Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The troubling idea arose...that we are mostly alive in each other's minds and that we're only dead when we're dead to ourselves."
Jim Harrison
"The Summer He Didn't Die"
And R.I.P. Lynn Redgrave, above in Georgy Girl with Alan Bates.

Power to the Future

So the purpose of one set of tasks for the near-term future--edging towards Climate Cataclysm-- is to make things as good as possible for as long as possible.

It's important for the future in general that the life-killing, civilization-ending heat-trapping gases be severely and all but completely curtailed. Clean energy technology and a clean energy economy provide energy to compensate for less fossil fuel burning. But particularly when clean energy is scaled to be locally produced and controlled, it will in itself be vital to making things as good as possible for as long as possible. So every step towards that is worth notice, and there are two today.

The House passed its version of the "Home Star Energy Retrofit Act," and all that needs to happen now is working out differences with the Senate version. It provides incentives to homeowners for energy efficient retrofits. Buildings account for 40% of U.S. energy use, and this program is big enough to create jobs and support businesses engaged in this work. This effort, widely supported by business and labor organizations, is the "low-hanging fruit" of saving energy and cutting heat-trapping gases.

The first big investments in clean energy were part of the Recovery Act, and the Department of Energy reported on progress a year later. Some 5,000 projects have been funded, but since these projects were designed for long-term benefit, most are just beginning to be implemented: conducting research, building wind farms and factories for electric battery.

This last item is a particular emphasis: Currently there are only three battery factories operating in the U.S., he says. Through the Recovery Act and related incentive programs, 30 battery and battery component factories are now being built. This will result in the capacity to build enough batteries for 500,000 electric vehicles a year, “whereas today we can hardly touch the topic,” Rogers says. Meanwhile, the DOE is funding research projects that could increase the performance of batteries threefold to sixfold, while reducing costs by 90 percent or more. All of that is designed to work with other programs with the goal of efficient and affordable electric vehicles.

What concerns me, however, is that so much of the emphasis, at least in what's being publicized, is on battery and wind technology, not so much on solar. Solar seems the most decentralized, and therefore the most adaptable to circumstances. I hope for one thing that people taking advantage of these retrofit programs include home solar. Getting as much power as possible directly from the sun offers a kind of security.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Daily Babble

It's a complete terrorism law enforcement triumph at every level: federal in particular. Just 53 hours after a terrorist bombing was attempted in Times Square, a suspect was in custody and confessed. Possible confederates in Pakistan were being arrested and questioned.

But America as a whole can't applaud those facts, and be reassured, without GOPers braying about reading him his Miranda rights (he confessed without being tortured! What an outrage!), or even that the Obama administration failed to catch the criminal before he committed the crime (that charge by a former NY governor yet.) President Obama said that we won't be terrorized. But GOPers terrorize based on success.

As toxic as this might be on many levels, when the same kind of politics is played over something like the Gulf oil gusher, we get ridiculously distracted from anticipating what the consequences might be, which could lead--who knows?--to dealing with the consequences better, and even taking preventive action.

It's one thing to utter insane charges, but it's quite another to waste public news time on them. Chris Matthews interviewed disgraced former FEMA chief Michael Brown so he could air his charges that the federal government deliberately delayed its response for political purposes. Matthews told him he thought it was insane, but the real question came from his next guest, Howard Dean, who asked, why did you even have that guy on? Well, it gave Chris a chance to do a "tough interview," and get blog time. But as we're going to learn as this situation develops, sometimes what is wasted is lost forever, and in this case, it's the time to consider the real possible impacts. And there are lots of people who are able and willing to talk about that: the range of possible ecological, economic and societal effects.

I don't know, maybe that's what PBS is for. But it seems to me that we can't head off the worst effects if we never discuss the future in real terms, in real possibilities, contingencies, plans, actions. If all the information is from political blogs and shows, we might never know they even exist. In fact, the only place I heard any of that kind of analysis was on CNBC, where the future is of interest only as far as it affects business. But even that's better than political fights over nonsense.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf on Tuesday, favorable winds kept the oil mostly at bay. But that can't last forever. Dana Milbank writes about the anti-government conservatives who are now crying for federal help, in his Washington Post piece, Through oil-fouled water, big government looks better and better.

Meawhile, NPR contributes a narrative of the oil gush from the start until now.

So I leave you to a happy Cinco de Mayo, which is a bigger deal here in California than the rest of the country--or for that matter, Mexico. Which I will be celebrating with a root canal. Oh how I wish that to be a joke.

