Total Pageviews

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS FOR 2009

By now you have no doubt read a dozen reviews of 2008 and projections for 2009, all pure guesses, unless someone was carefully predicting that the Sun would rise tomorrow and the like. I would like to, instead, affect the future by sharing a few simple solutions. Here are my top five:

1. End to the Gaza Strip War: “Why don’t those #&%#@* Hamas idiots just stop lobbing rockets into Israel,” courtesy of a golf buddy pundit expressed at the Ala Wai Golf Course Clubhouse. He wanted me to repeat this in my daily blog, but I thought we should protect both of us from any possible fatwa by not specifically identifying the source. White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe expressed those exact sentiments, with a safe political spin.

2. To initiate the process for Peace on Earth, forever: My very first Huffington Post article, circa 29May08, entitled, Well, Barack, We have a Problem…, can be quoted for the simple solution: …go to your very first G8 Nations Summit, by your declared emergency to be held at United Nations headquarters in New York City, and pronounce a Gorbachev-like bombshell: our country will reduce military spending by 10% this year, and will continue to do so for the next eight years. This scenario is described on page 65 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity shown in one of the boxes on the right. You say, we want every country to do the same, for this 10% solution is our best response (create a global fund) to Peak Oil and Global Warming (PO/GW). At this stage, keep quiet about the "ending wars forever" part, as then, no one will take you too seriously. China's knee-jerk reaction might well be, what, cut defense spending? We haven't had a chance yet to attain your level of capability. But, on afterthought, they will realize that they will only need to decrease their spending by $6 billion in Year One while the U.S. takes a $60 billion hit. Ten percent of the worldwide $1.2 trillion/year for war means that at least $120 billion/year will suddenly become available in the first year to overcome PO/GW.

3. Saving the American auto industry: Each person has already loaned GM and Chrysler $44 (for a total of $13.4 billion), which could be up to almost ten times more ($410/person), based on the December Congressional hearing, when all the full bailout package is provided. The best that GM could offer about their future was a plug-in Volt electric car. Why copy the Japanese? Think, really think about the future of ground transport, and develop a truly promising next generation vehicle. Reference can be made to my posting on Is there an Option More Promising than the Plug-in Electric Vehicle? This alternative future is the direct methanol fuel cell. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy currently bans funds to develop this technology, and also any biomethanol production research. What better partnership than the auto industry and farmers, with government incentives, to manufacture the renewable fuel and power system to lead the world in a decade?

4. Saving the national economy: There will be an Obama stimulus package, perhaps with a trillion dollar value. The details are provided in Buy American, Again, but the timing is right for our new president to help Main Street when, on President Bush’s watch, $863.4 billion were provided to Wall Street, porkers and Detroit. An equivalent to each citizen, would then be just under $3,000. To save a few bucks for other needs, only give $6000 to each couple filing a tax return and $3000 for individuals. However, don’t send a check. Just give each couple/individual a credit card for the appropriate amount, which can only be used to buy products made in the USA. There are some downsides to this plan, but they are explained away in the indicated article.


5. Saving Planet Earth and Humanity: About global warming, I’ve published 35 articles in the Huffington Post, and all of them, to some degree, treat this subject. Let me then simplify with two specifics. First, immediately mandate a dollar a gallon investment surcharge on gasoline before oil prices rise again. Gas will still cost much less than European rates. Second, add a penny per pound carbon dioxide disenhancement charge (this will add 2 cents/kWh to your electricity bill if your power comes from a coal-fired facility), proportionately linked to $30/barrel oil, to adjust as oil prices vacillate, so that at $150/barrel, the tax should be 5 cents/pound. Yes, some of the revenues will need to be directly returned to the people, but a good fraction should be utilized to develop sustainable resource options.

What are the odds of any one of the above attaining reality? Zero, unless each of you sends this posting to ten colleagues, who….
-
The Dow Jones Industrials rose 108 to 8776, but this means that the dollar drop for the year was the highest since 1931 during the peak of the Great Depression. The percentage decrease was 34% for the year. World markets all went up, except for the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Oil jumped $5.57/barrel to $44.60, but this price represents a 61% drop for the year. Gold rose $7.20/toz to $880.80, or an INCREASE of close to 5% for the year. Yes, the pieces are falling into place, for a recession means that investors shift to gold.
-

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 13)

The following is largely excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

What doesn’t the world like about the U.S.?

...........ISSUE ..................................APPROVE ..DISAPPROVE

o North Korea’s nuclear program ..........30% .............54%
o Iran’s nuclear program .......................28% .............60%
o Global warming .................................27% .............56%
o The Israeli-Hezbollah war ...................21% .............65%
o The war in Iraq ..................................20% .............73%

A good place to start is by introspection. We find every excuse for deriding China on virtually everything it does. So why did the United States in 2006 choose not to seek a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council? Why didn’t the conscious of the world, us, continue our attempts to improve the world? Very simple, the potential embarrassment that we would not win one of the seats, for we now rest at the top of the list for the exploitation and manipulation of human rights, that’s why. Add to these the Patriot Act, which provides an excuse for eavesdropping and circumventing civil rights at home, and one gets an uneasy sense of really Big Brother.

Internationally, America the Protector! A little loyalty, perhaps, might be nice. Our only wish is for you to become democratic. Why, then, in a poll taken early in 2006, half of South Korean youths who will be old enough to vote in the next elections, say that Seoul should side with their neighbors to the North if the United States invades North Korea? Also, 40% chose China as their most important partner, with the U.S. tying North Korea with 18%. What kind of thanks is that? U.S. attack North Korea? Preposterous! But, in a CBS/New York Times Poll taken in February of 2003, 52% of Americans responded that if diplomacy fails, military action should be taken if North Korea begins to develop nuclear weapons. Well, Great Leader Kim Jong Il finally did shut down his nuclear reactor in mid-2007. An actual agreement, though, awaits the Obama Administration.

Further, we saved France in World War II. How many there feel good about the ole US of A? Well, as a matter of fact, there is a book called The Arrogance of the French: Why They Can’t Stand Us—and Why the Feeling is Mutual. Written by a U.S. News and World Report correspondent in Paris, the bottom line being that France sucks. Remember our Freedom Fries and boycotts of French wine after their complicity with Saddam Hussein? The why has to do with a combination of arrogance and envy. I went to an energy conference in La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean in 2005. I was the only American. There were some initial chidings and jokes. Then, I made a remark that I can’t understand why my President scuttled the Kyoto Protocol and how I can’t agree with him on virtually everything. All true. I became a virtual celebrity and relationships began to gel. So, maybe the problem is our Great Leader, George W. Bush.

I travel the world. Japan kind of likes us, especially their Ministry of Foreign Affairs, particularly when a Republican is president. Singapore seems okay, especially if you talk business. Ah….I don’t remember, though, encountering too many friends anywhere else. In Edinburgh, Scotland, at their annual Arts Festival, there were more down with Bush signs than any other protest. Anytime President Bush visits any site, from Pakistan to the U.K. to Timbuktu, you can count on significant to massive demonstrations.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials leaped 184 to 8686. World markets also all went up, but crude oil dropped to $38.25/barrel and gold fell $7/toz to $873.60.
-

Monday, December 29, 2008

TRILLIONS, QUADRILLIONS AND MORE

My HuffPo of 29July08, entitled, Billions and Trillions, provided an almost startling number: $240 billion or $0.24 trillion. That was the total amount the United States spent, in 2008 dollars, for the Manhattan Project (to bring a quick end to World War II), the Marshall Plan (which built the foundation for a strong Western Europe against communism) and the Apollo Project (which was the seed that bankrupted the Soviet Union, leading to the end of the Cold War). That was cheap, recalling that Congress just set aside $700 billion to rescue Wall Street.

On October 14, I followed with Billions and Trillions Revisited. I noted that the average U.S. Department of Energy annual budget for renewable energy research over the past decade was under $1 billion. The brand new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS H.W. Bush, which will be commissioned on 10January09, cost taxpayers $4.5 billion. This will be our tenth Nimitz-class carrier. I have a problem with big ticket Defense expenditures in these days of rinky-dink terrorism, but, let’s face it, the decision to build came a long time ago. Watch, though, how compelling justification is provided for much more in the future.

