Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brunch with Mr. B

It's been a good while since my dinner with W. My guess is he'll be plenty available soon enough at that faux French coffee shop there at Prestwood Center trying to get donations for his little library if you want to chat with him.

Of course, "W" didn't do a thing I told him to do, he was too concerned with being validated by Cheney to seriously think about the troubles he was facing. Of course, when we visited back in 05, he had a brutal military occupation that wasn't going so well, but the economy was still pretty much running on kill, thanks to those geniuses on Wall Street who were trading each others credit default swaps like 9 year olds trade baseball cards. Sure, they have value, but only if everyone agrees that they are worth something. Otherwise, its the proverbial house of cards.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I got a text message from a certain Blackberry in DC last week.

"Oz, NSA says you're in town, brunch?"

We met at that dumpy diner/bar there at 14th and G.

"So what do you think?"

"It's freaking amazing", I said

"How's the new digs"?

"I liked my little apartment better."

"I guess since its a Federal Building, you can't smoke in it?"

"These executive orders are pretty handy for stuff like that."

"How about Michelle?"

"I'm still working on that."

"Well, we've all got to stop smoking anyway."

"That's what I wanted to chat with you about. Now that I've made all these promises to move away from smoke, how the hell are we going to do it?"

"We'll, I don't have to tell you it's really hard to stop smoking. We humans have been doing it for about a half a million years. It's not the kind of thing you just go cold turkey on... or a heck of lot more than turkeys are going to grow cold.

Speaking of that, W really left you a big warm one didn't he."

"Everywhere I turn, there's a pile of dookey to the ceilings. Towards the end, he must have been blowing and going, the whole place was a wreck."

"So what are you going to do?"

"What do you think? Everything I can. What do you think?"

"Al's got it mostly right, there is a climate for change, and as he says, we must begin an emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis. But he's too straight, and not nearly radical enough. Plus, he's telling everyone that our current resource binge and economic system can continue.

First though, you've got to talk to the people straight,"

"They're not ready."

"I know, but in a few months, you need to start breaking it to them slowly."

"What about our energy plan and this unified photonic energy web business you keep harping about?"

"Listen, you've got some really smart guys around you and I think I like Chu, but here's the overall plan as I see it."

I wrote my seven point plan down on the back of the napkin.

Barack looked at it and his left eye closed a little. "Man, this is going to be a challenge. Can we do this?"

"If anyone can pull it off, you can. Besides, we don't have any choice. If you want the kids to have any kind of chance at all when they're our age, we've got to begin the change now. Change got you elected. Go on and dance with her now, or you might not get a chance to dance with her after the break"

He put the napkin in his inside coat pocket and backed his chair from the table.

"What about the "R"s?"

"They're on their way to becoming Whigs."

I finished my decaf and he slugged down his orange juice.

The Service called in for his super low profile transportation.

It's not as nice as my Townie though.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009


As the euphoria of last week gives way into the day to day running and returning of the government to the people, for the people, and by the people, it's good to wake up each morning to the daily announcements of reversals and outright abrogations of previous administration policy.

And even though the so called stimulus bill doesn't have a massive high speed rail project or some other truly bold move towards real change, it's appropriate for us to appreciate what is in the bill.

Thanks to the Huffington Post, here's the executive summary section on renewables and science:

"Clean, Efficient, American Energy:

To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will strengthen efforts directed at doubling renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient.

· $32 billion to transform the nation's energy transmission, distribution, and production systems by allowing for a smarter and better grid and focusing investment in renewable technology.

· $16 billion to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits.

· $6 billion to weatherize modest-income homes.

Transform our Economy with Science and Technology:

We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, creating jobs in cutting-edge-technologies, and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment.

· $10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation.
· $6 billion to expand broadband internet access so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can link up to the global economy." more

In my judgment, That "next great discovery" needs to be really inexpensive photon to electron inks and processes, and a really good supercapacitor. Fortunately, these kind of cutting edge technologies are way beyond discovery, they are in development.

Here's one from the AP last week:

Piloting Silicon-Ink Solar Cell Production
Associated Press
January 23, 2009

HOHENSTEIN-ERNSTTHAL, GERMANY - The installation of a 10 MW silicon-ink based solar cell pilot production line has been completed by Roth & Rau AG and Innovalight.

