Friday, May 09, 2008

Great Filter - The U.S. Electric Grid?

The U. S. electric grid: will it be our undoing? Quite a few people believe that if there is a decline in oil production, we can make up much of the difference by increasing our use of electricity--more nuclear, wind, solar voltaic, geothermal or even coal. The problem with this model is that it assumes that our electric grid will be working well enough for this to happen. It seems to me that there is substantial doubt that this will be the case.
From what I have learned in researching this topic, I expect that in the years ahead, we in the United States will have more and more problems with our electric grid. This is likely to result in electrical outages of greater and greater durations.

The primary reason for the likely problems is the fact that in the last few decades, the electric power industry has moved from being a regulated monopoly to an industry following more of a free market, competitive model. With this financing model, electricity is transported over long distances, as electricity is bought and sold by different providers. Furthermore, some of the electricity that is bought and sold is variable in supply, like wind and solar voltaic. A substantial upgrade to the electrical grid is needed to support all of these activities, but our existing financing models make it very difficult to fund such an upgrade.

If frequent electrical outages become common, these problems are likely to spill over into the oil and natural gas sectors. One reason this may happen is because electricity is used to move oil and natural gas through the pipelines. In addition, gas stations use electricity when pumping gasoline, and homeowners often have natural gas water heaters and furnaces with electric ignition. These too are likely to be disrupted by electrical power outages.
Seems to me that the $50-100 Trillion infrastructure re-investment needs to be directed toward the power grid. That's a place where the federal government can intervene decisively to establish and enforce advanced, highly efficient digital standards and compliance with the same - which yield profound benefits across every sector of our economy. Bottomline, in order for the hypercar to thrive as leap forward in efficient transportation, then the power grid is going to have to be up to the task of supporting that significant added burden, i.e., folks plugging in their hypercars at night.

Real Energizers

An Electrifying Startup - It is the quickest electric motorcycle in the world. On a popular YouTube video, the black dragster cycle nearly disappears in a cloud of smoke as the driver does a "burn-out," spinning the back wheel to heat it up. As the smoke drifts away, the driver settles into position and hits a switch, and the bike surges forward, accelerating to 60 miles per hour in less than a second. Seven seconds later it crosses the quarter-mile mark at 168 miles per hour--quick enough to compete with gas-powered dragsters.

What powers the "Killacycle" is a novel lithium-ion battery developed by A123 Systems, a startup in Watertown, MA--one of a handful of companies working on similar technology. The company's batteries store more than twice as much energy as nickel-metal hydride batteries, the type used in today's hybrid cars, while delivering the bursts of power necessary for high performance. A radically modified version of the lithium-ion batteries used in portable electronics, the technology could jump-start the long-sputtering electric-vehicle market, which today represents a tiny fraction of 1 percent of vehicle sales in the United States. A123's batteries in particular have attracted the interest of General Motors, which is testing them as a way to power the Volt, an electric car with a gasoline generator; the vehicle is expected to go into mass production as early as 2010.

What is a Hypercar?

So yesterday, I had the privilege of lunch and fairly lengthy conversation with one of my elders, betters, and mentors. This gentleman is a civil engineer and the president of a sizeable professional engineering firm with a strong interest in green design. As automated controls have a central role to play in many green schemes, there is a good synergy here and we look forward to a vibrant cross-disciplinary collaboration.

I was telling him about Matt Simmon's less than sanguine prognosis for the ailing oil industry infrastructure. His response caught me by surprise. He stated that in his opinion, the oil industry is just about precisely where the typewriter industry was at the dawn of personal computing. They're either going to take their massive profits and re-invest some of this in alternative energy, or, they're going to decline and fade to black. He then launched into a discussion of hypercars - which up until that moment - I'd never heard of;
A Hypercar® vehicle is designed to capture the synergies of: ultralight construction; low-drag design; hybrid-electric drive; and, efficient accessories to achieve 3 to 5-fold improvement in fuel economy, equal or better performance, safety, amenity and affordability, compared to today's vehicles.

Hypercar ConceptRocky Mountain Institute's research has shown that the best (possibly, the only) way to achieve this is by building an aerodynamic vehicle body using advanced composite materials and powering it with an efficient hybrid-electric drive-train.

Initially, the hybrid-electric drivetrain in Hypercar® vehicles will probably use a specialized version of the internal combustion engine commonly used in today's cars. To reach their full potential, and virtually eliminate automobile pollution, Hypercar® vehicles will be powered by fuel-cells running on tanks of compressed gaseous hydrogen fuel.

