12 November 2007

The Price of Oil: What Are We Talking About Exactly?

The rising price of oil is on a lot of people's minds these days. It hasn't quite hit $100/barrel yet, but it's getting close ($94 as of this writing). I was reading Elizabeth Kolbert's article about extracting oil from the Alberta tar sands in the New Yorker this morning, and it occurred to me, as I read that 4500 pounds of tar have to be dug and separated into their constituent parts to get enough of the bitumen that can be refined into one barrel of oil, that I had no idea how much oil was in a barrel.

I'd always pictured it like the one here -- it's the size we think of when we think of a generic barrel -- but that couldn't possibly hold enough oil to justify the expense of digging up the 4500 hundred pounds of tar, could it? An official barrel of oil must be much more massive.

Turns out, that barrel in my mind is an official barrel of oil, the one that costs nearly $100 now. It holds 42 gallons of oil, about half of which is destined to become gasoline. The rest is made into things like jet fuel, fuel oil, asphalt and lubricants. So, one barrel of oil yields about 21 gallons of gasoline, or about two-thirds of an SUV's gas tank.

The reason it's at all profitable to convert those 4500 pounds of sludge into a barrel of oil is that, all told, it costs about $30 per barrel to do so. It was only a few years ago that oil was at $38, making tar-sand extraction unattractive. The process isn't nearly as efficient as conventional oil extraction, though, so the environmental impacts are much worse.


06 November 2007

Can I Have My Money Back?

There's a story in the New York Times today about the abysmal conditions at the barracks Iraqi Police Academy, built by an American contractor. The company, Parsons, did such a shoddy job that the building is "largely unusable".

That's an understatement. How would you like to live in a building where the bathrooms have human waste dripping from the ceilings? Is it any wonder the Iraqi Police Force isn't yet up to the job of policing Baghdad? We -- the American taxpayers -- paid them $72 million for this.

There is, of course, as there always is, a Congressional investigation underway. But there's no word yet as to when the company plans to issue its refund checks -- 55 cents for each of 131 million income tax filings last year. OK, that might not sound like much; but considering that the entire Iraqi reconstruction effort to date has cost $45 billion, and is, according to the Times article, and any sort of common sense, "widely considered a failure," a refund on the whole thing would be $343 each.

Alright, $343 isn't going to get me very far, either. But on principle, Parsons, Blackwater, Halliburton, and the rest of youz on this list of war profiteers, please make the check out to Cash.

01 November 2007

Happy Goddamn Halloween

OK, sure, every other woman on the street last night was a slutty barmaid, or a slutty referee/umpire, slutty pirate, baseball player or cat. I even saw a slutty Sherlock Holmes. We get it; Halloween is firmly established as a safe time for otherwise only mildly slutty woman to become full-fledged slutty fantasies for men whose most creative costume attempt is carrying a football while wearing a football jersey and sneakers. If I were 15 years younger, I might think it was fun to do, instead of just funny to ridicule as the sluts pass.

But when the slut parade interferes with my ability to get home quickly, that's when it's gone too far. The cab we were in after the theater last night was held up for several light cycles and meter clicks too many on 42nd Street. The cause of this late-night traffic jam? A Halloween party at Cipriani, to celebrate the launch of Roberto Cavelli's new vodka line (doesn't he know that designer vodkas are so 2004? but get this, it's filtered through crushed Italian marble), at which there was a line of black SUVs standing in what would otherwise be a no-standing zone/bus stop, funneling the traffic into one lane instead of two, their drivers napping while the D-list celebrities they were waiting for slutted it up inside. People like Petra Nemcova and Katrina Bowden. Who? Right; exactly.

At least Petra's costume is a little beautiful. What's Katrina supposed to be? A slutty Donald Trump? Ew.

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