Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything is Going According to Plan

If you look at the contemporary condition of the United States, it is easy to fall into the emotional sinkhole of feeling sad, bemoaning the sorry state of things, complaining bitterly and cursing your fate. It’s all coming unstuck! Is it even possible, under these conditions, to continue to entertain the sunny notion that everything is exactly as it should be in this, the best of all possible worlds? I sincerely hope so! There are, of course, the easy rationalizations of “it could always be worse” and “we ain’t dead yet”; however, few of us find them entirely satisfactory. But there is also the far more enticing possibility of understanding how we got here and where we are going. Once we achieve it, we can briefly blame ourselves for ever having expected anything different, and then move on to better things. This understanding is not easily won; for many of us, it is becoming increasingly hard to bridge the yawning chasm between the observed and the wished for. Just look!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Nuclear Solution

When, in the middle of a card game, you realize that you are about to lose your farm, your shirt and your first-born son, you may decide to go for the “nuclear option”: kicking over the card table while reaching for your revolver. Outcomes will vary, but they are by and large preferable to the one you foresee: one of extreme humiliation and poverty. You might be slow in reaching for it and die a painful but quick death from multiple gunshot wounds. You might be the quickest and either kill or disarm your opponents. Or your opponents might run for the exits, leaving you to pick up the money off the floor. The first of these outcomes may seem less than appealing; but supposing your fancy yourself well-armed and quick on the draw, and your opponents to be cowards, you may be able to persuade yourself that this is your best bet. As for worst-case scenarios, one possibility is that your foes will shoot the revolver out of your hand before you get a chance to fire, put a bullet in your gut, take your money, laugh at you, lock you in a woodshed and leave you to die slowly.

This situation is not too dissimilar to the one in which the US currently finds itself. Frankly, I would prefer to write on other subjects, but what is happening right now on our one and only planet is that there is a certain rather large and still influential country that is in the process of rapidly losing its collective mind. Having studied and observed the US over the past 40-odd years, and now observing it from a safe distance of nearly 8000 km, at the moment I can think of no more important subject to discuss, although I hope to get back to subjects more pleasant, peaceful and closer to home sometime soon.

In this I am hardly alone: much of the rest of the world is wide awake to the dangers of this situation, is busy discussing the threat it poses to them, and is devising ways of countering it. Meanwhile, much of the population of the US has become so inured to the violence that has been committed in their name—some 60 countries invaded, occupied, bombed, sanctioned, “regime-changed” or otherwise meddled with in recent history—that most Americans are no longer able to perceive how the situation has shifted from one favoring them to one favoring no-one in particular—but definitely not them.

How is the situation allegorically sketched out above not too dissimilar to the one in which the US currently finds itself? Allow me to enumerate the ways.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Danger of Being Taken Seriously

Suppose you are having Napoleon Bonaparte and Jesus Christ over for tea. Napoleon keeps talking about world conquest while Jesus Christ looks on quizzically. Once Napoleon finally shuts up Jesus Christ holds forth interminably on how the real kingdom is His, is not in this world but the next, and how it shall have no end. Which of them, if any, should you agree with? These are powerful men with big egos; any faux pas on your part may result in your treasured custom Alice in Wonderland tea set, delicately hand-painted by the skilled ladies of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, getting smashed to bits. Challenge any one of them, and he will turn on you; bolster the claims of one against the other, and one will turn on the other. Quite a conundrum!

Here are some helpful tips: [2259 words]

Saturday, August 05, 2017

QUIDNON: The Self-Sufficient Haulout

A self-sufficient sailor needs to be able to get his boat in and out of the water either with minimal assistance or entirely unassisted.

This need arises in a variety of situations, both common and less so:

1. To deal with maintenance and emergencies.

1.A. To redo the bottom paint and to make emergency repairs that cannot be done with the boat in the water. With Quidnon, the list of such emergencies is much smaller with most boats. There is no engine shaft, cutlass bearing or propeller; these are integral to the outboard engine, which is easy to pull out for servicing. There are no through-hulls below the water line; raw water intakes for the ballast tanks are via siphons. The bottom is surfaced with roofing copper that lasts longer the useful lifetime of the boat. The sides below the waterline need to be scrubbed and painted periodically, but this can be done with the boat drying out at low tide. Marine growth on the bottom, which cannot be reached while the boat is drying out, simply gets crushed and ground off against the sand or gravel and falls off. Still, there are situations when a haulout is needed for maintenance.

