Sometimes metaphors can be handy things, but obviously the tricky part is making sure that using them gets across an idea to somebody the way you actually meant it. So, in throwing a title on this note, I used a shortened version of saying “the pink elephants in the room” (yes, plural, because there is quite a collection of topics). Doing a quick bit of web searching I found a little essay where somebody dug into this, and I realized that I’m mixing metaphors, and there are a couple of different things, that actually both tie into this.
There is the pink elephant, as one item, which, to quote the essay, is basically:
Pink elephants are a joking way to describe the hallucinations – strange, imaginary visions and thoughts – you might see if you are excessively drunk or under the influence of drugs. A pink elephant is also used to mean something extraordinary.
Then there’s also the elephant in the room, described as:
The approximate opposite of a pink elephant is the elephant in the room or elephant in the living room. “They ignored the elephant in the room: their daughter still would not speak to them until they agreed to let her go to the beach with her friends.”
This sort of elephant is so big you can’t miss it. Everyone knows it’s there, but nobody mentions it, usually because there seems to be no happy solution to whatever problem that elephant represents.
Reading this stuff, I realized that my casual use of metaphors was mixing what are a couple of different, even opposite, metaphors, but, yet, they were both still useful here. As I thought about all that for a minute, I realized that they both do mix, trying to use this stuff to get ideas across about real world observations, and that this, in itself, represented something about the stuff at hand. It works, in some topics, to mix both the pink elephant sense of meaning something extraordinary, something really strange, and the elephant in the room in the sense of something being there, so large and unavoidable that nobody paying attention can really miss it, yet people pretend it’s not there because it’s uncomfortable and people don’t know what to do about it.
For anybody who has been reading what I write in this space for the past few years, it should be pretty obvious that one running topic has been the metaphorical elephant in the room of our oil predicament. That also fits the definition I found of the pink elephant in terms of being something extraordinary, and probably also, in the minds of an awfully large number of people, fits in the sense that they believe these kinds of alerts and sounding of alarms are just bizarre delusions… in other words, they might think something like “oil problems?… what oil problems?” and rattle off all kinds of currently popular nonsense, about “shale oil boom” and the supposed wonder of “new discoveries” and “modern technologies” in oil exploration and extraction. Tell people about the oil situation as it really is, and you’re likely to get a reaction as if you’re telling people about seeing pink elephant hallucinations.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in sorting out the semantics of two different metaphors and how I might have had them slightly mixed up together. The general thought I had, with possible titles to slap on the top, was about the idea of a whole host of the stampeding metaphorical beasts breaking loose, even as people don’t even notice, or vaguely notice, but choose try to pretend they aren’t there, or pretend they’re something else entirely.
In an earlier note I brought up an editorial by Thomas Friedman, published in the New York Times, and this piece of work fits into the strange elephants metaphor, somehow.
Friedman is an entire subject of his own, with the unfortunate twist that just about any time spent on him is a waste of time, but, at the same time, it’s a subject that forces itself into the works for the simple reason that people take the man seriously. He might be pretty funny if not for that problem. As it is, it’s not so funny, as I look around in the world and see people who I find credible, attentive, thinking, honest, and they’re being ignored while I keep seeing Friedman (and others who ought to be ignored) popping up and talking out his ass, and people fall over each other to read and hear what Thomas Friedman’s moustache has to say about things. It occurred to me a while ago that there is quite a bit in common between Thomas Friedman and another public figure of unintentional comedy, Glenn Beck.
Let’s not get too tangled up in sorting out the details of what I mean by that, but generally, where this matters is what seems to be a common pattern between those two, of seeming to manage occasionally to actually notice a fact or two, get some thing or another right now and then, but then proceeding to mix in assorted nonsense and fiction and misunderstanding, going through God knows what mental process, and churning out conclusions of fucking nonsense, happily absorbed by people who don’t seem to notice they’re full of shit.
Just one consequence of that kind of thing is that good people offering real information and insight, attentive, thinking, honest people, are largely ignored by the general public. There are many people I’ve tried to direct people’s attention to in the general subject of energy topics, like, off the top of my head, Richard Heinberg, Arthur Berman, Gail Tverberg, Chris Hughes, Steve Ludlum, and many more, and this is where we get to the latest farce from Friedman.
That column in the New York Times found Tom Friedman yapping about his musings about energy and in particular, his notions about the geopolitical games involved. The general theme is reasonable enough, that is, wondering what the story is about recent declining crude oil market prices. From there, Friedman pretty much immediately goes off the rails.
