Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Okay, it's late, and I'm tired...

...and I've been working really hard today and I shouldn't be taking any of this very serial, but would you people take a gander at this text from an actual honest to God legal petition I had to read this evening? Pertinent facts changed to protect the guilty and keep me from getting fired, naturally.

"Plaintiff slipped and fell on loose rocks outside Defendants’ premises. The rocks were from the rock garden that surrounded the building. There were no warning signs or other protective measures concerning the loose rocks in question. Ms.______ sustained severe personal injuries including a fractured ankle, torn ligaments in her knee, low back and hip pain, bruising, a serious whack to her dignity..."


Seriously, doesn't this sound like a frick'n Doctor Who episode? I can see the teaser now. Innocent Londoner is walking up the street, minding her own business. Camera pans to a rock garden; scary music starts playing. As the innocent Londoner gets closer (gasp!) ONE OF THE ROCKS STARTS MOVING, rolls out of the rock garden past the protective measures, the innocent Londoner steps on it and down she goes! And--wait for it--ALL THE OTHER ROCKS IN THE ROCK GARDEN roll out past the inadequate warning signs, pounce on the innocent Londoner, her scream echoes upon the wind and--Cut to the opening sequence! A vortex, a blue box, David Tennant winging in to save the day...

Okay, I'm going to bed now. Quit shoving.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Night at the Frights

Playing in the background: The air conditioner.
Laundry hung today: Tons.

Okay, kids, it's time to play Jen Scares Herself Silly With An Asian Horror Flick. The flick is called Shutter, not the dull American remake but the original Thai shockeroo. Get on Netflix while they still have profiles and rent this thing, already. From the spooky shadowy negative that suddenly turns its head and looks at you (aaaigh!!!) to the little old lady with the deep dark secret in the upstairs bedroom to the seriously weird never-saw-that-comin' twist ending, this 'un is a good 'un. Would that the U.S. studios made scarefests like this and gave old Jigsaw a rest.

Friday, June 27, 2008

St. Clement and Mrs. Clementine

Playing on the iPod: Steve Roach, something from "Light Fantastic"
Meters swum today: 1700

I found out yesterday that St. Clement is the patron saint of farriers. I also found out yesterday that a farrier is a person who takes care of horses and other quadrupeds. (In this case, Mammoth Jack donkeys.) Big secret: I'm afraid of horses. Well, not afraid of them exactly, but I like them better when they stay on their side of the fence. Yes, I know they're vegetarians and not likely to mistake my breasts for apples (watermelons, maybe.) It's something about their largeness and sharp hoofyness. I seem to have a phobia of being stepped on.

Anyway, one of my time-traveling neocraftsperson friends, Tracy, takes care of Nip and Tuck, the Mammoth Jack donkeys at Dallas Heritage Village. In 1893, her name is Mrs. Clementine and she's the village wagon master. She does a lot of heavy lifting, hauling of stuff, shouldering large bales of hay, 50-pound saddle tacks and stuff like that. To say nothing of shearing sheep, herding chickens, and doing hard physical labor in a general sense. So it kind of sucked when, about three months ago, she began having a series of medical problems that landed her in the hospital twice. I won't tell you what was going on because A. I'm not really sure and B. that's her business, anyway. But, I will say, that when the smoke cleared and the dust settled, she was stuck taking a drug that makes it very easy for her to bleed. A lot. This made a lot of the heavy lifting, hauling, sheep-shearing and stuff like that A Problem. Accidentally nick a sheep while shearing it and it will kick you in the chest and leave a hoof-shaped bruise somewhere unpleasant. (Bitter personal experience? Maybe.) Accidentally nick yourself while you're taking this stuff and you could bleed to death before the ambulance gets there. She's stuck taking the drug for at least six months, which kind of puts a damper on her, career-wise.

So we were all kind of worried that the village might fire her. They're a tiny nonprofit and who knew if they'd be able to hire somebody to do the heavy lifting, sheep shearing, etc. while she convalesced. At the same time we were getting righteously pissed off because if she was having a high risk pregnancy or something, if she'd fallen and broken her leg, or something like that, she wouldn't have had to worry about losing her job.

If there's a problem, I want to fix it. Even when it's not my problem, I still want to fix it. So I figured there must be a patron saint in somebody's pantheon somewhere that might be able to help. And I found one. St. Clement. Mrs. Clementine. Coincidence? Probably.

