Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Peace in the Middle East

another presidential call for the destruction of Israel:

"Speaking to a crowd on a visit to the southern port of Bushehr, where Iran's first light-water nuclear power plant is being built by Russia, Ahmadinejad further incited his listeners to "stop supporting the Zionists, as [their] regime reached its final stage.'
'Accept that the life of Zionists will sooner or later come to an end,' the Iranian president said in a televised speech.'"

he was visiting a future nuclear reactor site and talking about the obliteration of Israel. i can't imagine how anyone could think he has any desire for nuclear technology except to produce electricity. //sarcasm

they also demonstrated how unambitious they are:

Iranian officials have said they plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear energy in the next two decades."

for reference: energy is measured in megawatt-hours. power is measured in megawatts. if you produce one megawatt of power for one hour, you have produced one megawatt-hour of energy. either the newspaper or the Iranian officials could have screwed this up. it is a common mistake.

to produce 20,000 megawatts of electric power would require 20 nuclear power plants running simultaneously.

to produce 20,000 megawatt-hours of electric energy over the next two decades all you need is one power plant running for about 2.2 years.

neither of these are particularly challenging goals. they wouldn't be for a peaceful country, anyway. Russia and the US both achieved these goals more than 50 years ago and we had to invent the technology.

China has contracts to buy dozens of nuclear reactors from American companies over the next few decades (including the transfer of the power plant designs to China, so we know who Iran will eventually buy its nuke plants from if Russia fails to deliver).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

bad news for ethanol

good news for humanity.

honestly, ethanol was a boondoggle, little else. from an environmental and economic perspective, the ethanol produced so far has done more bad than good, producing more CO2 than just using petrol would have and increasing the price of corn, causing turmoil amongst the poor in Mexico as tortilla prices increased.

and the long term prospects for the fuel are no better. there are just too many engineering hurdles.

even President Bush has come to understand this fact.

fortunately, other biofuels will succeed where ethanol has failed. butanol has come to make a lot of sense and research on how to best produce it continues to progress. biodiesel will also rock the party at some point, but we Americans have all kinds of weird misconceptions about diesel vehicles, so it'll take a good bit longer for biodiesel to become an important factor here. we have a clear way forward in this department, though. all of the German luxury car makers sell high performance diesels and plan to offer them here. so, maybe diesel power will eventually be seen as a premium luxury option.

in sum, ethanol is clearly going the way of the dodo, but better biofuels are here to stay.

Monday, January 28, 2008

peak oil confirmed

by the head of Shell:

"Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our room to maneuver. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand."

i've only skimmed the rest of the infotisement, but it looks interesting.

China is the country of the future?

the image is pretty rough, but the idea is simple: China is passing the US as the source of new technology. in some fields, such as nanotech, they already have a significant lead.

i don't doubt that it is possible for a nation to be more competitive than the US and that it was a well-researched study, but i have difficulty with the idea that China could be more creative than the US for cultural reasons.

most research and development can be accomplished through hard work, but the really tough, important questions can only be overcome through a bit of wildness. and China, based on everything i've heard and read, has a strong culture of obedience. American students would be proud of coming up with a good reason to disagree with their professors and would gladly tell their professors about it. Chinese students: not so much. if i lived in a country where i could be killed for disagreeing with the party line, i might be less likely to be creative too.

additionally, the US currently attracts some of the best creative people from everywhere else in the world because we can offer high pay, prestige, and accepting multicultural social environments. so we have that advantage.

also, we have patent laws that actually mean something, so innovations made here are actually worth something.

but these two factors can change pretty easily. China will start using patent laws as soon as it makes sense to do so and will probably be successful at pulling good people from other countries if it ever runs out of its own.

oh, and we have long term demographic advantages, since China will soon have a declining, aging, and excessively male population, as their small family policy starts to take effect. meanwhile, the US population continues to grow and maintain one of the healthiest age distributions in the world.

we have lots of problems in the short term, but long term it is hard for me to imagine any country being more successful than the US.