But to go on, the profits of the top four oil companies alone were $100 billion in 2007 and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his book estimates the cost of the Middle East wars to be $3,000 billion or $3 trillion. In June, the International Energy Agency said that the world needs to spend $45 trillion to halve planet-warming carbon dioxide by 2050. We have a growing problem because it’s hard to focus on Peak Oil and Global Warming when oil is selling for $40/barrel and it is cold outside.

Well, anyway, we are beginning to enter new territory: quadrillion dollars. A Katrina victim is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for $3 quadrillion. NASA once reported that an ounce of anti-matter would cost $2.3 quadrillion to manufacture, if they could do it. All this is meaningless, of course, but five years ago, CNN.com reported that global warming solutions could cost up to $18 quadrillion, which was the highest end determination of expenditures required by 2100 of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But who takes them seriously? Not the G8 nations.

There is, though, at least one almost official sounding sum from the Bank of International Settlements: $1.144 quadrillion, which was the amount of outstanding derivatives worldwide at the end of last year. That would be equal to about $170,000 for each of the 6.7 billion people on Planet Earth. Mind you, this is funny money, for the current value of all the stocks and bonds around the globe is less than one tenth of a quadrillion dollars. Derivatives are unregulated and high-risk credit bets. Think Bernard Madoff. Warren Buffett, in a 2003 Fortune magazine issue, called derivatives the equivalent of financial weapons of mass destruction, and, surely enough, they exploded this fall.

But a quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000—and only has 15 zeros. I calculated in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth that the odds of any of us being born were 1 chance in 1 with 34 zeros. A googol has 1 followed by 100 zeros. There are many stories, but the most accurate one is that the founders of Google misspelled googol, and, anyway, google.com was available, and googol.com was not. For the record, the largest number with a name is the googleplex, which is one followed by…ah, this is getting too scientific. So we have a long way to go before our economy runs out of numbers.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials plunged 152, but slowly recovered during the final couple of hours to end minus 32 at 8484. World markets mostly went up today, and so did crude oil, increasing $2.31 to sneak above $40/barrel by two cents. Gold gained $8/toz to $880.
-

Saturday, December 27, 2008

BLACK FRIDAY

I was just about to post the following when a lightning storm caused a Honolulu blackout, which lasted all of 20 hours for me. Friday must have also been black in terms of shopping, as I could not find parking space at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Thankfully the stock market did not suffer a Black Friday, but actually went up, which, I guess, can be considered to be a profitable or black day.

On another black matter, The Huffington Post provided a relatively upbeat summary, if that's possible, of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, which killed 230,000 exactly four years ago, triggered by the second largest earthquake ever measured. This was by far the most deadly catastrophe of its type (death from seismic waves) in all of human history. Apparently, both nature and society are recovering well so soon, considering the enormity of the tragedy.

The #1 earthquake of all time occurred in 1960 off Chile, with a moment magnitude of M 9.5. The above Indonesian monster was between M 9.1 and M 9.3. At one time, the Richter scale was used, and provides lower numbers than the now more popular moment magnitude. A magnitude of 9.0 is ten times more powerful than an 8.0. If these earthquakes occur in the ocean, then tsunamis can result. However, the Chilean version “only” killed less than 2,000, including 61 in Hawaii, where the wave crested at 10.7 meters (35 feet).

Can there be anything worse from the sea? Yes, for in 1970, half a million perished from a cyclone (same as hurricane or typhoon) devastating East Pakistan. This cataclysm was at least partially responsible for this region seceding from the country and becoming Bangladesh in January of 1972.

Can there be anything even worse from the ocean? Again, yes, but not in a way you might expect. Should there be a mega-earthquake (say anything larger than M9.0) in the bottom of the sea, a near shore wave can be as high as 100 meters, but only about a max of 10 meters in the far field (a thousand or more miles away). However, if there is a mega landslide of sufficient size and velocity falling into a deep ocean, the tsunami can be as high as 1000 meters, depending on who you ask. Lituya Bay in Alaska 50 years ago experienced a 524 meter (1720 feet) wave, when Howard Ulrich and his son on board the Edrie were carried into the woods and survived. It was reported, though, that the wave was less than 75 feet when it struck the boat.

The most hyped possible event is the La Palma Mega Tidal Wave, featured as a potential reality by BBC News and regularly shown on the Discovery Channel. The result of Cumbre Vieja Volcano collapsing into the sea could produce a 900 meter (2950 feet) colossus, striking Florida, New York and Boston with 50 meter (164 feet) waves. Eminent scientists disagree on this projection.

Islands are most prone to this event because many form at the bottom of a deep ocean from volcanoes, which can naturally be eroded by water action. The island on which I live, Oahu in Hawaii, has supposedly suffered from more major landslides than anywhere else. The Nuuanu Landslide has been mentioned as one possibly having caused a mega tsunami a million or so years ago. For those who have been here, driving to the other side of the mountain chain from Waikiki, you will gawk up at the Koolaus, which represent the inside of a major crater. The rest of the volcano can be found in the ocean behind you. What is particularly disarming for me is that I live on Nuuanu Avenue.

As I was one of the geothermal reservoir engineers for the Hawaii Geothermal Project a third of a century ago, I had students build a model of the Big Island to determine how these steamy pockets form. Well, it then occurred to me that if certain rifts happen to join, say, triggered by a major earthquake, a good portion of that island could theoretically fall into the ocean, perhaps causing a mega tsunami. I picked August 2012 for this doomsday event in Chapter 6 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth, and entitled it, “Six Hours to Seattle.” I don’t want to give away the ending, but I can reassure you not to lose any sleep.

Chapter 5, incidentally, selected August 12, 2012 which just happens to be another Black Friday, as a different type of doom, the mere end of civilization through the Venus Syndrome. If we survive that day, then the 13-baktun cycle of the Maya reaches the termination point on December 21, 2012, which, then, would be a particularly Black Friday. Of course, how can any reasonably sensible person believe in these prophecies?
-
Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrials went up 47 to 8516. World markets were mixed. Crude oil increased $2.36/barrel to $37.71. Gold jumped $21.70/toz to $868.70.
-

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Engrossed with Christmas thoughts yesterday, I forgot to provide my usual economic summary. But nothing has changed, so, here it is:

1...The Dow Jones Industries rose 49 to 8468.

2...Oil dropped $3.63/barrel to $35.35.

3...Gold went up $7/toz to $847.70.

4...On a year to date basis, the DJI is down 36%, London -35%, Tokyo and Paris -44% and Shanghai -70%.

5...Oil is 63% lower, copper -59% and gold +1.5%...yes, up.
-

Let me continue my listing on this Christmas day with ten nearly useless bits of trivia in the spirit of my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS books:

1...To complete his tasks, Santa needs to travel between 3 and 5 million miles per hour, depending on who you believe. This is theoretically possible because the speed of light is on the order of 670 million miles per hour.
-
2...There is a contention that Santa used female reindeers with male names because they (boy deers of this species) lose their antlers in the winter. Females don’t...but yes, they do have them. The fact that neither gender can fly is irrelevant to this discussion.
-
3...Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was created for Montgomery Ward in 1939 as an advertisement gimmick. A decade later, Gene Autry sung the song that became the second best-selling of all time. White Christmas, by Bing Crosby, remains #1.
-
4...In the 12 Days of Christmas, 364 presents were given. The 2008 value was estimated to be just under $20,000. This period runs from Christmas Day to January 6 (Epiphany, meaning “to manifest or show,” when there is a Christian feast to celebrate God’s ”manifestation” in human form…Jesus.) Then, Christmas is again spent on January 7 if you're on the Julian calendar.
-
5...Nearly half a million get sick every year eating spoiled Christmas food.
-
6...If you don’t give your dog a Christmas present, you are not only miserly, but in the gross minority.
-
7...Jingle Bells was written in 1857 for Thanksgiving and was the first song broadcast from space
-
8...The Christmas tree was first popular in Germany as early as the 8th Century. O Tannenbaum (Christmas tree) came from 16th Century lyrics and an old German folk song. It takes anywhere from 4 to 15 years to grow a 6 foot tall fir tree.
-
9...Isaac Newton (mathematician) and Little Richard (singer) were born on this day, while Billy Martin (baseball) and Dean Martin (singer) passed away on Christmas.
-
10...There is a rumor that Santa has an evil brother, Satan Claus, who lives in the South Pole, and makes fruitcakes.
-