Anyway, last night I lit a candle for ol' Clement and recited one of those prayers that, being a Buddhist-former-Lutheran, I am not supposed to know. Joan apparently did likewise, and this morning we found out that Mrs. Clementine is not going to be sacked. At least not right away. They're going to re-evaluate the situation in December. Realistically, if she's stuck on this med for life she can't keep this job anyway, it's not safe--but it was awfully sporting of them to let events play things out and see what happens.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hello, Goddess, My Old Friend

Playing on the iPod: Something slow-moving with lots of flutes (that narrows it down...)
Meters swum yesterday: 1800

I was getting ready to write a post about how mopey and depressed I'd been lately when my old friend the Goddess of Fertility plowed into me like a tsunami. That's her on the left, preggers, nursing and surrounded by All Things Spring. And while it's grand to be staying up until all hours, writing my little heart out, flying along on not much sleep and dodging males for fear of quickening if I get too close, I gotta wonder if there's maybe something wrong with me. Don't normal writers just type about an hour a day and then forget about it? Or, by definition, is there no such thing as a normal writer? I dunno. To be sure, though, sometimes I'm cranking it out full tilt, sometimes I'm not not doing sh*t and sometimes (on a rare day) I do the type an hour and go to bed early thing. Honestly, though, not very bloody often.

In case you're wondering, I'm not bipolar. I've been tested. I have been depressed, and I may be depressed now, but damned if I can tell. As soon as the moon passes last quarter we may find out (tonight, 12:20 U.T.), but for the moment I'm just surfing away. Back in the old days I'd start snarfing sugar and caffiene right about now, to keep that high goin' as long as possible. Alas, I can't do that anymore. Maturity sucks.

The very wise Tammy told me that the reason Tolkein ended The Fellowship of the Ring in such a lousy spot was that the guy, being smart and all that, wrote the whole thing all at once. All 1800 pages or whatever the hell. The publisher had to arbitrarily decide where to chop it up, and that was just where the axe fell. So it's not like he chose to end it there. That's just what happened. Contractual obligations are ugly things sometimes. So here's my new plan; don't end Spellbinder. Well, sort of end it, but just keep goin', start Part the Third and let the publisher decide. This presumes I'm gonna find a publisher. Well, let's be optimistic about this thing.

Meantime, I'm taking suggestions about what to call the third one. Spellbinder got named by accident. Kellum was referring to Mindbender and said Spellbinder by mistake and I said, "Hey, I like that," and thus Part Two had a name. Reminds me of this unbelievably awful trio of vampire romance novels (unbelievably awful and vampire romance novels in one sentence; yep, that's redundant all right) called Confession, Possession and Obsession. My first thought was Mindbender, Spellbinder and Pathfinder, but there's not much about pathfinding in the third one (unless you count stumbling around lost, some of which will in fact happen) and let's face it, that calls to mind the unbelievably awful 2007 remake (unbelievably awful and remake in the same sentence; there I go again) of the 1988 Finnish stunner, Ofelas (Pathfinder). (Star Wars on skis. Find it. Rent it. Fall in love. )

So, seriously, I've been bouncing around titles for part three. Pretender. Left Fender. Return To Sender. My favorite so far is And the Nobel Prize Goes To...

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Things I Do For Science

Playing on the iPod: Something by the Tannahill Weavers
Meters swum today: 1700

Don't ask me how this happened, but it seems that some of the characters in Spellbinder will be fawning over an ancient artifact that, by most accounts, probably doesn't exist. It's a funerary breastplate, or maybe belly plate, that covers an Egyptian mummy over the place where the embalmers made the incision to pull out the, um, guts. There were once lots of them, or so the documents tell us, especially in the Amarna dynasty. However, as these things were made of solid gold, they tended to fall prey to tomb robbers, meddling adventurer archaeologists, embezzling Egyptian bureaucrats and the like. Here's a visual:

But anyway, I'm resurrecting one of 'em and sticking it in the book. Does the book have anything to do with ancient Egypt? Uh, no. Does the funerary plate form any great linchpin for the plot, or anything like that? Uh, no. I just happened to mention to my geologist time-traveling neocraftsperson friend Tammy that I was in need of an artifact of a certain size, that weighed a certain amount, that could be valued at a certain price, and this was what she came up with. So I said what the hell, and now I'm trying to figure out some of the technical details. Namely, how valuable is this thing anyway? Okay, it's made of gold and gold has some value, but how does one weigh an ancient, nonexistent funerary breastplate, er, excuse me, belly plate, in the terms of modern commerce?

I've failed in my attempts to Google "Value of Egyptian Amarna funerary belly plate" for some reason, but I did learn that one troy ounce of gold (whatever the hell that means) is approximately the same physical size as a sugar cube. Said sugar cube size piece of gold, circa 1998 when the tale is set, would have been worth an average of $291 (gold set an all time record low that year, dipping down to $250 before creeping back up again.) So, then, how many sugar cubes make a funerary belly plate?

