Saturday, December 31, 2011

16 Predictions for 2012

Continued Conflict

Tarot Deck | 5 of Wands
 ~ 2012 is going to be rather similar to 2011 politically, but there will be some changes on the economic front.

It's an election year, and, although it seems like the election started a year ago (right after the last one ended), this cycle will see yet higher levels of obsession with the election by politicians, journalists, pundits, and, hence, everyone. So, in government, there will be even fewer policy accomplishments than in 2011 (is that even possible?) and science, reason, and critical thinking will be marginalized to the point of invisibility.

The election will change a number of the players, but regrettably will change none of the political dynamic. The dysfunction will continue, public anger and disgust will increase, and only economic downdrafts in Europe and Asia will prevent precipitous erosion in America's global competitiveness.

This year's predictions:

Friday, December 30, 2011

My 2011 Predictions Revisited

About 2/3 Accurate

The Tarot | The Tower
 ~ A year ago I took a stab at predictions for 2011. Seems like I've run out of time waiting for most of them to come to pass, so it's time for a report card, using a scale of 1 (utterly wrong) to 10 (perfectly prescient):

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Voter Disgust—II

Us and Them

Democrats and Republicans are in bed together
 ~ Voter disgust is growing with both political parties.

There are several reasons, but the overriding one is that there are few real differences between the parties on issues that matter to most ordinary voters, i.e. those who belong to the 99%.

Ron Paul states this plainly, which is why his popularity has been growing (although he has no chance of winning.)
We don’t have a good democratic process. What happens if you come to the conclusion, as millions of Americans have, these parties aren’t different, they’re all the same. The monetary policy stays the same. The welfare system stays the same. The foreign policy stays the same. They get pretty disgusted. There is but one party.
Don't believe it? Each party has their outliers, but the leadership of each mostly agrees. The media makes the most of small differences, fomenting often phony controversy for their own interest in attracting and retaining market share. The parties are the same (with only small differences of degree) when it comes to:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LXIV

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Voter Disgust Growing

Party Poopers

Donkey and elephant laugh about cleaning up politics

 ~ Fewer and fewer people are remaining as registered voters of the two main political parties. I suspect fewer still will admit to staying in either, or voting for them.
More than 2.5 million voters have left the Democratic and Republican parties since the 2008 elections, while the number of independent voters continues to grow.

A USA TODAY analysis of state voter registration statistics shows registered Democrats declined in 25 of the 28 states that register voters by party. Republicans dipped in 21 states, while independents increased in 18 states.
Now if only these disaffected voters would start voting for true independents of integrity we might see some real progress.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Giant Carbon Vacuum?

Reducing Atmospheric Carbon

 ~ Can we address the problem of climate change by simply sucking carbon out of the atmosphere?

Technically, yes. But practically, no. a paper published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that trying to scrub the air is much more expensive than keeping it from getting dirty in the first place.

For the scientists conducting the study, air capture was shown to be largely wishful thinking that distracts from more effective strategies for combating pollution and climate change. "We thought it was important to set the record straight because [air capture] has policy implications," said Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative and one of the report's authors. He said that air capture is appealing because it allows people to get away with not changing anything about their energy use.
It's not hard to understand the superficial appeal: we could continue with business as usual, and clean it up afterwards, or, you know, whenever.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Silent Night

Glories Stream from Heaven Afar

Sitting under a tree looking at a huge rising mooon
 ~ Blessings be upon you. And on all of us.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Climate Change Unchanged

No Progress in Eight Years

 ~ This classic Tom Toles cartoon is from January 2, 2004:

Tom Toles cartoon contradicts excuses for inaction on climate change

There is no part of this cartoon that is not still completely true today. As decades pass, however, the opportunity to prevent climate change seeps away, leaving only less effective and more costly mitigation measures.

Meanwhile, the forces of obstruction continue to profit at the expense of the climate, the world, and our future.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Electricity in the Developing World

Small Scale, Local Generation

Satellite view of Africa at night
 ~ The need for electricity throughout the developing world is immense and will continue to grow. Unlike in the industrialized countries, much of the developing world does not have large centralized power plants and transmission lines to carry that power to widely-spread users. Nor are they likely to ever have such a system:
Building out the power grid can be prohibitively expensive, which is why in many countries, like Haiti, less than three quarters of the population have grid access. Pike Research’s Clint Wheelock says just for the transmission portion alone it can cost at least $500,000 per mile. And that’s without the distribution portion and any kind of the grid intelligence (smart grid) that is getting all of the investment this year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LXIII

Time for an easier one.... Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gaming the Economy

Can We Manage More than Expectations?

