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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.

Bathroom Talk November 21, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in environment, water efficiency.
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In Bluejay mansion, bathroom talk is only allowed when one is actually in the bathroom. And so I am typing this post while on the can. As far as you know. Happy belated toilet day, everyone! Friday was world toilet day! You missed it? Wasn’t this all over facebook, twitter, foursquare, or whatever this months’s thing is? Weren’t people foursquaring where they just popped a squat? Tweeting every turd? Digging every dingleberry? How many downloads of SitOrSquat were there?

WTD is actually serious business, The World Toilet Organization originated it to draw attention to the fact that most people in the world live without proper sanitation—think toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire—and face unnecessary health risks as a result. The WTO is often confused with its better known sister organization with the same acronym, and this confusion is understandable given their missions. WTO the lesser aims to allow non-Western countries to shit as cleanly and efficiently as Western countries. WTO the greater aims to allow Western countries to cleanly and efficiently shit on non-Western countries. But I digress. The reason I brought up WTD and WTO is because I think that their charter is too narrow. Yes, there are serious sanitation problems in many parts of the world. And yes, these need to be addressed. But Western countries have sanitation problems as well and the WTO needs to draw attention to those as well.

What’s the problem with Western sanitation? It wastes too much water, uses too many chemicals, requires too much expensive infrastructure, and generates too much pollution. Of these, water usage is by far the biggest problem. The world will run out of fresh water way before it runs out of oil. Many places already have. In the US, large rivers like the Missouri and Colorado are already completely dry in stretches because all the upstream water is channeled away for agricultural, commercial, and personal uses. The Ogallala aquifer which sits under Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma has only about 30-40 years worth of water left in it. Attention, great plains farmers, now is the time to cash out! If only there was somewhere to cash out to! And as with everything else, things are only getting worse.

As much as the US needs to get off of carbon, we need to get off of fresh water. A human being needs 6 gallons of fresh water a day to satisfy basic drinking, cooking, and washing needs. The average American uses 80 gallons of water a day. A 5 minute shower is 20 gallons. Each flush of a standard toilet is 3.5. Then there’s the dishwasher. The clotheswasher. The flowerbed. The carwash. The grapes at the supermarket—growing grapes uses a ridiculous amount of water as you can imagine. Meat—animals drink water in addition to eating grain grown using water. And pretty much everything else that we buy—water is used extensively in manufacturing.

What to do? Well, use less water obviously. Take shorter showers. Eat less meat and fruits and vegetables that take a lot of water to grow—rice, berries, nuts. Buy less cotton—cotton is another incredible water hog. Take it easy on the carwashes. Use local plants in your garden that don’t need a lot of water. Don’t water your lawn. Install low-flow shower heads and toilets. Even better, install a composting toilet. Of all the things to use water for, flushing your shit to a treatment plant en route to a river seems the most asinine—ha! The next toilet I buy will be composting. I shit you not—double ha! I know what your first reaction must be—ugh! But you’re wrong. I’m not going to install a port-a-john in my house. A port-a-john is an open unflushed bowl in which water-soaked turd undergoes methane-producing anaerobic digestion. A composting toilet separates urine from feces and uses bacteria to digest excrement aerobically. Aerobic digestion produces less odor—not no odor, but a lot less—breaks down pathogens, and reduces volume by up to 90%. A composting toilet has to be emptied only once every three months, not every three days. And the sludge is black, mostly odorless, and can be dumped directly in the garden. Using a composting toilet is cleaner and more convenient than cleaning up after a cat, much less a dog. It’s really no different than using a conventional toilet.

If sanitation is developing countries is going to improve, composting toilets will have to be the way. There is no water-based sewage infrastructure—in many places there is no running water of anykind—no money to build infrastructure, and not enough water anyways. Just like the developing world skipped past landlines and went straight to cellular, here’s betting and hoping that they skip past centralized sewage and right to composting toilets. And as our own sewage infrastructure starts to break down, why pump billions of dollars into repairs? Why not move to composting toilets and spend public money elsewhere—education, healthcare, paying down the debt, or invading countries that have oil. The debt commission—is there a goofier combination of name and face than Erskine Bowles? Not even John Boehner—recommended a $0.15 a gallon gas tax. Hey Erskine, how about a $0.15 a gallon toilet tax? $3,000 tax credit for a hybrid car? Why not a $500 tax credit for a composting toilet? A little of this and a bit of that, I smell a toilet compost collection cottage industry—triple ha! And think of all that free, non-oil-based fertilizer!