I propose the following experiment:


1. Calculator
2. Sugar cubes (lots)
3. Small, malleable female willing to subject her belly to science. She can keep her clothes on.


1. Have the young lady lie down in the Osiris pose.
1A. Better buy her dinner first.
2. Cover her belly with sugar cubes. No tickling.
3. Gather up the sugar cubes and count them. Bonus points if none of them fall apart.
4. Take the number of sugar cubes, multiply it by $291, and that should be your average figure.

Now, if we used my belly, we'd get some ridiculous stratospheric figure. I've got a calculator and I've added sugar cubes to this week's shopping list (thanks, Joan!) Now all I need is a small, malleable female.

Any volunteers? Dinner's on me...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A snippet from Spellbinder

Look, things are just starting to settle down, Cameron said. I mean, it’s, you know, there’s a house and I live there with some people and they’re nice, and I’m in school and I have some friends, and, you know, it’s–it’s–

Roland pushed the walker around and looked at him, the one green eye reflecting endless patience.

Normal, he managed. Just, you know, ordinary.

The single eye watched him, unmoving.

And I don’t know what I want to do. He didn’t mean to say this much. He couldn’t seem to stop. I mean normal’s okay. Normal’s fine. But what we did was so–

Again Roland waited him out. Not a flicker of expression crossed that scarred face.

Cool, Cameron finished, a poor choice of words for everything he felt.

Then you have a problem, said Roland, which was a relief; for a while there Cameron wondered if he was talking to himself. You cannot be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, as I’m sure you know.

Jen speaking: I'm closing in on the end of this thing. I think it's gonna end in a bad spot and I don't know what to do about that. When Big Steve wrote the second or third part of The Dark Tower, he ended it with Our Heroes on a train, which just happened to be possessed by a psychotic computer that was hurtling them all toward certain doom. (Flashback: This must have been 1991 because I'd just graduated from college and was on my way to, or from, California with my then-boyfriend, Noah. It was my turn to drive and I only had like twenty pages left. Somehow I talked him into reading me the rest while I drove. After a few pages he kind of got into it. He started doing different voices for the different characters, including this dull monotone for the psychotic computer, and when he got to the non-ending, he said, "Well, that sucks.") The ending I have in mind may be just as sucky as far as being nonconclusive. Will it be as bad as Smilla Jaspersen hopping from one ice floe to another in the far north of Greenland, hoping to find other humans before she freezes to death? I dunno, but I'm afraid it's not going to make anybody happy, including me.

What do you do, when you're in the middle of a trilogy and there's no good place to go from Book Two to Book Three? Or Book One to Book Two, for that matter. Ol' Tolkein picked a hell of a place to end The Fellowship of the Ring, with the good guys split up and the bad guys in charge, but somehow you had total faith that Frodo was gonna make it to Mordor with Samwise, Aragorn was gonna catch up with the orcs that made off with Merry and Pippin and kill all one hundred and thirty of them, by himself with no help, and Gondor was going to stand up against the forces of darkness for a little while longer, or at least long enough for Gandalf to show back up from wherever the hell he'd been. Course you had total faith because Tolkein wrote the whole trilogy in the 1950s and this was 2002. I hain't written part three yet. I think I know where it's going, sort of, but I thought that about part two and it hared off in this totally unplanned direction. Fiction does that. It's got nerve.

I mean, I guess I could push it a little bit farther. Invent some cliffhanger or other with the misbehaving psychiatrist or the obnoxious drug runner. Give the mousy accountant some moral dilemma where he could do the right thing-again-and doesn't-again. I could even force the whole story another hundred pages or so to the big betrayal at the Manhattan Bar and Grill in downtown Chalchuapa. But I think that'd be a bad idea. For one thing, I haven't found a publisher for the first one yet. For another thing, every time I push something past where it wants to go it has this bad habit of dying on me. Eight hundred pages into a trilogy is no place to drop dead. For a third thing, I'm tired. It's not easy, this God game. In case you were wondering.

Am I whining? I guess I am. Okay, I'll shut up for now. But if you're one of those people who watched the end credits after The Empire Strikes Back and thought you might have to kill yourself immediately if you didn't find out what happened to Han Solo before the three year intermission, you might wanna just wait until I get all three of 'em out there. Forewarned is half an octopus and all that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

What's Happening?

