Friday, August 31, 2012

Keeping up with news of the corn belt drought

Much of the damage to the midwest crops had already been done by, say, the third week in July.  So of course, the rains from Isaac are coming too late for this year's crop.  On the other hand, the total soil moisture is so low that fall rains are a welcome recharge for a severely dried-up land.  The drought-resistant corn varieties are that way because they are more efficient at extracting water from soil (which is why corn that failed to grow ears can still look green.)  So this crop failure could easily be setting up an even bigger crop failure next year.  As a result, very few will be complaining if we actually have a wet fall.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Predator Class nominates one of its own

There is literally no description so harsh that Mitt Romney hasn't spent of lifetime earning it.  Matt Taibbi is on his case.  Last night, the Republican convention chose as it's theme, "We Built it."  So now they have a standard bearer who could chant, "I wrecked it and got very, very rich."  Difficult to respect people who cannot discern between up and down.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Insurance and climate change

We are beginning to see stories about the rather large losses facing the crop insurance business.  Pretty difficult to place a price tag on this catastrophe but these insurance losses are one way.  Not surprisingly, it has been the insurance guys who have been most vocal about climate change.  These are numbers guys and the numbers look very bad.

Still working on the Volt

In order for electrical cars to become a serious alternative, they MUST be built by serious car guys.  Robert Lutz is clearly a car guy and I still believe his Chevy Volt idea will be the prototype for any reasonable future car.  Still working out the kinks but with guys like Lutz, you have some assurance that the kinks WILL be worked out.

Germany calls time out in race towards renewable future

Thank goodness its the Germans who are trying to convert a major industrial infrastructure to renewable power because there are going to major problems.  But they seem to have the political will and sophistication, and the problem solving skills to see this through.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Apple vs. Samsung

Patents are probably one of the best ideas that almost never work.  The economic advantage of being second is overwhelming.  You don't incur the enormous costs and risks of discovering a new market and building something that fills it.  You have a chance to improve on the original.  Etc.  Knowing this, the government in places like USA stepped in to protect the original inventor by instituting patent laws—establishing the patent office was one of the first things this country did.  But if patents were instituted to protect the honest inventors, patent laws are the territory of some of the more Predatory legal schemers.  Knowing this, many Producers are reluctant to even bother with patents.  Henry Ford, for example, hated the patent system.  Such Producers rely on trade secrets and technological complexity to protect their inventions.

Apple's iPad seems like it would be the perfect example of something that requires patent protection.  The innovation was obviously Apple's.  It was not only their idea but if anyone recalls the jeering that met this product's announcement, most pros didn't even believe it was a good idea.  And while the iPad isn't all that easy to copy, it is easy enough so that Apple surrounded the product with as much patent protection as they could muster.

It didn't take very long before Samsung, a South Korean company with plenty of resources to copy the iPad, and Apple met in court.  The arguments were pretty boilerplate for a patent fight but it was clear from the outset that Apple's position was rock-solid.  In fact, it took the jury less than three days to return a $billion+ judgement against Samsung.

But while the patent implications are fairly clear, the outcome is not.  The Koreans barely acknowledge patents at all and so Samsung will likely shop for a new trial venue.  Apple just happens to be Samsung's largest customer so under the theory of "the customer is always right" one would think these companies could work out some agreement.  But one never knows.  There are complicating issues and patent lawyers really have no reason to ever settle in a fight that guarantees them a long-term income stream.

Me?  Even though I am not an iPad / iPhone user so have no dog in this fight, I find it interesting because it is such a classic Producer-Producer spat.  It demonstrates the various cultural differences over the subject of intellectual property.  It highlights the problems of just who invented what in the world of advanced electronics where such issues are FAR from clear.  And the speed by which a jury reached a verdict in this trial suggests that folks from USA have grown exceeding weary of the Asians copying so shamelessly.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Eagle has landed

Neil Armstrong died Saturday at 82.  Of all the astronauts, it was Armstrong that I most identified with.  He was the airplane geek. They all were to some extent, of course. But Armstrong was the one who had built the models and read the books.  He wanted to be a designer and got an aero engineering degree from Purdue.  He became arguably the top test pilot for the X-15—a truly scary way to punch a hole in the sky.  And he was chosen to be first on the moon because his engineer's approach to space flight did so much to advance the art.  He was the guy who always wanted to understand just what a craft was capable of doing.  This skill was fully tested when he set down Eagle in Tranquility with 17 SECONDS worth of fuel left.

