Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pond scum and our energy future

In the late 90s, the DOE's Aquatic Species Program closed out with a report saying that, despite all the promise of biodiesel from algae farming, diesel prices would have to at least double to make it commercially appealing.

Diesel prices have almost tripled since that time.

Algae farming, I love it. You can make methane, ethanol, diesel, maybe even cattle feed. You can grow algae in brackish water, so it's a great use for all those fields gone dead from salination. You can pump CO2 into the water from coal-burning effluent and increase the yield. The photosynthesis yield per acre of land useless for farming, pasture or woodland would be high. But we're not using algae to make biodiesel, an in the meantime, the surging demand for biodiesel is causing more rainforest to be cleared for sugar cane, palm oil, soy. What sense does this make? Still, I think it's coming, and we'll thank Jimmy Carter for investing in pond scum.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Iraq's Descent

Excellent piece by Nir Rosen in the Boston Review. Interestingly, the Iraqi Shi'ite fanatic's standard term for Sunni is now Wahhabi. The Saudis can't be too happy about that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More impactfulness found

It's possible that major asteroidal and cometary impacts are far more frequent--perhaps by two orders of magnitude--than supposed. According to a story in the International Herald Tribune, some large sediment formations called chevrons contain a lot of deep ocean microfossils and elements associated with impact events. They are hypothesized to be the result of 'megatsunamis' that would have dwarfed the recent one that hit the coast of Sumatra so hard.

If the evidence mounts in favor of this hypothesis, planetary defense might still sit on the back burner, but the pot would bubble a little more. The Tribune story claims that all "earth-grazing" asteroids are catalogued and monitored, and the likely frequency of impacts are estimated from that data. But maybe they haven't been adequately covered.

I happed to run into Piet Hut while I was in Berkeley earlier this year. He said that the B612 Foundation takes up maybe only 5% of his time. I don't suppose it's anybody's first priority right now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More tornado alleys?

The GOP is this election's tornado bait. Disgusted conservative Christians staying home on one side, enraged Democrats (and not a few independents) charging to the polls on the other--something was going to get ripped up and splintered in between those two continental-scale masses.

Here in relatively sedate Japan, the news is of a literal tornado that has killed at least 9 people. Now, in America, that kind of death toll is not big news. But since 1961 (and better housing) the most lethal tornados in Japan have killed only one or two. Tornados of intensity higher than F4 are simply not seen. (I just caught a clip on TV news of a what may have been just a very large dust-devil in a schoolyard here, with students unsure of whether it was safe to approach it. In Oklahoma, they'd be taking shelter, fast.) The Japanese word tatsumaki doesn't even distinguish between tornado and waterspout.

I hate it when somebody seizes on a weather news item and declares Global Warming the cause. You heard a lot of that when Katrina hit. Statistically, tornadoes don't seem to be on the increase in Japan. However, the main outcome of global warming may be seen in increases in intensity of extreme events, not frequency.

Democrats getting into a the House? Possibility that state capitols will become majority-Democrat? Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican governor, declaring a split with the Bush administration's Kyoto Protocol policy, and making carbon-trading deals with Eastern seaboard states? (And his Attorney General announcing a lawsuit against major automakers for the damage done by their vehicles' carbon emissions?) A British report recently that untrammelled Greenhouse Gas emissions will cause more economic damage than abatement measures? Maybe it's finally all coming together: the big American turnaround on climate change issues. Maybe we don't have to wait until Bush leaves office.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Truly startling desperation

One day before an election, you get a phone call. It's a recorded message. It purports to be about a Democratic candidate. Then you get an attack ad. At the end, you're told the ad was sponsored by a Republican campaign.

You get this same phone call eight times that day.

Actually, though, if you're a GOP-leaning voter, you probably hang up in the first few seconds, the first time (not just every time thereafter) because you've already made up your mind. Damned Democrats won't leave you alone! It riles you. You're gonna vote against these turkeys, and especially so because of their harassing phone calls!

