/. Resurgent: On Stemming Audience Decline and Rebuilding that Good Ol' Brand
I'd like to talk about Slashdot. We all remember that old troll, Netcraft confirms it, only these days you don't need pagerank to see the decline in comments and community involvement. It's a problem. And facing that truth is the first step in finding solutions. But before I begin, a bit of meta about this journal entry:
First of all, while I've submitted to the editorial queue I don't expect front page placement. I know this kind of navel gazing isn't FP worthy. The intended readership is editors and those interested in /. enough to vote on submissions. Any upvotes it gets will thus hopefully encourage site editors and Dice management to read, perhaps comment, and maybe even change direction. Because we all know the direction Slashdot is currently going will ultimately lead to a bad place.
Secondly, this journal is not a bitch session. I don't want to talk about which editors suck, why the beta should or shouldn't be tossed, or how much better things were when Malda ran the shop. All that is gazing into a rear view mirror. And you can't drive a car based on what's already passed by. Success requires looking out the front window at oncoming obstacles and steering clear. Otherwise, you tumble off-road and crash and burn.
Thirdly, I like Slashdot. I want it to succeed. And I think there are exploitable opportunities to regain audience. So this diary is about grasping opportunity for renewed success. I want to offer hopeful suggestions. For there is no point in promoting defeatism and failure.
To begin, let's look at what's wrong. Most of it is inertia following an old model that was once wildly successful. The editorial policy still focuses on short blurbs about off site articles. Yet these days a well written subject line conveys everything one needs. That's why Twitter is so successful.
The next problem is slow turn-around for material already publiziced by competitors. It might take a half-day to a day between submission to front page. Which were editors carefully selecting from a vast deluge of stories might make sense, particularly if most of them were somehow folded within the Slashdot umbrella and not already publicized. But right now, that's not the case.
There's a competitor that's taken over link aggregation. We all know who it is. Reddit. The once Smiling Alien has become a Ravenous Gorilla, eating everything and everyone in its path. Reddit has already eaten Slashdot's lunch. Now it's taking seconds and thirds from the nerd site's breakfast and dinner plates.
In particular, /r/technology, /r/science, and more recently /r/futurology. These subreddits reap the exact audience Slashdot targets, publicizing submitted material almost instantly. Communities at those subreddits quickly drives popular submissions to notice. Anyone following there learns those stories long before they're published on Slashdot. Game over.
Combine these two, redundant write ups of old news already popular elsewhere and you get decline. In link aggregation, Reddit won and Slashdot lost. Get over it. Because Slashdot lost that war long before Reddit even came on the scene. The question is why. Answer that and it's a first step toward putting Alien Kong on a much needed diet.
Sometimes examining history is a helpful lens through which to understand the present. Slashdot has always been a community driven site. That is, back in its founding, Malda et all took users seriously and tried to meet their needs. On occasion this led to site editorial policy contorting itself around conflicting community demands. And was that community demanding. It's as if Slashdot's success seemed to have knit together too many groups with differing interests. It seemed impossible to please everyone.
By the end of the 1990s, there was recognition the site couldn't rely entirely on externally generated content. That link aggregation was only a partial means to drive audience. Should the site promote user submitted content or hire professional writers? On the one hand, community submissions engage the core audience. On the other hand, professional writers produce professional content. Some users expected professionally copyedited submissions given the site dominated 'Net tech discussion. Others wanted to retain its amateur community charm.
The downfall of Jon Katz as Slashdot professional writer and editorial staffer said more about this community divide than it did about his competence. Even if he did screw up. A real editorial process would have caught his mistakes before publication. And he is a good writer. Even if only marginally competent with tech news. But that community breach - not Jon Katz but the divide between amateur community and professional - provided opportunity for competition.
One dev took advantage of dissatisfaction on Slashdot and developed a community driven competitor, Kuro5hin. Its unique claim was that users could vote on story submissions rather than the site's press being controlled by a central editorial body. It offered a private submission queue where community members could propose editorial changes prior to publication. Then a story 'election' stage where voting would decide success or failure. Those stories that succeeded made it to the front page. A community voting model was tried many times before Reddit took the reigns as self-proclaimed "Front Page of the Internet."
This led to a debate on Slashdot over whether community managed or centrally managed models should win out. Slashdot was the market gorilla then and Kuro5hin a semi-popular upstart. Slashdot continued their traditional editorial approach, with editors who selected community submitted content. They continued publishing Jon Katz. And ran on the inertia of success.
Kuro5hin challenged Slashdot by letting the community write, edit, and choose stories by popularity. And in this challenge the site became very popular very quickly. Not as big as Slashdot, but big enough to gain real attention. And Kuro5hin did this by at first slicing away a noticeable portion of the Slashdot community. But people stayed because the system allowed successful contributors to build notoriety, creating a symbiosis between writers, community, and publisher. Something Slashdot only partially embraced with open submissions.
But there's a reason why few remember Kuro5hin today. It had a slow-burn downfall. The more popular it became the more valuable was front page real estate. Just like with Slashdot, community members began to split off into different groups each with their own vested interest. And here was where the story voting queue transitioned from an enticing unique feature to its Achilles Heel.
Soon the queue became gamed by those groups, organized around parochial interests particular to each. Some were trolls, others political ideologues, and still others wanted a pure focus on tech. None could share a communal printing press. And the owner, in his infinite folly, decided to step away and not interfere with community choice. It was a community driven site, right? Let the community decide! Idiot.
People began to leave. Over a couple years that trickle of departures became a rush. Then a scandal or two and a huge migration cleaved the community in two. The site imploded. Finally, a focus on trolling for click-throughs left it publishing such insightful fare as Fuck Natalee Holloway, attracting eyeballs by impugning some girl who'd disappeared and became a media sensation.
Controversial stories like that can generate lots of short-term clickthroughs by an angry and indignant public. Hey, it's an advertising model. Click-bait. Before Gawker there was Kuro5hin. But it didn't last. Because it tarnished the brand for a bit of short-term gain. Kuro5hin lived off googlesearch results to old controversial stories for a time. But now it's a ghost town of 'Net-tumbleweeds and World Wide Cobwebs where a once vibrant community once stood.
The decline of Kuro5hin might have convinced Slashdot's editors they had made the right choice. It's demise is instructive. Centralized editors can prevent organized trolls and political insurgencies from taking control of a site's press. But as Kuro5hin devolved to infighting over an increasingly less relevant front page, another community driven site emerged. And this one would beat Slashdot at its own game in every way imaginable.
Digg. For those who remember its spectacular implosion the name evokes sneers of derision. But there was a time when Digg overtook not just scrappy media startup Slashdot with its little focus on 'news for nerds'. Using Slashdot's link aggregation model, Digg took over 'Net everywhere. Newspapers, magazines, music, film, television... promoting everything media. It became a powerhouse portal relevant to every press outlet and publisher, discussed on television, courted by public relations specialists, ultimately becoming worth billions of dollars on paper.
Contrasting Kuro5hin and Digg against Slashdot, one might call the founding of Kuro5hin a writer's dream of what community publishing could be; content, written by local authors and democratically selected for promotion by the community itself. Digg, on the other hand, represented a marketeer's fantasy of how to aggregate audience without doing the hard work of content creation. While Slashdot sat somewhere in the middle, promoting a little bit of community content on the front page and a whole lot of professional content published elsewhere.
Digg won. Its devs took Slashdot's model, transformed their editorial focus away from nerds to the general public, and reaped vast rewards in audience share. Then, like a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, it spectacularly died in a bloody 'Net mess. And, curiously, for much the same reason as Kuro5hin before it. Internal infighting. Corrupt vote rigging. A public scandal that destroyed credibility.
For a site that had prided itself on community content selection, ultimately a kind of payola system infected Digg. Perhaps not with money changing hands, but the power over a vast audience engendered a corrupt system of power users who self-coordinated to rig the selection process. Digg became Rigg, so to speak. Thereby undermining its entire raison d'etre for existence. Goodbye Digg.
Digg has changed hands and - like Kuro5hin - exists as a shell of its former self. They've even transitioned to a centrally managed editorial model, just like Slashdot. But it mostly remains dead. Reddit reaped their userbase and walked away with The Grand Prize. And to this day Reddit remains Alien King Kong, a giant gorilla eating everything off of everyone else's plate. Including Slashdot's.
So now we've seen two examples of site implosion by internal corruption. Perhaps there's a cyclic lesson to be learned here. A point I'll return to after discussing what I think is wrong with Slashdot's community partnership model. Now, I want to shift focus away from link aggregation to content production. Because today original content is king. There is no link aggregation without content. And what was once a vast diversity of publication houses and outlets has consolidated into a paltry few. Forcing content creators to either partner with corporate leaches or else die in obscurity.
Let's start with an old-timer, Dailykos. It's been around since Kuro5hin. Almost as long as Slashdot. And it's still highly popular with large audience share.
Forget about Dailykos' political leanings. The site is openly partisan, left leaning, and exists to promote Democratic candidates. And that's not why Dailykos is interesting. The site is interesting because it's old and yet still successful. Therefore Kos is doing something worth learning from. However, partisanship is not the lesson here. That's never been a viable model for Slashdot.
Instead, the lesson to learn is how a central editorial body sustains audience through community content generation. That's what Slashdot needs to foster. Because in this era, as long as Slashdot is focused on promoting material produced elsewhere the Giant Alien Gorilla will eat its lunch.