Playing in the background: The soothing strains of the Intervention theme song
Meters swum today: 1700

We'll have to turn back, honey. It's the Union-Tribune film critic.

So I went to see The Happening, the new M. Night Shamajambalayashawarmarrrgh movie, on Saturday with a gang o'friends. It was my birthday party, sort of, a few days late. And in my newfound respect for the rest of the planet and my fervent desire not to be snarky, I'd just like to say that it wasn't that bad. It was pretty good, actually. Okay, the ending was kind of a mess, and a couple of times there were eye-rolling moments, but for the most part it was sharp, funny and (the prerequisite for any horror movie) very very scary.

If you're a fan of Doctor Who, you may have seen the episode "Blink", in which the bad guys (angel statues--don't ask) show up unexpectedly and you jump out of your seat and spill popcorn all over your stupid self. It's the only thing they do, but they do it so well. This is that same level of scary, but in The Happening, you don't even get to see the bad guys. In fact you aren't even sure there are bad guys. There's just this sinister something in the air that's causing people to drop dead. Literally. Out of windows. Off of construction scaffolds. From trees. (Especially, in one scary moment, from trees.) Is it a bioterrorist attack? Accidental radiation leakage? Some toxin released from a government lab called The Shop, somewhere in Colorado? (Oh, hi, Big Steve! I didn't know you read my blog! What? Lawsuit? Oh, right. Sorry...) Well, I'm not gonna tell you what it is, but one second you're walking down the street minding your own business and the next second you're, uh, dead. And it could happen anywhere. At any time. To anybody. Kind of like, oh, a bioterrorist attack.

Speaking of terrorist attacks, there's a lot of 9/11 in this movie. The construction workers falling from the scaffold, for one thing. Remember that video of the firefighters at Ground Zero, in the South Tower? And the loud thudding noises outside as another body fell, and everybody flinched? That's in there. The same thuds. The same you're-not-actually-getting-to-see-the-bodies-fall-but-you- don't-have-to-see-them-to-know-they're-falling sort of thing. And it starts in Central Park, in New York City. There's probably half a dozen more subreferences that I missed because I was watching the screen from between two fingers (Joan taught me this trick.) Somebody could probably do a master's thesis on that. The Day The Towers Fell: Imagery of 9/11 in the Filmmaking of M. Night Shamajambalayashawarmarrrgh. Sounds like a real page turner, doesn't it?

Anyway, yes, there were things wrong with it, and okay, this or that could have been tweaked to better effect, but I don't think the critics are being fair. Some of the stuff I've read about this movie reminds me of when The Sixth Sense first came out and the San Diego Union-Tribune critic, David Elliott, spent his whole piece arguing that Bruce Willis's character shouldn't have been up and around so soon after getting shot. (Course he also gave Braveheart) a half a star, and then it won Best Picture.) Anyway, I got what I paid for, or rather what Joan paid for; scared out of my shorts. Plus, I got to see a trailer for another movie that, if anything, looks scarier; Mirrors. Added bonus: I got Joan into a theater for an R-rated scary movie. This doesn't happen often. I'fact, this doesn't happen ever. I got away with this because I was the birthday girl. No doubt I'll be going to see Mirrors by my lonesome.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pushin' 40

Playing in the background: Ray Lynch, sounds like "Too Wounded" from The Sky of Mind
Meters swum today: 1700. Miles to date, 79.

So my birthday was yesterday. I've been telling people I'm 40 but I'm really 39. I was hoping if I could convince people at my office I'm 40, they'd think they missed their opportunity to make a big fuss and bring in black balloons and stuff. Unfortunately the manager ratted me out. So now I'm 39 and black balloons do loom. Oh well.

Anyway, I had a nice birthday. My OA sponsor met me for dinner at Afrah!, the Middle Eastern restaurant I'm totally in love with. She gave me this cute li'l pink swim cap. I tried it out today and it did a pretty good job of keeping me warm. Getting cold is a problem for me in the ol' pool. I've tried to go two miles twice, and it's always the cold that finishes me, not my lack of stamina. Joan got me new mala beads made of cedar and I'm wearin' em today. They smell nice! And a pair of cute li'l wind chime earrings. They make a nice tinkling sound. So far I like them, but I can see they could potentially drive me crazy. Remind me not to wear these to court, if I ever get to go. I can hear the judge now: "Please silence all cell phones and earrings..."