Unlike other efficient vehicles, Hypercar® vehicles don't compromise performance, comfort, or safety. Indeed, by offering extra consumer appeal and manufacturing advantages, they stand a better chance of getting on the road — and forcing old, polluting cars off — in sufficient numbers to make a big difference to the environment. Hypercar® vehicles and their kin could profitably reduce carbon-dioxide emissions (the major contributor to climate change) by two-thirds, partly by greatly accelerating the shift to hydrogen fuel cells.

In 1994 we founded the Hypercar Center® to research and promote this concept. Having proved its technical feasibility through rigorous technical modeling, the Center's staff spent the past several years making Hypercar® technology a commercial reality. Their unconventional approach has been to place the concept in the public domain and share it conspicuously with some two dozen major car companies and new market entrants to maximize competition in capturing its market and manufacturing advantages. The result: billions of dollars' private investment, and rapid movement of Hypercar-like concepts toward the marketplace.
I don't know about the fuel-cells, but the overall scheme makes a lot of sense and looks like it has legs in the marketplace. More about those legs in the next post.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Great Filter - Fin d'siecle Oil?

For some time now, I've used the terms "evolutionary bottleneck" or "evolutionary blind alley" - but my hat's off this week to Robin Hanson and his coinage "Great Filter" referenced in the Technology Review article apparently upsetting to that pair of angry UFO-logists in the comments;
the evolutionary path to life-forms capable of space colonization leads through a "Great Filter," which can be thought of as a probability barrier. (I borrow this term from Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University.) The filter consists of one or more evolutionary transitions or steps that must be traversed at great odds in order for an Earth-like planet to produce a civilization capable of exploring distant solar systems. You start with billions and billions of potential germination points for life, and you end up with a sum total of zero extraterrestrial civilizations that we can observe. The Great Filter must therefore be sufficiently powerful--which is to say, passing the critical points must be sufficiently improbable--that even with many billions of rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals. At least, none that we can detect in our neck of the woods.

Now, just where might this Great Filter be located? There are two possibilities: It might be behind us, somewhere in our distant past. Or it might be ahead of us, somewhere in the decades, centuries, or millennia to come. Let us ponder these possibilities in turn.
I'm going to begin using this term and targetting certain events as possible or probable Great Filters in the path of complex industrial civilization. Matt Simmons talked about one such filter at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston this week. OTC: $100 trillion needed to rebuild energy infrastructure;
The oil and gas industry will need to invest $50-100 trillion to rebuild its ageing infrastructure within the next 7 years and stave off a serious drop in oil and gas production, Matt Simmons, chairman of Simmons & Co. International, told OGJ May 5 at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

In a worst-case scenario, Simmons said, oil and gas output could fall by 10-20% by 2013 if industry does not replace its rusting, corroded assets. Spare capacity also has run out because formerly cheap prices for oil and gas precluded upgrading and construction of new facilities .

The average age of offshore rigs is 25 years, and oil companies have ignored the problem for the past few decades because of the low energy prices, which meant that maintenance has been expensive.

However, the upward trend in prices can help pay for the rebuilding of the energy system, Simmons stated.

"There is no blueprint in place, and this is a global problem. The longer the blueprint is postponed, the more acute the crisis will get," he said.
Simmons is an archetypal figure in the sphere of Peak Oil realists. If he says it, you can pretty much take it to the bank. This begs the question; where are the presidential candidates? on a topic of such obvious moment. It also goes straight back to the struggles of the Rockefeller heirs with corporatist governance and the challenge of trying to put ExxonMobil back on track.

Retrogenes and Retrobeasties

Olivia Judson is a popular writer with a background in evolutionary biology. In this week's NYTimes blog where she's featured, she writes the following;
The genomes of most organisms are littered with entities known as retroelements. These are a type of genetic parasite — stretches of DNA that (usually) do nothing useful for the cell, and exist simply to make more copies of themselves. (There are many different kinds of genetic parasite: as much as half of the DNA in the human genome is thought to have originated from them.) The way that retroelements proliferate is complicated, and depends on the element in question, for there are many sorts; but one thing they all have in common is that they, too, depend on the activity of reverse transcriptase.[...]

whether a newly created retrogene will appear and immediately vanish — or whether it will confer some kind of advantage on the organism and thus spread through the population — depends on where in the genome it gets inserted. If it arrives in the “wrong” place, it may not be able to be switched on; or worse, it may destroy the workings of an existing gene and harm the organism in some way. Hence, only a fraction of the retrogenes that are created will succeed in becoming established.

