Archive | May 2014

Oil Price Too Low to Mine Joslyn Tar Sands

Dominoes seem to be falling as the Globe and Mail reports, Total shelves $11-billion Alberta oil sands mine:

The Joslyn oil sands mine has been shelved indefinitely, a result of rising industry costs that made the $11-billion project financially untenable.

French energy powerhouse Total SA, along with its partners in the Joslyn north oil sands project, unanimously decided to put the project on hold because of rising cost pressures across the entire energy industry, said André Goffart, the head of Total’s Canadian division.

“Joslyn is facing the same challenge most of the industry world-wide [is], in the sense that costs are continuing to inflate when the oil price and specifically the netbacks for the oil sands are remaining stable at best – squeezing the margins,” he told reporters in a conference call.

… Part of the development was originally designed to use wells rather than trucks and shovels in order to extract bitumen. That idea was abandoned when an overpressurized well blew up, creating a crater.

“I thought they would have stopped the project then,” said Laura Lau, a senior vice-president and portfolio manager at Toronto’s Brompton Funds. “But no. More good money after bad. Good money after bad.”

California to Continue Frack-Whoring

The California Senate failed to pass a bill banning fracking, but did send a bill responding to railroad oil spills to the Assembly. SB1319 adds rail disasters to the Cali oil spill prevention program, which may be a response to reports that rail carriers have chased local officials away from spill sites.

Rigzone had this Reuters article, California Senate Rejects Bill to Halt Fracking:

The California state Senate on Thursday rejected for the second year in a row a bill that would have put a temporary stop to the controversial oil-producing practice of fracking in the state. The measure failed with a handful of Democrats joining Republicans in defeating the bill. … Fracking opponents said they were disappointed in the “shamelessly unprincipled” Democrats who sided with the oil industry by blocking the moratorium. “… Opponents now hope that California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown will put a halt to the practice via executive order, although the odds of that happening are slim. Brown said as recently as this month that fracking is good for the state because it is better to produce oil in California than import it.

Democrats will vote for gay rights, women’s rights and such, but they will not oppose the wishes of the oligarchy in any serious way. The wealthy want to continue raping the countryside to maintain the illusion that the US is an emerging fossil fuel giant. Of course the widely reported devaluation of the Monterey Shale will pull that curtain back a bit.

SacBee describes the politicking in, CA Fracking Moratorium Bill Defeated by Oil Industry Lobby:

The California State Senate failed to pass SB 1132, legislation authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno that would have stopped hydraulic fracturing and other dangerous well stimulation methods while the state studied their risks.

The defeat of the legislation was undoubtedly due to the huge amounts of money dumped into lobbying the Legislature by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, and oil companies. …

… A ground breaking report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil’s combined spending on lobbying and political campaigns in Sacramento amounts to a stunning $266.9 million over the past 15 years. This massive spending enables the oil industry to effectively buy the votes of many State Assembly Members and Senators.

But the oil industry exerts its influence not just through spending enormous sums on lobbying and contributions to political campaigns, but by serving on state and federal government panels. …

The neg

Some guy just shot a bunch of young people because girls wouldn’t sleep with him. Even though he tried the techniques prescribed by so-called PUA – PickUp Artists – he wasn’t getting anywhere with them. So he wrote a manifesto, then bought a gun and started shooting.

I did read about this PUA pickup technique a few years ago, and it basically involved the “neg” – putting women down, a little, so they’d try to impress you. Normally I wouldn’t expect that to work at all if not for certain women I have known that do always seem to gravitate to men who treat them badly. So perhaps it works on women with serious esteem issues. And perhaps it occasionally surprises attractive women who are used to being pursued.

PUA reminded me of something I read in Richard Feynman’s odd autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman. I had assumed he was a born rogue, but later I read Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, by Lawrence Krauss, and discovered that Dick actually grew up as a nice young man, albeit brilliant, and married his childhood sweetheart Arline – even though she was clearly dying of tuberculosis.

I suppose that loss could throw a guy’s psyche for a loop. After Arline died, Feynman became known as a womanizer, even sleeping with a colleague’s wife, but after a bad marriage and some wild years settled into a long, happy marriage. But long before finding Gweneth, he found himself going to strip clubs, buying drinks for the girls but getting no action. He complained to the MC at the bar, who advised him:

“OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go.

“Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything — not even a package of cigarettes — until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.”