Diaries, not comments, are what drive community involvement at Dkos. That diary system creates a symbiosis between community and publisher. True, most diaries suck. But that's the case with all content. Most everything sucks. So what matters is not that sucky diaries are published but that quality filters exist to pick out diamonds in the rough.
There are two levels. Dkos has a voting system that publicizes the titles of popular diaries in a side box to the main page. If someone writes a recommended diary, it can generate thousands of page views and hundreds of "Recommended" upvotes. From there some diaries are chosen for promotion to the main page. Now you're talking tens or hundreds of thousands of page views for a story. That's real name recognition for a writer. And very well received diarists might get an offer to write for the front page regularly. Talk about incentive.
This mix of content by official site writers and promoted diary entries creates a path of upward mobility for lower ranks of creators and contributors to aspire to. It is these aspirations that sustain a community. Because getting noticed isn't merely some popularity content. Several writers have wound up landing professional gigs. What dkos gets from in content by diarists the site returns to writers with increased notoriety and even potential employment opportunities. Symbiosis.
All while the site publisher retains control over their press. Kos doesn't let trolls and other organized groups direct editorial policy. Slashdot editors should take note.
This model has been copied with more recent successful web startups. For example, Medium and Vice are sites that attract high quality content by providing an easy means for new contributors to get a foothold while retaining editorial control to weed out crap. The 1% rule is relevant here. The trick with a viable community model is to pair the interests of creators and contributors with the publisher. Rob Malda knew this from the beginning. But somewhere along the line that symbiosis between contributor and publisher on Slashdot broke down.
It's not as if Slashdot didn't try. There's a Journal system that was intended to replicate diaries on dkos. But it doesn't work. The place is a ghetto. Mostly because the promotion system is broken. On the one hand, only friends see new journal entries. On the other, journal entries can be submitted as stories to the Slashdot submission queue. But this creates a dead area in between. Journals on their own can't be used to build audience.
If you want to submit, there's little reason to write a journal entry. If you want to write a long form journal entry, there's cultural baggage opposing self-promotion. You might as well publish on your own blog and find some way to pass it around competitors and Slashdot. Which only diminishes its value as a potential Slashdot submission. You've got a negative feedback loop going here with Slashdot's most important potential community asset.
Earlier, after finishing up the history of Kuro5hin's and Digg's respective implosions, I said I'd discuss a special opportunity emerging that Slashdot could perhaps exploit. Implying that such an event might happen again. And I definitely think that's the case. However, there is a big difference between then and today.
When Kuro5hin died it wasn't even a leader in its field. There was significant competition not just from Slashdot but numerous other sites as well. Similarly, Digg imploded with Reddit standing by ready to fill that market gap. But today Reddit is a last site standing. They hold an effective monopoly on link aggregation. As they say, they're the "Front Page of the Internet." And these days they are. This makes Reddit sticky in a way prior sites weren't.
However, like Kuro5hin and Digg, there are serious problems with a perception of submission queue rigging and censorship by Reddit moderators. And it's pervasive across the large subreddits.
For example, back in October of last year it became clear that moderators in /r/politics were engaged in wholesale censoring of major publications. Even by publishers who had won Polk and Pulizer prizes. I wrote about that and made a short video.
Then, a few months later in February 2014, a new scandal emerged whereby the mods in /r/techology were exposed as having employed a bot to censor all sorts of keywords from submissions. "Tesla," the car maker, was one. "NSA," another. Even "bitcoin." Terms clearly relevant to a technology forum. The scandal was so serious Alexis Ohanian - a site founder - removed himself from the mod team and site management demoted the subreddit from default status. That is, /r/technology is no longer a subreddit users are - by default - subscribed to when they first create new accounts.
Just recently, a web developer was banned from for submitting a project of his own. He created a video, asking:
Has Reddit become a place for celebrities and big brands benefit from free advertising while the average Redditor who wants to share a personal project gets shoed away?
In the video he then spoke to why this is a bad thing for community relations and how this experience has impacted his trust in the site. At least discussion of his experience hasn't been censored on /r/videos.
Regardless, the issue here isn't about this guy's trouble. There have been so many other examples of this kind of manipulation a pervasive expectation of community exploitation by Reddit admins and mods has developed. The community knows - or at least believes - they're being actively censored for Public Relations purposes. Which is exactly what happened at Digg right before implosion. And Kuro5hin before it, for slightly different reasons.
That means there's market pressure building for a free-as-in-speech competitor to appear. That's called opportunity.
Slashdot? This situation is exploitable. The publisher and editors should take this opportunity to punch that Alien Gorilla in the face and give Reddit a well deserved bloody nose. You can't get everything. But if you're aggressive you could cleave off a chunk of audience at /r/technology, /r/science, and /r/futurology.
This is YOUR OLD NERD AUDIENCE. Bring these people back to the fold by offering them what they want. An open community portal.
After these messes at Reddit and before that Digg perhaps they'll remember you fondly. Slashdot may have been incompetent but it was never corrupt. Not like that. At least nobody thought so. In contrast, that Big Bad Alien Gorilla wants it all so badly they've grown complacent to competition and arrogant to their community. Reclaim your community by promoting Slashdot as the free speech alternative to a now corrupt competitor. Just like Reddit did to Digg.
Combine that with fresh community content creation and you've got a strong means to rebuild your brand anew. With real community involvement and original content hosted locally. You'll know you're hitting them hard when Slashdot comment forums begin competing with Reddit in new comment numbers and page views. You'll know you're winning when Slashdot stories starts popping up in the Reddit new submissions queue.
In summary, it's my belief that Slashdot should change focus away from link aggregation to publishing professional and semi-professional original content. It should do this with community involvement by tweaking journal promotion to focus on community-publisher symbiosis. Dailykos is a model for process, Medium and Vice standards of quality. But most of all, you've got to change direction. The old model doesn't work any more. And recognizing that truth is the first step to change for the better.
I hope this has been an interesting read for /. editors and site stalwarts. And maybe even provided some useful suggestions. Good luck and may success follow regardless.
In general support of /. editors
I've seen the comment forums filled with off-topic posts about a badly deployed beta upgrade. Community members are pissed and they're venting and they want site owners to not just listen but act on community concerns. And so we see a temper tantrum that likely has only alienated corporate owners and made life for editorial staff miserable.
I have sympathy for both perspectives. The upgrade really is a mess. Commenting doesn't work, layout wastes space, fonts are poorly chosen, etc. Yet I also recognize that software upgrades are necessary. Slashdot is looking pretty creaky. Another coat of whitewash over cracks in the woodwork won't do. Deciding to rewrite and build something new is a defendable choice. But owners should know that simply deploying something new is not the same as building something that works. As an old timer here, I'd like functionality considered above mere design. Ideally, a good new site would merge the two seamlessly.
Of course, no one screaming out there in the community cares what I have to say. I've been absent so long I'm barely a member these days. But I think the continued tantrum is going overboard and risks causing more damage than good. Destroying /. to save it is no solution. Make a stink, get your views known, but editors have posted a place for dialog and it's time to use it. Crapflooding every article with off-topic rants about the beta now diminishes community goals. It's counterproductive.
I'd like to see /. resurgent. I think Reddit has gotten too big and the Internet needs competitors in link aggregation and commenting as a checks and balancing mechanism. Slashdot still has popular heft and a functioning community. I'd encourage owners and editors to consider this community response as an encouraging sign. People care. And that means that with appropriate management-community dialog, the site remains viable going forward. The question is: after this period of decline, how do you retool to challenge competitors like Reddit and grow at their expense? Throwing away your community doesn't solve that problem.
2001 essay of mine front paged at Long Form
My essay 2001: A Space Odyssey - Discerning Themes Through Score and Imagery has been front paged at Long Form, a site sponsored by Pitt Writers of the University of Pittsburgh Creative Writing Department. I'm both flabbergasted and incredibly pleased.
2001: A Space Odyssey - Discerning Themes through Score and Imagery
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my favorite films. Recently, I wrote a ~25,000 word analysis, with image stills and video clips, discussing Nietzsche's philosophical themes of Ascent of Man and Eternal Recurrence implied therein. Comparing HAL's murder of the Discovery One's crew in contrast to Moonwatcher's killing of a competing ape tribe leader over a water hole, I note that both gain sentience through violence. Another argument proposes that the apes are as maladapted to their savana environment as is modern man by his tools and socialization, leading to dehumanization by technology rather than triumph. I list several motifs in imagery, contrapuntal use of musical score that evokes emotion in opposition to visual narrative, analyze actor micro-expressions used to imply character intent, and end with subsequent impact of the film on depictions of artificial intelligence. There are numerous citations from Bizony, Freud, Kracaeur, Nietzsche, Zizek, and more. Perhaps some /. members who also love the film might be interested in the read.
WTF happened to you, Apple?
As a long time Apple customer (I still even own an original Apple II), I've come to rely on the firm to design high quality equipment and provide top tier support to sustain consistent workflow. I don't expect the firm to work miracles, but I do expect honest communication when problems arise.
I have a 2010 27" iMac. Recently, the firm has recalled 1TB drives shipped with units from this era. I had purchased Applecare, so the machine was still even under warranty. It had never been opened, it was - other than some minor cosmetic blemishes on the screen - as original as it had been sold. So, I contacted the nearest Apple Store and arranged to have the unit serviced.
On the 23rd I spoke with a Genius Bar (tm) representative who assured me it would almost certainly be same-day service. Though, it might - if there were problems - take up to three days. Regardless, he assured me, a representative from the firm would call me and give an update regarding the status of the repair. Since I've moved from the United States to Australia, he also offered a power cable with the new connector. Great! On the 24th at 9:45am, I brought the unit in for servicing in its original box and coating with its original foam cover.
