Friday, December 31, 2004
About Me and the Blog
This blog began as a substitute for blast-emailing my friends and family. Like the selfish prick I am, I now make you all come to me! And as for the queer-ass name, the blog is essentially my shrine to Buckminster Fuller, who wrote a lot about technological solutions to social, economic and political problems.
Dymaxion World has come to focus on a number of things, though energy, politics, and Chinese issues are pretty regular topics. And of course, the occasional flash cartoon emailed to me by a friend.
Friday, December 24, 2004
By any objective measure, we are better people than these men. We are wealthier, smarter, and understand our place in the universe far better than they do, thanks to science that hadn't even been invented yet in 1914. What does it say then that the Christmas Truce was one of the last examples of a "twitch" in history? Why is it that this was the last time that two opposing sides were able to face each other with respect and understanding instead of the hate their superiors demanded of them? Does anyone think this could happen again in Iraq?
The Christmas Truce did not happen without punishment. Men were court-martialed, and the high command was so concerned about this outbreak of treason that they ordered every following Christmas be preceded by artillery barrages.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. In this most commercial of holidays (you know it's true), in our already over-commercialized culture, "rebellion" is most often defined by choosing coke over pepsi. Real rebellion is acting sane when your world demands madness, acting humane when your world demands that you be bestial. The Christmas Truce was a great act of rebellion, but the wonderful thing about this is that it's do-it-yourself. We can all engage in little acts of rebellion, every day. Smile, laugh, have a happy holidays, spend time with loved ones.
Merry Christmas all. I'll be offline for the next little while, between work and holidays. Down in Toronto on boxing day - I'll see some of you then.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Iron Denominator News, Contd.
Woo-hoo! Cheap solar power, finally! I've been reading about printed, flexible solar power for some time now, but this is the first company (Akzo-Nobel) I've heard about that was considering full-scale manufacturing for domestic generation - most companies working on this stuff are only working on the consumer electronics end of things. Laptops that power themselves, etc. Between better batteries and solar cells, the world may be saved by iPods and Cell phones. How crazy is that?
[marx] Nerds of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your wires - and the world to gain! [/marx]
Azko-Nobel is quoting a euro per watt of installed peak power, a comparable price to the cheapest wind turbines today. If this can be rolled out in Canada, it would be stupid for the government not to pay for people to install this stuff on their roofs. Next time you're out on a residential street, look at the roofs of the houses you pass. That's a lot of surface area, most of it pointed at the sky. Gee, I wonder if we could find a use for all that. And if we started designing our homes to make maximum use of that rooftop space, then we'd be talking some real potential.
The panels the article refers to are relatively low efficiency, but it seems to indicate that the same methods would be compatible with other, better materials as well. As the technology matures, it's quite possible we'll see the price-per-watt drop even more.
Iron Denominator News
Basically the article notes that China is investing heavily in the tar sands, and that Canadian companies are likely to profit from a coming bidding war between US and Chinese oil concerns. Two things worth mentioning: First, any serious shortfall in US exports could conceivably be appealed through NAFTA, which guarantees the US a certain percentage of Canadian energy - though it may only protect the US from state action, not markets. Does anyone know the specifics of NAFTA? Secondly, one of the few sectors of the Chinese economy that is still completely dominated by state-owned enterprises is oil. So when we say Chinese oil companies are snapping up Albertan oil properties, what we mean is that the Chinese Communist Party is buying up strategic Canadian resources. I don't mean to be alarmist, but this is the reality of the current situation, and it's worth keeping in mind.
Canada, as much as any other place on Earth, is likely to be a battleground of one sort or another in any future oil war. Not necessarily military, but certainly the oil-hungry world is watching us.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
This is an older link that I meant to post earlier...
What were the top 3? 2003, 2002, and 1998.
Now, the sad thing is that I don't think Climate Change is really going to work as a way of selling the coming changes to our economy. The effects are going to be to diffuse and gradual for us to really identify climate change as a causal factor. More than a thousand people died in a freak heat wave last summer in France, and England saw it's first day to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit ever, but people in North America still don't seem to buy it.
We're probably going to need to work on the other side of the argument - oil, natural gas, and coal all have their own costs, and we're using them all up fast enough to make alternatives necessary.
Either way, in twenty years some of us will have been right, and the rest will have been usfeul idiots, as Lenin called them.
This is the best story I've read in a while...
It's got everything, seriously. First, notice the obviously obsolete reference to "tape" on the Internet. Up next, someone at the AP will talk about a horseless carriage.
Secondly, the so-called tape is a sex act between two teenagers that was captured by the young man using his cellphone. That he did this and it has now caused an uproar in Indian society is a warning to all of us who might have thought about recording our various exploits - don't do it, no matter how cool your cellphone is!
Thirdly, the whole video lasts under three minutes. Now, I'm not saying that's brief, but I hope that boy learns some discipline....
Finally, and more interestingly, is the generational conflict it has spurred. The parents are apparently appalled that their 17-year olds are Having The Sex. Well, I guess nobody wants to find that out. Certainly, nobody wants to find out by seeing little Johnny (or insert hindu equivalent name) getting blown on the evening news. Chalk up another victory against the bastions of conservatism for the mass media. Nothing hurts quite like reality, even if it's got a lousy framerate.
Amusingly enough, the young girl's parents have sent her to Canada. Apparently, our foreign affairs people in India have advertised us as an teenage sex-free zone. Everyone, conceal your laughter until she spends some valuable currency here!
(Gotta love that valuable Indian Rupee!)
