Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Archetypal Energy Narratives: Low-Temperature Geothermal


Is there are particular narrative that accompanies low-temperature geothermal resources? If so, what is the structure of the narrative? What are the underlying assumptions? What are implicit causal relationships? How does the narrative cohere?

Elements of the narrative:

1. The idea of low-temperature geothermal is a conundrum, an oxymoron, even.
2. Can relatively tepid water be used to generate energy? Where's the energy?
3. Changes in temperature and extreme thermal differences can trigger energy generation. How? There is equipment that will move (and start to generate electricity) when the temp diffs between two bodies of water are as little as 50 degrees.
4. The water is being produced anyway -- in conjunction with oil and gas. Typically, it's simply reinjected into a disposal / injection well. Why not capture the energy on its way back down into the earth?

Assumptions (to reinforce or to combat):

1. Low-temperature geothermal means something like tepid water, which is bad. (combat this faulty assumption)
2. Low temp means low energy. (combat this faulty assumption)
3. Fluids co-produced with oil and gas can be exploited / harvested / put to good use. (reinforce this positive assumption)
4. The co-produced energy is "clean" and "alternative" (since it is from warm water) and is a cleaner source of electricity than the oil or the gas. Virtue / value implications here. The geothermal elements can add virtue to a decidedly "unvirtuous" energy source, at least in today's view, if one views all oil and gas production as a source of carbon emissions.

Because the world tends to classify energy as "clean" or "dirty," and "good" or "bad," would it not follow that the narratives will only escalate over time? We'll have a good vs evil narrative -- clash of titans grand showdown. At least that's what the narrative expectations would lead one to expect.

Real-Life Intrusion
I'm in Starbucks right now and I'm amazed, as always, in the flows of crowds / customers. It's never an even stream. Either there is no line at all, or there is a long line. It's not just that people come in groups, it's that the groups cluster together. Five minutes ago there was no waiting. There was no activity for 5 minutes. In the last thirty seconds, 4 groups (clusters of two or more) and 3 individuals came in, for a total of around a dozen people in line. It's pretty amazing. I'm also amazed at the range of apparel options. It was cold last night -- 30 degrees or so -- and today is sunny. It is supposed to reach 50. Most people are wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants, jackets, or hoodies. But, here comes a guy in baggy shorts and a t-shirt. It's hard to understand! I wonder f crowd behavior is somehow determined by internal narratives; predictive of where people will be and when they should be there. There's an adorable pug sitting on the brick sidewalk on a pile of dried oak leaves. His leash is wrapped around a metal post, and he seems to be waiting quite patiently.

Back to Energy Narratives --

The more people classify items into good or bad, the more quickly they put themselves on a path to narrative inevitability.

"Narrative inevitability" has to do with a narrative that is so ingrained that if you have a story / tale / set of facts that gets anywhere close to it, the narrative will pull you in, drag you downstream, and right over the falls. Think of falling into the river that flows into Niagara Falls -- that is the pull of narrative inevitability. The only way to avoid it is to try to make sure your set of facts do not start shaping themselves so that they fall right into the stream of narrative inevitability.

Somewhere along the line, it's important to start reshaping your story so that it fits a different, competing narrative that fits your needs and purposes a bit more clearly / adeptly.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good Girl Messages


The "Humanities" could play a reformative role in the social and political field.
Love has kinetic origins.
Replacing the word with oil & metal.
I used to read everything Julia Kristeva wrote in her marimba & bone mallet academic French;
Old medical school photos:
Seraphim and Cherubim made music on exalted vertabrae (scoliosis)
You are what you want to be --
all protest and grumbling inner voices that you claim you no longer hear;
The mask wears thin.
Stand up straight.
I've been there with you.
Photos c. 1901 of San Francisco opium dens.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
(Actually, there is, but who's willing to question?)
Tennis for good girls.
Sports, poetics, listen closely.
The generation that ruined everything.
Stand up.
So they say, so --
Everyone ruined everything.
Everything and everyone breeds.
Faces for good girls.
The most successful are the most destructive.
Why is it always so? Flourish to the point of extinction.
Joy. Love. Happiness. Prosperity.
Humans have no fur.
What will we do or say?
Did you see the holiday traffic in front of the big box stores this weekend?
Thanksgiving and the origins of paper money.
Blueprints of the absolute:
& the internal combustion engine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Memory Is a Problem: Perfume, "Our Song," and the Shifting Sands of Embedded Narratives


Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Chile. Is it heresy to say that this song does nothing for me? Sure, I understand the greatness, the individual talent, the spiraling pass that makes it all the way to the endzone of a bliss that has appropriated and/or bowdlerized Romanticism all over it.