The pilot line combines the qualities and cost benefits of crystal silicon wafer technology with silicon-ink processing technology to produce low cost, high performance solar cells.

“The potential to lower costs by combining Innovalight’s silicon-ink platform and conventional silicon solar cell technology is very impressive”, says Dr. Dietmar Roth, Chief Executive Officer at Roth & Rau AG. “Combining the strength of Roth & Rau’s manufacturing expertise and Innovalight’s silicon nanotechnology has enormous potential in the marketplace.” more

And here's a continuation of MIT's work on nanotube supercapacitor storage from Technology Review:

Nanotube Superbatteries
Dense films of carbon nanotubes store large amounts of energy.
By Katherine Bourzac

Researchers at MIT have made pure, dense, thin films of carbon nanotubes that show promise as electrodes for higher-capacity batteries and supercapacitors. Dispensing with the additives previously used to hold such films together improved their electrical properties, including the ability to carry and store a large amount of charge.

Carbon nanotubes can carry and store more charge than other forms of carbon, in part because their nanoscale structure gives them a very large surface area. But conventional methods for making them into films leave significant gaps between individual nanotubes or require binding materials to hold them together. Both approaches reduce the films' conductivity--the ability to convey charge--and capacitance--the ability to store it.

The MIT group, led by chemical-engineering professor Paula Hammond and mechanical-engineering professor Yang Shao-Horn, made the new nanotube films using a technique called layer-by-layer assembly. " more

Like the President said yesterday, We can solve these problems, because we created them. But as Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

That goes for our problems with the economy, with our energy supplies, with climate change, and in our need to foster world community and peace.

Each step we take towards a Unified Global Photonic Energy Web with large scale capacitance leads us all to that giant leap of humankind that we must make.

For we cannot make it across this precipice in tiny steps.
Like a Rocketman

We must learn to fly.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Travels with Charlie and Lex

Here's the finished piece.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Abe was Smiling

It's been a couple of days since we got back from DC and four days since we walked from our Hotel on 11th and H to the North Gate just west of the Capitol, only to find a wall of people and our entrance for silver ticket holders totally locked down.

And in these days, I've not only been able to reflect on that day, but I found my sense of this truly remarkable event honed down as I distill the experience for my friends and family.

Yes, little did we know that after walking that mile and a half in 20 degree temperatures, our day would be full of a great many more miles. First, we decided to get to the South Silver Ticket entrance by walking under the mall on the closed down interstate route. It was a bit strange with the occasional blaring and blasting of police and security personal speeding their way through us, but it was efficient.

We were told by volunteers to turn right on third street as we exited the tunnel, and to go through the security tent there. As we got there, it was clear that things were not moving along very well. By now, it's getting well into the morning, perhaps 10:30. We wait in a super tight mass of humanity and inch our way forward.

As the clock reached 11:00, we had only made our way forward by 20 feet or so. And we still had perhaps a 50 yards to go. It was then that I made the decision to grab the kids and head west. We weaved and bobbed in and out of each public entrance following various lines and flows of folks trying to get to the Mall. Each time the line flowing in would be overtaken by the line flowing out.

"It's packed", they would say.

We kept at it, finally finding a seam in a porta-potty line where we could get to the high ground in front of the Smithsonian Castle. As we worked our way towards the Washington Monument, we got our first views of the enormous crowd. The sound quality was good, and even with the acute angle, we could even see a little bit on the jumbo tron ahead.

I looked at my watch. It was almost noon. And after three hours of walking, and waiting, and retracing our steps, we had found our place.

We heard Biden take the oath, then we listened as the beautiful notes of YO YO and Pearlman drifted and rebounded down the jumbo-tron strewed Mall.

Then the big moment came and we listened as Obama took the oath of office as given to him by the Chief Justice. It sounded a little weird, but with all the echoes, it was hard to tell what had happened. But it didn't matter. As the words "So help me God, and "congratulations Mr. President" were heard, one of the most beautiful cries of joy and relief was released into the cold clear Washington air. Many if not most were crying.

We had made it.