Monday, May 03, 2010

How It Started

One of several just released photos of the explosions and resulting fires of the oil rig that killed 11 men and led to the mile-deep gusher now shooting oil into the Gulf. Late Monday, Climate Progress flagged allegations in a Tuesday New York Times story: "At least one worker who was on the oil rig at the time of the explosion on April 20, and who handled company records for BP, said the rig had been drilling deeper than 22,000 feet, even though the company’s federal permit allowed it to go only 18,000 to 20,000 feet deep, the lawyers said.

Another worker familiar with the rig told the lawyers that the company had chosen not to install a deep-water valve that would have been placed about 200 feet under the sea floor. Much like blowout preventers, devices that are meant to seal leaks, this valve could have served as a cutoff of last resort in explosions, the lawyers said. “The company took their chances in not having the valve so they could save money,” said Mike Papantonio, one of the lawyers representing the shrimpers and fishermen."

The Daily Babble: Oil, Water and Media

I was just watching Rachel Maddow reporting from the Gulf, in between peeks at the Boston-Cleveland playoff and going outside to work on my version of the NBA chi-chi shot of the year, the floater, dreaming of the day I get Medicare and can play maybe a pickup game without worrying about getting an injury I can't pay to have treated.

Apart from a pretty useless interview on a fishing boat--probably looked like a good idea when the producers thought of it--it was a reasonably decent look at the situation, with a very strong and articulate commentary from Rachel at the end. But basically she gets big points for being there and focusing on the oil gush story.

There was a failed car bombing attempt--or probably an attempt--in Times Square over the weekend, which was hard to miss if you passed through CNN. With MSNBC running its prisoner weekend shows and the networks doing sports and entertainment, and Fox News doing Fox News, this was not necessarily the most trusted name in news but the only news. And it was totally concentrated on Times Square for hours at a time. Twenty-four people died by official count from storm-related flooding in Tennessee and environs, but CNN's coverage reminded me of the way the networks used to cover a disaster in, say, India--with the same little bit of sensational footage. Because they didn't have correspondents and cameras in that part of India. And this is part and parcel of cable news becoming tabloid TV, either the entire channel that used to be Headline News now covering tawdry celebrity stories and child kidnappings 24/7, or the political tabloid coverage of the other cables.

It's not just that New York City is a big deal, or even that the cable networks are headquartered there. It's that it was the cheapest thing to cover, even though there was no news whatever for most of that time. The correspondents who live there were available, and news divisions spend far less than ever on covering the country let alone the world.

Today was better--the major networks and even CNN are in the Gulf and have at least fresh footage from Nashville, etc. But this is partly why we get such lax and often distorted coverage of real news events with real consequences. I've started reading the Katrina chapters of Rebecca Solnit's book, A Paradise Built in Hell, and so much of the coverage was just plain wrong, and has never been corrected. But more on that another time.

As for the Gulf now, winds and currents apparently are holding back the oil from shore but the amount of oil is growing larger. The inundation is only a matter of time, and also a matter of local efforts to keep it out. It sounds like a Dunkirk-like effort is underway, massing local boats and improvised resources, to hold back the oil. We can only hope it's successful.

Two more TV notes to end this babble is running an ad linking oil dependence to Iran's making money to fund its development of explosives used against U.S. troops, using this to urge the switch to a clean domestic energy economy--it's one of the best ads of its kind I've seen it a long time. Worth paying to see it more. And I heard Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, on Rachel, and there were a couple of words he pronounced ...well, I knew he was from Pittsburgh. And sure enough... (The tip0ff was Prince William Sound, which in Pittsburghese comes out Prince William Sawnd. Interesting that this was nearly the only clear instance of the Pittsburgh dialect though.)

Sunday, May 02, 2010


It keeps getting worse. Huge amounts of oil continue to gush into the Gulf--maybe tens of thousands of gallons a day--and the wells will not be contained for at least a week, and may not be successfully capped for three months. That's more than enough time and oil to spread the destruction beyond the Gulf and up the East Coast.

Interior Secretary Salazar called the situation "catastrophic." A catastrophe is a disaster with lasting effects, that spreads destructive effects beyond its local origin and for a long time. Homeland Security Chief Napalitano answered charges that the government hasn't responded quickly enough."The physical response on the ground has been from day one as if this could be a catastrophic failure," she said. "Every possible resource was being lined up on shore."

Viewing the situation on the ground, President Obama called it "a potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." He vowed to do "whatever it takes and as long as it takes" to contain the spill. But he warned: "BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill."

The oil inundation threatens to play havoc with the Gulf region economy and the livelihoods of people there, as well as the destructive economic ripples through the country and the world. That normally takes attention away from the threats to the survival of other species, and below the photo of President Obama with Louisiana governor Jindal, are several more threatened species: the Pantropical spotted dolphin in Gulf waters, and the Great Blue Heron and Black Skimmer who nest in bird sanctuaries that could well be destroyed. These photos are from a Kos diary by Haole in Hawaii.