I'm only listening to the recording because I have no choice. I'm in a gritty, Bohemian restaurant that has a raw veggie wrap I like.

Long term memory is not static. Even autobiographical memory is dynamic, subject to change. I'm not sure if that means that one's ability to recall is variable, or if the memories themselves are variable.

Okay. I sort of like "All Along the Watchtower" and "Hey Joe." I have no idea what they're about. To me, Jimi Hendrix died when he was about 50. Of course he didn't. He was 27. But, his work has been around so long, it seems as though he's alive -- along with his music. I guess he'd be around 70 if he were alive today, perhaps as boring "pillar of the financial community" as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger have become.

I'm intrigued. The implications of a protean, constantly morphing memory are fascinating.

Jimi Hendrix has now moved into "Easy Rider." I can't remember who did this song. I don't much care for it.

I'm at a table next to a window partially covered by a poster advertising a New Year's celebration. Two men have just walked by -- one is pushing a shopping cart with clothing and other possessions. They both have long brown beards. No gray. Does that mean they're in their 20s or 30s? For some reason, I always think of the homeless as being old, but the truth is, they're generally not.

I remember having contact with homeless in Oklahoma City. The parking lot I used was next to a detox center, and men would regularly ask for a dollar or sometimes odd amounts -- 15 cents. In New York City, the panhandlers were not homeless, nor were they in Baku or in St. Petersburg, Russia. Instead, they seemed a bit like carnies -- and very well rehearsed and organized.

One Sunday morning two years into the Iraq war, while visiting friends in Philadelphia, I came across a ragged young man who was leaning against a brick wall somewhere off Rittenhouse Square. For some reason, I felt compelled to give him a ten-dollar bill. I think I was influenced by my time in Azerbaijan -- it was fairly normal for people to stop and give money to people who were on the street corners who asked for help. I respect the generosity of the individuals who give out individual charity. There's something about the panhandlers here in Tulsa, though, that takes me aback. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that some are given to saying aggressive things, and to demand a cigarette.

Can I trust any of my memories?

I believe I can. But, one has to say that it could be that emotional connections to the memory could mediate it.

Some sort of seventies anthem is blaring across the speakers. It is equally repellant. Why do I dislike "Classic Rock"? Does it have to do with the associated memories?

Most people would say so. The would claim that the popularity of "greatest hits" compilations has to do with the fact that they trigger memories of one's pleasant times, formative years. Music is like perfume, in their eyes. It triggers deep memories that you can't expunge, even if you want to. So, what you do is find the music that has the most pleasant cluster of associative and associated memories and then you replay, replay, replay.

Good idea?

If memories are pliable and/or shape-shifting, doesn't it follow that every time you hear a song in a new context, the experience of listening to the song is mediated? Further, does it not follow that the emotional impact would also change? Then, your memory goes awry.

Concrete example: If I first listened to Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" as a child in conjunction with confusing, rather menacing images and energies, would that always be with me? Would my experience change if I started to associate the song with exciting times in the summer -- sitting outside eating dinner with friends, drinking coffee at a bohemian java bar?

Another song, some sort of ditty that is a clear borrowing from an Irish folk tune: "hello mr blue sky -- welcome to the human race." Elton John admitted to having raided the Methodist hymnal for chord progressions and even melodies.

Memory turns into a self-delusion machine if we're not careful.

So, if we have associated memories -- what are they associated with? The updated melody? The original? The variations that came later?

Rolling Stones: Honky Tonk Woman. My memories associated with this song are of my older cousin from Vermont who came to spend a summer with us in Oklahoma. In my view, her presence was quite unwelcome. She occupied my bedroom. Her main goal was to go back bronzed and glamorous. This was before tanning beds -- and -- before she had experienced anything but a Northern sun oon her white, freckled hide.