“Uh… you mean… you don’t… uh… you just ask them?”

“OK,” he says, “I know this is your first lesson, and it may be hard for you to be so blunt. So you might buy her one thing — just one little something — before you ask. But on the other hand, it will only make it more difficult.”

Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic.

Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!”

After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.”

I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show.

A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?”

I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.”

A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long, before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant!

Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!”

Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long.

A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?”

I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a cafe, and she says, “I’ve got an idea — let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.”

The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the cafe and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the cafe, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!”

On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.”

I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You… are worse than a WHORE!”

“Whaddya mean?”

‘“You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!”

“Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!”

I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.”

She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off.

After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover.

He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.”


“That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.”

“But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu —”

“It’s all right.”

Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.”

The master was right. So the lesson was terrific!

I want to interject here, a former girlfriend of mine told me about a conversation she was having with a stripper on DC Metro once. The woman told her, “Stripping is easy, you just have to hate men.” Presumably these 1950s era strippers did not all hate men, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were easy to manipulate. Feynman goes on:

When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said.

On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks — but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl?

We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?”


So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.

Anyway, I never tried this myself, but rereading it again, I wonder if Dick was all that rigorous in testing his theory. It makes for a great story, and Feynman was a great raconteur. Maybe he was bragging a little. Or maybe he realized that the sort of girl that falls for this approach was not what he really wanted, and that the sort of guy that plays these games was not what he wanted to be.

Update 20140715: Apparently I was fairly charitable towards Feynman. Matthew R Francis and Janet D. Stemwedel consider his sexual behavior predatory and feel that it tarnishes his legacy.


Shale EROEI Failing

Rigzone, which reports new finds and plays in the fossil fuel industry, complains that, US Shale Debt Increases as Drillers Push to Maintain Gains:

Shale debt has reportedly doubled over the past four years, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of 61 shale drillers, while revenue has increased just 5.6 percent. Many are spending at least 10 percent of their sales on interest …

“What is not clear from higher-level company data is if the industry (both large players and independents) can run a cash flow-positive business in both top-quality and in more marginal plays and whether the positive cash flow could be maintained when the industry scales up its operations,” [a research associate] noted. …

Furthermore, independent producers will spend $1.50 on drilling this year for every dollar in return, Bloomberg noted in February. Producers will have to drill 2,500 new wells a year just to sustain output of 1 million barrels per day in the Bakken, according to International Energy Agency.

Recent analysis by Energy Aspects show 6 years of progressively worsening financial performance by 35 independent companies focused on shale gas and tight oil plays in the United States.

I look back at the headline and wonder, what gains? These guys are slowly going under.

Update 20140529 A previous Rigzone article, Big Oil Spending More, Getting Less in Production:

Despite increased spending, oil majors are seeing flat or declining production as they struggle to replace reserves, according to a recent analyst report.

And several days before that, Energy Policy Forum asked, Are Shales a Bubble? h/t

Astyk Surfaces

Sharon Astyk has been one of my, and my wife’s, favorite writers, but seemed to vanish from the blogosphere over the last year. I often cruise ScienceBlogs and found her post, Ambiguous Anniversaries, just before I left for Age of Limits. Once there, a fellow who knew and worked with her stood up to give us an update of how much is on her plate at home, which is also covered in her post:

It was complicated – we ended up with four [additional foster children], and not necessarily the four we originally agreed to take. Two of my children’s brothers are in a different home together, although it took a little while for everyone to settle to where they were going to be. And so came Q., then 16 mos, K. and R. then-3 1/2 year old twins, and D. 10, going rapidly on 11. With our then-10 month old foster son Z., that gave us four children under 4, and developmentally speaking, five children under 4 (Eli, our autistic eldest operates at about 2-3 years old). The twins had significant developmental issues – at 3 1/2, behaviorally and cognitively they functioned like 18 month olds (K.) and 2 year olds (R.). Both raged and tantrumed for hours every day – they had almost no functional language and were responding to both the incredible trauma in their home of origin and the trauma of being removed. The only words we were sure both children shared on the first day were “bitch” and “booty.” Add in a pre-teen girl who crossed the cusp of puberty thirty seconds after arrival, with all the joys of that mixed up with trauma and removal and well…it was hard.