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS

Nope, this is not that Virgin Mary and Three Wise Men version. This is written in the spirit of my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS books.
*************************
Christmas is usually celebrated on December 25, and by some on January 7 (having something to do with the Julian calendar), honoring the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. All signs point to the actual date being debatable, and even the year off by two to seven years, but the year zero, when BC (before Christ) changes to AD (no, not after death, but anno Domini, Medieval Latin for the year of our Lord) was selected five to eight centuries later. But what is historically accurate and what is not? Let me begin with an excerpt from Chapter 5 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

…place yourself back to circa 50 AD. Nothing much can be found about Jesus. Conflicting descriptions can be unearthed about this individual, but absent any miracles and the connection with Son of God. Is it possible that a group, say, the Antioch Jesus Movement, sees an opportunity to spur something called Christianity? So they pick a mortal of those days who might just fit a concept called the Messiah. They borrow selectively from early Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, Mexican (nah, scratch this, Columbus came 1500 years later) and Greek writings to create the legend of Jesus Christ around a real-life martyr. He was in his prime at the age of 30, so they choose 30 AD as the founding of Christianity. Could this incredible PR ploy have started it all? Did all this led to the Catholic Church of today?

If the above sounds ridiculous to you, attempt to convince me why much of what is written in The Bible is taken as Gospel. In any event, a case can be made that Jesus might well be the most significant human who ever lived.

Emperor Charlemagne was crowned on December 25 in 800, and so was King William I of England in 1066. In this later time frame, the day began to be called Christmas, as derived from “Christ’s Mass.” In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter X (chi) is the first letter of Christ, hence, Xmas as an abbreviation.

During the Middle Ages, King Richard II hosted a Christmas feast in 1377, serving 28 oxen and 300 sheep. Caroling then became popular and gifts began to be exchanged. But the Puritans during the Reformation in the 1500’s into the 1600’s condemned the celebration and the Roman Catholic Church responded by shifting the emphasis towards a religious festival. Nevertheless, England banned Christmas in 1647.

Puritans in Colonial American also disapproved of this day, but Christians in Virginia and New York continued the celebration. Christmas, though, was abandoned after the Revolutionary War in the later 1700’s for it was deemed an English custom. Washington Irving’s short stories in the 1820’s began to change attitudes. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, “A visit from St. Nicholas” (remember…Twas the night before Christmas?) and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in 1843 helped to re-invent Christmas, focusing on family goodwill and gifts, opening the door for commercializing the period. Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame wrote that these shopping sprees detracted from the meaning of Christmas, but in 1870, President Ulysses Grant declared this a federal holiday. Thomas Nast, whose caricatures undermined Boss Tweed, sort of drew the image of what we today know as Santa Claus today. Up till then, Father Christmas stood for merrymaking and drunkenness, and till today is still used as Santa in England.

Christmas, itself, is the least active day for commerce, but, ironically, has become the greatest annual economic stimulus for much of the world. It begins on Black (being in the black means making a profit) Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and this year will see a second Black Friday the day after Christmas. Hope this only applies to shopping and not the stock market. While the whole history of this day has Western links, a country such as Singapore goes over the top in terms of commerce and decorations.

There is now, though, some controversy regarding separation of church and state on what can be officially represented by government. The “War on Christmas” means you shouldn’t now say Merry Christmas, but, instead, Happy Holidays. The popular Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is officially titled “The Tree at Rockefeller Center.”

The period from the first Black Friday to the day after Christmas makes or breaks retailers. The official numbers vary quite a bit, but something on the order of close to $1,000/person for gifts has been mentioned on the high side. No doubt 2008 will see a significant drop because of the economic collapse, but the Story of Christmas is what you make of it. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
*******************
Hold on. Is that Santa on the roof? The North American Aerospace Defense Command operates a Santa tracking web site, and he can be seen on December 24 moving at warp speed from the North Pole first to New Zealand, then eventually to Hawaii.

Last year, NORAD's Santa tracking center answered 94,000 calls and responded to 10,000 e-mails. About 10.6 million visitors went to the Web site, which can be viewed in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese and Chinese. The number has increased each year, so our youngsters are certainly not getting any smarter. But, then, even I, at that age, could not comprehend the idiocy of Santa and his flying reindeers needing to move at several million miles/hour to get the job done in 34 hours (yes, this is an excellent question to ask at Christmas party game time…think about it).

Now why would NORAD stoop to all this frivolity? Well, there is a history. It was started by a Sears-Roebuck ad in 1955, with a phone number if you wished to talk to Santa. Alas, there was a typo, and the number listed was that of an earlier form of NORAD, the Continental Air Defense Command. All in good fun, and now that we don’t have to worry about missiles from the USSR or North Korea, what harm does this do? Also, the military plays Santa around the world and this gentleman is a symbol of good will and cheer.
-

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 12)

The following is mostly excerpted from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
-
Why are Americans so Despised?

Just for fun, to be perverse, I typed into Google, “why America is tops.” This yielded ten sites on everything from tops (that toy that spins) to restaurants to models to music to American Idol. So I tried, “the United States is the best country.” Well, first, nothing appeared in the top ten that even resembled anything close to being best. But, #4 was, “United States of America (the Best Violator of International Law).” This is then a perfect lead-in for this section.

In a BBC World Service Poll published in March of 2007, thirteen countries were rated:

COUNTRY.............POSITIVE.................NEGATIVE

o Canada ....................54% ..............................14%
o Japan ......................54% ..............................20%
o EU ..........................53% ...............................19%
o France ....................50% ...............................21%
o GB ..........................45% ...............................28%
o China ......................42% ...............................32%
o India .......................37% ...............................26%
o USA ........................30% ...............................51%
o Russia .....................28% ...............................40%
o Venezuela ..............27% ...............................27%
o North Korea ............19% ................................48%
o Iran .........................18% ................................54%
o Israel ......................17% ................................56%

China has a higher positive rating than the USA and Russia has a lower negative reputation than the USA. Israel, apparently, is really unpopular. Only Nigeria, Kenya and the Philippines gave us positive scores exceeding 70%. For some reason, Greece rebuffed us with a 78% negative score, Germany, 74%, Indonesia 71% and France 69%.
-
Well, Barack Obama is less than a month away, the Iraq War is winding down, our Global Warming attitude will improve, as a country we will reach out to seek cooperation, and more. Interesting to see what the next survey will reveal.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials went up almost 100, but dropped nearly two hundred as the day progressed, for a -100 day, ending at 8420. World markets were mixed. CNNMoney.com reports Why '09 may be better. Oil remained just below $40/barrel at $39.03, although the WT Cushing Spot price is $33.70/bbl. Gold dropped $8/toz to $839.
-

Monday, December 22, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 11)

The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity

The Most Powerful Nation on Earth, Ever?

Without a doubt, the United States is the most powerful nation because of current technology. We should be able to handle: the Mongol Empire with all of 250,000 warriors, some on horses; the Roman Empire, with less than half a million soldiers controlling most of Europe, including England and Turkey; the British Empire, which lorded over 25% of the world population (458 million in 1921), covering about 25% of the world land area. It’s true that the Sun never set over its possessions. But, tongue firmly in cheek, submarines and nuclear carriers, plus planes, against ships?

Yet, the Vietnam War and the war against terrorists taught us a bitter lesson. Advanced technology cannot win all wars. Is the current and future of wars linked to sabotage and terror? Thus, the most powerful nation, ever, can be beaten, or neutralized. We did find Saddam Hussein, but that was almost by accident through a snitch. With all our intelligence and advanced weapons, we can’t get to Osama bin Laden. On the other hand, maybe he did die from typhoid or some liver ailment. It might well be impossible to locate someone who is already dead and secretly buried.

