Monday, July 28, 2008

Now That's A Plan

Actually, a collection of different plans courtesy of Brian Wang at his Next Big Future blog.

From this can be developed a strategy by which to successfully implement some amalgam result derived from the data each plan presents.

Planning is the process by which one develops information and examines possible processes to achieving a stipulated objective.

Strategy is the process by which a desired result is arrived at.

The latter can involve positive and negative negotiation, deliberate exchange of positions, variously limited partnerships and even direct or indirect coercion in extreme situations (which ought to be more profitably dealt with by better planning techniques earlier in the process). The Art Of War is about achieving a better position at the least cost to all. Only by dire necessity does it involve actual war.

Brian Wang has done the work of rounding up a selection of plans and/or components to potential plans. From that needs to be developed a strategy that identifies the most-achievable components and a practicable process by which their implementation can be achieved over the opposing efforts of those who's own position is threatened by such an effort.

Closely examining the procedure's and methods implemented by both China and India as they develop nuclear power networks will be illustrative for our own strategy development efforts. Key questions will include; does this method succeed, is a method practicable under our social/legal framework, why did failures there occur, and many more of a similar nature. Studying their efforts isn't about copying the same action here (wherever you live), it's about seeking inspiration for determining what will work here based on actual experience elsewhere.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5, US Constitution

This began as a comment to this Thursday post from M. Simon at his Power and Control blog and has been extensively edited and added to. Go there for background and further thoughts on this issue.

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a
Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this
Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither
shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have
attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been Fourteen
Years a Resident within the United States.


There is a determinedly ignored and/or dismissed question regarding Sen. Barack Obama's status as regards the qualification for the office of President of the United States. The requirement is that one must be born a US citizen. Some actual experience with this circumstance may prove useful to advancing the discussion.

My son was born in Munich in the then-Federal Republic of Germany. Much as in the US (and most other countries as far as I know), being born in Germany makes one a potential German citizen. He had until his 18th birthday (if I recall correctly) to register such a claim with German officialdom.

His mother being British, he can also provide documentary evidence of their relationship to claim British subject status, with no time/age limit on his doing so.

After his arrival home from the krankenhaus (one of the few German words I remember how to spell correctly - hospital), his mother and I took him, my passport, her passport, our marriage certificate, his certificate of live birth from the Munich hospital and a few US dollars to the US consulate in Munich. They copied the forms, kept the money and provided we three with a US certificate of citizenship in our son's name, issued by the US Department of State. Thus, my son was not born a resident of any state, but a Citizen of the United States. I, for example, am a born resident of California and thereby a natural born US citizen, so we both meet this primary qualification for the Presidency, if by two different mechanism's.

Thus endeth the anecdotal lesson.

Presuming Obama's mother wasn't on US military active duty (as a dependant spouse, say), a foreign-posted Department of State FSO or some other category offering specialised mechanism for registration of birth, then she did something very like the same for her son. If so, then finding a copy of his State Department-issued certificate of citizenship shouldn't prove too burdensome. Nor should proving it's provenance.

There remains the possible alternative that she failed to do these fairly straightforward things and she or Grandma subsequently "acquired" a document for registration purposes, being fairly confident none of normal officialdom (schools, motor vehicles, etc) makes much if any effort to confirm a proffered document's legitimacy.

I would think that a quite straightforward background search (by US law enforcement - nobody has a right to privacy from them :)) into this issue would positively resolve this question within a few days at most. Since there is a constitutional requirement to satisfy in this case, I would also think (IANAL) there ought to be grounds for some interested body to file an action in the US courts to obtain such final resolution on that basis, whatever Mr. Obama's desires on the issue might be.

Without delving too deeply into the conspiracy fever swamps, I have to wonder why no-one has filed such an action with regard to Sen. Obama's legal citizenship status. To the best of my knowledge, the act of registration via the State Department is the established mechanism for meeting this constitutional requirement for citizens born outside the US and it's territories. I think it quite unlikely that a legal definition of the phrase "Citizen of the United States" hasn't long since been formally determined by the US courts, along with the legal requirements and procedures for establishing same. I also strongly suspect that this will not prove to be a status that can be successfully asserted very long after the fact, either.

Were it to be proven that Obama doesn't satisfy this citizenship requirement (for whatever reason), then his US Senatorial election comes into question also:

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have
attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen
of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be
an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3, US Constitution


Specifically, "... and been nine years a Citizen of the United States,".

If Mr. Obama doesn't meet the constitutional requirement for office via the mechanism(s) as established by US law and treaty, then he would necessarily have committed an act of fraud at the very least to have attained his current office, never mind that for which he is presently campaigning. And I know of no mechanism by which such a legal background check to verify legitimacy is performed as part of the normal procedure for achieving elective office. A candidate swears under penalty of perjury that s/he meets the established qualifications and provides documents that state the same. It's up to any opponents or other third-parties to dis-prove such a claim or call it sufficiently into question for the court to insert itself into the elective process. If Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii as he asserts, then he needs to resolve this question with an original document or other State-certified copy of same, but an original document not some electronic "copy". If he was born in Kenya (or Canada, or wherever else proves to be the case) then he needs to provide the US government document(s) that assert his American citizenship. Should Obama continue to refuse to do either, then the US courts should be resorted to and his legal status determined that way.