The Iron Denominator, III
The US passed its oil Peak in 1971. Alberta and Alaska have both peaked, despite all the money spent on secondary recovery. The tar sands will forever remain too slow a means of oil production to meet a substantial percentage of world demand, despite the ocean of oil that Alberta floats on. Also, the tar sands are only profitable so long as the Natural Gas used to produce it remains cheap. The reason is simple enough - most of the oil in the continental US was discovered before Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated as President. Similarly, most of the oil globally was discovered when Richard Nixon was president. Since then, we've been using oil far far faster than we've been discovering new supplies.
So, when is the world going to reach Peak Oil? Well, the US Geological Survey estimates 2020, but the USGS also estimates that Greenland has a Texas' worth of oil under it. Like many organizations, private and government, you don't get promoted at the USGS by being a downer. So the USGS estimates of Peak Oil are widely ignored. On the other hand, the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, an association of European scientists, have released their latest newsletter with a revised prediction for the world's peak oil. What far-off date do they predict the world will begin running out of oil?
2005. Happy New Year! More specifically, by the end of 2005 crude oil production will peak. By 2007 all petroleum products will peak. They add to this a prediction that, by 2010, we will begin to see a pronounced shortfall as depleted fields overtake new production. Obviously, we can save some oil right away, but the problem is larger than that. North American natural gas may also be peaking soon, but in any case the global peak is not much farther away then the Oil Peak. We have perhaps until 2020 for the natural gas to stay cheap. More likely, as oil prices increase some will switch to NG to save money, which will just push the peak date closer. This means either we switch to dirty coal, which we might have a century's worth of, or we switch over to renewables.
Lest you think Peak Oil is a minor affair, consider why everyone knows about the 1973 oil embargo of Arab states, but no one knows about the 1967 Oil Embargo. In 1967, their was still spare capacity in Texas to make up lost production from OPEC, and nobody noticed. By 1973, the US production has peaked, and there was no spare capacity to make up the lost capacity from OPEC. A difference of six years was all it took for the US to go from largely autonomous to largely dependent on foreign oil.
Let's re-state this: by the middle of this century, we are going to have to abandon all of our primary sources of energy. Our entire planetary economy is going to have to be run on renewable electricity or biomass. The "Electric Economy" concept has been around for a long time, but it's going to have to be more than an idea soon. Heating, cooling, transportation, all the things we use fossil fuels for are going to have the be done by electricity. This is why I say that it's possible that, no matter what we do, we may have to end up using nuclear power just to keep our current lifestyles, much less have more growth.
Now, the upside to all this is that we can kiss smog days goodbye, as dirty power generation and cars are switched over to clean electric generation. The downside is that we aren't prepared for this, and nobody seems to be talking about it in public. But this isn't a matter of politics or economics. It's dictated by geology, and the entire history of the oil industry shows it will happen. We should be getting ready for this now.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Thie Iron Denominator, Interlude
(Side Question: Does anyone else think that the SEV looks like a tiny Dymaxion Car? Bucky Fuller would approve.)
What will decrease the range is the North American's stubborn insistence on driving faster than 45 mph (70 kph). So let's assume that bringing the speed up to a more reasonable 70 mph (110 kph) halves the range, to 1000 miles. That's still easily a round trip from Ottawa to Toronto on one "tank", or a full charge. Actually, it's almost two round trips, according to MapQuest. A full charge would be roughly 150 kwh, which at $0.055/kwh (Ontario's maximum rate until May 2005) comes to $8.25 for a full tank of gas. Let's re-state that: For less than the price of admission to a movie, you could drive 1,000 miles. And the cost per mile is slightly less than one penny. Considering that I spent $40 for a round-trip gas bill last time I drove from Ottawa to Toronto and back, we can see that rather than limiting people's options, electric cars could greatly expand them.
This doesn't even consider the newer battery technologies that are beginning to be explored because of the explosion in consumer electronics. Sion Power has introduced a new type of Lithium-Sulphur battery whose potential is five times greater than the more common Lithium-Phosphate. And, in the far fringes of unproven science, one European company claims to have developed an aluminum battery that is cheap enough to make long-distance shipping of electricity by batteries profitable. That company Sion Power deserves watching, though - they've already demonstrated a battery at a recent convention that kept a laptop on all day on batteries alone. Multiplying our thought experiment above by five gives some truly staggering numbers - from here to Mexico sound good to you? Well, maybe somewhere nicer. Ever want to see Alaska? Alternately, higher-capacity batteries would mean the same range at lower cost, as batteries are likely to be the major expense to any electric vehicle for some time to come.
I don't want to come off as an evangelist for any particular technology - I don't have a dog in this fight. However, I would find it hysterically funny if, after all the billions put in to ethanol, fuel cells, hydrogen and the assorted technologies that are buzzing around, the "silver bullet" turned out to be a souped-up Duracell.
Coming up tomorrow - why any of this matters!
Oh, and one other thing...
One down, one to go
Note to self: Minus 43 degrees is cold. As in, my cup of tea began to freeze before I made it to school cold.
Tell me there's a place where it's warm?
While I do so enjoy filling people in on my day, the other point to all this is to say that I won't be writing anything substantial until later tonight or tomorrow, after these exams are done.
Ottawa weather update
Jesus H Keeeerist.
Wish me luck everyone. If I don't make it, Vicki inherits my DVDs.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Awww... poor widdle baby hurt his brain?
Evil Bastard and former dictator Augusto Pinochet has been hospitalized with a stroke. I think his frontal lobes have been asleep for thirty years, just woke up, and tried to do the world a favour.
That said, who wants to put money against Pinochet's people saying he now needs to leave the country for "medical treatment", preferably in a country with no extradition treaty? Not that it has anything to do with his impending trial... and if you think it is, well than you sir are an Anarchist and a homosexual.