But, in any case, the question, really, should, perhaps, be broader, in terms of relative economic/trade or cultural power. The $500 billion each year in excess profits going to the OPEC nations are fueling the enemy. This economic windfall is neutralizing our obvious superiority. To win all wars, we also need to prevail at the sociological and cultural level. Democracy is not catching on in many parts of the world because we have not gotten to the hearts and minds of the people. But the full analysis of this phase of power would need to be another book.

In a 2007 WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, 70% of Americans felt that China’s influence would increase over the next decade, while 60% of Russians chose their country over China at 50%. Both Russia and the U.S. gave the U.S. future influence rating of around 32%. Is the U.S. slipping?
-
The Dow Jones Industrials slipped more than 200 points today, only to largely recover during the final 45 minutes, ending at -59 to 8520. World markets fell a couple of percent. By the way, the people actually supported President Bush's buck passing bailout of GM and Chrysler. Seventy percent, though, felt that bankruptcy was preferred to giving them any more money.
-
Petroleum prices, as predicted on Friday, made a spectacular jump to $39.85, a leap of 18%. Gold went up $9/toz to $847.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

GRAPHENE

I’ve always felt there were merits to golf beyond the recreational. So on Friday, mostly to carry my bag and lose some weight, I decided to walk on at the Ala Wai Golf Course and joined three others, two of noteworthiness. We asked Sky (Skye?) to tee off first, as he was 12 years old, somewhat short, and skinny. He waited…and waited, and when the foursome ahead of us neared the green on the first hole, he teed of and almost reached the green. That was the longest drive I ever saw on that hole. He had a complete game and has a handicap of 0.5, not per hole, but for the full 18. You will read about him someday. But you heard of him first from me.

The other interesting person was on vacation from Finland. As he owns a golf course there, he can be forgiven for also being a terrific player. He brought me up to date on their educational system (see my Chapter 3 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity) and Nokia. The modern day history of this Finnish company really started only in 1967 when a rubber boot company merged with a pulp mill (I’m somewhat exaggerating, but only a little) and they ended up marketing the first portable phone about two decades ago. Today, Nokia is the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones and has 120,000 employees in 120 countries.

I usually also bring a magazine with me on these golf walks, which that day was the April 2008 issue of Scientific American. What particularly caught my attention was an article on graphene. Did you know that the lead pencil you once used is not real lead, but graphite, one of the forms of carbon? Of course you do. And diamond is another version of carbon. But did you know that this pencil graphite comes in atomic layers, and scientists use plastic adhesive tape to peel off layers until, voila; there is only one atomic layer. How low tech can you get? This sheet of carbon in perfect hexagon (six sided) patterns is called GRAPHENE. If you then form this sheet into a cylinder, you get the CARBON NANOTUBE, one of the hottest materials to store, say, hydrogen. When twelve of these hexagons form a small ball, you have a BUCKYBALL, in honor of Buckminster Fuller. All these carbon forms are now at the cutting edge of technology for next generation miracle products.

One more rather disturbing article on smuggling nuclear materials sounds scary. Two hundred ninety seven million shipping containers (generally 20 feet long) are delivered each year, 42,000,000 entering American ports. No instrument being used today is capable of detecting a soda can size amount of high level nuclear waste capable of being combined into a nuclear weapon. Better scanners are being developed, but if terrorists wanted to smuggle something in, they would have succeeded by now.
-

Saturday, December 20, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 10)

The following continues the discussion on ending wars forever. This article was posted in The Huffington Post on August 2, 2008. Comments are provided.

Why Do We Spend So Much On National Security?

Posted August 2, 2008 04:35 PM (EST)

"I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today."
..........General Richard Cody, Army Vice Chief of StaffTIME, April 14, 2008

Let me see now, there is no USSR cold war threat. China annually spends $45/citizen for defense, while we invest about $2700/person on national security. Iran and North Korea are not global menaces. There are probably fewer than 100,000 terrorists, with a small fraction of them worthy of our concern. There will be no conquering enemy on the horizon for generations to come, if ever again. It was on this note that I submitted my first HuffPost on May 29, 2008 entitled, "Well, Barack, We have a Problem..."

How significant is national security in our Federal budget? Our fiscal 2008 discretionary funding is $941.4 billion. Defense and related accounts amount to $553.8 billion, but a supplemental sum of $306.6 billion needs to be added for our Global War on Terror and related needs. Thus, this year, we will spend $859.9 billion on WAR, much more than double what the Federal Government will expend on everything else! The Department of Energy will get $23.9 billion, of which about a $1 billion will be for renewable energy development, and the Environmental Protection Agency will spend $7.5 billion.

Is General Cody, maybe, exaggerating the truth? Actually, probably no, but not for a reason you might expect. With defense taking up so much of the national budget, you would think that we should be well covered to both defend ourselves and manage a ragtag bunch of terrorists. Well, our troop strength in the Middle East is below 200,000. Divided by our population of 304 million, this gives a ratio of 0.0006. In 1945, we had 16 million mobilized with a population of 140 million. The ratio then was 0.1143. In other words, if you divide .0006 into .1143, this would mean that we should be able to increase our total troop strength in this world hot spot by a factor of close to 200.

That comparison is almost meaningless, of course, for we have three million in uniform and reserve. But this makes you wonder what the concern is with only 6% of our available military actually in the Middle East, having had a period longer than World War II to make strategic adjustments. On an equal ratio basis with 1945, we should be able to mobilize 35 million, and GlobalFirePower.com points out that about 109 million are fit for military service in our country. Now that would really jack up the defense budget. Sure, this would mean a serious draft, but there is something about national service that deserves to be considered, anyway, for both genders.

All these numbers and analyses are interesting, maybe, but the whole point is, why are we spending so much money on national security? Is there a better way to gain the peace? We can talk about the military-industrial complex and their hammerlock over the White House and Congress. That's formidable, make no mistake about that. But perhaps the nature of world politics is such that the time has again come for us to mind our own business and invest in our national infrastructure and personnel. Maybe also do something about Peak Oil and Global Warming, too. Our presidential candidates talk about change, and our defense budget is a good place to start, providing the financial resources to actually do some real good. That initial HuffPost> provides a vision for this scenario.
-
COMMENTS (my enhancements in italics)
-
- Patrick Takahashi - Interesting that there seems to be some consensus that we are, indeed, spending a lot, if not too much, on national security. There were no impassionate protests nor cries of anti-patriotism. Ergo... the funds to rebuild our infrastructure and combat Peak Oil / Global Warming can, perhaps, be conveniently drawn from a drastically reduced national defense budget. After all, WE HAVE NO THREATENING ENEMY ON THE HORIZON. The paranoia about China seems to yet dominate, so, as they have close to four and a half times more people than us, and spend $45/capita on defense, let's be sure and not match them in total defense expenditures, but double theirs on a per capita basis, meaning an American annual investment of $400/capita. We can thus reduce our national security budget by $2300/person or around $700 billion/year (which, curiously enough, is close to the same amount we are expected to send to oil producing nations this coming year (if oil were $150/bbl)--and size of the Wall Street Bailout package), most of which can thus be applied to all the needs just mentioned. If you missed my HuffPost of May 29, I actually boldly predicted how this might occur. And, of all the luck, Barack Obama returns home to Hawaii in a few days. Well, let's not get too carried away. I'll wait until he first becomes our POTUS.

Posted 03:56 AM on 08/04/2008
- Doofus Seems reasonable to suppose that the 21st century is NOT going to be a continuation of the previous 'American Century', as it's clear that the US budget is not sustainable for too much longer, due to raging deficits. If that's so, then federal expenditures are going to have to decline, and that would have to include defense spending. That's going to have huge political & economic side effects. Will social spending be reduced proportionately, or even more? What about infrastructure renovation, which is a problem even now? Will this matter much to the US heartland of mostly Red states? If, on top of this, we are also dealing with the effects of Global Warming,i.e. hurricane & wildfire damage, air pollution, drought & water-shortages,it will be even worse.The rich may not get richer, but the poor will certainly get poorer.What to do? What to do?