Which brings me to the X-odus. In mammals and in fruit flies, the genetic difference between males and females is that females have two X chromosomes whereas males have an X and a Y. Studies of successful retrogenes in a number of species, including fruit flies, humans, mice and opossums, have all shown the same, striking pattern. The parents of retrogenes are disproportionately likely to be found on the X chromosome. But the retrogenes themselves are typically located elsewhere. In other words, there’s a weird kind of genetic migration going on: successful retrogenes are fugitives from the X.
This is both fascinating to me and very timely in light of new data popularized this week concerning the genome of the duckbilled platypus;
The sex of the platypus is determined by a set of ten chromosomes, an oddity that sets it apart from all other mammals and from birds. These chromosomes link during meiosis to form a chain that ensures every sperm gets a set of all Xs or all Ys. Despite the similar designations, none of the platypus X chromosomes resembles the human, dog or mouse X. “The sex chromosomes are absolutely, completely different from all other mammals. We had not expected that,” says Jennifer Graves of the Australian National University in Canberra, who studies sex differentiation and is an author on the paper. Instead, the platypus Xs better match the avian Z sex chromosome. Another chromosome matches the mouse X, Graves and her colleagues report in Genome Research (F. Veyrunes et al. Genome Res . doi:10.1101/gr.7101908; 2008). This is evidence that placental mammalian sex chromosomes and the sex-determining gene Sry — found on the Y chromosome — evolved after the monotremes diverged from mammals, much later than previously thought. “Our sex chromosomes are a plain old ordinary autosome in the platypus,” Graves says.
Both articles make for some fascinating storytelling, and they complement one another by introducing and amplifying a new insight from the nascent field of genomic mechanics into the popular sphere. Most people don't pay enough attention to this to discern where the science ends and the storytelling begins. As a result, constant vigilance is required to ensure that storytellers with an agenda are never permitted to hijack any aspect of this research for their own political ends while the science endeavoring to understand the phenomenon remains very much an early stage work in progress.

Eugenics or Profit?

Bayer Documents: AIDS Tainted Blood Killed Thousands of Hemophiliacs An examination of internal Bayer company documents by The New York Times reveals that the company was engaged in unsavory, probably criminal marketing practices. The documents reveal that Bayer continued to sell contaminated blood plasma causing thousands of hemophiliac patients to be infected with AIDS. The company continued to sell the contaminated blood in Asia for over a year when it had already introduced a safer, heated blood plasma version in the US and Europe in February 1984.

The documents examined by the Times provide evidence of unrestrained corrupt practices by a pharmaceutical industry giant. According to The Times, records suggest that the reason for continuing to sell an AIDS infected blood product, was to get rid of inventory and "the company hoped to preserve the profit margin from 'several large fixed-price contracts.'"

This previously uninvestigated case demonstrates how this industry's lies and crimes are shielded by officials at the Food and Drug Administration. The Times reports that in 1985 FDA's Dr. Harry Meyer willingly helped Bayer cover up "one of the worst drug-related medical disasters in history." Meyer suggested that the issue should be "quietly solved without alerting the Congress, the medical community and the public." This culture of accommodation continues to prevail at the FDA.

The case also demonstrates Bayer's racial elitism. Its lethal marketing policies disregard human lives. The mother of a 22 year old hemophiliac who was killed by Bayer's tainted product in Hong Kong put it this way: "they did not care about the lives in Asia. It was racial discrimination."

The Times reports that three other American pharmaceutical companies were involved in selling tainted blood plasma after a safer version existed: Armour Pharmaceutical, Baxter International and Alpha Therapeutic.

American taxpayers have awarded unprecedented, generous financial subsidies to this industry--no other has extended patent rights as does this industry. In return they have been deceived, believing that drug company officials care about alleviating suffering and improving people's health, and that the FDA protects them from tainted products. In fact, this industry has repeatedly shown that profits matter more than human lives even less valued are the lives in underdeveloped countries.

Useless Eaters?

The methods used for mass extermination in the Nazi death camps originated and were perfected in earlier use against people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. Developed from the article by Dr. Mark Mostert, this website describes the historical context of attitudes toward people with disabilities in Germany and how this context produced mass murder of people with disabilities prior to and during the early years of World War II.

The connection between eugenics and social darwinism is exactly the opposite of what is usually imagined. Eugenics is a method by which those who fear they will lose the struggle for existence try to change the outcome.

Natural Born Killers?

