Black Coffee: Big Oil, Big Shots, Spanglish, and Cheap Engagement Rings

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance. Here’s what caught my attention over the past week…

Yes, I am one of the few bloggers who are actually open for business over the weekend.

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Sweating the Big Stuff The Frugal Engagement Ring. Elizabeth has a phony engagement ring and get this: she’s proud to admit it. She should. That’s because although her engagement ring looks like it’s worth over $10,000, and the stone has over twice the brilliance of a real diamond, her husband got it for a song. The best part is, for the past eight years, nobody even had a clue. I’ve tried to get the Honeybee to see the virtues of synthetic diamonds, but that conversation always ends up with her counter-argument on the virtues of sleeping on a bed   — as opposed to the living room couch. If you know what I mean.

Darwin’s Money 6 Reasons Why Learning a Foreign Language is Useless. Says Darwin: Most of the world thinks (Americans) are idiots, and in large part we are. No kidding. I’ve taken four years of Spanish in school and even bought and faithfully used the Rosetta Stone language software. It doesn’t matter though; my Mexican gardening crew still laugh at me every time I try to converse with them. Last week I used my Spanish skills to ask one of the gardeners if he would prune a tree, but when I came back from running my errands three guys were painting the porch, and a fourth was laying on the grass drinking a Modelo.

Money BeagleYou Can Do It. Really? Not when it comes to learning Spanish, I can’t.

Monevator – World Stock Markets: How Historic Returns Have Varied by Country. Speaking of foreign languages, the Investor left all his British colloquialisms in the cupboard this week. It’s amazing how much sense he makes when I can actually understand what he’s writing. I’m kidding, of course. But he does make some great points in this piece regarding why spreading your investment money across multiple foreign markets is probably a very good idea.

And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy…

Wealth Informatics – Don’t Quit Because You Are a Quitter.

The Free Financial Advisor – Forget Five Steps to Budget Success. How About One?

Everyday Tips and Thoughts Will Your Retirement Dreams Be Delayed?

First Gen AmericanFrugal Living: The Shoe Cobbler

Financial Highway – Affordable Nature Getaways for Families

Money Help for Christians – The Dangers of a Dave Ramsay Only Approach to Christian Finances

The Military Wallet5 Small Credit Card Mistakes that Can Sink Your Credit Score

Wealth Pilgrim Asking for a Raise in 4 Easy Steps

Planting Money SeedsThere is No Magic Solution to Fix Your Finances

Engineer Your FinancesHow to Add Value to Your Home: The Remodeling Quandry

Green Panda Tree HouseHow Debt Can Affect Your Budget

The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed

From January 2010:

When Pigs Fly: How I Fought My Parking Ticket and Beat City Hall – Did you know a typical New York City meter maid writes 40 tickets per day? That’s 10,000 tickets annually per meter maid. The Big Apple has nothing on my town though — the meter maids here are twice as busy, but they leave me alone now.

Credits and Debits

Credit: Wall Street celebrated the Dow Jones industrial average reaching 13,000 this past week. That’s the first time it’s been at that level since May 2008.

Debit: Meanwhile, here on Main Street, Gallup is reporting that the unemployment rate rose to 9 percent last month.

Debit: And if you include the number of people who are working part-time, but want full-time employment, the number climbs to 19 percent.

Credit: It’s tough out there, folks. I mean, things are so bad that a man in a wheelchair allegedly robbed a Florida gas station this week. Whaaaa?

Credit: Police found the supposed crippled crook behind the station, where his motorized chair became stuck in the sand. Obviously, he needed the money to buy a four-wheel drive wheelchair.

Debit: Speaking of gas stations, the price of gasoline continues to rise. The national average in the US reached $3.65 on Friday, the highest point ever for this time of year.

Debit: Then again, it could be worse. That is, unless you live in California like I do; the average price of unleaded regular here is now $4.15. On Friday I paid $4.17 per gallon.

