Entropy Happens. . . or Not
by Peter Shelton
Mar 25, 2008 | 474 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ellen and I stopped for lunch in Aztec, N.M., last week. Aztec and nearby Bloomfield are at the center of the San Juan Basin oil and gas boom. Every other pickup on the road has just emerged, mud-encased and flying its little safety-orange wand, from some adobe side-road drilling pad. Refineries and compressor stations, storage yards and 150-foot-high drill rigs dominate a landscape that stinks of industrial wasteland, if not absolute national sacrifice zone.

Waiting for our sandwiches, I scanned a front page story in the local paper about how Halliburton, the oil services giant, is asking the city to give them tax breaks for consolidating their operations onto one big in-town property. Halliburton. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton. No-bid Halliburton. A company whose revenues from sweetheart no-bid contracts in Iraq have topped $20 billion. And whose income curve since the invasion exactly mirrors the ascending line of American deaths over there. That Halliburton is demanding tax breaks in dusty, blighted Bloomfield.

The car Ellen and I were driving that day, our 1997 Saab, decided not to start the other afternoon and is awaiting expert attention. She’s got 260,000 miles on her. She rattles. We use a ski pole to prop her hatchback up when loading groceries, ever since the little hydraulic lifters gave up the ghost.

Our other car, the 1977 Jeep, refuses to light up in the rear when you hit the brakes. Or signal to the left. It may just be age, or it may be age abetted by the mag chloride on the roads eating through the wires. He rattles, too.

It’s called entropy, I think. Things fall apart. Disorder is more probable than order. As time’s arrow moves inexorably from past to present to future, molecules trend toward disorganization, deterioration.

It’s affecting our bodies, too, of course. My arthritic hips. Ellen’s knee. My cracking teeth. Our need for reading glasses.

Entropy dominates the news of the wider world. That construction crane in Manhattan collapsing. Eighty-year financial stalwart Bear Stearns falling apart after investing in bad sub-prime mortgages. Beijing’s carefully-crafted human-rights façade crumbling before the riots in Tibet. Democrats tearing one another to shreds.

And there’s Halliburton. Not falling apart financially, obviously, thanks to good oil buddies in the White House. But Halliburton, it seems to me, represents as well as anything the falling apart of logic.

The end of oil is near; everybody knows that. And yet, this administration would rather subsidize Halliburton, and the much bigger, impossibly rich, multinational oil companies, than help fund solar research, say. Or universal health care. And we let them do this. Little Bloomfield doesn’t think it has any choice but to concede to Halliburton’s bullying. It’s the stuff of insanity.

Halliburton is doing fine, thank you, for the time being, but there is evidence that the greater neocon plan for U.S. hegemony over world oil supplies is falling apart at the seams. As Steve Mufson wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post, oil has always been part of “the architecture of U.S. foreign policy.” There can be no doubt that invading Iraq was about securing future oil supplies. (Nobody is rushing to bring liberty and democracy to Rwanda, for example, or Burma.) But things aren’t working out as expected.

Not only were there no grateful flowers (sorry, Mr. Wolfowitz), but the oil (which was supposed to have paid for the whole deal, occupation and reconstruction, and deliver a knockout blow to those manipulating hoarders at OPEC) isn’t flowing either. The five biggest oil companies – Exxon-Mobile, Royal Dutch Shell, et al. – aren’t moving into Iraq because it’s too risky. They abhor insecurity and instability. Better a stable dictatorship, in fact. And Iraq five years post-invasion is anything but secure or stable. The country’s oil production remains a drop in the bucket.

Meanwhile, prices at the pump are soaring, our economy is on a slippery slope, and the big five have seen their profits go from $40 billion in 2003 to $121 billion last year. Does this make your head, like my head, want to explode?

It’s no wonder people look to religion for some kind of steady state. Steady state theory is actually a term of science like entropy. But unlike entropy, it has been largely discredited. It was a nice idea, formulated in 1948 as a cosmological competitor to the Big Bang theory. It states that while the universe is expanding, it does not change over time; it has no beginning and no end. Steady state. Like heaven.

And like some religions, the steady state model of the universe was inspired by a work of fiction, in this case the 1945 British horror movie Dead of Night (I am not making this up), starring Googie Withers and Michael Redgrave. Redgrave plays a ventriloquist who believes his amoral dummy is truly alive.

Is that any crazier, really, than the “energy policy” coming out of official Washington, D.C. mouths these last seven years?

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