I can’t even imagine …

Lords of Light

I am back from attending Age of Limits III at Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary in Artemas PA. During a late night bull session with John Michael Greer, Betsy, Doug, Mike, and several folk whose names I should remember but don’t, I was reminded of Thundarr the Barbarian. In the early 1980s I was dating a mathematician, and she introduced me to this apocalyptic cartoon series, set in a future of both science fiction and magic. When surprised, Thundarr would shout, “Demon Dogs!” or “Lords of Light!”

It occurs to me that many of us attending the Age of Limits see our function as bringing knowledge, information, revelation, what-have-you, about energy depletion and climate change to those who are still trying to live as if our civilization will certainly continue as usual. In many small ways, we are trying to be lords of light in a confusing time. At the same time, a lot of us aging lords have trouble remembering new names. 4Q is planning to sell a DVD of the conference, but I’d like to blog some impressions from my first Age of Limits.

My long weekend got started by driving to Baltimore-Washington Airport to fetch two of the featured speakers, Albert Bates and Dmitry Orlov. I wasn’t familiar with Bates, but I had seen Orlov on an ASPO 2011 panel, Adapting to Future Scenarios – which I reviewed – and I follow his ClubOrlov blog.

Bates came by jet from Tennessee and Orlov by train from Massachusetts. We crammed into my Pontiac Sunfire and Albert read directions while Dmitry fretted over my thudding front brake rotors. It turns out Albert has a long experience with an ecovillage called the Farm, teaches permaculture and using biochar – all subjects about which I was fairly ignorant. I mentioned my recent office talk about Cradle-to-Cradle, and Albert was familiar with McDonough. Turns out that he and I both watch The Good Wife, so we chatted about the season finale. Dmitry asked if I had an opinion about using fiber-reinforced concrete for a ferro-cement boat. I’ve used it once, but it does work.

We had a fairly easy ride, though on the last quarter mile of road we bounced in and out of deep ruts and gullies that threatened to shake off my brand new muffler. Google directions turned out to be better than GPS; many people had stories of being directed down dead ends before finding 4Q.

We were able to park near the pavilion and catch the meat loaf dinner, which was buffet-style in steam table pans, plain but satisfying. I had thought we were supposed to supply our own plates and utensils, but all 4Q asks is that you scrape and rinse them in the commercial, stainless steel, two-compartment sink. 4Q founder Orren Whiddon advised that I camp in the North area – between Car Camping and In-Camp Parking on the map – to be close to the action, and several tents were already set up. I dropped off my gear, ditched the car in Main Parking and walked back past member camps and the occasional plastic port-a-john. 4Q is a mix of the rustic and the industrial aesthetic.

My wife had wanted me to practice putting up the borrowed eight man tent in the yard, but we had been too busy and I figured an architect had better be able to raise a tent. As I laid out the parts, Paul and Deborah suddenly appeared. They were settled in a pickup camper nearby and offered to help, which probably saved me an hour of doing two-person setup the hard way. Besides that they are two of the most delightful people you’d ever want to meet – definitely a lord and lady of light.

The Coffee Dragon was along the walk between tent and pavilion. One could get coffee or various teas at almost any time, and Marie, one of the volunteer staff with a distinct accent learned, she said, from audio books, thanked me for bringing my own thermos mug. Many of us carried some sort of shiny insulated mug at all times. The tent-covered tables and chairs next to Coffee Dragon seemed to function as the public intellectual salon of 4Q – though I have no idea what sort of discussion happened in the dormitory or bunkhouse. Orren wanted me to tour the dorm, but I never found the time.

In the evening was a meet and greet with a three piece Appalachian-style music group, some snacks and a table of the varieties of mead (a honey-based wine) produced and sold at 4Q. I met Doug and Mike. I tried a small taste of a sweet apple-based mead, and not being any sort of champion drinker was soon ready for the tent. Although the day was warm it had gotten chilly, so I was pleasantly surprised to find an extra blanket tucked inside my very ordinary old Sears sleeping bag.

In the morning, I wandered up to the Coffee Dragon and met KMO, a tall fellow who runs the C-Realm podcasts of which I’ve heard a few. He needed hot coffee because he thought the bunkhouse would provide more bedding than just a sheet. Even though he lives there, KMO had never heard of, “B apostrophe K nopostrophe l-y-n” an old song that Jimmy Cagney sang in The West Point Story. But when we were talking about Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days, he did know that Dancing Rabbit was in Missouri. Again, I met so many people – Alise, Carolyn, Jimmy – and tried to find handles for their names. Many were men, and many of those men were introverts that had to be goaded into talking, but were very knowledgeable once they got going.

