive. It' consumes more energy on average because it's *larger*, not more wasteful. It's actually more efficient. If all US houses were as efficient, they'd consume less, not more energy.

And you people still want to attack Iran. Which will result in more attacks on the oil infrastructure in Iraq, and hardly any oil flowing out of Iran.

Not to mention a real, honest to goodness civil war in Iraq. More hundreds of thousands dead. not to mention the hundreds of thousands dead in Iran if we try and hold the place.

Comes down to it, a lot of the support base for that move is motivated by racism against Arabs and hatred of Islam. Once that's removed, you've got, what, 5, 10% of the voting population on your side?

Frank said...

Josh said

Way to report Republican talking points, Frank.

That's just dismissive. Besides, I'm not a Republican

It's actually more efficient.

How do you know that?

And you people still want to attack Iran.

Who's "you people"?

I certainly don't want to attack Iran. And I don't think it's necessary to physically attack them. At least not in the foreseeable future (i.e. before January 2009)

But nor I do think that "negotiating" with Iran is the answer. Europe has been negotiating with them for years and hasn't got anywhere.

And I would point out, again, that negotiation is not what got them to stop their nuclear weapons program in 2003.

One thing we can do is get Iraq's oil production up full speed and convince China they can get what they get now from Iran from Iraq instead. Then perhaps we'll be able to get them on board with UN sanctions. Of course that would still leave Russia.

Another fruitful path now that France and Germany are being lead by US-friendly chief executives is to perhaps get them to agree to sanctions.

The next step, if these fail, is to interdict their gasoline supplies. That would put the squeeze on their economy in a big way. But that is an act of war, even if we do not physically attack.

But make no mistake, I don't care who is in the White House, be it a Republican (except, perhaps, Ron Paul which is unlikely) or Clinton, or Obama, or even Edwards, Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapon capability. Even if it means war.

Comes down to it, a lot of the support base for that move is motivated by racism against Arabs and hatred of Islam.

Clearly you do not understand the politics of the situation. If we can not hold the center, it will be the Arabs that begin an arms race against Iran.

First, realize that Iran's population is not Arab, they are Persian. This makes a difference because countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are Arab and they are not thrilled about being dominated about a new Persian empire.

They have already put the IAEA on notice that not controlling Iran will force them to start their own nuclear programs.

The only one displaying prejudice here is, um, you.

Frank said...

Josh said

Way to report Republican talking points, Frank.

That's just dismissive. Besides, I'm not a Republican

It's actually more efficient.

How do you know that?

And you people still want to attack Iran.

Who's "you people"?

I certainly don't want to attack Iran. And I don't think it's necessary to physically attack them. At least not in the foreseeable future (i.e. before January 2009)

But nor I do think that "negotiating" with Iran is the answer. Europe has been negotiating with them for years and hasn't got anywhere.

And I would point out, again, that negotiation is not what got them to stop their nuclear weapons program in 2003.

One thing we can do is get Iraq's oil production up full speed and convince China they can get what they get now from Iran from Iraq instead. Then perhaps we'll be able to get them on board with UN sanctions. Of course that would still leave Russia.

Another fruitful path now that France and Germany are being lead by US-friendly chief executives is to perhaps get them to agree to sanctions.

The next step, if these fail, is to interdict their gasoline supplies. That would put the squeeze on their economy in a big way. But that is an act of war, even if we do not physically attack.

But make no mistake, I don't care who is in the White House, be it a Republican (except, perhaps, Ron Paul which is unlikely) or Clinton, or Obama, or even Edwards, Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapon capability. Even if it means war.

Comes down to it, a lot of the support base for that move is motivated by racism against Arabs and hatred of Islam.

Clearly you do not understand the politics of the situation. If we can not hold the center, it will be the Arabs that begin an arms race against Iran.

First, realize that Iran's population is not Arab, they are Persian. This makes a difference because countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are Arab and they are not thrilled about being dominated about a new Persian empire.

They have already put the IAEA on notice that not controlling Iran will force them to start their own nuclear programs.

The only one displaying prejudice here is, um, you.

Anonymous said...

As to what would happen if the power grid did go down for a extended time. I think depnds on the region or area in particular.
Our cities would be hit hardest, they are always one step away from boiling over into mass bloodshed as it is. A power outage would be a perfect trigger for mass rioting, looting and murder.

Take a city like Los Angeles with its 100,000+ gangbangers, ugly race relations between blacks and hispanics and both hating whitey, the city would collapse into carnage in no time.

Rural regions would likely ride it out mostly intact IMO. Though smaller towns near cities would likely be overwhelmed and wiped out by refugees from the cities.

Rodger

Mike Ralls said...

Interesting point from Instapundit today on the lack of pro-War movies from Hollywood:

"Did you know that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the video market has moved 3 million copies -

That as Amazon shows it runs about $50 a copy - that' s a 'box office' of 150 million.

And it's about the current war against terror.

:"Armed with an arsenal of advanced and powerful modern-day firepower, players are transported to treacherous hotspots around the globe to take on a rogue enemy group threatening the world. As both a U.S. Marine and British S.A.S. soldier fighting through an unfolding story full of twists and turns, players use sophisticated technology, superior firepower, and coordinated land and air strikes on a battlefield where speed, accuracy, and communication are essential to victory."

So, if as Hollywood whines that the public doesn' t want Iraqi War movies, why is this selling so well, top of the rental lists, and ever so popular? At this rate it'll be the successful game companies, that gives the pubic what they want, who'll buy out the studios for their IP and name. Hollywood appears to have missed the impact of the technological shift as badly as MSM has. The public is getting the entertainment they crave, just not in the form that the old gatekeepers dispense."

I definitly do think this is strong evidence that there is a market out there for pro-War movies that Hollywood is not filling, mainly due to ideological reasons.

Steven Barnes said...

Roger said: "ugly race relations between blacks and hispanics and both hating whitey, the city would collapse into carnage in no time."

Fine, Roger--as long as you grasp that there is no reason to think they hate Whitey any more than Whitey hates them. Spread the hate around, friend.