Archive for July, 2005

Buddy can you spare 25,000 man-hours?

Monday, July 25th, 2005

A barrel of oil. That’s what we’re mulling over today. The energy stored in a single 42-gallon barrel of oil.

According to Jan Lundberg’s Culture Change newsletter, a barrel of oil compresses the energy equivalent of 25,000 man-hours of labour. For this you pay, according to, US$59.04. That’s up four cents since yesterday, which probably made someone somewhere a few million bucks.

Lundberg got his stats here, from a speech given by one U.S. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R. Maryland) before the U.S. house of representatives last April. Bartlett, a physicist, takes the long view on energy issues but comes across as a realist on the subject of “peak oil.”

He writes:

The energy density in oil is just incredible. One 42-gallon barrel of oil…

…the energy you get from that is the equivalent of 25,000 man-hours of labor. That would be 12 people who did nothing but work for you all year long. Everything they did was for you, and the energy they would expend in that full year is the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil.

There was a time when having 12 people who did nothing but work for you was not so strange. Not many could afford it, of course, but them as could, did, and some who did, accomplished much. The pyramids of Egypt come to mind, as does the Great Wall of China.

These days, the energy of 12 people per year isn’t enough for most of us. In fact, Canadians use 8.16 tonnes of oil equivalent (a convoluted expression found here) per capita per year, or 60 barrels of oil (based on a conversion factor found here). The figure for the U.S. is slightly higher, at 8.35 tonnes of oil equivalent or 61.4 barrels of oil.

Um, what have you done with your 720 full-time labourers this past year? Built a pyramid lately? Embarked on some crazy “Wall” scheme that explorers on the moon will marvel at when looking back to earth?


If you’re like most everyone else, your share of oil was burnt up keeping your home warm and lit, getting back and forth to your pathetic job, running your T.V. and your A.C., charging your cellphone batteries, and schlepping out for groceries in the S.U.V.

Have we missed anything?

How does it feel to be so stupid?

Oops, not supposed to say that. What we mean is, when are you going to grow up?

Future generations of humans, from their raggedy caves in the foothills of nowhere, may one day look back on our era and ask, in whatever mumbling language that remains to them, “How did it happen that so little good came of so much wealth?”

To Congressman Bartlett we give the last word: “The real challenge now is to use conservation and efficiency to reduce our demands for oil so that we have enough oil left to make the investments in these alternatives and renewables so that we can take the place of the oil that we are not going to have because we are sliding down Hubbard’s [sic] Peak.”

Car Companies Wave the Red Flag

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

This latest trend is just so juicy we’ve had to create a special category all on its own for this post. The trend is for “Ads of desperation.”

Okay, we accept that all ads are acts of desperation. But some ads just ring so hollow, so false, so desperate , that you have to nail them on a post and wave them around a bit.

Here of course, what’s being waved around is a red flag, and not by the Allderblob but the car companies: “It’s our RED FLAG DAYS,” by gum, and if you know what’s good for you you’ll take advantage of the opportunity we’re offering! ARR, matey!”

The black skull-and-crossbones Jolly Roger flag was raised not to signal an attack but as a warning to surrender. Most captains did. If not, an all-red flag went up, marking an impending raid and robbery.

Imagine, the “big three” car companies are all over themselves trying to lure customers with the tired come-on of “employee pricing” and “family pricing.” As if it will distract anyone from the fact that what’s on offer it the same old shite. Please. Why they want to do us a favour all of a sudden?

Something must be going very wrong in Detroit [not to mention Oshawa! -ed]

The Problem with Billboards

Sunday, July 10th, 2005

In an entry titled “The Problem with Vermont,” we succeeded in confusing a reader, who wrote back

How sorry I feel for you and your cynicism. You are speaking to someone who remembers “honour Boxes” for newspapers. My daughter who was in her mid-teens in the ’70s saw one that the Sunday Star was using during its introduction. Her reaction was like yours – “How dumb! Anyone can steal it.”

The sense of honour, the sense of shame, the sense of personal responsibility, the sense of personal pride – one’s name, one’s word — all have evaporated to be replaced by security guards, suspicion, security cameras, electronic identification, etc.

There was a time, Jacob, when all this security was unthinkable. It was a different world. You will never know the joy and the freedom that it provided.

