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Season of Giving December 23, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, economy, football, politics, taxes.
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Tis the season of giving. Time to give the loyal readers a juicy post after giving them a whole month off. With Philly Bluejay, the giving just doesn’t stop. Only the posting does. Why the long layoff? Well, I was in my lame duck session. I was tired. And I had given up on reaching my initial goal of 100 posts in the first year of Bluejay. After hitting #73 on Nov. 21st, I calculated that I needed to average a post exactly every three days to hit the century mark by Bluejay’s first birthday on Feb. 10th. And that realization made me even more tired! But perhaps the 30 day hiatus has given me a second wind. Now, if only I can average a post every 1.89 days…

Debt us all with piles of money. Tra la la la la la la la la. Where to start? How about a quick only slightly revisionist history of the tax cut compromise bill?

When the battle lines were initially drawn, I was optimistic bordering on euphoric. I thought that a tax cut for the top 2% was politically radioactive. That there was no way for Republicans to reconcile it with their rhetoric about debt reduction. That it was such a middle finger to the voters that just gave them 63 House seats that they would suffer a huge backlash in 2012, perhaps even giving Democrats the first ever 435-0 House unanimity! Of course, I wildly underestimated Republican depravity, the ideology of the liberal left, and the shallowness of my own understanding of political gamesmanship.

In reality, the tax cut for the rich was standing on two firm political legs. First, Republicans knew that it is the top 2% that wins and loses elections for them. That in the US, it’s not “one person, one vote” it’s more like “one dollar, one vote.” By November 2012 most voters will forget about October 2012 much less November 2010, and will vote by whatever ads they see on television. Those ads will be paid for by the top 2%. Second, Republicans knew that POTUS Lightning was a decent human being. That he wouldn’t allow middle-class tax cuts to expire just to make an ideological point. That he would eventually give in. And that the Democratic party would either fall in line behind him or splinter while allowing the last six weeks of Democratic majority to waste away. Win. Bigger win. And so Republicans dug in and marched single file past MSNBC cameras proclaiming that “the top 2% will use the money from the tax cuts to hire more workers.” Whether anyone believed this poppycock is debatable, but also besides the point. Republicans weren’t talking to America. They were talking to POTUS Lightning.

POTUS Lightning heard them. Congressional Democrats, Eugene Robinson, and Adam Green apparently didn’t. Either that or they are actually Republican operatives. The Democratic/Independent echo chamber led by boldprogressives.org and the two idealogues from Vermont began screaming into the wind, urging POTUS Lightning and the lame duck Democratic majority to take a unified stance alongside “98% of America” and putting the blush in John Boehner’s cheek and the grease in Eric Cantor’s hair. But seeing the bigger picture, POTUS Lighting ignored the bluster and immediately set out to cut the best deal he could. When you play hardball in a hostage situation, sometimes the hostages get killed. If you want to ensure the safety of the hostages in the present you have to give in to terrorist demands. And yes, I just called Mitch McConnell a terrorist. Personally, I preferred a different hostage exchange—if Republicans wanted tax cuts for the rich and were willing to put the entire tax code on the table to get it, they would have to swallow a carbon tax. Shockingly, that didn’t happen. But the deal POTUS cut—a 13-month extension on unemployment benefits and an increase in the estate tax—was sweet enough.

In the end, Mitch and the Boyz got a two-year stay of their precious tax cuts. In exchange, POTUS Lightning got unemployment benefits, the middle-class tax cut, and $500,000,000,000 worth of stimulus that may sufficiently improve the economy by 2012 to both keep him at 1600 Pennsylvania and restore secure majorities on both sides of the Capitol. Just in time for the Bush tax cuts to come up for renewal. Mu ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. As for POTUS Lightning, he comes out looking every inch the leader—a measured, unruffled commander negotiating a sea of political madness, a compassionate general who cares more about the people in the trenches than about the lieutenants at the extreme fringes of his own party. Lightning—you have done old TJ proud!

Tis the season to be Danny. Fa la la la la la la la la. But the Democratic haul was actually better than that. By “compromising” on taxes, POTUS freed up Congress to pass two more important pieces of legislation—a renewal of START and a repeal of DADT. Years late and ho-hum by international tolerance standards, does the repeal of DADT signal a change in American focus? Are Americans going to start worrying about actual problems rather than medicating themselves by hating on anyone who is slightly different? Let’s wait and see if the Dream Act passes.

Want to stimulate the economy? Give to the homeless! The Republican argument that giving money to the wealthy stimulates the economy is poppysmic! Rich people don’t spend additional disposable income on goods—at least not on goods produced in the US. And they aren’t likely to spend it on services either. Rich people stash additional funds in a financial market where most transactions are performed by computer—often at the behest of a baby! Not even stockbrokers get trickle down effects of tax cuts to the rich! Giving money to lower income folks is much better stimulus. Lower-income folks are likely to turn over the money quickly on food, clothing, rent, utilities, credit card debt and other basic necessities. Whereas $1 given to a rich person may represent $0.10 of economic stimulus—a tip to the dog-walker, perhaps—a $1 given to a lower income person may yield $2 of economic stimulus. By this definition, the best stimulus of all should be giving money to homeless people. Homeless people don’t pay rent, utilities, or credit card debt and don’t turn their money over to conglomerates who then stash the money in financial markets. They use it on food. Or other … “produce.” Giving a $1 to a homeless person may yield $5 in economic stimulus for all you and I know. Unfortunately, tax cuts don’t extend to the homeless and presumably unemployed. This kind of stimulus is up to you and me. Since the weather in the DC area has taken a turn for the arctic, I have given seven homeless people a total of $90. Believe me, giving $20 dollars to a homeless person feels better than giving it to your alumni association. If homeless people gave receipts, I would give to them exclusively.

Want to stimulate Philly Bluejay? Give to Wikipedia! If you read Philly Bluejay regularly, you know that I believe that Wikipedia—not YouTube, not Facebook, not even Groupon, okay maybe Groupon—is the fairest child of “Web 2.0.” For my money, there is simply no better way of getting the quick skinny on just about anything. Did you know that Ed Schultz briefly played professional football and was a Republican until 2000? Or the chain of discoveries that led to Pluto being downgraded from planet to minor-planet/Kuiper belt object? Or what Edward Fortyhands is? I know that some dismiss Wikipedia as a monoculture that suppresses the original ethos of the web while others—Nassim Taleb, your post is coming soon—consider Wikipedia as part of the Internet “shallows” and people who read Wikipedia as faux intellectuals and “bildungphilistines.” Those camps can form two lines and kiss me. Other than homeless people, the only charity/cause/goodworks I have donated to this season is the Wikimedia Foundation. I guess I just couldn’t resist the personal plea from Jimmy Wales. I mean, who can say no to Jimmy Wales? Look at that punem!

The best gift—ever! The best gift I received this holiday season? “The Miracle in the New Meadowlands“—by far the best of the 200+ Eagles games I have watched. Made better by the fact that I watched it in a bar flanked by my brother—and sister in law—on the left and an obnoxious Giants fan on the right. Four touchdowns in the last 8:17 to come back from 21 down. The first-ever “walk-off” punt return. And the driver’s seat for the NFC East and maybe a first round bye. E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!

The larger gift was made possible by three smaller gifts. Gift #2 came with 7:28 remaining. Having just given up the first of the four touchdowns, the Giants fell for a “surprise” onside kick that didn’t surprise anyone at the Wing Hub on Cordell. Not only did the Giants have a conventional return team on the field rather than a hands team, but the front line was lined up 15 yards from the ball and retreated at the kick. When Riley Cooper caught the ball at the Eagles 42, there wasn’t a single Giant in the picture! Gift #3 came with 0:14 remaining. Having just gone three-and-out after giving up the game tying touchdown, the Giants had to punt from their own 30 to an Eagles team holding no timeouts. Punt out of bounds and give the eagles fourteen seconds to run two sideline plays to gain 30 yards for a field goal try. Or punt high away from DeSean Jackson and give the Eagles eight seconds to run a single play to gain the same distance. But don’t kick a line drive directly to Jackson. Or maybe do. To make things even better, Jackson muffed the punt—perhaps even intentionally—which caused the Giants to completely lose all lane and backup discipline. Here it is in case you missed it. Gift #1? Andy Reid putting the Eagles in position to stage the comeback by refusing to challenge two big plays—Nicks catch in the first and Jackson fumble in the fourth—that on replay clearly would have gone the Eagles way. Thanks SantaAndy.

