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Saturday, June 26, 2010

What shall we call it?

I did not want you readers to think that all I think about any more is government waste and budgets, or oil spills, or any of that type of stuff. I am still pondering many, many, of lifes wonders.

A question has been on my mind for a few days of late. It is a question that I have pondered off and on for years.

I know most of you, if not all, have heard of a Baltimore Oriole, a Siamese Cat, a Canadian Goose, and/or a miniature poodle. All these animals have the modifier in their name to distinguish them from others of their type. If I just said "I like that cat.", and you looked over and there were three or four different cats; you might not know I meant the Siamese. You get the picture.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we have a duck billed platypus. There are no other platypuses (sic? - platypi?) that are alive today, nor were there when the duck billed platypus was discovered. What are we distinquishing it from? The non-duck billed version? As I said - does not exist.

Platypi (I looked it up, either "es" or "i" can be used - the "i" is much cooler) are, along with the spiny anteaters, the only egg laying mammals. Cool. huh? I learned in biology class that one of the defining features of a mammal was it bears live young. Platypi, ha - they scoffed at that rule.

As you would imagine, the duck billed platypus has a duck-like bill. It has webbed feet, sort of like a duck. It lays eggs like a duck. Why was it not a mammalian duck, or similar when it was named? There is more.

The platypus is not your normal duck, mammal hybrid. No, no, my friend. First, it has a beaver-like tail. This tail is used to store fat to help it through times of limited food, like the winter. It has fur, not feathers. The duck-like feet I mentioned above - actually they are more like an otter.

The females have two ovaries, but only the left one is active. (how about that for an obscure fact?). They are mammals, they have milk-glands - but no teats. The milk is excreted through pores into channels, like troughs where the young drink.

Not cool enough for you yet. Here is the fact I like the most. The male platypus (duck-billed platypus, excuse me) is venomous! They have a hollow spur on their back legs that can be used to inject venom. How awesome is that? Still not a fan?

How about being the only mammal known to use electrolocation? They have sensors that allows them to track prey in the water by sensing their magnetic field. Come on, you gotta be a fan now.

But, I still wonder why we call it a duck-billed platypus when it is THE platypus?

Some questions just cannot be answered.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An oily mess - facts and figures

Seems like oil, especially in the water, is the major topic in the news today. As I am want to do, I have been researching oil, oil production, etc. Here are some findings.

A note: I hear the wackos and Luddites using the gulf oil spill as grounds for "ending our reliance on foreign oil!" Note: the Gulf of Mexico is NOT foreign. A large portion of the gulf, including where the oil leak is occurring is in U.S. waters. Ending reliance on foreign oil would kind of argue against shutting down the gulf drilling.

On oil spills: As horrible as this disaster is and will be, nature and the gulf will recover. Even if this thing lasts for the rest of the year, the gulf will recover. Will birds, fish, and other wildlife die? Will coastal communities suffer? Will tar balls show up on beaches for years? Yes, yes, and yes. Will birds, fish, and wildlife cease to exist? Will coastal communities close down for good? Will tar balls stop showing up on beaches? No, no, and no. Living things die - always have, always will. New living things will be born, always have - always will. Humans have lived along the water for the entire existance of mankind. There seems to be some sort of inate draw to the water for humans. Should we build hundreds of thousands of homes on delicate coastal areas, where water and drainage are at such a premium? That is another discussion. We probably should not be surprised when humans build in a flood plan and get flooded out; or build in a hurricane prone area and get blown out; or build in a desert and run out of water. But, all of this makes headlines. But I digress.

More on oil spills. The current gulf disaster is NOT the largest oil spill ever. It could be, but at this time it is not even close. It is not even the largest oil spill in the gulf, there was one in Mexican waters years back that dwarfed this one. Some folks are saying we need to stop drilling for oil in the gulf. If we stop now, what do we do with all the wells that are there? Does anyone besides me realize that this disaster happened as this well was being capped? If we stop drilling, all the wells will have to be capped. That is one of the most dangerous operations that occur on a drilling platform. That will almost guarantee disasters of this magnitude become everyday events.

As for oil in the water - the ocean floor seeps oil at the rate of millions and millions of gallons per year. Every year from way back when 'til way up ahead. I have read estimates that say the seabed of U.S. territorial waters seep 43 million barrels per year themselves. Yep, 43 MILLION. If fact, our drilling has helped mitigate this natural seepage by reducing the pressure. So, if we stop drilling the oil seepage will increase. Now, I know that a slow natural seepage is not the same thing as a multi-million gallon spill. However, it does show how the ocean and nature can handle a lot more than we give it credit for.

On oil production and consumption: The U.S. uses about 20 million barrels of oil a day. It has been as high as around 25 million prior to the recession, but this is about where most figures I have seen put us today. A fact: The U.S. is the world's third largest producer of oil. We produce just over 8 million barrels of oil a day. Saudi Arabia and Russia are numbers one and two respectively at just over 10 million barrels a day for SA and almost 10 million barrels a day for Russia. The U.S. gets most of its imported oil from two sources that most would not expect - Canada is our largest supplier, Mexico is the next largest. (if you are checking me, Saudi Arabia and Mexico swap back and forth for second - currently it is Mexico) Another fact: The U.S. exports - that's right - EXPORTS over 1 million barrels of oil a day - over 360 million barrels a year. Most of this goes to Japan and comes from Alaska. It is more economical and fiscally responsible to sell this oil to Japan than get it to the U.S. lower 48.

Bottom line of all those figures - the U.S. is the third largest producer of oil in the world. We produce about 40% of our oil needs. However we export about 12% of what we produce or what would be about 5% of our needs. Stopping our production will only make this much worse.

As for "weaning ourselves off petroleum and oil" as some suggest: This too is not realistic. Our entire way of life is based on petroleum and oil. We use about 70% of the oil for transportation. Not just automobiles - trucks, trains, boats, and airplanes. Imagine a U.S. without these types of transport. We are used to buying goods year round from all over the globe. This would end. We are used to going. Just going, somewhere, a lot. In my great-grandparents days, most people lived within 50 miles of home their entire life. Except for war, most people did not venture out into the world beyond their home their entire lives.

As for consumer goods: We as a people are spoiled in that we are used to paying very economical products from all over the world. Without oil, this would not be. A lot of the products that make our life what it is are made wholly or partially from petroleum products. Cosmetics, medicines, salves, creams, plastics, and packaging would all change or dissapear without oil. A lot of the clothing we wear - gone without petroleum. Most man-made fibers (basically all except wool, cotton, and silk) are petroleum based. See here for more:

I guess you can see where I stand on petroleum production. We need to drill whenever and wherever we can. Our entire economy and way of life are dependent on it. Can we change? Yes. Our dependance on oil will go away when something better comes along and the economies dictate it. Solar, wind, hydro, and others are all great supplements. Nuclear power could be a great source, but the eco-nuts have deemed it evil as well. Next time you hear someone say we need to stop drilling, ask them what we do to replace it.