The ALLDERBLOB received its tutelage at the hand of one Eric Oatman, a very fine editor at Scholastic Magazines. He liked to paraphrase Mark Twain, saying “good writing is as a piece of glass held up to the world. You should see through the glass without glare, smudges, reflection or dirt.”

Mr Oatman would not be proud of “The Problem with Vermont.”

For the record, the point of the piece was that

A world where billboard advertising is outlawed is a world where blatant lies are not tolerated is a world where honest and conscientious behaviour is its own reward.

Although written in a sardonic manner, what we hoped to convey in the blob entry about Vermont was the very “joy and freedom” our reader describes. We experienced it in Vermont, which is why we wrote about it.

The Problem with Vermont

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

The ALLDERBLOB is on holiday in the U.S.A.

This missive is being written from a public library in the town of Putney Vermont. A beautiful new building by the local architects Banister and Greenberg, with a high central hall, wood post and beam construction, light flooding down through the soaring braces and along the golden-coloured rafters. It’s kind of cool, to be able to walk in and put your initials down on a sheet of paper and be given a plasma screen, a pentium 4 computer, an air-chilled room on a hot day, and newspapers and books to read.

Let’s start with the library, if you want to know the problem with Vermont.

The washroom has a window with only a screen on it, no bars, no grate, and the window yawns open wide enough for the biggest book in the library to pass through to an accomplice outside, or to be scooped up later yourself.

But why bother? A door off the magazine reading section opens directly to the outside reading area and thence to the parking lot and thence to the street. No metal detectors. Just walk a book out to read in the sunshine, and then waltz off with it.

The problem with Vermont starts here. People can steal books from the public library, barred only by their conscience.

What the hell kind of security is that?

Let’s go to the big picture for contrast.

In the recent presidential election held in the U.S.A., the big guns turned on an M.D. named Howard Dean to deny him a spot on the democratic ticket, but before that happened this fellow Dean was a contender. He revolutionized the way money was raised for a political campaign, and today he’s head of the Democratic National Committee, where he’s still raising heck.

Who’s Howard Dean?

The guy’s a Vermonter. He got his start in politics (not including a stint stuffing envelopes for the Jimmy Carter reelection campaign) when he lobbied the city of Burlington VT to build a bicycle path along the lake near his home (apparently he championed public access over “private land rights,” even quitting his Episcopalian (aka Anglican) church over their opposition to the path) [gosh, wouldn’t want cyclists coming in contact with the Episcopalianists, hmm? -ed].

What else do we know about Vermont?

Hmm. Oh. How about this: Vermont bans billboards.

As a Vermont business owner recently said, “I do not think the short-term gain such signs would bring to my business are worth the permanent degradation to our scenic roadsides or the insult to our citizens and visitors who have come to expect more of us.” Appreciating natural beauty is the first step towards conserving our scenery and protecting our natural resources.

But we want more. We wonder, from the path to and through the public library, to the refreshing lack of visual clutter along the roads, could there be a link? Could there be a connection between honest relations among humans, within institutions, extending to those who would aspire to the highest political office in the land, and a ban on billboard advertising?

Go figure. But one thing’s for sure. Outlawing the billboard advertisement of automobiles, for example, has not destroyed the economy of this state.

Post Script:
July 8 2005

How does one finance the construction of a beautiful new library in this age, a time when there are trillions for warmongers and punishers, and schools and libraries and health providers go begging? Where does one turn for one’s begging?

The story is while many locals, seeing the need for a new public library, banded together to hold bake sales and bazaars, one Putney citizen, a man named Rothschild, took cap in hand and went to the state Capitol, Montpelier. There he refused to take no for an answer. Told there was not budget allocation for public libraries, he looked into what the budget had in other areas.

There was a lot of money kicking about in the “build a new jail” fund.

In Vermont.

Where no one locks their door. Where we leave our bicycle out unlocked on the rack for an hour and a half while we borrow a computer in the public library.

Rothschild, the story has it, suggested to the state capitol that the jail construction allocation could be better spent.

Remarkably, his logic prevailed, and the state reallocated the money toward Putney’s public library construction, where would-be crooks would learn by example about honesty, self-governance, and conscientious behaviour, in a public building with doors thrown wide open.