Philadelphia 2—New York 0. Eagles 38—Giants 31 was the second comeback beatdown administered by Philadelphia team to a New York team last week. Here is the first.

Climate change 1—California 0. Here’s a lump of coal in your stocking. If you can even find your stocking.

Carbe Diem November 18, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, economy, football, taxes.
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Shortly after the midterm election, a chastened POTUS Lightning said that he was looking forward to working with Republicans on moving the economy and the country forward. He didn’t mention the Bush tax cuts. He didn’t mention healthcare. Or immigration. Or the deficit. He mentioned education. And he mentioned energy. Is Obama planning something major? I hope so, but probably not given that he’s an actual practicing politician and not “just a blogger.” Will Republicans go for whatever it he has in mind? Stranger things have happened. Okay, they haven’t. But here’s an idea—start phasing in a carbon tax. The time is ripe. Let me explain.

Ichi: A carbon tax will create jobs. Opponents of energy taxes claim they kill jobs. This is true for any tax! Taxes on consumers reduce disposable income and demand for goods and services. Taxes on businesses reduce the amount of money available for employee salary and benefits. Income taxes kill jobs! Sales taxes kill jobs! All taxes kill jobs! But some taxes can create jobs too. How? By fixing a price signal to a commodity or activity that creates a market for substitutes for that commodity or activity. A carbon tax will create a market for alternatives to and more efficient use of carbon-based energy. What do sales taxes create a market for? Alternatives to sales? What does income tax create a market for? Alternatives to income? Actually, sort of. It creates a market for ways to hide income. The US government doesn’t need to inject billions of taxpayer dollars into energy efficiency and clean energy research, a carbon tax will draw that money from the private sector much more efficiently. Taxes are necessary. With no taxes, there is no government and no social services—actually, there can be government without taxes but this requires massive amounts of oil and Sharia law. If we have to fund our government through taxes, shouldn’t we use taxes that create jobs in addition to killing them as opposed to taxes that only kill jobs?

Ni: A phased-in carbon tax will not kill any jobs, at least not immediately? A carbon tax will kill some jobs immediately, or—assuming that most precarious jobs are already gone and that most remaining jobs are robust—will restrict the creation of new jobs. But a phased-in carbon tax will not. An effective carbon tax needs to be something on the order of $200 per metric ton of CO2. That works out to about $1.83 a gallon. Yes, if a $1.83 per gallon gas tax goes into effect January 1, the economy will wretch. But if a $1.83 per gallon gas tax gets phased in over the next five years at six month increments, then on January 1, the tax would only be $0.18. It would go to $0.36 on June 1. And so on. The economy will adjust to a slow climb like that—in a way that a frog adjusts when you boil the pot of water it is swimming in—especially if it’s predictable. So if the carbon tax is initially too low to kill any jobs, how can it create jobs? Aha! The investment, and jobs, will be drawn to the certainty of the future tax not to the present tax!

San: There is a window of opportunity to restructure the tax code. With the Bush tax cuts—here is a piece by the Brookings Institution that summarizes the Bush tax cuts and their effects—set to expire when the apple drops on 2011, Republicans and Democrats are angling and wrangling over whether to let them expire, extend them, or create a hybrid solution split at an “upper-middle-class” earning level like $250,000 a year. It looks like Republicans are going to insist that upper class tax cuts are part of any deal—attention, middle class! the Republican party is holding your tax cut hostage just so that the 2% of American families making more than $250,000 a year can have a tax cut too! Remember this in November 2012—but they seem willing to put other parts of the tax code like deductions and exemptions on the table. Perfect. And perfect. Perfect I. Democrats can use a phased-in carbon tax in a tax hostage exchange! Republicans, you want the upper-class tax cuts? Accept a phased-in carbon tax! Perfect II. A carbon tax is regressive in the sense that it taxes consumption and lower-class households consume a larger fraction of their income than upper-class ones. However, Democrats can protect lower class households using exemptions and deductions—the parts of the tax code Republicans put back in play! How about an automatic $1,000 carbon deduction? Or an automatic $1,000 carbon refund?

Chi: Philly Bluejay will start incorporating bold run-in headers. Following the lead of proto-Bluejay TMQ and the 15 rules of good blogging, Philly Bluejay will begin introducing bold run-in headers to make posts more “skimmable” and to allow casual readers to absorb the major points without tiring their batting eyes by forcing them to digest a thousand plus words. Coming in 2012, a photo! Maybe.

Go: We will not make any dent in climate change without it. No amount of good will towards polar bears and residents of lowland regions in developing countries and Florida will get us off of carbon. When push comes to drive, people just don’t care about polar bears that much. Not to mention developing countries. You want people to get off of something? Tax it! Note, this applies only to things people are already doing. I’m not talking about California Prop 19, although I personally would have voted for it. By the way, if you still don’t believe that climate change is going to be off the chain, read ClimateProgress sometimes. And if you still don’t believe that climate change is real, why are you reading my blog?

Roku: We will not make a dent in the debt without it. In order to reduce the federal debt, the US government has to start running at a surplus rather than a deficit. The US government is currently running at a deficit of about $1.5 trillion. $1,500,000,000,000. Can you find $1,500,000,000,000 to cut here? It’s not easy unless you significantly cut both defense and social security. And don’t go after other discretionary spending. For one thing, it’s only about a third of the deficit. For another, it includes “discretionary” outlays like education and roads. Basically, there is no way to do it without raising taxes.

Shichi: goto ichi.

P.S. Want to know what voters really care about? Ask two weeks after an election! On November 2, Democrats lost 60 House seats, 6 Senate seats, and 10 state houses because voters were upset that government spending was exploding the deficit. Voters replaced many of these Democrats with Republicans who propose to grow the deficit further—but that’s a small detail. Less than two weeks later and with the mid-term behind them, only 4% of the same voters care about the deficit suggesting of course that they never did, that deficit hawking was convenient Republican misdirection. In a previous post, I asked whether any Republican candidate knew why a deficit was bad, and not just that it was bad. Predictably, the answer is a resounding ‘who cares?’ Hey Wisconsin/Pennsylvania/Indiana/Illinois/Arkansas/South Manitoba, can we have those seats back now?

P.P.S. How much is the decline in fertility rates in industrialized countries due to increased working opportunities for women and how much is due to increased laptop use by men?

P.P.P.S. Philly Bluejay gets about 20-30 hits a day. Some of these are from subscribed readers. Some are from aggregators that pick up on tags. But more than half are from searches. Specifically, from five particular searches. Evidently, Philly Bluejay is now an authority on the following topics, in frequency order: 1) Aron Ralston, 2) “the birthday problem,” 3) volcano lightning, 4) Salvador Dali butterfly pictures, and 5) Amir Roth.

P.P.P.P.S. The Mrs. and I were at FedEx field Monday night as the visiting Philadelphia Eagles administered a beat down for the ages to the Washington Redskins. The ink was not yet dry on Donovan McNabb’s head-scratching $78,000,000 contract—somewhat less head-scratching now that full details of the deal have come out—and Billy Ray Cyrus was not done singing the anthem before Michael Vick connected with DeSean Jackson on an 88 yard touchdown! And the route was on. By the middle of the second quarter, with the Eagles leading 42-14 and steady rain coming down, most of the Redskins “faithful”—including the douchebag who flipped Mrs. Bluejay off—had departed, leaving a scattered sea of green to watch the rest of the game in drenched peace. Must-see-TV Michael Vick—the NFL’s top rated passer and maybe its top runner too—blew through Washington’s “wet paper bag” defense to the tune of 413 total yards and six touchdowns. Was it only four weeks ago that I said that Kevin Kolb should stay the starter for the rest of the season? How “must see” is Vick? NBC has already flexed next weekend’s Eagles-Giants game to Sunday night—Vegas has Eagles -4. Really? Is that all? How did Eagles -3 work out for you boys this past Monday night?—and Fox has already moved the following week’s Eagles-Bears game to the 4pm “national game” slot. Next up—the NFL will launch a Michael-Vick only network.