 ~ Indeed:
“Imagine an NFL coach,” writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, in his important new book, Fixing the Game, “holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Energy Lies—VI

"Renewable Energy Standards Boost Electricity Rates"

Cartoon: Grover Norquist corrupts GOP loyalties
 ~ Do state mandates for renewable energy generation increase electricity rates?

Some of the usual suspects, like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, labor to convince you they do. But the signature claim, that ratepayers fork over more in states with a RES, is a classic case of lying with statistics.
Let’s start with their first assertion:
Renewable energy standards, by design, are intended to drive up energy costs — requiring utilities to use more expensive and often less reliable sources of energy. Not surprisingly, such laws have hit ratepayers hard. States that have a binding RES now have electricity costs that are 39 percent higher than states that don’t have a binding RES.
That’s a scary number. But it’s also totally meaningless. The problem is that these states had higher rates before they ever put the RES in place.
States with high electricity rates before continue to have electricity rates. Also, rates are affected by many factors, not just the existence or details of a RES. In fact the 5 states with the most installed wind and solar power saw the least increase in electricity prices over the past 6 years.

Impacts are either overblown or outright false:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Alpha Animals

Keystone XL as Proxy

Alpha males posturing
 ~ Sure, Republicans are tools of the fossil fuel lobby. And yes, they also hate, hate, hate tax increases, vilifying any tax cut expiration. Yet they are seemingly willing to allow a payroll tax increase unless they can expedite Canada's pipeline; why?

Because top dogs cannot show weakness:
To understand why the pipeline has become the GOP's line in the tar-sand, you have to fathom the nasty logic of alpha-male political messaging in the age of Fox News. You have to grasp what Josh Marshall calls "the Republicans' bitch-slap theory of electoral politics" -- an ugly name for an ugly tactic. Marshall's idea -- originally formulated during 2004's Bush vs. Kerry campaign -- is that Republican campaign moves often aim to expose opponents as weak by, in effect, slapping them to see whether they'll slap back. A failure to respond exposes you as a weakling; if you won't defend yourself, how will you defend the nation?

Here's how the bitch-slap theory relates to Keystone XL. Obama's pipeline delay represented a rare event in our public life: street protests led to actual policy change. The president's reversal was, in fact, the one and only signal achievement progressives could point to in an otherwise dismal year that featured, among many other disappointments, Obama's cave-in on tightening smog rules. It was a win for the planet and for a mass popular movement -- and therefore it could not stand. The impertinence had to be met with a slap. Otherwise, who knows what demands protesters might start making next?
Stopping the climate-destroying pipeline matters. Providing some tattered shreds of social support to those who cannot find work matters. But what matters more is not allowing an atavistic brain-stem caucus to thump their chests in primal, animalistic triumph.

Or have our politics become so debased that this is OK?

Saturday, December 17, 2011


A 3-Panel Explanation

 ~ And it's one, two, three... what are we fighting for?

The Occupy Movement as the 1% and the media would like to portray it:

Cartoon: Occupy Movement blank message

Also, dirty hippies. Let's pretend that's the message.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Climate Change Weirding?

When the Going Gets Strange...

Warning sign: beware of frogs
 ~ The weather is getting weird. Climate change is altering temperature, humidity, and the hydrological cycle, resulting in aberrant weather such as droughts, floods and more severe storms.

Could it also account for apples falling from the sky?
An avalanche of more than 100 apples rained down over a main road in Keresley, Coventry on Monday night.

The street was left littered with apples after they pelted car windscreens and bonnets just after rush-hour.

The bizarre downpour may have been caused by a current of air that lifted the fruit from a garden or orchard, releasing it over the junction of Keresley Road and Kelmscote Road.