Tomorrow a bunch of us are going to see the new M. Night movie, The Happening, at the Studio Movie Grill here in town. Joan is a sport. She doesn't like scary movies but she's still going. I'll try not to write a snarky review. Speaking of which, I was gonna start wearing a rubber band with my wrist mala and snap myself if I caught myself being snarky. One of the advice hags, I think Dear Abby, recommends that to break a bad habit. Was even gonna call it the "Snark Snapper" but I think I'd do better to just note when I could have said something snarky and didn't. So far I've only got about three.

So anyway, that's my birthday. It was nice. And nice is good. Nice is great, actually. Next year at this time I'll do a post called "Haulin' 40 Behind Me On A Trailer."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Snark Huntin'

Playing in the background: Steve Roach, "Structures from Silence
Meters swum today: Nada. I slept in.

I was gonna call this post "The Hunting of the Snark" but I figured Lewis Carroll, or whoever holds his copyright these days, might sue me. Even if he didn't the guy who created the completely amazing "Alice" video game might. The snarks in that game were nasty. Little fishy creatures that, unlike most fishy creatures everywhere, make it their business to kill you. What's up with that? Some of 'em even spit acidy nastyness or blobs of molten rock. Very not cool. Plus, if you managed to kill one, it was only a little triangle of meta-essence, and not a diamond. A triangle's hardly anything.

Having now range vastly afield of the point, I mentioned recently that I wanted to do something about my tendency toward sarcasm and snarkyness. Joan pointed out this morning, and I think she is right, that I just wouldn't be me if I weren't a little bit snarky. The level of snark, however, could definitely come down quite a bit and Jen would still be Jen. The question is how, exactly, one gets rid of snark.

Near as I can figure, I'm snarky because I need to feel superior to, or about, something. Snarking is a great way to put something in its place. Example: Somebody says, "This columnist thinks we should permanently raise the gas tax so it never drops below $4 a gallon to keep demand low." I respond, "(Eye roll) Oh, yeah, that's gonna help." Which says what exactly? Well, that I think it's a stupid idea, but more to the point, that I'm smarter than the columnist. The columnist isn't there, so his feelings aren't hurt, but what about whoever's reading me the column? When I say, "Oh, yeah, that's gonna help," I'm implying not only that the columnist is an idiot but that anybody who agrees with the columnist must also be an idiot. Including whoever's reading the column to me. After all, he/she/it wouldn't be reading it to me unless he/she/it thought that the columnist might have a point. If I said, "What a stupid idea," that would be more honest. Still, what would be wrong with saying, "That's an interesting idea, but I disagree"? That gets my opinion across, without making anybody else feel bad. Including the columnist, whoever he is.

So that's what I'm trying to do. Thus far it has not proven easy. I have so many ingrained knee-jerk responses to things that I use 'em before my brain can engage. The aforementioned "Oh, yeah, that's gonna help" is the most frequent but I also use a bunch of these: "What's next, taxing Sunday drivers?" "Gee, maybe we should just ban all cars from entering Dallas after seven a.m." "Nobody'd pay it anyway. They'd just start riots." "Look, let's just walk to work from now on, okay?" They all say basically the same thing. You're an idiot, I'm smarter than you. And just on the off chance I'm not smarter than you, I'm gonna say something that makes you feel stupid so that I can feel smarter in comparison. Whether you're physically present or not.

Kind of un-Buddhist-y, huh? So I'm trying to stop. If you catch me snarking, say "Snark!" or something so I can notice. Course the first few times you do this I may spin around, reach for my ice wand and look for fishy creatures, but I'm hoping sooner or later I'll get over that. And I guess I could go into another discourse about why I need to be smarter than everybody all the time, but that's another post.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dear President-To-Be Obama:

Playing in the background: Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the Chronologies from "Hong Kong"
Meters swum today: 1700

Not that you ever listen to me, guy, but I gotta chime in on this "who should be my vice-president" thing. I mean, I'm sure you've thought about it, but now that only about five people hiding under a rock near Odessa still think Hillary Clinton could be the nominee, the whole choice thing is gonna be the next fierce debate. And I'm sure everybody, from your wife, your close friends and shrewd political advisers to ill-intentioned saboteurs from the national media and anonymous Buddhist bloggers in Dallas, has an opinion. All the same, here are my thoughts:

Not Hillary.

Don't get me wrong. I like the woman. I think she'd do a good job. I voted for her in the primary, even (sorry about that). But after the last few months, I'm positive she's the wrong choice. Why? Well, like I said in the several emails I sent to both of you roughly a year ago (do you ever read your email? You need a Blackberry, dude) voters don't take you seriously if you spend months slamming each other only to suddenly unite in a "dream ticket" as soon as one of you gets booted from serious contention. And yes, you were more of a gentleman about it than she was, but with all that fur flying through the air, none of us think you're capable of suddenly settling down on the couch and sleeping with your heads on each other's backs. (Pardon the cat metaphor.) Either we need to assume you were both lying all this time, or we need to assume that you're lying from this point forward. Gotta be honest with you, neither assumption is an attractive thing in a soon-to-be-saddled-with-every-problem-known-to-humankind world leader no matter who his sidekick turns out to be.