Debit: The rising price of oil continues to be driven by a variety of factors, including increasing demand from China and India, and Iran’s threats to restrict exports to Europe.

Credit: Considering that even the slightest disruption in supplies can result in big problems for our economy, why do we continue to rely on foreign imports for essentially half of all our oil needs? Especially when much of that foreign oil lies in extremely unstable regions of the world.

Credit: The conservative Heritage Foundation explains why there is ample recoverable oil here in North America — more than the entire world has consumed since the first oil well was tapped in 1859 — assuming we’re willing to take it. Just sayin’.

Debit: Finally, a South Carolina man has been charged with fraud after he and an accomplice allegedly cut off the hand of another man to collect more than $670,000 in insurance money. I know.

Credit: The police wouldn’t say if anyone else had a hand in the scheme.

Credit: Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big proponent of lending your friends a hand, but that definitely crosses the line.

Credit: Despite the ill-gotten windfall, at least one genius who actually agreed to such a ridiculous plan is now, ironically, permanently short-handed.

By the Numbers

18.8 million Barrels of oil that the US consumes in a day.

70 Percentage of gasoline price that is attributable to the price of oil.

9.1 million Barrels of oil the United States produces daily.

3 Rank of the United States among the world’s largest oil producers. (Russia and Saudi Arabia are numbers 1 and 2, respectively.)

830,000 Barrels of oil that could be imported daily from Canada to the US via the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

20 billion Available US oil reserves (in barrels) today. (That’s only enough to last three years, based upon the current consumption rate.)

30 billion Barrels of domestic oil the US officially had in reserves in 1980.

77 billion Barrels of domestic oil the US produced between 1980 and 2010. (Which proves that stated reserves are a poor indicator of available oil, for many reasons.)

1.4 trillion Barrels of domestic oil that is actually recoverable, when including deposits we are currently not legally permitted to access, including those in parts of Alaska, off-shore, and the Rocky Mountains.

Sources: The Heritage Foundation; the US Department of Energy

The Question of the Week

Do you think gas prices will still be this low during the summer driving season?

View Results

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Other Useless News – More Reader Questions

According to Google Analytics, here are some of the more curious questions visitors entered into Google’s search engine last month that led them, somehow, some way, to Len Penzo dot Com:

  • Can you use a prepaid debit card on porn sites?
  • How can I beat the lottery scratch offs code around the edges? [sic]
  • Can paper towel massages affect how you think and feel? why or why not? provide examples.
  • Besides a Kia, name a type of vehicle that a cheapskate couple might ride away in after their wedding.
  • Does god think lavish expensive wedding gifts are sinful?
  • Do you really have to wash dishes if you can’t pay the check?
  • How much cost prune belly surgery in Georgia? [sic]
  • How long does tmobile bother you after you quit paying bill? [sic]
  • Can you have a lense [sic] that doesn’t make my eyes small in strong glasses?
  • How long should I stay in buncker [sic] after big disaster?

No matter how you got here — whether or not you enjoy what you’re reading — please don’t forget to:

1. Click that “Like” button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! Thank you. :-)

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not!

Tara had something she wanted to get off her chest this week:

… Yeah, you’re full of hot air. Another blogger who thinks he’s a big shot and is going to tell the world how it is.

Trust me, Tara; I’m smart enough to know the only big shot around here is the Honeybee, and she reminds me of how full of it I am every day.

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      My pleasure, Kris! By the way, the price of gasoline went up 12 cents after I wrote this yesterday. My corner gas station is now offering it at $4.29. (!)

  1. 7


    You’re not the only blogger with the lights on this weekend :)

    Good luck with the Spanish and be glad it is at least close to English and you don’t have to learn a language like Thai. Impossible.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      I hear ya! All those east Asian languages sound impossible to me. Of course, I never tried to learn them, but still…

      Not sure if it’s true or not, but I read somewhere that Vietnamese adds an extra layer of complexity because the same word can have multiple meanings depending upon tonality — so folks who are tone deaf are at a real disadvantage.