Question: Can you be a "former" dictator, or is it like alcoholism, where you can only ever be "recovering"? Hmm... who can we call?
What? You mean I missed horrible terrifying news?
That's right everyone, the country that produced Osama Bin Laden - don't forget ladies, he's still available! - now wants nuclear weapons, and looks like it's liable to get them. So between Iran, SA, and Pakistan, Israel is going to be outnumbered 3 hostile nuclear-armed regimes to its one. Boy... nothing could possibly go wrong here.
Of course, even if the Israeli question is ignored for a moment, we've now got three regimes which have rather tenuous grasps on power, and in the case of Pakistan and SA, are likely to be replaced by regimes which are even more hostile to us in the future. And now, at least in part because of the US's criminal negligience on non-proliferation (and the Bush administrations' particular friendship with Pakistan's current dictatorship) all three of these countries (and how many more?) will have some of the most destructive power available.
You know, during one of his speeches, Robert Heinlein predicited their would be nuclear wars, and there would be survivors. He was booed, but these days I can't help but hope he was right. If you want a particularly terrifying view of the possibilities of where we might be headed, read the fictional - but well-researched - Total War 2006. Spoiler - it's not a happy ending. Very not happy.
Have exams on Monday...
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Why do leftists/liberals/environmentalists oppose nuclear? This is a source of energy that is cleaner and less polluting than any other conventional source of energy except hydro. Methane and Coal both release CO2, whose long-term effects are at least as problematic as nuclear waste, if not more so. Coal is even radioactive to boot, because it absorbs radioactive elements from groundwater. The fly ash from coal plants contains small amounts of Thorium, Uranium and Cobalt, which get released in to the atmosphere when coal is burned. This doesn't count the fact that smog and other toxic emissions kill thousands each year. Coal mining, meanwhile, kills miners regularly. Natural gas regularly explodes (recently a mall was destroyed here in Ottawa) and kills people and destroys property. In short, there's little reason to be worried about Nuclear if you're not also worried about coal and natural gas.
But why do conservatives love nuclear power? This is an industry that only exists because of the heavy hand of government. No private market exists for nuclear power - plants are comissioned by government, insured by government, and, when the inevitable bankruptcies occur, it is government that bails out nuclear plants. Of course, nuclear power would never have been harnessed without the Manhattan Project, a government program that dwarfs every other government spending program in history. Yet not a week goes by where I don't read or hear some conservative claiming we need to build new nuclear plants. Shouldn't they be decrying this intrusion on the free market? My guess is that conservatives have defined themselves in opposition to environmentalists, so if Greenpeace hates nuclear, then it must be good.
Now, like I said I'm no fan of nuclear, but we have to face the possibility that it may simply not be possible for us to live our lifestyles or sustain our economies on renewables alone. So our choice then is either change what we do (unlikely - look at how stupid people get over their cars) or live with ambiguous energy.
"I don't want to be a daddy because daddies die"
Of course, it would be nice if the media had explored the possibility that people might die in war before, you know, the people started dying.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
The Iron Denominator, II
On that note, the Popular Science this month has a piece titled "Hydrogen Fuel Cell Myths", in which it purports to debunk many of the claims made about the future of a Hydrogen Economy. Now, I've gone from being a fuel-cell evangelical to being a fuel cell skeptic several times in the last few years, but the more I read (and I don't pretend to have any expertise more than any other layman) the less optimistic I am about fuel cells in general, and hydrogen in particular.
Most of the problems associated with hydrogen as a fuel source are well known. Hard to make, harder to store, and posessing of an unfairly negative reputation when it comes to explosions, hydrogen's main attraction seems to come from the fact that most people are under the impression that we can switch over to hydrogen and presto! Problem solved! Cars are nothing but good, for ever and ever! Of course, this isn't the case. In the case of the United States, making hydrogen renewably from water would require adding dozens, if not hundreds of large-scale power plants (or their equivalent in solar or wind) and would require increasing the United States' water use by 10%, or 4 trillion gallons a year.
Now, biofuels look better when it comes to storage and useability. Ethanol and Methanol both have been touted as possible alternatives to a pure-hydrogen economy. The problem here is that even covering the entire continental US in fuel crops still isn't enough. Or rather, it would be in short order because most drivers would starve, presumably taking their cars off the road.
Then there's a more basic problem. Even if we can make the hydrogen cheaply and widely availble, there's still the question of efficiency. Assuming you start with water and electricity to make the hydrogen, there is no way you can physically recover as much energy as you put in to making the hydrogen with fuel cells. It makes almost no sense to generate electricity for hydrogen production, simply to reconvert the hydrogen to electricity. This is physics, not economics or engineering.
An thus far, our engineering is way behind the physics. It is still, from the point of view of mileage, better to drive a battery-powered car than a hydrogen car. In a recent competition, battery-electric cars ran a race through Los Angeles, doing 100 miles of track. As a showpiece, a hydrogen powered car was included in the race - it had to be refueled twice, and lost the race by a wide margin.
So simply switching technologies is not going to be enough. We are going to have to become radically more efficient (something Bucky Fuller, patron saint of this blog, advocated in the 1960s - way before it was cool) and change our lifestyles, too. I can't imagine anyone owning an SUV in 20 years. At least, not if they're sane.