I'm not willing to blatantly speculate about how or why such a legal motion hasn't been filed to date; maybe the cited "document expert" is an early step in the process of doing precisely that. I am concerned, deeply worried actually, over how this country will react if such a ruling should occur after an Obama election victory this November.

Vice-President Gore and the DNC initiated a Constitutional crisis in November 2000 and wide-spread violence as a result was only narrowly avoided. National political discourse has only deteriorated since then and Obama injects racial and religious issues, along with his campaign rhetoric, that threaten to incite passions even further than the essentially purely political dispute of eight years ago did.

If we're gonna do this, t'were best done sooner.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Apologia

In this post I began with the observation:

This will require a modicum of delicacy ... never my strong suit, I'm afraid.


I then proceeded to demonstrate the truth of that statement, it seems.

A bit later in that same post, I said:

... this is not mere idle pedantry on my part, but a means to achieving the underlying point driving this post.


Whatever that point might have been, it failed to achieve it's mark.

Since intent plays no part in determining offense, I can only offer my sincere apology and hope forgiveness will be forthcoming. If an edit or outright removal of the post under discussion should be felt to be in order, the offended party knows how to contact me. I am quite willing to do either should that be desired.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Yes, but ...

This will require a modicum of delicacy ... never my strong suit, I'm afraid. Nevertheless, what my friend Connie du Toit has written here involves complexities she ignores to the ultimate detriment of her argument.

Simplest first is best I have found. To wit, the man's name is Steven Den Beste, see? He signs all his posts that way (when he doesn't go the full bore Steven C. Den Beste). Let me hasten to emphasise that this is not mere idle pedantry on my part, but a means to achieving the underlying point driving this post.

I opened this by calling Connie my friend. I suppose a more critically honest appraisal would be that of good acquaintance. I have been a guest in her home; she and Kim accepted me for a position in a business they attempted; they have been my guest for a day-trip here in Tyler; I enjoyed the lunch companionship of their daughter Ella nee Wendy that day and she is welcome to share in my grilled chicken wrap should we have opportunity again some day. The point being that we share an acquaintance with each other beyond that of reading one or another's blog page.

Steven Den Beste has also made the point that how attentive one is to specific details is important to achieving one's goal; to wit, mis-spelling someone's name is not likely to attract serious consideration of one's topic du juere. Following that logical progression a bit further, I believe Connie has allowed the intensity of her inspiration to cause her to overlook pertinent factors inherent to her thesis, similar to her having overlooked the correct spelling of Steven's name in her pursuit of her literary objective.

Having meandered my way through all those qualifications, let me now try blunt and direct. In a word: context.

As it happens, I have exchanged e-mail with Steven Den Beste on this very topic (when he still wrote for his USS Clueless site), though I would be deeply surprised should he prove to remember any part of that - my position was not a unique one after all. Without re-stateing Steven's case, let me confine myself to Connie's post by pointing out that Steven's perspective when examining energy sources was from that of "a systems engineer". I emphasise this because from such a one's point of view, anything that isn't compatible with a distributed electrical system - power generation source, variable load capacity, robustness, etc. - isn't a directly comparable topic.

By their very nature, alternative energy sources operate at the margins of a distributed energy grid system. Pretty much by definition, any such source cannot replace such a system's capabilities, so in this at least her argument based upon Steven's earlier writings holds true.

It's also a mischaracterisation of the alternative energy scenario as advanced by realistic, informed proponents. Or even me, forsooth! In general, without need for referral to any specific energy source or device, the argument goes much as follows:

No single source or user will effect the demands upon the existing energy system (hereinafter; the grid). X number of independent users will have a measurable effect upon the demands placed upon the grid, if only as a factor of their personally reduced demand thereon. Therefore, alternative energy is a mechanism to effectively expand the capabilities of the grid without in any way being capable of supplanting the grid (which, again, is Steven's requirement as a systems engineer) except in the limited circumstances inherent to it's individual user's circumstance.

Effectively, the act of removing, whether in whole or in part, a sufficient number of individuals from the energy distribution system load has the effect of expanding that system's capabilities whatever Steven's many statements on the subject might be situated to support to the contrary. Getting a "sufficient number of people" to do anything together of their own accord is another matter entirely, I will heartily stipulate (and leave to some other benighted soul - I have a sufficiency of burdens, thankyouveddymuch).

It pains me to see a friend dismiss an endeavor I support, particularly as that endeavor seems to mesh so well with her personal and other preferences as I understand her position to be (conservative vs libertarian, dependant vs self-reliant, etc). It should be noted that, I have been wrong before (as in mistaken vs simple ignorance), and that all of our position's are constantly under some degree of revisement, the esteemed Viscount Falkland notwithstanding. So, it would not surprise me to learn that I have err'ed to some extent here. To the degree such is the case, I proffer my apologies.

That said, I confess to being surprised that Connie would be so fundamentally mis-directed by the analogy she chose. The clutch pedal is not a marginal component of a motor vehicle's drive train, after all. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact, whether we have to physically operate it or not. I would equate a clutch pedal to the presence of in-line capacitor's on AC power distribution poles, critical to the electrical system's function whether the end-user can see/reach them or not. Alternate energy mechanism's might some day achieve that extent of capability, but their initial target market is the individual end-user, not some systemic provider. For a professional trainer to so thoroughly follow the train of logic right over the metaphorical cliff reassures me in my own intellectual striving. Deservedly or not!

