Archive for September, 2021

Global gas wars: the fun has just begun!

2021-09-28

Spot price for natural gas in Europe has just breached the psychologically important level of $1000 per thousand cubic meters, or a buck a cube. This has already had some significant results all across Europe. In the UK, fertilizer plants can’t operate at such prices and have shut down. This will in due course cause food price inflation later on, but the immediate effect is to deprive consumers of packed meat and beer because of a shortage of dry ice that is a byproduct of fertilizer production. Meanwhile, all the way on the other side of what remains of the European Union, in the Baltic statelets electricity prices are now 10 times higher than just across the border in Russia. Of course, they are welcome to buy cheap and plentiful electricity from Russia, but that has to come in via Belarus and Lithuania and the Lithuanians have strategically wrecked relations with Belarus by harboring the fugitive Tikhanovskaya the cutlet queen who is a sort of Belarussian Juan Guaidó.

On the other side of Belarus lies the Ukraine, where things are even more fun. Back in spring of 2019 the Ukraine declined Russia’s gracious offer to sell it gas $240-260 per thousand cubes (a quarter of the current spot price) and instead opted to buy it on the spot market. The result is that the Ukraine needs 13 billion cubes of gas in storage to get through the heating season but has less than 5. But it can always buy what it needs on the spot market, right? Wrong! The Ukraine is broke and has zero budgeted for this purpose. Luckily, it can still buy cheap electricity from Russia—at least until Ukrainian nationalists decide to blow up the transmission lines to Russia like they did with the ones to Russian Crimea a while back, causing energy shortages there and forcing the Russians to construct an energy bridge to it from the mainland in a process that took close to a year.

But Unlike the Ukraine, which is broke, countries within the EU don’t have to freeze because they can just buy the gas they need on the spot market, in the form of liquified natural gas, right? Wrong! The LNG market is global, and Europe’s East Asian competitors—China, South Korea and Japan—can always outbid them for the available supply. These three countries have been running structural deficits with the United States for decades and have accumulated an unwholesome hoard of US federal debt. With the US now nearing national bankruptcy and/or triggering dollar hyperinflation by allowing its national debt to breach the $30 trillion threshold, they are eager to unload as much of this hoard as possible, exchanging it for needed commodities such as natural gas. They don’t much care how much the gas is going to cost because the eventual price of the US debt is going to be zero and something is always better than nothing. Thus, there is a good chance that the EU will be shivering in the dark this winter in solidarity with the Ukraine.

But things are much better in the United States which, after all, is a proud exporter of natural gas thanks to what is left of its fracking industry. Wrong again! The Industrial Energy Consumers of America (IECA), a chemical and food industry lobbying group, has just demanded that the US Department of Energy place limits on LNG exports. Otherwise, they say, very high natural gas prices will render numerous US enterprises noncompetitive and force them to shut down. Prices have already gone up by 41% over the past year. But that’s not enough to stimulate production: natural gas production in the US is falling together with the drilling rig count and the amount of gas in storage is currently 7.4% below the previous five year average. Attempting to put limits on LNG exports will cause loud screams from energy industry lobbyists, who have plenty of clout on Capitol Hill, and result in protracted political battles in an already sharply divided and disagreeable US Congress.

Meanwhile, back in the EU, there is something that can be done immediately to avert this crisis: turn on NordStream2, which has just been completed, by setting aside European bureaucratic foot-dragging protocols that will stretch out the process of certifying it and by throwing out the truly idiotic restriction that it only be used at 50% capacity. Russia’s Gazprom would be perfectly willing to sign a long-term supply agreement at a reasonable price, just as it did with Hungary just a few days ago. But for now such a change of heart seems unlikely. On the one hand the free market fundamentalists are still full of blind faith that the free market will somehow keep their people from freezing; on the other, environmentalists seem to believe that freezing would be a virtuous act that will help save the planet from overheating. Come next spring, melting snow may reveal a political landscape littered with the frozen corpses of environmentalists and free market zealots. We should all wish them the best of luck, of course, whether they deserve it or not.

Noosphere, Part IV: Monistic Mythologies

2021-09-25

After a few tens, perhaps hundreds of millennia during which Homo sapiens dwelt in the company of a multitude of gods, goddesses and godlike thingies (along with heaping handfuls of demons, sprites and trolls) the idea arose to put an end to the madness and, as a disciplinary measure, declare that there is just the one God whom everyone must perforce worship and revere. Much blood has been spilled as a result, until a sort of tense standoff was reached, in which various theologians confirmed, squirming in their seats the whole while, that there is just the one God, be he God of the Jews or the Moslems, in spite of such minor doctrinal differences as the right to have more than one wife or whether serial adulterers should be stoned to death by an enraged mob or invited to talk shows together with their multiple jilted lovers.