From Michael P. Ghiglieri's THE DARK SIDE OF MAN: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence

[p. 71] One trait chimps, bonobos, and humans share is the retention of males. Unlike nearly every other social species of mammal, these societies generally retain their males. Meanwhile, females marry into new groups. Anthropologist Carol Ember clarified this pattern by surveying 179 hunter-gatherer societies. She found that only 16 percent of these societies retained their young women more than their young men. Chimp and bonobo social groups also keep their males but transfer their females. Gorillas do the same, although only a few males stay with their fathers. In contrast, orangutans (and almost all other primates) disperse all their males and none of their females. This pattern is significant because this one evolutionary event in the common ancestor of chimps, bonobos, and humans—the retention of males—set the stage for cooperative ape warriors.

[pp. 175-177] It should be noted that male chimps waged war on a neighboring community only when it, the “enemy,” was a lot smaller and weaker than their own community, containing half or fewer adult males. It is no overstatement to say that chimps are Machiavellian—or, to put it another way, politically devious and violent. Men are chimpanzee-like!

These studies of wild chimps tell us that solidarity in aggression among a community’s male kin is their standard strategy to reproduce and that this strategy has been around for a long time. How do we know? Despite their fierce and violent competition, male chimps are only 123 percent the weight of females, evidence that winning against other males no longer hinges on the more primitive orangutan or gorilla strategy of being a huge and formidable individual. Instead, winning depends on group size of male kin who cooperate as an army. Were this a recent evolutionary development, male chimps would be both big and cooperative.

Although chimps teach us what the law of the jungle really means, they also teach us what being social is all about. Sociability is for individual advantage. Within the chimps’ fusion-fission society, each ape’s decisions as to whether to socialize and with whom are based solely on how to best enhance his or her own reproductive success. Thus chimpanzee social structure—violent and otherwise—owes its form ultimately to each individual’s reproductive strategies and, by extension, to each one’s individual decisions. Warfare is simply the social version of combat.

Chimp social structure would be unique were it not for humans acting similarly. This is no coincidence. By most taxonomic criteria, chimps and humans are sibling species. Overall, chimp society is not only extremely sexist—with all adult males dominant over females—but also xenophobic to the extent of killing all alien males, many infants, and some old females who enter their territory. To some readers, my use of the word war may seem too strong to describe what male kin groups do. But systematic, protracted, deliberate, and cooperative brutal killings of every male in a neighboring community, plus genocidal and frequent cannibalistic murder of many of their offspring, followed by usurpation of the males’ mates and annexation of part or all of the losers’ territory, matches or exceeds the worst that humans do when they wage war.

Wild chimps reveal the natural contexts of territoriality, war, male cooperation, solidarity and sharing, nepotism, sexism, xenophobia, infanticide, murder, cannibalism, polygyny, and mating competition between kin groups of males—behaviors that have evolved through sexual selection. Also significant is the fact that none of these apes learned these violent behaviors by watching TV or by being victims of socioeconomic handicaps—poor schools, broken homes, bad fathers, illegal drugs, easy weapons, or any other sociological condition. Nor were these apes spurred to war by any political, religious, or economic ideology or by the rhetoric of an insane demagogue. They also were not seeking an “identity” or buckling under peer pressure. Instead, they were obeying instincts, coded in the male psyche, dictating that they must win against other males.

Nuclear physicist Freeman Dyson warns, “If we are to avoid destruction, we must first of all understand the human and historical context out of which destruction arises. We must understand what it is in human nature that makes war so damnably attractive.”

The great apes, especially chimpanzees, are the best living mirrors of primeval humankind It is up to us to look into that mirror (before we have destroyed all their tropical forests and killed them all) and identify what it is in the human male psyche that makes violence so “damnably attractive.” Now that we have seen the Machiavellian nature of martial chimpanzees, it is time to revisit Homo sapiens.

Are Human Warriors Natural-Born Killers?

IN ALL WARS ever fought by men, some men have killed, while others have avoided doing so. This inconsistency has spurred many idealists to deny that men are instinctive warriors. Instead, they insist, killing must be pounded into each of us against the grain. According to journalist Alessandra Stanley, “Yes, boys have a primitive urge to fight, an easily tapped aggression. But killing is not instinctive; it is an acquired taste, something that grownups must pass on.” Historian Gwynne Dyer likewise claims, ‘Aggression is certainly part of our genetic makeup, and necessarily so, but the normal human being’s quota of aggression will not even cause him to kill acquaintances, let alone wage war against strangers from a different country.”