2.B. To get out of the water if a hurricane or a typhoon is bearing down on you. The easiest thing to do is to run Quidnon into the shallows in a sheltered spot and to run long lines out to surrounding rocks and trees. But an even better option is to haul it clear of the water first. While other yachts are busy hunting around for a hurricane hole (a sheltered spot with enough water to get in and out without running aground) or wait in line at a boatyard or a marina for an (expensive) emergency haulout, the captain of a Quidnon has plenty of options.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Laughing Gas War

Viktor Bogorad
There are many ways to kill one’s enemies: nuke them, bomb them with conventional weapons, make them fight each other in a civil war, starve them out using blockades and sanctions, undermine their economies through market manipulation and so on. Or, failing all that, you can try to make them bust a gut laughing. Previous attempts by the US to destroy Russia have failed. The use of nukes against Russia would reliably result in the US becoming annihilated in about 30 minutes. Conventional weapons wouldn’t make much of a difference unless the US staged a land invasion, and invading Russia has always been and remains to this day an act of suicidal stupidity. American attempts at isolating Russia internationally have failed. Sanctions imposed on Russia have caused little damage the Russian economy, which is continuing to boom. With no other options left, it would appear that the Washingtonians have decided to resort to the one and only trick still available to them: to resort to antics that might make Russia collapse from laughing too hard.

The Washingtonians’ clown act involves pretending, in all seriousness, that they are going to stop Russia from supplying Europe with natural gas and to take over this market themselves, which they plan to supply with their liquefied natural gas exports obtained through fracking. (Conventional natural gas resources in the US have peaked and shale gas obtainable through fracking is all that is left.)

Importing liquefied gas across oceans via tankers when the same product is available on the same continent via pipelines is a dumb idea on every level: cost, risk, reliability, technological complexity and, last but not least, energy efficiency because shipping gas is a waste of energy. Undaunted, the US Congress has just ignited an intercontinental gas war by imposing new sanctions on Russia and, incidentally, on any European company eager to ensure Europe’s energy security by working together with Russia’s energy sector. The US is also spending close to $50 billion to convert its existing liquefied natural gas import terminals to export terminals, and has approved plans for over 40 new export terminals and capacity improvements to existing ones.

The Russians, who make it their business to understand the natural gas industry, find this plan laughable. To be sure, not all Russians are laughing. First, there is a large number of Russians—especially those whose job is to “protect the Motherland”—who lack any discernible sense of humor, especially when it comes to threats emanating from the US. The latest Washingtonian shenanigans may add some amount of condescension and derision to their innate suspicion and mistrust, but we shouldn’t expect them to even crack a smile. Second, there are Russia’s forlorn pro-Western liberals who have never achieved much of anything politically, but at least they got to clean up on Western grant money while being coached by American diplomats and NGOs on ways to overthrow Putin. They are now plumbing the depths of despair. Lastly, there are all the Americaphobes among the general Russian population, who are forever talking up the American threat to democracy and world peace. It is hard for them to get their point across when everyone is so busy laughing at the ridiculous noise emanating from Washington.

What’s so funny? The humor of this situation needs to be explained carefully because it lies buried under a dense mass of technical details of which American politicians and Western mass media seem blissfully unaware. As usual, explaining a joke often renders it unfunny in the laugh-out-loud sense, but it can remain funny in the sense appreciated by professionals in the field of comedy who are able to declare that something is indeed funny while remaining perfectly serious. If you are an energy business nerd and have the time and the inclination to peruse a detailed and decidedly unfunny analysis of the situation, you should read this excellent article by Arthur Berman. If you are neither an energy business nerd nor a professional comedian and just want to get the joke, then read on. [2652 words]