Posted 07:53 PM on 08/03/2008
- StinkyPete Bases Upon Bases: Baleful Imperial Powerby Brian Cloughley August 3, 2008 - 12:06pmhttp://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/16262

Posted 01:40 PM on 08/03/2008
- johnwinner Cheney's Projest for a New American Century assessed that some 40% of our gross national product would have to be spent on 'national security' in order to achieve global domination. That's the real answer to your question.

Posted 09:44 AM on 08/03/2008
- Doofus Why Do We Spend So Much On National Security? So that we can be more 'secure'?The internet (it's a series of tubes!) and all the computers on it evolvedfrom electronics research done by the 'national defense establishment'that developed during & after WW2 & the Cold War that followed & all that entailed, which ultimately permits us to discuss such matters in the way that we do. Not to mention, to explore the planets & various genomes as well. Ultimately, the 'finest' (i.e., most elaborate & costly) form of 'consumption'around is that which is associated with Defense. Fleets of bombers andfighter aircraft for the AF, fleets of aircraft carriers (& aircraft!) and destroyers and submarines for the navy, missiles for all, fleets of helicopters & tanks for the legions of the army. All of which need constant replenishment &renovation, by the engines of the American economy. What, no outsourcing? 'Consumption' is all. What's arguably good about this is the out-flow of technology into the economythat benefits the general population in myriad ways. At what cost?Perhaps we have got a little carried away.

Posted 09:01 AM on 08/03/2008
- SamThornton Just a niggling point. Many conflate the term "internet" with the "World Wide Web." It's the latter which provides the technology and interface you are using now to read this page. "Internet" refers to a network packet protocol currently used by the WWW.According to its WikiPedia entry, "The World Wide Web began as a CERN project called ENQUIRE, initiated by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau in 1989. Berners-Lee and Cailliau were jointly honored by the ACM in 1995 for their contributions to the development of the World Wide Web."The point is, I suppose, that all things bright and beautiful were not necessarily invented here.

Posted 12:55 PM on 08/03/2008
- Doofus In other words (as I happen to know), the WWW came about as a 'hack' to pass information around on a burgeoning computer network, which was a necessity at CERN to move huge quantities of data around, in a huge lab that came to exist to provide employment for a huge crop of physicists which was an outgrowth of WW2 & the Manhattan Project & various US labs who couldn' temploy them all here. It's all SYNERGY, wonderful perhaps, essential maybe.

Posted 08:05 PM on 08/03/2008
- Cjwirth Yes, the reason the U.S. is fighting these wars is Peak Oil.According to energy investment banker Matthew Simmons and other independent forecasters, global crude oil production is now declining, from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time demand will increase 14%.Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment.We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from "outside," and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems.This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed: http://www.peakoilassociates.com/POAnalysis.htmlI used to live in NH, but moved to a sustainable place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area with a good climate and good soil?

Posted 08:48 AM on 08/03/2008
- sharpz111 (1) The US may have 200,000 troops 'on the ground' but a far greater number have been mobilised through 'tour of duty' rotations.As of 2007, 1.4 million military troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/03/pdf/readiness_report.pdf(2) I would float the idea that Iraq and Afghanistan have been very expensive to fight, in fuel costs and in terms of the repair and replacement of very expensive equipment: M1A1 Tanks, Apache Gunships, & the war supplementals required to buy MRAPs to replace vulnerable HUMWVs.The cost of a sustained air campaign, providing precision air support has presumably been very costly, especially when you consider the cost of each of those laser-guided munitions!

(3) WWII, as well as mobilising a lot more troops, was vastly more expensive than Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2007 real terms: $3.2 trillion dollars. On the other hand, according to the the Center for Arms Control, Iraq and Afghanistan are more expensive the 12 year campaign in Vietnam: $808 billion. That is the second most expensive war in US history.http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/policy/securityspending/articles/historical_war_costs/

(4) Although comparisons based on the number of 'troops on the ground' may be shaky, there is certainly an argument to be made that US Defence spending is abnormally high, especially when compared to other world nations. Just take a look at this pie chart: http://www.globalissues.org/i/military/country-distribution-2008.png

Comments are closed for this entry

Friday, December 19, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 9)

The following is largely excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

Our national budget for 2008 is $2.387 trillion, of which slightly more than half goes to current and past military expenses, at least according to the War Resisters League, an anti-war organization that first formed in 1923. The official government pie chart shows a military and domestic security figure of 19%.

During World War II, the military budget as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product was around 38%. It dropped to 5% by 1950, but jumped to 14% in 1953 because of the Korean War. At the peak of the Vietnam War it was just over 9% in 1968. Today, with the war in Iraq, this figure is 4.1%. A final way of looking at this is, in 2002 dollars:

Year Outlay for National Defense
.......(in Billion dollars)

o 1945 $830 (World War II)

o 1953 $357 (Korean War)

o 1968 $424 (Vietnam War)

o 1986 $449 (Reagan defense spending increase)

o 2008 $550 (Iraq War)

It is reported that President Bush only sought $200 billion for the Iraq War in 2008. You can't believe everything the government tells you. I will insert here this weekend my Huffington Post article on this subject, where a sum of $3 trillion can be confirmed as the true cost of the war.
-
Well, President Bush bailed out GM and Chrysler, and the Dow Jones Industrials, which were nearly 200 points up, gradually slid to minus 32, ending at 8573. Low interest loans to GM ($9.4 billion) and Chrysler ($4 billion) were provided from the first installment of the TARP $700 billion, with $4 billion more to come from the second half of those funds. This one was pretty specific: loans must be repaid in three years, or within 30 days if a company is not viable by March 31. Bush wanted to prevent a "disorderly bankruptcy," which could mean that this bridge is for an orderly bankruptcy when the Cherry Blossoms next bloom. The signs are grim, as U.S. auto sales plunged to a 26-year low last month, and there are widescale assembly line shutdowns this month.
-
Oil further sunk $2.35 to $33.87/barrel, a five year low. Woe the renewable energy entrepreneur. Let me predict, though... .Merry Christmas....that on Monday, oil prices will initiate a recovery (meaning higher prices). Why? I heard that volume sales for February are much higher, and a return to $50/bbl can be expected by early next month. Should you take my word for this and invest heavily now? NO...no...no! Oil economists are usually wrong, and I'm not even one of them. On the other hand, not being one....
-
Gold dropped $10/toz to $838. If the recession is sinking in, why is gold continuing to drop?
-
Some definitions for those who are asking:
-
toz = troy ounce, where 1.0 toz = 1.10 ounces (the regular kind)
-
TARP = Troubled Assets Relief Program, that $700 billion Wall Street bailout package passed by Congress as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and signed by the President on October 3.
-
Hedge Fund = a private investment fund with limited clientele allowed by regulators to undertake more liberal activities, paying a performance fee to the investment manager. You will more and more read about Bernard Madoff, a hedge fund manager, who is alleged to have perpetrated a $50 billion fraud.
-

Thursday, December 18, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 8)

The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
-
What about the United States of America?

Let me skip the history of the USA, and start with a comparative table:


..........................World ....................United States

Age ...............Dawn of Humanity .......232 years
.....................(150,000 BC or so)

Size (land) ....510 million sq km ......10 million sq km
Population .....6,700 million ................310 million

GDP................$66,000 billion ..........$13,000 billion

GDP/Capita ...$10,200 .......................$44,000

Military...........$1,320 billion ................$528 billion

Military
as %GDP .............2% ..............................4.1%

Americans are:

o 80% White, 15% Hispanic, 13% Black and 4.4% Asian. By 2050 it will be 50% White and 24% Hispanic.

o Until 1960 less than 5% of births were to unmarried women. Today, this figure is approaching 40%.

o Per 1000 Americans: 370 believe in ghosts, 250 deem flying saucers as being real, 126 live in poverty, 122 are 65 or older, 50-100 doubt the existence of a God (which means 900 to 950 believe) 27 are cashiers ($16,260 average salary), 23 are in prison, 4 are lawyers ($98,930 average salary) and 1 is in kindergarten

-
The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 219 to 8604 and world markets were mixed. Oil further dropped more than $3/barrel to $36.36. Gold fell $14.30 to $853.
-
Former Typhoon Dolphin in the West Pacific is dissipating, but is lashing Iwo To with a lot of rain.
-

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A SOLUTION FOR BARACK

Pardon me for being so informal, but, we’re both from Hawaii, and this title follows my very first HuffPo on May 29, Well, Barack, We Have A Problem… which boiled down those two SIMPLE SOLUTIONS books I recently wrote (see "About Me" on the right) into a whimsical musing about how Barack Obama could fund his plan to combat Peak Oil and Global Warming, and in so doing, end wars forever. Since that article, he went on to prevail over Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and is now the President-Elect, while I proceeded to post 32 more pieces for the Huffington Post, all on energy and the environment, and wondering why I was doing this.