There was an example of what I was just talking about, in terms of at least recognizing one real item. This would be circumstances surrounding the collapse of the USSR as it existed until the early nineties, relating to what was happening in oil. Russia and some other former Soviet member states were not just oil producing zones, but oil exporters. Around that period, there were lots of misguided notions around, that seemed perfectly reasonable, or even obvious, to many people, that the world was in a brave new world of being “awash” with oil, in an oil “glut”, in some sort of new era of the end of oil depletion worries, especially based on ideas of a vast oil boom from the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska and deep sea deposits beneath the floor of the North Sea between the UK and Norway. That brought oil prices way down, and apparently the big drop in revenues from oil sales resulting from the much lower prices caused big financial problems for the USSR.
From what I can gather, this certainly was a big part of the story, aside from the harsh realities of the results of seven and a half decades of communism, quite apart from the popular myths about “the defeat of the Soviet Union” by mythical Cold Warrior Hero President Ronald Reagan.
Freidman took that ball and ran with it into musings suggesting that the recent (and seemingly ongoing) decline in crude oil market price benchmarks might be explained by some sort of “oil war” international geopolitical games of the United States government and Saudi Arabia collaborating to drive down oil prices to cause financial woe to Russia and Iran and their oil export sales.
This immediately runs into problems in reality, where we start getting into pink elephant or elephant in the room metaphorical territory.
Just for a start, there’s a running problem that seems pervasive, which is widespread assumptions that, somehow, all physical reality of geology pushed aside, Saudi Arabia is just able to perpetually and infinitely pump out a flow of crude at whatever rate they choose, with it all just being about whatever political and market games they’re playing at any given moment. In the vocabulary of oil lingo there’s the notion of an entity (generally defined in terms of nations) being a swing producer, that being somebody who is able to increase or decrease the rate of flow of the stuff to fiddle with market prices in games of supply and demand. Having this is the basic premise of notions like Friedman is suggesting.
In this particular case, Friedman, and quite a few other people, are evidently lost in unrealistic beliefs that the Saudis can just do this at will, and also, with that, that recent circumstances of tight oil extraction from shale formations in the US have somehow created an “oil boom” of miracles in the United States, leading to seriously delusional thinking about “American energy independence” and even extreme silliness like using the phrase “Saudi America”. The problems with this go beyond the delusions about thinking that the whole saga of what’s sometimes mistakenly referred to as “shale oil” has created some kind of miracle, that provides so much oil flow that some people believe the United States is now an oil exporter, based on all kinds of misunderstanding and fiction. That’s including vague awareness of some amount of export activity in refined petroleum products, and some crude, that are just artifacts of logistics and business, not having some sort of excess available to sell. The failure to understand the situation includes not realizing how much more expensive these “miracle boom” tight oil extraction operations are, and a dive in crude oil selling prices is going to have fairly troublesome effects on all that.
Added to this, if we turn to the matter of Saudi Arabia and lower oil prices, aside from serious questions about whether Saudi Arabia is hitting their limits and facing the reality described by Hubbert’s curve, lower oil revenues from prices sinking is likely to have pretty profound repercussions if the oil-fed money tree that has become a part of society there starts to wither.
None of this seems to factor into whatever is going on inside the mind of Tom Friedman, and a lot of other people who seem to share the same mix of delusions and failure to notice what’s happening.
There was one part of the Friedman spew that was so astonishing that I just have to quote it:
This resource abundance comes at a time when we’ve also hit a “gusher” of energy technology in Silicon Valley, which is supplying us with unprecedented gains in energy efficiency and productivity, savings that may become as impactful as shale in determining our energy security and global strength. Google, through Nest, and Apple through coding in the iPhone software, are making it easier for average Americans to manage and save energy at home or work.
What the hell does that mean? Seriously. I read that through a few times, amazed, even though that paragraph is typical for this guy. What did he actually say? What? We don’t have any oil problem anymore, because… we’ve got smartphone apps? This stuff is essentially just gibberish. But evidently quite a few people soak this stuff in, and it’s like another case of an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, with people sitting around nodding their heads with furrowed brows to look thoughtful, as if something profound has been offered, with only a few functioning honest people stopping and saying “wait… what?“.
I know reference’s to Hans Christian Andersen’s old children’s tale might be getting a little threadbare, but I can’t help it if things keep popping up making it relevant.
Here it is again, and while it continues to amaze me to see how many people take Friedman seriously, along with a large cast of other characters who dominate public attention, when they should be ignored, other people who are to be taken very seriously manage to be ignored by the general public.
One of those people is Dmitry Orlov, who published a recent note doing an excellent and clear job of spelling out how much of what passes for “leadership” in government here in the present day United States is constantly operating in some kind of increasingly bizarre detachment from reality, in so many ways that it’s difficult, at best, to even keep up with it all.
Pick a pachyderm related metaphor you like, or ignore the whole idea as silly, but we’ve got ourselves a whole herd of metaphorical beasts of items of actual reality that are about ready to stampede and stomp us severely in very real ways if we keep ignoring them.
… and finally, a link to the Thomas Friedman essay in the New York Times- WARNING: FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY, NOT TO BE REGARDED AS INFORMATION OR SERIOUS THINKING…