Breakfast was bacon & eggs & pancakes. 4Q always tried to have gluten-free alternatives. There was also vanilla yogurt, granola and a warm fruit compote. I had decided not to take notes, so I’m going on memory. Back up hill at the Dragon I ran into Cathy and Kathy, and I told them what I had heard about the 2012 blowout between Dmitry Orlov and some women that thought he was advocating, rather than reporting, patriarchy, and who were upset that he dismissed Pussy Riot – the female Russian political activists that are pigeon-holed by Western media to be a punk rock group – as idiots. Sly Kathy then said she had been there but that I had heard generally about right.

Orren opened with an introduction and talk on Collapse Mitigation. Albert gave a talk on the History of Ecovillages, which was definitely in my wheelhouse. Again, Orren wants to sell a few DVDs, so I’ll just say that I sneezed several minutes after Albert showed a slide of an ecovillage named Gesundheit, which was a golden comic moment lost to eternity.

Another good evening meal (chicken breast). Through Paul and Deborah I met Andre from Toronto and Guelph. Later Orren had KMO facilitating a roundtable in which he asked us A) what we were hoping for from the conference and B) how we would spend $5 million dollars (pinky to mouth) to mitigate the coming collapse. I noticed that Orren has a way of asking for opinions then looking down, smiling and making it clear that he isn’t getting the quality of responses he wants. For A) I rambled a bit about whether we can actually predict such things, and whether the oligarchy was carefully managing collapse right up until they jumped in the lifeboats. For B) I responded to Dan’s idea that it be used for dissemination of the key concepts through the media. I disagreed then, but the more I think about it, what else can you do but try to inform people. I’ve jokingly blogged before that those who don’t learn from history should be condemned to read The ArchDruid Report, but JMG himself stepped up to the mike and took almost everyone to task for suggestions that have been tried and have failed.

Cathy’s husband Bill had spoken up about medical care, and I sat with them the next day. I believe she said she worked in an organic food store. Dmitry Orlov spoke about Communities that Abide and a few utopias that didn’t. He didn’t mention Oleanna, though, which would have fit right into the failed column. In the Q&A, it seemed clear to quite a few people that those of us attending didn’t seem to have much in common with Dmitry’s descriptions of abiders, which is awfully unsettling to contemplate.

At some point I met Brian and Wes, friends from Oberlin whose mothers had also been friends. Brian had actually installed the solar array on the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, which I had mentioned in my cradle-to-cradle piece to the office. They were familiar with the complaints about the building, but said that though it had required a great deal of fine tuning, it did eventually perform as advertised. Wes was recently out of work but hoped to start a microbrewery.

I suppose the highlight had to be Dr Dennis Meadows talking about The Dynamics of Societal Collapse. Meadows cowrote Limits to Growth back when there might have been time to do something about it. He and the book have been demonized and praised ever since. (As someone later noted at Coffee Dragon, he looks very fit for 72. That led to jokes about Meadows as a Frazetta-drawn hero wielding the Club of Rome.) He later told Orren we were the first crowd that already understood his message.

Dinner again and I sat next to Andre. I told him I could now title a blog post, My Dinner With Andre. He seemed very familiar with the stories behind the play. That evening Orren asked us all for a timeline of collapse – a date of peak population and any other dates we could offer.  I thought I was an optimist but I found myself at the early end with 2030 for Peak Hyooman.

After breakfast, Gail (the actuary) Tverberg presented Converging Crises. I knew of Gail from my brief tenure at The Oil Drum, but never actually met her. Greer presented his Dark Age America, and Dr Mark Cochrane presented On Climate and Our Future, though that future seemed iffy.

I think by then most people agreed on two things. 1: Our heads were exploding. 2: We greatly enjoyed meeting each other. It was almost like therapy to hang with people that got Peak Oil and Energy Depletion and Climate Change and discuss it without someone backing away. At some point some of us were introduced to Bob, a rotund fellow who performed a very creditable juggling routine, patter and all. It was about the last thing I was expecting, but it was very therapeutic.

The presenters ate with us and hung out at the Dragon, and even used the same latrines and showers, but I didn’t notice anyone pestering them too much. JMG tended to attract a crowd at the Dragon (including me on two occasions) and is frankly a hoot. Dmitry is much quieter but often seemed to be talking to someone one on one.

