A few days ago, Eric L Wattree, a regular on dagblog, posted about why he thought Barack Obama will be remembered as a great president. In the comments there ensued a discussion of who were the greatest presidents, whether Obama, Clinton, Reagan, or Carter will be remembered as great or ordinary, and what determines greatness in office.
With the death of Nelson Mandela, I couldn’t help wondering what an American president would have had to endure and accomplish to be considered in the same breath with Mandela.
Suppose Frederick Douglass, after escaping torture by the slavebreaker at Mt Misery, didn’t safely escape to the North in 1838. Suppose he had non-violently protested against the slavery condoned by the US government, then later organized attacks on US government targets. Suppose instead of being executed he had been imprisoned for almost three decades. Suppose he had led the antislavery movement from within prison, had been released after international pressure, had negotiated an end to slavery, avoiding the Civil War, then was elected US President in 1868.
For a black man to endure such a chain of events then bring about the end of white rule of a nation sounds preposterous, but that was essentially what Mandela did in South Africa.
Gawker did some research – well, maybe a spreadsheet – and concludes that the opinion writers of our mainstream media are largely a bunch of cranky old men, and a few cranky old women.
Why are newspaper opinion columnists so consistently baffled by the politics, technologies, and social mores of the 21st century? We’ve crunched some data, and we think we’ve figured out the answer: They’re old as hell. …
We examined age and gender breakdowns of the regular opinion columnists at the country’s three most prestigious opinion sections—those of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal—as well as the opinion stables from four of the largest press syndicates—The Creators Syndicate, Universal Press, King Features, and Tribune Media, …
Of the 143 columnists we looked at, a scant 38 were women. Just as bad was the age distribution: Average and median ages on the whole hover around 60. Tribune Media Services had the oldest columnists: average and median ages are both around 64. The businessy Wall Street Journal, whose average columnist is a sprightly 56 years old (median 54), is the most youthful—although that’s still older than the paper’s average 48-year-old reader.
As an aging and increasingly cranky man, I find this encouraging news. In just a year I’ll be the perfect age to pull columns out of my navel, or wherever, and have the Grey Lady post them for the great unwashed to read and ponder.
It would be interesting to look back and see if there were any times in history when the sanctioned opinion-makers were not older men. I would guess that younger people have a greater voice during major revolutions and upheavals, but I’d also guess that doesn’t last too long.
When discussing whether to turn from coal to nuclear power, media pundits usually admit to only three disastrous nuclear sites: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. No one ever mentions the nuclear waste explosion at Kyshtym in the Urals, the fire at Windscale, the ravaged test site Semipalatinsk, or the hydrogen bomb contamination at Palomares. Every now and then the subject of cleaning up Hanford in the US or Sellafield in the UK is discussed, but even though reprocessing is common at many nuclear power plants, these severely contaminated reprocessing sites never seem to matter when discussing the future of nuclear power. In 2009, the Guardian posted, Sellafield: the most hazardous place in Europe :
During the miners’ strike of 1972, the nation’s nuclear plants were run at full stretch in order to supply electricity to a beleaguered nation. As a result, it proved impossible to process all the waste that was being generated. Cladding and fuel were simply thrown into B38′s cooling ponds and left to disintegrate.
But the building, like so many other elderly edifices at Sellafield, is crumbling and engineers now face the headache of dealing with its lethal contents.
This, then, is the dark heart of Sellafield, a place where engineers and scientists are only now confronting the legacy of Britain’s postwar atomic aspirations and the toxic wasteland that has been created on the Cumbrian coast. Engineers estimate that it could cost the nation up to £50bn to clean this up over the next 100 years.
Sellafield contains the air-cooled Windscale Piles plutonium production plant and water-cooled Calder Hall power plant reactors, but like Hanford was largely a reprocessing facility, extracting weapons grade plutonium from spent fuel. Just yesterday the Guardian again noted, Sellafield executives to face MPs as nuclear clean-up bill rises over £70bn :
It was hoped that the huge bill – eight times the cost of staging the London Olympics – would be capped at £70bn, but well-placed sources have told the Guardian that the operators are convinced they are still “not at the top” of the cost curve.