One driver said: "The apples fell out of the sky as if out of nowhere. They were small and green and hit the bonnet hard.
There are no apple trees in the area, and causes such as falling from airplanes or being lobbed as a prank have been ruled out. Most likely is that the apples were picked up by what amounts to a miniature tornado which dropped them some distance from the source trees. Could such a peculiar event be the result of our increasingly altered climate?
Jim Dale, senior meteorologist, from British Weather Services, said: "The weather we have at the moment is very volatile and we probably have more to come.
What's next? Frogs? Fish? Other weird rain? Some kind of latter day biblical plague?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wind Up

FERC Sides with Wind Farms Over BPA

Wind turbines integrated with hydro in Quebec
 ~ How much do we need a smart grid?

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled that the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) cannot use its monopoly power to force wind farm operators to curtail generation, an action the BPA took in response to a surfeit of hydro power this past spring.

At the time, BPA claimed that they had to curtail wind generation to protect salmon populations. Wind producers argued that BPA should have continued to buy all their generation and could have sold the power elsewhere. BPA's decision cost them both crucial revenue and the production tax credits on which their financing, and hence, the overall project viability, depended.

FERC has now largely agreed with the wind farm operators that BPA could have sent the power to California and instead curtailed generation there.
Wind farm owners, including independent developers and utilities who own their own projects, say the problem is about money, not too much electricity.

"The agency has painted this issue as being about fish and physics," said Stefan Bird, senior vice president at PacifiCorp Energy. "It's about discrimination and dollars."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LXII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We Need More Public Transit

And Public Transit Needs Us

 ~ Why public transit?

Riffing on Stuart Smalley: It's good enough, it's smart enough, and doggone it, people like it!

Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support public transit. Everyone who takes public transit contributes to decreased congestion, decreased carbon emissions, and decreased oil/gas use. It's funny to think otherwise. Public transit riders also save money.

Public transit revitalizes communities and leads to economic (re-)development. People choose public transit if given a level of service that represents something close to a comparable choice. Public funding of public transit makes sense, and smart political leadership just gets it done. Unfortunately, others still don't get it.

The demographics in America are changing. The outer ring suburbs are dying and not coming back; both empty-nest Boomers and younger Millennials want to live in livable, walkable cities well-served by public transit where they don't even need to own cars.

Why support pubic transit? It's really rather simple:

Public transit: good, smart, and people like it.

Cross-posted to Fare-Free NW blog.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Federal Venture Capitalist

Solyndra was the Exception

Picking a red apple out of a line-up of green ones
 ~ No venture capital fund picks only winners, not even (especially) the federal government. There will always be losers. It's baked into that particular cake.

Now it turns out that the stimulus funds invested in various companies actually turned out pretty well. The government did a better job than most venture capital firms:
The stimulus has helped spark an 82% gain in the stocks of 11 health care technology companies since President Obama took office and a 263% gain in the three public companies that took $7.8 billion of federal financing to build next-generation vehicle factories. It contributed to a 79% jump in stocks of the four leading energy-efficiency companies identified by IDC, including diversified companies such as Johnson Controls and Honeywell. Companies involved in developing smart electric grids, nine big tech firms that are also in many other businesses, have risen 54%.

All these match or exceed the 51% gain in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, and beat the 4.9% average annual gain in venture funds raised in 2008, according to Cambridge Associates. The big exception is that the five solar-power companies and advanced-battery manufacturers on IDC's list have fallen 70%. Similarly, among the loan-guarantee recipients examined by USA TODAY, solar-power-related companies such as Solyndra and energy-storage companies such as Beacon Power, which filed for bankruptcy reorganization Oct. 31, have fared the worst.
Solyndra is not representative of overall returns, although such a washout is hardly atypical in a portfolio of new enterprise investments. Scott Sandell, a partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), the nation's largest venture firm, commented on the federal government's stimulus funding mirroring the role of a VC:
"If it succeeds, it will succeed because a handful of companies produced extraordinary results," said Sandell. "The lemons always show up first. That's the story of the venture capital business."

Away from the computer for a few days, so no posts. Back in the groove now.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LXI

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The American Identity Crisis

Correctly Framing the Debate

 ~ President Obama made a speech today of the kind he has long needed to make, and should continue to make. It goes to the heart of where the core debate in this country is right now. What kind of country do we want to be?
This isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.

Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years. Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.

Well, I’m here to say they are wrong. I’m here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them. (Emphasis added)

Well, how did we get here?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Washington Horticulture Association

A Fruitful Annual Conference

Washington Horticultural Association logo
 ~ I'm off early to Wenatchee tomorrow for the annual meeting of the Washington Horticulture Association. I'm looking forward to lots of sessions on best practices for growing fruit, latest technologies, and a long stroll through the exhibit hall. Hoping to make some further contacts and drum up additional interest in Phytelligence.