On Sunday and Monday many of us were scribbling names and email addresses in each other’s notebooks. In a bit of symmetry, Paul helped me fold up the tent just before he and Deb made their farewell rounds. I left after the Reactions roundtable – in which Orren did a lot of smiling and looking at the floor again. On the way out I bought an assortment of mead for the next few weekends at home.

I told someone that I hated to bring up the Titanic analogy again (which Carolyn did an hour later), but that I wondered if by attending we were seriously trying to survive that jump into the ocean or whether we were just playing with the band as the ship goes down.

Update 20140528: Review at ClubOrlov, by Dmitry Orlov.

Update 20140601: Review/followup at PeakSurfer, by Albert Bates and at Our Finite World by Gail Tverberg.

Four Quarters song

On the National Freeway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smells from the moon roof, rising up through the air
Albert read me directions, we found the backwoods road
The ruts were deep, Dmitry said slow down
I was to camp for four nights
Past the Farm was a campground
With an old church bell
And I was thinking to myself
“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”
Someone lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices in the dormitory
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to Four Quarters, Pennsylvania
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at Four Quarters Pennsylvania
Any time of year (Any time of year)
Bring cold weather gear

Our minds are SUV-twisted, we drive these Mercedes-Benz
We got a lot of pretty, pretty toys – when we need friends
See us dance in the arbor, sweet summer sweat
Some Danse des Mortes Heureux, some dance into debt

So I called out to Orren,
“Please bring me my wine”
He said, “We have a Meadery here and I think you’ll like it fine”
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…

Welcome to Four Quarters Pennsylvania
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
There’s a meal plan at Four Quarters Pennsylvania
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
They’ve got plates and knives

Stones stand in the circle,
In long term contemplation,
And she said “We are not prisoners here, its a corporation,”
And in the Starvin Artist Kitchen,
We gather for the feast
We stab it with our spoons and forks,
‘Cause they don’t serve live roast beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Searching for my car
I had to make the long drive back
To my place in Baltimore
“Good luck,” said the Cairn Fairy,
Pack up all of your stash,
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can not leave trash! ”


(apologies to the Eagles)

Update: I originally wrote this just before attending Age of Limits, so I’ve revised it a bit.


Whenever I look into science, I’m always amazed both by how much we know, and by how much we don’t know and then even more at how the people that know the least seem to grab on to a few facts to argue their point the hardest.

I think everyone has wondered why some races perform better in certain athletic events, but as discussed in a 2012 Salon post by Amy Bass, “Slave Genes” myth must die, the crude racial divisions we have been taught to use – black, white, latino, asian – do not even begin to represent the wide range of DNA inside the person that just ran, swam, threw or shot so well.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Anthony Ervin changed what an elite U.S. swimmer was supposed to look like. Heralded as the first swimmer of African descent to make the U.S. team, Ervin’s family background, with ties to Jewish, Native American and African-American lineages, exemplifies why it is so difficult to make racial assumptions. Just as journalists scrambled to find a language with which to describe Tiger Woods’ decidedly “mixed” parental heritage in 1997 when he won the Masters, Ervin eschewed being pigeonholed as a “first” anything. But in the United States, race is generally dealt with in a binary of black and white, regardless of the multiplicities of “color.” Thus, if one is not white, which neither Ervin nor Woods is, one is black.

A few weeks ago I ran across a Science Blogs post, The HBD Delusion, in which it seems that people are clinging to the idea that race is an accurate reflection of one’s biodiversity:

Oh, a hot tip: these new racists really hate being called racists, so they’ve been struggling for years to come up with a new label. “Scientific Racism” and “Academic Racism” didn’t test well; they’ve still got “racism” in the name. For a long time they called themselves “Race Realists”, which I always read as “really racist”. That’s gone by the wayside now, mostly. The term of art you’re looking for now is “Human Biodiversity”, or “hbd” for short. Notice — “race” isn’t in the label any more. But don’t be fooled, hbd really is just the slick new marketing term for modern racism.

Abundance vs Collapse

As I prepare to attend the Age of Limits conference, I am wondering what it will be like to be among people of a completely different mindset than those I usually see day to day.

Today I gave a short presentation to my firm on Cradle-to-Cradle and the resulting C2C product certification program. We started with NetZero buildings, then upstart certifiers at Green Globes, then C2C, then Leed v4 and finally asked whether the International Code Council’s new International Green Construction Code will supplant both LEED and Green Globes.