Hollywood may like to portray pilots as swaggering daredevils.  But it was the guys who made lists and paid attention to the smallest details who put men on the moon.  It is so appropriate that one of those people was given the honor of being first to walk on its surface.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Missing the point completely

Who built what?  Elizabeth Warren vs the outraged right.
I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
I happen to agree with every sentence of Ms. Warren's defense of the social contract—probably because I understand where she comes from.  She grew up in Oklahoma during a period of economic development and one of the undeniable features of that landscape is how utterly reliant people are on each other.  It's true—the more skills you have and the more self-reliant you are, the more you are made aware of your need for outside help.  You may be a damn fine carpenter but you don't make your own nails.  And people with skills know this—which is why they are forever organizing associations for mutual self-help.  Ben Franklin was notorious for this kind of behavior.  Jefferson, who actually could produce nails at Monticello, was such an organizer he eventually would help invent, along with Franklin, the United States.  Very multi-skilled people like the Amish organize themselves so tightly, outsiders often view them as a cult.

Even Robinson Caruso needed Friday!

But these perfectly accurate remarks have set off a storm of outrage.  And it's for one simple reason.  Yes, you need collective action to build roads, have homes with windows, span your rivers with steel bridges.  Yes, you need schools so we can have surgery and the Internet.  Yes collective action is a good thing.  But these support systems are essentially available to everyone, yet only a few take the required action to build a successful business.  Collective action is necessary for survival but individual initiative is still required for progress and innovation.

For me, what is actually painful about watching this debate is that Producers OWN both sides of it.  OWN them!  And yet this debate is based on some deeply-held ideas.  And why is that?  Because for most of the history of industrialization, we have been told that societies must be organized around the idea of individual rights or of collective power.  These extremists have given us Mao's Communist China and Margaret Thatcher's England.

The CORRECT Producer understanding of this "debate" is that it is utterly irrelevant.  A well-run social order isn't always collective action or always individuals operating on their own—it is a mixture of both.  Always!  Now an interesting debate can be had over which part of the society should be a haven for individualism and which should involve group decision-making, but those who have believed that one side or another should always prevail created some truly ugly societies.  So please count me in the universe of those who believe we should have good roads and public schools but also laud the solitary geniuses like Steve Jobs who can find a new way to utilize the gifts of the social order into a new organization that changed the landscape.

The answer is BOTH!  ALWAYS!

Doing things differently

It seems rare, but virtue often triumphs.  We should remind ourselves of this fact more often.  Here we have another study that seems to prove that those countries with good governments, schools, and honest business practices wind up at the top of yet another business ranking.  If course, the real reason this is true is because honesty and trust allow a group of people to accomplish much more difficult tasks than one made up of liars and crooks.  Virtue is an economic good.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rollin' on the river

Spent part of yesterday being carted about on a perfectly lovely tourist attraction dolled up to look like a mini riverboat called the Magnolia Blossom.  The purpose of the outing was to get some interested parties in the same place to discuss ways to minimize the sediment runoff of the Minnesota River Watershed.

The nature of the problem is pretty clear.  Water is running faster down the tributaries and the main channel of the Minnesota.  This faster-running water can carry more sediment and causes more bank erosion.  This sediment is filling up the upper end of Lake Pepin—much to the horror of those who consider it to be one of the more beautiful places on earth.  And then there is the other problem that Minnesota farmers are sending WAY too much of their expensive fertilizers down the river—the dead zone off Louisiana is ghastly and to their credit, this group seemed genuinely dedicated to finding solutions.

But while there was genuine consensus of the nature of the problem, this did not mean there was any agreement of what to do.  Start with the dilemmas of who causes what?