Delusion Points November 14, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, climate, economy, family, football, politics, taxes.
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I like to read. I also have a healthy dose of morbid curiosity. But I will not be adding Decision by King George XLIII to the Philly Bluejay reading list. At least not as long as I have to pay for it. It’s not that I mind spending money on books. Au contraire, mon cheri. I dropped $200 at Kramer’s last month, and another $110 at Amazon a few weeks ago. It’s just that I don’t want any of my money going to Bush. Especially because it’s certainly all about the money for him. About “replenishing the old coffers.”

I’m not being cynical and presumptive. When invited to speak to the Chicago Union League, Bush didn’t thank mayor Daley for a chance to talk to the hardworking people of Chicago, he thanked him “for a chance to sell his book.” And in interviews with Matt Lauer, Oprah, and Greta van Susteren, he repeatedly answers pointed questions with “Read my book and draw your conclusions.” I guess one could interpret this answer as evasive, as Bush unable to defend the actions and inactions of his presidency on camera. But it isn’t. He isn’t at all interested in defending himself, in explaining himself, in polishing his image, in apologizing or rationalizing, or in brightening the dim view history will take of him. He’s too intellectually lazy for that degree of reflection and too morally void for that sort of aspiration. He could care less what history thinks of him. He just wants money so that he can spend the rest of his days kicking around on the farm. This is probably all he wanted even while he was president. To him, the presidency wasn’t some great opportunity or awesome responsibility, it was the quickest way to a rich, lazy retirement.

And he evidently took the same route with DP. Unable to give Crown Publishing an original manuscript, Bush lifted passages from journals and other memoirs that describe his presidency. And who didn’t see this coming? Did anyone believe that Bush could write a 700-page book? Or even have enough original thoughts to give a ghost-writer 700 pages of material? Of course not. Bush has probably never read 700 pages worth of books. This is the same man who claimed that his favorite book was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar“—a book that was written when he was 19 years old! Someone should check whether any quotes from TVHC appear in DP. “On Tuesday, the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked and I felt really bad. I had a tummy ache. On Wednesday, I ate a bright green leaf and I felt much better!”

The most telling thing about this episode? No one is shocked or outraged by this. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Bush. The man who cheated his way into the White House—does everyone realize how different would the world be today had Katherine Harris allowed the 2000 Florida recount to proceed? the mind boggles—who lied us into a war, who sanctioned torture, who spied on American citizens, who stopped stem cell research, and who made one thoughtless, dogmatic decision after another over the course of eight years the world may never recover from. Why would he start doing things the right way now? Why, when he repeatedly got away with doing them the wrong way during his presidency?

And so I will not purchase a copy of DP. At least not until it drops below the price of toilet paper. From the looks of it on Amazon, that should be the case before Thanksgiving.

P.S. Speaking of Bush, one of the most asinine moves by the increasingly Machiavellian GOP is the way in which they are holding the middle class tax cuts hostage for tax cuts for the top 2% of earners. Debt, shmedt! Middle class, kiss our @$$! People making half a million or more will get their tax cuts or no one is getting anything! Ladies and gentlemen, your new House majority!

P.P.S. This past Friday, I attended the ACEEE Conference on transportation efficiency in the 21st century. The most memorable speaker of the day? Joe Romm of climateprogress.org. Joe is a fiery and abrasive man. He prefaced his talk by saying that it was usually a waste of his time to speak to such small audiences and ended it by getting into a shouting match with David Greene about the future of fuel cell cars. He was assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under Clinton. Had he still held the post, he would have been my boss’ boss’ boss. It’s hard to imagine someone with his personality as assistant secretary. Then again, maybe he developed this personality during the eight years of the Bush climate “policy.”

P.P.P.S. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed questions and comments from Israeli readers on several NFL blogs, including TMQ and John Clayton’s 1st and 10. Evidently, football is gaining popularity in the land of milk and honey. Witness the Kraft Family Israeli Football League. I wonder how an IFL all star team would fare against the worst NFL team? Or against University of Wisconsin? Or Trinity High School?

P.P.P.P.S. Speaking of the NFL. Eagles-Redskins. MNF. The Mrs. and I will be in Section 450. This would never happen if the game was in Philly.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Happy belated birthday, sista!

The Hangover November 6, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in economy, football, politics, taxes.
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Oh, my head! Did anyone get the number on that Hummer?

This past Tuesday night, Philly Bluejay’s home district PA-7 turned from Blue to Red from top to bottom. Outgoing—both personally and politically—Democratic governor and Eagles booster Ed Rendell was replaced by Republican and likely Steeler fan Tom Corbett. In the Senate, Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter’s seat was won by Republican Pat Toomey. Toomey defeated PA-7 Rep. and Philly Bluejay favorite Admiral Joe Sestak. Democrat Bryan Lentz couldn’t keep Sestak’s seat warm for him, getting thrashed by Republican Pat Meehan. And so we went from Rendell, Specter, and Sestak to Corbett, Toomey, and Meehan. Philly Bluejay’s house in PA-7 has a blue front door. It is possible that on January 20, Philly Bluejay may be required by law to paint the door red. And perhaps also to change his name to Philly Redjay or Philly Cardinal. This would never have happened if actual bluejays still wintered in PA-7.

By the way, some of you may have noticed that some posts are written in ultra-annoying third-person self-reference while others are written in only slightly less annoying first-person and wondering why that is? Does Philly Bluejay have dissociative disorder or megalomania? Yes. No. Who are you talking to, me or Philly Bluejay? Seriously though. In the past, there may not have been a method to the voice madness, but in the future all political-themed posts will be written in third person whereas all other posts will be written in first person. You see, when it comes to important matters like politics, it helps to think of oneself as the blog rather than as the person so that opinions can be shared without regard to personal consequence. It’s not me! It’s the blog! I’m not a flaming liberal, I just write a flaming liberal blog! Philly Bluejay is glad we got that sorted out. And so am I.

In other Philly news. Former Philadelphia Eagles right tackle, interview favorite, and McDonald’s coffee spokesman Big Jon Runyan is now in Da House representing Philly suburb NJ-3. For the wrong party. Although looking at Jon’s stance on the issues, I see potential for an Arlen Specter-like party-switch in the future. No potential party switch in KY-4, where former Phillie pitcher Jim Bunning’s seat will be occupied for the next six years by Dr. Rand Paul. For his first act, Dr. Paul will very politely ask the Senate to deliberate on this—we have six years of Rand Paul!

Insult and injury extend beyond the immediate environs of the Mason-Dixon line. Speaking of which, it was only a few years ago that Philly Bluejay learned that Mason-Dixon is the line that separates Maryland from Pennsylvania and Delaware. For the preceeding twenty-some odd years, Philly Bluejay was convinced that it was the line that separated Maryland from Virginia, i.e., the Union from the Confederacy. For the ten-odd years prior to that, Philly Bluejay was completely unware that the Mason-Dixon line existed. The fact that Philly Bluejay is now residing south of Mason-Dixon is somewhat disturbing. Although not as disturbing as the fact that in our new world, Russ Feingold is not a Congressman but Ben Quayle is. Who is defense secretery in this universe, Walter Bishop? Quayle claims that “Obama is the worst president in history.” Ben must not the old saying that people whose father was the most laughable veep in history shouldn’t throw stones.

On the bright side, Democrats retained control of the Senate thanks to clutch wins by Democrats in Colorado, Washington, and Nevada. For his second act, Dr. Paul will go to the Senate and respectfully ask them to deliberate on this—we have six more years of Harry Reid and Patty Murray! That fact is obviously lost on minority leader Mitch McConnell. By the way, whereas some people believe McConnell was separated at birth from Steve Forbes, Philly Bluejay believes he was separated from Jean Stapleton. On Wednesday, McConnell WikiLeaked the Republican agenda for the next two years—make sure Obama doesn’t gain a second term. That’s pretty much it. Not jobs. Not the economy. Not immigration. Not the environment. Just make sure that Obama is a one term president. Actually,that’s not fair. There was one actual plank in McConnell’s agenda. Oh yes, make the Bush tax cuts permanent for the top 2% of Americans. I knew there was something. Perhaps sensing the unseemliness of his position, on Thursday McConnell hedged by saying that he needs a Republican in the White House so that he could roll back all of Obama’s policies. Someone, please tell McConnell that in order to do that he first needs a Republican majority in the Senate! McConnell has been so smug he makes John “Pledge to America” Boehner look like a Democrat by comparison! To his credit, Boehner—who actually is majority leader—has been humble and conciliatory and pledged to work with Obama to move the country forward. Is Charlie Francis still alive? John Boehner! We may have to officially change the spelling of his name to Bayner!