Friday, January 25, 2008

socially acceptable

goodbye economy

a company devoted to making the process of walking away from your house painless.

it will hurt your credit rating, but they'll help you with that too.

you may be able to buy your next house in as little as 2 years.

you'll get to stay in the house for at least 8 months without making payments or being harassed by your lender.

all for under $1000.

this company will do very well. BofA, WaMu, and Citi: not so much.


the final straw keeping the US housing market from crashing has been the belief that homeowners wouldn't walk away from loans in large numbers because of a social stigma attached to people not paying their debts. that they would choose to pay their debts because they felt responsible for them.

turns out, that stigma has reversed. now, people who stick with a loan despite their property having lost significant value are starting to be seen as stupid instead of moral. and those who walk away from their loans as smart. this link is from the LA Times Blog, so it seems to represent ideas present in the general consciousness.

so, if you're $50k underwater on a loan that you only got because you saw real estate as a great way to get rich, your bank just increased your monthly payment by 15% because you have an ARM, you expect the house to lose more value in the near future because every economist not paid by the real estate industry is saying that real estate values are heading downhill for at least the next two years, and your friends think you're stupid for continuing to pay the loan, do you keep paying the loan or do you tell the bank where they can stick their bills?

more and more people are going with the second option.

i see this issue as complete now. it has reached the public consciousness and will play out the only way it can: housing price declines will accelerate, household name banks will fail, the Fed will push the reserve rate to 0%, lending standards will increase, the government will make a few very well publicized but ineffectual attempts to help, and the world economy will have at least a few bad years.

time to buy a homestead.

(i'm not sure if any of this is sarcastic or not. i am sure that things will get worse before they get better, possibly much worse.)

CO2 buffer mechanism?

i've stated previously that i think trees are the best shot we have to sequester CO2, reduce the impacts of climate change, and generally improve the planet

(i can't find the post b/c my titles are pretty useless, but i'm pretty sure it exists. the quick and dirty version: trees capture CO2, produce fresh water, regulate the climate, are beautiful, and many of them produce useful products).

as it turns out, the forests agree to at least the first part. a recent study showed that higher levels of CO2 in the air leads to a longer growing season. a longer growing season means more CO2 gets converted into wood each year. it is a negative feedback on atmospheric CO2. the more CO2 is in the air, the faster it gets removed from the air.

i have no idea how big or small of a factor this is in the global scheme of things, but every bit helps, right?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

environmentalist or dictator?

Putin's Russia recently raised environmental concerns about an oil field development in eastern Russia to the tune of $20B in fines.

Since then, controlling interest in the project has been given to a Russian government-owned entity.

For some inexplicable reason, the environmental concerns and threats of fines have now suddenly disappeared.

Don't get me wrong, I have no love for multinationals or oil companies, and I don't particularly object to the idea of resources being nationalized. But this was highway robbery under a facade of environmentalism.

Putin just raised the cost of doing business in Russia again by adding to the fear that your investments could be stolen by the government at any moment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

anti-malaria vaccine off to a good start, the blackest material ever, and a quick warning

early field testing showed that recipients of a new malaria vaccine had a six-fold increase in malarial antibodies, which is apparently a good thing. did you know that malaria is a leading cause of death in Africa, killing over 1 million people each year?

new blackest material ever made has reflectance of .16%. on a scale of 1-10 it is really, truly, quite black. they claim they'll use it to make more efficient solar panels by absorbing more light, but i'd bet that the first application was actually on one of the researcher's leather jackets.

specific parts of california will flood badly at some point. this is expected and everybody has been warned. so, if you live there, buy insurance and keep a raft in the attic. and when there eventually is a flood, i don't even want to hear about it. and you definitely shouldn't expect any help from the government or any of my money to pay to have your house fixed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

there is panic in the markets, but not enough

somehow, people are starting to talk about this being the bottom and that the only way from here is up.

