Saturday, December 31, 2005

Economics can’t trump the laws of thermodynamics

Or, in MoQ terms, the higher levels exist on the basis of the lower, and when the lower levels hit a boundary, so do the levels above.

The inorganic level is about physics and chemistry, geology – this is the realm of Peak Oil analysis.

The social level is the realm of human institutions – eg agricultural systems and most commercial activity.

The highest level would include the ‘laws’ of economics.

Now if Peak Oil establishes a boundary at the foundation, then it doesn’t matter what happens ‘in theory’ for the higher levels – they’re going to hit a wall.

A quote from M King Hubbert:

"The world's present industrial civilization is handicapped by the coexistence of two universal, overlapping, and incompatible intellectual systems: the accumulated knowledge of the last four centuries of the properties and interrelationships of energy; and the associated monetary culture which has evolved from folkways of prehistoric origin”.

If you listen to the economists, there is no problem – an alternative to oil will be found once the price goes up.

The physicists and geologists say: there is no alternative.

Three men are shipwrecked and washed up on a desert island, a physicist, an engineer and an economist. Once they have dried out and come to their senses, rubbed the salty grime from their eyes and looked up at their surroundings, they see that there isn’t much on their island. Lots of rocks, the occasional palm tree, a passing bird, and – miracle of miracles – a crate of tinned food. But!.. no tin opener.

Each man comes up with a way of getting the food out of the tins, appropriate to their training.

The physicist says “I know from my study of the law of gravity that if I climb that tree and drop rocks onto the tin, that the force exerted will be sufficient to split the tins, and then we can eat the food.”

The engineer says, “No, no, I’ve got a much better idea. If we use the branches of the tree as a lever we can swing rocks against the tins, and that will make things much more accurate.”

Then the economist joins in: “Hold on a second. First, let’s assume that we have a tin opener…”

Friday, December 30, 2005

All religious people are deluded

An annoying argument that I have come across too frequently, often by people deploying the grammar of salvation.

Interesting article on it here, linking to an interesting comment thread (apropos Daniel Dennett etc) here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I Heart Huckabees



Odd.
Striking.
Sweet.
Fun.

With Isabelle Huppert, whom it was reassuring to see playing someone approaching normal. Her performance in La Pianiste was profoundly unsettling.

Half time 05/06

If you're worried by my musings about WW3, take solace in the record of my football predictions, most of which are already proven false!

Here is what I wrote, with half-time comments in italics:

Champions: Chelsea. Only question is whether they go unbeaten or not.

Beaten by ManU, but otherwise all too predictable

Order of Top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, ManU.
I think it quite possible that ManU might drop out of the top four if they have a season like last one. I also think Liverpool might come second (and be the main challengers to Chelsea in the coming seasons).

Arsenal's poor form has been the biggest surprise; they've struggled to replace Vieira and Campbell has withered. They will come back, but whether they get to 4th I'm doubtful. Liverpool will be second - and they will be the main challengers to Chelsea. I'm really impressed with Benitez. As for the Imperial Lord Ferg - ah well, for everything there is a season.

Dark Horse (ie might get into the top 4): Tottenham.

Europe: Tottenham, 'Boro.

Right on Spurs, wrong on Boro - although they will do well in the Uefa cup I think, and recover in the second half of the season.

Good seasons for Man City, Birmingham, Blackburn and Pompey.

Badly wrong on Birmingham and Pompey - and I'm most surprised about Birmingham. I thought Bruce had sorted out their defence - now they're kack. Redknapp won't be able to keep Pompey up.

Bad seasons for Newcastle (unless they get Owen), Charlton and Fulham.

Newcastle got Owen, so I think they should get a Uefa cup slot. If they sort out their defence with someone to replace Bramble they might even press for the fourth position. Right about Charlton and Fulham though.

Nothing happening at Aston Villa.

Other than a takeover. I rate O'Leary as a manager, but I wonder if he will survive.

Relegation: Wigan, WHM (shame) and WBA. Which means I pick Sunderland to survive out of those four. Those having bad seasons might have terrible seasons allowing one of those to escape.