I woke up at 3AM this morning and realized why. All the above crystallize the essence of what should be our national energy policy, and I might well have a solution for our President-Elect. Don’t blame President Bush, or the Congress, or the oil companies for our energy problem. We are at fault. You, me, us. This posting drew more than 100 comments, arriving to the conclusion that we have no energy policy because it is not important enough.

Oil is now below $50/barrel. Gasoline prices are approaching historic lows (in 2008 dollars). As sincere as P-E Obama was about green jobs and a change, complacency looms to prevail. HuffPo #32 suggests that our current economic collapse actually is A Gift to Planet Earth and Humanity. After the Energy Crises of 1974 and 1979, there was a flurry of activity, followed by a general abandonment of anything sustainable, as we went back to our petroleum addiction. We now have the worry about the Greenhouse Effect, plus, that $147/bbl spike in mid July, so, hopefully, we can be smarter this time.

But the Obama energy transition team has a daunting task of delivering a meaningful plan against the tide of low oil prices and competing priorities. And what a doozy, for one of my other HuffPos on Billions and Trillions reports: if you combine the total cost of the Manhattan, Marshall and Apollo programs, and bring it up to 2008 dollars, you need nearly 200 times more money than what those three monumental efforts cost our nation, just to meet the challenge of the Greenhouse Effect.

But you’ve got to start somewhere, so while the Obama energy transition team won’t have trillions of dollars to spend, they can make a crucial difference. There will be a million ideas and thousands of lobbyists clamoring for attention. More than anything else, the team needs to clarify and focus with vision. I offer the following simple solutions:

1. Renewable electricity is almost a given, but maintain those tax incentives and expand research on many of the solar and ocean options. Add a penny per pound carbon dioxide tax, proportionately linked to $30/barrel oil, to adjust as oil prices vacillate, so that at $150/barrel, the tax should be 5 cents.

2. Ground transportation is a real problem. A dollar per gallon investment surcharge on gasoline can be justified. We’d still be paying much less than in Europe and Japan. Ethanol from food, of course, should be terminated as fast as the Farm Lobby allows, if not sooner. The fermentation of cellulose to ethanol should be compared against gasification/catalysis into methanol. Unfortunately, a fair assessment might not be possible because the Department of Energy does not support any biomethanol research. Unfortunately, too, my HuffPo #33 and subsequent comments from this readership suggest that while the current darling, plug-in electric cars, are the obvious bridge for the next decade, they might be a dead end. However, the fuel cell option will need hydrogen, which is very expensive to produce, handle and store, or the direct methanol fuel cell, which might have a fatal flaw. What then? Good luck! But at least take a close look at the methanol economy.

3. Aviation? This has not even been considered, but should. When I drafted the first hydrogen bill for Senator Spark Matsunaga nearly three decades ago, I added a clause for the National Aerospace Plane, thanks to input from Lockheed. To shorten a long tale of delay, we are at least 25, if not 50 years away, from a next generation hydrogen powered jetliner or jet fuel from marine algae. Are we then in deep trouble? Hawaii especially, but I’ve learned of a new concept, for now, let’s call it the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper (or H2 Clipper), which the advocates say, can be developed in a decade. While the prudent might be skeptical, I support the idea because there is nothing else on the horizon, and this idyllic spot in the Pacific would, indeed, be the ideal location to pioneer this development, for we have the political clout—P-E Barack Obama was born and grew up in this State and Senators Daniel Inouye (chairman of the full Appropriations Committee) and Senator Daniel Akaka (on Energy and Natural Resources Committee) represent Hawaii—and secondly, without a next generation sustainable air travel alternative, when jet fuel prices again skyrocket, tourism will truly collapse, and economic depression will follow.

So my plea to the Obama energy transition team is to press forth with vigor, and let me know if you would like to hear more about the H2 Clipper. Aloha.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped a hundred points today to 8824. World markets were mixed, although Hong Kong rose by 4.45%.
-
Interesting that OPEC announced that it will reduce production by 2.2 million barrel/day next month...but the price crashed to $40/bbl, the lowest in 4.5 years. Mind you, this is in addition to the 2 million bbl/day cut in September. OPEC will in January produce just under 25 million bbl/day. The U.S. alone uses around 20 million bbl/day. The Energy Information Administration (which has only rarely been right), expects our current 60% imported oil percentage to drop to 40% by 2030. Today, their prediction is that oil in 2030 will be $130/barrel. A year ago, their guess was $70/barrel in 2030.
-
These low prices have apparently influenced Norwegian electric car company, Think, to consider giving up. There is hope that Google will keep them going, but the economics do not currently look good for non-gasoline powered vehicles. Gold rose $15/toz to $868.
-

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 8)

The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
-
The world today can be represented by what came to me through the internet. If the world population could be reduced to 100 people, there would be:

o 60 Asians
o 14 Africans
o 12 Europeans
o 8 Latin Americans
o 5 U.S. Americans and Canadians

Or looking at population another way:

o 82 non-white
o 80 live in sub-standard housing
o 67 non-Christian
o 67 unable to read
o 50 malnourished

The United Nations has 191 members, and, according to the chapter on the Blue Revolution in Book 1, this could increase to thousands with each floating city becoming independent. So much for one global government. However, strength in number of members could well someday mature into one governing body. Either this model or a dominant global corporation, for one of the simple solutions to ending wars will be one ascendant and benevolent government. Then there will someday be colonization of outer space and the whole cycle begins again. But that’s a millennium away.
-
What a day. The Federal Reserve surprised many by dramatically cutting its key interest rate to 0.25%, the lowest ever in history. This was the tenth reduction in only 15 months. Banks lowered their prime rate to 3.25%. Thus, the Dow Jones Industrials soared 360 to 8924. Even before the Fed action, world markets mostly increased today. Interesting that this rate cut will mean that the American dollar will decline to both the Euro and Yen, which continues to confuse me because our affordability when we travel to Europe has improved, while to Japan has worsened. Oil went up almost a dollar to $44.41/barrel. Gold increased $17/toz to $853.
-
By the way, in case you are sailing east from Luzon (Philippines) or south from Japan, Typhoon Dolphin is meandering around at 75 MPH in a northeast direction away from land.

Monday, December 15, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 7)

The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

Civilizational Trends

Babylon, the ancient city of Mesopotamia, famous for its Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located where what today is Iraq, had a population of maybe 100,000. But this was way back in 3000 B.C. Today, Iraq has a population of 26 million, and has lost its charm.

Athens was all of 50,000 in its heyday 2,500 years ago. It grew to 300,000 by 432 B.C. (only half citizens, as 50,000 were aliens, with 100,000 slaves). Today, while it has lost its dominance, the population is approaching 4 million.

Early in the 17th Century, London became the first city to reach 1 million. Today, nineteen cities have populations ranging from 10 to 25 million.

Conversely, Europe in the 16th Century had 500 autonomous governments. By 1975, this had been reduced to 35, and with the European Union, 27 countries will be reduced to one. But, then, the Soviet Union did increase from one to 15, and there are projections that China could someday suffer the same fate. Irrespective, those Soviet entities will someday all join the EU and those potential Chinese states will link with the budding OU, or, Orient Union. The trend is towards one unifying world government.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 65 to 8565. World markets were mixed. Oil remained around $44.59/barrel. Gold increased $15/toz to $837.70. Not clear what is really happening with saving the two of the Big Three.
-

Saturday, December 13, 2008

IS THERE ANOTHER MORE PROMISING OPTION THAN THE PLUG-IN ELECTRIC VEHICLE?