The Philadelphia Eagles have announced plans to make Lincoln Financial Field “net-zero energy” . The Linc will produce more energy than it consumes using a combination of solar panels and Michael Vick powered wind turbines. Jeff Lurie, if you really want to go green, install composting toilets and waterless urinals also! And replace the water in the players’ squeeze bottles with beer. For the visiting team.

P.S. In his recent memoir, King George XLIII’s refers to himself as “The Decider.” Which I suppose is accurate since deciding doesn’t imply knowing or thinking. Anyways, when I first heard that I had faint echo of someone else calling themselves by the same moniker. But I couldn’t remember who. Then I saw it while reading Little Miss. Bluejay her bedtime book—Skippyjon Jones! The delusional Siamese cat who fancies himself the great Chihuahua sword-fighter El Skippito Friskito! SNL were ahead of their time with that 2000 skit of Bush playing with a ball of yarn.

P.P.S. Donovan McNabb’s contract. Funny.

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!

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.

Of Man and Nectarines September 30, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, food, football, transportation.
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I love nectarines. They’re delicious. Especially when they are just before ripe and the flesh breaks off the pit cleanly rather than making a sticky mess. I am not a big fan of peaches, however. It’s not the fuzz. It’s the taste. Something about it nauseates me. For a while, this nectarine/peach dichotomy didn’t bother me because I believed that they were two different species of fruit. Specifically, I thought that the nectarine was some hybrid of a peach and a plum. You know, like a pluot/plucot/plumcot/Dinosaur-egg is a hybrid of a plum and an apricot. As it turns out, the nectarine and the peach belong to the same species, with nectarines classified as a cultivar. The nectarine’s smooth skin is simply a recessive trait. Peach fuzz is dominant. To use a politically incorrect analogy—is there a better kind?—caucasians are nectarines, mongoloids are peaches, and peach fuzz is the epicanthal fold. The analogy breaks because I like mongoloids and caucasians equally well. But it works otherwise.

Nectarine season is over. The last batch I bought was crap and I couldn’t finish it. We have now officially entered the two-month dead zone between nectarine season and orange season—which is roughly equivalent to the two-month dead zone between the football and baseball season. To commemorate, I thought I would write a philosophical/environmental post about man and nectarines. You see, the parallel between humans and nectarines are downright creepy. Humans come in several cultivars—some fuzzy, some not—same for nectarines. Humans bruise easily, so do nectarines. Humans are delicious—probably—so are nectarines. Humans were not meant to fly. Neither were nectarines.

Segue alert!

If Darwin wanted humans to fly, he would have made us descendants of bats rather than apes. Mechanical flight is one of humanity’s greatest achievements and one of the true game-changers of the industrial age. It’s also one of the lynchpins of climate change. There is nothing that blasts out CO2 like flying. A round-trip from Washington, DC to Seattle emits about 2,000 kg of CO2 per passenger. That’s as much as the average non-hybrid passenger car emits in a year! Washington, DC to Chicago is 580 kg. Washington, DC to Paris is 4,140. Washington, DC to Wellington 9,800 kg! Visit atmosfair.de to find out how much CO2 your next plane trip will cost the world.

Now, I understand flying to Paris. Paris is probably amazing and you should definitely see it once or twice if you can—I haven’t yet, but I plan to. Same for Wellington. Chicago on the other hand is a different story. Chicago is cool, but the O’Hare Hilton is not. And I personally have done somewhere on the order of ten day trips from Philadelphia to a conference room in Chicago O’Hare. Ten day trips and 5,800 kg of CO2. Ten day trips and 5,800 kg of CO2 that could just as easily have been replaced with ten conference calls. Hmmm. I would never tell people to travel less for vacation or pleasure. Seeing different places is an incredible experience and one of the true benefits of our advanced civilization. But I have no problem telling people to travel less for business or quasi-business. Business travel is one of the banes of humanity.

Segway alert! Man, I am on an absolute roll when it comes to making jokes at the expense of deceased people. Anyways, from now on, the term segway will be used to describe a segue back to the original topic. Run with that.

