A fun thought experiment from John Burnett at NPR. I was surprised to see that Public Policy Polling found 14% of Texans sayiing they would support secession as of September last year--that's higher than I would have guessed and certainly far higher than it would be if we ever had occasion to put our cards on the table.

The truth is that even when it was a republic Texas was essentially crypto-American. William C. Davis: "No immediate neighbor populated so largely by Americans and governed so entirely on the American model could long remain outside the orbit of the Union, and certainly not in the era of Manifest Destiny." The fact that annexation took nine years was more a function of American ambivalence than Texan independence. 

As for today, it goes without saying that neither side would benefit from a separation, but Texas could conceivably straggle along, certainly more effectively than in 1836. Big economy, access to ports and overland transport, natural resources, a young population, pretty good public finances, fairly coherent legal and political systems, etc. Difficult diplomatic relations, perhaps...
 
 
A bit late on this, but Manifest Destiny had an interesting post after SXSWi, arguing that software developers should take a philosophical view about their their discipline:

Many find this faith in technological acceleration to be cheering, but it’s got some problems. Perhaps most importantly, it ignores the reality of diminishing marginal utility. Put simply: useful interventions tend to get less useful as you apply more of them to a problem. Digital technology can do a lot of things, and its declining cost means it will do more and more of them. But it’s important to realize that many of the things it could do but didn’t back when it was more expensive weren’t done because they weren’t worth the expense.
 

YA

03/30/2012

1 Comment

 
The New York Times's Room for Debate section takes up the question of why adults are reading books for kids, like The Hunger Games and so on. Joel Stein considers it "embarrassing" because books are "one of our few chances to learn." Lev Grossman defends the merits of the young adult genre, saying that these books prioritize straightforward plots and clear characters in a way that literary fiction typically doesn't--so they're not better or worse, just different.

A little snooty, isn't it? I don't see how what you "should" like or do is a relevant question when it comes to fiction, unless maybe if you're an English professor or something like that. It leads quickly to absurdity. Mr Stein's thinking seems to imply that there's a political economy of leisure reading in which books are competing directly for a limited number of slots in your reading life. The opportunity cost of reading The Hunger Games is that you could have been reading something more virtuous, like The Adventures of Augie March.* But why not then say that it's embarrassing for a person to do anything else in her spare time--like watch a movie, or go for a run--if you haven't already read the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels (a list on which some of the honorees are actually young-adult fiction to begin with, or were treated as such at the time)?

I liked The Hunger Games, the books and the movie, and while it's possible to approach them from a highbrow perspective--as a critique of capitalism, for example, or a deconstruction of gender--the primary appeal is that they're exciting and engaging.

On a related note, although I read my share of fairly lowbrow books--YA, mysteries, sci fi, even chick lit--the most trite book I read last year was a literary novel that was warmly reviewed in the New York Times. 

*I once heard someone say that no one has ever actually finished Augie March and, as strange as that sounds, I think he might have been right.
 
 
I have two stories in this week's print edition, one about the growing interest in energy efficiency, and one about how malls are being repurposed for purposes other than retail.

A piece on coworking, at GOOD.

And a piece on unpredictable vice-presidents, at Democracy in America.
 
 
In the introduction to the 2007 edition of Wildcatters, a history of Texas and New Mexico's independent oilmen that first appeared in 1983, Roger Olien and Diana Davids Hinton wrote that the independents were more important than ever:

As major oil companies rationalized their operations and focused on their most profitable sectors [in the late 1980s], they began to part with a significant proportion of their domestic reserves of both oil and gas. They aimed at geographical rationalization of production, keeping a presence in areas with large and profitable reserves and selling off scattered, less important properties. Sales served the main element in the majors' exploration and production strategy, that of moving away from the domestic arena to find and exploit much larger reserves offshore and overseas. For independents of all sizes, the majors' strategy opened opportunities to grow by picking up properties long locked in major company inventories at bargain basement prices, reflecting low prices of oil and gas. At the same time, as the majors downsized their professional staff, independents were often able to pick up the highly trained professionals as well as properties. Independents thus positioned themselves to take on the smaller, more challenging projects that did not appeal to the majors--getting more production from old wells, bringing in oil and gas from narrower pay zones bypassed in earlier years, taking on technologically challenging tight formations with less certain returns. They could see profits in what the majors passed up.

Among the promising prospects, they note, was the technology that allows for horizontal drilling, which opens up plays that would be unattractive if you could only drill vertically (for example, a formation four feet thick). This is, of course, what has happened--and the past few years have been boom ones for the big independents that were hitting the scene at the end of the 80s, like Devon, Apache, and Chesapeake.

What's interesting is that the independent producers are to some extent struggling with their own revolution: the rise of shale gas has effectively clobbered natural gas prices. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have opened up so much supply in the United States that gas is going for less than $4/MMBtu—less than it costs to produce, in many cases. The reason people keep producing gas, then, it is that oil is doing great, and the new extraction methods mean that gas is in many cases a byproduct of oil. That is, if you’re fracking for shale oil, you’re also going to get shale gas, so even if gas isn’t particularly lucrative, it’s still being extracted. (There's also an odd regulatory circumstance wherein you can lose your drilling lease if you're not actually drilling, so some of the companies can't dial down production because they don't want to lose the asset.)

The upshot is that Big Oil has a lot of natural gas that’s effectively worthless to them. In some cases, they're simply “flaring” the gas—burning it off at the wellhead and paying the fees for the emissions that results--because it's more cost-effective than shipping it to market and selling it for peanuts. And with oil prices so high, it isn’t really hurting the bottom line. That's why you see players like Exxon announcing that given the long-term view, they're going to keep the same production mix in the United States.

There is, however, a problem at hand for “small” producers like Devon Energy (now America’s number-two producer of natural gas), Chesapeake, or Apache. Most of their business is in natural gas. You might think they could just export the gas; in Japan, the market rate is about $16/MMBtu, and analysts expect that to remain high because of growing consumption in Asia. But exporting isn’t a viable proposition at the moment because preparing gas for export—converting it to liquefied natural gas or LNG—drives the cost up (to, say, $20/MMbtu). And the United States, having until recently expected to import LNG, has very little infrastructure for its export.

The gas-heavy companies could try to goose domestic demand; if a lot of states or big companies transitioned to CNG-powered fleets, for example, then that could spur the investments in infrastructure (i.e., CNG fueling stations) that might in turn support a consumer market for CNG cars. Over the short term, some of them will try to switch to increased oil and liquid gas, which would mean heavy capital costs. Alternatively, we might see another round of innovation from the independents--just as they pioneered horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques.

Not that anyone’s going to shed a tear for Small Oil and Gas, I suppose. I don’t think it’s an existential problem—as the world gets its head around the abundance of shale gas, we will see greater investments in the technologies that take advantage of it—but it is, given the history, a slightly poignant development.
 
 
A preview and a review, at Democracy in America.
 
 
A few sights on the drive from Natchitoches (Louisiana) back to Austin.
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Cows outside Hearne
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Quilts- Marquez
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Centerville
 
 
I got a text from someone who had just seen him speak:
 
 
The story of how an unarmed teenager was shot and killed, and the killer was released without charges, is a horrible one. More at DiA.
 
 
I don't have a problem with artistic licence, but I do think people need to specify when that's what they're up to. Insofar as Daisey's show was partly a critique of journalism, his description of his methodology--which he has now admitted to be false--can't be considered a mere literary device. More at Democracy in Ameri