Couldn't get more wrong, could I? Sunderland will be relegated, Wigan and WHM won't (which pleases half my family as they are WHM supporters). So who will join Sunderland? Pompey and... er.... probably WBA but I hope not... hope it's not Everton either.... that will be an interesting fight, probably going down to the wire with half a dozen teams at risk.

~~~

And what about the Burley/Woodward combination at Southampton? I think that has all the makings of a great team - if Woodward can keep his ego in check for long enough.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Singing love songs to Jesus

A few years ago I remember talking to my spiritual director about my "relationship with Jesus" which I thought was non-existent. He (wisely) said that these things balance out over time - that growth is about ascending through the Trinity, spending some time with the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit - and then doing it all again.

I'm getting to know Jesus a bit more - largely thanks to James Alison - but also thanks to exposure to some nice friendly evangelicals - a number of whom even pay me the courtesy of reading my blog (smooch) - who have definitely 'loosened me up'.

So much so that my Christmas morning sermon concluded with Matt Redman's 'Heart of Worship', which was really good

"I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus"

It took my mother-in-law, commenting favourably on these words, to point out something that should have been obvious to my Anglo-Catholic heart. What is the point of being the Bride of Christ if you cannot sing love songs to your beloved?

Innocence after Peak Oil

Some thoughts prompted by the readings today for the Feast of Holy Innocents (Mt 2 and 1 Cor 1)

A couple of years ago, Rowan Williams preached on these texts and made the point that sometimes our wisdom has perverse consequences – in this instance, the Three Wise Men have set off a chain of events leading to the slaughter of all the male infants in and around Bethlehem. For once, I’m not convinced that Rowan has the right interpretation, however right that specific point might otherwise be.

In Scripture, wisdom as such is not a problem – and for the three it is certainly not a problem as it is how they are enabled to follow God’s will – so long as it is made distinct from the wisdom of the world. This is what follows from Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 1. God has taken what the world despises and used it to shame the the strong – the structures of what the world values have been overturned – and so the Christian follows the one executed in shame, for that symbolises the arrival of the Kingdom. Yet that Kingdom, whilst rejecting worldly wisdom, is itself the rule by Wisdom, Sophia, the one who plays at the feet of God when the world is created.

This is the Word through which all things are created, and as such the one whom we are to follow. Consequently, we are to be in this world as He was to the Father from the beginning – playing at his feet. Consider a child opening up carefully wrapped presents at Christmas time – no care for what is being torn – simply a joy in what is being discovered. This is how we are to be.

Yet how can we do that in the face of the reckless hate displayed by such as Herod? For his actions have hardly vanished from our world. We are still surrounded by tragedy – how can we retain our child-like joy when the child-like are abused all around us?

We are to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect – which Christ teaches us in the context of saying that God sends rain upon the just and the unjust. In other words we are not to judge. We are to forgive our brother seven times seven times. We are not to be scandalised by the evil that we see – and it is only by avoiding scandal that we are enabled to retain our humanity. We are called to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves – in other words we are to look clearly at the nature of the world we live in, with all its horror and the slaughter of innocents – yet we are not to give in to a despair, a weary cynicism, a bitterness which poisons all life. We are to love the world as the Father loved it, and as his Son loved us.

For to let go of the innocence – to take offence at the evildoer, to not love them – this is the Sin against the Holy Spirit, this is the refusal of forgiveness which destroys human community.

The perspective which Peak Oil opens out for us offers a vision of tremendous human suffering – the consequences of accident and malice, human greed and need – and the pressure to lose our innocence, to give in to the fantasies of the ‘die-off’ crowd and prepare for the apocalypse with relish – it is in this situation that our innocence is most essential. It is the retention of our innocence – our refusal to be scandalised by human wickedness – this is the struggle for our faith in the coming years.

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod,
though they had done no wrong:
by the suffering of your Son
and by the innocence of our lives
frustrate all evil designs
and establish your reign of justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Amen.
(the collect for the Feast of Holy Innocents)

The real purpose of the Da Vinci Code

This was clearly the real reason why God allowed the Da Vinci Code to be written. (A very readable book - as is his Angels and Demons - but utter nonsense. See Tom Wright on it here.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

And the darkness comprehendeth it not



Someone said to me the other day (possibly quoting Washington Irving?) that you need a small child to teach you the meaning of Christmas.

This is true.

You also need one (or, better, two) to distract a father from his pessimistic preoccupations.

I wish you all a blessed feast of the Incarnation of our Saviour.

(Time to wrap some presents)

Some grounds for post-Peak optimism

There are lots of depressing things to ponder. There are also some grounds for optimism about the long term future of our civilisation.

1. Food – you don’t need fertiliser to feed the present population (or something like it) – see the Cuba experience;
2. EROEI – we have established technologies that have significantly positive EROEI – notably wind and solar;
3. Waste – western society is profoundly wasteful, and there is a lot of fat that can be relatively painlessly trimmed away (have car pools for example; insulate our homes; switch lights off when we’re not in the room…);
4. Accumulated capital – the fossil fuels haven’t just been used for Christmas lights – we also have accumulated an awful lot of wealth (like electric trains, internet=telecommuting etc) and a lot of knowledge (like the importance of hygiene);
5. Finance and law – the doomer perspective that capitalism is a Ponzi scheme established by fiat money is profoundly mistaken;
6. State power – the UK has resources to significantly moderate the impact of an oil price shock, eg by lowering the very high taxes on petrol (which will minimise the immediate economic problem), and it is also financially solvent. There are also existing plans for rationing essential goods, and the experience of WW2 is a good folk memory for enabling that to happen effectively. Unfortunately these items don’t apply to the US;
7. War – the conflict over the resources will concentrate our minds very swiftly. It’ll be horrible, but working together – which the war will demand – will be the only way through. That will be a good thing;
8. God – come let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us and he will heal us.

Bach, God, atheism

Good post at Samizdata here about Bach's religious inspiration. There is also a particularly wonderful reactionary rant in the comments with which I have a great deal of sympathy.

"What was peculiar about the period c.1800-1950 was the attempt to assimilate this perceptual disorder [atheism] to the cults of democracy and materialist science-- as if methods of studying the nuts and bolts of sublunary life could somehow become an alternative to religious rituals, and as if all men (a fortiori, women) were equally fit to govern themselves and others. These top-down doctrines never captured the innermost hearts of ordinary men, and are now evaporating-- alongside much else that was 'modern' 100 years ago-- as the natural piety and humility of Man reasserts itself."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Some notes on Chomsky's 'Understanding Power'

I find Chomsky a very interesting and stimulating read. I'm glad he's around to provide his perspective, and I shall make sure I read more of him in future (I have Deterring Democracy and Manufacturing Consent on my shelves, which are next in line). I think he's particularly good at exhuming otherwise ignored malefactions by the US Government - thinking of Central America in particular, but it does go more widely. (So as someone who doesn't like state power in general, he's good at providing ammunition for the dispelling of some illusions.) I think he's particularly good on media bias, and with some quibbles (some of which he accepted in UP) I think his "Propaganda model" is basically right.

However I think that he is significantly wrong about capitalism. In particular I think his analysis is a) incoherent and naïve and b) parochial to the US.

a. The incoherence/naivete shows itself in his attribution of motives to businesses. On p391 of my copy he describes the "institutional necessity" that corporations work under as "to the extent that you have a competitive system based on private control over resources, you are forced to maximise short term gain"; on p394, as part of an analysis of how scientific research is corrupted by business patronage, he says "big corporations understand that if they want to keep making profits five years from now, there'd better be some science funded today". Both of those can't be true. Now he's being colloquial in the book, which makes it more readable, but this was just one instance of a prevalent confusion in his perspective, ie that businessmen are rapacious short-term capitalists - except for when they're rapacious long-term capitalists. I just find his comments on business processes weak, as compared to his foreign policy analysis.

b. More specifically I think that his criticisms have most force when applied to an Anglo-Saxon publicly listed company. I don't think that they're applicable to European companies/ social models, and they're definitely not applicable to Asian companies. The cheibatsu/keiretsu model, for example, is geared around the maintenance or increase of long term market share. That's very different to the maximisation of the bottom line.

Part of the underlying disagreement I have with his analysis rests upon his anthropology. A strongly left-wing analysis often minimises the role of individual choice, and in particular, it has the logical consequence of being forced to argue that most people (are forced to) choose the wrong things - whereas the anointed are free from such malign influences. I think Chomsky is guilty of this, and this is one of the key progressive/conservative debates. One of the most important disagreements flows from this: I think that he systematically underestimates the importance of individual choice and leadership. So he says "Nobody does anything on their own", and to the extent that he is describing the importance of social organisation he is
right. But I think there is a necessary role for spokesmen who can articulate a vision which inspires the movement as a whole, and that no amount of organisation can make up for the lack of such a leader. (I don't think I'm arguing for a Fuhrerprinzip here, just that "without a vision the people perish").

So: worth reading, but best consumed with added salt.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Virgin Birth

I struggle with a literal account of the Virgin Birth. Once upon a time I was 100% heretical - rejected Jesus' incarnation and divinity; resurrection was a spiritual experience; giving sight to the blind was psychosomatic etc etc. Over time and with further study all of those heresies have fallen away, leaving my questions about the Virgin Birth feeling rather lonely and missing their old friends. Yet those questions don't go away. I'm aware I'm unorthodox on this, but belief isn't volitional. In particular, I find it deeply depressing to be lining up on the same side as John Spong (nothing personal) - but I'm sure God's grace is active here as everywhere, and though I am a stubborn mule God will eventually prevail.

These thoughts were prompted by an interesting article here, where I disagreed with "without a Virgin Birth, it seems that the Incarnation falls by the wayside". If someone could persuade me that that was true, then I'd be more sympathetic to the VB. Yet John's gospel is by some measure the most incarnational of the four, and as John not only does not have the VB but there is even a suggestion that he is opposed to it, it seems perfectly plausible to have Incarnation without the VB.

In my memory is a letter quoted in a book on reactions to John Robinson's 'Honest to God', from a "housewife" who said (paraphrase) that she had always found it difficult to relate to Jesus because she saw him as a Superman figure, with special abilities, and therefore not all that relevant to her life. From reading Robinson she had felt able to move closer to Him.