The Whole Foods on River and Dorsey sells nectarines from three originations—from Pennsylvania for $1.99/lb, from Washington State for $2.99/lb, and from New Zealand also for $2.99/lb. I buy the ones from Pennsylvania. Because I am a cheap-elitist-bastard—a cheap-bastard shops at the Giant, a cheap-elitist-bastard is the kind of person who shops at Whole Foods but buys the cheapest stuff there, it’s an important distinction—and because it pains me to think of nectarines flying from Washington to Washington, much less Wellington to Washington. That’s a long way for a nectarine to fly. A good-sized nectarine weighs about four ounces. The average 180 lb. man is the weight equivalent of 720 nectarines. Using the same atmosfair calcluator, dividing by 720 and carrying the one, a one way trip from Wellington to Washington, DC spews out 7 kg of CO2 per nectarine. Emissions-wise, buying a nectarine from New Zealand is the same as driving a non-hybrid for day! Buying 720 nectarines from New Zealand is the equivalent of flying to New Zealand yourself or driving a non-hybrid car for two years! Now, I have bought at least 720 nectarines this summer. I may have bought 1,720. I said they’re delicious didn’t I? Happily, all but perhaps 20 of them were from Pennsylvania. Sadly, the ones from New Zealand are superior. Smaller, but with more tang. However, my atmosfair experiments have taught me a valuable lesson. Next time I am jonesing nectarines from down under, I should just fly there myself and eat them there.

P.S. What am I doing in a conference room at the O’Hare Hilton? Attending program committee meetings, of course. For the unwashed, a program committe meeting is a meeting held on a Saturday in a conference room at the O’Hare Hilton—or at the Hyatt if the Hilton is booked—in which 30 men and women gather to decide which 40 of 200 research papers submissions will appear in upcoming technical conference X. Physical program committee meetings—in which the committee is physically present in one room—are the biggest wastes of CO2 I can personally think of. Virtual program committee meetings—in which the committee is physically distributed and communicating by phone—are far better environmentally and likely result in technical programs of equal quality. Why are virtual program committee meetings not used more frequently? Is it because you have to flush them on context switches?

P.P.S. There are many things to admire about professional athletes—their talent, the time they must have put in to work on their bodies and on their games. There are a few things to despise also—the fact that they can get away with vehicular homicide. Add another to list number two. As part of rookie hazing, Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys took the entire team out to a fancy dinner and left the bill with disrespectful rookie Dez Bryant. The total? 54 large. That’s right. $54,000. On dinner. There are 53 players on a football team. That’s $1,000 per person! Roy, you want to make a point without looking like an LEED silver a-hole? Donate $54,000 dollars to charity and stick Dez with that bill!

P.P.P.S. On second thought, this isn’t a reason to hate professional athletes, just the the Cowboys! E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!

P.P.P.P.S. The Vegas line for Eagles-Redskins has moved from 7 points to 6 in the last two days. Still solid for a division game. 24-13 Eagles.

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.

Just What Environmentalism Didn’t Need September 2, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, climate, crime, environment.
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For the next year, Philly Bluejay will be multi-casting from the home office in Bethesda, MD. Bethesda Bluejay … Philly Terrapin … Philly Bluejay 20816 … is on hiatus from the glass and red-brick ivory tower and spending the year working for Uncle Sam. Both figuratively—I am working at the Department of Energy’s Building Techologies Program. And literally—my boss’ name is Sam, and he is certainly old enough to be an uncle.

Philly Bluejay saving the world one building at a time—just what environmentalism didn’t need? Well the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the title refers to something that happened just a few zip codes over at One Discovery Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910—Philly Bluejay wanted to live in either the 20910 or 20915 zip codes for the sole purpose of playing on 90120 or 90125 but alack, 20816 is closer to Mrs. Bluejay’s work. Yesterday morning, one James Lee walked into Discovery Communications Headquarters carrying a rifle, shells, and two pipe bombs. He allegedly fired a shot into the air before taking three hostages, making a list of demands, and negotiating with police for over four hours. He was finally shot and killed by a sniper when he pointed his weapon at one of the hostages. Mr. Lee claimed to be willing to die for his views. And he did. I am sure that he regretted that he had only one life—and 15 minutes of fame—to give.

Mr. Lee did have some valid aims—we do in fact need to find a way to stop global warming. Although his ways and means were less than practical—all human procreation and agriculture must cease immediately! And while some of his programming suggestions were good—enough with Kate+boobjob+eight and with the Duggars and their 19 children—others were just loony—can we really have enough shows about little people, the morbidly obese, or conjoined twins? I say no! But in the end, he was a nutball, peeved that Discovery Communications could not find a place for his television show in its lineup of stations—Discovery, TLC, Sc, PlanetGreen, Animal Planet, and the Military Channel to name six. Really, could we not get an hour of Mr. Lee rather than the umpteenth rerun of Shark Week or that insufferable Bryan Cox on Wonders of the Solar System?