The Oklahoma August sun did quick work of her, and when I think of her, I think of her listening to the Rolling Stones, then baking in the backyard on my mom's favorite chaise longue. Later, she burned to a crisp, or at least a blistering ball of pain. Second-degree burns. I felt nothing but schadenfreude at the time (I was 6 years old). Later, I got mine -- not realizing why the beaches of the Yucatan peninsula were empty at noon in March during Spring Break. I, a 16-year-old who should have known better, got so sunburned the tops of my toes peeled.

Memory is fallible. That's been demonstrated over and over again. It is remarkably easy to induce false memories as well. Why do I think I'm immune to it?

Perhaps "greatest hits" and perfume are reassuring simply because we rely on them as memory markers. They trigger memories -- authentic ones, we suppose -- and we rely on them to access a kind of "write-protected" part of our brains.

But, apparently, nothing is "write-protected" and your memories can be altered without any sort of physiological issue. So, there is nothing to say that my memories of my cousin and her taste for the Rolling Stones and the popular television shows of the day that featured teenagers in go-go boots and "mod" Herman's Hermits and the like have not been effaced or attenuated by my emotional need for a certain narrative to be associated with those days or times.

This seems fairly straightforward.

What is not so straight-forward is how I'm supposed to move forward in a world where everything is fluid and where everything reinvents itself, and not necessarily in a way that benefits me.

The other day, I was listening to a program on the radio -- the name of show was something like "Radio Lab" (see how I distrust my memory for my invented schema and the labels and short-hand retrieval, but I trust my memory implicitly for the narrative). It was the story of a woman who dated a man with face-recognition disorder. Coincidentally, the week before, there was a story about a professor who had face recognition disorder. They could not remember nor could they recognize faces. They would have intense difficulty in life because everyone was, in essence, a stranger to them. I suppose the pattern recognition part of their brains were sadly compromised.

I had a few questions for them. Could they read maps? Could they recognize where they were on a map? If face recognition disorder was anything like the problems I had in field camp trying to see in 3D with stereo pairs -- well, I can understand the frustration. When it came to verbal recognition / description of lithologies, I was completely on top of it. To me, geology was a language and a discourse of explanation. My brain is comfortable with that. My brain is not comfortable with making my vision go to 3D and/or contorting spatial relationships in order to make some sort of visual pattern. My brain is all about process analysis and language. I'm not saying that I can't recognize visual patterns, it's just that I think of the maps we were supposed to use back in the 80s required too much visual extrapolation. For me, it was like using a slide rule rather than a calculator; or, better yet, using an abacus instead of a computer.

I'm acting as though the most important aspect of memory is autobiographical memory, and I have to say that I'm uncomfortable with that thought.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of memory for me has to do with working memory - the place where short term memory and long-term memory have contact. How much of working memory is impacted by the limbic system -- raw, unmediated urge -- fight, flight, fornicate, feed. And, how much of working memory is affected by desire?

I have a feeling that desire plays a very disturbing role in the function of the brain, particularly when it comes to the retrieval of long term memories, and also the way that connections are made between prior knowledge, experience, and schema. I have a feeling that desire can re-route memories and make false priorities, which is to say that it make certain memories rise to the top, while leaving others to hover along the bottom along with the other catfish.

I also suspect that if one does not learn to discipline one's own desire, one is fated to be stuck in fantasy mode-- and eventually, one's memories will be only accessible through one well-trodden and very boring working memory road -- and you'll end up remembering only those things that make you feel good.

Hmmm -- does that sound like anyone you know?

I have a friend who has a favorite refrain -- everything was better in the 50s. He was born in 1949, so I really question what sorts of authentic memories he has. He claims to have a very in-depth recall of the economic downturn of 1958 (or one of those years). I do not doubt him; what I see is a convergence of belief, desire, and emotional conflict (a recognized state of innocence mixed with an anger at the loss of innocence). So, in the end, what is emitted, with clocklike precision, is a rant about how wonderful and innocent those times were, yet how disappointing and hard -- but the narrative that emerges from that uncomfortable juxtaposition is one that he invariably blends with a narrative of the Pilgrim's first winter, how honorable, pure, and heroic they were. I start to think how ultimately sacrificial memory and consciousness itself are.