So the key issue for me is how to reconcile the VB with full-blooded humanity. Christ has to be one of us - and I can't see how the VB allows him to be one of us. He must be one of us for 'what he has not assumed he has not healed'.

I'm aware that I'm wrong - all the other heresies have been consistently overcome through the application of theological understanding (in other words, once I've realised what is being claimed, the objections tend to dissolve). I just haven't got there yet. In so far as I 'believe' it, it is because I accept and trust the authority of the church, which has proven its truth to me in every other area. But I just don't understand it - and that drives me nuts.

Ah well. I'll keep plodding on.

Monday, December 19, 2005

What are gay men for?

Michael Vasey was a lovely man, whom I met a handful of times before his very untimely death. He sometimes asked the question, what are gay men for? Mark Vernon gives one answer here. "So what are gay men and lesbians for now? They are a reminder, in a world coloured by the cold calculations of competitiveness, that people can love one another."

World War Three by Easter

OK, time to put the pessimistic hat on for a second.

First see this.

Then see a commentary giving a particular spin on it here (a commentary I agree with, I should add).

And then add in this (and for a historical comparison, add in this).

Now consider this and this.

So - we have a few months before TSHTF. Let us use it wisely under God.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

SUV spirituality



Consider the appeal of an SUV (what we in England call ‘4X4’s or, more to the point, ‘Chelsea Tractors’).

You are strong. You are safe. You are independent and self-sufficient, accountable to no-one. If there is a collision, the other car will come off worst. You are elevated above the common herd, able to look further into the distance. You can trek across exotic locations, you can even cross the Strood when the tide is high.

The appeal of an SUV is to a particular mentality – a mentality which owes just about everything to Modern philosophy. It is the Cartesian ego transformed by the parameters of the internal combustion engine. Iris Murdoch describes it as presented by Kant:

“How recognisable, how familiar to us, is the man so beautifully portrayed in the Grundlegung, who confronted even with Christ turns away to consider the judgement of his own conscience and to hear the voice of his own reason. Stripped of the exiguous metaphysical background which Kant was prepared to allow him, this man is with us still, free, independent, lonely, powerful, rational, responsible, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of moral philosophy.” (From ‘The Sovereignty of the Good’)

This man drives an SUV, for the SUV expresses all those virtues in kinematic form. The culture which reveres these attributes calls forth in mechanical expression an embodiment of it’s own soul – and so we arrive at the crisis of our culture. We are, in James Howard Kunstler’s words, up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV with an empty tank.

This is a spiritual problem: the roots of the crisis are spritual; the only possible solution is spiritual. Consider those virtues expressed in the SUV; consider most of all the virtue of autonomy – the independent man, accountable to none, moving off to decide by the light of his own conscience and his own reason what is good. The child of Martin Luther permanently protesting against external authority.

Now consider the voice of a Modern atheist: I do not need an external authority to tell me be to be good. I do not need to find a purpose for my life from a religious tradition. I choose my own tradition! I am the master of my destiny!
I SHALL DRIVE MY OWN SPIRITUAL UTILITY VEHICLE!

The point of a religious tradition – the definition of one perhaps – is that we are accountable to a higher authority. That authority need not be a God as understood by theistic tradition. It might simply be ‘the truth’, or – as with Plato and Aristotle – ‘the good’. The key thing is that it is not amenable to personal choice. A person is accountable, and shall give an account. The person is open to being engaged by other people who also consider themselves accountable, and that shared accountability and shared purpose provides the irreplaceable glue of human society. It is precisely that communal glue which the driver of the SUV repudiates. For the driver of the SUV must at all costs be a sovereign ego at the centre of his body – the homunculus this time, not watching a screen, but behind the wheel.

The SUV – sport and spiritual, car and soul - symbolises all that will be left behind on the other side of Peak Oil.

Bob puts it well:

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong


Watched the new Kong film this afternoon.

On the whole - worth going to the cinema for. The realisation of the great ape was greatly impressive, and, in particular, the astonishing middle section fight sequence raises the bar for any who come after.

But the 'creepy crawly' section was horrific and redundant - would belong better in a higher rated film than this (in the cinema I was sat next to a 10? year old girl taken there by her father - not sure I would want a ten year old child of mine watching men being eaten alive by maggots...)

It was also at least half an hour too long, had some serious plot lacunae (what happened to the villagers?) and a bathetic ending.

So - good to very good; not great.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Misplacing the Apocalypse

Have a (brief) look at this site. It’s a very interesting perspective, and the main point can be simply stated: the earth can only support around 1.5 billion people sustainably; the rest are being sustained by easy access to fossil fuels (something like ten calories of fossil fuels for each calorie consumed). Thus, when the fossil fuels run out (soon) most people will die; more or less swiftly, more or less horribly.

Those who buy into this perspective are called ‘doomers’, and it seems to me that a theological perspective has something to say about the subject. For what I think we have is a use of apocalyptic language (“the world is going to end!”) abstracted away from a context in which it makes coherent sense. In other words, the foundation of the 'doomer' perspective is implicitly theological - and as such is open to theological critique.

Consider what Tom Wright says on apocalyptic language (from New Testament and the People of God) “Within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, covering a wide range of styles, genres, political persuasions and theological perspectives, there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space-time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events. There is almost nothing to suggest that they followed the Stoics into the belief that the world itself would come to an end; and there is almost everything to suggest that they did not.”

In other words the primary use of apocalyptic language is as a critique of the political and economic status quo, and to express a longing, and expectation, that God’s judgement upon that status quo was coming. Apocalypse was the genre adopted by the downtrodden, those who were most victimised in the present arrangements – for obviously, if you benefited from the present arrangements you wouldn’t want to see them destroyed – and God’s judgement would ‘cast down the mighty from their thrones… and scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts’. So apocalypse is driven by, at root, a righteous indignation and hatred of an existing political or social arrangement, and a longing and expectation that God will act to re-establish justice, ie the Kingdom of God.

It seems plausible to me that the ‘doomers’ share a hatred of the present system, yet it also seems plausible to me that their position cannot be reconciled with Christianity. “So what!” might be their response "who cares what theology has to say about this - theology is a useless waste of space!" – but hang on.

To accept the ‘doomer’ framework, is to assert that there is no way out from the present crisis – and that is to go beyond what the evidence as a whole supports. The evidence is clear that there is a major problem, but to assert that, eg, civilisation will come to an abrupt end is to move from the realm of demonstrable fact (imminent absence of resources on which we presently rely) to a contestable conjecture (there is nothing that we can do to mitigate the situation). At root, then, the ‘doomer’ perspective is a denial of hope, and a denial of the possibility of redemption. It is a theological perspective, not a scientific one.

Now it may well be the truth – it’s certainly possible that human civilisation is about to press the reset button and send us back to a Hobbesian state of nature. Yet it is equally possible that what we face is, eg, a cross between the black death and the 1930s, and that, just as in those situations (bad as they were) human society negotiates the passage more or less successfully, and we continue to move forward as a species and as a civilisation.

My point is simply that we cannot know what the future holds – despite all the suggestive parallels with Easter Island – because it hasn’t happened yet. So I repeat my point – those who have a convinced ‘doomer’ perspective are making a theological assertion, not a scientific one.

Now as a theological assertion, it is open to theological critique. The heart of the assertion is the denial of hope, and therefore of meaning, and it is therefore an embrace of nihilism, the notion that nothing matters (for if we are all going to die what is the point?). Hope is absolutely central to a Christian perspective – the insistence that God is acting within the world for our redemption, and that Christ came not to condemn the world but to save it. That there is no place to which we might fall which is beyond the reach of God’s creative Act – and therefore, no situation is as bleak as a nihilist might paint it. There is always point to what we do.

“If you knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do?”

“I would plant a tree.”


The Old Testament prophets cannot be bettered in their denunciation of a corrupt status quo. Listen to Hosea:

“Hear the Word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or kindness,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
There is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds and murder follows murder.
Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air;
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.”

Or listen to Ezekiel:

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds. Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you. A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword.”

I trust that the resemblance between this language and the language and expectations of the 'doomers' is clear. Yet always with the OT prophets there is the promise of restoration, of a new heaven and a new earth. That is what the 'doomers' miss. As with Isaiah:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.”

It is a question of balance, and honesty. Balance in that the vision of apocalypse always offered a vision of hope for the faithful remnant, who would endure the tribulation and be brought back to a faithful and fulfilling life on the far side of the crisis. Honesty, more crucially, in that it requires an awareness of the limits to our knowledge, and therefore a consequent awareness of how far a more or less conscious perspective on the divine determines the interpretation of such evidence.

There is always hope; there are always things that we can do in the face of disaster; and at the heart of it all is the call to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before our God. It is the absence of those virtues that has led us to the brink of disaster; it is the restoration of those virtues that will guide our people through the coming forty years in the desert.

So I say with the prophets:

Come let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, and He will heal us.

The Terminal



A wonderful, whimsical film; interesting characters; Zeta Jones wasn't annoying; a proper ending.

I also think it will be worth watching again. There must be an interpretation of the film which emphasises vocation (called to stand and wait), whereby we will be enabled to achieve the one thing needful (a signature) but we won't necessarily be able to retain anything else - objects, loved ones (ZJ), any relationships (Gupta).

At the end I was thinking of the Truman Show, and how we have an allegory of our life on earth there. We arrive; we wait and relate; we achieve our vocation (or not); and then we go home.

I had low expectations. That might be why I enjoyed it so much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

US/UK separation

...is something I worry about - and then wonder whether it is worth 'worrying' about at all. But I came across this article about the breakdown of defence co-operation between the two sides and I wonder where things are headed.

The last forty years or so have seen an undoubted strengthening of the ties between the UK and mainland Europe, and, at least at a popular level (eg dance music) a recognition of what is held in common amongst Europeans vis a vis the United States. Yet it could hardly be said that US influence on the UK has been light!