My 8 1/2 year old grandson, and Charlie, the ten year old son of a good friend, and myself had braved the crowds, the packed hotels, the overbooked airlines, and our circuitous trip to Philly and a next day train ride to DC to actually hear and be present at the Inauguration of Barack Obama.

But what I find myself talking about is the people... all those other people who braved even more difficult odds to come to be part of this history. What I tell folks is how high everyone was. Everyone I met became a friend, whether being mashed like Sardines in a line that's not moving, or in the hotel lobby.

Everyone was joyous.

We all knew why we were there. And we were all happy to the core to be exactly where we were.

But not only was the crowd joyous, it was beautiful. In those 3 days leading up the Balls on Tuesday night, I saw folks, tens of thousands of folks, looking like they had just hopped out of a style magazine. Tall proud women in well tailored suits with Obama tiger Wood look-a-likes and dignified Morgan Freemans everywhere. It was like the Academy Awards without the red carpet and that funny lady with the foul mouth..

But what I saw and felt in the fullness of things was much deeper and much more powerful.

I felt and saw a race of people who had been elevated to the tops of human culture and power. No longer were they just in a class of their own as athletes, as singers, as entertainers in general, and in so many other pursuits, these folks now had a President.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Not only is Barack Obama one of the smartest presidents this county has ever elected, he is one of the classiest.

And that class, and his ascencion,

has not just elevated a whole people,

it has made us all higher,

and it might even make us whole.

As we left the Mall that day from the far west side,

I looked at the Lincoln Monument,

And I swear, sitting there in his chair,
My good camera was out of power, so I took this with my phone

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Day Was the Poem

Air and Simple Gifts is a classical quartet by American composer John Williams composed for the January 20, 2009, inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

The Day Was The Poem

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be –
Shaker Song “Simple Gifts”

On an estatic, cold January day, two million people,
and the world witnessed Barack Obama become president
of the United States of America, words, songs, public text —
a choreography of hope.

“. . . we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.”

“. . . we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

This president, who sent me an email right before the Iowa
speech saying, simply — “Turn on your television,”
media, image, music, icon, tableau,
public document, history —

the way an artist uses line or color, brush stroke, dream, idea,
rhythm, to create images able to change hearts and minds,
heal the world —

Aretha Franklin,
Yo-Yo Ma, Senators, everybody.
America parades down
Constitution Avenue—
parkas and warm hats, all of us,

high school,
college marching bands, drill teams, flags,
brigades, gymnasts — one startling afternoon
in January, golden light.

A tall, brilliant man walking down the street,
a brilliant woman walking beside him.

To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
O happy day.

©Susan Bright, 2009

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

* You can read the text of Barack Obama's Inaugural Speech here.

*Here is the Inaugural Poem, by Elizabeth Alexander, posted by
Poets & Writers.

Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.


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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Inaugural Mall

We've been on the mall today and its been quite a scene. Here are a few clips:

nd we get to the Capital

And as we get to the other side

We did get our tickets... silver at that.

Washington is ablaze with energy and potential.

A true change.

I went by the White House to make sure

the other guy is leaving.

I saw the trucks.

He is.

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Freedom Highway

(HBO took the concert video off youtube so I've replaced it with this version featuring Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie.)

Lyrics to This Land Is Your Land :

(Woody Guthrie)

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway,
I saw below me that golden valley,
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled, and I followed my footsteps
To the sparking sands of her diamond deserts,
All around me a voice was sounding,
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, then I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling,
A voice was chanting as the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning, in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people,
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if,
This land was made for you and me.

Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,
Was a great big sign that said, "Private Property,"
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking my freedom highway,
Nobody living can make me turn back,
This land was made for you and me.

* I watched the We Are One event last night on HBO — inspiring, moving, joyful and brilliantly conceived to call forth, with love and jubilation, the enduring character of America, the America I love. Check local listings and make time to be inspired, renewed.

Oz is in the crowd someplace with his grandson and another young Austinite.