One of the biggest advocates of fuel-cell cars has been Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. The RMI has a great book out, Natural Capitalism. (You can download the book here.) I would definitely reccomend it to anyone really interested in this stuff, but I think a lot of hydrogen evangelists suffer from serious optmism-overloads. I've read a lot of arguments that, with new lithium-ion batteries, electric cars may soon have ranges of 1000+ miles on a single charge. Of course, even without lithium-ion batteries, current cars can go 200 miles. Considering your average gas-guzzling American commutes less than 50 miles every day, there's already a serious possibility here.
All battery talk aside, the world is still going to need renewable hydrogen in the future - chemical fertilizers are currently made by combining fossil-fuel hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen to make ammonia, and with that nitrate fertilizers. When oil and natural gas run out, either we go all-organic or we find new hydrogen for fertilizer. It might be preferable to go organic, but this might not be an option when the world's population is stretching 10 billion. So again, the world will need new options.
West Wing tonight
One note: There was a moment when the President of China said China was making the transition towards a "capitalist" economy. Now, I know this might be a hard concept for the well-paid writers of the West Wing to grasp, so I'll spell it out very clearly for them:
COMMUNISTS DON'T USE THE WORD CAPITALIST, EXCEPT NEGATIVELY.
No Communist Chinese president, premier, general, or mayor would ever claim that China was moving towards "capitalism". IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. The CCP has invented all sorts of clever phrases to disguise the reality, of which the current one is (I believe) Market Socialism. You see, mister West Wing writer man, the Chinese Communists, like all communists really, don't have a positive association with the word "capitalist". They're quirky that way. Chairman Mao once went so far as to say that global thermonuclear war would be preferable to allowing capitalism to survive. So, umm, maybe we could have caught that one before it made it to air? I'm just sayin.
What We're Up Against, II
Alternative Title: Wow.... I mean, just wow....
For those who don't follow the trials of evolution in the US - or, as they so cutely call it, "Darwinism" - one of the lead proponents of mandated-creationism has been the Discovery institute. The most recent complaint has even them scared, according to Chris Mooney. But the thing that creeped me out was this quote:
At a public meeting of the Dover School Board on June 14, 2004, in further discussion of the new biology book, Mr. Buckingham stated, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?"
Who is Mr. Buckingham? Preacher, you say? Wrong. Concerned church-goer, you say? Wrong again. Chair of the school board's Curriculum Committee, you say? You're our new champion! Even more frightening, this was in a discussion about a biology textbook. That's right, it's no longer enough to put the book of Genesis in the classroom, we have to put the New Testament there too! Because Jesus was all about the naming and the "Fiat"s.
The Wonders of the Internets
All I will add is that this actually matters, for the simple reason that Crichton could crap on a page and it would be a movie six months later. Meanwhile, someone like Kim Stanley Robinson has a book which was actually researched and, by the way, good, and he won't see his name in the credits of a major film any time soon. KSR, for that matter, has forgotten more about atmospheric chemistry than Crichton will ever learn - he spent ten years writing about it for his Mars trilogy.
Oh well. Days like today (minus 20 in Ottawa) and I'm suddenly more sympathetic to the coal industry. Fuck the Polar Bears!
(Note: Do not in fact attempt intercourse with large carnivores. Will be hazardous to your health.)
This cheered me right up...
It's A Wonderful Life told in 60 Seconds, through Bunnies.
Military-Industrial Complex 0, Reality 9
But Saint Ronnie said it would work, so I guess the Republicans will keep throwing money at it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Republicans think Kyoto is too expensive?
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
This is what we're up against
As if that wasn't bad enough, James Barnett was outed by the school principal - to his parents who, until this point, did not know that they had a gay son. Because, after all, what's the risk of suicide among gay teens? But who cares, this is Texas, and we don't want none of them fags around these parts.
Seriously, I can't express how angry this shit makes me. In a few of my classes this year, I've had to sit through assholes talking about how gays are taking over, and it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve and on and on and on. And I feel awful just listening to it, and I feel awful because I don't say anything, because what do you say when you come up against this wall of hateand stupidity? What did James Barnett do that was un-Christian? Mentor and advise troubled young teens so they stayed off drugs and stayed sane in a world that hates them? Yeah, I'm sure Jesus would spit on James, but that jackass of a principal is getting waved right through the line at the pearly gates.
Love me, I'm a Liberal
Last week sometime, Kevin Drum wrote "On the left, "no blood for oil" is childishness", to which I thought Well Duh, it's a slogan Kevin. He then goes on to spin some horror story about a Taliban-like regime taking power in Saudi Arabia and shutting off western oil.
This mirrors something said by Matthew Yglesias a while back, in which he called for "War for Oil". Now, on their own, neither of these two are that important - they're two of the most-read liberal bloggers, but they're still just bloggers, fer chrissakes. The problem, however, is that these two guys are paragons of the Moderate Liberal.
Now, never mind that "No Blood For Oil" was just a slogan, convenient for placards, not policy. The sentiment is obvious enough. The problem is the refusal of American policy on the left or right to think of a serious energy alternative to "War for Oil", as Matt puts it. I mentioned France in the last post. Now, like nuclear power or not, France's decision was spurred by the 1973 oil embargo, when the west finally woke up to the realities of energy dependence. Instead of developing a serious alternative energy program (the last time this was tried was the Carter administration) the US has relied on its military to secure overseas production. Probably the most frightening thing about American rhetoric these days is that, even among Moderate Liberals, it's seen as common sense that America has the right to kill for gas when it goes over $2/gallon. I have images in my mind of Weimar-era Social Democrats saying among themselves "Oh, of course we have to go to war for the Sudetenland. They're german-speaking people, after all. It's in our national interest!"
Less than a week and I've already invoked the Nazis. Godwin's Law surrenders. Moving on....