The problem with nutballs is that they give legitimate causes a bad name and opponents of those causes ammunition. Is it bold to predict that in the coming days Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh or some TEA Partier will paint Mr. Lee as the face of the environmental movement? Environmentalists are nutballs! Drill baby drill! Kate Gosselin for congress! And nutballs never advance their chosen cause in any real way. Did the goofs at ELF (Earth Liberation Front)—the outfit that set a Seattle subdivision on fire several years back to protest over-development—stop northwest exurbia? Did this freak actually save any animals? Now, nutballs with their own ships are something else completely. If you have your own ship, you can do something! If you are a nutball with your own ship, Discovery Communications will beat a path to your door and put you on prime time! Mr. Lee, your biggest mistake was not plowing into headquarters with a ship!

But nutballs for good causes are not as harmful as respected critics of the same. There is a particularly good example in this case—the late Dr. Michael Crichton of of Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, and Disclosure fame. Bright, articulate, and successful as he was, Dr. Crichton was one of the most visible deniers of anthropogenic climate change and argued vociferously that we should spend our monies and energies on one hundred more important pursuits and problems before we turn to carbon dioxide. He even wrote a book called “State of Fear” about a band of environmental terrorists and the protagonists who foil them, presumably with the aim of calming down what he viewed as environmental hysteria. I’m not sure how much impact his writing and speaking had, but it’s fair to assume that he had some. He was a visible dude with the ear of important people. If only he were alive to see the shit that is going down today. In “State of Fear” the eco-terrorists try to set off strategic explosions in Antarctica in order to detach an ice sheet. Detaching ice sheets? Now that’s fiction.

My suggestion to would-be eco-nutballs? Forget about whales and squirrels and the red-bearded monkey and the four-assed monkey—but not the bluejay, no no—start protesting the fact that gas is still 2.73!

P.S. No P.S.’s today.

P.P.S. Oops!

Forty Five Minutes To Where? August 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in clean energy, climate, transportation, Uncategorized.
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It’s summertime. And Philly Bluejay is living it easy. And also has sporadic internet connection other than his iPhone. It’s hard to bang out multi-line email responses on an iPhone, much less 1,200 word blog posts! If only Philly Bluejay was a teenager during the dawn of texting, he would have developed the thumb dexterity necessary to conduct all of his online business on a 2.5″ by 4.5″ touch screen. Alas, club-thumbs relegate Philly Bluejay to the laptop set.

Anywhos, here is a SmartPlanet—not to be confused with SmarterPlanet®—blog post about vactrains. What is a vactrain? It’s a maglev (magnetic levitation) train that travels in an airless—or at least highly depressurized—tube. Because there is no friction with either the rails or the air, vactrains can presumably achieve very high speeds while using relatively little energy. China is currently developing a vactrain that will travel at 600+ mph. That is more than twice as fast as the fastest maglev train—the 268 mph Shanghai line, more than three times faster than the fastest conventional train, and even slightly faster than a jet! Second- and third- generation vactrains could break the sound barrier and reach speeds of 4,000 mph! NY to LA in 45 minutes!

Okay, so a train going 4,000 mph along a relatively straightshot 3,000 mile tube is probably not going to happen—not even with eminent domain—but even a train going 600 mph along a 300 mile tube would be a useful thing. Here is a CNN.com piece about high-speed rail projects in the US. The most interesting parts of the piece are the actual projects as well as the criticisms. The most prevalent criticism is that high speed train travel is less energy efficient than traveling in a small car and that it is not sufficiently faster to forfeit door-to-door convenience. This is a false argument. The competition for high speed trains is not cars—it’s regional jets. Regional jets are the least energy-efficient form of transportation. Jet travel in general is hard to make green because batteries cannot achieve anywhere near the energy density of kerosene-based jet fuel. But regional jets are worse than long-haul jets because they have larger vehicle-to-payload weight ratios and because they fly at lower altitudes where air resistance is higher. When Philly Bluejay and eighteen other people take the 6AM Embraer 170 to Boston—this happens!

Regional jets are ripe to get picked off by high speed trains. Train travel is as convenient as regional jet travel if not more so. There are no long security lines at train stations—although security at train stations should be increased. And most inter-city train stations are located in downtowns—at the hub of the local train system—whereas most airports are not. Philly Bluejay would much prefer to take the 6AM maglev-Acella or vac-Acella—actually, vac-Acella sounds too much like a disease—to Boston and get to the train station at 5:45 than the 6AM United-Express and get to the airport at 5:15.

