peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Last February, NPR's Planet Money examined a unique strategy by Ecuador's government to preserve its Yasuni National Park, an isolated and wild place reached best by hours in a canoe. This is one of those places with amazing biodiversity, with more tree species in a hectare than most more northern countries have within their borders.

The problem threatening the Yasuni? It has oil, and President Correa, seeing the destruction other Latin American countries have suffered for oil exploration/extraction, wanted to avoid a similar fate for his most wild of national places. His solution: ask for money to preserve the park as is.

Seriously. Planet Money interviews those seeking to preserve the park by asking for money:

As payment for preserving the wilderness and preventing an estimated 410 million metric tons of fossil fuel-generated carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, Correa has asked the world to ante up in the fight against global warming. He is seeking $3.6 billion in compensation, roughly half of what Ecuador would have realized in revenues from exploiting the resource at 2007 prices. The money would be used, he says, to finance alternative energy and community development projects.

So, how'd that all work out? )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
But hey, don't take my word for it. Check out some of the science!

peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Just caught an episode of This American Life called "Unfit For Work: The Startling Rise Of Disability In America". It turns out those on disability don't get counted on the unemployment roles (since, of course, they are classed as unable to work). It gets interesting! )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Several years ago, I tripped upon something that puzzled me.

Through family tales passed down through the generations and backed by literally boxes of original documents including diaries and correspondence, Randall Keynes' book Annie's Box recounts the family life of his great-great grandparents, Charles and Emma Darwin. At one point, the Darwins had to decide how to best educate their children, seven of them and the number growing. To properly teach the girls, Emma thought it best to hire a governess. Bored yet? It gets better. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
It's old, so I apologize if this is old news to you, but seriously, check out Chris Martenson's podcast interview with Frances Koster. Dr. Koster runs something called The Optimistic Futurist, where he documents efforts to improve food, energy and fuel security in ways that make local investments in one's community both profitable and of benefit to the community Seriously, this guy is everything [ profile] home_effinomic hopes to be!

For the poddy-device impaired, Chris provides a transcript! As an example of Teh Awesome, what would you, someone with money to invest and concerned about the old air conditioning unit in the local high school that keeps the power bills sky-high? The school district has no money to replace it, so why bother? Frances says,

An investor might for example go to the local school system and say I will fix the following nine buildings and I will loan you the money and you will pay it back to me out of a percentage of what you no longer pay the utility. And I also by the way get to keep the tax credits which you cannot use and get quite handsome rates of return while doing good for their local community – looking good at the Rotary Club and so on. These are enormously secure investments. You are not banking on a gold bubble or other volatile things; you are banking on the fact that energy prices are not going to go down.

He also notes of the tax credits that many municipalities are legal forbidden to take advantage of these credits, so it's not like they are going to waste.

When I have time, I'm going to mine his web site for nuggets such as these. Enjoy!

X-Posted to [ profile] home_effinomic.
peristaltor: (Default)
[ profile] brucenstein's recent contribution regarding tariffs set on Chinese-made solar panels got me to thinking. There are not just one issue to discuss here — the more obvious and immediate being the way China's government funds industrial activity — but two. We must also consider what kind of electrical grid we have and what kind we want for the future.

To consider that, we need to also consider our electrical past. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
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Bad Astronomer Phil Plait debunked the notion of an approaching ice age recently, a spurious theory based on misconceptions regarding the sun's magnetic cycle:

The Sun has a magnetic cycle, its magnetic field waxing and waning in strength roughly every 11 years. The strength and complexity of the solar field governs a lot of the surface activity, including sunspots, solar flares, prominences, and coronal mass ejections.

Right now, in 2011, we’ve just left a period of an extended minimum, and the next max is due in late 2013 and early 2014. . . .

At this point you may be asking, so what? If the Sun has fewer sunspots and no flares, what difference does that make here on Earth? And how could it possibly trigger an ice age?

Yes, a good question. Plait goes on to explain. )
peristaltor: (Default)
God helps those
who help themselves.

- Benjamin Franklin

I just finished Thomas Geoghegan's Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? and found, tucked away as an almost parenthetical observation, something absolutely not a part of his narrative thesis yet so crucial, something so obvious that I should have seen it years ago, something that helps explain so much about life here in the United States. It's a big deal! Really! )
peristaltor: (Default)
By now, everyone has heard about what is happening seemingly all at once in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Republican governors are trying to ram "emergency" legislation through their senates and houses that would strip the most robust union demographic, public employees, of their collective bargaining rights.

Here's a question: Why now?

I haven't seen this point raised by anyone, but I think it has everything -- and I mean everything -- to do with the baby boom generation.