The most ridiculous outcome of delusion 2010? MSNBC suspending Keith Olbermann indefinitely because he contributed $2,400 to Jack Conway, Dr. Paul’s opponent. MSNBC, why do this? Because it undermines the network’s image for balanced and impartial journalism? Let me tell you, you don’t have that image! Do you think FOX would suspend Bill O’Reilly for donating to Dr. Paul? FOX would probably suspend him for not donating to Dr. Paul.

If there is a something to hold onto in this mess—aside from the fact that Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and Propositions California 23and Colorado 300 were defeated—it’s that we still have POTUS Lighting. You want to see a mensch? Watch Lightning’s post-election news conference. I have a feeling he’s going to come through this stronger than ever. Dr. Paul, please go to the Senate and politely ask them to deliberate on that!

P.S. With Rahm Emanuel leaving for Chicago and a Republican “shellacking” in the midterms, many are looking for Obama to shuffle his staff. Philly Bluejay has a suggestion—Admiral Joe Sestak! Admiral Joe—a rising star in the Democratic party—will be sitting on the sideline for the next two years. POTUS Lightning, I know the Admiral scoffed at your request that he not run against Arlen Specter in the primary. But you want him on that wall! You need him on that wall!

P.P.S. Speaking of the Fringe alternate universe, Eagles giving a field goal to the Colts? I know the Eagles are at home and coming off a bye while the Colts are coming off a short week, but … come on! Is Vegas trying to make Peyton mad? Perhaps the line should be Eagles +17. Then again, what if Peyton’s MO is to just try to cover? Maybe the line should be Eagles -10.

P.P.P.S. Several weeks ago, the knuckles on my right hand had a run-in with the escalator at L’Enfant Plaza. Well, the escalator has struck again.

P.P.P.P.S. Philly Bluejay is considering starting a “Bethesdan of the month” feature, featuring prominent people who live in Bethesda, and may or may not shop at the Whole Foods on River and Dorsey. We’ve already covered Tom Friedman and Gregg Easterbrook. BOTM for November 2010 is Washington Post columnist and NPR political commentator E.J. Dionne.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Belated happy birthdays to Mrs. Bluejay, Safta Bluejay, cousin George, and William. And belated happy Guy Fawkes Night everyone.

Hot, Flat, Crowded, and Taxed October 12, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, clean energy, climate, energy efficiency, sustainability, taxes, weird.
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One of my favorite parts of my temporary new job is the commute. It’s between 30 and 40 minutes each way, but all on public transportation. This not only gives me the moral authority to browbeat people about their energy consumption—I’m not part of the problem! I use public transportation! My carbon footprint is only 12 times that of an average Indian, not 14 times!—it also gives me time to read in relative peace and while I am more or less awake. In fact, I am somewhat surprised by the relatively small number of people that read on the Metro. On any given day, I would say that fewer than 20% of the people on the Metro are reading, and most of those are reading that free magazine you can get as you come into the station. What are the other 80% doing? 20% are texting. 20% are listening to iPods. 20% are staring blankly into space. 19% staring blankly into space, listening to their iPods, texting in one hand, and holding the Metro newspaper in the other. 1% are trying to extricate themselves from the Metro doors.

The first book I read entirely on the Metro was Tom Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded.” I won’t rehash Friedman’s thesis—the best thing America can do for itself and the world is to go seriously Green—Friedman does that just fine. I did want to say three things about the book though. First, I love that the cover is sampled from “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch. Look no further than GoED for proof that they had very good psychotropes even in the 15th century! With publishing margins as slim as they are these days—although perhaps not for bankable stars like Friedman—why pay for cover art? Sample a renaissance painting for free!

Second, one of the things that struck me about “World Is Flat”—HF&C’s predecessor—was Friedman’s own itinerary. Bangalore. Shanghai. Doha. Copenhagen. Sao Paolo. Back to Bangalore. The most frequent refrain in WiF is “I just kept on moving.” Readers of Philly Bluejay know how I feel about business air travel. Friedman may fly more than any person on the planet! This was bad in an absolute sense but not hypocritical in the context of the book—WiF is about globalization. But HF&C is about climate and the Energy Era and yet the itinerary is similar. London. Mumbai. Dalian. Multiple visits to every continent except for Antarctica. I hope Mr. Friedman purchased carbon offsets for all of those air miles! Now, if you will excuse me, I have to fly to San Francisco. For business. Tom, I kid because I love. And because I am a hypocrite.

Third and finally, I want to elaborate on Friedman’s point about the necessity of a carbon tax. One of Friedman’s sub-points is that a clean energy revolution will never truly take off without a clear, loud, consistent and projectable price signal on carbon. The market will not move away from carbon—at least not efficiently and at scale—unless they know what staying with carbon will cost and unless that price is sufficiently high. Short of privatizing the atmosphere, the fastest way to create this signal is by government regulation. And here he advocates a carbon tax over cap-and-trade. Friedman views cap-and-trade as a kind of “hidden ball” trick—a way for the government to limit emissions in a way that does not result in direct costs for consumers or a direct trail of money back to itself. In a perfect world, the government hands out emissions credits, electric utilities buy and sell them amongst themselves and customers don’t see increased rates, and when they do, they don’t see that money going to the government. Friedman claims that this kind of shenanigan hides the true urgency of the problem from people—people are not going to change their habits unless they see how their actions translate directly into costs. I agree. Wholeheartedly. But I think that a better and more accurate way to state this problem is that a cap-and-trade system isn’t an effective price signaling mechanism because it doesn’t behave like a traditional price!

A price is a constant. The price of the first unit of is the price of the millionth unit. With a price, cost is always proportional to consumption and you can safely map out the future. Not so with cap-and-trade. With cap-and-trade, the price of a unit purchased under the cap is far less—perhaps infinitely less—than that of a unit purchased over the cap. And whether a unit is over or under depends on overall demand, not on your demand. Which system do you reckon would be more conducive to economic growth? “Neither” is not an option!

Meanwhile, the real commodity here is not electricity—or even coal—it’s CO2. It’s easy enough to create a cap-and-trade system for coal or electricity. A CO2-emissions-from-coal exchange would consist of a relatively small number of individually large participants. A cap-and-trade makes some sense in this case. But oil companies do not operate like utilities and so the CO2-emissions-from-gasoline effectively consists of millions of small participants. Cap-and-trade is logistically much more difficult here! And remember, if cap-and-trade were a true pricing mechanism than it would be possible to trade gasoline emissions for electricity emissions. Anything short of a holistic economy-wide cap-and-trade will effectively create a market distortion, effectively subsidizing uncapped sources of emissions at the expense of capped ones. Market distortion—specifically, implicit subsidies for carbon emissions—is how we got ourselves in this mess to begin with!

Perhaps Tom and I can discuss these points en route to Sacramento. Or maybe at the checkout counter at the Whole Foods on River Road. Tom, Text me!

P.S. The cover art of HF&C contains several images from the Paradise and Earth panels of GoED, but none—as far as I can tell—from the Hell panel. Was this intentional? A better cover would have had a sample from “Paradise” on top and “Hell” on the bottom. No?

P.P.S. Another suitable cover for HF&C—although not renaissance and likely not royalty free either—would have been a pair of paintings by neo-Bosch Salvador Dali. Butterfly windmills on top and that-painting-with-a-giraffe-on-fire-which-I-swear-is-by-Dali-but-I-can’t-find-a-link-for-so-now-I-don’t-know on the bottom.

P.P.P.S. Wonder if the Taliban puts this on their recruiting posters.

P.P.P.P.S. If you drop something on an escalator, never shoot your hand down to try to catch it while it’s falling. I’m just saying.

Hardy Har Har September 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, climate, economy, football, politics, society, taxes, transportation, war.
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The GOP is always good for a laugh. Regardless of how it’s pronounced, the party’s House leader spells his name Boehner. They gave us tea-bagging. And Sarah P. And wiccan-cum-Palin Christine O’Donnell. And now, just in time for the midterms, they’ve given us the Pledge To America. Yes America, congressional Republicans have an actual agenda other than filibustering Democratic legislation!