Both are wrong. People’s “quotas of aggression” are all too often high enough to kill both acquaintances and strangers. During the Vietnam War, for example, Ho Chi Minh’s forces killed fifty-eight thousand Americans. But during the same time span, Americans murdered far more Americans at home—and most of those murdered were acquaintances (or even more intimate). According to political scientists Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla, “An ineluctable fact is that human intercourse all too naturally produces circumstances in which reasonable people regard kill or be killed as the best option available.”

This reality is so obvious to biologists that, despite his personal aversion to believing that men are innate killers, German ethologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt found himself listing the universal traits of men the world over that are vital to war: loyalty to group members; readiness to react aggressively to outside threats; motivation to fight, dominate, and act territorially; universal fear of strangers; and intolerance of those who deviate from group norms.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Essential Orage

Of the three lines of evolution perceptible to man (and hence attributed by him to nature), the highest, because the most inclusive, is spiritual evolution defined as the self-perception of self. But between, first, this verbal definition and the realization of its meaning; and secondly, the realization of its meaning and its actualization in being—there may be aeons of difference. From merely understanding that the highest value is self-objectivity (the ability, that is to say, to see everything thought of as self exactly as if it were not self) it does not follow that we have it, any more that it follows that if we understand that gold is of more value than silver, we necessarily possess gold. The attainment of the state of self-objectivity is something totally different from its understanding just as acquiring gold is something totally different from the appreciation of its value.

What I am therefore disposed to say of the problems already referred to is that their understanding and appreciation need to be supplemented by something entirely different before they can be solved; and that, in fact, the modern mind, even when desirous of objectivity, is incapable of solving such problems for the simple reason that the modern mind is not, in actuality, self-objective.

I beg myself as well as my readers not to mistake understanding for attainment; and not to imagine, on the strength of their realization of certain truths, that they possess them, or still less, that they can use them. Our being, in which alone truth is possessed, is still a long way behind our understanding. Is then, Progress a "myth"? I do not know. Is it, on the other hand, a fact in Nature? Again, I do not know. Nor do I find it necessary to settle the question one way or the other for my peace of mind. To understand what the question implies, to be satisfied that one can not answer it now, but to hope to be able one day to answer it, that, I think, is enough. . .

Killer Apes

From Michael P. Ghiglieri's THE DARK SIDE OF MAN: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence

[pp. 172-173] One big reason for those chimps’ community to fission into smaller parties is ecology. Sixty percent of a chimp’s diet consists of ripe fruit. Yet fruit is often so hard to find that wild chimps are drastically underweight compared to captive ones. Nor do enough huge fruit trees exist for all fifty or so chimps of a community to travel together and still get enough to eat. In any tree, the least dominant chimps, females in particular, lose in competition over what little fruit exists. Here again, however, males place solidarity ahead of calories. Despite the importance of a square meal, when approaching big fruit trees, males at Gombe and Kibale—but not females—have been observed pant-hooting loudly and drumming tree buttresses with their feet in a wild tattoo resounding through the rain forest for up to a mile. This bedlam attracts other chimps, who share the food of the calling males. This cooperative “food calling” pays off in three selfish ways for the males who called: by facilitating mutual grooming to rid them of parasites, by adding more male companions for safer territorial patrols, and by being able to mate with a female arrival. It also pays off in inclusive fitness by helping all relatives within earshot to achieve better nutrition. All of this, incidentally, is gained at a low cost because males usually call at trees big enough to feed all comers. By contrast, a female would gain nothing by food calling, because males habitually usurp the best feeding spots. And, to add insult to injury, she would be cheated by arriving males, who would not groom her after she groomed them.

Chimps typically travel in groups of two to six adults, but scarcity of food often forces them to go it alone. That they travel together anyway whenever they can leads us to ask the biggest question in social behavior: why do they bother to be social at the cost of not getting enough to eat?

Pieces of this puzzle fell into place in the early 1970s. The process began after Jane Goodall stopped her eight-year program of giving Gombe chimps six hundred bananas a day to habituate them to human observers and to keep them nearby. Her study community split into two factions. The biggest, the Kasakela community of thirty-five apes, stayed in the north. The Kahama faction of fewer than fifteen chimps went south. Within a year or two, the Kasakela males forayed south to the Kahama Valley in sortie after sortie, during which they killed at least five of the seven Kahama. males (the last two vanished due to causes unknown). They likely also killed two of the old females. These gang killings were at least as brutal as the one described at the beginning of this section. Males stomped on, twisted, bit, yanked, dragged, gouged, pounded, dismembered, and threw boulders at their outnumbered opponents with such fierce and deliberately lethal aggression that Goodall admitted, “If they had had firearms and had been taught to use them, I suspect they would have used them to kill.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