It should be noted that there are certain critical exceptions to all of Steven's now-dated premise. That's the problem with citing definitive sources, they have the unfortunate habit of being superseded by subsequent events or developments. There's that word again; within the context in which something was written, it may well remain the definitive word on the topic. But, as the context (you know, the world and everything else) changes, so does the veracity of the statement. The cited examples are only "alternative" electrical power sources in the sense that they haven't yet achieved wide-spread implementation yet. The (with some caveats) theory is there, the engineering and materials science or legislative environment is still catching up though.

As a system engineer, Steven Den Beste made the correct argument for the time period in which he did so. Steven never (to my knowledge) argued that alternative energy systems were technically (or technologically) invalid - except in the noted grid application. Realistic alternative energy promoters have always intended their product for the niches of the distribution grid system or as a short-term back-up for temporary grid outages. Seeking redundancy and a temporary replacement capability of a critical lifestyle component is not at all the same as being "on the alternative energy is our salvation train ...", is it? If so, I'll shovel coal for a while longer yet; Steven wrote about steam power too. :)

PS: No, I didn't miss the point of the whole thing. Steven Den Beste is an experienced and knowledgeable systems engineer (his self-identification), none of which sanctifies his dated opinions on subsequently developed technology. Citing him as a source is identical in relevance to citing the "prophet" Joshua (who was almost as loquacious as Den Beste himself :)).

More Pick'in on Pickens

The New York Times demonstrates why newspapers ought to be a viable business still. The Kate Galbraith article contains several comment-worthy items while refraining from doing so itself; the lady clearly knows the difference between "news" and "commentary", so well done to her.

Let's cross our i's and dot a few T's, shall we? The opening paragraph is illuminating:

Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project, providing a major lift to the development of wind energy in the state. (my bold)


First, note the dollar amount. T. Boone Pickens proposes spending $10 million to install more electrical power generating wind mills in this same general region of the state. Good for him - quite literally. As I highlighted above, the problem area of greatest concern lies with how that energy is transmitted from the mill to the consumer. T. Boone would do better by all concerned if he spent his money buying up the needed right-of-way for the lacking power transmission lines instead of building yet more windmills. He could actually fulfill his white knight fantasy doing the former, instead of manipulating a profit from an already overloaded distribution system.

Further down the page we come to this:

Texas is already the largest producer of wind power, with 5,300 installed megawatts — more than double the installed capacity of California, the next closest state. And Texas is fast expanding its capacity.

“This project will almost put Texas ahead of Germany in installed wind,” said Greg Wortham, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium.

Transmission companies will pay the upfront costs of the project. They will recoup the money from power users, at a rate of about $4 a month for residential customers.

Details of the plan will be completed by Aug. 15, according to Damon Withrow, director of government relations at the Public Utility Commission, which voted 2 to 1 to go ahead with the transmission plan. The lines will not be fully constructed until 2013.


So, despite his anointed status as savior and self-proclaimed peak oil kook, Pickens also seeks to inject the federal government into a purely Texas state issue, as Ms. Galbraith also made clear elsewhere in her article:

But other states may find the Texas model difficult to emulate. The state is unique in having its own electricity grid. All other states fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to any transmission proposals.


Say what you like about my fellow Texicans (not to mention those of us who more recently moved here), but we generally tend to not think well of those who seek to involve "outsiders" into state business. Even when that results in somebody else's money being spent here. We'll take the money, you understand, but resent you all the same. We are nothing if not consistently inconsistent.

Before this takes on the overtones of a fisking, let me close with this quote from the NYT article that got me started:

The exact route of the transmission lines has yet to be determined because the state has not yet acquired right-of-way, according to Mr. Withrow of the utility commission.

The project will almost certainly face concerns from landowners reluctant to have wires cutting across their property. “I would anticipate that some of these companies will have to use eminent domain,” he said, speaking of the companies that will be building the transmission lines.


It is my understanding of the intent behind the eminent domain clause that issues of this nature - public use of private property - were the precise conflicts it was created to resolve. However unhappily for some that resolution might prove to be.

His own website makes it appear that Mr. Pickens is attempting to disguise his positioning himself for inclusion in a future Obama presidency by injecting the US Congress into a uniquely Texas issue.

On January 20, 2009, a new President gets sworn in. If we're organized, we can convince Congress to make major changes towards cleaner, cheaper and domestic energy resources.


Furthermore, his efforts to advance himself financially, while ordinarily a laudable endeavor, are here being done at the knowing expense of his fellow Texans. The legislative process in this state is a famously raucous one and knowledge of the legislature's pending vote on this transmission issue was hardly insider information. Mr. Pickens makes no reference to it on his website and specifically urges others to "join him" in encouraging the US Congress to inject itself into the issue. One has to wonder how much of all this has to do with Texas political, instead of power, transmission.

If any should have any remaining doubts, my own position is that Mr. Pickens is an opportunist who finds himself on the outside of both his industry and his politics and is prepared to do what he deems necessary to rectify that situation. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, by the way, but as ever the devil resides in the details of how one chooses to accomplish one's ends, doesn't it?

Via Instapundit on a hot Saturday night.