i disagree for one pretty big reason:

more housing problems haven't been priced into the market. increasing numbers of people are going to walk away from the houses not because they have to, but because they will see them as bad investments. this reality hasn't been priced in yet. it is surprising information to the people who lent the money for the houses:

"I'm astonished that people would walk away from their homes." - Bank of America CEO

this means more reported losses from BoA, and most every other financial institution. which means that the markets are still heading down, not up. there will be a time to buy in, but now is not that time.


the reason why diesels aren't sold in the US is because they pollute too much. sure, they get better fuel economy, but CO2 isn't the only pollution in the world.

in fact, diesels are so common in europe, that the continent has significantly lower air quality than the US because of it. more than half of the cars there are diesel-fueled and the technology to make diesels clean enough for prime time is only today in its infancy.

the linked story doesn't talk specifically about diesel cars, but europe hasn't had any other major sources of particulate emissions in the middle of its cities for about 100 years now, since the coal-burning stoves went out of fashion in london and freed it from its "fog."

despite their higher particulate emissions, i still prefer diesels and think most other americans will too once we get used to them. they are more efficient, provide better everyday performance, and require less maintenance. also, biodiesel is easier to make than biopetrol, since most diesels can basically run on vegetable oil.

particulate emissions are only an issue if you live or drive in the city. since i have no desire to do either, this isn't a concern for me.

diesel subaru will own seattle

i like subarus. basically everyone in seattle does. asian brands in general seem to be over-represented here, but the subaru legacy outback is practically seattle's official car. either the outback or the toyota prius.

(unrelatedly, i hate the prius. i drive them at work and hate them. i'm using the word "hate" here to refer to my feelings about a car. i love cars. i even like most trucks. but priuses just have a way of making me mad every time i drive them. always interfering, trying to out-think me. i hate it.)

anyway, subarus are popular because they provide 98% of the functionality of an SUV without the social stigma. so, you can have a car that is great at getting to potholed trailheads and snowy ski areas without the image of poor fuel economy. unfortunately, subarus don't actually do that much better than SUVs in fuel economy. not as much better as they seem like they should, anyway.

this is where the new diesel engine comes in. it'll offer basically the same performance as the current base level engine, but get 40 mpg instead of the 27 mpg that is advertised for the current engine. (i've read claims that the advertised 27 mpg turns into about 20 mpg in real life)

presently, they only have plans to sell this engine in europe because the emissions laws in the US are a lot more strict than the ones in europe. but if they work out a way to be legal in the US, i think we'd see the prius disappear from the seattle landscape along with virtually every other car, replaced by a sea of L.L. bean palette metal and plastic.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Peace Treaty by 2009?

remember those insane claims about Peace between Israel and the Palestinian Territories by 2009?

Israel closes Gaza's borders in response to continuous rocket assaults.
to get a sense of how metered and appropriate a response this is, consider what the US response would be if there were terrorists in Mexico shooting rockets at Houston and the Mexican Government publicly supported the effort. would we close borders or would we shock and awe?

Israel tests new long range missile capable of delivering nuclear warheads (that they have never admitted to having) to anywhere in the region.
they've demonstrated their willingness to act unilaterally and have said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, but mostly this missile is a defense against the idea of the rest of the region ganging up and attempting to invade Israel again. nobody is willing to lose their capitol city just to push the Jews into the sea, not even Iran. this guarantees that the Palestinian Territories will remain controlled by terrorist organizations funded by hostile nations. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria would like to invade Israel, but none will risk having their cities destroyed. so, they'll put more money into Hamas and let the Palestinians die instead.

does this sound like we are moving in the direction of peace by 2009?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

CNN needs editors, Cuba needs a new dictator

or, at the very least, someone to read articles before publishing to make sure that they mean something.

i mean, what is this?