The problems of fast-running water are largely those associated with urban sprawl.  The more land you cover with roads, roofs, and parking lots, the more water you have to move away every time it rains because it isn't soaking into the ground.  This problem is generally caused by real estate developers building on the cheap because there usually are much better ways of managing runoff—only they happen to be expensive.

The "dead zone" dilemmas are exacerbated by the nature of agriculture.  Farmers change their growing methods only after considerable care and firm evidence that what they are doing doesn't work any longer.  Change is difficult and usually expensive.  The term "bet the farm" was coined to cover this economic resistance to change.

And so because doing the right thing by nature is difficult and expensive and everyone is broke and up to their eyeballs in debt, we see folks making certain we know about what the other side is doing to destroy mother earth.  And the whole idea behind this exercise it to get someone else to pay the bills.  That this slum landlord mentality has crept into the minds of some of the more sensible people I can imagine speaks volumes for the evil insanity that is neoliberalism.

Talked with a guy from the DNR who was straight out of central casting.  Just the sort of person one would want managing the public's resources.  And yet at one point, he ventured the notion that the problem with agriculture was insufficient regulation.  When I suggested that maybe the best way to get farmers to change is to suggest a believable alternative and then offer to pay for some of the capital expense, his response was, "but the State has no money."  Which is true.  And that is the problem he has never considered—WHY doesn't the state have any money?  After all, the creation of money is perhaps the easiest thing humans do!  And so because he cannot ask the obvious question, he must suggest an absurd "solution"—telling farmers they have to do something in the public good without providing the resources to do it.  Because the folks at DNR aren't really about solving problems—their role is to make rules and hope someone else can solve them.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How the drought will impact the global economy

Pretty difficult to hide a drought that covers nearly 65% of the agricultural land in USA.  So of course, the Predators are circling this disaster look for ways to make a quick buck.  Here's the view from Hamburg.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Solar-panel "oversupply"

If you ever needed a reason to condemn Leisure Class bankers and the way they are mismanaging the economy, this example will do.  The planet is in critical need to replace its trillions of fires with solar power.  And yet we see a Chinese company teetering on the brink of collapse because they have "excess" production capacity for a product the planet dearly needs to avoid destruction.  We don't have an oversupply of solar panels, we have an acute undersupply of customers with some money.

The Green revolution will NOT be easy

Everything the Producers do is a LOT harder than it looks.  That is why I want to strangle the hippies who try to tell us there are 50 easy ways to save the planet.  No, there are not.  In this incredible article, we see some of the problems caused because "green" electricity isn't as reliable as the stuff that comes from burning coal.  I happen to believe these problems can be designed around.  But it is NOT going to be easy and only a tiny handful of people have any idea how difficult it will be.

Monday, August 20, 2012

IMF admits they were wrong!!!

In some ways, this is one of the more interesting stories I have read in a LONG time.  Because IMF has been one of the bigger causes of human misery since at least the 1980s when the idea of "structural adjustments" became the most evil concept since the fall of the Third Reich or the failure of The Great Leap Forward, I have always assumed that anyone who worked there HAD to be utterly numb to human suffering.

The reason is simple—if you are even remotely interested in stimulating an economy, Rule #1 is the maximum amount of the stimulus must go to the lowest income groups.  And why is this Rule #1?  Because, if you pump the money into the bottom, that money will show up as economic activity at every level on its seemingly inevitable rise to the top.  If you pump the money into the top, it barely gets used once.  Most likely the rich guy will put his new-found wealth into a hedge fund where it will spend its days trading financial instruments that have no practical usefulness whatsoever.  That's why the expression is "A rising tide lifts all boats" and NOT "A rising yacht lifts all tides."  Since the IMF redefined its mission as protecting foreign bondholders above all else—certainly above the well-being of the society they were "adjusting"—they have been in violation of Rule #1.  Whether this was out of pure malice or utter madness has been one my life's most persistently annoying questions.