And to Brian Westenhaus at New Energy And Fuel, a blog I heartily recommend. Well written, Sir.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nutz With Buxx or Salvation For Sale

The headline reads:

T. Boone Pickens Says Peak Oil Reached, Plans World’s Largest Wind Farm


That statement right there makes me doubt the intentions of Mr. Pickens. This article in The National Post explains why:

Take oil, the scarcest of the major energy commodities. In the Americas, proven oil reserves have increased from 170 billion barrels to 180 billion barrels over the last two decades, according to the 2008 Statistical World Review from British Petroleum. In Europe and Eurasia, proven oil reserves almost doubled, from 76 billion barrels to 144. Africa's proven oil reserves did double, from 58 billion barrels to 117. Even the Asia Pacific region, where China and India are reputed to be sucking up everything in sight, has increased its proven reserves. And the Middle East, the gas tank of the world, shows no sign of slowing down -- its reserves soared by almost 200 billion barrels, from a whopping 567 billion barrels to a super-whopping 756.

Bottom line for the world: an incredible 36% increase in oil reserves during the two decades that saw the greatest globalization-spurred oil consumption in the history of mankind. And that doesn't include the 152 billion barrels in proven oil reserves obtainable from Canada's tar sands. Is there any reason to doubt that the next two decades won't build on the steady growth of the last two?

These oil reserves aren't the end of it. These figures -- for the year ending December 2006 -- represent oil that's not only known to be available, but also economic at 2006 prices using 2006 technology. Since prices have soared in the last year, and technology has improved too, BP's annual assessment for the 2007 year will show greater proven oil reserves still.

But this is still not the end of it. Unconventional oil reserves are now in play. In 2005, the Rand Corporation estimated that the oil shale in America's Green River Formation, which covers portions of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, contains 1.5 to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, with as much as 1.1 trillion barrels of oil recoverable, an amount comparable to the reserves of four Saudi Arabias. Oil shale becomes recoverable at $95 a barrel, it determined. With oil now trading at $140 a barrel, oil shale

exploitation is now very much economic. Then there's Canada's tar sands, with its even greater potential--estimates of the total reserves that may be available top two trillion barrels, or eight Saudi Arabias.

This is still not the end to it. Most of the oil we know about lies in the well travelled portions of the globe. But most of the world remains unexplored -- the interiors of Africa, Asia and South America have seen relatively little oil exploration. Oil exploration in the oceans, too, is in its infancy. For all practical purposes, mankind has limitless oil supplies available to it. The story is similar for natural gas and coal, the other major nonrenewable sources of energy. And for nuclear power. And for the renewables.


This further statement from Mr. Pickens is illuminating:

For a number of years I’ve watched the wind turbines develop — and I feel like it’s time for it. I think that oil has peaked at 85 million barrels in the world. We’ve got to develop other forms of energy — wind, I think solar will be next, and I hope I’m still around to be in the solar deal.” (Pickens is 80 years old.

But what if Congress doesn’t vote to extend the wind Production Tax Credit?

“Well, I think they’ll vote on it. They’ll either do that or they’ll give some kind of carbon credit because, the wind has to be developed in the United States. We’re now importing 72 percent of the oil we use every day. I think everybody can see that we’re gonna break the country if we pay 700 billion dollars a year for, uh, imported oil……I’ve got a good team of people that are knowledgeable in wind energy, and I don’t worry about it. I think it’s a good project, and it’ll do well and we’ll make money. And it’ll help the country.”


So, if I've got this right, T. Boone plans to save America at only a 15% to 25% profit to himself (and, one supposes, his fellow investors) by means of both straight-forward direct costs to the customer and indirect costs to everybody in the country via tax incentive of some type.

Nice work if you can get it.

I think this briefly outlines Mr. Pickens strategy while making a bit clearer how he hides that behind his "plan to save America". Plans are what you formulate to examine how best to advance your position. Strategy is the process of achieving that advancement despite the opposition of others.

T. Boone is a canny businessman who outlines a perceived opportunity while doing his best to make the cost palatable to the ultimate payor of same.

Does his casting that as salvation seem a bit much to you too?

National Post article via Al Fin.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why Re-Invent?

Al Fin discusses the utility of microbes (and links to a Brian Wang roundup on the topic) followed by notice of a Chinese effort to develop artificial photosynthesis to power a bio-energy process.

I also take note of this uncredited article at the New Energy and Fuel blog. Our anonymous author begins thus:

Elizaveta Bonch-Osmolovskaya and her colleagues at the Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences discovered the rare archaeon, a kind of ancient bacteria called Desulfurococcus fermentans, in the Uzon Caldera on the Kamchatka Peninsula, an isolated spit of land in eastern Siberia that is full of volcanoes and their remnants. D. fermentans degrades cellulose from the higher plants that fall in the caldera. When news of the successful isolation and description of the microorganism’s activity reached Biswarup Mukhopadhyay, an assistant professor with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech he saw the chance to create an organism that produces hydrogen from a cellulose feedstock at high temperatures. A team of scientists from across the world have now teamed up to unlock the process and the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute will expedite the research by sequencing the organism for comparative genomic research.