I asked the representative to also check the superdrive, as I thought that it wasn't reading discs properly any longer. And, no that isn't because of region coding differences. It really did seem to be a head alignment problem in the drive.
'No worries, we'll fix it up for you! Expect a call late this afternoon.' Came the reply.
They conducted an analysis of the machine, we did some paperwork, and then I left with an empty box at a bit after 10am.
No call that afternoon was forthcoming. But, OK. Maybe they had a backlog. Whatever. Then no call came the next day. Fine. And then no call came the next day - three days in. However, it was the weekend and I thought, 'hey, I'll give them a break. Maybe they don't service machines on Saturday or Sunday, even though the store is open.'
Then no call came on Monday. By Tuesday morning I was angry. Not only were they five days into a repair that was - at most - supposed to take three (with a verbal promise of same day), but they hadn't even bothered to call or email me to give a status update on the repair. And I have a work backlog to deal with.
So I called and spoke with the manager. I told him that the issue wasn't that they were taking longer than expected to resolve the repair. The issue was a lack of communication with their customer. The firm wrote on my sheet that a staffer would call with an update within 48hrs and nobody did. Further, they made me wait thirty minutes on hold calling for a status update only to lose track of me and hang up.
A staffer called back and told me the machine was ready for pick up.
I get to the store and immediately I feel like I am not wanted by these staffers. They segregate me off to the side. Then they bring me to the back genius bar desk and bring out the machine and paperwork, but - unlike when they inventoried the machine during the initial sign in - they didn't turn the machine on to prove its functionality during check-out. The staffer clearly wanted me to sign the paper and leave as quickly as possible.
I asked about the power cord. She refused and suggested I speak with a staffer who would sell me one.
'OK, fine.' I thought, 'I don't need a power cord and I definitely don't want to be here any longer. These people are rude.'
I picked up the computer and left as fast as I could.
Only two years ago you offered best in service. While I don't expect freebies, I certainly do expect follow through on promises. Your store failed in every respect, from meeting policy obligations your company set for staffers in dealing with the customer to fulfilling verbal promises your staffers provided on the side.
Bad bad bad bad bad. Frankly, worse than Dell.
Apple, what the hell has happened to you? This professional customer who buys top of the line equipment to support his business workflow now wants to find an alternative. For Adobe is where I butter my bread, not Apple any longer. And its clear to me, Apple has determined that I'm not how they butter their bread either.
Alternate Bailout: Let us liquidate our 401Ks!
Underneath the all the conflicting rationales behind Paulson's bailout plan is a simple fact: US citizens, on average, owe more on their mortgages than property valuations justify. Giving Wall Street firms bunch of the Public's money to offset their losses won't change that underlying fact. Further, it will worsen the situation for homeowners given that the very same people who are unable to pay their mortgage loans will be required to pay off the bailout. Just who are they trying to save anyway?
Here's a Main Street solution: Why not change the rules for 401K retirement accounts to allow individuals to liquidate all or part of their retirement holdings without penalty, as long as the money is transferred to their mortgage holder to pay down principal on their home. The money should also be available to help individuals refinance out of dangerous variable interest rate HELoC (Home Equity Lines of Credit) and ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage) loans.
In each case, if the homeowner has enough funds saved in his or her 401K to offset their negative equity stake and/or get out from under a risky loan, the homeowner wins and the mortgage banks win. Society wins. Also, no public funds would have been used. And US citizens wouldn't be held responsible for paying off a bunch of Wall Street parasites who lost everything due to their irresponsible profligacy. Thus, a moral hazard for the rich would not - this time, at least - have been promoted as U.S. fiscal policy. Just an idea.
Why I now refuse to moderate
Moderation Rated As Unfair
sent by Slashdot Message System on Tuesday April 08, @12:05AM
Some of your past moderations have been meta-moderated by other Slashdot readers. Here are the exciting results:
* Re:Moon landing 1969 from the discussion "Design of Next-Gen NASA Rocket Showing Flaws" which you moderated as Interesting was voted Unfair.
Summary of your recent moderation: 50% Fair
For your poor moderation, you have been assessed a karma penalty.
Thank you for moderating.
Not that I give a shit about karma, but go click that link I was m2'd as unfair for moderating as Interesting. That was an interesting comment. Which just shows that the social problem moderation was created to solve is not amenable to systemic solutions. Programs can't fix this brokenness. And yet more programs to re-massage the social milieu the previous programs had already failed at doing ... well they don't work either. And then it's turtles all the way down.
Not that I have a solution beyond giving up. So far, online society has been shown to ... not scale.
"$170.42" [SS; ~1400 words; mostly SFW]
As my date laughed, the crow's feet by her eyes widened from lines to full crevasses, like a river having carved out little ravines. Certainly, by the look of her forty-two years, she had been born in a prior geologic age. But then, so had I.
She had just uttered some quip about a college internship, which I missed because my attention had been diverted by a young waitress, with a very tight figure, performing the bee dance with her ass. The waitress waddled along provocatively to some other table holding several full plates in one hand, but my date's eyes had slow-blinked in laughter at just that moment. I don't think she noticed.
"He was so little, so precious, " she said, "I just knew right then that teaching was going to be my future." She lifted her glass of Chianti, rolled the red liquid seemingly entranced in thought, and then took a shallow sip.
I didn't have a good followthrough, but fortunately that waitress intervened to check on our dinner.
"Excellent. Thank you." I took a small bite of the creamed spinach with pine nuts to show my appreciation. My date ignored her.
"So, what do you do again?"
"I'm a chemist."
"Where did you go -"
"- Penn State for undergrad; UT for my Ph.D."
"Interesting." At that instant, her eyes appeared to fix upon the wine label, unwittingly expressing just how boring she felt my career path had been.
"So," she tried again, "why not the university life of a professor? Don't like teaching?"
"No, it's not that. My research didn't pan out like I expected. And it took a bit longer than most to earn the Ph.D. When it was over, I had a string of publications with obvious and predicted results. I took this big risk on radioactive solvents as catalysts, which went nowhere. And -"
Her face showed the confusion everyone outside my field does whenever I try to explain its more obvious details. I should have known better.
"It's just a job. Pays the bills."
"Hey, we all need a job." She smiled and our eyes touched for the first time that evening.
Hypnotized, I forgot to sneak a look at the waitress as she passed by toward another table. For just a second, imperceptible to others yet for us like a slow-blues riff ringing out a whole note in vibrato, we existed together not as one flesh but as one soul. And then it was over.
My date found a spot in the tablecloth to be distracted by. Her forefinger slid up the stem of her wineglass to the rim, whereupon she made circling motions along its lip. Her face pointed toward the table, but her eyes just then peaked back through strands of auburn hair and I felt the stirring of flesh deep inside.
"Hey," she said, "try a sip of this wine." Her hand pushed the glass across the table toward me. As I reached for it, I felt her finger ever so slightly press against mine as the glass passed into my hand. At that instant, I heard the slight whisper of a gasp uttered from her lips.
"Excuse me," she said, "I'll be right back." The mood vanished before the napkin was off her lap and on the table. She stood up and walked to the nearest waiter, who pointed to the restroom.
The waitress stopped by to ask if we would like anything else. She had that perfect mix of professionalism to deter unwarranted advances by customers, yet while somehow also wearing unreasonably revealing attire. Nipples pierced back at me through her low cut white blouse like the eyes of a mountain lion. Her stomach flatter than Kansas, and think I noticed a belly button ring extruding out underneath black silk fabric. She wore some kind of rosemary light oil scent, but all I could smell was sex. Sex all over her. In that second I imaged that her boyfriend had just bent her over their kitchen table, lifted her miniskirt, and quick-fucked her silly on the spot only minutes before her shift had started. And I wanted to be him.
She stood there patiently waiting for my reply.
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO FINISH STORY
Copyright ©2008, J. Maynard Gelinas.
This work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommerial NeDerivs 2.5 license.
The Occupation [ss, nsfw]
So that's how they got Litvinenko.
It was a bit thicker than a thread of hair; no longer than a BB pellet; dead black, with little spindly appendages wiggling and grasping about upwards. He rolled the device between his thumb and forefinger until it was but a thin reddish smear.
I survived! This time. Miniature bots. Nanobots. They can be bugs, parasites watching and listening to every second of your life. Or killers, filled with Polonium 239. Tiny things designed to attach and listen until they're told to exercise extreme prejudice. That's how they kill these days. Christ I need a cigarette.
Am I kidding? I can't smoke a cigarette. It takes just one drag off the wrong butt and you're dead. Within seconds. Not like in the old days, when they killed over decades. Cancer was no conspiracy.
Oh fuck. There's a pebble-cam. Time to move.
A blur of imagery and sensation follows. Warmth changes to cold. Sirens honk. Time drops not by drip but by staccato bursts. Then he finds himself standing outside a cafe door holding a warm cup of coffee. A thing flashing intense blue and wailing like a dying cat screams by across the road.
Fucking UFOs. They hide. Sometimes they're only whirling blobs of gas. Other times they're like that. Who do the aliens want today? When will they come for me? They take us one by one. Up those beams of blue into their big round floating space ships. Big eyes they have. That time I saw it. There's gonna come for me. I saw one of them. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
Only if I want to die. Where's my knife? I can feel the worms twisting inside my brain.