So now we see that the IMF—the EVIL IMF—the insane IMF—has been forced to admit that Iceland got it right.  When you look at little Iceland, it's kind of easy to blow off their accomplishments post 2008.  They prosecuted the criminals who had taken over their banking business and applied their economic cure to the lower and middle-income folks who had been placed in dire straights by those thieves.  It was the blindingly obvious solution to their problems—so what's the big deal?  The big deal is that Iceland is still the only example of this enlightened behavior.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why I think the drought is an important story

In these days of infinite psychobabble, I am sure I stand accused of "obsessing" over the corn belt drought.  I probably am.  But the reasons make a lot of sense to this blog.
  • This is a Producer Class story.  Farmers are the archetypical Producers and in a year when they broke all planting records, a whole bunch of them are not getting a crop.  This is the primary story here.
  • This is about climate change.  Global warming is no longer a prediction—it is the new reality.
  • The global response to this loss will test the limits of Producer cooperation.  Their efforts will be assaulted and looted by the banksters.  This catastrophe will test just how far we allow the banksters to intrude upon the real economy.
  • I have primary sources for my material.  I happen to like farmers and have an intense interest is how they do what they do.  I am meeting more of them these days as well.
  • This is historical.  If the corn belt doesn't raise corn, this will mean a HUGE change in how this country is organized.  Historically, civilizations have fallen over less provocation than losing a food source the importance of the USA Midwest.
I could probably think of some more reasons why I should devote a lot of effort to this story.  But this is enough for now.

The drought picture becomes clearer

Famine, one of the more frightening disasters that can ever threaten humanity, hovers over this fall's harvest like an ancient specter.  This is one of the disasters we thought we had figured out how to avoid.  The USA has never had anything that remotely resembles famine so there are no historical precedents to guide us. But we are going to discover soon enough just how well we can cope.

This first essay is by one of those market types who think that this drought is mainly a matter of how well you adjust your portfolio.  He is pretty cold about it too.  It is also a reminder that this drought is going to affect FAR more than the 1.5% of the economy directly tied to agriculture.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The pork producers on the drought

From our friends the pork producers.  A big hog operation is already making money the hard way but when you're losing money, you are paying for the privilege of doing this difficult and dirty work.  Pork is about to become a delicacy.

It is sort of ironic that these right-wing Republicans are damn quick about becoming New Deal Democrats.  Hey, I love Producers but I have never claimed that are always politically enlightened.  We remember the enlightened stuff because it was historically rare.  Well this is pretty damn good and concerns the balance between energy and water—an INTERESTING subject indeed.

The return of rational economic thought?

I am not so certain that the problem with economists is corruption,  Even so, it is not at all surprising that Chinese economists sound a lot like the ones working for the Federal Reserve in USA.  In fact, Institutional Analyses practically demands that this is true.

Remember, drought has ravaged many agricultural areas

Russia, India, Australia, and North America.  That a LOT of agriculture that is hurting at the same time.  And while Badkar makes the typical error that because so few people are directly involved in USA farming anymore, somehow our drought is going to be less dangerous.  I don't know about that—food shortages are food shortages, no matter where they show up.  The global food system is tightly linked.  Note also that India's economy is still staggering from the baleful effects of tight monetary policy from the last time they had a bad harvest (my boldface).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Corn belt drought—waiting for the shoes to drop

How the corn belt drought plays out is open to some pretty creative speculation.  There are a lot of things that might happen.

First up, we hear from one of the petty speculators.  This is one of the wild cards.  There have been commodity traders and speculators for quite awhile but historically, most of the "players" actually had a reason to be in that market.  An outfit like Cargill has the capability of taking delivery of the commodities they are trading—most of the new speculators do not.  Yet the useless speculators are taking a very bad situation and making it worse.  (For example, I have seen guesses that as much as $.60 per gallon of the total gasoline price is just speculative overhead.)  Anyway, someone will try very hard to profit from this disaster.  Several someones will succeed.  This is a peek at how they think.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The hopelessness caused by insane economic thinking

The subject of suicide has never been written about very well in the big papers.  For someone who has a nice job at somewhere like the Washington Post, suicide is the ultimate in irrational acts and the "answer" is, you know, anther petty bureaucracy like "suicide help lines" staffed by well-meaning folks who have no answers at all for the economically desperate.  For such people, suicide is simply a mental-health issue.

