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...