I just wonder how far the coming great dislocation is going to embed the UK firmly within Europe (not necessarily the EU), and start it on a separate path to the US, and maybe even the rest of the Anglosphere - a perspective with which I have much sympathy.

Ho hum. Pointless musing redux.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's not the end of the world - but it is serious

Excellent - and economically literate - essay on Peak Oil etc here. Looks like a site with similar interests to mine - I've just added it to my Sage list.

As I said - theologians are everywhere. The Holy Spirit must be blowing pretty hard at the moment.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Theologians in unlikely places



I didn't know that Alex Kapranos studied theology at university.

Wonderful.

Some say you're trouble, boy
Just because you like to destroy
All the things that bring the idiots joy -
Well, what's wrong with a little destruction?

And the Kunst[?] won't talk to you
Because you kissed St Rollo Adieu
Because you robbed a supermarket or two
Well, who gives a damn about the prophets of Tesco?


That last line might be 'profits' of Tesco of course...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

From Barfield Road to Bradwell
(taking in Burgan oilfield en route)

Tesco want to build a ‘Tesco Express’ store at 1 Barfield Road. On the face of it this doesn’t seem too terrible. Let the competition commence! If Tesco can provide cheaper food to the residents of Mersea – and the residents of Mersea prefer that cheaper food to what the other local stores can provide, then so be it. It’s merely reflecting what the people want, isn’t it?

Well, there are certain assumptions embedded in that line of argument, and in this article I would like to tease out what I think is the most important, and why allowing Tesco to set up shop in Barfield Road would be a remarkably short-sighted and damaging decision. The story takes me via Burgan oilfield, in Kuwait.

Burgan is the second largest oilfield in the world. Two months ago the Kuwaiti authorities announced that it had passed ‘peak’ – in other words, the rate of extraction from the field had reached its limit, and would now go into decline.

This is what happens with an oilfield. When the field is discovered, the oil flows easily. Extraction builds up to a ‘peak’, and it then declines – the oil becoming harder and harder to extract – until the field is exhausted. This also applies to the amount of oil available on a world-wide scale – it will be extracted easily to begin with; it will build to a ‘peak’; and then it will decline.

But isn’t there lots of oil left? No. There isn’t as much oil as we have been told, and the issue isn’t about running out of oil so much as the consequences of a decline in production.

Official figures tell us that there is plenty of oil left in the ground, particularly the ground in the Middle East. This is based upon the published ‘reserves’ allocated to, in particular, Saudi Arabia. But those reserves are fraudulent. Imagine you had a bank account which had a £1000 in it in 1990. Since then you’ve been spending £100 a year from that account – and now, when you go to the cash machine to find out how much money you have left, you discover that there is still the very same £1000 in it that you started with. That is what the ministers of OPEC would like us to believe is the case with the ‘bank account’ of their oil reserves.

The powers that be, however, have started to realise that something is wrong. Matthew Simmons, a US investment banker, has published a detailed investigation of the Saudi Arabian oilfields and his conclusion is that – just like the Kuwaiti field – the major Saudi fields are at ‘peak’. Each year we will start getting a little less. Simmons, as well as being the leading investment banker to the US energy industry, also worked as an advisor to George W Bush from 2000-2004 – from which you may draw your own conclusions. This is also why Mr Blair wants to build a new generation of nuclear power stations – probably including one at Bradwell – because he knows that our present infrastructure, based on oil and gas, is going to be untenable in around ten years time.

So we’re hitting a ‘peak’ of oil production. Why is that a problem – surely that means there’s as much oil left as we’ve already used? It just means that as oil gets more expensive we’ll start switching to alternatives?

You can’t use nuclear power to fly a plane (it was explored in the 1950s). Nor can you use electricity. Oil hasn’t simply been an incredibly cheap source of energy for the last several decades – a virtually free source in fact – it also has some remarkably useful properties. It is dense – with the exception of uranium it is the most dense source of energy that we know – and it is easy to handle, being a liquid at normal temperatures. That’s why our transportation industry has been built up around it. ‘Peak Oil’ is only secondarily an ‘energy crisis’. It is primarily a ‘liquid fuels’ crisis – and our present economic system is based upon those liquid fuels.

In February this year the US Senate received a report on this problem (it will be much worse for the US), and the report said: “The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and long-lasting. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and discontinuous." (Text of the Hirsch report available at http://www.netl.doe.gov/otiic/World_Oil_Issues/Oil_Peaking_NETL.pdf)

Which brings us back to Tesco, and Barfield Road. You see, the assumption being made to allow Tesco to come into the community here in West Mersea is that the business model is sustainable. Tesco is able to offer cheaper prices as a consequence of economies of scale – it purchases worldwide, and its purchasing power enables it to provide food cheaply. Yet it is entirely dependent upon an oil-based transport system.

The ‘peak’ of oil production will mean that the cost of oil will rise massively, and it will force businesses that depend upon transport into bankruptcy. Our transport system – and therefore our food distribution system – is based upon the ready availability of cheap oil. When that cheap oil is taken away – which it will be, on best estimates, in around five years time – then the business will fail. But in those five or so years Tesco will have hollowed out the life of our town, forcing the local businesses to fail – and then we will be a ghost town. The only prudent course for our community to take is to build up a locally based food and energy system.

Some enlightened governments have started to actively pursue this – the government of Sweden, for example, has committed that nation to going ‘off oil’ by 2020. They have realised what is at stake. Other smaller communities have started to try and reduce the risk of oil-dependency, such as the town of Kinsale (population 2000) on the south coast of Ireland. That is what we in Mersea need to do – to strengthen all the institutions in our community to enable us to withstand the crisis that is coming in our direction. To allow Tesco onto the island would be like cutting off a leg in preparation for a marathon – insane.

If you are interested in this, and would like to know more about ‘Peak Oil’ in particular, come to the Parish Church Hall on Saturday January 7th at 9:30 am. I will set out in more detail what Peak Oil involves – what it means for Mersea (Tesco and Bradwell) – and what we need to do now to prepare for it. If we plan consciously to move away from oil, then the transition to the post-oil economy need not be too painful. However if we continue as we are, and proceed blindly into the future, then may God have mercy on us all.

Monday, December 05, 2005

James Alison on the Vatican's seminary statement

Here.

I've been waiting for this. Alison is wonderfully intelligent and lucid, as always.

Saw


I enjoy horror films. Somewhat bizarre tastes for a clergyman I suppose (a legacy of a secular youth) but I find them cathartic (classic horror is deeply conservative - there is a peaceful status quo; there is a violent interruption to the status quo; the violent interruption is repudiated). My taste tends more to the supernatural thriller side of things (Seven, Silence of the Lambs) than the gory schlock (Friday 13th, Elm Street) but I can enjoy most of them - particularly if I find myself in need of such catharsis (which all this preoccupation with PeakOil has definitely given me a need for). Sometimes I can get really tense and a good 'Aaaagh' is effective therapy.

So I watched 'Saw' last night. It was rather good, especially the twist at the end, which I hadn't been expecting.

Lots of 'Aaaagh'..... (grin)

Closer


This was an interesting film which I enjoyed, and which I felt was of high quality, but I came away from it thinking 'and so...?'

It was well acted throughout (good in particular to see Julia Roberts against type) but I think ultimately for a film to be satisfying for me a) it must have at least one sympathetic character to identify with - these were all more or less sociopathic, and b) there must be some sense of character development and either redemption or judgement, ie the story must cohere in the end with an archetypal shape - even if it plays with that shape, there must be reference to it. Neither of these conditions were met.

Misanthropic, but worth watching.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Love's the only engine of survival

"When they said 'repent'... I wondered what they meant"

2nd Sunday of Advent: John the Baptizer comes preaching repentance. As Cohen sings - we don't know what repentance means. So often we think of a stern moralistic preacher wagging his finger in judgement, predicting the doom of our civilisation.

Funny that, given all I've been reading up on in the last month or two.

From today's Epistle: "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation". The thing I've been worrying about most is timing. How much time do we have to lay plans for alternative forms of life? What's the shape of the slope on the other side of Hubbert's Peak? How bad is it going to get?

"The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare"

Thing is, as Tom Wright often argues, this language is not about the prediction of heavenly events, but of the collapse of present day political structures. The 'elements' in 2 Peter are the powers that be.

There is a longing - and it is there in residual form in much secular doomsaying - for God's judgement to come and for a spectacular end to our world. That is what the Book of Revelation is about after all. Yet it is also the case that Jesus defers the expectations, for 'about that day and hour nobody knows'.

It's a displacement of our own - often deeply buried - awareness of our own sin, that is, our own awareness of how far we have fallen away from what it is to be truly human. Our culture is so profoundly inhuman, not least in the monopoly of time, and deep down we know this. We want it to end, and so we long for it to collapse, and we long for the father figure to come in and sort it all out for us. Yet we also fear such a judgement for the very same awareness of our wrongness implicates us in the wrong doing itself. So in our terror we offer up sacrifices to appease the wrath of the vengeful deity "Lord spare us".

The religious authorities recognise the power that this gives to them. They wag their finger and engender the terror. They exult in the coming judgement. They set up temples and demand sacrifice. They exist, parasitically, on the guilt and sorrow of the meek.

Into this situation comes the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is an invitation into life, it is not a death sentence, for "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Repentance - turn your life around - worship a living God - choose life - life for a community here and now, not the salvation of an individual soul at the end of time.

This offer of forgiveness comes first (like the resurrection) - no wonder they chopped off his head.

It's all about time. The living God wants us to return to him, to break our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, to become the community that we were called out of Egypt to be - and to be a blessing to the world, to show forth God's blessing through that very same way of life which we show and which we share.

There is judgement - but it is not the judgement of a vengeful and wrathful deity. God's wrath is simply when we experience the consequences of our own actions. God's grace is when we are spared.

In the years to come we will experience the consequences of our actions (Kyrie Eleison) and many in positions of authority will seek to claim that this is the wrath of God - giving themselves authority at the same time.

Let us not believe them.

Instead, let us remember that Advent is the time for penitence (choose life!) and for hope - hope in the God of grace and love and vulnerability, revealed when he came to earth as a baby.

"With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day"

In the darkness of these days that are passing away, let us set all our hope on the mercy of Christ, and look "forward to a new heaven, and a new earth, the home of righteousness".

Friday, December 02, 2005

They're starting to realise something is up

Good article here about US politicians waking up to peakoil. Blair's move towards nuclear shows that he has realised the scale of the problem.

(hat tip to Energy Bulletin)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

He should have watched Ferris Bueller

Probe after £32,000 Lotus wrecked