  2. 9


    Hey, you are a blogging big shot, don’t ever be ashamed of the title. I hope to be one one day…

    And prune belly surgery is cheaper in Georgia than anywhere else in the world. I’m sure of it. I did the first case in 1967, the video went viral on You tube…(i figured since you had only two comments so far I could ramble on and on with my tale…)

    Tell the Bee I said couches are no place for old men, the floor would be better for your back:)

      • 11


        Yes I’m completely making all that up. I’m glad to know I can still pull it off, pulling your leg that is….

        I can imagine they may mean a “tummy tuck” to get rid of all the wrinkles, over-lapping, etc related to childbearing or weight loss, but who knows…

  3. 12


    I’m going to disagree that we have enough oil to meet our demand domestically. We don’t. Our demands is 17 BBL/day. Even if we increased domestic production as high as possible, we’d only be able to cover about 10 BBL/day. That’s a pretty big gap. And so long as we can rely on foreign oil, why pump ours out of the ground until we absolutely have to? Keeping it in the ground gives us long-term energy independence, not short-term reward. Either way, fossil fuels are on their way out. Maybe not in my lifetime, but they sure as hell aren’t going to last forever, and I believe that in the next 20 years, we’re going to see some pretty crazy things when it comes to fossil fuel consumption. India and China will continue to ramp up, and we’ll see prices keep climbing. Politicians can pay lip service all they want, and try to put the high costs on someone else…but they have less control than they’d like to believe. Interesting times we’re living in, to say the least.

    • 14


      I guess I should wait to comment until I finish reading the *entire* post! Your numbers are a little higher than mine, but we’re at least in the same ballpark. I’m one of “those people” who opposed the Keystone Pipeline…not because I think fossil fuels are evil (I think they’re necessary for the time being, but also think we need to be looking elsewhere…preferably not another fossil fuel source. I believe in Climate Change. I’m an Environmental Science major whose looking into Environmental Engineering for grad school. Enough background on me) but because I think protecting the Ogallala Aquifer is of the utmost importance considering the impact on that region if something were to contaminate the water. In my opinion, THAT’S not a risk that’s worth the reward.

      • 15

        Len Penzo says

        When you say you believe in “climate change” I assume you mean anthropomorphic climate change, since the Earth’s climate is constantly changing. Without getting into details, and as I’m sure you know, our climate has been much warmer than it is now in the past, and it has also been much colder.

        Since we’re tossing out credentials :-) , engineers (and I’ve been one for 25 years) make all of their decisions only after evaluating risk and making trades on how much risk they’re willing to accept. My opinion is the risk (minor to negligible) seems to be well-worth the reward (huge). I base that on a few points:

        1) The Ogallala Aquifer is already crisscrossed by many other pipelines, and also has thousands upon thousands of underground fuel storage tanks sitting above it now. And it’s been that way for decades upon decades. Despite this, there has yet to be any significant contamination of the aquifer that would render it unusable. So it doesn’t make sense to conclude that the Keystone pipeline will somehow increase the existing risk to the aquifer — even marginally.
        2) Even if the Keystone pipeline did spring a small leak, it would be quickly detected and the flow of fuel shut off until repairs could be made — unlike those underground fuel storage tanks that sit with no means of fuel leakage detection. Again, the mere fact that a leak to the Keystone Pipeline is possible is not enough evidence to conclude that the risk to the Aquifer will be even marginally increased by its presence.
        3) The Alaska Pipeline — an above ground pipeline that is much more vulnerable to potential problems than an underground one — has an excellent safety record. In fact, two of the three biggest mishaps were due to human sabotage. Even so, despite billions of barrels of oil passing through it, those three mishaps resulted in the escape of little more than 25,000 barrels (and much of that was recovered).
        4) The aquifer is protected by a buffer of earth which, I would expect, would act as a natural filter, mitigating (if not eliminating) the impacts of any minor pipeline leak — or for that matter leaking buried fuel storage tanks that already exist.
        5) Finally, the aquifer is huge — I believe it covers 200,000 square miles. Common sense suggests that the small amount of contaminants that might find it’s way into the aquifer from a Keystone Pipeline spill would have the same effect as peeing in the ocean.

