Will oil drown the Arab spring?

A recent article by Michael L. Ross talks about how oil money may yet destroy the democratic gains of the Arab Spring: Oil has not always been a barrier to democracy. Until the early 1970s, oil—producing countries were no less likely to be democratic than any other state. Ironically, this was because until that point, the so-called Seven Sisters, a handful of giant Western oil companies, dominated the global oil industry and collected most of its profits.

The mystery of the severed cables

So, 5 undersea cables have now mysteriously been severed. Iran’s telecommunications connectivity is almost destroyed. Why on earth is this happening? Meanwhile, Iran was due to start an international oil trading organization by February 11th, which would allow oil to be traded in currencies other than US dollars. You know who else started selling oil in currencies other than the US dollar? Iraq, in 2000. Hmm, what a coincidence. In case anyone’s missing the significance: the only thing propping up the value of the dollar is that everyone needs oil, and you need dollars to buy oil.

Liquid engineering

One of my random Internet pastimes is answering surveys. Partly I do it because I suspect I’m an interesting edge case for their data set, the exception that will prove their rules. Also, at the end they offer some of the statistics they’ve gathered, which can be interesting. And sometimes, the act of answering trivial questions can lead me to odd insights about myself. Like just now. It was a survey about motor oil.

Ransom note



Number of Starbucks stores today: 12,440. Number the company is aiming to have: 40,000. Relevant quote: “Going to the other side of the street can be a barrier,” said Launi Skinner, senior vice president in charge of Starbucks’ store development. Annual GDP of the United Arab Emirates: $98.1 billion. Annual GDP of Kuwait: $52.76 billion. Exxon Mobile revenue, 3Q2006: $99.59 billion. Costs per gallon: Crude oil: $1.32.1 Starbucks coffee: $40.2

Quelle barbe

In which a skeptical modernist learns to appreciate 19th Century technology.

Shaving has always been an unpleasant experience for me. My skin is sensitive, dries out easily, and I get allergic reactions to a lot of chemicals. At the same time, the bristle of my ever-nascent beard is incredibly rough and wirey. I tried electric razors, I tried disposables, I tried twin blades. I even considered giving up entirely and growing a beard, but that just itched even worse.

The least-bad option had turned out to be the Gillette Mach 2, and later the Mach 3. The M3Power helped a little, but not much—the vibro action helped get through the bristles without tugging on them, but that was all. The main plus of the Mach 2/3 was that at least it didn’t immediately clog up the way a Schick (Wilkinson-Sword) twin blade did; there was a good clean gap between the blades, without too much plastic in the way.

Then one day I found myself reading an article about old-style shaving. And by “old style”, I mean over a century old.

Peak Oil update

Gasoline prices have gone over $5 a gallon in Atlanta. While it’s just a short-term spike caused by the hurricane, I suggest treating it as a rehearsal for the next few years. The theory that we are hitting Peak Oil may be ‘controversial’ with politicians, but the situation is sufficiently serious that the oil companies are starting their PR campaigns now. Chevron now has a flashy new consumer web site warning bluntly that “the era of easy oil is over”.

Peak Oil

Someone should tell the chimp: The head of one of the world’s biggest oil companies has admitted that the threat of climate change makes him “really very worried for the planet”. In an interview in today’s Guardian Life section, Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Shell, says we urgently need to capture emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which scientists think contribute to global warming, and store them underground—a technique called carbon sequestration.

Peak Oil?

At ASPO’s recent conference in Berlin, companies such as BP and Exxon and men such as Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, began to talk to the proponents of the peak oil theory. Whilst they may not agree with Dr Campbell’s theories, their attendance highlighted ASPO’s emerging importance in the oil debate. In public, Mr Birol denied that supply would not be able to meet rising demand, especially from the buoyant economies in the USA, China and India.

Attention, voters

The military are drawing up plans for a special selective-service draft. They would be particularly targeting computer specialists. So when Bush gets back in and we start bombing Iran (currently refusing nuclear inspections, and in possession of the world’s largest stockpile of oil), I look forward to seeing right-wing computer geeks rounded up and shipped into combat. (Remember, Private Jessica Lynch was a file clerk.)