So, there has been discovered a bacteria that naturally consumes cellulose and belches hydrogen. And does so at a suitably elevated temperature to preclude contamination from another microbial or bacteriological source. As well, we are presented with the first step taken in producing photosynthesis how/as we desire it. All as a mere part of a broad-ranging effort to harness biology to the creation of energy sources to power human civilisation. Independent from the machinations of certain currently influential members of that species, I might add.

Can you spell "oil bubble"?

One has to wonder how long it will be until a personal greenhouse is the mark of true human liberty? Along with the means to keep it, of course.

The two were ever intertwined concepts sad to say.

Oh, and the answer to the titular question can be found in the engineering concept of robustness:

What you have in some systems is a tendency to self-correct. When the system is perturbed, the inherent forces of the system will eventually bring it back on track. Such a system is robust. The opposite case is a system which is fragile, which means that if the system is perturbed, the inherent forces tend to amplify the perturbation, and eventually the system collapses.


The oil-based energy business is not robust as an energy source in light of it's pending competition for that market. How well it survives as a source for the component chemicals used in manufacturing is a different, and slightly more open, question as of yet.

Update: Via Instapundit comes notice of a pertinent article in The American on-line magazine by former Intel CEO Andy Grove. Mr. Grove details the advantages achieved by our transitioning to ICE/electric motor hybrid vehicles and urges same as a matter of national priority. I'm not going to quibble with his prescriptive, or even his admittedly tepid seeming suggestion regarding tax incentives and the like.

I will quibble over one of his cited reasons for doing so. In the article, Mr. Grove flirts with fear mongering:

There Could Be Blood
Oil-producing countries flex their muscles more and more openly. The elections in Ukraine led Russia to threaten to cut off natural gas supplies. The need to secure oil seems to have influenced China’s attitude toward the genocide in Darfur. In Venezuela, Hugo Ch├ívez is using oil to gain political influence in the hemisphere. “The politics of energy is warping diplomacy in certain parts of the world,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in recent Senate testimony.


Secretary Rice's observation is pertinent to the topic, but skirts close to being taken out of context in the threat of violence implied in this article. Mr. Grove offers further support as follows:

And it could get worse. Scratch the surface, and you find that oil has been a major factor in many wars. And it could be again. Today’s relationship between China and the United States, says Henry Kissinger, “is very similar to that of Germany, a rising country at the turn of the 20th century, and Britain, an established one.” Their conflict over resources “eventually led to war.” Listen to Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who heads the Army’s schools and training centers: “We are in a period of time in the world today where there is a shortage of resources.” Because of this, over the next 10 to 15 years, Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey Jr. says we will face “an era of persisting conflict.”

I would dispute with General Caldwell to the extent of modifying his statement to read: "... where there is a politically induced shortage of access to resources."

As I feel certain both Generals Caldwell and Casey are well aware, virtually all wars are the result of conflict over control of resources to some extent. The Nazi view that major segments of the European population were at best expendable resources best expended via slave labor camps, the Imperial Japanese effort to claim by force the oil and other resources of S. E. Asia and even the British rejection of the commerce in human bondage as a resource at all some two centuries earlier are all major historical examples of the influence control of resources has had on world events. In the 19th century, the US civil war was entirely the result of conflict arising from the control of national resources and the utilisation thereof (to include the temporarily Confederate States continued practice of forced human bondage as a commercial resource).

My point is that oil is simply another resource and that resources in and of themselves aren't responsible for war or conflict. Control over access to and utilisation of resources, in this example petroleum and it's myriad of resultant products, is the proximate cause of contention. Secretary Rice would do well to alter US diplomatic efforts to manipulate a beneficial change in that rather than lamenting the continued impact of the human condition upon the exercise of human affairs. The human penchant for physical violence is simply part of the climate in which diplomacy swirls, not something of itself to be negotiated over.

Mr. Grove might want to pay added attention to precisely how we generate the added electricity he prescribes. I have no objection to such an eventuality, indeed I encourage it, but I am curious as to how he suggests we both actually do the thing and how we end up paying for it all.

Finally, I understand the two generals quoted being loathe to cite the US legislative contribution to our present energy-related woes, but pending some recommendation on his part as to how we reverse that state of affairs leads me to think Mr. Grove is less than serious about his considerations on the topic of US national energy resilience.

Friday, July 11, 2008

And Re-Charge It

To end the work week as I began, here's a look at the extreme end of battery technology that's available. For a price, as Al Fin observes:

Utility-scale energy storage is mandatory, in order for large scale wind and solar power projects to be made viable as baseload power. Sodium sulfur batteries have been the front-runner for utility load-leveling and large scale backup, but if Altair's new lithium titanate batteries can outperform the NaS batteries at comparable cost, there may be a new, better utility storage "sheriff" coming to town.

As for trying to park four semi-trailers in your backyard to provide a month's power backup for your home, better reconsider. If you have to ask how much these high-performance batteries cost, you can't afford them.


These aren't intended for residential or other non-commercial applications, though there seems to be a reasonable expectation that their capability isn't out of the realm of possibility for such uses in the next few years. Which is good, as it appears we may well be able to afford to recharge them after all.

Exciting times we live in.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Charge It

A very heartening review of the current state of battery recharge technology available. Not all is roses and champagne:

Here’s the “but.”