And, well, while he never says it straight out in that way, but I will.

Memory and consciousness are sacrificial.

So, here I am -- writing this, surrounded again by music, but I'm in a different location -- one that is warm in the way that an Art Deco boutique hotel can be warm. You feel transported back to a time when you can feel comforted by the solid clink of gold in your pocket and oil under your feet.

The music is different. Karen Carpenter is singing "Merry Christmas, Darling" in a way that brings tears to one's eyes-- it's intimate and sentimental -- what her contemporaries would have called "square" --

and, well, being the "square" person that I am - (emotional and idealistic in a way that seeks approval from authority figures, rather than rejecting the approval of authority figures) -- I'm moved. I immediately think of my mother, and I'm sad that I can't call her and talk to her.

Perhaps I will, even though she's not in a place where she can easily answer.

How many people dial up and talk to their dear, departed mothers?

Ah, yes. I'm starting to go down that road of memory mediated by desire.

I'm not sure I'm brave enough right now for that journey. So, I'll stay on the surface and remind myself how much I dislike the "Classic Rock" stations and the way that people cluster songs around certain time markers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Notes from Veracruz


So many things are simply a matter of point of view -- in Veracruz, the Plaza of the Heroes commemorates the valiant defense by the Mexican naval forces against four different invasions. Two were invasions by the U.S. -- one in 1847 -- during the Mexican-American War. That one did not surprise me.

The other invasion by the U.S. was in 1914.


That event never quite made it to the history books I studied in high school and college. It does not seem to make it to even the most politically inclusive undergraduate history texts (U.S. History after the Civil War). This I know because I've worked extensively in developing instructional materials -- overviews, lectures, quizzes, and podcast scripts -- for U.S. and world history textbooks.

I never saw any mention of the 1914 invasion by the U.S., although there is often mention of the U.S. military's meddling (or "helping") in political and economic affairs in Central America.
I will say that, if anything, the textbooks focus on the U.S. desire to maintain an isolationist stance during that time. However, I am not sure how that squares with the Spanish-American War (of 1898).

Times and attitudes change quickly, I suppose, and life in 1898 was different than U.S. daily life in 1914. Americans did not want to get into the "Great War" any more than they welcomed the enthusiastic rabble-rousers Emma Goldman and other anarchists.

Americans defend life, liberty, and justice for all.

That's the goal, at least, and it's the utopian side of a coin with two faces. Heads or tails? Liberators or invaders? Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Narratives of Maturation: The Bildungsroman vs. Thermal Maturation of Hydrocarbons


How is the concept of thermal maturation of hydrocarbons in shales similar / not similar to a Bildungsroman?

Can the narrative employed to explain the process of thermal maturation, together with all its attendant assumptions, be applied to fiction? Or, to biographical narratives?

It would be easy to say that this is simply an exercise in tracking analogies. I think that it can be more than that. What we can examine are the underlying assumptions that inform human maturation, and geochemical maturation. We can also look at which we privilege -- do we give preferential treatment to the process? Or, the qualities that accompany each stage? What do we consider to be the triggering factors? What are the elements that are necessary for maturation? Because the Bildungroman is such a well-known narrative form, and such a well-trod genre, it is not a bad idea to start with the narrative of thermal maturation, in a rather skeletal form.

Thermal maturation:

The "immature" state is a shale that contains a high carbon content. Kerogen is a mixture of organic chemical compounds that make up a portion of the organic matter in sedimentary rocks.

Typically, it's an organic-rich shale. "Immature" signifies that the shale is in a relatively untransformed state. It is shale. Nothing has broken free from it -- and, the chemical that can eventually transform to hydrocarbon (methane to the more complex alkanes) has not yet undergone pyrolysis, etc.

Value judgment: "Immature" is valueless, except in its function as a "seal" over a porous rock that functions as a sponge -- it holds liquids (like oil) -- and the seal creates a trap for the oil.

Process is everything, especially when it involves trial by fire: How does natural gas emerge from carbon-rich shale? The key is maturation.