Thomas Friedman recently published an Opinion piece in The New York Times entitled, While Detroit Slept, equating any congressional or presidential rescue of the Detroit auto industry to saving the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of eBay or improving typewriters just before the advent of the personal computer and the internet. In his mind, the Big Three has been anachronistic, and entrusting them with an eleven-digit taxpayer loan would be foolish. He is probably right, even though the specter of a Depression triggered by their bankruptcy nevertheless cannot be totally discounted, so our domestic auto industry will no doubt be given one more chance.

He muses that the internal combustion engine / gasoline transport system as approaching obsolescence, and other concepts such as Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric vehicle network model a more promising future. Appropriately enough, an agreement was announced early this month for Hawaii being one of their first demonstration sites. A few days later, Maui Electric Company and Phoenix Motorcars signed a memorandum to use their electric pick-up trucks. All this is well and good, for Hawaii, naturally blessed with all the renewable energy options, has, for a variety of reasons, lagged behind much of the nation and world in going green.

A predictable trend is, no doubt, a gradual shift to battery-powered cars which can be charged with wind and solar energy. The lithium battery is poised to serve as this redeemer.

I say, let us support this effort, but be watchful for two impacting factors, one bad and the other, possibly monumentally good. First, the bad: my HuffPo article of December 7 on A Gift for Planet Earth and Humanity worries that the petroleum excursion below $50/barrel has, maybe fatally, dampened large-scale investments of renewable energy for a long time to come. T. Boone Pickens’ abandonment of his wind farms is only one of many such crushed ventures you’ll be reading about in the months to come. Crude oil, of course, will again shoot pass $100/bbl, if not next year, then certainly in five. However, financial organizations, rightfully so, are allergic to risk of any kind, and fickle oil prices have historically bedeviled all solar options. Thus, read the above posting to take advantage of this “gift” of time so that a range of remediative strategies can be applied.
-
The second factor has to do with the long-term viability of battery systems. It is possible that lithium might well be the end of the line. So, in answer to Mr. Friedman, an earlier HuffPost on Simple Solutions for Our Biofuel Problem suggests a next generation technology as maybe a more hopeful choice rather than plug-in vehicles.
-
Per unit volume, a fuel cell should be able to provide five times more energy than the lithium battery. Chapter 3 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth provides the details on fuel cells, but, in short, this device works like a battery to produce electricity, but uses hydrogen as the energy source instead of lithium, lead or cadmium. However, and this defies common sense, one gallon of methanol has more accessible hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen. Thus, the logic argues for producing methanol from biomass to power a fuel cell, as hydrogen is very expensive to manufacture, store and deliver. This simplest of alcohols is the only biofuel capable of directly and efficiently being utilized by a fuel cell without passing through an expensive reformer.
-
Yes, methanol has only half the energy value of gasoline, but the fuel cell is at least twice the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, so there is a wash here regarding onboard storage. And methanol is no more toxic than gasoline. You shouldn't drink either one.
-
But we have problem. The U.S. Department of Energy has prohibited providing funds for vehicular DMFCs, and furthermore, stopped supporting biomass to methanol R&D. It has mostly to do with ethanol and biodiesel being selected as the only national biofuels. Thus, we are probably a decade away, if not longer, from being able to convert to a biomethanol economy for transportation.

Thus, unless some sudden advancement can be realized in bringing a transport DMFC to the marketplace, it makes sense to cultivate options such as the plug-in electrical car system, hoping that wind and solar farms can enjoy a quick transition. In any event, watch out for the direct methanol fuel cell, for this virtually ignored opportunity could well either someday replace vehicles powered by batteries or in parallel maybe develop even faster.

Friday, December 12, 2008

THE END OF WARS (Part 6)

While biological warfare sounds futuristic, in the 6th Century B.C., the Assyrians poisoned enemy wells with a delusional fungus (whatever that means) and in 184 B.C., Hannibal’s soldiers threw clay pots filled with venomous snakes unto the decks of Pergamene ships. Diseased bodies were used to infect enemy water supplies in Medieval Europe, Black Death casualties were catapulted into besieged cities during the Middle Ages and as recently as 1710 by Russian forces attacking Sweden. The British Army is said to have used smallpox as a weapon during the Indian Wars in North America. In World War II, Japan reportedly infected foodstuffs with the plague and cholera, killing 58,000. China and North Korea protested in the Korean War that American troops used biological weapons against them. There is considerable evidence today of continuing R&D (which is permitted by the ban) at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah and Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Conventional biological weapons have animal origins, and, as would be expected, these tend to be the test subjects. Actually, somewhere between 50 million to 100 million are used annually in scientific animal testing. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is not happy about all this. A relatively peaceful nation today such as the United Kingdom in 2001 used more than 2.5 million animals, including 20,000 hoofed mammals, 125,605 birds and 170,459 fish. Where are PETA, the Animal Liberation Front or Brigitte Bardot? At the other end of the killing spectrum, Norway fishermen must now humanely terminate the life of any caught seafood variety.

In 1979 at a test site in Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union, sheep became ill with anthrax 125 miles (200 kilometers) away from the lab. Washington, D.C. is only 30 miles from Fort Detrick. On a targeted basis, only 220 pounds of anthrax can virtually eliminate the 3 million in the District. Reportedly, Saddam Hussein at one time had at his disposal 25 missiles able to carry 11,000 pounds of biological agents, including botulism and anthrax. These were among the Weapons of Mass Destruction thought to exist by the current White House.

The fear, of course, is that, with the advent of the Genome Table, a whole new stratum of super-biological microorganisms can be created, especially for warfare. The ultimate virus could well eliminate human life forever. How do we prevent all this? Easy, prevent wars, eliminate terrorism and insure for peace on Earth forever. Sort of like this chapter.

But, then, you would hope, actually, that the world someday promotes wars for beneficent causes. The 9/11 death toll was around 3,000. Each year 470,000 die in traffic accidents, a little less than 10% (43,000) of that in the U.S. Now that would be a worthwhile crusade, a “War on Highway Deaths.” Or, the UN reported that there were 13 million deaths in 2006 due to environmental causes. What about the “World War to Prevent Environmental Deaths?” We will soon need a World War to Combat Peak Oil and Global Warming, and while already maybe be too late to avoid the economic crunch, perhaps this potential calamity can serve to catalyze world peace. Huh? Read on. Well, you can go on to SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity and pick this up in Chapter 1. Or wait until next week.
-
With all the hand-wringing about Detroit, the Dow Jones Industrials increased 65 to 8630. This, after world markets all tumbled today, led by Hong Kong and Japan with about minus 5%. Why? Well, Congress fumbled the bailout, maybe as a purposeful ploy, knowing that the Bush White House would dip into the $700 billion TARP funds to buy some time. You see, the general public remains generally opposed to being too generous to the Big Three, for their own policies cause their present predicament. Elected officials like to cover themselves, and George W. Bush will never again run for office.
-
Bankrupties and closure will need to come next year. Let's see if these international exchanges ease up on Monday. By the way, 24 banks have failed so far this year. This, compared to three last year and none in 2006 and 2005. In 1993, 43 banks went under, so it could be a lot worse. Crude oil is now selling for $46.28/barrel and gold for $822/toz.
-

Thursday, December 11, 2008

THE END OF WARS (Part 5)