I think where Matt and Kevin are coming from is a "realist" (scare quotes are deliberate, but that's another post) perspective of the world, where morality is secondary to national interest. Fair enough, certainly Canada has not always acted morally domestically or internationally. But it's worth asking whether continued reliance in Middle East oil actually is in the US's national interests. With the latest funding increase, the Iraq war alone will have cost $250 billion. This is at least an Apollo Program's worth of money, and possibly even a Manhattan Project's worth. Certainly, this much money could easily, if spent properly, make the US dramatically less dependent on oil, if not entirely oil-independent. This doesn't even count the cost of the first Gulf War, or the decade of military actions in the interim. I'm pulling numbers more-or-less out of thin air, but I'd be surprised if the total costs of keeping Iraq down hasn't surpassed $500 billion. One half of a TRILLION dollars, and the Republicans are worried that Kyoto will cost too much? This of course doesn't even count the probably $4 Trillion the US has spent on total defense spending in the same period.
This, I think, is the worst part of the Moderate Liberal complex. They (Kevin and Matt) are so wrapped up in appearing reasonable, sensible, etc. that they miss the point entirely. Yes, nations need to act amorally because that's the world we live in. However, I would argue that an act passes from amorality to outright evil when perfectly good (and possibly better) alternatives to killing are missed because of closed minds. Does anyone think that, if the US has taken the lessons of the 1970s oil shocks seriously and weaned itself off oil, the US would give one damn who ran Iraq, or Saudi Arabia for that matter?
I'm off to work. This is probably the last post for the day.
PBS.... eases the pain...
The most recent one is a feature "Why do Americans Fear Nuclear Power?" [oops - it's in fact a pretty old piece, it's just been posted recently] I like it mainly because I got 100% on the Quiz. Also, they point out that France gets the vast majority of it's domestic electricity from nulcear power. They even export electricity to Germany. Now, there are a number of things that make the French experience unique, but it does show one possibility for the future if we want to reduce our CO2 emissions to meet Kyoto. All the same, I don't think it's necessarily useful for Canada.
First off, wind is already cheaper than nuclear, and the Canadian nuclear industry doesn't have a good record on meeting cost expectations. Also, CANDU reactors are technically different from the French industry standard and who knows what that could mean for costs and feasibility?
Secondly, solar is already coming down in price rapidly, and if it isn't cheaper than nuclear already, then it will be soon.
Finally, the cheapest "energy" of all is simple efficiency, and there are HUGE possible savings here. Most homes and offices in Canada could probably reduce their electrical usage by at least half in short order without changing their lifestyles. If we're willing to put some real money behind it, the savings are even greater - on the order of 75-90%. We could probably run all of Canada on Hydro and Nuclear alone if we were willing to put the necessary cash in to it. Alas, this country hasn't yet faced up to the fact that it's not just "Them" (the US, developing world, whoever) that is using all the energy, it's Us too. Once we get that through our heads, and once we realize what it's costing us, maybe then we can make some progress.
That is all.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Jeez, I go away for a few hours...
- Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johanssen both nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes (and how delicious the name of that award is today!) My inner male is torn between two beautiful women. What to do, what to do.
- Evil Bastard and former dictator Augusto Pinochet has been found competent to stand trial. This is really wonderful news. I don't like the death penalty, but Pinochet is on my permanent exception list. I don't expect anyone in the future to be writing poetry about "First they came for the ex-dictators, but I said nothing because I wasn't Manuel Noriega."
- The Pentagon announces that the Iraq war will require another $100 billion. But when John Kerry predicted exactly this, that was just crazy talk. Seriously, this is turning out to be the most expensive victory since the Brits "won" World War I.
The Wonders of the Oligopolistic Market
My network drive at school has a maximum quota of 30mb. Now, in a previous age, this would be plenty of space. But most of my research at school involves downloading multi-megabyte pdfs of journal articles. So 30mb can run out really quickly.
Ah, but I've finally found a virtue to Microsoft. My hotmail account was recently upgraded to 250mb, and the maximum size of an email is 20mb. This means that one email can hold 66% of my entire Carleton drive, and I could store six times my Carleton drive with room to spare on my hotmail account. Still, given that it's Microsoft, I can't help but be leery. It feels kind of like when you find your Visa limit has been raised.
Cost of my Carleton account: "Free" with $5,000/year tuition
Cost of my Hotmail Account: Free.
I'm rapidly being forced to reconsider my suspicion of the free market. Because if Microsoft isn't a paragon of free enterprise, who is?
Note to my more crotchety readers - and I know you're out there: Yes, I could read those journal articles in "books" with "paper", and I will be entirely willing to do so when you give up your cellphones, computers, and television. Nyahh.
I'm not really sure what else to write about this, only that I saw it a few days ago and it seems to me to be an interesting trend. I suppose the question for Canada is what role do we want to play in this new regional world. My personal preference would be for us to petition the EU for membership, but I think we all know that won't happen. Canada will probably be sucked in to some kind of northern Puerto Rico arrangement. Thank you Stephen Harper! God forbid the Conservatives elect someone who actually likes the country he wants to govern!
Because it worked so WELL last time...
"Pentagon Weighs Use of Deception in a Broad Arena"
Never mind that announcing one's intention to lie is probably not going to guarantee long term success. Consider the Pentagon's past. Gee, their last campaign of deception was so bullet proof that Colin Powell's presentation to the UN was only debunked, what, whole hours after it was made? Or did they manage to draw it out for a whole day? It was so long ago, back in the hallowed days of antiquity (Feb 2003) that it's all a blur.