The press releases were out about 2 weeks ago with comments like “charging times reduced from 5 hours to 15 minutes,” have their links disappeared. Also of note is that for these to work it was suggested that there would be required super capacitors and battery electrolytes of Epyon’s design. The idea that a charger would be smart and address the individual cells in a battery pack isn’t new. Then there is the issue of grid power supplies at rates where what was a longer period coming in a few minutes charging the battery. That makes two issues to work out, the costs to use a proprietary battery and super capacitor technology with a proprietary charger and the matter of grid power to answer the very quick charge demand.

Hard to say just what's going on there; time will tell, I expect.

The good news is:

On the other hand, AccelRate of Vancouver, BC, Canada has fast chargers on the market now for Lead acid, Nickel cadmium, Nickel Metal hydride and Lithium ion now. Lead acid charges are reduced from 8-10 hours to 2 hours, NiMh from 2 hours to 20 minutes and Lithium ion from 5 hours to under an hour. Its clear there are improvements here.


Things are clearly changing steadily in this critical segment of the energy market. We're probably not quite to the mass market stage of development yet, but we are clearly entering the stage that retail consumers need to begin their evaluation and comparison of available technology and start deciding how to begin their personal transition to the new tech. This won't be a quick process, if only because there are so many variables to consider.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Convergence

The title and topic of this Al Fin post somehow gelled with this Connie du Toit post, in particular this brief closing passage:

And I want that bread, and all that it entails. I want a life with every bite being worthy, and I come close to crying myself to sleep every night that I can’t wake up to that luxurious and seductive smell of fresh baked croissants in the oven, prepared with love and care, not made cheaply and quickly and efficiently. Two weeks a year is not enough! I want Americans to feel and taste that experience, so they demand that everything in their life be as perfect as that bite of bread.

It begins with the bread and ends with joie de vivre!

Together, they sparked my better understanding of this earlier Al Fin post, noting the Gates Foundation-funded development of a genetically altered cassava root - a dietary staple in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Had I researched a little deeper into the subject, I would have noted that the cyanide problem I made so much of in comments wasn't a by-product of the Gates-funded genetic enhancement, but was a specific object for amelioration via genetic manipulation.

I stand by my characterisation of the outcome as "frankenfood", however silly I may think the fear-mongering effort it derives from to be. That said ... to fellow Al Fin commenter IConrad I offer my apology. Heaping scorn upon a silly idea is never a pleasant experience, as I can now personally testify. Again.

I do wonder though if perhaps these particular researchers haven't attempted a "bridge too far" in their efforts. It seems reasonable to suppose that creating two (or more) strains of enhanced cassava that achieve different aspects of the desired ends might be a more manageable prospect. The foregoing assumes the possibility for outright removal of the cyanide collection characteristic from the plant, of course. If one strain delivered the protein - and did so without need for the extensive processing effort necessary to remove the cyanide from the existing strain - while a different strain delivered the vitamins, this would allow the "rural village farmers" to mix and match their personal dietary resources with their financial needs when trading any excess produce.

I can't help but wonder if such a scheme wouldn't also prove useful in developing a genetic enhancement capability to combat the crop productivity problem noted in the source article via means of a crop rotation regimen:

The roots can be banked in the ground for up to three years, providing food security, but the plant must undergo time-consuming processing immediately after harvest to remove compounds that generate cyanide. Unprocessed roots also deteriorate within 48 hours after harvest, limiting the food's shelf life. And a plant disease caused by the geminivirus reduces yields by 30 percent to 50 percent in many areas in sub-Saharan Africa, a major blow to farm productivity.


My personal experience of rural life doesn't extend to Africa, but despite the evidence to the contrary above, I do read and have some experience of N. American conditions. Sufficient experience at least to be aware that dietary supplement is a sporadic but routine event in rural life. We in the West call it "sport", but hunting and fishing is an important contribution to the diets of rural populations. As these activities are at best variably successful, the ability to manipulate the level of protein in the diet via a particular strain of cassava would offer the dual possibility of increased adaptability to variable circumstance to the grower along with a lessening of complexity (I think) for the genetic manipulators.

Keeping in mind my "tastes like almonds" wisecrack, along with the experience of US AID officials distributing "enhanced" rice during the '60's (the strain indeed produced more grain/acre, but the Vietnamese declared it to be, errr ... unpalatable, to be charitable), all the best intentions and technical "success" in the world won't matter if no-one will eat the result. The researchers seem to be taking care to ensure that local talent exists to nurture the further development of the cassava enhancement project. I hope that similar care is taken to facilitate the incorporation of this enhanced product by the only really important judges on the planet - the eaters thereof.

The experience of other genetically enhanced foods into the African market also offers an important lesson, I suggest. Not to be overly blunt, but a good thing is always "better" the more local interests there are that benefit from it's widespread adoption. Perhaps Bill and Mel might consider hiring numerous African agents when the time is right to encourage introduction of the enhanced cassava they've already spent so much to develop. It would be a shame if so much possibility were to be denied simply to ensure continuation of the established practices this project seeks to alleviate.

As the lady said, "It begins with the bread ..." indeed.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Them's Just The Rules, Aren't They?

I first became acquainted with Jason Van Steenwyk's blog when he was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Florida National Guard's contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom. For the record, I have consistently found his writing on matters military-related to be fair-minded and informative, if occasionally (more than a little deliberately, I suspect) somewhat provocative.

It's the man's personal blog, you expected anything else?