What is this agenda? Why are you asking me? Download and read it yourself! Don’t let the 10 MByte file size or 48 pages put you off. Text doesn’t take up much file space—one or two bytes per character—a 10 MByte document has to contain a large number of pictures. And in fact, PTA has 15 full pages of pictures! Of the Statue of Liberty, the Deepwater Horizon Rig, Mount Rushmore, Montcoal, the White House, Gitmo, the Capitol, K Street, House Minority Leader Boehner, Christine O’Donnell, main street USA, prison USA, a cowboy silhouetted against a sunset, Tony Romo, three old dudes at a supermarket beef counter, a CAFO, soldiers, caskets. Pictures that make you proud sick to be an American! There are also nine pages of content tables and titles like “Checks and Balances” and “Speak Out!” Plus two pages of figures for the sake of figures, including a nice one of Obama-spaghetti-care. That leaves you with only 22 pages of text. Still too much? Not to worry, the text itself is in large font, 1.5 spaced, and has huge margins. I banged it out on my iPhone between Tenleytown and Metro Center. And if this is still too long, there is the handy pocket card. Perfect for parties, or just around the water cooler! Alright, enough boilerplate and lace. Let’s briefly go over the “contents” of this bad boy, shall we?

Theme I: “shrink the government, reduce spending, and cut the Federal debt.” End TARP! Privatize the mortgage industry! Cancel the stimulus bill and reclaim all unspent Recovery Act funds! Return government spending to pre-bailout/pre-stimulus levels! Excuse me, but not even Sergey Brin is this rich! TARP was expensive, yes, but TARP also prevented a complete Wall Street meltdown and saved several US financial giants. The Fannie and Freddie bailouts were also expensive, but they did keep millions of American home “owners” temporarily afloat and the housing market from spiraling even more than it did. And yes, the unemployment was 7.7 before ARRA and 9.5 now, but what would it be now without the recovery act? And where would Philly Bluejay swim? Philly Bluejay currently swims at the sparkling Wilson Aquatic Center, proudly built using ARRA funds! But back to my point. All of these programs were and are expensive. And government spending was lower before they were enacted. But all of these programs were necessitated by Republican-led de-regulation of the financial and mortgage industries! And do you know which government programs were and are even more expensive? That’s right, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Strangely, no mention of canceling those in PTA. In fact, the only mention of Iraq and Afghanistan in PTA is in an item related to Iran. Which brings us to …

Theme II: “make America secure at home and abroad.” Protect our borders! A stronger visa program! Don’t let anyone out of Gitmo! Clean troop funding bills! Tough sanctions against Iran! A fully-funded missile shield! Let’s put the borders/visa/hate-of-Mexico/love-of-waterboarding issue aside for a minute and focus on the last three points. “Clean troop funding bills” essentially means a blank check from Congress to the Pentagon. Yes, that will definitely help to decrease spending! Tough sanctions against Iran because … well … Iran hates us and they will have nuclear capability by 2015. Actually kids, Iran will go nuclear before Passover and “tough sanctions” have as much of a chance of getting Ahmadinejad to back down as a personal plea from Philly Bluejay. Please Mahmoud, please dismantle your nuclear program. I promise not to make fun of your height or use your name and Kim Jong Il’s in the same sentence any more! That work? No? Bummer. And so what will definitely work against mini-me—oops, I did it again—Korean mini-me, and any other vertically-challenged-head-of-nuclear-state-gone-wild is a missile shield! The same missile shield will also stop hijacked planes, bombs in the New York subway system, IEDs, cyberterrorism, and attacks on our energy and water infrastructure. And it won’t blow the budget. Much. And also, to defeat attacks from the sea, the US coast will be patrolled by ill-tempered seabass with frikking lasers! A missile shield? Seriously? Do you know what would be far more effective against Herve Villechaise and Nelson de la Rosa—shame on me, I’ve just made fun of three dead dwarves in the span of 100 words—and far cheaper than a missile shield? About 50 F-16 Falcons and 10 B-2 bombers! A missile shield? A missile shield? Why not just run on “We will build a Death Star?”

Theme III: “no more Federal funding for abortion.” Ah, the abortion card! Apparently, they are saving the stem cell card for later.

Theme IV: “increase access to domestic energy sources.” Does this mean offshore wind farms in the North Atlantic and solar in Arizona or lifting the offshore drilling ban and opening up Alaska? I’m confused. Actually, I’m not. Of all the ludicrous statements in PTA, this might be the worst. I guess the fact that DC was buried under three feet of snow this past winter proves that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by Liberal scientists and that an ice age is coming! Drill baby drill!

Theme V: Two items Philly Bluejay supports: “make the Bush tax cuts permanent … for all Americans” and “oppose any carbon ‘cap-and-trade’ system.” These are solid proposals. Payroll taxes should be reduced. Even tiered income tax systems discourage people from working while doing nothing to curb massive consumption at the top. Meanwhile, cap-and-trade is complicated, provides the government with uncertain income, and doesn’t cover a sufficient number of sectors. The US needs to gradually reduce payroll taxes and combine those with a gradually increasing economy-wide carbon tax—payroll taxes should decrease by 1% per year for the next 10 years and CO2 emissions should be taxed by an additional $10 per ton per year over the same period, maxing out at $100 a ton. Think that’s high? It’s actually pretty pathetic—only about $34 per barrel of oil or $0.80 a gallon. Either way, Philly Bluejay salutes you, GOP! These two planks alone are enough to make Philly Bluejay forget about the rest of your nonsense, move to Delaware, and vote for Christine O’Donnell!

P.S. Philly Bluejay’s temporary new employer, US DOE/EERE—United States Department of Energy/Energy Efficiency and Renewables Division for the TLA/TLA/FLA impaired—has some cool programs like CYES (California Youth Energy Services). Philly Bluejay is not personally involved with these programs. Philly Bluejay is only involved with double-secret (i.e., obscure) programs.

P.P.S. Philly Bluejay’s namesakes—the Philadelphia Phillies—just wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title as for all practical purposes the number one seed in the conference. Good job, men! Red October 2010! Woot!

P.P.P.S. More “baseball news.” A California jury found Andrew Gallo—the drunk driver who last summer killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two 20-something female friends—guilty of three counts of second-degree murder. Gallo could spend the next 50 years in prison. Gallo is no doubt a LEED Platium moron, but his biggest shortcoming is not being a NFL player! Less than a month before Gallo’s unfortunate accident, then Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth killed pedestrian Mario Reyes in a drunk driving accident in Miami Beach. Stallworth was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, spent 30 days in jail, another two years in house arrest, and came to an “undisclosed” financial settlement with the Reyes family. He was subsequently signed by the Baltimore Ravens! Oh, the hypocrisy! Philly Bluejay wonders what the sentence would have been had Stallworth killed Adenhart.

P.P.P.P.S. In other Philadelphia sporting/avian news—week 2 of the Michael Vick era and the Eagles sit atop the NFC East! This weekend, prodigal son and recent cast-off Donovan McNabb—just “recent cast-off” is not specific enough—returns to Philly. Oh, the drama! Opening line from Vegas? Eagles -7! Whowouldathunkit?

P.P.P.P.P.S. Still more football news. Philly Bluejay major icon and fellow Bethesda resident Gregg Easterbrook had absolutely nothing to say about the Andy Reid/Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick/Donovan McNabb love-hate quadrilateral in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Although TMQ did have a funny piece about acronyms disowning their full-word namesakes. Perhaps Philly Bluejay will shoot Easterbrook a text and ask! Perhaps Philly Bluejay will also shoot Easterbrook a text to ask about licensing the name “Tuesday Morning Third-String Emergency Quarterback” or perhaps “Wednesday Afternoon Practice Squad Safety.” Although perhaps TMQ stands for nothing, in which case no text is necessary. Starting this weekend, Philly Bluejay will be known as WAPSS.