Which gets us back to the US high-speed rail projects. Most of the projects—northeast corridor, California coast, Miami-Orlando—are sensible. There is a lot of regional jet travel along these routes. But some are pure pork. Is there significant regional air traffic between Cincinnati and Cleveland? Between Milwaukee and St. Paul? High speed track—especially maglev- and vac-tracks—is expensive. From a climate-change/renewable-energy perspective, it only makes sense if it can displace a significant amount of air travel.

P.S. Speaking of the 2.5″ by 4.5″ magic portal, Philly Bluejay recently discovered the rationale behind these magical dimensions! I’m sure you’ve heard of the classic Microsoft interview question: “why are manhole covers round?” The real answer of course is “Duh, because manholes are round and the cover needs to fit the hole!” but the answer Microsoft expects is “So that it can’t fall in.” Well, the reason the second smallest dimension of an iPhone is 2.5″ is so that it doesn’t fall through a sidewalk grating when someone bumps into you while you are trying to take a picture.

P.P.S. If you travel in computer science circles—and who among Philly Bluejay’s four readers doesn’t? except for my mother, hi mom—you know about the recent buzz surrounding the central question of the field—whether P=NP. About two weeks ago, Vinay Deolalikar—a mathematician working at HP—published a 100+ page proof of the widely believed but still not formally proven result that P≠NP. Why would anyone do such a thing? Well, there are 1,000,000 reasons—or maybe 1,166,666.66 now that Grigory Perelman refuses to collect after resolving the Poincare conjecture. After much prodding and pulling on the WordPress-sphere, it now appears that all has been for naught and that Mr. Deolalikar will not be collecting after all. Well, Philly Bluejay has recently proven a somewhat less known but no less important result—sources tell me that it was ranked 1,530 on the list of millenium challenge problems—specifically that YP≠MP. Follow closely. You≠me∴your problem≠my problem. QED. Now, where is my 1,166,666.66 USD?

P.P.P.S. Anyone know the HTML code for the QED “tombstone?”

P.P.P.P.S. A few weeks ago, Baghdad recorded an all time record high temperature of 126 Fahrenheit—it’s a dry heat. Then just this past week, the last US combat troop pulled out of Iraq. Coincidence? Perhaps the US/West strategy against Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran should revolve not around military action but rather around climate change! Humans can’t tolerate prolonged exposure to temperatures higher than 120 Fahrenheit. If we can raise the average summer high temperature in the region to that level—it’s currently about 108 Fahrenheit—I bet the locals would get a lot less feisty. Come on, we can do this!

P.P.P.P.P.S. Philly Bluejay also has a plan for long-haul trans- and inter-continental jet travel. With the shuttle program now retired, NASA needs to develop hybrid jets that fly both in the atmosphere using conventional forced-air jet propulsion and above it using stored oxygen. These hybrid jets would take off from commercial airfields, climb through the atmosphere like conventional jets, transition to shuttle mode, travel the bulk of their route in zero-drag conditions while discharging waste gas outside of the atmosphere, then reenter, transition back to conventional jet mode, then land again at a commercial field.

Little Additional Threat August 8, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in business, energy efficiency, environment, sustainability.
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There are many scary things about the Deepthroat Horizon disaster. Safety procedures on offshore platforms? Frightening. The overly cozy relationship between “regulators” and the oil industry? Terrifying. 190,000,000 gallons spilled—between 9 and 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill? Mind-boggling. Future prospects for Gulf communities? Cover-your-eyes awful. But the scariest thing about it? It might be over soon.

The static kill procedure seems to be working—no more sexy videos of the gushing leak! Two relief wells will be finished soon. One quarter of the oil that spilled has been skimmed. Another quarter and change has simply disappeared—presumably evaporated. And the remaining 90,000,000 gallons that remain at large—about half of which has been “dispersed” either chemically or by natural water churn— poses “little additional threat.” Little additional threat? Phew. What a relief (well). Game over. Good night. Drive—literally—home safely. Thank G-d we didn’t pass any knee-jerk clean energy bill! Now we can get back to talking about the Iraq withdrawal/unemployment/Charlie Rangel/Brett Favre/Ellen DeGeneres.

Of all the jargon and soundbytes that Deepthroat has given us—top kill, stacked cap—”little additional threat” may be the most sinister. It’s the soothing background to the 20,000,000,000 dollar escrow account, Tony Hayward’s resignation, and the reorganization of the MMS. It’s the lullaby that finally puts us to sleep after four months of building Deepthroat fatigue. We’re tired of thinking about it—too depressing. The media is tired of talking about it—no new angles. “Little additional threat” makes it okay to move on. But is it?