This is a point of hope for the future. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, any area of US foreign policy under the Bush administration. No matter what they want, which may or may not be evil, they're so bloody incompetent that they'll never get it. It would be funny, except for all the dead.
Despite the otherwise horrendously busy day that was yesterday, I had one couple who were shopping for their son. They asked for an older book - some post-apocalyptic sci-fi book which I forget the title of. Though we didn't have it, I was able to find a store that did, and was also able to sell them on A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. Which we also didn't have. Damn. In any case, any day when I get to reccomend Canticle to anyone means I've done a good job.
On the other hand, talking to Vicki later that evening can drive me insane. I have, quite possibly, asked Vicki if she would like to real Canticle every time she has come to Ottawa. I have certainly asked her if she would like to borrow it a million times (conservative estimate.) I tell her about these customers last night, and what does she say? "Gee, I should read that book. Can I borrow it?"
Of course, I never do anything silly that ever drives friends and family insane. No no, I'm a bastion of sanity in these parts. Just so long as you don't ask anyone else to confirm that.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Obligatory music post
Listen to the voice of the soldier
Down in the killing zone
Talking about the cost of living
And the price of bringing him home
They're already shipping the body bags
Down below the Rio Grande
But you can fight for democracy at home
And not in some foreign land
And the fate of the great United States
Is entwined with the fate of us all
And the incident at Chernobyl proves
The world we live in is very small
And the cities of Europe have burned before
And they may yet burn again
And if they do I hope you understand
That Washington will burn with them
Omaha will burn with them
Los Alamos will burn with them
Anyway, find a way to listen to it. I leave it to you to find a way.
What does this mean?
Now, I'm divided on this issue. The young people surveyed report that they are both having less sex, and those who are sexually active are practicing safe sex more. I suppose this is all for the good. But then there's this:
For the first time since the government began its National Survey of Family Growth in 1973, more girls (47 percent) say they have had sex than boys (46 percent)Now, I'm no mathematician, but given a roughly equal division of the sexes, doesn't this mean that a) there's an increase in teenage lesbianism, or b) some boys out there are being passed around like party dip?
I'm not sure which of those possibilities is more interesting - certainly, if it's B, then there's potential for serious weirdness. I mean, what happens when men have to keep from getting known as "fast"? When all the girls start trading dirty stories in the locker room about deflowering the boys in the back of their mom's cars? Surely this is a sign of the apocalypse?
The Little Nicky That Isn't An Adam Sandler Movie
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was writing a few days ago about the meagre coalition of the willing that Bush has managed to corral in to existence/obedience. Kristof is a frustrating writer - on some issues, he is excellent, such as Iran or the genocide in Darfur. Other times, he's a total nitwit. Needless to say, the difference between these two is whether I agree with him or not. Just kidding.
However, he went off on a tangent near the end of his latest column, (free login required) and wrote:
"Yet Athens became too full of itself. It forgot to apply its humanity beyond its own borders, it bullied its neighbors, and it scoffed at the rising anti-Athenianism. To outsiders, it came to epitomize not democracy, but arrogance. The great humanists of the ancient world could be bafflingly inhumane abroad, as at Melos, the My Lai of its day.<>
Athens's overweening military intervention abroad antagonized and alarmed its neighbors, eventually leading to its defeat in the Peloponnesian War. It's not so much that Athens was defeated - it betrayed its own wonderful values, alienated its neighbors and destroyed itself."
Now, the wonderful thing about the Peloponnesian War is that it's the kind of event everyone can read in to whatever they like. The horrible thing about the Peloponnesian war is, well, the same thing. However, Kristof is just plain wrong to say that Athens "destroyed itself" by betraying its values. Athens was quite soundly defeated by the Peloponnesians, thank you very much. This is not to say that there aren't lessons to be drawn from the experience of the Athenians, but they're not the kind of lessons that Kristoff, or any other American commentator is likely to enjoy.
It's worth doing a brief sketch of the Peloponnesian War before we go any further. During the Second Persian War, and after the Spartan sacrifice at Thermopylae, the Greeks were united under Spartan command of the Hellenic League. After the final land battle of Plataea in 479 BC, the Persians were defeated and driven from Greece. The Greek Navy (essentially the Athenians) meanwhile smashed the Persian fleet at the Battle of Mycale. After the Persian defeat, however, the war alliance quickly fell apart, as Athens and Sparta jostled for control of the Greek world. The first real schism came when Athens assumed direct control of it's navy, without the customary Spartan commanders who, after all, still nominally led the Hellenic League.
By 477 - only two years after the end of the Persian War! - the Athenians took their first step towards empire, when they founded the Delian League, which was essentially an aggressive alliance whose purpose was largely to extract revenge for the Persian invasions. To this end, member cities sent tribute to Athens in the form of either ships or straight money, and Athens commanded the fleet. Eventually, the league treasury was moved from Delos (hence the name of the Delian League) to Athens, which historians arbitrarily use to mark the end of the League and the beginning of the Athenian empire. Athens predictably grew wealthy off the league treasury, and very quickly began making enemies of the people it was supposed to be protecting. However, it was more or less able to retain its power over its own empire.
The problem for Athens arose from the existence of a counter-Athenian league, the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Two of Athens' biggest trading rivals, Corinth and Megara, were also members of the Peloponnesian League making a dangerous combination of military and commercial rivalry. The two camps had a brief confrontation around 460-445 BC, which actually stengthened Athens' hand in certain areas, but overall changed little. Neither side had achieved a decisive victory over the other, and none of the underlying disputes had been resolved. This is often called the "First" or "Undeclared" Peloponnesian War.