Susan Bright

* And this one is from the Staple Singers, 1965 — in celebraton of MLK day, 2009.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Train of Better Days

from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: 3/4/1865

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


There were iris beds, a strawberry patch, a dog yard, a willow tree whose roots tangled into the septic tank, a dirt alley and a dozen neighbor kids out the back door of the house on Longview Street. Father stared out the window next to that back door every morning, drinking coffee and smoking. He stood there, and if I asked what he was doing he would say, "Looking out the window." Out the front door was a long porch, cool concrete, maple trees and pines, a lamp post, Longview Street, weeds, a cyclone fence, the golf course, then Sheridan Road. The cellar door opened horribly to dark steps, lined with mops, brooms, sponges, rags, cleaning brushes, vacuum attachments that followed children downstairs to a huge cellar with dark, high windows and a ringer washing machine which could swallow a child, shoelaces and all. Off to the side, under an eight-inch-thick concrete ceiling with a car parked on top of it, was a vault where we stashed supplies for nuclear attack or a tornado, whichever came first. The cellar door led to damp things, unfinished, underground things that made my heart beat fast, terror grabbing my throat and shoulder blades like claws that pulled me upstairs two steps at a time. The door to Grandmother’s room was open. There was a closet door in her room where it smelled of skin oil and perfume, where nylon print dresses hung silent above grandmother shoes and purses. Grandmother was forbidden to go through the kitchen door when Mother was in there working. "Can’t she help?" I asked, but Mother shushed me fast and Grandma pretended to be deaf. The garage door led to a blue, four-door Ford Fairlane, that took us from Illinois to California, the car that got vapor lock in the mountains. The garage door also led to shelves and shelves of tools and gimcracks Father used to fix things that were broken and vice versa. Once, to get a better view, Mother held the car door open while she backed out of the garage and left the car door jammed between the garage door elbow and the car. Once Father opened the large garage door, opened the car door, got in and backed the car in the garage into the car in the driveway. Later he said he’d always wanted to do that! Once Father slammed his finger in the car door, and once he slammed his finger in the garage door—index fingers on both hands, a matching set of vertical finger nails. One car door opened sideways, a lumpy brown Hudson Father bought for $50, the children’s taxi, he called it, saying it wouldn’t go fast enough for Mother to get a ticket, but she got one in the school zone in front of Greenwood Elementary School, the doors of which swelled with children of all descriptions, with multi-syllabic names from all over Europe, but when Grandmother asked me where my friends were from, I’d say, "America, Grandma!" There were two bathroom doors, one in Grandmother’s room; the other was the family bathroom in reference to which someone was always shouting, "Shut the door." There was a door to the front bedroom which was mine until Father built two rooms and another bathroom upstairs saying, "Wouldn’t it be nice for the girls to have a bathroom of their own, Anne?" There was a door at the end of the hall between my room and the large bedroom where Mother and Father slept next to jewelry boxes full of expensive jewelry which Mother didn’t like Father to spend money on, and costume jewelry she wore with color coordinated outfits. A plastic folding door petitioned off the nursery when my sister was a baby and there were sliding doors to Mother and Father’s closets which were dark and full of costumes that were hilarious. There was no lock on the attic door behind which were murderers. I pushed a chest against the attic door at night. In the daytime it was safe. I smoked back there until Father suggested I would be less likely to burn the house down if I smoked in the bathroom with the fan running so no one would know. The door to the upstairs bathroom was pink and Formica around the two sinks was pink and the towels were pink. So were the walls. The door from the dining room downstairs to the living room was an open arch and next to it was a brown arched tube radio we gathered around at night for radio dramas and world news in the corner of the living room furthest from the door to the front hall closet, full of coats, where it smelled like mothballs and where Mother kept the fur coat she wore when she dressed to go out the front door with Father, who kept his wallet, change, cigarettes and matches on an antique table next to the closet door, across from the piano next to the fireplace over which hung a large watercolor painting of a polar bear standing on an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean, which Father said made him cold. And there was the door to the train Father disappeared into every morning and stepped out of every evening, a black steaming engine pulling cars with green windows behind which sat people reading gigantic newspapers, a shrieking trail of doors rolling and clattering to Chicago and back, Chicago, where doors were stacked on top of doors in towers that turned streets into canyons, where a child could look up and not see the top, where revolving glass doors spun, never stopping, and an infinite tangle of doors led to restaurants and department stores, dentists and bathrooms, elevators and stairwells in patterns too complex for a child’s understanding and for that reason— exhilarating.