        That’s this engineer’s two cents anyway. :-)

        • 16


          I still don’t believe the rewards are big enough. The benefits from Keystone will be so insignificant to the overall scheme of things. And yes, I do mean anthropomorphic climate change. I also believe global peak oil is fast approaching, the *real* issue we should all be concerned about. Fossil fuels are not a part of the long-term system. They are part of getting us to the next phase, but if we waste all of the fossil fuels before getting to that next phase, we’re in for real trouble. Fossil fuels will run out…eventually.

          • 17

            Len Penzo says

            Okay, fossil fuels will run out eventually. But that isn’t a convincing argument. That statement was true the day after the first well was tapped in 1857!

            I don’t see how peak oil will get here within the next 50 – 100 years as long as we are allowed to take the 1.4T barrels of recoverable oil we are currently sitting on here in America alone. Probably longer than that.

            Unlike “green” energy technologies, fossil fuels are incredibly efficient in terms of packing a lot of energy in small quantities. Until the green energy lobby can overcome that big problem, economics will ensure — and rightly so — that fossil fuels will win the day.

            The thing is, we cannot force green fuels on society right now because: 1) they are not currently capable of supporting our society’s energy needs; and 2) even if it could, society could never bear the high costs of forcefully imposing such changes via government interference and regulation — our economy would collapse first, due to green energy’s high costs. The only reason green technologies are surviving to any degree right now is because the government is subsidizing the massive losses.

            There is no need to panic and throw good money down a rabbit hole. :-)

            When the time is right for green energy — or some other alternative — the market will know. Investors and corporations (even the oil companies) will invest massive amounts of money into finding the next viable energy source that is capable of keeping our society running as efficiently (in terms of time and cost) as possible.

  4. 18


    I our neck of the woods, the price of gallon of gas is $3.65.

    As far as learning a language, within these United States, I would prefer to learn Spanish. On International level, French is the choice of language to learn.

  5. 19

    Jennifer says

    Ok I’m loving your posts more and more!! My husband has made it to the top of his field in the oil industry at the age of 35 due to hard work and passion!! I agree with all of your arguements FOR the pipeline! We lost friends in the Horizon incident. Our flower girl, now all grown up, was made a widow by that horrific incident and she is still in favor of drilling!! Being a conservative Chrisitan from MS I would have wrongly assumed most people in our age bracket from California were anti-oil and blindly pro-Obama.

  6. 21


    I don’t understand how any modern woman who expects to be treated as an equal in the workplace and and the home can expect to be given unending unreciprocated gifts (everything from dating dinners to an expensive engagement ring for agreeing to marriage). While I think the solution is more to the end of not expecting a man to buy a woman a pricy gift for engagement, and women to start looking forward to the marriage rather than showing off the bling, spending less money on it is definitely a win.
    Great on Elizabeth for getting something that looks good instead of what De Beers has mandated necessary!

  7. 22


    Separately posted in case of moderation ban due to a link.
    For the language learning, check out this guy’s website (I’m not affiliated, just a fan). His personal methods are somewhat extreme, but he has some great points that are applicable to anyone.

  8. 23

    Gretchen says

    I have a “fake” engagement/wedding ring, and I love it! My ring is a lab-created diamond, and looks like a $10,000 ring. It is more durable than a mined diamond, has virtually no flaws, and cost us next to nothing! My husband and I have told next to no one, because I was afraid of what people would say.

    Literally, my only complaint with this ring is that we maybe should have gotten a smaller diamond. It is beautiful, but it is kind of a lot!

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