China vs. U.S. The Battle for Oil (1-7)

Sky-rocketing growth and shortage of sufficient resources to supply its burgeoning American-style middle-class is forcing China to set its sights outside its borders in a frantic search for oil. Under the dominant production and consumption model - there's no question where this will lead. Middle-class lifestyle in these developing countries, even if more frugal than what is common in rich nations, is more energy-intensive. In 2006, China added as much electricity as France's total supply. Yet millions in China lack reliable access to electricity; in India, more than 400 million don't have power. The demand in India will grow fivefold in the next 25 years. So much demand, not enough supply....,

Assessing Memetic Weapons Capability of Neoconservatism

Use of radio as a form of memetic warfare has long been known and exploited (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe). The early innovations of memetic warfare are evident in spam, now reaching 80% of internet traffic -- possible to justify future implementation of severely restrictive counter-measures. In contrast to the threat of viruses, spam has a cognitive component. The focus on sexually explicit imagery, together with performance improving drugs and devices, is clearly associated with evocation of lust as a memetic weapon. It is no coincidence that a high percentage of such spam originates in the USA -- where even the highest ranked hotels offer "adult movies". Only the naive would fail to recognize the offensive function of such memetic weapons against other cultures, such as Islam.

Whilst such spam may be understood as a memetic analogue to biological warfare, there is a case for anticipating the development and deployment of memetic analogues to tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. There is also a case for recognizing the probable nature and targets of such weaponry and the appropriate modes of defence.

From Anthony Judge's Seven Deadly Sins of Fundamentalism

The Gospel of Consumption

and the better future we left behind....,

"Do we live to work or work to live? The question of how important work is in our lives is central to Hunnicutt's study of Kellogg's daring social experiment, which began in 1930 and lasted until 1985.... [I]t could serve as a wake up call for a nation in big trouble if the jobless future comes to pass." —Publishers Weekly
This was welcome news to workers at a time when the country was rapidly descending into the Great Depression. But as Benjamin Hunnicutt explains in his book Kellogg's Six-Hour Day, Brown and Kellogg wanted to do more than save jobs. They hoped to show that the free exchange of goods, services, and labor in the free market would not have to mean mindless consumerism or eternal exploitation of people and natural resources. Instead, workers would be liberated by increasingly higher wages and shorter hours for the final freedom promised by the Declaration of Independence "the pursuit of happiness."[...]

In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation's Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called "need saturation". Davis noted that the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months operation each year and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year's supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, It may be that the worlds needs ultimately will be produced by three days work a week.[...]

Yet we could work and spend a lot less and still live quite comfortably. By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day-or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.

Kellog's vision, despite its popularity with his employees, had little support among his fellow business leaders. But Dahlberg's book had a major influence on Senator (and future Supreme Court justice) Hugo Black who, in 1933, introduced legislation requiring a thirty-hour workweek. Although Roosevelt at first appeared to support Black's bill, he soon sided with the majority of businessmen who opposed it. Instead, Roosevelt went on to launch a series of policy initiatives that led to the forty-hour standard that we more or less observe today.[...]

But we cannot do it as individuals. The mavericks at Kellogg held out against company and social pressure for years, but in the end the marketplace didn't offer them a choice to work less and consume less. The reason is simple: that choice is at odds with the foundations of the marketplace itself-at least as it is currently constructed.
The men and women who masterminded the creation of the consumerist society understood that theirs was a political undertaking, and it will take a powerful political movement to change course today.
Kellogg's six-hour day was the pinnacle of a hundred-year process that cut working time virtually in half. Kellogg Management, propelled by a vision of Liberation Capitalism, insisted that six hours would revolutionize society by shifting the balance of time from work to leisure--from economic concerns to the challenge of freedom.

Kellogg's employees, like centuries of workers, believed that work was a means to an end. An overwhelming number of employees were willing to "share their work" and found the extra time an opportunity to invest in the family, community, church, and individual freedom. When World War II ended, Kellogg's managers abandoned the six-hour shift and began with the rest of the nation to define progress as more work for more people. Losing sight of the original dream of more time to live outside necessity, management argued that work should remain the center of life, providing identity, meaning, and purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.

Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied

Charles Kettering: General Director of Research Laboratories at General Motors.
[From Nation's Business, 17, no. 1 (January 1929), 30-31, 79.]
A few weeks back I was sitting with a group of executives. All were admiring a new model.