He has two posts up today commenting on Megan McCardle's recent coverage of a presentation by Stephen Carter, see
here and here.

I suspect that the disagreement detailed in the foregoing is the result of two disparate - and I think inherently structurally divergent - contextual objectives. Professor Carter wants an elegant theory. Captain (now Major?) Van Steenwyk wants victorious (and still alive to celebrate) American soldiers. While the two are not necessarily exclusive concepts, the later does impose restrictions upon the applicability of the former. As one who also once upon a time wore an American military uniform I stipulate my visceral inclination to strongly associate myself with the Van Steenwyk position.

That said, I should also point out that I was an enlisted man in the Navy a lot longer ago than is comfortable to consider now. In other words, I'm no one's example of an authority on Just War Theory or the Law's of Land Warfare, although I can and do read so am at least somewhat familiar with the generalities addressed by the two.

I believe the inherent dichotomy between both men's position is well illustrated with this quote from Jason's first post:

If any "theorist" doesn't understand the importance of focusing my combat power against WEAKNESS, not strength, and the importance of attacking my enemy's command and control nodes and lines of logistics and communication, rather than on his fighters, this is a theorist who needs to find a new line of work.


Since the theorist in question is advancing that most catholic of Papal arguments, that warfare itself is evil and undesirable (except as decreed by said Papal authority, of course), I think it unlikely the two gentlemen will ever come to a fundamental agreement as to how such an activity should be prosecuted. In any sense of that word.

My own opinion is that the US finds itself in need of additional legal framework within which to formalise it's own doctrine regarding non-state military actors. The historical practice of treating such as violators of legal codes (whether criminal or civil) hasn't proven very successful - or rather, the few examples of "success" seem greatly out-weighed by the failures to me.

As well, since the United States is the only nation to presently possess the non-nuclear means to inflict overwhelming military force upon any other nation on the planet (with the arguable exception of the PRC, the Russian Federation and - possibly - India, largely as a result of the extensive land area entailed by those countries), a unilateral American action would legitimately provide both the previously stated framework for US forces present needs and a basis for treaty negotiations between the US and other states in future.

My sneaking suspicion is that US policy makers shy away from doing such a thing, at least in part, because they don't want to risk being drawn by treaty obligation further into that other - and much more complex - theater of the present war: Israel.

As long as this "grey area" exists in US military/diplomatic doctrine, the enemies of the US will continue to take advantage of the opportunity it presents them to engage us in ways we are less-well prepared to combat them. And, US armed forces will continue to be held accountable to the differing standards of acceptability variably promoted by the competing political forces within the nation.

I am curious though, how ought such a unilateral doctrine address the actions of members of al Qaeda, Hamas or Hizb 'Allah, to name only three examples? Do we consider the "cooks" and "clerks" they operate amongst in similar fashion to those performing the same function while wearing a national uniform? Where is the doctrinal line drawn between shooting out of hand anyone that appears to offer threat in a room clearing operation and executing those caught operating (in some military context) "out of uniform"? As regards uniforms, should the burqa or hijab (or some other example of national or ideological style of apparel) be considered tantamount to a "uniform" in the current war context? What are the differences in determining adherence to the accepted behavior between infantry and aviation forces, never mind the strategic environmental demands separating Army and Naval forces?

I do have some idea of the complexity of the issues involved and have some little sympathy for the good professor, however self-inflicted his "wounds" might be (he did volunteer to attempt a consistent whole from a profoundly flawed collection of precepts, one supposes). I also find the concerns advanced on Jason's page to be compelling, though I also question the ease of his direct prescription (we shot those German soldiers as spies, their conduct being the exception; we can't very well convene a court every time we catch anyone with a gun or gas can in hand anywhere in a military theater of operations and I seriously doubt Jason is suggesting summary executions).

I will make this prediction; if we don't take some compelling action in the near future (I will suggest one year from now), then we seem almost certain to surrender whatever gains we've made at such pain and expense to all involved, willingly or otherwise. The enemy has his own set of rules and laws governing warfare; if we don't succeed in imposing ours on him, he absolutely will continue to impose his on us. At it's most basic, strategy is about positional advancement. The Islamist enemy's position is fundamentally untenable (he can't just stand pat and let us come to his prepared positions), he advances relative to us in some fashion or dies.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Further On That

Jeez Kevin, you're going to have to go out and buy a bigger hat now.

:)

A Strategy Of Errors

Richard Fernandez describes the latest Islamist "strategy" in his most recent Pajamas Media article, Plan C. In the end, he correctly observes:

Somehow I don’t think so. Personally, I think al Qaeda should resort to enumerating their plans along the real number line, so that they will never run out designations for their successive and hare brained bloodthirsty schemes. Plan C will fail, along with all the rest because it is fundamentally the same plan as the first two. Terror, fanaticism and stupidity can be combined in exactly 3! ways, though the fact may escape them. Sooner or later, after all the combinations of mayhem have been endlessly repeated, either an exasperated world of infidels or sane members of the Muslim community will ask the obvious question: what can you do to us that we can’t do to you?

There really are a very limited number of options to select from once a specific means to an objective has been determined upon. Organisations like al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizb 'Allah and their numerous local off-shoots have peremptorily insisted upon pursuit of a combative engagement with their ideological competition. That being the case, they limit their options as Wretchard observes.