The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

While Iran and North Korea at one time were feared to be capable of utilizing nuclear arms, the greater danger today has to do with terrorism and dirty bombs, that is, standard explosives spiced with nuclear wastes. In time, an actual Atomic Bomb could well be within the capability of a well-financed group, and it is logical to predict that biological weapons could well become an even more dangerous alternative.
-
While the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention signed by most countries outlaws the creation and stockpiling of germ warfare weapons, amazingly, it does not prohibit their usage. Not that this would make much of a difference for renegade organizations. Russia kept building bio-weapon stockpiles until 1992, and it is suspected that the number of countries capable of producing biological weapons has increased since then.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials fell 196 to 8565, rightfully concerned about the auto bailout package, for at 10PM D.C. time, Senate Leader Harry Reid acknowledged that agreement could not be reached. The Friday Asian markets subsequently significantly declined. The options are four: (1) Senate Republican reconsideration tomorrow; (2) congressional failure, but White decision to pull funds from the $700 TARP funds; (3) bankruptcy by GM, and probably Chrysler, too; or (4) bare survival and help in the next Congress next month. Crude oil price increased almost $2/barrel to $45.62. Gold rose $10/toz to $820.
-

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 4)

The following is mostly excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

Well, perhaps we still can democratize the Middle East. But, things are not going well, so one wonders what better priorities for those trillions of dollars. There is a book by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz entitled The Three Trillion Dollar War and a Congressional Budget Office estimate that the Afghanistan/Iraq War if continued over the next decade will cost $2.4 trillion (that is $8,000/person in the U.S.). There are, of course, hidden costs to all wars, and a Joint Economic Committee of Congress reported that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have already cost $1.5 trillion, that is 1,500 billion dollars. Remember that the entire annual renewable energy budget for the U.S. Department of Energy for the past decade averaged under $1 billion/year, or one-thousandth of a trillion dollar.

Jumping to today, the latest report by Anup Shah shows that the world spends at least a trillion dollars each year on war. At least a third of all arms sales in the 1998-2005 period, close to $100 million, can be attributed to the U.S:

o We specialize in providing arms and training to countries harboring terrorists, good because our soldiers are not killed, but one wonders where these rifles go, and whether they might someday be pointed right back at us.

o Twenty of the top twenty-five U.S. arms clients in the developing world were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses. But, then, again, maybe this is the way to wean them towards democracy.

Russia is #2 with about $41 million. Numbers alone, however, do not portray the reality. The U.S. government provides subsidies to allow countries to purchase these military arms, a kind of foreign aid. There is, of course, widespread corruption and bribes, for this international industry has no oversight, generally because the matter of national security provides for confidentiality. President Jimmy Carter in 1976 said that “we can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms.” But we are!
-
The Dow Jones Industrials went up to 8879, then dropped to 8646, only to end at 8761, +70 for the day. With minor exceptions, the world markets also barely increased.
-
The stopgap auto bailout bill hopes for passage on Friday, depending on the Senate Republicans. The sum is $14 billion to GM and Chrysler. While this is but a loan with a lot of restrictions,this is about the grand total the U.S. Department of Energy spent on renewable energy research over the past 15-2o years. Something wrong with priorities here...although crude oil is only at $43.73/barrel, up $1.65. Gold went up $32/toz to $808.
-
You want to be truly frightened? Fortune reports on the view of eight eminent thinkers, where DJI of 4,000 was suggested as possible.


-

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

END OF WARS (Part 3)

The following is excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.

-
Adjusted for 2000 dollars, our wars have cost:

o Civil War ...........................$ 62 billion
o Spanish American War ...$ 5 billion
o World War I ......................$ 290 billion
o World War II .....................$2,300 billion
.................................................(or $2.3 trillion)
o Korean Conflict .................$ 111 billion
o Vietnam War ....................$ 165 billion
o Iraq War ...........................$2,400 billion
................................................(estimated, $2.4 trillion)

These wars are certainly not cheap, and it is startling that this second Iraq War will cost more than the entire World War II. Further, we LOST that Vietnam War to communists, and they still went away, while we rose to become #1. If those Iraq War funds were instead used to sidestep Peak Oil or prevent Global Warming, where would we be today?
-
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 243 to 8091. The $15 billion bailout to GM and Chrysler is on track, but the Big 3 will be back next year. As this sum will be drawn from the $25 billion already available for innovation, signs are that this fund will be doubled to $50 billion next year. The three auto companies are also counting on their financial lending arms drawing from the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package, certainly not a sure thing. Plus, there is that $75 billion to $125 billion projected real total need hanging over the official requests. So Congress will again be visited by the three CEO's for even more money early next year. I wonder if they will car pool this time, or regain sanity and catch economy class flights. Maybe use one corporate jet so that they can talk to each other. World markets were mixed today, with nothing + or - more than 3%.
-
Crude oil inched up 51 cents to $42.58/barrel. Participants of the Barclay's U.S. Commodities Investor Conference held in New York yesterday predicted that energy stocks will be the best performing commodities next year. The consensus was that oil prices would average higher than $100/barrel over the next FIVE years. So, perhaps we will reach a kind of stability, if you believe them. Gold rose $4 to $776/toz.
-





Gasoline Prices





NOTE THAT INSTEAD OF ALPHABETICALLY WAITING, YOU CAN TYPE IN YOUR STATE SYMBOL AT THE BOTTOM, SUCH AS “HI” FOR HAWAII. You can get the USA average price of gasoline by CLICKING on the State Symbol at the bottom. In comparison, gasoline was $4/gallon on July 7, 2008. You can also CLICK on “Gasoline Prices” at the top and go directly to the source.

Monday, December 8, 2008

THE END OF WARS (Part 2)

The following is largely excerpted from Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:

In summary, then (highest estimate of deaths):

..........WAR..........................LOCATION..PERIOD..DEATHS..RATIO

Three Kingdom Wars...........China...........184-280..40 million..0.27
An Shi Rebellion..................China............756-63....36 million..0.17
Mongol Conquests...............Asia/Europe.1207-79...60 million..0.15
Timor the Lame Conquests..Asia Major..1369-1405.20 million.0.056
Napoleonic Wars.................Europe........1804-15....16 million..0.016
Taiping Rebellion................China...........1851-64....50 million..0.04
American Civil War..........U.S..............1861-65.......1 million..0.0007
World War I.......................Europe........1914-18......66 million..0.04

World War II......................World.........1939-45......72 million..0.03
Korean War.....................Korea.........1950-53.....3.5 million..0.0014
Vietnam War...................Vietnam.....1945-75.........5 million..0.0017
Iraq War............................Iraq...........2003-08......1.3 million..0.0002

The RATIO represents maximum deaths divided by the approximate world population of that period, and you will note the rapid decline compared to those early wars.

Americans tend to get wrapped up in their own conflicts. No one outside of China remembers the Taiping Rebellion, a so-called Rebellion of Great Peace, a religious revolt against the Qing government, which occurred at the same time period as the American Civil War. The Chinese civil war killed 50 times more people, and the American 1 million is somewhat exaggerated, as the more accurate estimate is something under that figure. But even that Asian war is puny compared to the Mongol Conquests and the Three Kingdom Wars. Ominous, though, that all these truly great wars occurred in, or otherwise were caused by, China.

World War I is anomalous because most of those deaths were due to the Spanish Flu. However, you can see how relatively insignificant were the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars. The trend, as surmised in the opening paragraph, indeed, seems promising. Our major wars are killing fewer and fewer people, per capita. The trend is towards peace.
-
The Dow Jones Industrials went pass 9000 today, but settled +299 (3.5%) at 8934. The stimulus was that Congress and the White House has settled on something on the order of $15 billion (from that already appropriated $25 billion for a Big 3 innovation fund) to be voted on as early as tomorrow for disbursal next week to tide the industry over until Obama comes into office. Ford is not expected to share in this bailout. That $60 billion to $110 billion estimated future need (from non-Detroit analysts) will be left to the new Congress and White House. World stock markets all shot up earlier today, about 8% for Hong Kong, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Oil prices also increased, $3.34/barrel to $44.15. T. Boone Pickens, that wind/gas baron who a few months ago predicted oil wouldn't drop below $100/barrel, made another stab: oil prices are unlikely to fall below $40/barrel and could well be back up to $100/bbl in a year. He should be right this time.
-
Whoops, gold went up $17/toz to $772. Obama is saying the worst is yet to come. Any bear market always has moments of exuberance. Maybe people are diversifying their portfolios by buying gold. Remember, though, that the all-time real (meaning in today's dollar) high price of gold was something in excess of $2272/toz (toz stands for troy ounce) soon after the second energy crisis.
-