He saw a Pterodactyl fly overhead, lazily swooping in circles, floating up upon an atmospheric thermal. It was beautiful and so he felt compelled to stop and watch nature, basking in the glory of God's creation. As his head was turned upward and his eyes locked upon the sight, suddenly he lurched forward off balance as an alien, briskly walking, bumped into his back. He turned as the man past by and saw that the man's face was that of a pig.
They're on to me again! I have no time to spare.
Sharp ice crystals burned themselves into his forearms and he shivered. A mob of moving and intertwined figures spread out ahead, bobbing up and down out of time, as the aliens moved to and fro on the sidewalk. Golden rays beat down upon the afternoon asphalt and cement. Occasionally, a human being was spotted among the masses. He pressed his back against a great glass wall and slithered until he reached a corner, allowing passage into a small alley. An alien, somewhat resembling a female human mannequin, wore a heavy mink coat that could not hide the thing's ridiculously overlarge breasts nor its thread thin waist. Cherry colored cheeks and puffed out lips set the face. It floated along the sidewalk with the air of royalty - its legs never once shuffling to take a step; its perfume, smelling of rose colored shit, dissipating in slow motion like fog upon a coastline. He escaped in the other direction toward darkness in the alley beyond.
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO FINISH STORY
REVISION 1 ROUGH DRAFT
Copyright ©2008, J. Maynard Gelinas.
This work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommerial NeDerivs 2.5 license.
Curl-Free Vector Potential Effects in a Simply Connected
Full paper in PDF form (warning: very large pdf!)
"Curl-Free Vector Potential Effects in a Simply Connected Space"
Raymond C. Gelinas
Scanned from the 1986 Tesla Symposium
A gauge invariant expression for the phase difference between two points of a wavefunction is derived using the Schrodinger equation for a charged particle in the presence of a vector potential. Such a phase difference is found to be the gauge invariant in a simply connected space in the quantum formalism. As applies to the Aharonov and Bohm effect, these findings therefore show that a multiply connected space is not an essential condition for establishing gauge invariance. That the Aharonov and Bohm experiements are constrained by a requirement for a multiply connected space, is a consequence of the properties of electron beams which cannot provide two separate sources of mutually phase coherent de Broglie waves. The macroscopic quantum interference properties of the superconducting Josephson junction are described. It is shown that a Josephson junction provides quantum interference between two mutually phase coherent souces of superconductive wavefunctions and therefore enables detection of curl-free vector potential effects in a simply connected space. An experiment is described to detect a change in phase difference of the superconductive wavefunction across a Josephson junction caused by a remote source of curl-free vector potential.
WANTED: experiences of censorship at Huffington Post
I recently had a comment censored and my account posting privileges revoked at Huffington Post after submitting a single comment. The article concerned Depression, not mainstream politics:
My comment questioned the author's use of a NY Times lay article to refute an assertion quoted by another author, a psychiatrist whose quoted work cited peer reviewed studies to support his assertion. For this my comment was not published and my posting privileges suspended.
I've send two emails to the editorial staff at Huffington Post, none of which have been returned. I must now assume this is policy at the site and not a rogue editor.
QUESTION: Has anyone else experienced this type of arbitrary and capricious censorship there? If so, may I quote you? Please reply here or contact me by email. I am working on an article about the issue.
How to Impeach and Remove the Bush gang with the GOP
If, like me, you believe Attorney General Gonzalez, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush have all committed high crimes and *cough!* felonies *cough!* but fear that removing these criminals from office would be a distraction at best and a nightmare for Democrats at worst, here I offer one possible way this could happen successfully. But you're going to have to stand with a few Republicans to make it work. Just like we did during Watergate when Nixon got the boot and Vice-President Ford was handed the Reigns.
Thus, it is Republicans who will decide the success of impeachment and removal. If you want to impeach, you're going to have to make a few friends with the GOP. One in particular, John McCain, would appear to have most reason for revenge against the Bushies. But feel free to imagine this scenario with any of your most palatable Republicans.
"But ... but ... but ... I want to support a Democrat for President!!!" I hear many scream.
Well, sorry. As much as it sucks, the Democrats lack a supermajority to force the issue. And further, doing so would only incite yet more partisanship warfare at a time when national unity is critical to success.
There is ample evidence to impeach on the grounds of Obstruction of Justice and Conspiracy to Commit Obstruction of Justice. These men are criminals. And if they are let off without sanction, we will set a precedent for lawlessness in the executive that threatens the very foundations of our republic. Thus, seeing Justice done is far more important than Democratic partisanship. Or Republican partisanship. Equal justice is mandatory for the functioning of our constitutional republic. Partisanship wins, less so.
Here is one possibility for how a successful change in leadership might occur. We need seventeen Republican senators and only a few (if any) congresspersons:
- Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid arrange a little meeting with John McCain. They offer him an interim presidency to support impeachment and removal for Gonzales, Cheney, and Bush. McCain may be willing to do this because - I suspect - he is still a little pissed with the Bushies for insulting him, his wife, and his adopted children during the 2000 primaries.
- John McCain has a good deal of political clout with Republican Senators. He arranges a little backroom brokering behind closed doors with Republicans and gets the necessary seventeen.
- Nancy Pelosi places in three parallel articles of impeachment against Attorney General Gonzalez, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush. She next immediately steps down as Speaker of the House temporarily. John McCain is handed the Speakership duties pro-tempe. Note that the role of Speaker of the House can be assigned to any citizen, regardless of House membership.
- The new Speaker places articles of impeachment on the agenda and stifles all debate, instead forcing a voice vote to immediately Impeach all three. Without a roll call, votes are not recorded - so Republicans aren't on the record.
- Senate immediately takes up the trial and convicts on the same day.
- John McCain is sworn into office as President of the United States. He chooses a vice president of his liking.
- Nancy Pelosi returns as Speaker of the House.
- Bad news: John McCain - like Gerald Ford - will have the opportunity to pardon. \*shrug\* I'm not a vindictive prick, I just want these assholes out of office. Fine.
- '08: we fight it out on the election battlefield, just like every other presidential election year.
No debates. No bullshit. No media storm before it happens. Just walk in, do the deed, and get the fuck off the house and senate floor in one day flat. Don't let them prepare. Don't give the Bushies one inkling of the shitstorm coming their way. Do it all backroom and then stick the knife in once you've got the votes. Gonzales, Bush, and Cheney would be then out of office without recourse. Plus, the Democrats would have not used impeachment for partisan gain. So at least a minority of Republicans would have cause to support the action. Certainly McCain, who I think would consider this fair turnabout.
Everybody wins. Except for Gonzales, Cheney and Bush. Who get what they deserve.
[EDIT]: A hat tip to Bill White, who proposed much the same plan over in this discussion at theforvm.org. Original text maintained at daduh.org.
A letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
As a registered Democrat in the state of Massachusetts, I contact you not as a California 8th district constituent, but as a citizen of the United States first, and a party member second. I have already contacted my representative, congressman Capuano, with these concerns.
Our president and vice president have committed grave crimes against the republic and the office of the Presidency. The most obvious and recent was the commutation of Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's aide, after a jury convicted and a judge sentenced him to a standard 30 month jail sentence for his crime of perjury and obstruction of justice. These are felonies. But President Bush, while admitting that Mr. Libby broke the law, commuted his sentence anyway - even though he has never done so before for anyone else convicted of the same crime. Citizens must conclude then that rule of law is only for those without friends in the White House.
This is more than just the appearance of conflict of interest. It undermines the whole judicial system. Rule of law has been tarnished at the very top. One could detail any number of other examples where the president has flaunted law, but this is instance is so obvious, so contemptuous of our most basic and cherished principals as set forth by our founders, that there is no more rationale needed to impeach.
In fact, Ms. Pelosi, I argue that it is your RESPONSIBILITY to begin impeachment hearings immediately. If you do not remove those men from office, it will set a precedent that we - the citizens - may never undo by legal means. I fear that we are at the precipice of despotic tyranny. You swore an oath to defend the constitution. Not the Democratic party. Not your congressional seat. And most certainly not Mr. Bush, as his aide seemed to imply recently during senate testimony.
Seek out responsible conservatives who realize the danger to our republic. They exist. As Bill Moyers has shown in his interview with Bruce Fein and John Nicols. It is clear that the Democrats do not have a supermajority to force the issue. But you could raise one with the help of responsible Republicans who would be willing to take the helm after Bush and Cheney's removal from office. All we need is another honest Republican, like Gerald Ford, at the ready.
If you fail to act, you and the 110th congress, may well be remembered in history as that feckless and cowardly legislature that handed a modern Caesar his dictatorship without even a whimper or a cry. Today, you needn't hide a knife under your senate robes, legal means exist to achieve the same result. Tomorrow, that may not be the case. Democrats are watching, Speaker Pelosi. Please act. I don't want to live under the thumb of a despotic state. I am a citizen, not a subject.
J. Maynard Gelinas
Applecare Support Nightmare
Apple is now [EDIT: OFF] my shit list. Not that I think Steve Jobs actually reads the email sent to his public address [EDIT: HE DID! AND HE HAD AN EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT COMPLETELY RESOLVE MY PROBLEM! SEE COMMENTS FOR DETAILS], but here's my letter in an electronic bottle meant for him:
[EDIT: to include email header info]
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2007 16:33:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Apple Support Nightmare
My name is J. Maynard *******. I am a longtime Apple customer. In fact,
I have an original Apple II (not II+) still in my basement (and it still
works!). I am also an IT Manager for one of the labs at MIT.