If you're there and want to meet up, call/text/email.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Looting the Treasury

Bad Ideas Get No Credit

Cartoon: If credit were a plant
 ~ Today's banksters think every small business is a bad idea.

From a risk-minimization standpoint, they're right. Why lend to a small business facing the toughest consumer demand dynamics in generations when you can instead borrow from the Federal Reserve at 1/4% and lend it to the US Government at up to 3%?

Sure, the Federal Reserve is not technically part of the federal government, but they are deeply entwined, and can literally print money. The result? We taxpayers, through our government, borrow money with one hand as we lend it to ourselves with the other. Meanwhile, the banksters feast on the vig. Nice work if you can get it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Speaking the Obvious

Rapa Nui's Descent into Darkness

The moai, or stone heads of Easter Island
 ~ Many people insist, with all manner of justifications, that we can not, we should not, change the way we generate or use energy because we're not running out of oil, the climate isn't changing, and we aren't destroying our ecosystems everywhere one looks. Cornucopia forever.
What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Orders of Magnitude

A Poem

 ~ Yes, the green swath is merely part of a dot:

Income inequality far transcends merit

(Click to enlarge.)
A gigantic star
cradles the fleeting planetoid
orbiting beyond its flametips;
brazen and braised
with fantastic speed
avoiding anhilation
yet succumbing, at length
fatally felled
by the gravitational grip
streaking, shrieking
a planetary swan song.

The giant doesn't notice.
Oh, and it's not as if the 1% are creating jobs.

Update: A friend points out some measure of hyperbole in the graphic:
The area of a circle is pi*R^2, so since the income of the CEO is 1055 * that of the wefare recipient, the circle should be sqrt(1055)~= 32.5 times as large. so if the welfare person has a 1/4" circle, the ceo should have a 65/8" = 8 1/8" circle. I think what was done is making the diameter of the dot match the income. that would be valid imagery if you were using one dimensional stacks of money...
Fair enough, but poetic imagery has its merits...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LX

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Business Sociopaths—II

The Inmates Now Run the Asylum

Corporate scociopath
 ~ I knew it. Now there's research that supports it:
Some psychopaths are violent and end up in jail, others forge careers in corporations.
Remind you of anyone? Perhaps any of the many captains of industry that ran the economy aground in the Great Recession, even as they skipped away with millions or billions looted from both the enterprise and the taxpayer?
...the Corporate Psychopath’s single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to an abandonment of the old fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.
Undeterred by their shameless self-aggrandizement, and never satisfied with their obscenely outsized and undeserved gains, they have all returned to the trough:
The very same Corporate Psychopaths, who probably caused the crisis by their self-seeking greed and avarice, are now advising governments on how to get out of the crisis. That this involves paying themselves vast bonuses in the midst of financial hardship for many millions of others, is symptomatic of the problem. Further, if the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is correct then we are now far from the end of the crisis. Indeed, it is only the end of the beginning. Perhaps more than ever before, the world needs corporate leaders with a conscience. It does not need Corporate Psychopaths.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wind Turbines

Near Palm Springs, CA

 ~ Heading west from Palm Desert on I-10 in California I am always amazed at the enormous number of wind turbines that flank the highway. Some are quite old and no longer functional but others are spinning away. Today there was very little wind until we got through the pass. The radio was playing some great music, but I had to "remaster" this to make it fit the video segments.

There's something captivating about wind making power all down the highway.

Update: Redid video, uploaded to YouTube and embedded here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Phytelligence at NWEN

Pitch Video

 ~ Here is the 5-minute presentation of WSU spin-out company Phytelligence I did at the NWEN First Look Forum back on October 18:

Web site coming soon.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Climate Change Skeptics

Who's Accountable?

