Peakéd Oil

by wjw on October 7, 2015

I’m currently paying $2.09 per gallon of gasoline, which is the lowest I’ve paid in a very, very long time— and which may, if you adjust for inflation, be the lowest gasoline price ever.

Ten years ago, people were saying that we’d met, or even passed, Peak Oil, wherein the supply was just going to go down and down, and the price up and up.  But now new technologies, including fracking, have resulted in a gusher of new oil spraying onto the market.  The result is energy prices falling off a cliff.

So . . . yay?

Well, there’s no cheering if you’re an oil producer.  If you happen to own a piece of the oil business— a piece of land with an oil lease somewhere, or a supply company, or some other energy-related business, you probably started getting mail over the summer from some branch of the energy industry urging you to tell your senator to vote against the Iran nuclear treaty.

Not because they were afraid of nuclear war in the Mideast, or the ayatollahs gaining more influence, but because they were afraid of an extra million barrels of Iranian crude getting dumped on the market every day, causing the price to decline even further.


Well no, it’s not the end of America.  Just maybe the lush life led by some oil company execs.   And of course jobs held by a lot of ordinary oil company employees.

The rest of the economy will benefit just fine from cheaper energy prices.  And if it does, then those laid-off oil workers will find jobs elsewhere.

And meanwhile the oil industry will have to just make do with the twenty-odd billion dollars in subsidies and tax breaks given to them by grateful American taxpayers.

(And the Iran treaty?  The Senate Republican leadership arranged a vote on it, and then arranged that they’d lose.  Which tells me they think the treaty is okay, they just can’t admit to agreeing with Obama on anything lest their base melt down.)

Maybe the oil companies are right to panic.  After all, they have before them the collapse of Big Coal.  Due to a coal glut and diminishing demand from China and elsewhere, the Big Three American coal companies have seen their capitalization drop from $35 billion (in 2011) to $350 million.  99% gone!  And all in just the last few years.

(They blame Obama’s “War on Coal,” by the way, not declining demand or their own spendthrift ways.  While the administration’s tightening of admission standards has had some effect, the big losses were due to colossal price drops in metallurgical coal, which isn’t used in the power plants that Obama is trying to regulate.)

And the next crash?  Watch for natural gas prices to drop off a cliff.

In the meantime, the cost of wind-generated electricity has dropped by 30%, and there are now more Americans employed by solar power companies than are digging for coal.  Through advances in technology, new economies of scale, and innovative ownership structures (like leasing), renewable energy is stealthily positioning itself to grab a bigger slice of the market.  ($3500 for a Tesla Powerwall.  Which would pay for itself in less than two years.  And though the solar panels themselves would go for $10-20,000 on top of that, there’s a 30% rebate from America’s grateful taxpayers.)

So what’s a world like with Big Energy diminished?  A less influential Saudi Arabia, a less solvent Iran, a worsening Venezuela, a declining Nigeria?  Fewer dollars to buy political influence?  (Not that it costs much to buy a politician, but there are a lot of them.  And the buying in the States is concentrated on one party— over 90% of Big Coal’s political donations go to Republicans.)

Less money for climate-change deniers!  Less incentive to go to war over oil!

And it’ll be much cheaper to run Hummers and big SUVs!  ( . . . yay?)

So what other elements will we find in this Brave New World?  Who wins?  Who loses?  And what populations turn into refugees?


Nite 2

by wjw on September 30, 2015

I saw fewer new acts the second night of Globalquerque, but that’s because some of the first night’s performers returned.  I’ll skip over those and get straight to the folks I hadn’t seen before.

Tony Duncan is one of the talented Duncan brothers, all hoop dancers, and has won the World Champion Hoop Dancer award five times.   I didn’t actually see him dance at Globalquerque, he played the flute and also shared the stage with a storyteller, but the hoop dancing is awesomely cool and that’s the video I show here.

Jah9 is a way of spelling “Janine,” which is her actual name.  She’s the daughter of a Baptist minister who was turned onto Rastafarianism in college.  This video, which features didactic lyrics over a cool reggae beat, is typical of what I saw of her performance.

Kassé Mady Diabaté is an senior statesman of Malian music, a griot who brought with him an extraordinarily accomplished band.  His set was hypnotic and intimate, and the audience reaction to each of his songs was gigantic.  Maybe you had to have been there, but I was glad I was where I was.

Nigerian Afro-funk pioneer Orlando Julius has been recording at least since Super Afro Soul back in the Sixties, an album which wrapped American soul and R&B in Nigerian garb.  He’s collaborated with Hugh Masakela and the Crusaders, and he turned up at the festival with his wonderfully-named band, the Heliocentrics.

San Antonio native Alejandro Escovedo was a member of the Nuns, a punk band that had the distinction of once opening for the Sex Pistols.  Since then he’s been a member of country/punk bands Rank and File and the True Believers, and now has a solo career based in Austin.

He turned up with only another guitar player, and I was deeply impressed by his performance.  Here he is with “Sally Was a Cop.”

Dang, man.

So Angola has this complicated musical and political relationship with Congo, and Congo has a complicated musical and political relationship with Cuba.  Ricardo Lemvo, of Angolan descent and raised in Congo, throws all these elements into a big ol’ stew pot and comes up with the sort of thing you hear here.

He sings in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Lingala, and Kikongo, and he’s at home in samba and salsa and semba and kizomba and soukous because if you do this sort of thing that’s the sort of thing what you gotta do.

Now all these artists were terrific, but the festival as a whole left me with an enormous complaint: Where were my accordions?  This is the one damn place I can go every year and hear some lunatic play some weird funked-out accordion shit, and this year there was nothing!