So, I am most disappointed by this experience I will relate. In
September, '06 I bought a white 2Ghz Macbook to replace a four year old
15" TiBook G4. Immediately I had problems with the unit, which finally
went back for service under Applecare. The system was returned still
broken. So I sent it back again. This time the unit has been out in
service for nearly a month.
See Dispatch number: D11412***.
After three weeks of my laptop staying "On Hold" waiting for a part, a
CSR recommended I speak with "Customer Relations". I called and spoke with
"Tina", who offered to replace my laptop. And then the process just halted
as I tried calling to confirm and never received any callbacks. I have no
idea what happened.
See Case ID: 76882***
Further, Tina informed me that I would not get my boot disc back, even
though the boot disc had not failed. While I did back up my critical
documents, I have GBs of ripped music, application installs, etc which I
At this moment, I still do not have confirmation of a replacement unit,
I'm out a laptop for a solid month, and I will lose my data. Mr. Jobs, you
have a serious problem with your support process and procedures. If
someone at Apple does not resolve this pronto, your company will lose not
only my future purchases, but also my purchase recommendations to graduate
students, professors, and support staff at MIT.
That computer is a TOOL, not merely a product. So, to sell me a
nonfunctional computer, and then destroy the data it manipulates, is to
negate its very utility; the raison d'etre for my purchase.
I just want to make this one comparison: Apple II; 30 years old, still
works. Macbook; failed within months, could not be repaired even under
Applecare, customer waited a month for unresolved "service".
J. Maynard *******
24 ****** St.
Partial transcript of the ACLU Strossen / Scalia debate
About two weeks back, the ACLU hosted a one hour long televised debate between ACLU president Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. C-SPAN has posted a podcast of the debate, however, unfortunately, no written transcript is available. I've hand transcribed about fifteen minutes of the program for my own project, and thought there might be some members who would appreciate the posting of it here. Transcript is below the fold:
Starting 14 minutes 13 seconds into recording:
Moderator: But Professor Strossen, there are these other cases --
Strossen: There certainly are, and here we get to the 'but Nino I don't want you to think you're too popular with this group' [referring to a prior discussion about a privacy rights decision in support of the banning of police infrared imaging by helicopter within homes unsuspected of any criminal activity] I think the -- uh -- and I do enormously respect your -- uh -- being here and thank you for the votes that happen to coincide with ACLU positions. Let me zero in on what I think is probably the single biggest difference, and that is although you have a great respect for privacy in the Kyllo case in enforcing the 4th amendment -- uh -- many people, and including those of us in the ACLU who are very distressed at your failure to find within the constitution protection for what we think is at least as important a type of privacy, namely the right of consenting individuals -- mature individuals in their own homes -- to decide what they are going to see, or read, to decide with whom they are going to live, what kind of sexual intimacies or relationships they are going to engage in. Isn't this, in fact, a confluence of the 1st amendment and the 4th amendment. That government should not have the right to criminalize -- uh -- certain materials that we read, and should not have the right to criminalize certain sexual intimacies.
15:37 Scalia: Well, that may well be so. I do not take -- I do not take any public view on whether it would be good or bad for government to allow that. That's not the business I'm in. My job is simply to say whether those things that you find desirable are contained in the constitution. Now your -- your -- Washington -- uh -- President said in his remarks before this session that -- uh -- what the ACLU is for is democracy. Right? --
Strossen: -- I thought you would like that. --
16:11 Scalia: -- You thought I would like that. -- I'm in the business of enforcing the laws. What democracy means is that on controversial issues -- even stuff like homosexual rights, abortion, whatever -- we debate with each other, and persuade each other, and vote on it. Either our representatives, or through a constitutional amendment in the states, we decide the question. Now, there are some exceptions to that. In any liberal democracy -- and in ours most of those exceptions are contained in the bill of rights. But that bill of rights was adopted by the majority. Which is why it is proper in a democracy to have a bill of rights, because the majority adopted it. Now when they adopted it, what did they take out of that general principle -- what did they take out of that general rule of democracy, that we allow open speech, we persuade each other, and we vote -- what did they take out of it? They never took out these issues! Abortion, homosexual conduct, what -- nobody ever thought that they had been included in the rights contained in the Bill of Rights, which is why -- uh -- abortion, and homosexual sodomy were criminal for two hundred years. Now whether that's a good idea or a bad is -- is -- not what I'm talking about. That's not my job to say that. It is my job to say whether the Bill of Rights has taken it out of the realm of democratic debate. Just because you feel strongly about it, it isn't necessarily in the Bill of Rights.
17:39 Strossen: As -- as -- you rightly say, the -- uh -- constitution included an amendment process, and the ACLU's defense of rights does not stop with the Bill of Rights, nor does the constitution. Fortunately, the constitution was amended after the Civil War, to create equality rights, and rights for African Americans, and others who had been excluded under the original constitution, and it is the 14th amendment -- as you know, Nino, we agreed we would be on a first name basis since we usually are -- uh, that you understand, Nino, that the Due Process clause of the 14th amendment has been interpreted by -- I think you are the sole exception in the modern court, to refuse to find that as a source of protection for implied fundamental rights. Going back to the nineteenth century, Supreme Court justices have recognized -- uh -- that that carved out an area free from government regulation, and that area has always included basic decisions about our own bodies, our own relationships, and what we do in our own homes.
18:47 Scalia: Well, whoever said that was wrong. Uh, (laughter) you have a text that says no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law. That's not a guarantee of any right, it's not a guarantee of life, of liberty, or of property -- you can be deprived of all three of them, but not without due process. And I will enforce the due process clause when what it is directed to are the procedures of trial -- procedures that are necessary to deprive you of life, liberty, or property. But to say that there is within that due process clause some substantive right to abortion -- or to anything else -- I mean, words have no meaning if you begin to talk like that. And when words have no meaning, a democracy cannot function -- because that is how we express the people's will, through words. So, -- now -- you may say -- and you may be right -- that -- I'm not the only one on the modern court, that at least Clarence Thomas is not a fan of so-called substantive due process, which is a contradiction, and, frankly, more and more law professors are abandoning substantive due process because it is such an obvious contradiction in terms.
20:00 Strossen: It's interesting that on the modern court, the very first justice to read the due process clause as protecting the right of individuals to choose to use contraception was a Republican justice, the very revered John Marshal Harlan, but let's come at it from another perspective Nino --
20:18 Moderator: -- Actually, before you do, may I ask you (Justice Scalia) to explain --
20:20 Scalia: to explain whether I would change my mind?
20:24: Strossen: (laughter) May I please make another point?
20:26 Moderator: I was just going to ask Justice Scalia to explain what "substantive due process" means.
20:29 Strossen: Oh. That there are -- um -- affirmative (laughter) He doesn't -- um -- he doesn't believe in it, how could he explain it! (laughter)
20:38 Moderator: He knows what it is! (laughter) Well, whoever would like to explain it.
20:41 Scalia: I don't believe in anarchy either, but I'm (laughter) -- go ahead!
20:49 Strossen: I wanted to start from the opposite perspective, that -- uh Nino, let's put aside what the Due Process clause does or doesn't say. We are a government of limited powers, and unless the framers gave a power to the government the presumption is that we as individuals have that freedom that government may not intrude upon. Where in the constitution does the government have the power to tell free individuals -- adults -- what we may or may not do in the privacy of our own homes with our own bodies, and with those we choose to live with?
21:28 Scalia: Nadine, you're appealing to some natural law --
21:31 Strossen: -- Yes! --
21:32 Scalia: I don't know that -- uh -- that I've been appointed to apply natural law, I apply the limitations upon democracy that the American people have adopted. And as long as those are not infringed, the constitution hasn't been violated. It's not up to me to decide -- you know -- what ought the equal protection of the laws to mean. There's a lot of things it could mean, it could mean that in all public buildings you need unisex toilets. Now, you know, does it mean that? No, it doesn't. Why doesn't it? Because nobody ever thought that's what it meant.
22:08 Strossen: Well, let say what that --
22:09 Scalia: -- And, in 1919, when, when, when women's right to vote -- uh -- came up, nobody thought the supreme court would suddenly say 'equal protection of the laws means women suddenly have the right to vote' that's not how it was done! We amended the constitution because it was very clear that when the equal protection clause was adopted nobody thought that it prohibited discrimination in the franchise on the basis of sex, on the basis of literacy, on the basis of property. So the American people did what you do in a democracy, they amended the constitution --
22:45 Strossen: -- Nino, in --
22:46 Scalia: -- and that's the way all this other stuff ought to be brought in.
22:48 Strossen: But when the equal protection clause was adopted, nobody thought that it would outlaw racially segregated schools, nobody thought that it would outlaw interracial marriages. And fortunately, the United States Supreme Court did have an evolving interpretation of the equal protection clause that did read it as prohibiting those vile practices.
23:14 Scalia: Well, that's fine. The question is whether that's right. The question is whether, whether, you can live with an evolving constitution. Once you say it evolves, it doesn't depend what the people thought they were doing when they adopted it -- it evolves. Somebody is going to have to decide how it evolves. Why in the world would you want nine people from a very uncharacteristic class of society -- to whit, nine lawyers -- to decide how the constitution evolves? It means whatever they think it ought to mean!
23:44 Strossen: I would want it for the very same reason that I'm happy that we are not a pure democracy, that the framers of the original constitution -- and certainly of the 14th amendment recognized that there are some rights that are so fundamental that no majority can take them away from any minority; no matter how small and unpopular that minority might be. And who is better positioned to represent and defend and be the ultimate backstop for rights of individuals and minorities than those who are not directly accountable to the electoral process? Namely, federal judges.