"I think Fidel is ready to take to take over his historic political role in this globalized world, in humanity," Lula da Silva told reporters as he left Cuba late Tuesday.

the "to take to take" part doesn't really bother me, but lets look at the sentence without that mistake:

"Fidel is ready to take over his role in this globalized world, in humanity." what does that mean?

take his role over from who or what, exactly? read it in context. it still doesn't mean anything. i assume that there has been an acting dictator standing in for him while he was unwell, but the article refers to no plans for him to resume his role.

in fact, he specifically mentions at the end:

Castro, however, expressed frustration in his essay: "I do what I can: I write. For me, this is a new experience: Writing is not the same as speaking."

making it quite clear he is not in a state of health that will allow him to dictate.

so, how can he be a dictator, right? if can't dictate.

dictator, dictate.


forget it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

i spoke too soon

this morning, i thought that nearly immediate doom was inevitable because we as population were tapped out and had run out of ways to steal from our future. now, i'm not so sure.

you can now get a debit card to take money out of your 401k retirement plan, just like a second mortgage on a house, sucking value out of your only remaining forced savings plan.

so, huge numbers of people got into financial trouble by stealing from their own future by taking money out of their house through a second mortgage. now people will do the same with their personal retirement plan. so, what will be left to pay for their retirement? social security only pays 40% of your average income (which is great if you enjoy having poverty for breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

the upside is that it is a new source of debt aka a new way to push off the inevitable crash portion of the credit supercycle for at least a few more years.

maybe a depression is the solution

Anna Schwartz, a very influential and very old economist whose expertise is the first depression and how the Fed Reserve Bank caused it, has gone on record stating that we are in a similar position today and the Fed Reserve Bank is not doing enough to avoid the doom:

"The lesson of the 1930s is that swift action is needed once the credit system starts to implode: when banks hoard money, refusing to pass on funds. The Fed must tear up the rule-book. Yet it has been hesitant for three months, relying on lubricants - not shock therapy."

in the last three months, the Fed has dropped the reserve rate twice and held loan auctions for institutional banks (essentially providing very low cost capital to banks). these actions are referred to as lubricants because they add liquidity (money that can be moved).

the claim is that at least some of the banks are insolvent (their debts are greater than their assets) or soon will be. in this case, no amount of liquidity will help. lubricants are useless.

so, she recommends "shock therapy." unfortunately, this part of the analogy goes undefined, except obliquely as requiring that they "tear up the rule book."

in sum, possibly the highest living authority on the subject thinks that we are on the brink of a depression, that the institution charged with pulling us away from the edge is acting ineffectually, and that there is no specific rule in the rule book for how to respond.


ultimately, the only action the Fed can take is to provide cheaper loans to banks and i'm not convinced that is such a great way to get out of problems that have been created by too many people taking out too many loans. maybe we need a depression to clean our system of our excess debt and to pull us away from our consumption-driven lifestyle economy.

if we include peak oil, climate change, and social security and medicare commitments into the discussion of a 5-10 yr housing price stagnation or decline, all of a sudden the first depression doesn’t sound so bad anymore. as a nation, we are insolvent and getting more so.

all we had to deal with for the first depression was leveraged asset speculation, a drought, and a dumb Fed. you could say that the situation this time is much much worse.

70% of our economy is consumer spending. a serious recession, it seems, could lead only to a major depression as lending standards and purchasing power across the board contract and our highly leveraged economy is forced to unwind.

maybe a depression is the solution.

that being said, i was in a starbucks for the first time in almost a year last night and it was bumping. standing room only. if there are recessionary fears and cutbacks in consumer spending, this crowd certainly hasn't heard about them yet. at $5/cup for a 50 cent commodity, this should be one of the first luxuries to go.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

our biological future cleaning our chemical history and providing somewhat unusual investment ideas

poplar trees are being used to clean chemical pollutants from the groundwater.

if i remember correctly, the normal way to remove trychloralethylene (TCE) from the soil is to dig all of the soil up (generally many tons of it), run it through a furnace hot enough to burn off the TCE and then put the soil back in place. it is a very expensive and energy-intense process that destroys the topsoil delaying the biological recovery of the site.