Good thing global warming is a hoax

Or I would REALLY be worried! /snark

Hard to imagine nukes shut down because the cooling water has become so hot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Authoritarian banksters

Hands down, the MOST annoying behavior of the various incarnations of central banking is their insistence that they must remain "independent."  Considering how important monetary policy is, leaving the central bankers to their own devices pretty much destroys the whole idea of representative government.  Placing critical decisions like they make beyond parliamentary control pretty much reduces governments to the trivial considerations like naming highways or restricting pot smoking.

Generally speaking, however, central bankers and their shills try not bring up the anti-democratic nature of their insistence on independence.  But Mario Monti, the unelected Prime Minister of Italy, sidestepped that convention in an interview with SPIEGEL and suddenly the Germans were confronted by the fact that the moneychangers are not only crooks, but are little dictators down to their very shriveled souls.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's not just Adam Davidson

On Friday, I posted some background on the host of NPR's Planet Money suggesting that he was more evil than just your typical Wall Street stooge.  The problem with such assessments is that it is VERY difficult to distinguish between someone spouting flawed, but deeply-held beliefs, and someone who has been corrupted by bankster money.  After all, both would say most of the same things.

First up, we have Pam Martens who has worked on Wall Street and is still impressed by how "brilliant" everyone is.  From that point of view, it is almost impossible not to conclude that these people who are saying really absurd things in the press must be selling out to evil.

Matt Taibbi, on the other hand, is NOT so impressed by the "brilliance" of the denizens of Wall Street.  He thinks they are narrow-minded provincials with a very pinched worldview that have been given the keys to dad's sports car (the economy) and don't really know how to drive it.  Stupid, reckless, rich kids!

I tend to find both arguments have merit, though because I tend to think of banksters as these pathetic losers that have turned to crime because it's the only "skills" they have, my basic sympathies are with Taibbi (whose writing I just love!)

But really, I think the ultimate guilty parties are the economic theorists who have concocted a belief system that is plausible to those who think that the economy can best be described by following the money trail.  Start with the supposition that markets are all-wise and there is literally no end to the mischief that follows from that—up to and including the destruction of the biosphere and the demolition of the real economy.  Give dullards the power to manipulate and sabotage the real economy by their rigging of the numbers and you have utterly foreclosed on the possibility of solving difficult problems.

So I guess I believe that if you fill someone's head with enough bullshit, they will quite naturally turn out like a Davidson, or Sorkin, or Bartiromo.  So the power rests with the teachers of bullshit—although as paid propagandists for this BS, financial reporters are very important in the widespread inculcation of a truly evil and destructive belief system.  They are far from innocent but in the end, they are just the "carriers" of the BS.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The casual sadism of the Leisure Classes

Because tools and skills are the two most important assets a Producer has, the process of removing a functioning factory—that has usually taken many years to get running smoothly—is a direct assault on the wealth created by the hard work and ingenuity of the folks who built it.  But the Predators have discovered that most of things that Producers do are actually a lot harder to get right than they would appear.  So in an especially ugly twist of the knife, the strategy is now to get the Producers being robbed to give up their hard-won skills and knowhow too.  Not since the Romans forced crucifixion victims to carry their own crosses has there been anything so relentlessly sadistic.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Even NPR

One of the phenomenon that has fascinated me for most of my adult life is how this country could be convinced to dismantle the regulatory apparatus that had been put in place (mostly in the 1930s) to prevent another Great Depression.  Part of this process was easy—the folks who actually remembered the Depression and the arguments in favor of putting strict controls on Wall Street grew old and senile and eventually died.  The hard part facing the deregulators was building a case for a set of ideas that had been utterly discredited by the Depression.  JK Galbraith cracked, "Milton Friedman’s misfortune is that his economic policies have been tried."

In 1977, my favorite wisecracking economist wrote a book and starred in a fifteen-part series on Public Television called The Age of Uncertainty.  As an offshoot of Moral Philosophy, there is the need in economics to control the narrative.  So by 1980, the "intellectual" pushback against the economics taught by Galbraith had begun when PBS put Milton Friedman on the air with his crackpot ideas called Free to Choose.  I pretty much stopped watching PBS by 1982 when it was clear that some decision had been reached at some management level whereby every economic report was going to have a neoliberal, Chicago-School bias.