24:21 Scalia: Well, you know, try putting that in the text. If that was the deal, it should have been in there. How many people would have voted for it? It would have read -- uh -- the phrases within the constitution that have generalized meaning, due process of law, equal protection under the law and so forth, do not mean what they mean today, but rather, they will mean whatever an unelected committee of nine lawyers, known as the Supreme Court, thinks they ought to mean from time to time. Who in the world would vote for government by such an aristocracy? I can't imagine.
25:00 Strossen: This is what the broad textured clauses of the constitution themselves say, Nino. By definition, the framers could have chosen very specific language, and they did, in certain clauses, so one has to assume that they deliberately chose capacious language -- to quote your colleague, or to paraphrase your colleague Justice Kennedy in Lawrence vs. Texas -- if they had intended to confine the meaning of the due process clause to very specific rights, they were capable of writing such specific language but they did not pretend to know what meaning would be appropriate as society evolved. And that was a clarion call for future generations to expand -- hopefully, we're coming closer and closer to what was the aspiration of the Declaration of Independence but far from the reality of equal rights for all under the law in this country.
26:05 Scalia: Nadine, language can be capacious without implying that its meaning changes in the future. When they said 'due process of law' they meant those rights of Englishmen in 1791. And the reason they didn't set them forth in detail is because it would have taken a casebook this fat! Of course they couldn't list them all. So they said 'due process of law' which meant something different in France in 1791, or in Hawaii in 1791, but they knew what it meant in America -- it meant, that process which was the right of Englishmen. There's no necessity to say, 'oh, and they invited the Supreme Court to give this thing new meaning' -- whatever new meaning this Supreme Court thinks is a good idea in the future. Someday, Nadine, you're going to get a very conservative Supreme Court --
26:57 Strossen: -- I think that day has come! (laughter) --
26:58 Scalia: And you're going to regret what you've done.
27:02 Strossen: I think that for those who would conserve the original meaning of the constitution, I think that would be fine. But Nino, do you think that the Supreme Court was wrong in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954? As the court itself has acknowledged, it clearly was not the intent of the framers of the 14th amendment to outlaw racially segregated public schools.
27:23 Scalia: I don't know. It -- uh -- I think, Harlan, when he dissented in Plessy, had the better of the argument, as far as I'm concerned, and I think that would have led to the same result in Brown. But even if you assume that -- yes -- suppose, I have to say yes, Brown was wrong -- which I don't think I do -- but even if I did, what does that prove? I will stipulate that if you have an aristocratic supreme court, who changes the constitution whenever the Supreme Court thinks it's a good idea, you'll get some good stuff! I mean, a king would give you some good stuff. But -- you know -- the untidy process of democracy will not produce. But that doesn't prove it's a good system, just because now and then it gives you good results.
29 New US Nuclear Power Plant License Permits Sought
Dale Klein, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), was interviewed on C-SPAN's Newsmakers this last Sunday on October 22nd, 2006. Regarding twenty nine recent pending license requests for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the US, he stated that there will be a nuclear renaissance in the United States:
"I do believe that we will see license applications in 2007 and we are looking - we have expressions of intent from a lot of the utilities indicating up - as I said, up to about 29 new nuclear plants. So I believe that there will be a [nuclear] renaissance in the United States."
The interview covered a broad range of nuclear issues, such as: Licenses and permits for pending US nuclear power plant construction, nuclear waste reclamation and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the threat of terrorism against nuclear electric generation facilities, as well as the scope of citizen involvement in the regulatory process. He was interviewed by Cox News reporter Jeff Nesmith and George Lobsenz of Energy Daily, with the event being hosted by C-SPAN's Susan Swain.
Pending Nuclear Power Plant Licenses
Both Lobsenz and Nesmith directly questioned Klein on the issue of new nuclear power plant construction within the United States. Citing the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (full text of legislation), which provides billions of dollars in incentives for the construction of new nuclear power plants through tax credits and loan guarantees, Klein said that the NRC had received twenty-nine 'expressions of intent' from the nuclear industry to build new nuclear power plants throughout the country. Further, he stated that worldwide, there are "... 140 plants either under construction or being planned."
Klein referred to Department of Energy projections which indicate a 50% increase in electrical demand by 2025, along with environmental concerns over global climate change due to carbon emissions, as principal reasons for the reconsideration of nuclear power generation. Currently the United states generates about 20% of its electrical capacity from 104 nuclear power plants. However, private funding availability for nuclear power generation isn't certain, with Lobsenz noting that:
"There's a lot of questions on Wall Street about whether they want to invest in a nuclear plant. I think if you talk to the industry they'll tell you, well, we're going to iron out all the kinks in the regulatory process and building these plants with the first six plants and after that it will be more like a cookie cutter and these plants will be a lot cheaper to build and a lot quicker to build.
I think a lot of people need a lot of convincing on that, particular the money men."
Nuclear Waste Reclamation and Yucca Mountain
Speaking to the issue of the upcoming Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage Facility and nuclear waste reclamation, Klein appeared to contradict long standing US policy against the use fast breeder reactors to reclaim and extend the life of nuclear fuel stock. Calling it "recycling," and noting the large number of nations that already reprocess spent nuclear fuel, Klein suggested it might be a wise policy decision:
"France currently recycles, Japan is recycling, Russia will recycle, United Kingdom recycles. And so there is a lot of experience in the recycling era. Whether that's a viable option for the United States will be a policy decision."
This is in contrast to longstanding US policy against the construction of fast breeder reactors, going back to former President Jimmy Carter's 1977 veto of the Department of Energy Authorization Bill on several grounds, one of which being that it funded the construction of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. Since then, no new fast breeder reactors have been proposed on US soil for commercial fuel reclamation.
One of the principal concerns over the use of breeder technology is that it converts non-weapons grade nuclear waste from uranium into highly radioactive plutonium, which can then be used in the construction of a nuclear weapon. However, reclamation would also stretch out the expected life of a limited nuclear resource, and in the process, reduce the amount of radioactive waste that would need to be stored at Yucca Mountain. As Mr. Nesmith noted, one of the primary arguments against construction of the Yucca Mountain facility is the problem of transporting large amount of nuclear waste cross country for storage.
Threat of Terrorism
Dr. Klein did not speak long on the threat of terrorism against nuclear electric generation facilities, such as crashing a jet airliner into a nuclear power plant (warning: PDF; google cache html version), however, he did address the subject after several direct questions were posed. Lobsenz asked, within the context of 9/11:
"However, the NRC has said that in doing environmental reviews of new plants it will not be looking at possible impacts from terrorism. And I think that there's been a contrary court decision questioning the NRC's position on this. And I guess the question I would have for you is, this is clearly an issue that's in the public's mind about nuclear plants. And if you don't have a public dialog in the course of doing an environmental review, how are you going to address this public concern? Shouldn't there be a public dialog in relation to the building of these new plants about what would happen if there is a terrorism attack and maybe you could even reassure the public somewhat that something is being done?"
Dr. Klein responded by pointing out that the specific issue being questioned had to do with a dry cast storage facility at Diablo Canyon. He then offered a to sooth concern about the potential threat, saying that "...nuclear power plants are examined for terrorist activities. We take that very seriously. We have a very robust program."
Nesmith, noting that the National Academy of Sciences report on nuclear power plant terrorism was less optimistic of US defenses, asked if a plant-by-plant review of safety procedures, as the report recommended, due to it's finding (his words): "that it's only a matter of time before a determined, well-equipped terrorist crashes an airliner into one of these plants and releases a large amount of radioactivity."
Dr. Klein assured Nesmith that such a review had been conducted, "Yes. We do have a very robust plant-by-plant analysis both for pressurized water reactors, boiling water reactors. We have a very detailed assessment."
Scope of Public Participation
Lobsenz also discussed with Dr. Klein the scope of public participation, and limit thereof. Noting that the only means for public participation the review process was through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), he asked about security requirements in disclosing information to the public. Dr. Klein responded:
"In terms of the public's participation, because of the security requirements that are there, there are certain things that we don't go into a lot of detail on how we address security for obvious reasons. The terrorist get too many hints the way it is. So we don't want to provide a lot of information about how we address that, but I can assure you we do look at safety, security and reliability and we are addressing potential terrorist threats in a very robust and effective way."
How this addresses public concern for reactor safety, or what other venues might be opened for the public, was not addressed. However, it would appear that a good deal of thought has been put into place to prevent a new resurgence of the anti-nuclear movement so popular back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Based upon this interview one can reasonably assert several statements of fact:
- The Bush Administration is vigorously promoting a dramatic expansion of nuclear power generation throughout the United States. There are 29 pending 'expressions of interest' for licenses to construct new plants. And there are 140 plant facilities on the drawing board or currently in construction throughout the world.
- A policy review of fast breeder reclamation technology appears to be underway, with the likelihood of a transition away from opposition to new breeder facilities as set by former President Carter.
- Dr. Klein acted to assure the public that the threat against nuclear power plants from terrorism is being handled with all due diligence. Even as the two reporters directly questioned him about a NAS report that suggests the threat is real and highly dangerous.
- The limits to public participation in regulating the nuclear industry are in the form of EPA procedures, thereby forcing all concerns to fit within the framework of environmental concerns. Terrorism, and other issues, are apparently not relevant issues for public participation.
Based upon this interview one might reasonably ask: is the threat from global warming due to human carbon emissions greater than the threat of radioactive contamination due to a nuclear accident or terrorist attack? Is the transition to promoting nuclear fuel reclamation through a new class of fast breeder reactors a wise policy move, or a dangerous one considering its nuclear proliferation potential? And what should the scope of public involvement be for future nuclear regulation?