As I presented McDonough and Braungart’s upbeat message that we can design our way to abundance, I noted that that one word – abundance – probably explains why Cradle-to-Cradle has been so attractive to their wealthy and powerful clients. No businessman wants to hear about the usual environmentalist prescriptions that people should conserve more and consume less to save the planet. They want to produce, sell, and grow; they want people eager to buy. From an environmentalist, abundance has to sound like a great business plan – even if you have to throw a few dollars at green projects and practices.

I left them with the thought that we can certainly try to use the environmental architect’s kit of parts – green roofs, photovoltaic arrays, water systems, etc – but that ecosystems have taken millions of years to evolve, so the idea that we can quickly create new ones or insert ourselves into old ones without some spectacular failures is a tall order.

I later ran across this Santiago Times article European contact not land use led to Easter Island collapse, claiming that Easter Island scenarios described by Jared Diamond in Collapse and Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress are fundamentally incorrect:

The Rapa Nui people and their iconic Moai statues are often held up as environmental parables of our age — in a collective obsession to build ever more and ever larger stone monoliths they stripped their Pacific island home of its trees and consigned their once rich society to catastrophic collapse.

But in an article recently published by the Journal of Archaeological Science, Mara Mulrooney, assistant anthropologist at Bishop Museum in Hawaii, challenges that narrative, championed more than 60 years ago by the likes of the legendary Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame and popularized recently by science writer Jared Diamond in his 2005 book “Collapse.”

From her home in Hawaii, Mulrooney told The Santiago Times about how her research led to a very different conclusion — with European sailors not indigenous land practices leading population decline on Rapa Nui.

Back on now-defunct The Oil Drum the idea that some Rapa Nui idiot had cut down that last palm tree was more or less gospel with the doomer crowd, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It isn’t the first attack on the collapse theory, but it is the most plausible I’ve read yet.

Update: I see that this story broke in late 2013, but there seems to be little back and forth since then.

Net Neutrality Is Already Gone

After three FCC guard dogs attacked net neutrality, heroic cats from around the web came out of nowhere, and sank their claws into doggy fur, scaring the mangy curs away and preserving equality and justice across the net. And we all sighed in relief.

That hasn’t happened, but there is a confused outcry against the agency. As described in the Washington Post, Net Neutrality Issue Puts the FCC at the Center of a Firestorm, it is former cable lobbyist Wheeler and the other two Democrats on the FCC that favor the changes:

Silicon Valley once cheered the election of President Obama, comforted by his stance that Internet service providers should be banned from charging Web sites such as Facebook or Netflix for faster access to American homes. And for much of the past six years, tech firms felt shielded from the possibility that the Internet would ever have separate slow and fast lanes for traffic.

But on Thursday, the government is poised to vote on a plan that could make that scenario a reality. Tom Wheeler, a Democratic Obama appointee, is pressing new rules at the Federal Communications Commission that would allow an Internet service provider such as Verizon to charge YouTube, for instance, for higher-quality streaming of videos.

The proposal has sparked an outcry of protest from Obama’s earliest supporters — consumer advocates, high-tech firms and investors, and from Democratic lawmakers. …

But at Vox, Timothy Lee posts, Not everyone wants stronger net neutrality rules. Here’s why.:

In the last two weeks, the debate over network neutrality has focused on a specific legal maneuver known to insiders as “reclassification.” A decade ago, the Federal Communications Commission decided to classify broadband internet as an “information service,” a legal category that limits the agency’s ability to regulate it. That led to a legal setback in January, when an appeals court ruled that it was illegal for the FCC to impose common carrier regulations on services in this category, meaning that the network neutrality rules it had agreed to were a no-go.

That left the FCC with two options: it could water down its net neutrality rules to fit within the boundaries the court had set for information services, or it could declare that broadband is actually in a different legal category, a “telecommunications service,” which would allow the FCC to establish the kind of robust rules that net neutrality supporters favor. Right now, net neutrality activists are outside the FCC urging the agency to reclassify.

But not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Incumbent telecom companies, free-market advocates, and a number of members of Congress have all urged the FCC to retain the low-regulation “information service” category. …

In other words, net neutrality has not been enforceable since the appeals court decision. Wheeler wants to reclassify but intends to institute only limited common carrier regulations; cable and telecom interests want to keep the status quo of information service regulations and do what they want. Neither scenario bodes well for the neutrality we have enjoyed for some twenty years.