How climate change skeptics lie with statistics

How climate change skeptics lie with statistics
 ~ The graphics above show an example of how deniers try to use bogus "science" to cast doubt on climate change: reliance on the selective and misleading use of data. "Skeptical" journalists (and bloggers) through laziness or ulterior motive would flunk a statistics class:
“...what they have done is an old trick. It’s how to lie with statistics, right? And scientists can’t do that because 10 years from now, they’ll look back on my publications and say, ‘Was he right?’ But a journalist can lie with statistics. They can choose a little piece of the data and prove what they want, carefully cutting out the end. If I wanted to do this, I could demonstrate, for example, with the same data set that from 1980 to 1995 that it’s equally flat. You can find little realms where it’s equally flat. What that tells me is that 15 years is not enough to be able to tell whether it’s warming or not. And so when they take 13 years, and they say based on that they can reach a conclusion based on our data set, I think they’re playing that same game and the fact that we can find that back in 1980, the same effect, when we know it [was] warming simply shows that that method doesn’t work. But no scientist could do that because he’d be discredited for lying with statistics. Newspapers can do that because 10 years from now, nobody will remember that they showed that.”
That's a large reason why the media paints a different picture than real climate scientists—they're not accountable.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Time Travel

Stop-Motion Video on the Long Trail

 ~ I prefer the walking version, but this is exhilarating as well:

I especially like the crossing towards Seattle on the Bainbridge Ferry.

(h/t the Telegraph)

Update: Yeah, the "BRAINbridge" Ferry? I've lived here 30+ years and I flub the name? I need a brain bridge.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Much Gratitude

 ~ Another year gone already?! It's been eventful, for sure, but looking back I am reminded of many good things in my life:
  • Plenty of interesting projects and opportunities, with many great colleagues, and especially those at ArchSkills, Enerdyne Solutions and Phytelligence

  • Many good friends with whom I have shared many joys and, yes, a few sorrows, but fantastic to have, or to be, a good friend at such times

  • Intellectuals and writers like Matt Taibbi, Barry Ritholtz, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich that cut through the crap:
    Some think the revolution has begun. I hope they are right.
  • A sense of history that provides insight on current events:
    Old photo of poor man chasing plutocrats for some alms
  • My wife, kids and everyone else in my zany family

  • My "girls", a.k.a. The Fantods:
    Two kittens on a bed
  • Less than a month until the days start getting longer...
Thanks too to my readers; I love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LIX

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Climate Change Political Progress

By Defeating Obama in 2012?

President Obama with head bowed
 ~ Does real progress on climate change depend on Obama losing in 2012? Political prisoner Tim DeChristopher thinks so. He writes that Obama needs to lose and it needs to be obvious that climate hawks were responsible.
But come 2012, the climate movement will still face that arrogant taunt, "Whaddaya gonna do? Let a Republican win?" If this movement is ever going to get serious political power, the answer needs to be yes. This is where things get dirty. Like any abusive relationship, this movement will always be taken for granted if it's not willing to turn its back on Obama. He needs to lose, and everyone needs to know it was us. Instead of making phone calls for Obama, those who helped him get elected should make phone calls to Obama explaining why they turned.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Doc Hastings Offers Bad Medicine

Deeply Unserious Governance

Doc Hastings
 ~ Representatives such as Doc Hastings (R-Pasco, WA) are why only 9% of voters approve of the job Congress is doing.

Hastings chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, and has used that position as a soapbox for views which neither accord with public opinion nor have any hope of becoming pragmatic, effective solutions to our problems.

Last week he renewed the feckless call for oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR.) Won't happen. Even if the House can pass something on this the Senate and even President Obama are unlikely to agree. This is a fight waged for partisan point-scoring and base-pandering, nothing more, and as such, it represents a squandered opportunity to propose—and dare one say—negotiate legislation that pragmatically addresses real problems that still beg for solutions.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Business Sociopaths

Milton Friedman was Wrong

John Sherffius cartoon: Socialism for the rich! Capitalism for the rest
 ~ Milton Friedman writes in the first paragraph of his much-cited 1970 NYT Magazine essay:
Businessmen believe that they are defending free en­terprise when they declaim that business is not concerned "merely" with profit but also with promoting desirable "social" ends; that business has a "social conscience" and takes seriously its responsibilities for providing em­ployment, eliminating discrimination, avoid­ing pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of re­formers. In fact they are–or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously–preach­ing pure and unadulterated socialism.
Business has only one purpose—maximizing profits—and only one constituency whose desires should be heeded—its owners (shareholders.) Ayn Rand uses cartoonish caricatures in more than 1000 pages of turgid prose and to reach the same simple statement, and imputing an ethical foundation more pithily put in Wall Streetgreed is good.