All worthy questions. The answers, however, are far more difficult to discern.
Updates and archive available at Daduh.org
Text Copyright ©2006 J. Maynard Gelinas.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Antarctic Ozone Hole Largest Ever Recorded
In a joint announcement, both NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have released findings from the Aura satellite which shows that from September 21st through the 30th of 2006, the Antarctic ozone hole was the largest ever recorded.
"From September 21 to 30, the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles," said Paul Newman, atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. If the stratospheric weather conditions had been normal, the ozone hole would be expected to reach a size of about 8.9 to 9.3 million square miles, about the surface area of North America.
Ozone, or O3, is simply three oxygen atoms formed into a single triatomic molecule. It is far less stable than O2, and as such is present in fairly low concentrations throughout the atmosphere. However, in the stratosphere, ozone concentrations act to filter out high energy ultraviolet light from the sun. Known as the ozone layer, without this filtering mechanism, sufficient quantities of ultraviolet light will damage skin by sunburn, and can even lead to a variety of skin cancers. A complete destruction of the earth's ozone layer would be an environmental disaster, likely leaving the planet uninhabitable for most plant and animal life.
The story of ozone begins in the 1930s, when English physicist Sidney Chapman first formulated a theory of atmospheric ozone creation and destruction known as the Ozone Cycle. However, instrument measurements of the actual atmospheric ozone content showed a significant discrepancy between the ozone density as recorded compared to calculations done using his theory. Atmospheric physicists were perplexed until the early 1970s when three atmospheric physicists, Professors Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina, and F. Sherwood Rowland, each began to explore this discrepancy from different angles.
Professor Crutzen, in 1970, untangled a link between certain soil microorganisms and ozone destruction, determining that these bacteria release nitrogen oxides which react as a catalytist to destroy ozone. In 1974 professors Molina and Sherwood then published a study in Nature showing a connection between chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals in widespread use throughout industry as a refrigerant, in plastics and insulation production, and -- most well known -- as a supposedly inert gas to pressurize spray cans, could break down and destroy ozone in the stratosphere.
Their work showed that CFCs, while inert in the lower atmosphere, could float up to the stratosphere, then react strongly with ambient ultraviolet light to break down into chlorine, which would then act to break down ozone. Newly created instruments then detected measurable global atmospheric CFC content throughout the world. While industry leaders downplayed the situation, by the late 1970s near worldwide concern of the use of CFCs led some to suggest a worldwide ban on CFC production. In 1996 the three won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work.
By 1983 the predictions of declining atmospheric ozone were alarmingly confirmed when Joseph Farman (Dr. BBC interview of Dr. Farman on the discovery), a British Antarctic survey scientist, discovered a curious ozone hole in the stratosphere while collecting atmospheric data in the Antarctic. At first he and his colleges "... doubted the validity of their own measurements ..." however their work was "... was quickly confirmed by measurements from satellites and from other Antarctic research stations." (7th paragraph) Due to graphic imagery from NASA and NOAA weather satellites, the story soon made its way to the popular press -- as shown by this old 1987 Time Magazine article. By 1985 the ozone hole was widely understood to be growing in size for reasons unknown, and was considered a serious environmental threat worth serious inquiry.
In 1986, Susan Soloman, a senior scientist with NOAA, along with several others, proposed the first model to explain why ozone above Antarctica might decline to nearly nothing in a yearly cycle of ozone accumulation and destruction, while remaining of fairly consistent (if declining) density in the stratosphere throughout the rest of the world. She suggested it was the extreme cold of Antarctic atmospheric conditions, due to higher than normal sulfuric acid concentrations in stratospheric clouds, that reacted with CFCs to increase ozone destruction beyond the already understood destructive component of ultraviolet light. (11th paragraph)
Due to longstanding concerns about CFCs, and the severity of the data collected, action was swift. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty banning CFC production, was opened for signature and finally ratified by the United States in 1989. Since then most nations worldwide have followed suit, due to the alarming dangers of continued ozone depletion.
Weather satellites of varying capacity have been tracking the situation ever since, the latest of which is known as Aura. It creates daily maps of ozone density, providing a nice detailed image of ozone density over time. It is this satellite, and it's Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI), which collected the data from September 21st to the 30th. What it found is alarming. According to the press release, the instrument recorded that the hole itself comprised 10.6 million square miles, compared to an expected 8.9 - 9.3 million miles. Further, on October 9th, balloon and satellite had "...plunged to 93 DU (Dobson Units) from approximately 300 DU in mid-July..." (5th paragraph). The Dobson Unit is a measure of atmospheric ozone concentration.
David Hoffman was quoted in the press release:
"These numbers mean the ozone is virtually gone in this layer of the atmosphere," said David Hofmann, director of the Global Monitoring Division at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. "The depleted layer has an unusual vertical extent this year, so it appears that the 2006 ozone hole will go down as a record-setter."
Fortunately, scientists do believe the ozone hole is nearing the apex of its increasing size. Due to reductions in worldwide CFC gas production, scientists believe it "...is estimated to annually very slowly decrease in area by about 0.1 to 0.2 percent for the next five to 10 years." (11th paragraph) But the long half-life of ozone depleting chemicals can last for as many as 40 years. Meaning constant satellite vigilence of the ozone hole may be necessary for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come.
Text Copyright ©2006 J. Maynard Gelinas.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency linked to violence
The Guardian reports on a series of recent studies showing that feeding vitamin and Omega 3 fatty acid supplements may decrease violence among repeat offenders by as much as 37%. These results are leading researchers, and some psychiatrists, to conclude that at least some violent outbursts and other mental disorders are the result of vitamin and essential fatty acid deficiency.
For decades nutritionists discounted the notion that the type of oil one consumes has any impact on health. That is, until cardiologists discovered a strong causative link between high cholesterol blood serum levels and heart disease. For years heart patients were encouraged to reduce fat intake in order lower cholesterol levels, until further research untangled the distinction between High Density Lipoprotein and Low Density Lipoprotein, showing that not all cholesterol acts alike in affecting human health.
Cholesterol is just one of many lipids (fats) that act as an essential cellular building block. Like a brick forming only part of a wall, these fats form portions of the cell membrane - that division between the inside and outside of a cell that must both allow essential nutrients in, while blocking dangerous particles out. Thus, the story between cholesterol and heart disease is not one of a dangerous oil invading our bodies to make us sick, but instead one of a critical life-sustaining cellular building-block, that, in some circumstances, can lead to a blood serum lipid imbalance that then, over the long term, is believed to cause atherosclerosis and finally general cardiovascular disease (heart disease).
So what does this have to do with Omega 3 fatty acids? Well, one might reasonably argue that the state of research into Omega 3s is at about where the research into cholesterol was in the 1970s: Like the discovery that rickets is caused by either a vitamin D or a calcium deficiency, so researchers are discovering tantalizing links between Omega 3 dietary consumption and mental health. For example, results from the Oxford-Durham study indicate that Omega 3 supplementation helps young children with dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder:
Conclusions: Fatty acid supplementation may offer a safe efficacious treatment option for educational and behavioral problems among children with DCD. Additional work is needed to investigate whether our inability to detect any improvement in motor skills reflects the measures used and to assess the durability of treatment effects on behavior and academic progress.
Further, in a recent randomized trial of severely uni-polar depressed patients that supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids generated "... significant benefits ..." for those who received the supplement and not a placebo.
RESULTS: Highly significant benefits of the addition of the omega-3 fatty acid compared with placebo were found by week 3 of treatment.
Though they do note that since the patients were also taking Lithium, it is impossible to determine whether the benefit from supplementing Omega 3 fatty acids acted alone, or in conjunction, with the drug.
Pubmed has an abstract of the study referred to in the Guardian article, which says:
Mechanisms by which aggressive and depressive disorders may be exacerbated by nutritional deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids are considered. Early developmental deficiencies in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) may lower serotonin levels at critical periods of neurodevelopment and may result in a cascade of suboptimal development of neurotransmitter systems limiting regulation of the limbic system by the frontal cortex. Residual developmental deficits may be manifest as dysregulation of sympathetic responses to stress including decreased heart rate variability and hypertension, which in turn have been linked to behavioral dysregulation. Little direct data are available to disentangle residual neurodevelopmental effects from reversible adult pathologies. Ensuring optimal intakes of omega-3 fatty acids during early development and adulthood shows considerable promise in preventing aggression and hostility.
So, given recent recent findings of a psychiatric benefit for some in consuming Omega 3s, it should not come as a surprise that there may also be a link to other, more violent, behavior disorders. And this is exactly what this recent research would appear to indicate.
The Guardian article describes a study conducted at UK prison trial at Aylesbury jail showing that violent offenders "...fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in the prison fell by 37%." This is an astonishing number. As the article states that these findings:
... [call] into question the very basis of criminal justice and the notion of culpability. It suggests that individuals may not always be responsible for their aggression. Taken together with [this] study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies.
The article is careful to note that not all violence is caused by nutritional deficiencies; this is not a panacea that will rid the world of violence. But in understanding how nutritional deficiencies can cause certain mental disorders, the psychiatric community may soon be better able to tailor combinations of drug and nutritional supplements to better treat patients.
But what is the underlying causative action? That is, why do Omega 3s impact mental health just as other forms of cholesterol affect heart health? Scientists are currently only able to offer an educated guess. However, there are some facts that lead these guesses to be considered good speculation.