No Trade Left Behind July 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in education, politics, society, taxes.
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I was going to title this post “No Race Left Behind” as a play on “Race To The Top”® and “No Child Left Behind”®. Then it occurred to me that such a title may sound racist. Especially because the subject of the post is education and any discussion about education is bound to tread on racially sensitive ground. And so I thought better of it—yes, I know, what’s happening to me?—and settled for a subtle homage to the MLB trade deadline, which the Bluejay Phillies “aced” yet again. Ha!

Did you happen to catch POTUS BO’s at the National Urban League—henceforth, the “NUL”? If you haven’t figured this out yet, I overly fond of TLAs, FLAs, FLAs, and the occasional SLA. Just think of how long one of these posts would be without them. It would be like a cricket match. Anywhos, I caught BO’s NUL speech obliquely, listening to it while working. I filtered out most of the stuff about Shirley Sherrod and the de-ridicu-criminalization of crack cocaine relative to powder, and foregrounded POTUS during the RT3® part—RT3 is a registered trademark of Philly Bluejay along with Dumb-and-Plumber 2012®. If you are not familiar with RT3, here is a nice piece in the Atlantic that covers the basics in context. The premise is simple, compelling, and strangely revolutionary to the US and to the traditionally pro-union democratic party in particular—marry public education with free-market economics! Free information! Quantitative measurement! Performance-based pay! Frictionless labor markets! Competition! Unregulated derivatives! Collateralized debt obligations! Taxpayer funded bailouts! What a concept! RT3 would abolish the systems of teacher tenure and seniority based pay and replace them with a more conventional labor arrangement, potentially retaining some of the pieces of the current collective bargaining structure. And surely competition—on both the supply side and the demand side—will do the teaching profession some good. Teachers will compete with each other for better pay on performance metrics. Schools will compete with each other for better teachers on pay metrics—if you think schools are not competing, check out greatschools.org. Teacher performance will improve. Teacher pay will improve. Public education will improve. Everybody wins. Except for entrenched interests like poor teachers with tenure.

RT3 is certainly admirable. Whether POTUS BO, SOE Duncan, and the rest of the Sunday morning pickup basketball crew pulls it off remains to be seen. But here’s another aspect of the education puzzle that didn’t get any lip time during the NUL speech and is rarely mentioned in the press. RT3’s stated goal is “preparing every student for college”—a mission statement which has the twin positive attributes of being unassailably good and unassailably vague. But does it make sense? Not really. Yes, a college education increases lifetime earnings by nearly one million dollars. A Master’s degree by one million more. Seriously, they do. But this is the paradox of thrift all over again. A college degree increases earnings by one million dollars for one individual operating in a perfectly elastic job market. That person can trade in a low paying job for a higher paying one. But the economy as a whole has a pyramid of jobs and someone has to work the lower paying ones. Preparing the people who will ultimately work at lower paying jobs for college—not to mention actually sending them to college—is a waste of resources on the part of society and a waste of time and money on the part of the individual. Not to demean any particular honest profession, but would you go to—and pay for—college knowing that you would ultimately become a bus driver? Or a pizza tosser? Or a computer programmer? I’m not being facetious about this last one. Programming does not require a college education, witness the hordes of kids who learn to do it on their own in high school. If not earlier. Yes, programming well is difficult. Doing anything well is difficult. But becoming a passable programmer capable of carrying out 90% of tasks is not.

I’m all for neoteny, lifelong learning, and good citizenship and I would never tell any individual person not to go to college or to pursue a high-paying career. But public education needs to cater not only to future lawyers and dentists and MBAs. It needs to do a better and more efficient job for would-be bus drivers, and pizza tossers, and computer programmers. Is prepping these students to do well on the SATs/ACTs/TLAs the right thing? For these students, shouldn’t primary education be reoriented along the lines of a terminal (professional) degree? Shouldn’t primary education be—WARNING: politically insensitive suggestion alert—more vocation and less renaissance? In the US, assaulting teachers unions is past its political half life, but vocational education is still radioactive. Why? Because of the million dollar fallacy of composition. And because it smells racist. Or classist. Or X-ist. But in fact, it’s no more racist or classist or X-ist than funding public education using local property taxes. For many people, a free career-oriented terminal education would be a gift. Rather than graduating high school being prepared to do nothing in particular—and spending their lives doing nothing in particular—vocational students would graduate prepared for a job that paid a living wage. I am not advocating tracking based on IQ or aptitude tests—that’s the European model—or some other variant of Plato’s Republic. I am thinking of something much more voluntary. Not interested in general purpose stem cell high school? A vocational alternative would be available to you. Why should any voluntary system be political anathema?

Think of RT3 amended with a vocational “public option” for lack of a better term. There is still teacher competition. And school competition. But now “stem-cell” teaching is more attractive because class sizes are smaller and classes have fewer students not interested in stem-cell learning. And the pool of good stem-cell teachers is not only larger—because again such teaching is more attractive—it is also spread less thin. And vocational teaching is now a high volume career option. And there will be fewer people whose terminal degree doesn’t qualify them to do anything in particular.

POTUS BO. You, SOE Duncan, and the rest of the crew should discuss this as you are running up and down the court on Saturday mornings. And maybe you can talk about it at next year’s NUL address. You know, after the midterms. It’s a message that would sound better coming from you than from almost anyone else.

P.S. My latest Wikipedia entry? Michigan governator Jennifer Granholm. She’s packed quite a lot into 50 years. Did you know she’s a failed actress, a beauty queen—take that Sarah P—and a Canadian? That last fact is especially deplorable as Jen would have looked good on the 2016 Democratic ticket. That’s okay, Rachel Maddow will do nicely.

P.P.S. Speaking of Rachel. Watch her interview with Richard Holbrooke. Also speaking of Rachel? Come back soon! Because the guy who is sitting in for you is absolutely killing the show. Same goes to you, Mike Missanelli—John “Missanelli 1.7” Marks is not doing it for me. Olbermann? You can hang out wherever you are for a little while longer.

P.P.P.S. I have a new favorite television show. No, not Kate + boobjob + eight. How It’s Made on Sc. Who knew that it takes 428 machines to make a socket wrench? Or that soy sauce has to be fermented for four months? Or how peanuts are shelled by machine? Or how glass bottles with matching caps are made? I could watch this show for 48 hours straight! It’s really amazing not only how many different things there are, but what it takes to mass produce them. It seems like more goes into inventing and perfecting the process for mass-producing something than it takes to invent the thing.

P.P.P.P.S. As if you need one more reason to stop eating frozen mice. Notice, the piece was written by someone named Anemona, not to be confused with Anemone.

Pull The Plug On … June 16, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, climate, economy, environment, football, politics, sustainability.
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Did you catch POTUS BO’s Oval Office speech last night? I missed it live, but just saw it on YouTube. I didn’t realize that this was the first Oval Office speech POTUS BO has given—an analysis in the NY Times pointed this out. Strange given how long he’s already been in office and the potentially national course altering agenda items he’s already pushed through or is pushing right now—the Wall Street bailout, the economic stimulus, the troop surge in Afghanistan, the health insurance reform bill. Just shows what a political hot button this disaster has become.

I’m a fan of POTUS BO—he’s center-left on Mount Crushmore—and enjoy his speeches. This one was fine. I would have written a similar speech myself. I wouldn’t have delievered it with that gravitas and that charisma but the contents would have been the same. Mostly. Yes, “we will make BP pay for the damage they have caused.” And yes, we must “seize the moment” and “end our century-long addiction to fossil fuels.” But, do we really “need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of the region?” and do we really have to “make a commitment to the Gulf Coast?” I don’t mean to sound callous, but I hope not.

“The sadness and the anger the [people of the Gulf] feel is not just about the money they’ve lost. It’s about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.” Technically speaking this is not an anxiety. Anxiety is apprehension about an imagined or intangible threat. This is fear of a known future. 30 years hence, Prince William Sound has not recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill. When it’s all said and done, BP will make EV look like a ketchup stain. Current estimates are that the well is spilling 65,000 barrels a day. That’s just a touch higher than the 15,000 barrels a day that was the official estimate just two weeks ago! We’ve deployed 5,500,000 feet of boom to contain the oil. But the first major storm will spread the oil all over the place, boom or no boom. Shoreline cleanup will be nearly impossible. Cleanup workers essentially “power-washed” the rocky coastline of PWS. The Gulf coast is marshy—power-washing will do more harm than good. And the number of people who make their living off Gulf waters? It’s many times over the number of people that made their living in the sound.