©Susan Bright, 1995, House of the Mother

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Here's a link to Obama's message today about the start up of: Organizing for America.


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

To the Children

It generally happens every winter, but this winter seems to be a little more extreme. Global warming skeptics seem to understand that it's a lot easier to get their misinformation implanted and integrated into the human cranium when there are icicles hanging off its appendages.

Even though global records by NOAA show seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and that the ten warmest years have all occurred since 1995, we still have "so called journalists" giving the" earth is cooling" meme credibility.

Thanks to Real Climate, here is a good example from a recent Lou Dobbs show on CNN:

"With the axing of the CNN Science News team, most science stories at CNN are now being given to general assignment reporters who don't necessarily have the background to know when they are being taken for a ride.

On the Lou Dobbs show (an evening news program on cable for those of you not in the US), the last few weeks have brought a series of embarrassing non-stories on 'global cooling' based it seems on a few cold snaps this winter, the fact that we are at a solar minimum and a regurgitation of 1970s vintage interpretations of Milankovitch theory (via Pravda of all places!).

Combine that with a few hysterical (in both senses) non-scientists as talking heads and you end up with a repeat of the nonsensical 'Cooling world' media stories that were misleading in the 1970s and are just as misleading now. (clip)

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will the day after tomorrow bring a deep freeze like that shown in the movie? Research more than 50 years ago by astrophysicist Milanchovich (ph) shows that ice ages run in predictable cycles and the earth could go into one.

How soon?

In science terms it could be thousands of years. But what happens in the next decade is still up in the air. Part of the science community believes that global warming is a man-maid threat. But Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute predicts the next 20 to 30 years will actually bring cooling temperatures.

DENNIS AVERY, HUDSON INSTITUTE: The earth's temperatures have dropped an average of .6 Celsius in the last two years. The Pacific Ocean is telling us, as it has told us 10 times in the past 400 years, you're going to get cooler."

For those unfamiliar with Dennis Avery, he is a rather recent convert to the bandwagon idea of global cooling, having very recently been an advocate of "unstoppable" global warming. As for his great cherry pick (0.6º C in two years - we're doomed!), this appears to simply be made up.

Even putting aside the nonsense of concluding anything from a two year trend, if you take monthly values and start at the peak value at the height of the last El Niño event of January 2007 and do no actual trend analysis, I can find no data set that gives a drop of 0.6ºC. (clip)

In reviewing the rest of the show hosted by Lou Dobbs, the scientist at Real Climate concludes:

"This is not the old 'balance as bias' or 'false balance' story. On the contrary, there was no balance at all! Almost the entire broadcast was given over to policy advocates whose use of erroneous-but-scientific-sounding sound bites is just a cover for their unchangable opinions that nothing should ever be done about anything. This may make for good TV (I wouldn't know), but it certainly isn't journalism. "

In the meantime, coal lobbyist are working overtime in Washington even as Obama's pick for Energy softens his stance before the Senate. And reporters in North America write stories of how interest in global warming is cooling off , and Australian reporters write about Giving Up on Climate Change.

Yet, here in Texas, we just went through one heck of a dry year. San Antonio has had the driest 16 month period on record. And Austin got less than 17 inches of rain in 08 (less than half the average). And remember, even though 08 was the coolest year of the new century, it was still the 10th hottest on record.

As I visited with a Senior VP of a major American Corporation yesterday, we discussed how the politics of climate change has still not made its way into business or into our lives.

We still hope, like those at the Hudson Institute, that indeed maybe all those scientists, all those Academies of Sciences, all those Science organizations are wrong, and that a couple of dozen right wing idealogues are right.

But if we do, if we continue to kick this can down the road,

In 30 years, when the horrible truth becomes the reality,

there won't be much left,

that we can do,

or that we can say,

to the children.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

The Buggy Whip Trolls

If you happened to read the last post called Totally Stupid, you might have noticed a nuclear Troll named Red "something or another" who is on a personal campaign to right the world of all this antinuclear hysteria, such as cost overruns, nuclear terrorism, unsolved storage issues, and finite fuel issues.

These folks can't seem to imagine a new world of energy where photonic devices are printed on personal computers and utilities become energy managers of energy produced in a myriad of places and ways.