"It is absolutely the best automobile that can be made," enthused one. I objected to that statement.

"Let's take this automobile which, you say, is the 'best that can be made' and put it into a glass showcase," I said. "Let's put it in there-seal it so no person can possibly touch it. Just before we seal it in the case, let us mark the price in big letters inside the case."

"Let us do that and come back here a year from today. After looking at it and appraising it, we will mark a price on the outside of the glass. It will be a price something less than what we think the car is worth today. Probably $200 less. Then, let's come back once every year for ten years, look through the glass, and mark a new price. At the end of ten years we won't be able to put down enough ciphers to indicate what we think of the car. That is, of course, eliminating its value as junk.

"In those ten years, no one could possibly have touched the car. There could be no lessened value through handling. The paint would be just as good as new; the crank case just as good; the real axle just as good; and the motor just as good as ever.

What then, has happened to the car?

"People's minds will have been changed; improvements will come in other cars; new styles will have come. What you have here today, a car that you call 'the best that can be made,' will then be useless. So it isn't the best that can be made. It may be the best you can have made and, if that is what you meant, I have no quarrel with what you said. . . ."

Change, to a research engineer, is improvement. People, though don't seem to think of it in that manner. When a change is suggested they hold back and say, "What we have is all right--it does the work." Doing the work is important but doing it better is more important. The human family in industry is always looking for a park bench where it can sit down and rest. But the only park benches I know of are right in front of an undertaker's establishment.

The younger generation--and by that I mean the generation that is always coming--knows what it wants and it will get what it wants. This is what makes for change. It brings about improvements in old things and developments in new things.

We, as manufacturers, must offer those improvements after they have been found to be capable improvements. The public buys and disposes of what it has. The fact that it is able to dispose of what it has enables us, as producers, to put a lower price tag on the new model. The law of economy in mass production enters here. We are permitted to turn out cars in volume because there is a market for them...

If everyone were satisfied, no one would buy the new thing because no one would want it. The ore wouldn't be mined; timber wouldn't be cut. Almost immediately hard times would be upon us.

You must accept this reasonable dissatisfaction with what you have and buy the new thing, or accept hard times. You can have your choice.
Of course, it wasn't always this way. Coupled with the corporate aim of production and sales without end, psychology and the tools of mass media combined to give rise to the collective id monster threatening to devour us all - dopamine hegemony.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The World's First Billion-Dollar Home

While visiting New York in 2005, Nita Ambani was in the spa at the Mandarin Oriental New York, overlooking Central Park. The contemporary Asian interiors struck her just so, and prompted her to inquire about the designer.

Nita Ambani was no ordinary tourist. She is married to Mukesh Ambani, head of Mumbai, India-based petrochemical giant Reliance Industries, and the fifth richest man in the world. ( Lakshmi Mittal, ranked fourth, is an Indian citizen, but a resident of the U.K.)

Forbes estimated Ambani's net worth at $43 billion in March. Reliance Industries was founded by Mukesh's father, Dhirubhai Ambani, in 1966, and is India's most valuable firm by market capitalization. The couple, who have three children, currently live in a 22-story Mumbai tower that the family has spent years remodeling to meet its needs.

Like many families with the means to do so, the Ambanis wanted to build a custom home. They consulted with architecture firms Perkins + Will and Hirsch Bedner Associates, the designers behind the Mandarin Oriental, based in Dallas and Los Angeles, respectively. Plans were then drawn up for what will be the world's largest and most expensive home: a 27-story skyscraper in downtown Mumbai with a cost nearing $2 billion, says Thomas Johnson, director of marketing at Hirsch Bedner Associates. The architects and designers are creating as they go, altering floor plans, design elements and concepts as the building is constructed.

The ghetto-fabulous full-monty in pictures, words, and video is at Forbes.com.

Modok Crossed the Line Last Week

I doubt that anybody noticed, because it wasn't the context in which his comments were presented hereabouts, but in addition to his forward looking remarks about overpopulation, CIA Director Michael Hayden also said Wednesday that Iranian policy, at the highest government level, is to help kill Americans in Iraq, the boldest pronouncement of Iranian involvement by a U.S. official to date.

Hayden made the statement in response to a student question while delivering the Landon Lecture at Kansas State University.

"It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq," Hayden said. "Just make sure there's clarity on that."