So I have missed the total takeover of the economic narrative on the various public broadcasting venues.  But as the following demonstrates, one of the mainstays of NPR economic reporting is actually quite a bit worse than just a seriously confused Chicago hack explaining his arrant nonsense for the Nice Polite Republicans who like tote bags.  This guy is evil.  Read for yourself and mentally do the math for how many people have had their lives screwed up by policies championed by the host of Planet Money.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The crop is lost...what now?

The truth is, I have absolutely no idea what happens when global food stocks run low.  I am 63 years old and during my entire life, the biggest problem facing USA agriculture has been, How do we get rid of all that food?  I have seen corn piled up in huge mountains next to grain elevators because there was no place to put it.  But shortages?—there is literally no precedent in American history.  This is a country that has really only had to deal with excess.  And most people cannot imagine any other possibility.

One of the reasons many folks in USA cannot believe Peak Oil, even though the concept is widely accepted by the professionals who actually find the stuff, is because they believe in the American Dream of permanent abundance.  If there is a shortage of oil, it is only because bad guys are doing something to disrupt the supply.  I have "liberal" friends who believe that oil companies have bought up the technology for magic engines that get 200 mpg so this technology will not destroy the markets for oil, or that oil companies have capped thousands of good producing wells within our borders to reduce supply.  And when it comes to climate change—a phenomenon that is so widespread most people have to move less than ten feet to encounter more evidence—they simply cannot believe something as big as the sky can be changed by their lifestyles.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The complexity of energy

The electricity markets are sufficiently complex that they have long been subject to intense regulation.  The reasons are twofold: 1) the infrastructure necessary to electrify a community is both very expensive and in the end, there only needs to be one of them.  The whole set of arguments about "natural monopolies" gave us regulated utilities.  2) Energy is a qualitatively different product than most on the market.  Once someone has invested in equipment that needs electrical power, not having it is often literally a matter of life and death (think: a surgical suite).  Therefore demand is not very elastic.

These two reasons just scream for regulations.  Deregulating the market for electricity has spawned such utter disasters as Enron.  Until we understand again that whatever benefits may accrue as a result of "free market" ideology, and that these ideas clearly do not apply to electrical generation and distribution, we are doomed to brazen manipulation by petty would-be white-collar thieves.  JP Morgan Chase might just be the sort of place that incubates such Predators.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Machiavelli and the survival of republics

A tip o' the hat to Avedon for pointing to this posting by a Renaissance scholar who has completed a year of living in Florence, explaining the historical context and significance of Machiavelli. The core theme is that Machiavelli sought above all else to protect and preserve the city of Florence, as a human triumph of art and architecture, but more importantly, as the admittedly imperfect embodiment of the idea of self government.
I found the article particularly interesting, and wanted to share it, because Gordon S. Wood, in his monumental study of the thinking and philosophy that underlie the American Revolution, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, identified Machiavelli as one of the important sources of Revolutionary thinking:

The education of Gore Vidal

I am not exactly certain just why I have so enjoyed the writings of Gore Vidal over the years.  But what I do know, and a PBS special from 2002 that recently resurfaced has made so abundantly clear, is that my life and Vidal's were about as different as is humanly possible.  I watched it last night.

Examples abound.  Vidal was born to the USA's ruling class.  He was the pet grandchild of a blind Senator and so found himself reading the documents of government to him on the Senate floor.  He probably knew more about the inner workings of government by 10 than I would know in a lifetime.

Then there was the matter of Vidal being so absurdly handsome that he was probably the best looking person in the room for most of his life.  Beautiful people get away with a LOT and so comments that would have destroyed the careers of lesser folks were tolerated and even loved when written by Gore.  We can be reasonably certain that Vidal would never have been a regular on Johnny Carson if he had been an ugly man.