Next year Globalquerque better bring the accordions back, mofos!  And I’m not kidding, neither!


First Night of the Festival

by wjw on September 29, 2015

More music from Globalquerque, New Mexico’s annual celebration of music from all over the world.

There were three stages going on at once, so I didn’t see everybody, and for several of the bands I only saw a few minutes.  Here are some of the highlights.

Cimmarón was advertised as a cowboy band from Colombia, but they seem a lot more than that.  It’s a band where you can hear jazz and flamenco and Andalusia and more.

And they still wear cowboy hats.

EastRiver Ensemble was formed from Chinese music teachers at the Mencius Society in New York, and they perform classical Chinese music (if “classical” is stretched to include the soundtrack of the film Shaolin Temple).  The band consists of four very shy men (who don’t talk), one shy woman, and one woman who isn’t shy, and who talks a lot.  Not all of her jokes seemed to translate to the New Mexico milieu, but that didn’t matter much.

I’m generally a sucker for any group with an erhu in it, and the pipa player showed amazing virtuosity.

This group shouldn’t be confused with the Near East River Ensemble, who play Middle Eastern music.

Emel Mathlouthi is a Tunisian woman exiled for her criticism of the then-dictatorship, and subsequently based in Paris and New York.  She’s a very small woman with a huge, clear voice, and she turned up in the most amazing outfit: poufy around the shoulders, snugged-in at the waist, and flared out at the hips, which gave her an outline like one of those figure-eight shields carried by Homeric warriors.

Her set was riveting even though I didn’t understand the words except insofar as she chose to explain them, and the explanations made it clear that her lyrics are informed by the experience of (1) being a woman who recorded in an Arab country, where such things are often discouraged, (2) performed live in an Arab country, where should things can be really really  discouraged, and (3) then had to flee the country in question, but (4) still retains her idealism.  So I bought the CD.

Joy Harjo is an Okie from Muskogee, but probably not the kind you’re thinking of.  She’s a member of the Mvskoke Nation and was born in Tulsa.  I knew her as a poet who used to teach at UNM.  Who knew she played the saxophone?

I didn’t see a lot of her set, but what I saw is perhaps explained as kinda like Patti Smith, but without the rock and roll.

I only caught the end of Nano Sternset, but enough to see why he’s a big star in Chile.  He’s charismatic, his musical influences are all over the map, and he plays guitar like a virtuoso. What’s not to like?

Otava Yo:  At last some rock and roll!  Never mind that it was all in Russian.  The guys all wore fur hats and white tank tops, and the woman wore a sensible summer dress, and their performance was high-energy Eastern European folk with an anarchic punk edge, reminiscent in its way of, say, Gogol Bordello.

The frenzied Bacchanalian spirit I saw onstage doesn’t seem to have translated to all the band’s videos, unfortunately, but it was enough to keep the audience pogoing for the whole set.  I believe this tune is about the joys of going out in the springtime and punching out your neighbor just for the hell of it.

Aurelio is from an oppressed minority that I’d never heard of, being of the Garinagu.  (The short version: the Garinagu are the descendants of African slaves shipwrecked in 1675 on the island of St. Vincent, where they intermarried with the Carib and set up their own country, which was preserved for some time on account of the French and British being unable to decide which imperialist power was going to take over the place.  Eventually the British won, and conquered St Vincent after a thirty-year campaign.  The African-featured Garinagu were declared “troublemakers” and “ringleaders,” and deported to Honduras, whereas the Carib-featured natives were declared “misled” and “useful,” and presumably sent to work on the new British plantations.)

Aurelio is from the Honduras branch of the family tree, and his music is a lovely melange of African, Indian, Central American, and general Caribbean traditions.

And that, gentles, closed the first night of the festival.  More to come.


A Band of One

by wjw on September 28, 2015

I’ve been frantically busy and with little time for posting.   I’ve spent the last two nights at Globalquerque, the annual festival of world music, and will post more on that when I have a few free hours

But in the meantime here’s a video of Maarja Nuut, who I saw the other night.  She’s an Estonian folk singer who plays solo.  Except that she brought a band with her.  Except that her band is her.  Entirely her.

She carries electronic gear I’ve seen used by other performers, in which she can records tracks live, which she then plays so that she can then play over them live, and gradually builds up a whole orchestra’s worth of sound.  The result is hypnotic and fascinating.

As for the songs, they have to do with murdered siblings and murdered horses and the usual tales of village life in the far north.



Big Bundle, Big Books, Big Savings

by wjw on September 23, 2015

PKD.2015.All Covers SmallSo StoryBundle has a deal for you.  They’ve bundled six novels, each of them nominated for the Philip K Dick Award, and by Elizabeth Hand, Pat Murphy, K.W. Jeter, Gwyneth Jones, Lisa Mason, and Kathy Koja.

These ebooks are completely free of DRM and can be read on any device.  And the best part is: you decide what you want to pay.  It’s entirely up to you.

Also, you get to decide how much of that payment goes to the authors, and how much to support StoryBundle.  Plus, you can give 10% to charity.

So basically this is a promotion which you, the reader, totally control.

However, to encourage you to be generous, if you agree to pay $15.00 you get five free bonus books, including my own Knight Moves.  Each bonus book was likewise nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, and is likewise free of DRM.

I’m going to assume that you already have your copy of Knight Moves, but the rest of these awesome literary treasures are surely worth your time, attention, and a wee bit of cash.  Que no?

But the bundle is for a limited time only, so act now!

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