If you're a Dem-leaning voter--well, maybe your chance of getting this call is much lower. The GOP machine has the phone numbers of many GOP voters. They can figure out who you are just by what diet cola you drink and what car you drive.

It's happening. It's sneaky, desperate, and not too likely to work, I think. It might be illegal, but the fine in New Hampshire is only $5,000, not exactly a major deterrent when you think of the millions being sunk into campaigns.

As one pundit put it recently, the American electorate is waiting to vomit, but is still staring at the porcelain. Robocalls are just another finger down their throats.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Neocons: "You can't blame us!"

Or not much, anyway.

My theory is that the neo-cons were just another Big Tent constituency who were seduced into collaboration with the Petrodollar Wing of the GOP because of their blend of Boy Scout attitudes about ends and Machiavellian acceptance of any means necessary. They are a brainy tribe who sneer at Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh, I'm sure, even as Condi and Dubya appear on those radio shows because a vote is a vote is a vote. Brainy types like to be right--to the point of irritating their debating partners. I think what the neo-cons don't understand is that, in the politics of a democracy, it's better to appear stupid, while getting what you want, than to be "right", but not get it. (Since none of them seem to have run for elective office, it's not surprising they never learned this lesson.) As a constituency, they were convenient for the Bush administration--for a while. Now they are gone, though tarred by the association with Iraq failure. Which, of course, they resent mightily. I'm so sad for them. SO sad.

Make no mistake, see no mistake, speak no mistake

That noble experiment in open source intelligence analysis, the Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal, has been taken down for inspection and removal of any of those pesky nuclear bomb recipes that somehow keep floating around the Internet.

But ... how did could something like this have happened? The official story is that "something unfortunate occurred". Whew. I'm so ... relieved. Think how much worse it could have been. Imagine if ... mistakes had been made. You don't want that.

The right-wing blogosphere is, of course, cawing victory: "Saddam had a bomb program! We even got the NYT to admit it! He was only a year away from a bomb!" Yeah--back in 1991. When are these people going to learn the past perfect tense? "He'd had a WMD program" is not the same as "He had a WMD program". I guess those homies was too cool for school. Shee-yit.

Friday, November 03, 2006

He Changes the Results with His Noodly Appendages

The news is a constant assault for the habitual blogger. What to choose? For over 48 hours, I've been dithering.

Do I talk about this conservative evangelical superchurch leader, Haggard, caught with his pants down, who has apparently now admitted to a pastor some of the charges against him, but not all? ("Yes I hired a rent boy, but the part about buying meth from him is a lie, a total lie!") What's next with that story? Will we soon hear from Haggard that he was fondled as a teenager by some Papist Spawn of Sodom?

Or do I write about how Tony Snow downplayed a leaked Pentagon report that used the term "ethnic cleansing" in describing many of the variables of what might be called the Iraq Chaos Index? That came hot on the heels of PM Maliki telling the U.S. to clear off, get out of the way, let us handle this sectarian violence (I assume so that Shi'ite militias can ethnically cleanse Baghdad unimpeded.) Tony says deaths are down since Ramadan. (How would we know? The Iraqi government has decided it's going to stop reporting mortality figures.) It's just an October 18th snapshot, Tony says. If we all pull together, the sun will shine tomorrow! All this defeatist carping! It's SO unfair!

Do I write about John Kerry, the Cookie Monster of American orators, and his dumb botching of a dumb joke about how dumb Dubya is? Pretty soon we'll be hearing dumb criticism of his dumb apology to the dumb people who didn't realize he dumbly botched a dumb joke about how dumb Dubya is. Man, am I tired of reading about this. Why doesn't the American political system feature an OFF button?

I'm not gonna write about any of that. Read this, instead: the impassioned plea from a beleagured minority religion in America that their version of creation be taught in schools, that it be given equal time. The faithful members of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster need to have their say, and I say: it's about time.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ubergirl Dusts Supermemo - Rematch not yet scheduled

The coiner of the term "uberman sleep", and until recently, one of the most successful popularizers of the concept by way of her anonymous everything2 entry years ago, takes on some of the most hideously pin-headed criticisms of the practice.