Monthly Archives: February 2006

Two new films

Last night I saw two new films not yet generally released, shown in the Portland International Film Festival.

First was a bio-pic “The Notorious Bettie Page” directed by Mary Harron. Gretchen Moll stars, and I thought she did a good job. It felt to me like the script may have been chopped a bit, as there were some threads that just didn’t seem ‘well-woven’ to me, such as young Betty’s relations with her father. The use of old stock footage to help set up scenes was kind of interesting, as was the combination of black and white with color. All in all, just okay.

Then Terry Zwigoff’s “Art School Confidential”. This was almost like a John Waters film by the end, in that it got increasingly outrageous and silly. Script by Dan Clowes, the story is fairly absurd, making sure to include as many stereotyped art school characters as possible (not to say that some of them aren’t very funny). Good for some laughs, but very cynical.

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Ken Deffeyes in Portland, 24-Feb-2006

Dr Ken Deffeyes spoke last night in the second lecture of the 2006 Illahee Series, on Peak Oil. Deffeyes is an academic geologist, who worked with M. King Hubbert at one point, and has published a couple books on the the peak. Here are a few of my notes from the lecture.

He first displayed a few graphs, and explained some of the methodology behind determining the point of peak oil production. One graph plotted on the y-axis the ratio of a year’s production to the cumulative production to that point, and on the x-axis was cumulative production. This produced a quite closely fitting downward sloping line (for the years since the mid-fifties anyway), pointing to eventual total cumulative production of somewhat over 2 trillion barrels of oil (I think daily production right now is around 80 million barrels). He claimed (and I could not follow the math closely enough to verify) that peak would be at the halfway point of cumulative production. So given those figures, he plots the Peak Oil point at December 16, 2005 (as he says, “I’m no longer a prophet, I’m a historian”).

He noted that both CERA and some USGS study figured on a cumulative production number more like 3 trillion, which moves the peak considerably into the future, but discounted their numbers as unverifiable and incorrect.

On the subject of prices, he said there was a likeness to the math of queueing theory, which states that there is high volatility when the demand on a system is close to system capacity. So he felt that prices could be going up and down based on the combination of events at any point in time. He said “there will be rationing” of some sort.

His recommendations: (1) more local agriculture (which is not the same as organic), (2) better efficiency vehicles, using diesel, and (3) other fuel technologies like dimethyl ether from coal, as well as (4) use of nuclear.

Either we get the ‘hard landing’ with war over resources (and perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of this already), or perhaps we can avoid the worst outcomes. He pointed to a paper by a Stanford prof named Amos Nur on the issues of oil and war, in particular looming conflict with China over resources. Nur concludes: “Compared to the coming oil crisis, global warming is a slowly emerging problem with a time constant of a century or more, yet it is receiving significant attention and funding. The oil consumption issue is emerging ten times faster and has already led to global conflicts. Competition for the remaining oil resource is dangerous, at least in the short term. “

"Tristram Shandy" is a movie about Tristram Shandy!

Last night I saw Michael Winterbottom’s new film of “Tristram Shandy” and a very postmodern affair it is. It’s working on about four levels simultaneously, and manages to be pretty funny at times. I especially liked Dr. Slop’s handling of the foreceps. Not for action adventure fans, and probably not for Merchant-Ivory fans either. Good acting! (or was it acting…?)

Provocations!

A few items that caught my eye today…

The March issue of Harper’s magazine has a lead piece by Lewis Lapham advocating impeachment of Bush. Good timing… something I predicted a few years back, and we’ll see, we’ve still got three years. I think it’s actually very funny that this ‘portgate’ thing is leading to so much hoo-haw… given all the other crap that’s gone on in the last 5 years, this is the least of it.

While I usually don’t think too much of the magazine Fast Company, the latest 10th anniversary issue is worth a look. A ‘report from the future’ it features 10 quick blurbs from interesting thinkers, along with ‘the Fast 50’ items on various futuristic notions. Here are a few sample provocations:

Avram Miller (long at Intel, now independent): “Fewer and fewer people will want to be employees of corporations, because corporations don’t have anything to offer.”

Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert): “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met recently who state, outright, that they don’t like any people. They love technology, but they don’t like people.” And: “When I go to a business conference now, there isn’t one person in the room wearing glasses.”

Good Blog!

Here’s a link to a recommended blog that mostly deals with politics in the ‘W’ era: Unclaimed Territory by Glenn Greenwald. He writes longish items that are well thought out and pose some excellent questions.

Dion Sings the Blues

Bronx in Blue CD

I’m happy to plug the new CD by Dion (that’s right, Dion of Dion and the Belmonts), it’s called “Bronx in Blue”. It’s basically just him with an acoustic guitar and strong voice, doing old blues songs that he says were the first music he loved.Note that back in the sixties Dion recorded a number of blues songs, and did a number of Dylan covers at that time as well, some of which later came out on a record called “Wonder Where I’m Bound” (1969) which is one of my favorites.

Principles or Solutions?

Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting article in the New Yorker (Feb 13 & 20, 2006 issue) entitled “Million Dollar Murray” and it deals with the concept that many social issues follow ‘power-law’ distributions, rather than bell-curve. For example, the findings are that most people who become homeless remain so for just a day or two; but there are a small percentage of chronically homeless people who cause most of the expense of dealing with the homeless. Because many of these people are alcoholics and have many medical problems, they can run up costs in excess of $100K per year in emergency room visits.

Gladwell describes new strategies for dealing with the homeless, which concentrate on taking care of these small numbers of chronic cases, and really supporting them by offering apartments and case worker assistance. It turns out to be a whole lot cheaper than letting them stumble along on their own. But, the idea that the worst cases are getting the most help does offend some moral principles.

As Gladwell puts it, “We can be true to our principles, or we can fix the problem. We cannot do both.”

I’m all for effective solutions to problems, and I can live with some moral ambiguity. I think in the end it’s more moral to do the appropriate and effective thing rather than sticking with strategies that appeal to our moral sense but in fact don’t do much about the problem.

Applying this type of thinking to abortion, an even more highly charged issue, I think most everyone would agree that it would be best to have the fewest abortions possible. Yet many of those who want to outlaw abortion also want to push abstinence-only programs and restrict distribution of condoms. This is a wonderfully moral position, but it does little to move toward an outcome they desire.

My New Riddles!

Q: How do you spell ‘incompetence’ with one letter?

A: ‘W’

Q: How do you spell ‘arrogance’ with four letters?

A: D-I-C-K

Systematic Living in Mexico City

Mexico City houses

This shot from a nice set of photos taken from a helicopter pilot in Mexico City (those are houses in the picture). Worth looking at them all!