In the end, his great intellectual contribution to life in USA was that he understood how its Leisure Classes operated.  From the founding fathers to the wretched empire builders who hatched the invasion of Iraq, Gore wrote about them as amusingly absurd.  He had a home in Italy for much of his life where he would compare the American Empire's depravities with those of Rome's.  And so his life's work could be summed up by his strange insistence on telling the truth about some of the greatest liars and hypocrites to have ever walked the earth.  No small contribution, that.

But the USA of the builders completely escaped his notice.  He did not write about Whitney or Edison or Ford.  His father was a senior aviation bureaucrat for FDR but young Gore never became the least interested in how aerospace became one of the dominant industries in the land.  And so now, when the great existential threats to the nation and the world such as climate change are those only the builders can truly understand, his stunning insights can be reduced to yet another observation that the Leisure Classes really are as useless as they aspire to be.

As someone who has grown to detest the Leisure Classes over the years, I guess I loved reading Vidal because he provided me with so much ammunition in my understanding of just how those folks preserve their archaic traits.  And how impervious they are to the influences of science and rational thought.  We know the Enlightenment happened.  We also know that it was wasted on the current crop of scientifically illiterate politicians who can watch their country burn to a crisp and still deny climate change.  When Vidal unfavorably compared our current manifestations of the Leisure Classes to the emperors like Caligula, he gave us insights that were actually quite impossible to ignore.  Because while it is possible to dismiss the Leisure Classes as just more useless protoplasm, Vidal gave us chapter and verse for why this is probably a good idea.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mars rover Curiosity landed safely

The Mars rover Curiosity landed safely on Mars early this morning. The rover weighs over one ton and is larger than a full-size American automobile (notice the two people standing at the left side of the photo, below). Congratulations are due to the people at NASA, JPL, and elsewhere who conceived, designed and executed this impressive mission.

OIL in the USA

Ms. Tverberg has decided to look at the fundamental dilemma of our time.  The price of fuels go up and causes the economy to contract.  The sinking economy drags down fuel prices so there is a modest recovery.  And so the prices go up again.  Rinse and repeat.

The ONLY way to get out of this trap is to figure out how to use less fuels—efficiency, sustainable substitutions, etc.  Otherwise, there is a ceiling to economic activity.  Combine a fixed-size global economy with a growing population and there are a LOT of people shut out of any chance for a meaningful life.  The ONLY way for the economy to grow continuously is for there to a major advances in securing energy that does not come from the ground.  Very difficult and utterly necessary.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Proving the obvious

The central skill of science is precise observation.  Unfortunately, observation tells us what is—not necessarily what will happen in the future.  Which is why when computer modeling became possible, everyone jumped on that bandwagon.  Like all forms of modeling, it's a lot harder than it looks—and it looks damn hard.  So, not surprisingly, mathematical models of pretty much anything have not lived up to the high expectations we all had back when we still carted around the punch cards used to communicate with computers.  And in some disciplines such as economics, the reliance on models has been catastrophic.

I might suggest that reliance on mathematical models in the climate change "debates" has been almost as disastrous as with economics—even though climate modeling uses more relevant data and employs more hard science disciplines like chemistry and fluid dynamics.  And it did not need to happen.  The basic climate change argument is fifth-grade simple—all our fires have led to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  CO2 traps solar energy more efficiently than nitrogen and oxygen.  Therefore, our atmosphere now has more energy.  This means our hot days will be hotter, our windy days windier, our droughts drier, etc.  This is what we know—all other predictions are educated guesses.

But we have gone past the point where predictions are necessary.  Now we can go simply with observations.  Some day, maybe soon, our ability to predict the effects of climate change will get a lot better.  Why not?—the ability to predict weather events has been transformed in my lifetime from a barometer, a thermometer, and watching the sky to the other night when I watched a thunderstorm march through my county on Nexrad streamed to an iPad.  Of course, weather forecasting got better through better methods of observation (satellite images, doppler radar, etc.) and NOT through modeling—which is still in its infancy.

So I am delighted to see that James Hansen has decided that climate change is by now so freaking obvious to anyone who looks out his front door, that we can better describe the phenomenon using historical records and statistical analysis than by arguing which flawed math model is more valid.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Banksters' PR campaign is not working....

