The Great Oil Crisis of 2008

A couple things seem interesting about the recent oil price spike:

  1. Where is the “Oil Crisis”?
  2. Where is the mention of the trash-by-the-freeway effect?


  • Consider #1. If it were 1973 or 1979 (gas-line years in the States), buckets of ink and hours of heavy-breathing news anchors would have beaten the “oil crisis” in to us. Why not this time? Is it because Nixon and Carter aren’t president? Not literally “because” of them, perhaps (though a silly argument could be made for that), but rather, is the mind-set that yielded Nixon and Carter as presidents no longer with us – even in the media!

    (Just to be clear, a “crisis” is what we have when someone wants to “do something”. If you don’t know what that means, wait a few years and watch the results of a few “do something-ings”. Hint: The guy who wanted to “do something” will never, ever mention it until they have successfully shifted the blame.)

    Or is this “oil crisis” missing to only me simply because I’m not exposed to these media guys. Every few nights, does NightLine lead off with a dramatic graphic mocking The Onion’s “War for the White House”, followed by talking heads wringing their hands and pronouncing this week’s events a turning point in the history of mankind and proof that there is no end to the “crisis”. …Uh. … Ah. … Is NightLine still on TV? … Whatever.

    My bet is that there is a different attitude out there from the one that was prevalent in the ’70s. The air’s simply been cleared. We don’t breath that stench any more.

    Consider what a true and beautiful thing that is, oh you who bemoan today’s world.

  • #2: A queue or flow system flowing near a critical density will crystalize from the occasional, tiny distraction. Think of how a piece of cardboard blowing slightly toward the traffic lane of a packed, fast-flowing freeway can cause a 1 hour traffic jam. You have driven through such a big slowdown but have seen no cause for it.

    The was no “cause”.

    Such slowdowns are a natural characteristic of dense, flowing material in this universe.

    The way I understand the world’s oil system is that it’s a flow of material from underground muck to hot air thousands of miles away. The “oil” changes hands many times. It’s a huge system and highly, highly optimized. There are predictable elements to it – both on the source end and on the sink end. But, it’s so leanly built that the predictability is optimized out of the system. Leaving a classic, saturated, queue/flow system.

    Which leaves us with “This will happen. You can’t predict it.”

    That is not satisfying. … Hence, we have plenty of left-brains ready to supply an explanation for why the coin, this year, came up heads.

    There is actually a reason why I’m guessing that a large part of the oil price spike was simply a traffic jam. I looked all around and found no information that accurately filtered from the “price” of oil the effect of the dollar’s drop against other currencies. Of course, there are calculations out there, but they sure looked like horseshoes and bombing. If the effect of the kahuna of “explanations”, the dollar’s value, is a wild guess then one might suppose that the oil guys who were stuck in the traffic jam simply didn’t know when that jerk right ahead of ’em would get off the d****d phone and move, for Christ’s sake!

    Quick argument against this: Where are the traffic jams in food? It’s an old story that “major cities only have 3 days of food; we’re all gonna starve; blah, blah, blah”. The food chain is very evolved and optimized. Where are the (mathematically) catastrophic spikes in the system? Answers I can think of off hand:

    1. Major cities have a lot more food stocked than 3 days’ worth.
    2. There are many alternatives to each type of food. This makes the system robust in the same ways that non-deterministic packet switching systems are robust compared to older systems, and in the same way that traffic flow is more robust through a grid-pattern city than through a more modern, flow-controlled, tributary-to-artery system.
    3. Hey! Remember the toilet paper “crisis”? Well, toilet paper’s kinda like food.
    4. And, panicing lunatics played the OH MY GOD! ALL THE RICE IS GONE FROM COSTCO! card this year.

      So, maybe there are serious traffic jams in the food system.

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