The war itself would begin in 432 BC, after a dispute over the tiny city-state of Epidamnus resulted in a diplomatic breakdown that neither side could resolve. By most accounts, the Spartan king wanted to avoid war if possible, but was commanded to go to war by what passed for Spartan democracy. Also, Sparta faced increasing pressure from its Corinthian and Megarian allies to deal with the Athenians once and for all. The first shots were fired, so to speak, when Thebes attacked Athens at Plataea, the same place where the Persian Wars had ended.
Without going in to the war in too much detail, a basic summary would be: Sparta had land power (and how!) but no navy. Athens had a navy, but no land power. Athens was totally dependent on imported food, so it required access to the port city of Piraeus. The Athenians secured their supply lines by building the Long Walls which essentially gave Athens "legs" of stone, leading straight south to the port. With their huge fleet and the walls to hide behind, the Athenians assumed they could withstand any onslaught by the Spartans. At first, the Athenians seemed to be correct. Repeated Spartan invasions had to be turned back after the Athenians simply outlasted them.
However, near the end of the war (almost thirty years later) the Spartan leader Lysander managed to cut a deal with the Spartans, got himself a line of credit, built up a Peloponnesian fleet that could match the Athenians. The Spartans finally smashed the Athenian fleet at the battle of Aegospotami (in what is now the Dardanelles between the Aegean and Black Sea), and cut off the food supply from the Black Sea that fed Athens. When the remnants of the Athenian fleet arrived home (only days before the Spartans coming to demand their surrender) it's said that the wailing and crying started in Piraeus, and you could hear it move up the Long Walls until it finally reached the city itself.
So, with our "short" lesson on the Peloponnesian War done, what are the lessons for today?
1) Your enemies' past weakness is no guarantee of future performance. Under the inspired leadership of Lysander, Sparta finally broke the back of the Athenian empire, beating the Athenians again and again on land and at sea. They even built a fleet to match the Athenians, something that was unthinkable until it happened.
2) Land power trumps technological superiority. The Spartans not only had more soldiers than Athens, they were of an entirely different caliber than any other Greek army. Long before the final defeat at Aegospotami, the Athenians were having their heads handed to them in land battles.
3) Dependence on a strategic import is a weakness. This ranks up there on the "duh" scale, but it deserves to be said. If Athens had been self-sufficient, like Sparta was, in agriculture, then we wouldn't care about Aegospotami (because it's a household term now, right?) Because of their reliance on imported food, the Athenians never had to be invaded to be defeated.
And, I would argue, nowhere in the history of the Peloponnesian War is there evidence that Athens "defeated itself" as Kristof argues. The one exception to his would be Athens' history of disastrous military campaigns in Sicily and the Aegean. Still, this was a relatively simple case of one sandbox not being big enough for two children, and one eventually getting thumped so hard it had to give up.
The implications for the US today should be obvious. The next rival for global hegemony will be whoever can match US technology, put more boots on the ground, and can act independently of the need for oil, or any other crucial imports. There are any number of theoretical enemies that could fit this bill, but it's also possible the correct answer will be "nobody". Finally, it's worth noting that even after they won, the Spartans were so exhausted by their victory (and their male population was so small) that Spartan hegemony in Greece collapsed after only thirty years of dominance, when Thebes' victory of Leuctra massacred most of the remaining adult male population. Even by winning, Sparta still lost. Whoever is thinking today that they could fill the US's shoes might want to keep that in mind.
(Note to self: It was a good idea not to sell self's Greek History textbook from last year.)
A question for the audience...
A: "John Michael, this is your mother. Do you have a ride home? And would you like steak for dinner?"
Seriously people, this is my mother. All may bow down in envy.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Okay, cleaning isn't happening.
Speaking of China, according to Wikipedia the latest elections on Taiwan show a net win for the KMT, or Nationalist party. Their "Pan-blue" coalition picked up seats in the legislature despite their recent narrow defeat in the presidential elections. The KMT (the successors of Chiang Kai-Shek) are loosely "right" but pro-unification, whereas the DPP (represented by President Chen Shui-Bian) are "left" but pro-independence. Of course, the scare quotes on "right" and "left" are there because these issues are a lot less clear in Taiwanese politics. For that matter, "pro-" or "anti-unification" label are grossly simplistic. The KMT may be pro-unification, but that's mainly because of Chiang's insistence, until the day he died, that he ruled all of China. These days, they're as independence minded as any other Taiwanese, but don't want to rock the boat. Similarly, the DPP make a public show of wanting independence, but want to avoid the Chinese bombardment and invasion that would come with it. Can't say that I blame them.
The West Wing has done a series of episodes lately about Taiwan and China. Like so much of the West Wing lately, these episodes have made me miss the days of Rob Lowe. However, they have done a nice job of encapsulating the problems with the PRC and Taiwan. Not an easy situation. I just wish we had a real president in office, and not C+ Augustus, as Charles Pierce calls Dubya.
I'll be working tomorrow, so no posty until I get back in the evening.
Clearing out my backlog of weird web findings, when I saw this, all I could think was "Johnny Five is Alive!"
Dept. of Hillarious Headlines
Up next, Prime Minister Tony Blair volunteers to be kicked repeatedly, and hard, in the nuts.
Now, as it happens, this was another topic I wrote about this term. I'm not going to pretend to be qualified to voice an expert opinion on this matter, but there are some simple, basic facts available to any one who wants to find them.
1) Videogames become more and more popular every year, yet youth violence is actually trending down in the US.
2) All videogames have an ESRB rating, and upwards of 80% are bought by or with parents in attendance.
3) Lab tests showing increased agression in young kids after playing videogames are useless for determing the long-term effects of prolonged exposure to violent media.