One of the keystones to their argument is that there is no storage on the horizon that can solve the intermittancy of renewables, and since coal is off the table for climate reasons, nuclear is the only answer to providing smooth base load power on which all power grids must build their generation portfolios upon. To heck with reframing the nomenclature and thus the thinking around it, they insist that base load plants are essential.

This is a little bit like insisting that aircraft carriers are essential to winning a navel battle on Lake Travis. The nuclear guys can't seem to get it into their heads that large base load plants are a liability for our new electric grids. Their non-intermittancy, their inability to be turned off when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing makes them less valueable to the utility of the future.

These nuclear heads assure anyone who will listen that there is no storage that works. They don't want to hear about how our utility makes chilled water during the night with our excess windpower, and how we sell it during the day to our downtown highrises. They won't listen to success stories such as our smart power partners program which gives us an extra 60 MWs on peak simply by managing our AC load with tens of thousands of micro brownouts that customers never even notice.

And they certainly can't seem to imagine a utility that has invested in large scale capacitance instead of large scale nuclear. It's a bit like getting a turn of the previous century buggy whip manufacturer to imagine an opportunity to get into the spark plug business... it just doesn't compute.

Meanwhile, as these nuke heads try to keep us in the nuclear horse and buggy days, all the while speaking authoritatively of things that aren't happening, the rest of the world is trying to make those things happen.

Here's an example:

Austin-Based Startup, Raises Seed Capital to Commercialize Graphene-Based Ultracapacitor Technology

AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Graphene Energy Inc., an Austin based startup, today announced that it has successfully raised US$0.5 million seed investment from Quercus Trust and 21Ventures. It has also concluded licensing terms for Graphene-based Ultracapacitor Technology from The University of Texas at Austin and The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The company is now in the process of qualifying Graphene based Ultracapacitor electrodes, Graphene production processes, and performance for a variety of associated components.

“Graphene has superior electrical conductivity and surface area and these attributes suggest it could work exceptionally well in electrochemical double layer capacitance applications, also referred to as ‘supercapacitor’ or ‘ultracapacitor’ technology.

The structure of Graphene is fundamentally different than activated carbon, which is typically used in supercapacitors now. Our goals include obtaining significantly improved specific capacitance in Farads/gram, and improved energy density,” said Prof. Rod Ruoff, a Cockrell Family Regents Chair in the Mechanical Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Austin.

“We are very excited to have this opportunity to commercialize the Graphene-based Ultracapacitor technology to address the ever growing needs for energy storage, in particular, in applications with the need for high power densities,”

So, as MIT, EESTOR, and a growing list of solid state storage companies get to work on solving our problems, the nuclear energy industry continues to put its trolls to work trying to make the problems we have today even worse.

I guess they have the right, and they'll probably keep making buggy whips.

And they can keep paying their Buggy Whip Trolls.

But nobody is going to buy them.

Because we won't need them.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Totally Stupid

There's a new report out on the cost of nuclear power by Craig A. Severance that is causing a bit of a stir. Here's part of the Executive summary:

"With global warming concerns now taking traditional coal plants off the table, U.S. utilities are risk averse to rely solely on natural gas for new generation. Many U.S. utilities are diversifying through a combination of aggressive load reduction incentives to customers, better grid management, and a mixture of renewable energy sources supplying zero-fuel-cost kWh’s, backed by the KW capacity of natural gas turbines where needed.

Some U.S. utilities, primarily in the South, often have less aggressive load reduction programs, and view their region as deficient in renewable energy resources. These utilities are now exploring new nuclear power.

Estimates for new nuclear power place these facilities among the costliest private projects ever undertaken. Utilities promoting new nuclear power assert it is their least costly option.

However, independent studies have concluded new nuclear power is not economically competitive. Given this discrepancy, nuclear’s history of cost overruns, and the fact new generation designs have never been constructed any where, there is a major business risk nuclear power will be more costly than projected.

Recent construction cost estimates imply capital costs/kWh (not counting operation or fuel costs) from 17-22 cents/kWh when the nuclear facilities come on-line. Another major business risk is nuclear’s history of construction delays. Delays would run costs higher, risking funding shortfalls. The strain on cash flow is expected to degrade credit ratings.