What kind of maturation? It's thermal. In other words, the temperatures must ascend to the point that the shale breaks down, physically and chemically -- it starts to become more fissile, have fractures (which function as conduits for the newly formed gas). The shale starts to change chemically -- the kerogen transforms, and starts to break down.

This sounds very straightforward until you realize that that triggering mechanism -- heat flow -- has to be at an ideal rate. Otherwise, metamorphosis takes place and the shale transforms into hard, non-hydrocarbon bearing metamorphic rock such as slate.

If the heat flow happens too quickly and intensely, any hydrocarbons that might have started to form combust. They burn off. They're simply gone.

If the heat flow is too mild, and the rate of heating is too slow, there may be a bit of in-situ methane, but not in commercial quantities, and it will be hard to recover because it's possible that fractures did not form.
Application to literary narratives:

1. Maturation requires a triggering event, and the event is never pleasant.

2. Heat is part of the equation -- not a low heat, or a fiery flash-point sort of flame-out. It takes time. It's slow-cooked. The heat is constant and it lasts a long time.

3. Application of heat (discomfort) has to be constant and continuous. Episodic heat, as well as episodic tectonic activity (movement of the earth) -- both are necessary in order to liberate the gas and to create rocks that have fractures through which the gas can move.

4. Too much or too little will result in a failure to mature correctly -- too much heat means a destruction of the organics. Too little means that nothing happens -- just a seemingly endless stasis. Paralysis -- emotional, physical, psychological.

Underlying parallels -

The Bildungsroman looks ahead to the end-point -- the making of the writer / artist, and at formative events.

The assumption that maturation is a process.

The assumption that maturation is linear and not reversible.

These are a few thoughts -- more to come.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Day After Thanksgiving


It's the day after Thanksgiving, and my dad and I went to the cemetery south of Noble off highway 77 where my mom is buried. I didn't want to go empty-handed, so I suggested bringing silk flowers. My dad had already donated all my silk lilies to the church, so that was not successful. We ended up going into the back yard to my mother's favorite rose bushes and cutting off three yellow roses and one red rose. We put them in a vase, which we brought with us.

The goal was to try to decide on a headstone. What dimensions? What color? What kind of design?

As we stood at my mother's grave, a woman drove up with a clutch of red and white silk poinsettias. She took out the yellow and orange chrysanthemums and replaced them with the red and white blooms.

"It's funny. Since my husband died, I don't decorate for Thanksgiving or Christmas. He was all about it. But, well, I don't know."

She placed the Thanksgiving chrysanthemums on the ground. "If they still look good, I like to share them with little Roger over there," she said. "He never has anything on his grave."

To tell the truth it was the first time since my mother passed away that I had brought anything out. It did seem very sad to see her grave -- no marker, except for the little temporary marker with a photo taken years before. The dirt was compacted with mud cracks and a couple of thick tire tracks. I blocked the intrusive thoughts that started to push their way in.

"It's tough," I said. "It brings back too many memories."

I invariably thought of my grandmother during Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. My grandmother made a few things for Thanksgiving that seemed to be fairly unique -- fruit and nut salad, and, if I remember correctly, pistachio jello. Lemon merengue pie was also a "must," with the most amazingly fluffy merengue.

Cooking is chemistry.

The day was not warm, but nor was it inordinately chilly. The cemetery had a remarkably warm, soothing feeling, due in part that it was bordered on three sides by pastures and a couple of herds of tranquil looking Black Angus.

At least 60 percent of the headstones had flowers or other decorations. There were a few flags, and one seemed to have an assortment of toys.

I was surprised to see how many names I recognized -- one was the assistant branch manager for the bank I have used for the last 20 years. Her husband was buried just three rows up from my mother. Her name was next to that of her husband, along with the dates of their marriage. He passed away in 2005 -- I remember her telling me about it, and how tragic his last few weeks were, with complications from chemotherapy. Five years ago.

Can she ever remarry? Does it seem odd that she would be buried next to her previous husband? I guess not -- I mean, I know they had at least a daughter together, and at least one grandchild.

I'll definitely bring something for my mother's grave sometime before Christmas.