Now, obviously I'm not impartial on this score, but I've been playing violent videogames for more than a decade now. More than that, the games I favor (strategy) usually allow me to engage in genocide on a massive scale. Yet somehow, I still know that the holocaust was wrong. Hmmm. Further, the idea that the Columbine shooters were influenced by playing Doom in 1999 means very little. If anything, it means they should have been playing the more recent video games. I mean, really. Playing a five year old videogame? They must have been driven mad by the lack of 3d rendering.
Finally, as I've mentioned to my father, it was the journalism industry, not the videogame industry, that coined the phrase "If it bleeds, it leads." Not that I imagine I'll ever hear a reporter admit that might be relevant...
The Iron Denominator
Some basic facts about China, first. Everyone knows that China is the world's largest country, in terms of population. It is also one of the largest in terms of area, coming just behind the United States. This is not to say it's at all roomy - the bulk of the population is concentrated in the easternmost third of the country, especially along the coast. China's GDP is currently $6.5 trillion, with a per capita GDP of roughly $5,000. (all figures US.) If current growth rates continue, China's economy will double every 10 years. Even according to the more realistic OECD figures, China will surpass the US as the world's largest economy (in absoute terms) by 2015. If China were to acheive a per capita GDP identical to the US, the GDP of China would be roughly $60 trillion, or greater than the current gross world product ($51 trillion).
This has some obvious implications for oil. China's own oil reserves are rather meager, comparable to those of the US. Not surprisingly then, China's fraction of oil imports has grown rapidly, to the point where by 2010, China will be in a situation identical to the US today - more than half of all oil will have to be imported. By 2020 (about the time China will be approaching a mature economy) all but a tiny fraction will have to be imported. Given that Asian oil fields are rapidly being depleted (even OPEC-member Indonesia will have to import oil soon) the bulk of China's oil will come from the middle east. Currently, China's oil consumption is about 4.5 million barrels per day. In comparison, for a population 25% that of China, the US uses four times as much oil. Were China to bring its oil consumption up to American levels, they would consume at least three-quarters of the world's daily production - 60 out of the currently 80 million barrels per day. Those numbers could go as high as 80 million, meaning essentially the Middle East would be China's gas stop.
(Before anyone thinks thay the US are profligate wastrels, we should note that as in all things energy-related, Canadian consumption patterns are even worse. If China were to adopt Canadian habits, their oil use would be almost 70 million barrels per day.)
The stated policy of the People's Republic is for every household to have a car. In order to make this happen, China has invested billion over that last decade in building a modern road infrastructure. Since the 1997 Asian Crisis, China has used road-building as a way of keeping the economy afloat, to the point where China now has almost as much mileage of highways and expressways as Canada does. Still, the numbers above are sobering. For China to be able to fuel as many cars and trucks as they're hoping for, the world needs to find productive capacity for 55 million more barrels of oil per day. Even assuming nobody else's demand grows at all, that would push world oil production from 80 million barrels to 135 million barrels a day.
This is not just unlikely, it is probably impossible. Given current proven oil reserves, oil production might be pushed to 100 million bbl/day. However, doing so would deplete all proven oil reserves before 2020. This is according not to chicken-little Malthusians, but the International Energy Agency, a branch of the OECD. Finding another Saudi Arabia's worth of oil would only delay this by about a decade, and their is almost certainly not another Saudi Arabia out there.
All of this is just a roundabout way of getting to the obvious: China cannot build a modern car-based economy. Full stop. Those thousands of kilometres of highway they're building now are likely to seem like a mightly big waste of money, come 2020. So the world needs to find another option, and fast.
- This girl has serious medical needs and some very odd pets.
- This is too funny for comment, if you ever wanted to see bad soviet electropop. I am relatively certain it is satire. Please God, let it be satire.
- The rough path to Utopia, in comic form.
- And I'm just going to throw in an oldie but still a goodie. Kenya!
I'm working on a bigger post for later today, so check back. It is likely to be an oil- or China-related post.
Starting off, pt. II
Yes, apparently vegan raves exist. This was novel and disturbing to me. Because extasy is fine, but milk, well that shit will kill you!
In any case, this is the blog. The main point of this blog will be so I can stop emailing people every weird tidbit that passes in front of my eyes, while still making myself feel like I'm passing on every weird tidbit that passes in front of my eyes. The funny thing is, despite all the other things that have gone on this year, and in the last months especially, the thing that finally convinced me to start a blog was this story.
In case you don't click through, the article refers to the upcoming movie version of the His Dark Materials books by Phillip Pullman, which are fantastic pieces of writing that everyone with a pulse should read. So of course, the films will be awful. According to the story, the screenwriter has been convinced to remove any and all references to God from the story.
For those of you who haven't read the books, this is like trying to retell Casablanca without Nazis, Star Wars without Darth Vader, or Lethal Weapon 2 without apartheid-era South Africans. (Personality test: Which of those movies is most familiar to you?) As the article says, since the election of Dubya down south, "You have to realize that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America." I guess that figures.
As for the name of the blog, I wanted something that would a) be available, and b) SCREAM nerd. Mission Accomplished, I suppose. The word "Dymaxion" was coined by Buckminster Fuller, and I like to reference him whenever I can. On top of that, with all the horrible things going on in the world, I like to remind myself that there is always room for optimism, and Bucky was one of the most hopelessly optimistic people I can think of. He thought that the generation that grew up during the Apollo Program would essentially save the world.
I'm looking at you, mom, dad.
Well, I'm off to bed. This may or may not be a regular activity for me, and it may simply die a short death, depending on how well it works out. But I thought I'd give it a try.