Generation costs/kWh for new nuclear (including fuel & O&M but not distribution to customers)are likely to be from 25 - 30 cents/kWh. This high cost may destroy the very demand the plant was built to serve. High electric rates may seriously impact utility customers and make nuclear utilities’ service areas noncompetitive with other regions of the U.S. which are developing lower-cost electricity."

On page twenty eight of the report, the author lists these costs:

Projected Total Generation Cost/kWh of New Nuclear Power
(In Nominal Dollars in Projected 2018 First Year of Full Operation)

Now, most folks probably don't remember, but just eight years ago, when deregulation came to the electric industry, consumers were forced to give utilities billions of dollars in an odd regulatory leap of sophistry that said that since these existing nuclear power plants are uncompetitive and thus stranded investments, we should therefore pay them off because we are getting ready to save so much money in this Enron led deregulation.

That promise, like most Enron representations, has not been realized.

In Texas, after 8 years of deregulation, rates in regulated areas, (public power) are still around a 10 cents/KWh and they are around15 cents/KWh in the deregulated areas. Ironically, the nuclear plants that have been paid for are looking pretty good. Of course this changes overnight as the price of natural gas changes.

Meanwhile, large scale solar energy plants, both thermal and solid state, are pushing the 10 cents/KWh threshold. Even distributed solar installed on our rooftops beats these projections for the real cost of nuclear power. And there is every reason to believe that these solar costs will be achieved in the near future.

Any investment in nuclear energy at these prices,

as my German painter friend says, is totally stupid.

If we want a carbonfree and a stupid free economy,

We need to move to a solid state photonic energy web.

And we can put a lot of folks to work while we're at it.

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Craig A. Severance, CPA is co-author of TheEconomics of Nuclear and Coal Power (Praeger1976), and former Assistant to the Chairman and toCommerce Counsel, Iowa State CommerceCommission.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Sixty Year War

Back in the summer of 1967, I was enjoying a 17 year old's dream. Fresh from High School, I jetted away to Europe for over three months. The use of the word "Jet" is actually incorrect. The plane we took was the largest prop plane I had ever seen. The economy airline of the time was Icelandic, which stopped in Reykjavik before it landed in Luxemburg. So like Sarah Palin, I too can claim Iceland as a country where I have had diplomatic relations.

I spent much of my time in Germany because my mother's cousin was stationed in Heidelberg. From there, my brother and I made our way to London, Paris, Rome, and all the stops in between. We bought a little red Volkswagon for four hundred fifty dollars and sold it 6,000 Kilometers later for four.

One afternoon, early in our adventure, we were in Munich. I think the night before we had been in the Hofbrau House viewing where Hitler had made his speeches during his rise to power. It was also during this trip that we visited the detention camps and I actually saw the showers and the ovens that were used during the horribleness of the last War with numerals.

Munich at the time was very much in repair, after all, it was just 22 years since the war in Europe had ended. As we walked down the street, we noticed a lot of pedestrians gathering around one of those circular news stands. And they were disturbed about something. As I peaked over the crowd and tried to read the German newspapers posted there, I saw pictures of tanks and words like Panzer.

The Six Day War in the Middle East had begun.

"In May 1967, Egypt's president Nasser expelled the United Nations Emergency Force from the Sinai Peninsula. The peacekeeping force had been stationed there since 1957, following a British-French-Israeli invasion which was launched during the Suez Crisis.

Egypt amassed 1,000 tanks and nearly 100,000 soldiers on the Israeli border[7] and closed the Straits of Tiran to all ships flying Israeli flags or carrying strategic materials, receiving strong support from other Arab countries.

On June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack against Egypt's airforce. Jordan, which had signed a mutual defence treaty with Egypt on May 30, then attacked western Jerusalem and Netanya."

We called our mother's cousin, and he told us to get the hell back to Heidelberg that second. When we did, the American army base there was a buzz. Tanks were being painted white, security was elevated. My Lt. Colonel cousin had a grave look on his face. He sat us down at the dining room table. My brother would join him in the army. I would drive his young family to the Southwest of France where we would board a freighter for the United States.

He put an army pistol on the table. "And you take this", he said.