The sanctimonious Narcissism of the NewAge

I love this site:
mystic bourgeoisie: tupak okra rides again

Robert Winston’s ‘The Story of God’


Robert Winston is a very engaging and likeable man. With his bushy moustache and gently sonorous voice he is a distinct and reassuring presence – an ideal guide for television to use when trying to teach us about developments in science – an area in which he is most impressively qualified, and for which he is a most humane and impressive advocate. At the behest of those same television authorities, however, he is now guiding the viewer into ‘The Story of God’ – and this is a review of the book written to accompany the series. His results in the sphere of religion fall short of the standards he has achieved in the realm of science.

It is proclaimed as a more personal work than previous publications (eg “The human mind and how to make the most of it”) and there are indeed intriguing snippets of his own upbringing to provide interest for the reader. Winston is – at least culturally – an Orthodox Jew, although his sense of God seems lukewarm at best (“I am not an atheist… I am prepared to accept that God may exist” he writes in chapter one) and the book as a whole is compromised by an acceptance of conventional opinion in most of the areas he covers, not least Christianity.

In particular Winston perpetuates the false teaching that Paul was more responsible for the shape of the Christian religion than was Jesus Himself, writing (pp152-153) “In Paul’s letters Jesus was turned into a divine figure, because this would have been more appealing to his Greek audience, who had no pre-existing ideas about what a Messiah was” – one can hear the voice of AN Wilson at this point, whose work on Paul was the most recent transmitter of this mistake. To succeed in writing a book like this, Winston should have become acquainted with some proper New Testament scholarship, rather than the second hand (and rather neurotic) conventional thinking which still so characterises what passes for ‘educated’ discourse in our present society. Bishop Tom Wright’s ‘What St Paul really said’ would have been a good place to start. Winston does make some legitimate strikes against Christianity – not difficult, for clearly there is much in Christian history for which all Christians should repent in dust and ashes – but I suspect that his reliance on dubious sources has obscured for him just how Jewish a faith Christianity is.

In contrast to this, Winston seems to bend over backward to praise Islam, perpetuating the nonsense that Islam has historically been more benign than Christianity. He writes on p193 ‘[Islam] has also, since its earliest days, been a highly tolerant faith’ and later (p227) remarks that the Cathars who fled to the Balkans in the Middle Ages ‘became absorbed into the more tolerant Islam of the area’. Again it would seem that a reliance on conventional thinking has compromised his perspective; to have been effective, Winston should have at least addressed some alternative views on Islam, eg those of Robert Spencer (‘The Politically Incorrect guide to Islam’).

Whilst I enjoyed reading this book, and, indeed, learned many interesting details from it, I couldn’t recommend it from either a Christian point of view, or from a general reading point of view. For a neutral reader there are better overviews of the history available (Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Story of God’ being perhaps the best, and one of the main sources for Winston), whereas for a Christian there are too many errors, omissions and misinterpretations for it to be worth investing time and treasure in. It is disappointing to think that, on the back of Winston’s fame and not inconsiderable charm, this book is likely to sell well, thereby perpetuating various damaging distortions and conventional misrepresentations about Christianity in our society, and inhibiting the spread of the gospel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

BP to spend $8bn on green energy

Natural resources, oil news, mining news, Times Online: "BP to spend $8bn on green energy"

One of the key persuaders for me about PeakOil was the fact that oil companies are not investing in increased production (eg through more refineries etc). They know that there isn't going to be enough oil to make it worth their while - even at these higher prices. So they are diversifying into other energy sources. Which is a very hopeful phenomenon, especially as it applies to developing energy storage systems. That seems to be the one thing that would make a big difference on the other side of the great dislocation.

Compare two maps



The red areas are where the Shia population is dominant.



And compare it to this one, which shows where the oil is in Saudi Arabia (I couldn't get one at the right scale - this is a 'close up' - to get a proper sense of the size, focus on Bahrain).

The point of which is simply that most oil is concentrated in Shia-dominant areas, and Iran is a) in a very strong position, and b) is controlled by a more assertive leadership.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Armed and Fabulous


OK, I confess, I have a thing for Sandra Bullock.

(My better half is aware and understanding).

OK film, quite fun, but probably for devotees and lovers of mental chewing gum only.

Team America: World Police


An excellent 15 minute sketch stretched into 90 minutes of movie. Fun, but not great.

Feed reading

Since discovering the blogosphere I've been using Awasu to follow things. But I hate it - it must win a prize for the most annoying piece of software. So I finally took the plunge and I've spent the past half hour shifting my feeds (forty or so) onto the Sage plug-in (for Firefox, and if you're not using Firefox... er, why not? If somebody gave you a ten pound note and said 'here's a tenner, you're life will be better' would you say no? even after exhausting all potential paranoia?)

Anyhow. Sage is really good. I've only been using it for ten minutes, but the best thing about it is that I can now read the feeds as they are written and displayed on the blog page, not just the text. Which definitely makes a difference for some.

I also downloaded the 'just blog it' add-on, which I'm about to start experimenting with.....

Generosity (2)


The family were taken - a couple of weeks ago - to Le Touquet by a friend. The first time on Le Shuttle for all of us; first trip abroad for the children; all very exciting; and all very much appreciated. Thank you my friend.


When did you say the lights were going out Daddy?



Friday, November 25, 2005

A weekend

Off with family to a B&B for a weekend. Omigosh. "Clergyman has weekend" shock....

Seeya Monday.

Tax, fourth turning, and uncoupling the Anglosphere

Had a quick review of The Fourth Turning last night - it is still one of the main over view pictures shaping my thinking. Yet I was musing on one aspect of it: the link between the US and the UK. It seems to me that Peak Oil will have very different effects on the two economies, and that the effect of this may be to push the UK much more into the European sphere, rather than the Atlantic.

If oil trebles in price, then, by and large, the price paid in the US trebles, as there is very little tax on it. In contrast, in the UK, there is a very high level of tax. That means two things - a rise in price is much smaller in the UK, and the government has the option of reducing tax (and raising revenue elsewhere) to avoid severe distortions in the economy. So the UK is in a much better state to cope with any price rises from an oil shock, compared to the US.

It also has a more extensive public transport system, especially rail, which will come in useful.

It is also solvent. The US is not. The US is, in fact, in a tremendously weak position financially, and a systemic shock like Peak Oil could cause hyperinflation there, without too much stretching of the imagination (part of the argument of the Leeb book - and I think Leeb was too optimistic).

Hyperinflation destroys the middle classes and provokes extreme government response.
That is very scary.

Twilight in the desert

Read Matthew Simmons' book 'Twilight in the Desert'. Very interesting, although also very technical, and I must confess to skipping some of the middle chapters when he goes through the different oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Unless you're a geologist I think you can get the gist from reading just one...

But his main point is sobering. The Saudi oil reserves are nothing like as extensive as generally believed, and given the production from the existing oil fields that has taken place, especially over the last twenty years, it is plausible to think that Saudi oil production will begin to decline within the next few years, possibly quite suddenly. Well if that happens, that will be the oil shock to end all oil shocks.

Other links for Simmons work (he's the lead Investment Banker for the oil industry) are here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

G Wiz

An electric car that I'm thinking about here. Would be perfect for pottering about the parishes, or into Colchester. But the big downside is having to take it to Southall in London to be serviced. What's the point of going without petrol if you have to use petrol to take it 100 miles away to be serviced.

Still might get one though. Would pay for itself in a few years.

The parable of the talents

A couple of weeks ago we had this parable in the Matthew version for Sunday, and in the Luke version for the following Wednesday. Doing a bit of background reading made me wonder about the right way to interpret it.

My favourite lectionary site had a link to a remarkable paper that persuaded me that the references to a 'king' in Matthew's parables were not necessarily - or even usually - references to Jesus or God, but in fact had specific political and contemporary resonances for those listening to Jesus teach. And I recall - though I cannot track down quite where - a reference to (I think) one of the Herods going to Rome to receive approval to become King ruling over the land of Israel. So I think there is this contemporary resonance to the parable of the talents - and that it isn't, in the first place, a question of encouraging Calvinistic prudence.

So what is it about? Well, let's run with the idea that Jesus is referring to a specific king (first) and that he is criticising a particular attitude, probably of the Pharisees (second) - given that this is where the parable fits in Matthew, in the context of the woes etc. Clearly the Pharisees, and even the general population, would have identified with the third servant, who didn't provide the wicked king with a return on the investment made. And it is this attitude that Jesus is criticising.

Might it be that in fact Jesus is criticising the attitude of militant resistance? In other words, that where there is a usurper on the throne, the point need not be to overthrow or resist such a king - that reaps where they do not sow - but to get on with the business of life, thereby possibly achieving authority locally (over the 'ten cities' - presumably the area of the Decapolis?) leading to greater wealth for all? So an emphasis on prudence - not because the king is God, but because the king is wicked and exploitative, and that it doesn't matter about whether the king gets more from you if you do more, what matters is ensuring that there is sufficient wealth to go round. The militant resistance of the third servant is held up as destructive; the cooperation is held up as fruitful.

This seems to chime with the idea that God rains upon the just and the unjust etc. We shouldn't get caught up with, if you like, resisting capitalist exploitation. We should concern ourselves with God prospering the work of our hands.

I'm not entirely happy with this reading, but I prefer it to seeing the king as God, ready to damn us for being afraid.

In the pipe

When I was a kid I used to really enjoy reading war comics, like Victor and Battle Action. There was one story that appeared in a collection (possibly a 'Commando' half size) called 'In the Pipe'.

The story went like this...

Our brave tommy hero is with his fellow soldiers pinned down by gunfire from an advancing German troop. They are on one side of a clearing in a wood; our boys are on the other. The trouble is that our boys are running out of ammo. Fortunately, the leader of the german troop is a complete coward. He keeps ordering some of his men to attack, who are then cut down by the British guns. But eventually the Brits run out of ammunition.

Our boys are close enough to be able to hear what is going on on the German side, and they pick up the idea that the German leader is unpleasant and unpopular. Then our brave tommy hero has the idea - maybe one of his comrades was shot when he still had a bullet 'in the pipe' - so he searches through the guns of his fellow soldiers until he finds a bullet - the last bullet that the Brits have.

Meanwhile, the German troop leader sees that the Brits have stopped firing, and thinks that they have run out of ammunition - giving him the 'courage' to lead an attack himself. So he strides out into the clearing at the head of his troops - and our brave tommy hero shoots him dead with the last bullet.

The German second-in-command (a corporal I guess) says to the rest of his troop 'that's enough fighting for one day' - and so our brave tommy hero lives to fight another day.