So having said that, here's my suggestion: Janet Napolitano. Yeah, I know she's a Republican and the governor of Arizona. She'd still be fabulous at it. She's tough, smart, a savvy politician and good at what she does. She's also totally cool. I used to know her when. And she's a lot better lookin' than John Edwards. And ol' Outgoing George didn't listen to me when I told him he should put her on the Supreme Court, so she's even available. Kind of.

Thems are my thoughts. Go forth and campaign. Oh, and incidentally, if you do end up picking Hillary, put her in charge of the national health plan. What? She's already done that? Great. She has experience.

Hey, if you want to know how oil from the Saudi wells (and other places) becomes gasoline that powers your car, you really need to go here and read this (thanks, David!) Once you get a look at how frick'n complex it is, you might have a little bit more insight into why gas prices are so high. There's gotta be thousands of people involved with the production of that stuff in your tank. Buy David's book, too, as long as you're there.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Everybody's a Critic

Playing on the iPod: Something I recorded off Astreaux World
Meters swum today: None. I'll be back tomorrow.

So I'm at WriteClub! on Sunday, right, and we're discussing the new Indiana Jones flick (we discuss all kinds of things at WriteClub!, maybe 10% of which have anything at all to do with writing). I mentioned being disappointed and Kellum says, "I'm not surprised, you don't like anything." And I says, "Uh, what?" and he says, "You don't like anything. You criticize everything. It could be the best movie on the planet and you'd still find a reason to pick on it." Me? Really? Come to think of it, Lawrence of Arabia was a little slow moving in parts. I'm kidding. Well, sort of.

I do solemnly swear never to dis an Indiana Jones movie in Kellum's presence again. That aside, though, am I too critical? I used to be the Queen of Snark before Cranky dethroned me, so the odds would favor that distinction. (Snark, attitude, criticism, etc.) To say nothing of sticking reviews of bad movies in my blog. I hit my stride with my thing about the DharmaCrafts catalog. So, uh, it's beginning to look like yours truly can definitely chalk up "being too critical" in her Fourth Step list of all her character defects. (Next to "needing people to like me to the extent of being ridiculous," "needing to be smarter/cooler/faster/higher/farther than anybody else in the room," "believing I can outsmart anything, including things that don't respond to smarts" and "tending to respond to things out of fear and before thinking". ) Now that somebody's mentioned it, it drives me crazy when other people pick on things. Anything that drives you crazy about other people, you can pretty much count on the fact that you do it, too. Not psychology nor Bible verse, just bitter personal experience.

All of which is kind of un-Buddhist-y. I'fact one of the precepts monks take is not to point out the faults of others. Good thing I'm not a monk, I'm not at all sure I could go for 24 hours without saying something in the family of snark. I'm also the Harbinger of Doom. I have a great fondness for tornadoes, hurricanes, large catastrophic fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and any other disaster that is happening somewhere else to people I'll never meet. And while I'm not expecting to switch off the Discovery Channel just yet, it goes without saying that if people like Kellum are starting to notice, then Something Needs To Be Done. Because I am, after all, a Nice Person. Or at least I want to be.

Oddly enough, here's my horrorscope for this morning:

Today's New Moon in your sign is the closest thing to an astrological New Year's Day for you. Celebrate it by making a commitment to what you want to accomplish in the next six months, prior to the Gemini Full Moon in December. Keep in mind that Mercury is retrograde, so you may start off on the wrong foot. Don't worry about making a mistake; just pick up the pieces and try again.

Not that I ever read the silly thing.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Neither Light nor Sweet: All About Crude

Playing in the background: Wim Mertens, "Lir"
Meters swum today: 1900 (should make 75 miles by Thursday)

Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas Tea. Couple weeks back I did a post on Matthew Simmons' book Twilight in the Desert, which is all about oil production in Saudi Arabia. Subsequently I picked up The Battle For Barrels at the library. This book, by economist Duncan Clarke who, I guess, is the "anti-Simmons", argues that the whole peak oil thing is a myth, there's tons of oil left, and that current high prices are a result of market manipulation, not actual scarcity. I got fascinated by the subject and started paying attention to the news (for a change) when Congress talked about such things as stopping deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, asking the Saudis to jack up production, and other harebrained ideas to lower gas prices here in the US.