Fortunately, in a matter of hours, the war took a decisive turn. and in a few days, Israel had gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

Israel still holds or controls most of these lands today.

Six years later as a college senior, (I was slow) I was seeing an Israeli woman. I called and her voice was tense. It was October sixth. A coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria had just attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.

The Yom Kippur War had begun. And even though the Israelis were taken by surprise, they recovered after initial Syrian and Egyptian advances.

During these years, I saw Israel as a brave and resilient country, one that any civilized person would support. There is no way that you can see the chambers that were used to exterminate a segment of their people and not feel support for their new state.

But as the years have rolled by, my heart as changed. The oppressed have now become the oppressor.

We have two cultures here who have both been wronged terribly. Millions of Jews are killed in a European war, and so the Europeans and their American cousins give them Arab land. Why not Bavaria? Why not New Jersey?

Both cultures still believe in a eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

And now both are blind, both are starved.

Yes, it's true.

Obama's designate Chief of Staff was a volunteer in the Israeli Army in 1991.

And in 2006, when MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell referred to Rahm Emanuel as someone who served in the Israeli army in an interview, Emanuel did not dispute the claim

And Rahm's father was a Jewish terrorist in 1948,(Irgun)

and he says some pretty weird stuff.

And his Father says that Rahm spends most of his summers in Tel Aviv.

And Emanuel is known for his "take-no-prisoners attitude. He actually did mail a rotten fish to a former co-worker after the two parted ways.

But, Emanuel is also a ballet dancer.

And what we need now is Grace and Beauty,

and understanding,

And Healing between these two cultures.

Rahm means "high or lofty" in Hebrew.

And Now is his time to be exactly that,
And help Obama heal The Sixty Year War.

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"The Art of War" courtesy of Kelly Ann Thomas

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Millionaire and The Reader

This has been a pretty good season for movies. In the last few weeks, we've seen Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and last night, we saw Slumdog Millionaire.

Here's the official blurb on Slumdog:

"Jamal Malik, a penniless eighteen year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, is one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, suddenly, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating. After all, how could an uneducated street kid possibly know so much?

Determined to get to the bottom of Jamal’s story, the jaded Police Inspector spends the night probing Jamal’s incredible past, from his riveting tales of the slums where he and his brother Salim survived by their wits to his hair-raising encounters with local gangs to his heartbreak over Latika, the unforgettable girl he loved and lost.

Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show?

When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out… "

As I walked out, I mentioned that at last, Bollywood finally has a huge hit. And it is a great movie. But since the director is Danny Boyle (Sunshine, Trainspotting) and the writer is Simon Beaufoy, ('The Full Monty') it could be argued that this is a British movie using Bollywood talent and infrastructure. However, Boyle did have a co director from the Indian Movie Industry, who was the casting director for another fine film, The Namesake.

Still, the ending credits are definitely Bollywood.

Slumdog Millionaire is a great movie to awaken those of us in the West to the other awakened sleeping giant in the East. With 2.4% of the globe's land mass and 15% of the world's population, anyone who has tried to get something done on the phone knows that India and its 1.2 trillion folks are a big deal.

Add in almost 300 years of English influence where tens of millions starved as a result of government policies, and you get a unique combination of language and cultural memory, one that is capable of a huge movie industry, phone banks, high tech, space programs, and atomic weaponry.

But the more important movie to me was The Reader. Here's the setup from Fandango.

"When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15 year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. The two begin an unexpected and passionate affair only for Hanna to suddenly and inexplicably disappear.

Eight years later, Michael , now a young law student observing Nazi war trials, meets his former lover again, under very different circumstances. Hanna is on trial for a hideous crime, and as she refuses to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes his boyhood love may be guarding a secret she considers to be more shameful than murder. "

This movie is a complex tale with excellent perfomances by Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross, amply aided by a strong screenplay.

The significance of this story goes deep. Hanna was working for Seimens as a guard in the detention camps. They were the Wackenhuts and the Blackwaters of the day. Hanna was punished, while Seimens survived to become a global megacorporation that makes windturbines and solar cells today.

I liked this movie because of its complexity,

and its honest exploration into the human condition.

If you go see Frost Nixon,

you'll get a graduate course on the subject.

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