~~~

I wasn't planning to say much about the story. It's just that it's been on my mind a bit recently, because after the great dislocation, there will be an awful lot of 'inventory' lying around waiting to be used. So those communities that remain will have sufficient resources to keep elements of civilisation - like blogging - going for quite a while. We won't be able to build lots of new computers. But there will be lots of old computers lying around waiting to be cannibalised for spare parts....

The Long Goodbye


Watched this classic 70's movie a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to write it up. I really enjoyed it, particularly the pacing, so much less frenetic than contemporary films, but I had a strong sense that there was a lot that I was missing, in terms of context, reference and background. I'll have to do some more research on Chandler and film noir, and then watch it again.

Daredevil (Director's Cut)


I always thought Matt Murdock was blond? Anyhow, Ben Affleck isn't too bad as the man without fear. Quite a fun film, and Jennifer Garner is always great. Didn't quite achieve what it might have done though. For comic book fans only I guess.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Concrete grounds for hoping

Good research on solar power here, and lots more available from Googling.

The issue is not the long term possibilities, the issue is the transition from one to the other.

Control, trust, hope

I wonder if you are familiar with the Enneagram?

My previous spiritual director was well acquainted with it - used to teach it for the church in various locations - and we came to the conclusion that I was an 'eight' - there are nine types, signified by numbers, but with more interesting 'descriptions' as well.

The principal issues for an eight revolve around fear, control and trust. Eights interpret their earliest experiences in terms of being bullied, which provoke various strategies to achieve safety - in their extreme, they are strategies to pursue invulnerability. The first questions that an eight will ask are about who is in control - and should they be in control? Eights are happy under a strong authority, but if there isn't a clear authority, then they will move forward to take control themselves.