As it happens, I have a couple of pretty sharp petroleum geologists in my immediate family--my Uncle Bob and my cousin Kyle. (What can I say, we're all dangerously overeducated.) So I posed a couple of questions to them about all this and this is what they had to say. I found it all fascinating (and a bit sobering).

My question: Who's right, Simmons or Clarke?

My Uncle Bob: Of course [Simmons] is right. King Hubbert was a Shell Geologist back in the 50's when he presented his peak oil theory for the US. He predicted that the US production (oil produced in the US) would peak in the early 70's and drop off from there. His prediction was almost right on. Incidently, his prediction of peak oil in the US roughly coincides with our first great oil shortage in the early 70's when the arabs first restricted oil sales to the U.S. [Simmons] and others have made similar predictions about when peak oil production would occur world wide and essentially we are there or maybe a little past the peak. Hence the world, with emergent economies, is paying a lot more for a commodity being produced in diminishing quantities. Altho the press never covers it, the major oil companies have been saying for decades, that we need to conserve our resource with better fuel economy and alternative sources of energy. The problem is.....who is going to pay for the research. Hillary [Clinton] wants the oil companies to pay, but most geoscientists say that oil companies would be better off using their high profits to explore for, and produce the energy we need from unconventional sources of oil, like deep offshore technology, oil shales, tight gas sands, etc. and let other companies and government entities come up with alternative sources of energy. Oil companies are good at finding oil, so let them find it. Right now oil companies are making high profilts, but in the recent past, this business was not profitable at all, as I can personally attest to. After passing on some of the profits to stock holders, oil companies will use those excess profits to develop new and improved technology for locating oil fields and improving recovery techniques. Drilling in the deep offshore areas, requires huge risks on the part of oil companies and they should be rewarded with huge profits when they are successful. This country has basically been built by cheap energy supplied by the oil companies, most of which have been simply providing what the country wants--cheap energy. Well now it's not so easy to do and there is huge demand from emergent nations like India and China. Oil companies seem to have a reputation for greed and environmental destruction, but I can tell you that my experience with people in the oil field, is that they are very concerned with their environmental foot print. Most oil companies will develop an oil resource with the minimal amount of disturbance to the environment. The good thing about oil development is that after producing for 20 to 100 years, most oil fields that have reached the end of their productive life can be restored to almost pristine conditions. I have seen this done many times in ND.

My cousin Kyle: Isn't Mathew Simmons is the author of Twilight in the Desert?? Anyway, I've read this book and it is well done and the concepts are sound and unbiased. My Dad has offered a more complete composition, but here's how I look at it.... year in and year out the daily percentage of non-conventional (harder to produce oils) to conventional (easy to produce) is increasing thru time. Non-conventional oils now represent nearly 20% of global production and global production has remained flat 80-85 mmbbl/day for quite some time.... symptoms of peak oil. OPEC has lost control of pricing as the gap between demand and supply is dangerously narrow. Any disruption in oil production creates another record price which is another symptom of Peak Oil. And like my dad mentioned peak oil is not a myth.... it is reality and was predicted to occur in the US in 1970.... and it happened. This concept can also be applied to the globe as well, but the error bars are much larger. Have not read Clarke..... no comment.

(Frankly, I can't comment on Clarke yet either. I haven't finished his book.

My question: What are the odds of us finding supergiant oil fields in sub-Saharan Africa that are big enough to replace Ghawar?

My uncle Bob: Maybe offshore Africa, but not onshore. Also, if you think the Middle East is unstable, Africa is really bad, and oil companies are reluctant to find oil giants, that some dictator (like Hugo Chavez) is going to confiscate after billions are spent to develop the oil fields.

(Jen admits that would kind of suck.)

My question: Is halting oil deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve going to make any difference whatsoever in gas prices?

My Uncle Bob: Maybe a little bit...only in the short run. This idea is basically a political gesture for the voters.

(That's kind of what I thought.)

My question: Is it true that most Saudi oil doesn't become gasoline anyway because it's the wrong kind of oil?

My Uncle Bob: I'm not sure, but diesel fuel, jet fuel, chemicals, plastics etc. are all in high demand and come from crude oil. By the way about 60%+ of all crude consumed in the US is now imported.

My question: Is it further true that "all that oil" in the ALaska National Wildlife Refuge would in fact power the United States for, oh, say, fifty-eight days?

My cousin Kyle: This one of the great mysteries in our industry. I think from national security point of view we should explore ANWR to find out what's there. Remember exploring and developing are two very different things.... it would be good to know what's there. Google Marsh Creek Anticline and the Niguanik (sp?) High and see what the fuss is about.