Events of the past few years have shown beyond any credible dispute that greed is good only for a privileged or lucky few; most have fared much worse due to the effects of others' greed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Climate Change Visualized

Increasing Temperatures Over 200 Years

 ~ Watch this time lapse view of increasing temperatures from 1800 to the present:


 The change is compelling, and the last few decades especially so.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things I Learned from my Dad—IV

Having a Good Hat

John Leyerle in Irish tweed hat
 ~ He wore it with aplomb.

Now that I too can get sunburned on the top of my head—in Seattle no less!—I need to find the right hat for me. Not the Irish tweed hat he wore, and certainly not these.

I guess he taught me what not to wear! Thank you Dad.

He would have been 85 today.

John Frank Leyerle
11/18/26 - 8/2/06

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tax Code Driving Incentives

Uncle Sam Subsidizes Cars, not Buses

Cartoon: Driver ironically complains about public transit subsidies, missing all those that enable him and his car
 ~ Think government is too big and spends too much money? You can write your legislator, sure. But if you have your own business, you could also take direct action to help the budget: leave your car in the garage and take the bus.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LVIII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Government Energy Investment

Pew poll shows more support for renewable energy than offshore drilling
 ~ A recent poll by Pew Research shows that support for renewable energy investment by government is declining, especially among Republicans and right-leaning independents.

In this winter of budgetary discontent, declining support is not terribly surprising, and it is still the case that the great majority (a landslide 68%) of the public supports not just continued, but increased government investment in renewable energy development. (And even 53% of Republicans support increased funding.)

What is surprising, however, is the framing of the question. Those opposed consider such funding unnecessary. Not unaffordable, not a lower spending priority, not because renewable technology won't work, not even because of Solyndra. No, because it is unnecessary; opponents think renewable technology will be developed anyway without government support:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time Stasis

Who Gets Tax Subsidies?

 ~ Those who've got shall get:

Table of US tax subsidies by industry

So why do thriving, insanely profitable industries need taxpayer subsidies in a time of mounting deficit hysteria? Because they deserve it! It's the same reason that the 1% need more tax breaks—they've worked hard, they've been successful, so we shower them with largesse in recognition. It's the product of a peculiar mindset, as well as stark evidence of the corporate capture of our political institutions.

Too much of our public policy focuses on rewarding the past rather than investing in our future.

"We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future." As we rest on our national laurels, and simultaneously emaciate our financial health, we diminish our ability to compete in the global economy of tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Climate Change Insurance

Polar bears threatened by thaw across the Arctic
In early 2010, at the Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Washington's Tri-Cities, Claudio Stockle made the reasonable observation that the severely negative outcomes of climate change, if they occur which are happening everywhere one looks, demand action just for their possibility: it is "prudent to start taking some action, not to ignore it."

Just the day before Kurt Cobb made a similar point in discussing the need for "vigorous preparations" on climate change, even if the worst scenario is only 5% likely:
If you were told that the trans-Atlantic flight you were about to board only crashes 5 percent of the time, would you still board that plane? My guess is that you would change your reservations. Even with a 95 percent chance of surviving the flight, you would find the risk of death too high.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Collective Nouns

Market Socialism

Cartoon: Capitalists look just like socialists when they take government handouts
 ~ Margaret Thatcher claimed that "there is no such thing as society."

Ayn Rand wrote "there is no such entity as the public."

Like those other believers in the myth of social atomism (that underlies libertarianism and free-market laissez-faire orthodoxy) their point is that we should focus on empowering the individual and avoid addressing collective needs. The collective not only has no reality compared to the individual, but catering to it is socialist, and deprives non-consenting individuals of their very liberty and takes from them their wealth, an unacceptable burden.

Why then are we always talking about The Market like it were some anthropomorphic reality?

If there is no policy value in speaking of, or addressing needs of the public, or of society, then surely the same is true of the market. Each is really only a collection of individuals, right? Thus a brutal budgetary austerity and other measures aimed at boosting "market confidence" are revealed as socialism. Such policies benefit individuals who have the wherewithal to invest by stealing from those that do not.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Support Our Troops Really Need

Honk Honk | Save our Veterans Homeland
 ~ Today is Veterans' Day, or Memorial Day, and we all (should) pause to honor those who have served our country and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. They deserve our utmost respect, and our deepest thanks.