The source of monotheism can be traced to Zoroastrianism, which arose in Persia in the 6th century BC. In its current state, this religious mythology is represented by its two most prevalent forms—Judaism and Islam. Both can be adequately summarized by the statement “There is no God but G-d/Allah.” This statement of denial indicates that not all is well with the “mono” aspect of monotheism: the necessity of denial ipso facto admits the possibility of affirmation while emphasizing its undesirability. Right in the second book of the Old Testament is the following line: “I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God…” [Exodus 20] “Jealous of whom?” inquiring minds automatically want to know. Thus, the relevant arithmetic-defying formula of monotheism is 1≠1.

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A Stalingrad for Natural Gas

2021-09-15

European natural gas hub spot price has surpassed $900 per thousand cubic meters with the psychologically important threshold of $1 per cubic meter not far off. This is an astronomically high price that is likely to bankrupt a lot of European energy companies while causing their customers to die of exposure this winter.

Just in the UK, where around 10 thousand people freeze to death during a normal winter with normal prices, so far PfP Energy, MoneyPlus Energy, People’s Energy and Utility Point have kissed the world good-bye, their customers getting picked up by the government regulator Ofgem. Acting wisely, Ofgem raised the annual price cap for a typical household by £139 to £1,277. Just to make things even more interesting, the underwater cable providing electricity to the UK from France just failed, knocking 1GW out of the 2GW link.

What’s behind all of this chaos and mayhem? Call it the wages of stupidity.

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Biden’s Little Victories

2021-09-08

Kamala Harris lays flowers at a memorial to the Viet Cong who shot down John McCain

Victory comes to mean different things as we grow up and age; for an infant, victory may be in spitting a mouthful of food farther than ever before; for a grown man in his prime, victory may be in bedding down a beautiful woman; and for someone Joe Biden’s age, victory may be in successfully moving his bowels. Let us not lose sight of such relativities as we consider America’s victorious exit from Afghanistan and its forthcoming victorious exits from Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, Kosovo, Israel, Taiwan, Qatar, Okinawa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Alaska, to name a few.

A well known fact about the US is that its national policies generally, and its “vision thing” (as George Bush-père called it) in particular are formulated by liberal arts graduates of Ivy League schools. Their training generally consists of reading and thinking about some books, but their reading lists tend to be rather short. However, they always include two titles: 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Perversely, they remember these not as cautionary anti-utopias but as sets of instructions, 1984 especially, and proceed accordingly.

Please recall that on the wall of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth were inscribed three slogans:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Back in 2014 it had occurred to me that these apply just a little too well to the way the Washington, DC establishment operates, and I have been tracking its progress in light of this realization ever since with excellent results.

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Noosphere, Part III: Polytheistic mythologies

2021-09-06

This set of myths encompasses polytheism in all of its myriad forms and is symbolized by the mathematically invalid expression 0 = ∞. The number is zero because in this scheme there are exactly zero actual Gods. Here, 0 is very different from the previously discussed NULL state, which is the atheists’ strenuous denial and/or the experienced absence of all that is divine. Zero is also infinity since the number of lower-case gods, goddesses, and godlike beings is unconstrained by any principle. If you have a forest goddess, then why not a tree goddess, and bush goddess, a shrub goddess and a sapling goddess? Toss in a heaping handful of nymphs, trolls and goblins to round out the tableau.

Another distinction is that NULL appears to be a transient state indicative of a crisis whereas 0 = ∞ is a steady-state condition that Homo sapiens have experienced and will in all likelihood continue to experience over countless millennia. Various monotheistic religions and cults, symbolized by 1≠1, 1+1=1 and 1+1+1=1, which we will discuss later, occupy a middle position: they are not transient; neither are they permanent but tend to decay to 0 = ∞ over time.

Lower-case gods form a continuum from truly godlike entities that create and destroy worlds and can only be appeased through regularly scheduled human sacrifices, preferably of virgins, to deified humans whose mummified remains perpetually lie in state in mausoleums, to pop stars and celebrities and all the way to little idols—Chinese kitchen gods, for instance, which are statuettes one can properly appease by smearing them with lard once a year. Fetishes and talismans fit at the far end of this continuum. The existence of neolithic “Venus figurines” shows that this has been going on for at least a few thousand years, probably much longer, lending credence to the theory that the penchant for religious mythology is an evolved trait among Homo sapiens which scientific atheists are silly to try to fight: gods and godlike beings and things may be software but that software runs on dedicated, special-use hardware built right into the human cranium.

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