My Uncle Bob: I have heard that argument. It is very controversial how much oil is actually there, and we won't know exactly until it gets drilled. The fact is that we need oil from lots of big, giant oil fields if we are to maintain our standard of living in this country. If there is 15 Billion barrels in ANWR, it will produce for 50 years +. Oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in the late 60's, and it it still producing, and it is a very important part of our oil and gas reserves in this country, so it makes sense that the oil and gas in ANWR could also be a long term resource, if it ever gets drilled. It is now doubtful that this will ever happen without a massive outcry from the general US public (polar bear problem now you know). Oil companies have basically given up the fight to drill ANWR, because it has been too frustrating.

What do you guys see as a long-term solution to the fading of cheap oil?

My cousin Kyle:

Near Term:

1) Rationing. It's been done before... it's not fun, but it works and it will have a drag on the economy. However, the trouble with this concept is that for every barrel of oil we would conserve China and India would burn it up. Right now conservation is a pipedream. China is subsidizing fuel to keep their economy rolling. They have lots of money and I don't think they will stop this program anytime soon. The net effect is no reduction in price, but we would learn to deal with less.... which is a good thing.

2) Nukes.... a no brainier. Burning natural gas to create electricity is tantamount to a sin, IMO.

Long Term:

1) Again Nukes. Electricity will be our savoir and nukes are the way to do it. The rest of the world has embraced nukes..... why not us??

2) Continued oil exploration and production until it becomes cost prohibitive to produce and consume. Until a technology comes along to displace the advantages of the internal combustion engine (which from an engineering POV is extremely difficult to do), we will be using HC fuels to some degree for 3 to 4 generations.

3) Coal liquification / gasification. This is a process of "cracking" coal into either gas or liquid. The Nazi war machine was largely fueled by this technique during the last few years of WWII and it was used by South Africa during the embargo years to sustain its oil supply. Another upside is these products can easily be "transported" in our existing oil and gas transportation system unlike biofuels and ethanol.... which are highly corrosive to pipes and production facilities.

4) Re-zoning suburban development. Allow for village centers of commerce and trade to be built and decentralize shopping so people can walk or drive shorter distances or use public transportation..... Kill the big box stores and shopping malls.

My Uncle Bob: There are large undrilled geologic structures off the coast of Florida, the east coast of the US, and also off the west coast of the US, which are now protected and are off limits for oil development. Even if we started drilling in these areas tomorrow, it would be years before they could have a significant impact on lowering the demand for imported oil. By the way, Cuba is alreading drilling off the coast of Florida, so we might as well drill there too.

One thing all the geoscientists agree on. Oil and gas, as well as coal will play a huge part in our energy picture over the next 200 years, even with the developement of alternative fuels. So far the development of alternative fuels and renewable energy sources has not been overly successful. Raising crops for fuel has turned out to be a world disaster, causing food prices to skyrocket and increasing the threat of mass starvation in many 3rd world countries. Wind and solar energy has not panned out so well either, as it has certain economic drawbacks. These sources of energy have been highly subsidized by the government and are not reliable sources as of now. One windmill produces about 1 megawatt of power operating at high efficiency and it would take more than 500 windmills to equal a 500 megawatt coal burning power plant. The US is known as the Saudi Arabia for coal resources, however even though we have made immense improvement in clean burning, coal technology, this source of energy will not be utilized like it could be with all the bad press about global warming, which many geoscientists see as a naturally occuring event which has transpired thousands of times over the geologic past, but that's another issue altogether.

Also, I did not address the fact that much of the high price right now can be partly attributed to mass speculation by Wall Street traders and also by the falling US dollar. Where will this all end? Who knows! I gave up trying to predict the price of oil years ago, but we may have high prices for quite a while, and I think our economy will suffer quite a bit in the short run. Hopefully the politicians and the voters will come to grips with the real questions of energy supplies and not blame all of our problems with energy and global warming on the oil companies. Its seems no one addresses the real problem........which is the world population explosion and the massive problems associated with it.

In closing, this again from my Uncle Bob: I'm impressed that you are actually investigating why we have high oil prices. I wish the members of congress would do the same thing. The average voter simply blames the oil companies for all of our energy short falls and can't understand why we still can't have cheap gas anymore.

Well, I sort of grasp it. It's a big complicated issue to which there's no pat political platitude of a solution. No wonder everybody's so upset.

Gas at the local Quickie Mart was $3.89 yesterday. Thank God we left California.