31 years later, Prince William Sound has still not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez. And Deepthroat spilled at least ten times as much! How exactly can anyone claim that 40,000,000 gallons of oil floating around the Gulf is a non-threat? And what exactly makes “dispersed” oil harmless? From what I understand, “dispersed” means broken up into tiny droplets. Did you know that plastic in the ocean becomes really harmful only after it’s broken down into tiny pellets? Because that’s when small fish can eat it and start pushing it up the food chain! Fish don’t eat plastic cups and rubber ducks and sneakers! They eat tiny pieces of orange and red plastic that look like krill. Fish are not going to get near beachball sized orange globs, but they will get near—and probably try to eat—little orange droplets of oil and dish soap! I’m sure “little additional threat” makes every Gulf resident who earns a living from the water feel so relieved! Who knows, maybe Joe Barton can get the 20,000,000,000 dollar “shakedown” reduced to 5,000,000,000!

The bigger disappointment is that the swell of clean-energy sentiment seems to have crested and crashed with no real long term effect—an energy bill with real teeth! There is nothing sadder than opportunity lost. And with “little additional threat” and the midterms coming, I smell a Republican backlash against clean energy and for the oil industry? After all, “even the worst offshore drilling accident in the history of the world didn’t turn out to be such a big deal!” [Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Gingrich Oct. 2010]

But here is a way to think about Deepthroat and clean-energy/energy-efficiency going forward—this is courtesy of energysavvy.com via Lane Burt@switchboard.nrdc.org. I am going to redo their math, because it doesn’t seem quite right to me, but even the much more conservative numbers I come up with are compelling enough. The average American home (AAH®) uses 11,000 kWh annually. Let’s say that an energy efficient home uses 8,000 kWh. That’s a 27% improvement—not drastic, and certainly not “zero-energy.” So an AAH wastes about 3,000 kWh a year which works to about 200 gallons of oil—one gallon of oil will get you about 15 kWh of electricity. So 1,000,000 AAHs waste about the same amount of oil a year as Deepthroat spilled—that’s 1% of all AAHs as there are about 100,000,000 of those. Now, let’s say that making an AAH energy-efficient costs 20,000 dollars. Making 1,000,000 AAHs energy-efficient would cost 20,000,000,000 dollars—that’s the same amount of money as in the BP disaster relief account. Suppose BP set aside this money to retrofit AAHs rather than to pay for cleanup/relief/compensation. That one time investment would effectively save the equivalent of one Deepthroat spill—every year in perpetuity! It would also save EEAAH owners 1,000,000,000 dollars in energy costs a year—essentially paying for itself within 20 years. Without the environmental/stock-price/public-relations damage. And no additional threat.

P.S. Summer-of-Brett 5.1. The increasingly-pathetic-looking-yet-in-reality-perfectly-rational Minnesota Vikings increase Brett Favre’s 2010 salary from 13,000,000 to 16,000,000 plus 4,000,000 in “achievable bonuses”—that’s right, kids, 1,000,000 dollars per game! Undoubtedly pleased by this sycophantic plea, Brett announces that he is “still undecided,” that he “wants to play health permitting,” and that “this isn’t about the money.” Of course it’s not about the money, it’s about the incessant ass-kissing! Or maybe its about the sexting.

P.P.S. Summer-of-Alex 6.0! In case you haven’t heard, Alex Rodriguez—aka ARod aka ARoid aka AHole—hit his 600th career home run yesterday, joining Barry “Bobblehead” Bonds, Henry “Hank” Aaron, George “Babe” Ruth, Willie “Willie” Mays, Sammy “JackO” Sosa, and Ken “Junior” Griffey. Despite its apparent magnitude, the accomplishment was met with a collective yawn. Here is a nice piece about the milestone by ESPN’s Rob Neyer. The picture in particular is fantastic.

P.P.P.S. Fringe with a better actress.

P.P.P.P.S. SPOILER ALERT! A question for people who have seen “Inception” and “Dreamscape“—a mid-80’s less sophisticated Inception with Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw. Anyways, in Inception, if you die in a dream, you wake up. In Dreamscape if you die in a dream, you die in real life. So which is it?

P.P.P.P.P.S. I’m sorry I missed your birthday, POTUS BO! This would never have happened if we were Facebook friends!