for reference, the sky is still falling. financial problems still pose major risks to our immediate future worldwide, but that is kind of old news at this point. the news related to our biological future is more interesting today.

so long as we're talking about money. if i had money today, i'd buy land somewhere and put hardwood trees on it. something that'll take 50 yrs to mature. in 50yrs, all of the naturally occurring high quality hardwood trees will be gone or protected, but the demand for the wood will be higher as people seek more natural-feeling high quality products. quality can't be faked. crazy hybrid GE hardwood trees could be invented that grow quickly, but hardwoods are desirable specifically because they grow slowly. that is what gives the wood it's fine grain and dense structure.

flying with biofuels

some alarmist documentary about peak oil suggested that our grand-kids may never fly in an airplane because their fuel is derived from fossil fuels.

the first commercial flight powered by bio-fuels is planned for next month.

it is only 25% from biological origin, but i'd be surprised if there is any good reason why they couldn't move to 100% bio-fuel in the future.

there will obviously be challenges moving away from fossil fuels, but our planet is fairly large and its resources very poorly managed and grossly underutilized because cheap oil has been distracting us for the last several decades.

certainly, we should expect our wasteful habits to be disrupted, but to suggest that anything which is possible today will become impossible in the future for energy or technology reasons is ridiculous. energy costs may rise, but airplanes will still be flying around 50 years from now.

Monday, January 14, 2008

conservatory or greenhouse. either way, i want one

i was watching a video about how the UK housing bubble crash is going to be so much worse than the one in the US and it included a house with a beautiful conservatory, which reminded me that i want one. i would probably call it a greenhouse (not wanting to sound pretentious or English) and keep more plants than furniture in it, though.

here is the video. for reference, the UK isn't expected to be the worst housing crash. that honor is reserved for Spain, though many of the houses there are owned by English people, so who can say where the financial pain will be worst.

given my druthers, i'd go for a yurt or geodesic style greenhouse with the upper panels made out of plexiglass and the lower out of glass, probably with a white anodized aluminum frame. how you could make this look like anything other than a weird 1970's futuristic blight on the viewscape is beyond me. i guess i'll have to wait until i live without neighbors.

Friday, January 11, 2008

$54,000,000,000,000 of doom and gloom

that is how much the US gov't is expected to have to pay out in future costs for medicare and social security and doesn't have. aka the real national debt

for reference, that is $400k per household.

here is a video on the subject:

the presenter is obnoxious, but stick with it: the subject will play a large role in defining our global future.

the average american today is already overburdened with (mostly self-inflicted) debt and having difficulty making ends meet. add higher taxes to that to try to address the future cost problems and these people will have serious financial problems and be forced to reduce their consumption. considering that the US economy is 70% consumption, if they have problems, we all have problems.

add to this peak oil and climate change (which will each add costs and reduce productivity universally) and the next few decades start to look pretty bad for humanity and and downright horrific for the US.

weight loss from gum. anti-malarial dirt

i don't know which is weirder, humans losing weight by eating no-cal sweeteners or chimps avoiding malaria by eating dirt.

sorbitol, in addition to being a common no-cal sweetener, is a laxative. people who eat lots of it don't digest their food very efficiently and end up losing lots of weight. the only down-side is the chronic diarrhea. that and, as with any drastic weight-loss scheme, the dangers of malnutrition and development of mental or physical disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia.

chimps eating dirt, on the other hand, is now understood to be an effective way of protecting themselves against malaria. certain type of soil combined with specific plants and digested together leads to lower chances of getting malaria. hopefully, the animal behavioral scientists are in communication with medical scientists, so they can capitalize on this information (the good kind of capitalization, though. not the bad kind). maybe they'll finally be able to come up with an anti-malaria treatment that works without the side-effects of current options. dirt + plant. how hard could it be?

heat to electricity, directly

most of the energy used in the world today is produced by burning a fuel to warm water and create steam, then using the steam to drive a turbine. materials that can short-circuit this process by directly converting heat into electricity exist, but are not cost-effective.

research is ongoing at the national labs, funded by the DOE.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

honestly, insane

These things would sound insane coming from anybody:

"Not only was my soul uplifted, but my knowledge of history was enriched," said *******, who also commented on the barriers in the area.