Sellafield is regarded as the most dangerous and polluted industrial site in western Europe, not least because it houses 120 tonnes of plutonium, the largest civilian stockpile in the world.
The cost of decommissioning the Calder Hall reactor plus a magnox fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield has been rising steeply, but the biggest task comes from “ponds” and “silos” filled with old equipment and deteriorating, highly toxic waste.
And a few days ago, the LA Times posted, Doubts grow about plan to dispose of Hanford’s radioactive waste :
The aging tanks at the former Hanford nuclear weapons complex contain 56 million gallons of sludge, the byproduct of several decades of nuclear weapons production, and they represent one of the nation’s most treacherous environmental threats.
Energy Department officials have repeatedly assured the public that they have the advanced technology needed to safely dispose of the waste. An industrial city has been under development here for 24 years, designed to transform the sludge into solid glass and prepare it for permanent burial.
But with $13 billion already spent, there are serious doubts that the highly complex technology will even work or that the current plan can clean up all the waste. Alarmed at warnings raised by outside experts and some of the project’s own engineers, Department of Energy officials last year ordered a halt to construction on the most important parts of the waste treatment plant.
It is already clear that private industry will not finance nuclear plants themselves, instead relying on public money to construct, commission and decommission them. It now seems that there may not be enough money to clean up the worst of them.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles are essentially electric hybrids with a fuel cell in place of the gasoline engine. The fuel cell promises to be far lighter than the batteries required to achieve the 300 mile range that American drivers seem to expect, and in theory could be refueled about as fast as a gasoline or diesel tank.
In 2003, it was an article of faith among many in the Peak Oil community that automobiles powered by hydrogen fuel cells were a pipe dream. At Roscoe Bartlett’s 2005 Energy Conference, speaker John Howe derisively dismissed them as “Fool Cells.”
… Hydrogen is not a fuel source unless you take a lot of energy to separate it, and about 97 percent of our hydrogen today comes from natural gas, and natural gas … is in even more dire straits than oil. [This was before the fracking boomlet.] Even though there may be a lot of it around the world, it’s a stranded resource and you just can’t ship it here and there and most of it that is available in the world is already spoken for. …
Despite those challenges manufacturers have been steadily working on fuel cells for cars, trucks and buses. As described in Fuel Cells at Center Stage, the current crop of auto shows now feature fuel cell vehicles by Toyota, Hyundai and Honda. GM and Daimler are also promising fuel cell vehicles. They seem to work, but they are so costly that it is hard to imagine then as anything but luxury vehicles with clean emissions.
… The main challenge facing Toyota engineers, however, is the vehicle’s price.
“The effort to bring this car to market is about lowering the cost, while providing satisfactory performance,” said Matt McClory, principal engineer of fuel cell vehicle development for Toyota in the United States, as we did a test drive around Torrance, Calif. “Bringing the costs down was the biggest bogey.”
Toyota executives say they believe a target price around $50,000 is needed to make the cars attractive. That might require the company to price the cars below cost until production reaches a profitable level.
Toyota managed that with the Prius, and it paid off, but producing the hydrogen, and the infrastructure behind it is still a major challenge.
Update 20131126: In, Hydrogen cars won’t be marketable “until 2020″, says VW
VW Group’s commissioner for electric drive systems, Rudolf Krebs … pointed out that although hydrogen had the benefits of zero tailpipe emissions and none of the driving range issues attached to battery-electric vehicles, there are still concerns over the efficiency of producing the energy.
“We still have the problem that hydrogen mobility only makes sense if you use green energy – you have to use green electricity, then convert it from electric to hydrogen, during which you lose about 40 per cent of the initial energy,” explained Krebs.
“Then you have to compress the hydrogen to 700bar to store it in the vehicle, which costs you further efficiency. After that, you have to convert the hydrogen back to electricity through the vehicle’s fuel cell, which brings another efficiency loss. In the end, from your original 100 per cent electric energy, you end up with between 30 and 40 per cent efficiency.”
Krebs believed the best solution would be a vehicle that relies primarily on battery electric propulsion, with a hydrogen fuel cell as a back-up.