I hate to use this particular figure of speech in this particular case, but it’s time to “pull the plug” on the Gulf coast. The region has been taking a beating for years. Even before the BP spill, the oil and gas industry had robbed it of its “beauty”, “bounty”, and ecological value. As things stand now climate-wise, category 5—or will that be 7—storms will come with enough frequency that even communities that are not perpetually underwater will not be able to recover from one storm before the next one hits. Sustaining a sizeable human population on the Gulf coast—something that will require massive investment, endless cycles of rebuilding, and may not even work—is simply not sound strategy from a resource standpoint. Compensation followed by relocation—they can take the Saints with them wherever they go—and withdrawal is better. Some have suggested that the BP spill is “Obama’s Katrina” or “Obama’s 9/11”. But maybe this crisis will and should become known by another moniker of a famous man-made disaster—maybe this is “Obama’s Chernobyl.” After all, Chernobyl not only turned the world away from nuclear power, it also turned the Soviet Union away from Chernobyl! If I were any more morbid and any less cheap, I would buy the domain name http://www.gulfcoastexclusionzone.gov. Alec Baldwin wants to let BP die. Perhaps we should consider letting the Gulf coast die—at least as the center of human activity we like to pretend it can still be. AIG was too big to fail. But the Gulf coast is smaller than AIG. Maybe it’s time to pull an Aron Ralston on the Gulf coast region—to amputate the already-dead flesh before the rest of us die from blood poisoning and dehydration.

P.S. Pulling the plug on the Gulf coast would have another side benefit—it would pull the plug on nutty first-generation-American Republican politicians. First, “Bobby” Jindal. Now, “Joseph” Cao. What is in the water in Baton Rouge? In case you hadn’t heard, Mr. Cao told BP America chief Lamar McKay to “commit hara-kiri” because “in ‘his’ culture, that’s how anyone who had so dishonored himself would ‘roll.'” By the way, if you have single-quotes inside double-quotes to end a sentence or a clause, does the period appear before both single-and double quotes or between them? Hmmm. Back to Mr. Cao. Evidently, this remark rendered many of his fellow Congressfolk speechless. I suppose that one third was stunned any politician should make such a comment in the first place. On the spectrum of George “makaka” Allen to Randy “baby killer” Neugebauer, to Helen “get the hell out of Palestine and go back to Germany” Thomas, it’s definitely between Neugebauer and Thomas. Another third was aghast that Mr. Cao—being a US Congressman and everything—would play the “Asian Culture” card. Does Mr. Cao suffer from Cultural Identity Disorder (CID)? The remaining third was probably dismayed that Mr. Cao —who is Vietnamese—would claim that Vietnam rolls by Samurai code. Perhaps, Mr. Cao suffers from not one but two cases of CID—dissociative CID (DCID) as it were. Mr. Cao, if I were you, I would put a golf-ball in my mouth and wait patiently for my congressional reprimand.

P.P.S. And for Mr. Boehner—who predictably reacted to POTUS BO’s call to non-inaction with “President Obama should not exploit this crisis to impose a job-killing national energy tax on struggling families and small businesses”—I have only this to say. In Bluejay culture, we would just hand you a knife and ask you to commit hara-kiri.

P.P.P.S. Here’s my two nickels for new offshore drilling regulations—and yes, offshore drilling will continue despite the bad karma now attached to it. My proposal is simple. No deep water well can operate without a ready-to-go relief well. Any existing deep water well without a relief well must suspend extraction until a relief well is drilled. How ’bout them golf-balls?

P.P.P.P.S. How in the name of “Joseph” Cao did North Korea make it into the World Cup tournament? North Koreans have nothing to eat! I suppose “Dear Leader” KJI divides his country’s limited resources exclusively among: i) the nuclear program, ii) the national soccer team, iii) his Courvoisier stash.

The Five Stages of Climate Change Grief June 3, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in Africa, books, China, clean energy, climate, economy, energy efficiency, environment, society, sustainability, transportation, water efficiency.
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I just finished Bill McKibben’s Eaarth. It’s an account of what we’ve already managed to do to the planet (just frightening when you stop and take stock), what changes we are already locked into (nauseating), and how we can cope with this new planet (alternatingly depressing and ispirational). It’s called “Eaarth” because it describes a planet substantially different than Earth. Personally, I would have named the book “Eartch”. First, it’s Earth + c. Get it? If not, never mind. Second, Eartch sounds like vomit whereas Eaarth just sounds—or at least looks—Dutch. Then again, if anyone knows something about living with climate change and dealing with a rising sea, it’s the Dutch. I still prefer Eartch, though. If there is one talent I have it’s naming things. Whether it’s giving people nicknames. Putting a name on a project. You name it. Actually, I name it. Bill, you should have consulted me!

A few things about McKibben. First, he looks remarkably like someone I used to know—Boyd Multerer, who’s now the GM of Xbox Live. Second, he—is—almost—as—fond—of—m-dashes—as—I—am. —. Third, he uses colloquial phraseology like “Whatever, dude!” and “get real.” Fourth, he pokes fun of Tom Friedman in a loving kind of way. Which is great. Famous people need to rib each other more in print in this way. Just so they don’t start taking themselves too seriously. One of my fears is that I will not be famous enough for someone to rib me in print. That’s actually my third biggest fear—right behind climate change and alligators. The really great thing about McKibben poking fun at Friedman is that he is a lot like Friedman. Except that he is primarily an environmentalist rather than foreign affairs journalist. And he lives in a small town in Vermont rather than in an 11,000 sq. ft. house in Washington, DC. And he doesn’t have an awesome moustache. Now that the NFL draft is over, McKibben may take a spot on Mt. Crushmore, alongside Gregg Easterbrook, my mother, and POTUS BO. Tom Friedman can be Crazy Horse.

Onto Eartch. Do yourself and the rest of us a favor and read it. There is no excuse not to. It’s not very long, you’ll finish it in a few days. If you don’t have a copy and don’t want to buy one—good for you for repressing your consumerist instincts—I will lend you mine. If you don’t know how to read, have someone who does read it to you. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t like what this book has to say. But it will change the way you think. And maybe the way you live too.

So what is it that makes this book different than other climate change books? Basically, it has a different—and sadly much more realistic and grounded—arc. It doesn’t paint some speculative dystopian future, and then turn around and say “if we all stop driving right now, we can stop short of the cliff.” The basic message is that there is literally no way to avoid going off the cliff at this point. Society as a whole—and Western society specifically—is going to end up in a lower place than it was. What we do from here on and how quickly we do it will determine how low we go and how gentle the decline. It’s a bitter message, but it’s strangely reassuring. It feels like the fifth stage of grief.

Let’s start with denial. Americans tend to discount climate change because few of the extreme weather events that are its supposed signatures have happened in the U.S. And if it doesn’t happen in the U.S., it doesn’t actually happen. But stuff like this does happen. On a fairly regular basis these days. Eartch doesn’t prognosticate or speculate. It mostly talks about things that have already happened or are currently happening. There is no need to extrapolate or at least not to extrapolate very far. What’s currently happening is bad enough. And the worst thing about it is its unpredictability. Society is largely built on predictability. No predictability, no society as we currently know it.

If there is something to be angry about right now it’s that we’ve wasted the last 30 years. 31 years ago, POTUS Jimmy Carter delivered his famous “Crisis of Confidence” speech, in which he laid out his vision for America’s—and the world’s—energy and environment future. No more dependence on foreign oil. Alternative fuels. Conservation. Personal responsibility. Coal. The speech was delivered from the Oval Office, a few dozen feet underneath the White House solar panels. We should’ve listened then. We didn’t want to hear any of it. 18 months later it was “Morning in America.” The solar panels came down. Everything was de-regulated and we started off on a 30 year oil-fueled growth bubble that only exploded 18 months ago. Our last good chance to avoid the cliff was 1980. There is no avoiding it now.

Bargaining. Good luck with this one. To quote Leonard Nimoy on “Fringe”: “physics is a bitch.” And it’s not the only one. Chemistry and biology are too. For a long time, the accepted “safe” level for atmospheric CO2—”safe” meaning supporting stable hydrological cycles that bear some resemblance to the current cycles—was 450ppm. Guess what? That number is actually closer to 350ppm. And guess what else? The current concentration is over 390ppm and even stopping it at 450ppm is going to be extremely. On second thought, I think we are going to have to skip this stage and go right to depression.