"Someday I hope that as a result of the formation of a Palestinian state that there won't be walls and checkpoints -- people will be able to move freely in a democratic state."

"******* met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank on Thursday, predicting that a Middle East peace treaty would be signed by 2009."

honestly. no matter who said that, i would have no choice but to laugh. the only reason why the Palestinian Territories are not in the middle of a civil war right now is because they are not a state. also, they find it more useful to kill Israelis instead of each other.

the Palestinian Territories have two presidents right now, neither of which recognizes the other. one of those presidents is the leader of the Hamas party, a violent terrorist organization. according to some accounts, this party won the popular vote and the other president (the one western leaders prefer to meet with) is actually attempting to usurp the democratic process.

so, even if we ignored Israel entirely and were just trying to claim that the Palestinian Territories could function as a state, we would have to be entirely ignorant of the situation, unreformable optimists, or insane.

add to this the fact that rockets are shot from the territories into Israel on at least a weekly basis and the disbelief factor goes through the roof. in terms of their economy, infrastructure, international standing, and any other measure of importance, the territories are defined by their relationship with Israel. take Israel away from the Territories and you lose electricity, running water, and the few remaining employment possibilities. you are left with small sections of sand and rock, valuable only as a place to launch attacks against Israel with guns or propaganda.

i do believe that there will eventually be peace in the region. i do not believe that a Palestinian state by 2009 has any role in the process of moving towards that peace. their first act would be to declare war on Israel.

as it happens, our president was the one who made those statements.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

declining consumer spending

if you care about the US economy, you should know the following:

the Wall Street Journal has reported that Goldman Sachs is expecting a decline in consumer spending as a result of the housing/credit problems.

considering that 70% of the US economy is consumer spending, this factor is the key difference between a soft landing recession, a hard one, or a depression.

the marginal doomsday blogs that i read have been calling for a declining consumer for months, but this is Goldman Sachs, a serious firm that trades on its credibility.

Sachs also thinks the Fed will lower the reserve rate to 2.5% by the end of the year, hoping to help all asset owners (homedebtors) inflate their way out of trouble. and somehow they think this is a good idea. if they really do this, gold at $880/oz will sound like a bargain.

bad ethanol, better mobile home, exciting bacteria

there have been lots of studies on the matter of how worthwhile producing ethanol from corn sugars is and here is another one. the studies seem to claim that the process of growing corn, converting it to ethanol and transporting the ethanol to the gas station actually uses more fuel than it produces. it is a subsidy for big corporate farms being sold by politicians as a support for middle america. hydrogen as a fuel is worse in every way than ethanol, but ethanol is pretty terrible. i'll devote a rant to hydrogen at some point. no time today. more vitriol directed at first generation ethanol in the US.

the basic idea of manufactured homes makes sense to me. workers going to the same factory every day making basically the same house every day instead of each worker being individually contracted and going to a new site every week just sounds more efficient. unfortunately, these houses come with a stigma. one professor at Mississippi State U is trying to remove part of this stigma by increasing their quality and environmental friendliness.

since ethanol is a bad biofuel, what is the alternative? butanol. butanol is a direct replacement for gasoline (no vehicle, infrastructure, or customer modifications necessary at all), mixes freely with gasoline anywhere from 0-100%, and recent work at the UCLA has shown that it can be produced from the same basic materials that we are wasting on ethanol. i also like the idea of biodiesel from algae, but people who know a lot more on the subject than i say that it isn't practical yet because it is too difficult to keep more competitive wild strains of algae out of the high-yield algae culture.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

notorious Iranians

from CNN:

"(Iranian) Government officials have urged citizens to reduce their notoriously high consumption of gas to ensure there are no further cuts or shortages."

emphasis added.