There is one additional component to the formula, which Robert Avrech examines at his blog Seraphic Secret:

For the first time in my life I can foresee the end of the Jewish state, not through war, but through incremental steps toward voluntary slavery.

In a notable departure from past al Qaeda strategy, Naji recommends "countless small operations" that render daily life unbearable, rather than a few spectacular attacks such as 9/11: The "infidel," leaving his home every morning, should be unsure whether he'll return in the evening.

Naji recommends kidnappings, the holding of hostages, the use of women and children as human shields, exhibition killings to terrorize the enemy, suicide bombings and countless gestures that make normal life impossible for the "infidel" and Muslim collaborators.

Once parallel societies are established throughout the world, they would exert pressure on non-Muslims to submit. Naji believes that, subjected to constant intimidation and fear of death, most non-Muslims (especially in the West) would submit: "The West has no stomach for a long fight."


For the complete article, please click here.


What Robert refers to of course is often summed up as "political will", the intellectual/emotional strength to continue to carry out an action that others, not operating under the same circumstances, provocatively condemn as "extreme" or "harsh". In practice, the phrase "political will" serves to restrict the acceptable options to those permissible to a political entity, a nation state or a corporation for example, and is thus a strategic limitation on possible response to provocation.

The Islamist terrorism strategy seeks to engage in the options available to an individual or small group (limited mainly by means and opportunity) while manipulating the constrained circumstances (in classic strategic terms, the climate) imposed upon nation states and other comparable societal entities by their pre-existing agreements and commitments that regulate their relations amongst themselves. This has been likened to the (possibly apocryphal) Chinese torture, "the death of a thousand cuts". I think such a characterisation lends more organisation and structure to the Islamist's efforts than history would support, but it does provide vivid illustration of the manner of altercation the Islamists claim they now seek to engage in. As opposed to being limited to (by the same resources and opportunity) as has been the case up to now.

Needless to say, this is not any form of "new strategy" being discussed, only a repackaging of previous faults as opportunities. Good marketing, I suppose, and as such deserving of an effective counter-propaganda campaign. Maybe the official effort will at least appear relevant this time.

The challenge of combating terrorism, as in criminal behavior generally, is that the best opportunity for counter action almost always lies in the hands of the individuals who happen to be present in the moments immediately prior to initiation of action. On the other hand, premptively authorising individuals to that extreme of behavior runs counter to every presumption and precept of government, whether elective or corporate. The Long War is both title and commentary, I'm afraid.

The greatest danger imposed by this state of affairs is that, eventually, some country will believe it's continued existence to be sufficiently threatened it will feel compelled to answer Wretchard's question. The survivors of that are always profoundly changed by the experience.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Obamacide

I propose the following definition:

Obamacide: the destruction of a person or concept through it's deliberate overuse.

I've been using the phrase "go under the bus" in varied formulations for some years now to describe avoidance of a permanently negative outcome. Thanks to the junior Senator from Illinois I'm going to have to devise some other illustrative turn of phrase that uses misdirection to achieve it's end. This isn't as easy to accomplish as many English english speakers can make it appear.

What an irritating little man he is proving to be.

Oh! As long as I'm on the subject, I certainly Hope! we can all get along on our loose Change! in the future since BarryO seems intent on taking all the rest of our money to his own purposes.

For The Children, no doubt.

Hope! Change! my bad guzz.

Bigger Isn't Automatically Better

Richard Fernandez - aka Wretchard - writes about the relative strengths of China and the US at his new Pajamas Media Belmont Club blog page.

Which raises the interesting question, is one week old still equal to "new" in internet years?

Pending resolution of that minor distraction, I have to question Mr. Fernandez's referents used to frame his proposition. While it seems self evident that China is steadily building up it's capacity to pre-WW II levels of US industrial capacity in both shipbuilding and aviation construction, I have to wonder how closely this correlates to the experience of the famed buggy whip industry in US history?

While US construction of still useful but arguably outdated technology also seems to be in actual as well as relative decline, I believe that this apparent loss of capability seems of heightened importance because it's replacement technologies are only just beginning to take hold.

As the ability to manufacture/assemble complex items becomes more widespread, the need to ship such things from a central point will be more swiftly replaced then most observers seem currently willing to acknowledge. People will quite rapidly adjust to using a relatively insubstantial item for a limited time and then recycling its components for their own re-use as needed rather than buy a "quality tool" with the intent of owning it, and toting it around with them, for a lifetime, I believe. "Plastic" will become a value-positive term again much sooner than most seem to realise.

Likewise, the ability to quickly deliver items in an aircraft intended to be scavenged upon arrival (one possibility I have seen raised for logistics delivery drones) will radically alter aviation, as will the implementation of airframe construction materials that many people don't seem to have recognised or accounted for in their aeronautical projections.

I will admit that, should China choose to launch an emergency crash construction program (at horrendous expense and a total loss of secrecy), they could overhaul the equivalent US construction capacity. For a little while. Within a very few years though (I suspect closer to 3 then 5) China's impressive construction efforts will be in outmoded technology and will all have to be very expensively replaced if that - or any other - country wishes to remain relevant as 21ist century technology continues to mature.

So, I have to ask; should we rebuild our antiquated construction facilities to reclaim our dominance in outdated technology, or should we forgo our pursuit of that claim in furtherance of a newer one?