So: fear moves towards control, but the path of spiritual growth for the eight is to move from that control to trusting. For the truth is that God is in control, and there can never be a time when we do not surrender to God, and God's will. God is in charge, and that is the spiritual issue for the eight.

Which is why the issue of peak oil has been on my mind so much. I do have some relevant background experience on the issue, partly from understanding economics, but also from my time in the Civil Service working on the nuclear industry. Until a month or so ago, I accepted Bjorn Lomborg's analysis of the energy situation, viz that oil supplies have increased and are increasing, and that the rise in oil prices will of themselves enforce the gradual transition from oil to alternative energy sources.

What understanding Peak Oil has done is knock away that confidence - in other words, here is the prospect of havoc in our society, and for someone who values control, ie things being under control, that is profoundly disconcerting. It has brought into the open various assumptions that I had made about the pattern of my life and the path that it might reasonably be expected to take. I now think that my working life - ie the next thirty years - will be very different. (How do you make God laugh? - tell him your long term plans.)

In the Daily Office at the moment we use the language of 'the darkness of this age that is passing away'. I take comfort from that; from the knowledge that the church has abided through crises similar to the one we are now facing; and that God will not leave himself without witnesses.

Yet an abiding hope for the future is not the same as a confidence that I will see it; or that my family will see it; or even that our local society (Mersea, Essex, England, the West) will see it.

For the other central concerns of an eight revolve around justice. Our society - globalised and oil dependent - is profoundly unjust. And unjust societies are unsustainable - it was part of the genius of the prophets to recognise that; think of Amos and the plumb line.

I remember reading this article a few years ago. It's relevance increases the more time goes on. We should tremble more when we consider that God is just.

And yet.

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It's not paranoia

"The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and long-lasting. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and discontinuous."

Summary of formal report prepared for the US government by Robert Hirsch and others, Spring 2005, available here.

The issue is not the theoretical viability of human society and civilisation in the absence of fossil fuels. That is possible with existing technology - by and large.

The issue is the transition from one state to another state - the phase transition. I can't see anyway in which that transition can be accomplished without a significant loss of utilised energy in the system as a whole.

Let me translate that into something less obscure: the system using abundant and cheap energy supports a certain population; the system using scarce and expensive energy will support a much lower population. The transition is going to be painful, and we need to begin planning for that transition now.

Which makes me think about small scale power stations for Mersea Island - a tidal barrage?

Actually, what I think most necessary is the strengthening and building up of community. People working together provides much more than the agglomeration of individuals. That also has the benefit of not being futile endeavour should all these fears prove misplaced...

Monday, November 21, 2005

EROEI

Sounds like a Celtic wail, but in fact it stands for 'Energy Return on Energy Invested'. It's one of the key concepts in understanding PeakOil.

Oil is two things: a very dense source of energy, and one which is easily fungible.

The energy needed to get a barrel of oil (light crude) out of the ground in the Middle East is pretty minimal, and that barrel of oil returns some thirty times as much energy as it took to gain it. So the Energy Return on Energy Invested is 30:1.

That's a great ratio. That means that energy is plentiful, we can do lots of things with it. And oil has certain properties - like being a liquid at normal temperatures - which make it ideal for use in transportation. The energy involved in pushing two tons of metal in a particular direction is rather large - think how many people it would take to push a car one mile, and you get some sense of how much energy is bound up in that gallon of petrol.

Peakoil is basically a recognition that this wonderful source of energy is finite. And several consequences flow from it.

1. As the oil (and possibly the coal that can be turned into oil) runs out, energy as such will become much more expensive. Some energy sources being touted, eg oil shales etc, have an EROEI of about 1.5:1 - in other words the benefit of extracting the oil becomes much more marginal. Given the tremendous complexity of extracting such oil, and the high degree of capital investment to carry out such a project, it seems dubious to me whether it would ever be economically viable on any but the simplest scale.

2. Oil as a resource for transportation cannot easily be replaced. It is possible that electricity could cover some elements - eg electric cars - but this again simply pushes the problem back to a) the power stations that may produce the electricity, and b) the creation and maintenance of such cars in the first place. Without oil, ie without plentiful and convenient energy, these things become much more difficult. So - things will become much more local.

3. Our system of food distribution depends on this easy energy. Without that easy energy a) there will be less food available (no cheap fertiliser); b) it won't be transported anywhere. There still will be transport around, but it will resemble much more a 19th century system, not a twentieth century system. There won't be refrigeration. So enjoy those bananas while you can! Food will return to being locally produced and dominated. The principal source of wealth will again be agricultural land.

4. This means that where there is no oil (and barring the miraculous invention of a new energy source) that over the coming decade(s) access to food is going to be a pressing issue. There will not be enough food to go round. The UK experience in the Second World War is worth pondering - everyone grew their own vegetables, and on the whole, there was enough to go around, in fact, people were much healthier on the whole. So - although we do have 15-20m more mouths to feed - we might be able to make enough food to keep most of our local population alive. But worldwide? I don't think so.

5. The situation will be most acute in cities. Cities cannot provide their own food source - most of the land is now asphalt. Cities will not be good places to be in the coming decades. That is where most of the 'die off' will occur. I think there will be a horrible spasm of violence, but it won't be maintained, simply because the maintenance of violence is itself a very energetic pursuit.

6. At the international level, governments will act to try to secure the oil supply for their own countries, to ensure that their own populations do not starve. This has already started, of course, but it could get much worse - US invades Canada anyone? (unlikely, extremely so, but not, I suggest, impossible).

7. The clash of civilisations: pretty soon we pass the point when 50% of the remaining oil is in 5 countries on the Persian gulf. That gives those five countries a huge amount of political power, at least temporarily. Add to this the <Islamists who want to see western civilisation destroyed (they will get their wish granted) and the increasing tensions being seen in Western countries already - the potential for an extremely nasty scapegoating process is very strong.

8. I'm not persuaded that the financial system will completely break down, although I'm quite persuaded that elements within it (eg the dollar) will be destroyed, either through hyperinflation or the direct destruction of capital. I've seen it argued several times that modern capitalism is built upon the assumption of future growth; that seems to me to be both historically inaccurate and conceptually skewed. Capitalism as it has been practiced has been structured on growth; but capitalism as such - eg the lending of money at interest - does not, logically speaking, depend upon growth in the same way. Clearly, if we move to a 'steady state' economy - which is the only future available - then the financial structure will have to reflect that. But I see capitalism as being based upon the intellectual structures like the rule of law and right to private property. I don't see those being vulnerable (necessarily) to the oil crash. Could be wrong of course.

9. The good news is that, if you're one of those who survive through the great dislocation, life on the other side will be, in most respects, much better, especially if you have a spiritual orientation. You just wouldn't want to break too many limbs.

10. Electricity and the grid. This is the one I'm still mulling over. The electricity grid itself requires energy to be maintained, but keeping the grid alive will be one of the highest priorities of all governments. I suspect that - especially with the decision to go nuclear - there will be enough energy to maintain the electricity grid for a good forty or fifty years, even if at much lower levels than today. (Which means that - for as long as you have replacement parts - the internet, and blogging(!) is going to still be around).

But I could be wrong on all of that.

The things to do now are: think locally; hope for the best, prepare for the worst, accept what comes. It is those who endure to the end who shall be saved.

Late addition: good article here - good in the sense that it is a perfect expression of the conventional thinking on energy resources, looking with an economist's eye, not a geo-physicists - and therefore ignoring the question of EROEI.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

After the oil crash

Probably the best overall site on peak oil here.

Raising awareness done best from here.

The Swedish government has committed itself to going 'off oil' from 2020. I wish them luck.

There are possibilities available now. Yet - despite a full knowledge of the issue - the politicians are either doing nothing, or, worse, planning wars on a 'last man standing' philosophy.

If we rely on human nature to get us through then we are truly *&£$ed.