honestly, Iranians are notorious for their gas use?

this notorious?:

no·to·ri·ous [noh-tawr-ee-uhs, -tohr-, nuh-] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –adjective
1.widely and unfavorably known: a notorious gambler.
2.publicly or generally known, as for a particular trait: a newspaper that is notorious for its sensationalism.

amongst what population, exactly, are the gas usage habits of Iranians known at all?

the writer must have dictionary of acceptable adjectives to use in reference to Iranians. next we'll have their "corrupt consumption of cucumbers and yogurt" and "fundamentalist dedication to rice dishes"

notorious gas usage. honestly.

for reference, the US consumes about 30% more natural gas per capita than Iran does, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

if we want to talk about notorious energy consumption, we'd better start with the man in the mirror.

"a nation of violent extremism in the realm of bargaining," "a people infamous for their hospitality"

energetic switchgrass, damn greedy pharma, and deforestation?

more good news on the renewable energy front: switchgrass used for cellulosic ethanol production produces more energy than it uses. 5.4 times more. so, given enough land and cellulosic ethanol processing capacity, a new fuel distribution infrastructure, and a new generation of slightly modified cars, we could have one part of our energy problems taken care of. that is a lot of givens.
i still prefer butanol and biodiesel because of lower distribution costs, but politicians have latched onto hydrogen and ethanol, so we'll have to run with them for the time being.

one more reason to get mad at the broken Big Health industry: drug companies' biggest justification for high drug prices is that they are necessary in order to pay for research and development of new drugs, yet they spend twice as much money on advertising as they do on researching new drugs. of course, they are private corporations, so they are forced to do this sort of thing in order to compete with each other and maximize profits. the question, then, is how to modify the system and force them to behave. i wonder if there shouldn't be a public competitor in the drug industry, the same way that there is a mix of public and private companies in other utility industries. such an entity could focus on researching drugs with maximal benefit to humanity and making them available at least cost rather than maximal profit. this would force Big Pharma to reduce costs to remain competitive.

a leading expert on tropical deforestation has published a study which claims that the world's forests may be naturally recovering faster than we cut them down and that we need a new World Forest Observatory to more closely track developments. the article is certainly an interesting read, if nothing else. including statements like:

"Assessment 2000, for example, showed that all tropical forest area fell from 1,926 million hectares to 1,799 million hectares between 1990 and 2000. Ten years earlier, however, FAO's previous report said that tropical forest area fell from 1,910 million ha to 1,756 million ha for the same 90 countries between 1980 and 1990."

even if it is true that the total forest cover is constant, the quality of cover is decreasing as centuries-old forest is replaced with new growth. so, it is still absolutely politically incorrect to buy Brazilian hardwood, no matter how beautiful.

Monday, January 7, 2008

tigers and bears, and magnets

Russia just announced another 1700 square miles would be set aside for endangered Tigers.

Meanwhile, the US just opened another 50,000 square miles of arctic sea for oil and gas exploration. This is expected to cause damage to the already endangered polar bear population.

Strangest of all, a seemingly credible study on the health impacts of magnets has been done by a seemingly credible scientist at the mostly credible UVA (known throughout Virginia as the university you go to to study science if you're not particularly interested in science. those actually interested in the subject go to Va Tech. UVA is great for constitutional law and social sciences, but not so much for the hard sciences). The study showed an increase in blood flow in the presence of magnets. The results were published in the American Journal of Physiology (subscription required). They claim that the use of the right sort of magnets of the right strength can lead to reduced swelling and bruising.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

orangutan plan, cool truck, dangerous advice

"Orangutan Plan to Curb Carbon Emissions" - i didn't even know orangutans emitted carbon, much less that they were seeking ways to reduce their emissions. other than the oddly phrased title, it is a pretty boring article. essentially, it tells us that not cutting down forests produces less CO2 than cutting them down.