There is a lot to be depressed about. Climate change means the end of stability and the likely end of meaningful economic growth as we’ve known it. The social pyramid scheme which is economic growth has gotten too top heavy and the earth is collapsing under its weight. The end of economic growth means a reduced aggregate standard of living as we have come to define it. Fewer choices. Fewer material possessions. Less mobility. If there is any justice in the world—and that’s a big if—Western standards for these will need to drop substantially if those for developing countries are to rise to humane levels. We need to accept this.

Acceptance is a strangely liberating thing. Would a society in which we consume fewer resources and have fewer material possessions as a result be a bad society? Would a society in which we traveled less, lived a more local life, be a bad society? Would a society in which some aspects of globalization were reversed and some of our choices were limited by our geographical location be a bad society? Would a society without substantial economic growth, half of which benefits the top 1% anyways, be a bad society? To para-quote Po Bronson, “Freedom is not having unlimited means. Freedom is the knowledge that you can live whatever your means.” We need to re-calibrate our mindset. To redefine success—you know what they say, “If at first you don’t succeed.” We need to redefine prosperity and progress as something other than economic growth. If we do that, it will be easier, mentally, to buckle down and get to the enormous task at hand. And maybe if we do that, we will have Eaarth rather than Eartch.

Thanks Bill.

P.S. How stupid do you have to be to take out a loan at an 85% annual interest rate? Full credit if you answered Eddy Curry. Partial credit if you answered Antoine Walker.

P.P.S. Another Bluejay sighting. But this one wasn’t in Philly. It was in Columbus Circle in DC.

The Birthday Problem May 23, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, economy, society, sustainability.
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No, not the classic birthday problem in which counter-intuitively the chances that any two of 30 people share a birthday is 73%. I’m talking about the problem with actual birthdays—the presents! And more specifically the packaging of children’s toys!

First, a little context. Yesterday was my son’s fifth birthday. For those of you who haven’t had the experience, I should tell you that the best thing a man can have—other than a wife like Mrs. Bluejay of course, hi dear—is a five year old son. Young enough to still be sweet and innocent and to want you to hold him. Old enough to catch a mini-football, build LEGO®, and wipe his own ass. If I could stop time—without being frozen inanimate—I would do it right now. Bluejay Jr., you’re the orange of my eye. With a side order of curly fries.

Anyways, yesterday was the small “family” birthday. The larger, more chaotic “school” birthday is in two weeks. I don’t remember why we decided to have it this way. I plead temporary insanity. The small gathering limited the number of presents, but it still took a solid 30 minutes to unwrap, extract most of the toys from their packages, and install a set of batteries. Anyways, let me start—what? you thought I had already started? I had not—by poo-poo’ing the general concepts of birthday presents themselves. Who decided that everyone who knows you must give you a gift to reward you for having been born? Why do you deserve a reward for this? Was being born really so hard? If anything, on your birthday, you should be the one giving gifts to others, for providing you with the structural and social environment that allowed you to grow into the greedy little bastard you are now! I believe that in some societies, this is how birthdays are handled in fact. Although a quick Google search reveals nothing. I am not sure where the tradition of birthday gifts started, but I am sure it has similar origins to Christmas gifts, Valentines Day gifts, and gifts associated with other arbitrary celebrations, namely as a line item in some long forgotten economic stimulus bill. It’s a wonder that ARRA didn’t include several new Federal and personal holidays complete with gift requirements! I have always been embarrassed by birthday gifts. If you want to give me a gift, donate to a charity in my name. Buy a third-world family a goat! A touching, hand-written card is good too!

Back to the birthday instance at hand. Let me begin by saying—I am beginning right now, for the record—that most children’s toys are worth little. The best toys are LEGO®—by the way, we were at the zoo this past week and there was a life-sized polar bear made of LEGO®, as well as tamarins, a frog, a snake, turtles, and a few other things. They were made over five months by a professional LEGO® sculptor. I wonder what the going rate for one of those is and whether there is a computer program that can translate a photograph to LEGO® construction instructions. But I digress—jigsaw puzzles, books, and TransformersTM. If it doesn’t improve spatial pattern recognition or fine motor skills, or if it doesn’t expand the mind or engage the imagination—or if it doesn’t transform—I have little use for it. Jigsaw puzzles and LEGO® also have the benefits of coming in minimal packages, a cardboard box with a plastic bag or two inside, that are rectangular and easy to wrap! Doubly so for books! Bluejay Jr. got a jigsaw puzzle. And a book. And LEGO®. He also got a auto-transforming Optimus Prime, a Power Ranger with motorcycle, a large-sheet coloring book, a HotWheels car and trailer, and the world’s nuttiest remote control trick vehicle.

The Optimus Prime came in an oddly shaped box. Mostly rectangular but tapered at the top and with a strange un-necessary kick-out to one side at the bottom. The box itself was one piece of cardboard that was internally folded and taped like Origami. Honestly, who designs these things? It took me a good five minutes to undo the Origami and flatten the box so that I could then recycle it. Optimus was embedded in molded PET—thin and crinkly but still indestructible, just like recent drink bottles. And not only was he embedded in the PET, he was actually secured to it by ultra-strong twist-tie/electrical-wire. In five places. This I don’t understand. The PET is needed to prevent jostling during transport. But the PET was molded around Optimus. You had to almost peel it off. What additional security do the twist-ties—which are quite difficult to untwist—provide? Do they ensure that an adult is needed to extract the toy? Are they a theft deterrant? Are they political pork thrown the way of United Twist-Tie Workers of China? The mind boggles. The Power Ranger and world’s nuttiest remote control trickster were similarly attached, but at least they came in a rectangular, non-Origami boxes.

The HotWheels car/trailer/car combo came in a long rectangular cardboard box. Inside the box was a hard clear plastic case and a black plastic base—almost for museum or collector-type displays. Is that what these are for? Can they not be sold separately then for the benefit of people who want to display their HotWheels cars rather than play with them? Are they for protection during transport? HotWheels cars are cast metal! You can run one over and not damage it other than maybe slightly bending an axle! To make matters worse, the car and trailer were screwed to the plastic base using four of the smallest non-eyeglass Phillips-head screws the world had ever seen. And car number two was screwed to the trailer in similar fashion. Again, I ask you—for what? Theft deterrance? Child proofing? United Phillips Screw Workers of China Full Employment Act?

I know that WalMart is pressuring its suppliers to reduce packaging—say what you will for behemoths like WalMart, but it can be a significant market force when it wants to—so these gifts were obviously purchased elsewhere. Why are other retailers not demanding reduced packaging as well? And why are reductions in some aspects of packaging—thickness of cardboard and PET—offset by the addition of Origami, tape, screws, and twist-ties? Is there a natural law of conservation of packaging? Perhaps the whole tradition of birthday gifts is not the brainchild of toymakers, but rather of the cardboard, PET, battery, twist-tie, and tiny Phillips screw industries. I have read—and I believe this—that a sustainable future for the planet will require a somewhat reduced standard of material living for the currently developed world. But maybe we won’t have to give up so much material. Maybe most of what we have to give up is the packaging.

P.S. I saw a Bluejay on Friday. It was on a lawn to my right as I was stopped at a light. I took a bad picture of it with my iPhone. It was the first one I have seen in Philadelphia in about three years. Maybe global warming is a hoax after all!

P.P.S. Speaking of trick vehicles, if you haven’t seen Stanford’s autonomous car backspin into a parking spot, it’s worth a look. For my money, this video would have been more impressive if the orange cones would have been replaced with orange Porches, but that’s getting greedy. The interesting thing about this is that the onboard computer is only partially calculating the maneuver using physics simulations. It’s getting the other part from “past experience”, i.e., different steering/breaking combinations and the resultant spins. “Last time I was moving this way and steered that way, this was the spin and it looks like the kind of spin I need to do now, so …” I will not be programming my Prius to do this, but if you have a Prius I could try to program yours.

P.P.P.S. Death by pirhanas may be appropriate punishment here.

P.P.P.P.S. I feel like I need to say something about Elana Kagan, but I can’t figure out what. Stay tuned.