Hat tip to Washington's Blog, which last week highlighted former British prime minister Tony Blair whining:
We must not start thinking that society will be better off “if we hang 20 bankers at the end of the street” ….
Yeah, just 20 is not nearly enough. 20,000? Now, that would make a dent in the problem.

Wind Energy News - July 2012

Study shows renewable-energy potential in the U.S.
The U.S. has 481,800 terawatt-hours of technical renewable-energy generation potential and 212,224 gigawatts of technical renewable-energy capacity potential, according to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The West and central Great Plains have the most potential for land-based wind power, while the Southeast has the least. The Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico have lower offshore-wind potential than the Pacific Coast, but their relatively shallow continental shelves mean they have a bigger development potential, the report showed. Greentech Media (8/1)

Saturday toons 04 AUG 12

Friday, August 3, 2012

Question for the weekend

Will this summer's drought and the resulting shortage of basic foodstuffs be a problem serious enough so that even politicians and journalists understand that it is no longer possible to ignore the problems of climate change?

I say "no" but this is because I believe it is always bad to bet against stupid in USA.

Corn belt drought—another week without rain

We got rain again last night here just south of St. Paul.  If this keeps up, the farmers around here will be suffering survivor's guilt.  Because those Iowa corn crops we saw last week that were "just going to make it" if they got rain soon, didn't get the rain.  As you can see by the map below the area we visited last week is now listed as D3 Extreme.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another great tribute to Gore Vidal

In what passed for idealistic thinking in 1968 while the Cold War lies were thick on the ground, we were assured that if an asteroid were hurtling toward us, the US and USSR could put aside their differences to cope with the great external threat.  Unfortunately, even that glimmer of hope has proven absurd because it is quite clear we HAVE such a threat in climate change and yet they are ratcheting up the old Cold War rhetoric again.

Gore Vidal wrote about this absurd mentality while it was being "invented"—one of the many reason Vidal was an important writer.

Meta-thinking on political economy

Once in awhile it is good to have big thoughts on economics.  So without further ado, a small collection starting with the idea that if $21 Trillion are parked in offshore tax haven, it is almost assured that money is NOT financing any worthwhile activity in the real economy.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The death of a great one

Gore Vidal has been pretty popular in our house over the years.  My S.O. read Lincoln several years ago and then proceeded to read the rest of his historical fiction.  I am not into fiction so much but I loved his political commentary.  He had two things going for him.
  • In a USA where the overwhelming majority see the world as America and those other places, Vidal understood that there other places on earth where educated people of good taste actually prefer to live. Many of his best pieces were written in Italy.
  • He was an excellent historian who had been given an insider's view of the folks who actually get to run things.  Like the preacher's kid who discovers his old man isn't any more connected to God than anyone else, Vidal grew up knowing that powerful politicians were usually corrupt, not very bright, and easily distracted by the pleasures of the flesh.  And from that perspective, he assumed the historical figures he wrote about were much the same.
And he was probably correct on that. He certainly was entertaining.

Here is an obit from France 24 on his passing.

Serious science fights back

I have probably been excessively passionate in my defense of science over the years.  Growing up in a home that trafficked in a belief system set me up to become very fond of an intellectual system that didn't ask you to believe anything except your own eyes.  Science wasn't built on reputations—it was built on experimentation.  I liked that a LOT.

Because science is so powerful and useful, there have been MANY charlatans over the years that have claimed their snake oil was scientific.  And so for many of those who didn't turn into hopeless science junkies, the question of what is scientific and what is not isn't very clear.  The success of the climate change denialists in USA is a vivid reminder of the dangers of not getting this basic point straight.

I am a bit too old to have become a fan of Bill Nye.  But from what I have seen of his work, he seems like just the sort of person you would want to teach science to your 10-year-old.  And because he has been on TV for years, he has some interesting insights into how the media works.  And he is correct about the utter lack of media coverage over such a life-threatening subject as climate change.

The corn belt drought—the news gets worse

Just in case anyone points out that in 2010 the Russians essentially lost their wheat crop and it barely caused a ripple in the world food supply, it should be noted that this year, the disaster in the USA corn belt is being joined by major crop losses in Russia AND Australia.