the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is coming up in 11 days and Toyota is bringing a cute small truck for environmentalists. i'm not entirely convinced of the benefits of hybrids economically, ecologically, or in terms of general pleasantness to use. we use priuses at work and i pretty much hate them. they're too small for me to drive comfortably, too floaty on the highway, their traction control is extremely heavy handed, they beep unnecessarily while backing up, the throttle is unresponsive, and the brakes are grabby. they are altogether unpleasant cars to drive. and i'm not convinced of their environmental benfits

so, hopefully, Toyota will do the right thing and build this truck, but give it the nice compact diesel engine from the everywhere-but-the-US version of the Tacoma. give it the same efficiency as the hybrid, but at a lower price and infinitely better driving experience.

a bunch of coalitive scientists want us to teach kids critical thinking, specifically in the area of the evolution vs creation debatacle (debate/debacle). encouraging critical thinking within a consumer-led economy based largely on unreason can only be a catastrophically bad idea. what would happen if the next generation thought critically, understood that their actions had consequences, and believed that they lived in a rational world where they need to be responsible to a reasonable system rather than an arbitrary dogma? for me, the debate here is between reason and unreason. and promoting acceptance of ideas based on unreason is absolutely essential for our future. otherwise, people will act reasonably, wanton credit-fed consumption of obviously superfluous items will collapse and take the US economy with it and i'll never get my social security benefits. keep the crazies in our schools. do it for our future. do it for the economy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

tribal violence in Kenya could easily be stopped

tribal violence has broken out in Kenya, triggered by questions over a recent election.

the most frequently referred to type of violence that i have seen referenced is people being locked inside social clubs and burned alive.

various sources say about 300 people have been killed and many more displaced.

if Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda and author of Shaking Hands with the Devil, is anything to go by, this could be stopped immediately by a small force from any single modern nation. a multi-nation UN force could be counted on to be worthless. as could a single nation force from Zimbabwe or Pakistan. no offense, Dallaire just didn't convey the best experience with troops from countries with poor economies.

the US is clearly overextended, has demonstrated its inability to maintain peace anywhere it has troops, and doesn't have the best track record with open elections anywhere.

maybe it is time for Europe to stretch its peacekeeping legs. Germany must have at least a few thousand troops that could be spared for a few months.

CO2 credits, economics, and agroforestry

will the CO2 offset market work and if so will it reward or penalize the world's poorest people?

a global market for CO2 offset credits doesn't really exist today. given how interested a number of nations are in reducing their CO2 and given how much cheaper and easier it will be to pay somebody else to do it for them, the creation of a market is inevitable.

considering that the people buying the CO2 credits don't benefit from them being real and that people selling the CO2 credits do benefit from them being fake, there is no obvious built-in force to make sure that the market will ever trade anything real.

but lets pretend that a real global CO2 offset market exists and it trades real CO2 offsets, globally.

Europeans are willing to pay $35 to offset 1 ton of CO2 (considering the premium people pay for fuel efficient cars in Europe, this number sounds low). Brazilian farmers only get about $5 worth of value for each ton of CO2 they emit by chopping down a forest and grazing cattle on the area for a couple of years. so, a global CO2 offset market would resolve the supply and demand. and viola, no more wanton deforestation.

the market will transfer say $20/ton from European coal plants to Brazilian land owners and everyone will be happy. the Europeans will save $15/ton and the Brazilian land owners will make $10/ton.

the Brazilian poor, who no longer have a farm to work on are the only losers. along with virtually everyone else in the poor world. why make $10/ton of CO2 to produce bicycle parts in India when a European (USAmericans aren't party to the Kyoto protocol, so our CO2 demand and supply are unmarketable) manufacturer will pay you $30/ton not to.

i don't think it is the intent of environmentalists to stifle economic prosperity in the poor nations, but it seems to be a nearly unavoidable consequence.

agroforestry may offer some portion of a solution. agroforestry is the practice of multi-level farming. so, you grow squash on the ground and walnuts in the trees on the same piece of land. it would allow poor farmers to greatly decrease the need to deforest before farming, increasing their $/ton of CO2 output.