‘Tis almost the season for the end-of-year bonus. For some of us. Wall Street was famous for large bonuses, and certain firms bailed out with public money became infamous for using TARP money to continue paying out large bonuses. The banksters benefiting from our largesse claimed that bonuses were actually a late payment of money they had earned all year, but most folk can’t expect a bonus if the firm isn’t profitable. Many can’t even imagine more than a token Xmas bonus at all, and WalMart employees can only hope that shoppers will drop a few sugar plums in their baskets.
Forbes, CNN and Reuters note that financial sector bonuses are rising in general, though more for the less risky side of the business.
A few weeks ago, some Wall Street ex-big shot made news by blogging a tirade about having to tip the bathroom attendants. The NY Post reported:
Managers at Soho’s Balthazar said Monday they’re wiping bathroom valets off their payroll after business-news blogger Henry Blodget made snippy comments about the antiquated, “extortion-by-guilt” practice.
Blodget, a disgraced Wall Street analyst who now edits the Business Insider Web site, wrote last week that dealing with bathroom attendants is “never anything other than uncomfortable and degrading.”
Since then, I’ve noticed several articles challenging the practice of offering gratuities for personal service. Sushi Yasuda in NYC made news by eliminating tipping and raising prices to pay the staff a bit more. US News offered five facts, while Pacific Standard questioned the rationale behind tipping:
… it makes very little economic sense. You can lose hours reading theories about tipping, but here’s a nice summary: “Economists presume that individuals act in their economic self-interest. Thus, individuals engage in transactions with one another when it is in both their economic self-interests to do so. But it is hard to see how tipping is in the tipper’s self-interest.”
I don’t pay anyone’s salary, hence I don’t pay bonuses, but I do tip for personal service. We don’t dine out much, but when we do I tip servers at least 20%. I discarded the old 5/10/15 rule for breakfast, lunch and dinner because it seemed clear the servers work just as hard serving eggs and pancakes as beef and lobster. I give my barber $5, and he seems grateful. Hey, the man holds a straight razor near my throat – I want to keep him happy. I would tip my masseur if he wasn’t self-employed. Massage is about as personal as service can get and still be legal.
Just for grins, I looked up gratuity and bonus on Dictionary.com:
gra·tu·i·ty [gruh-too-i-tee, -tyoo-] noun, plural gra·tu·i·ties.
1. a gift of money, over and above payment due for service, as to a waiter or bellhop; tip.
2. something given without claim or demand.
bo·nus [boh-nuhs] noun, plural bo·nus·es.
1. something given or paid over and above what is due.
2. a sum of money granted or given to an employee, a returned soldier, etc., in addition to regular pay, usually in appreciation for work done, length of service, accumulated favors, etc.
They don’t sound too different, do they? Unless you work on Wall Street.
In the wake of Typhoon Yolanda (known in the US as Haiyan), NRA Exec VP Wayne LaPierre is pressing FEMA to send the survivors in the flattened city of Tacloban the sort of supplies that storm victims really need: Semiautomatic rifles.
“The biggest problem these Filipino people have right now is security. The best way to guarantee security is to be well-armed. That way, when a bag of rice becomes available, they don’t have to worry about some larger or stronger person elbowing their way past them to get it. They should stop whining about damages, grab a gun and take command of their lives.”
“Nothing calms down a disaster like the presence of semiautomatic weapons … except automatic weapons, of course.”
As workmen dismantled the modular furniture, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sat in the remains of his office and mused, “We never saw it coming.”
A few years ago, businesses and governments alike bowed to Amazon’s economic might. Market pundits predicted that brick and mortar would be limited to personal service boutiques, as most people simply ordered everything from electronics to groceries through the former internet book merchant. Then Amazon began to tout a new product.
“We thought we’d make a fortune selling 3D printers … and we did quite well for a time. Then people realized that once they had one, they could make damn near anything. Once someone had one – they didn’t need us anymore! They could find some recycled scrap metal and plastic – or melt down stuff they had – and make stuff as they needed it. We were selling the instruments of our own demise.”
“We tried manufacturing our own stuff, too, but we couldn’t cut our delivery costs low enough to compete with a hundred million local producers.”
“I worked hard to build this company. I still can’t believe it’s all over.”