I'd say something optimistic about relying on the grace of God, but I'm thinking more about Jeremiah.

"Your own conduct and actions
have brought this upon you.
This is your punishment.
How bitter it is!
How it pierces to the heart!"

Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
My heart pounds within me,
I cannot keep silent.
For I have heard the sound of the trumpet;
I have heard the battle cry.

Disaster follows disaster;
the whole land lies in ruins.
In an instant my tents are destroyed,
my shelter in a moment.

How long must I see the battle standard
and hear the sound of the trumpet?

"My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good."

I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.

I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.

I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.

I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

Top geek novels

A list of geek novels on the Guardian's site here.

I'm familiar with seven of the top ten - a rather better ratio than the the spiritual films. Must be more of a geek than a guru I guess....

Generosity (1)

Was taken by my best man to a sumptuous supper. I don't suppose I will experience this sort of thing very often in my life:

Bollinger 1996 en Magnum (fine)
~
Fresh Foie Gras Terrine with a Sauternes Jelly and Toasted Brioche (possibly the only time I've ever had Foie Gras; the jelly was remarkable)
~
Meursault 1er Cru Rougeots 2002 Verget (this was gorgeous; tremendously long finish)
~
Pithivier of Scallops and Truffle with a Langoustine Froth (very tasty, worked well)
~
1989 Chateau Mouton Rothschild (fine but fell away quickly)
1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild (warm, farmyardy at first, personality)
1989 Chateau Haut Brion (gorgeous, elegant, best of evening)
1989 Chateau Margaux (weighty, intense, got some time before peak)
1989 Chateau Latour (quite closed but clearly will be fabulous in about a decade)
~
Roast Loin of Venison with a Blueberry Sauce served with Dauphine Potatoes and Vegetable Puree (perfect match to the claret)
~
Twice Baked Cheese Souffle (worked well after the venison, when we still had claret to drink!)
~
Chateau Rayne Vigneau 1986 (lovely, not too unctuous)
~
Jasmine Tea and Lime Tian served with a Citrus Compote, finished with a Chocolate Shard (great, but didn't blend with the dessert wine)
~
Fonseca 1970 (I love vintage port, didn't disappoint, tho' I prefer the Grahams '70)
~
Cheese, filter coffee (I had tea), Petit Fours

We had a Master of Wine talking us through the different wines in the evening, which was very helpful. Was pleased that my initial impression about the Haut Brion being the best on the night was confirmed by the man in the know.

What an evening.

Thank you my friend.

Terrified and depressed

Had a very strange, diverse and interesting week, benefiting hugely from the generosity of friends, but with little time for blogging. I hope to catch up this week. But the main thing on my mind has been the impact of peak-oil, which I have continued to research and ponder.

The End is Nigh, and we're all going to die. Mostly horribly.

More posts, once I've got my optimism back.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The most spiritual films

Hmmm. Jeffrey Overstreet links to a list of the top 100 spiritual films which makes for an interesting 'to be seen' list. I've seen two of the top ten, and nine of the top twenty (assisted by being married to a Tarkovsky fan). Lots that I'm missing out on, clearly.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Generous Orthodoxy

Brian McLaren's personal manifesto. Very good, though it all seemed non-controversial from where I stand. But the thing that is clearest to me now is that there IS scope for my book, because he is so geared towards the Xn/nearly Xn approach. (he might deny that). Whereas I am absolutely aiming for the non-Xn. Good main points: need to think about – praxis (where I think he is a little misled – almost a liberal!!) and leadership, which is the key thing I need to ponder in my own right.

Serenity


I’ve been wanting to watch this for a while, and as I had to go into the centre of London for another purpose I took advantage of it still being around. I was most impressed. The opening sequence was remarkably strong, and it did a good job – I guess – of orienting newcomers, although I’m sure those familiar with Firefly got much more from it. Which I did. Disappointed that Shepherd didn’t get more of a role, but at least he was in it (from watching the trailer I wasn’t sure). And I loved the climactic moments too, particularly River’s battle (largely unseen - which made it work all the better). Cool. I searched for an image of her with the axe dripping blood, but couldn't find one - have to wait for the DVD release I guess!

And now I know who ‘the operative’ is – which is the character I most resemble, according to one of those little quizzes. Hmmmm.

But the film was great. Definitely in my top five of the year, for enjoyment primarily.

But I wondered about the politics of it – bit of a redneck/McVeigh slant it seemed to me – but I’m a foreigner, so what do I know?

"You can't stop the signal" - hope that's true, what with PeakOil and all that.

Wallace and Gromit

Great fun. The penguins at Christmas were good as well.

Cheese!

The Manchurian candidate




Good entertainment; not particularly subtle, but good performances and competently directed. Some remarkable images – one in particular stuck in my mind, of Liev Schreiber taking a phone call in his hotel room, and the picture on the wall showed an image of his own room – with the recursive depth you would get from putting two mirrors together - which was then displayed as he walked through to the wardrobe / entryway to the other world. There's a literary term that describes this - objective correlative? Anyhow, I enjoyed it.

Sleep

Sleep is a beautiful thing. It took me a while to unwind properly on retreat, but then, on the Wednesday night/Thursday morning I manage a whole twelve hours of sleep. I haven't done that in years and years and years....

Sleep is beautiful. Dreams were interesting too. Lots of posts about to come your way.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Off on retreat

Off on retreat here until Friday. It's a place I knew when I was doing my curacy here.

I feel like I'm staggering over the finish line at the end of a marathon. I haven't had a retreat since 2000 - although, to be fair, I did have a sabbatical year (grin) - but the last few months have been quite intense. It will be good to just sit in silence for a while. Although, me being me, I'm taking a bit of work - Learning Church session on the Gospel of Mark as soon as I get back, so I'm going to be spending time with the first evangelist.

Plus McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy. Plus Peterson's Christ plays - which I bought ages ago and wanted to read when I could concentrate on it - plus a few other books... and a couple of films....

Friday, November 04, 2005

Love the machine

Just finished watching series one of Battlestar Galactica. I'm impressed. Much more going on than I was expecting, particuarly in the sphere of theology. I'm intrigued to see where they go with the 'love of god' theme, which seems to be playing a great part in the plot.

It is reminding me of two things. The first is the Matrix trilogy, and the peace made between the matrix and humanity. The second is Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - that the Buddha is found in the pistons of an engine just as easily as in the flowers of a lotus petal.

In other words, I think there is a message here, coming through the collective unconscious, prompted by the Holy Spirit, about a reconciliation between humanity and technology, in order to move forward.



Having also finished book three of my 'Peak Oil' collection (full discussion tomorrow) the future survivability of human civilisation is on my mind.

"We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St Benedict"

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou


Second 'Mersea Island Moving Images' night last night - we watched (all six of us) the Steve Zissou experience.

Hmm. Maybe I've missed something, but it seemed like a lot of artifice in search of a good editor. It had plot - a good plot - but it seemed to get distracted with exploring characterisation when the characterisation (despite great actors) was not enough to sustain interest. In other words I didn't actually care about the people involved.

It was as if it hadn't made up it's mind whether to be a whimsical piece of fantasy, or an engagement with real humanity. Either one of those would have been a great film. But this wasn't.

The pastoral is trumps

Recently had to take a very sad funeral, and the request came in for Henry Scott-Holland.

I have problems with the Scott-Holland reading. In the context in which it was used it was specifically describing a non-Christian attitude, and it is non-Christian because it is non-true. Death is not nothing at all, death is horrible and maiming, particularly in a context like this.

I suggested a reading from Lamentations instead, but this caused great distress to one member of the family. So what to do? Insist on something Christian, or accept the heresy being read in church?

The pastoral is always trumps for me. It leaves me with an unquiet conscience, but rather that than increasing the already great distress amongst those grieving.

If only I knew of something "secular" that wasn't so wrong. Anyone have suggestions?