But they deserve much more than that.

It's easy to post a quick note on Facebook, or unfurl Old Glory over the porch, or put a bumper sticker on one's car. Those are all good gestures, but they are merely nice; they don't actually support in any meaningful way our soldiers past or current.

And they really need our support.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


America's Identity Crisis

Ratio of CEO pay to worker pay 1965-2011

 ~ The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement puzzles some. How can we explain (or justify) what seems to the passing observer a ragtag bunch of incoherent people protesting ... what exactly?

But that is easier to explain (or justify) than another puzzle. Are the Masters of the Universe really ten times more valuable relative to other workers now than they were in 1965? Are they ten times more productive, more meritorious, more ... what exactly?

I was fortunate to go to a high school that exposed me to some really bright and interesting people, including classmates David Frum and Douglas Anthony Cooper. Some of their recent writing, although from rather different viewpoints, both illuminate ... exactly what all of us are now trying to discern.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LVII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Teddy Roosevelt on Politicians

 ~ A friend posted this quote today from Teddy Roosevelt talking about politicians:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
It applies to entrepreneurs equally well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Climate Change Game Theory

Is Climate Change Really Happening?

 ~ In the rational decision-making that arises from classic game theory analysis we don't even need to know. The choice we need to make is pretty obvious:

And one last thing: "we only get to play this game once."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pipeline Dreams

Keystone XL Fantasies

 ~ The number and fervor of those seeking to stop the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline is awesome:
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 protesters converged on the nation's capitol Sunday to press President Obama to block construction of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar-sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
There were more than enough protesters on hand to link arms and entirely encircle the White House compound.

Later today, and doubtless in a complete coincidence of timing, it leaked out that Obama may defer the decision (which he will make personally) until after the 2012 elections. The delay will likely please few, and make KXL even more of a political football; it's highly unlikely the issue will engender a thoughtful, fact-based election debate on energy policy.

Instead, we will get the usual dissembling from the API and others about how the project is supposedly a choice between developing desperately needed sources of energy in an environmentally responsible manner or not developing them at all. And of course, we'll hear about all those jobs it would allegedly create. Never mind that the job figures are likely bogus, and the numbers simply output of the fossil fuel echo chamber.

Jobs are the rationale, but profits are the motive

Expect overheated accusations against Obama for delaying the decision, and much wailing and rending of garments about the unconscionable cost to the Big Oil entities involved. Those of us advocating a saner path—the commitment to renewable energy sources—can lean back in our chairs, arms crossed in sardonic satisfaction. KXL makes strange political bedfellows, is a terrible idea worthy of fervent opposition, and it's hard to be sympathetic to the mighty fossil lobby over a delay of only a year or two. Not until they see the kinds of delays that renewable energy projects suffer should their complaints be prioritized.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nothing Ventured

Gaining from Startup Experience

Cartoon: How to start a small business
 ~ Serial Entrepreneur Steve Blank has a great post that argues no VC is truly qualified to be a VC without startup CEO experience. He quotes Mark Twain:
A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
He's right. But why stop at VCs? The advice is good for investors of any kind. I made several really dumb invetsments in startup companies before I got down in the operational trenches, first as a role player, then as a number 2, and eventually as a founder and CEO.

I wish I had run a company myself before I committed my money to others without better understanding what questions to ask, and what it takes to turn an idea by execution into a cash flow positive success. In I have been sweaty and bloodied, have dealt with all manner of people issues, struggled to close customers, scraped together funds to pay staff, faced exhaustion beyond belief yet kept going, and found ways to win even against the bleakest prospect. I've never looked at an investment opportunity the same way since.

Could one learn without doing? Perhaps some do. John Doerr famously remarked that a new VC will lose $30M before figuring out the job. Steve Blank is right—it's much cheaper and faster to have a new VC learn by running a startup.

They'd never look at an entrepreneur seeking funding the same way again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—LVI

My laptop unexpectedly died Wednesday night, and could not be resurrected. Just what I needed—a sudden, top-priority task that takes 6-8 hours dumped into the middle of my schedule. New laptop acquired, installation of most software, endless updates, restored backups... Sorry for no posts the past 2 days. Here is the one on which I was working Wednesday evening when the bit rot became toxic—now a special Friday version of Where's It Wednesday.

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.