To understand their thinking, one must also understand the differences between various lipids and their relationship to how the body processes them. Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat, or a fat with two or more structural points able to support hydrogen bonds that are currently unconnected. This leaves the carbon bond chains weak with respect to trans-saturated fats like animal fat, and is one reason why monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to remain liquid at lower temperatures than trans-saturated fats. Thus, Omega 3 is one of many polyunsaturated fat (the type of fats most physicians recommend patients consume for heart health).
However, Omega 3 is not the whole story. Like how cholesterol lipids are separated into High Density and Low Density Lipoproteins, so are the essential Omega 3 fatty acids broken down into three sets called: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As the Wikipedia article states, what makes these lipids Omega 3, as opposed to Omega 6 or Omega 9 fatty acids is that:
... omega-3 (aka "n-3", "-3") signifies that the first double bond exists as the third carbon-carbon bond from the terminal methyl end () of the carbon chain.
And speculates that the carbon ordering may explain certain relationships to cell membrane health:
Structurally, omega-3 fatty acids are helically twisted, because every cis- double bond, separated by a methylene group, changes the carbon chain's direction. This configuration may explain a host of biological phenomena observed in structures that are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane.
It is without a doubt that these lipids are essential to proper metabolic functioning. But that doesn't explain why these studies are showing nutritional deficiencies in the industrialized world. Rickets is rarely found outside of the poorest of the developing nations, so why are researchers finding that Omega 3 deficiencies are a common occurrence even in the western world? Current speculation revolves around the radical change in human diet throughout the western world over the last one hundred years.
The three Omega 3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA) are called essential because the human liver cannot synthesize these lipids on its own, they must be consumed directly. Currently, the best source of Omega 3s comes from certain types of cold water fish, such as salmon, herring, or mackerel. Oil from some plant seeds, such as flax, chia, and hemp offer ALA, one of the three Omega 3s. It is believed that ALA may then be processed by the liver into EPA and DHA, however, this assertion is debated by others. For example, some claim that the conversion rate efficiency is so poor as to make consumption of only flax seed unable to meet the body's need for the two other essential lipids. Which leaves fish as the only other primary source of Omega 3s.
Yet, according to the United Nations, worldwide fish stocks are at an all time low due to rampant overfishing.
According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate, over 70% of the world's fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. The dramatic increase of destructive fishing techniques worldwide destroys marine mammals and entire ecosystems. FAO reports that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing worldwide appears to be increasing as fishermen seek to avoid stricter rules in many places in response to shrinking catches and declining fish stocks.
So, assuming that these studies are correct, just as we discover a serious mental health impact due to a widespread dietary deficiency, the very fish species needed to treat this nutritional deficiency are also depleted throughout oceans worldwide. Which brings up the question: If there are not enough fish to supply a proper nutritional balance of Omega 3 throughout the world, who will be the ones to receive the benefit of this research? While one can't say for sure, it is reasonable to conclude: it won't be the poor:
The consequences [of current trends] could be dire, depending on whether supply gains are feasible," says Mahfuzuddin Ahmed, a co-author of the study, which was done by the Penang-based WorldFish Center and the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute. But a continuation of those gains--which have produced a sixfold rise in total fish catch since the 1950s--is doubtful, says his boss, center director Meryl Williams, because three-quarters of the current catch comes from fish stocks that are already overfished, if not depleted. "Those [who study] the population dynamics of fisheries would probably be pessimistic" about supplies, she says.
As one of the researchers quoted in the Guardian article concludes:
Gesch believes we should be rethinking the whole notion of culpability. The overall rate of violent crime in the UK has risen since the 1950s, with huge rises since the 1970s. "Such large changes are hard to explain in terms of genetics or simply changes of reporting or recording crime. One plausible candidate to explain some of the rapid rise in crime could be changes in the brain's environment. What would the future have held for those 231 young men if they had grown up with better nourishment?" Gesch says.
If the poor can't afford the necessary nutrition to stave off certain mental health problems that can lead to violent outbursts, are these criminals due for a proper prison sentencing or patients in need of a proper diet?
Text Copyright ©2006 J. Maynard Gelinas.
This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Article and updates archived at daduh.org.
Governor Vilsack (D-IA) discusses energy security at CFR sym
Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack was invited to speak at a Council on Foreign Relations symposium on energy security. Vijay Vaitheeswaran, of The Economist, presided over the speech and question and answer session. An audio podcast of the event is available, as well as a rush transcript.
Governor Vilsack has a history of supporting alternative energy proposals, particularly those that benefit his home state of Iowa. In his official bio, published at the state sponsored Iowa governor's website, it says:
Governor Vilsack has worked to build a sustainable energy infrastructure within the state. During his two terms, energy generation capacity has increased 20% including the development of the country's largest wind farm. Iowa now leads the nation in producing ethanol, with total production increasing by almost 300% in the past five years. Due to the governor's initiatives, Iowa not only feeds, it also fuels the nation.
But such a statement doesn't offer the nitty gritty details. At the CFR event, however, he does make several specific proposals worth considering.
Given recent high gas prices, interest in alternatives is at an all time high. Thus, it should be no surprise given that "... agriculture accounts for 10 percent of all Iowa jobs and 10.2 percent of the state's gross product ..." (Iowa State University, College of Agriculture), that Governor Vilsack would propose a drastic increase in ethanol production. It benefits a large and important constituency in his home state. Yet beyond the self-serving nature of his proposals, are some fascinating claims and proposals to bolster his argument. In detail, he argues for a multipoint program of scientific R&D, rethinking tariffs and subsidies, increased alternative energy production, and renewed conservation - all toward the goal of energy independence.
- Transition to switchgrass and waste cellulose from corn, with a more than six-fold increase in per-acre productivity:
"Today, an acre of corn produces roughly 400 gallons of ethanol. Tomorrow, an acre of switch grass can produce 2,700 gallons of ethanol."
- Increase CAFE standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy):
"The reality is that the national government needs to sit down with the auto industry, and the unions need to sit in a room and suggest and indicate that the CAFE standards of today are not adequate for the challenges of tomorrow."
- A carbon emissions trading policy, as well as carbon sequestration, to promote coal use while meeting the needs to thwart the threat of global climate change:
"... we should embrace what California's doing and what Colorado is considering--establishing a national carbon-trading system and sequestration program--so that we can embrace and utilize coal in a more reasonable fashion ..."
- Governor Vilsack argues that by promoting a wide-ranging set of energy generation and conservation alternatives we could generate a unity of purpose among the American people that does not exist today by:
"... ask[ing] every single American to participate in this--everyone can have a role, everyone can play a significant part. We can establish a sense of community and unity in this country that does not exist today. We can provide common purpose."
E85 Transition Investment:
- Encourage fast transition to E85 (85% ethanol fuel mix) through the use of car conversion kits, rather than waiting out the 14 year life-cycle of most cars:
"We also have to recognize that our fleet is roughly 14 years old. In other words, cars basically cycle through the process about every 14 years. And so that's going to be important for us if we're going to embrace renewables and if we're going to embrace conservation, to encourage folks to convert their engines to engines that can use E85. A small kit, a small amount of labor, could really accelerate our embracing of this opportunity."
Tariffs and Subsidies:
- Rethinking our sugar tariffs with Brazil in order to import ethanol:
"...we should rethink our tariffs in connection with Brazilian ethanol."
- And that, along with that rethinking our agriculture and gasoline subsidies. First, he argues that gasoline is already heavily subsidized, thus to claim excess agriculture subsidies for ethanol production ignores gasoline subsidies already in place. He argues that to solve this the subsidy for both ethanol and gasoline should be given to retailers and not producers:
"I would suggest that we take a look at changing the subsidy on ethanol and renewable fuel production to a subsidy that goes to the retailers."
- Further, to solve the agriculture subsidy problem, he argues for an inverse ethanol subsidy pegged to the price of gasoline - the higher the price of gas the less the subsidy:
"I would suggest that this subsidy be a floating subsidy that would be tied to the value of the price of oil. As the price of oil goes up, there is really no need to subsidize ethanol production. As the price of oil goes down, there may very well be a need in order to maintain and retain this industry as a viable option for energy security."
Research and Development of new technologies:
- Research and development of new super-light and superstrong building materials (for example, new materials based on Metallic Glass or Carbon Nanotubes - though he did not cite these as specific examples):
"We also need to challenge our universities and our companies to embrace and renew and extend research and development on new materials. The fact is that we ought to be doing more in trying to figure out precisely what kind of materials can be created that are lighter, stronger, better, using less energy to transport and propel people. Sixty-eight percent of our energy costs are about transportation. If we can figure out more efficient, better materials for transportation, we can obviously become more energy secure."
- Researching new, safer, nuclear technologies that could be used both here and abroad:
"We should also challenge this country to come up with strategies and technologies that allow us to produce nuclear energy without necessarily producing a byproduct that can be converted to something far more dangerous. I believe that can be done. It may not be done tomorrow, but it clearly needs to be worked on."
A few points to consider:
- Governor Vilsack did not mention several other promising alternative energy technologies such as geothermal; solar tower; ocean wave power; etc. I'm sure these omissions were unintended.
- The claim of a more than sixfold per-acre ethanol productivity increase from corn to switchgrass is unreferenced. It may be true, but I have been unable to verify it.
- Governor Vilsack has an obvious self-interest in promoting ethanol consumption, since his state benefits as an ethanol producer. However, his inverse subsidy proposal would act to reduce overall agricultural subsidies in the long term.
The podcast is well worth a listen, both for the speech and the question and answer session afterward. Give it a whirl!