My friend Rembom dropped a stellar Pepe Escobar joint in the comments y'day providing a fairly detailed current state assessment of the heat-up towards Iran;
It's like old times in the Persian Gulf. As of this week, a second aircraft carrier battle task force is being sent in -- not long after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen highlighted planning for "potential military courses of action" against Iran[...]On the dispatching of that second aircraft carrier, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered the following comment: "I don't see it as an escalation. I think it could be seen, though, as a reminder."
uh huh..., by the benchmarks established by the Bush administration, this is an overwhelming justification for war. Indeed, in the carefully constructed reality of the GWOT, Modok's accusation essentially compels war: what nation would accept the killing of its own people without striking back?

The Militarist

Despite neoconservatism's close association in the public imagination with the Bush administration, and despite McCain's image as a moderate, a look at the record makes clear that McCain, not Bush, is the real neocon in the Republican Party.

McCain was the neocons' candidate in 2000, McCain adhered to a truer version of the faith during the early years of hubris that followed September 11, and as president McCain would likely pursue policies that will make what we've seen from Bush look like a pale imitation of the real thing. McCain, after all, is the candidate of perpetual war in Iraq. The candidate who, despite his protestations in a March speech that he "hates war," not only stridently backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq but has spent years calling on the United States to depose every dictator in the world. He's the candidate of ratcheting-up action against North Korea and Iran, of new efforts to undermine the United Nations, and of new cold wars with Russia and China. Rather than hating war, he sees it as integral to the greatness of the nation, and military service as the highest calling imaginable. It is, in short, not Bush but McCain, who among practical politicians holds truest to the vision of a foreign policy dominated by militaristic unilateralism.
American Prospect current issue by way of P6

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Our Mr. Sun

The Half-Life For Air Travel

Falls Church News Press; At $3.71 a gallon, jet fuel is now the single largest expense an airline faces.

In 2000, the airlines fuel bill was $14 billion. It is now pushing $60 billion and climbing. Southwest, the most profitable carrier, recently announced that this year’s fuel bill will be $500 million more than last year and equal to 2007 profits. During the first quarter of 2008 American airlines lost $328 million; Delta lost $274 million; United lost $537 million; Continental $80 million; Northwest $191 million; and US Airways $236 million. Only Southwest Airlines, which did a better job of hedging its fuel than the others, made a profit.

It is clear we are going to see major changes in air travel shortly. While the demise of inexpensive discretionary air travel has ramifications for many industries, in the first instance tourism is likely to be hit the hardest.

Ignoring for the minute the likely effects of $4 or $5 gasoline in California this summer, Las Vegas reports that nearly half of its tourists arrive by air. To make matters worse, resort operators have recently spent billions upgrading their facilities to the $300 a night places that are less likely to attract drive up customers. The same pattern can be repeated at air-dependent tourist attractions all over the world.

There is still a remarkable amount of denial in the airline business. In any case, the day of the ubiquitous kerosene-powered jet transport which revolutionized travel for many of us in the second half of the 20th century is likely to be shorter than most realize.

US Navy research lab under microscope in Indonesia

Fascinating;

Apparently stung by the latest whirlwind of allegations, some of which stretch back several years, the US embassy has issued a statement entitled "The Truth About Namru-2."

"There's been rumours over the last 10 years that we had to respond to," US embassy deputy chief of mission John A. Heffern told AFP.

"It's just crazy," he said of the allegations of spying and secret experiments, adding that Namru-2 was "totally unclassified, totally transparent."

"If the Indonesian ministry of health wants the raw data, it's totally open to them," he said.

"Hopefully we will resume our negotiations. This doesn't help."

Sticking points in the negotiations have included the US's insistence that all American staff at the laboratory be given diplomatic immunity.

Complicating matters is a separate dispute between Washington and Jakarta over bird flu samples.

Jakarta is insisting on "the recognition of sovereign rights of states over their biological resources," and fears the flu samples will be used by foreign companies to make vaccines, which will be too expensive for Indonesians.

US officials have slammed the position, with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recently stressing the importance of international cooperation to tackle the bird flu threat.

"The United States has very important relationships here in Indonesia, that involve joint work in laboratories in various levels of research, and we have pledged to continue that," Leavitt said after meeting Yudhoyono last month.

Indonesia has the highest number of human bird flu victims, with 108 people known to have died in the sprawling archipelago from the disease.

The World Health Organisation, which has designated Namru-2 as a Collaborating Centre on disease research, has warned that Indonesia is putting its own population in danger by failing to share its samples.
submitted to your attention without further comment, almost. There was after all that little pandemic thingy from a couple weeks ago, nah.......,