Hear me out. )

X-posted to [ profile] the_recession.
peristaltor: (Default)

"This is about people being persuaded to spend money we don't have
to buy things we don't need to create impressions that won't last
on people we don't care about."

I've got some work in the pipeline that addresses Mr. Jackson's observations. I think I'll read his book first, though.
peristaltor: (Default)
I mentioned the Koch Brothers only briefly in the past. To get caught up, you really need to do some background reading. These two are becoming more and more active with their fortune.

For example, consider that they, being not only Birchers but sons of one of the founders of the John Birch Society, hate unions. Now consider that the unrest in Wisconsin is getting downright interesting:

This afternoon, Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Workers Union, sent a message to the Governor’s office agreeing to the cuts to pension & welfare benefits sought by Walker in his bill. The governor’s response was “nothing doing.” He wants the whole kit and kaboodle – the end of the collective bargaining rights of the public unions.

Oh, but it gets even better. Folks all over the country have been pouring over Gov. Walker's Budget Repair Bill, and guess what they found? A provision that would allow public assets to be sold . . . without any competitive bidding! I kept the emboldening from the link's author emboldened:

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

Let's remember that the Koch brothers have extensive holdings in Wisconsin, including timber, coal and pipelines. If this privatization strategy works, soon Governor Walker's second-largest campaign contributors will add millions to their portfolio and cut the fat do away with those pesky unions and their darned collective bargaining.

Make no mistake: This is Fascism at work.

UPDATE: Someone named Murphy at the Buffalo Beast successfully called Gov. Walker claiming to be David Koch. Listen to the Gov spill his guts outlining the strategy for getting this bill passed.

What is it about fucking Reagan? These righties invoke his goddamned name every 5 seconds lest his ghost abandon the country or something. (The Gov waxes eloquently about Der Gipper in Part II.)
peristaltor: (Default)
Unhappily for us all, we are surrounded by corporate accomplices willing to influence our hearts and minds. I gave you a taste of this in Part II. In at least three of the four examples I provided we find a strong fiduciary incentive to warrant the noted shenanigans, obvious reasons why the participants would go to such misinformation extremes. Toyota wanted to squelch as much of the criticism of its cars as it could. The Canadian recording industry stands to gain millions, perhaps billions, if it can in the future prevent even fair use infringements on its copyrights. Never mind the ideological victory it would prove; dismantling the social safety net might prove an enormous boon to private health care providers simply by impeding government efforts to reduce the current cost of health care (which is, compared to the rest of the world, a tad expensive).

In Part I, I said early on that I wanted to focus primarily on how this swarm swatting, this manipulation of the crowd for fun and/or profit, deflects from our society's ability to make rational decisions regarding the economy. I'll stick to that aspect of society not to simply discount other, perhaps more pressing avenues of public controversy, but because the economy has, as [ profile] bleaknemesis notes, a relatively weak moral component. Struck by Part I of this series, he said two weeks ago in an email:

I am thinking though that the ox situation and your own rent adjustment story may only work under certain conditions to validate the crowd wisdom and that under other conditions a less than wise outcome may occur. For this I am thinking of Nazi Germany or segregationist South US. Now I am aware that I might be  trying to impose our current moral standards on the past which may not be fair. Actually as I was writing this and reading it over it occurred to me that maybe the reason the ox story works as an example for crowd wisdom is that there is no moral component to the weight guessing. Kind of the same with the rent story for the most part.

Mr. Nemesis, from all the reading I've done on this topic, you are absolutely correct on all points. Furthermore, you also mentioned a book I had either never heard of (or, more likely had forgotten about), James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. I got the book from the library, and oh, boy, am I glad I did. Along with Steven Johnson's Emergence (which I've gushed about before), Wisdom proves one of the best synopses of crowd wisdom I've ever read. In fact, in the end notes Surowiecki mentions Emergence and notes how his direction with Wisdom differed from Johnson's:

There are obvious resonances between Johnson's book and my own, although in his model local influence is important and generally beneficial, while I see independence as essential and see influence as, on the whole, inimical to good cognitive judgments. On the other hand, local influence is clearly a good thing when it comes to coordination problems. More to the point, Emergence is only tangentially concerned with decision making, and is more interested in, as the title suggests, self-organization and the emergence of order.

(James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, Doubleday, 2004, p. 282.)

We should discuss what he means by independence. )
peristaltor: (Default)
[ profile] kmo delivered another great podcast the other day, interviewing economist Frank Rotering. Prof. Rotering has an interesting take on human progress and the limits the planet itself places on our expansion, part of which resonates well with what I accept.

For example, I whole heartedly agree that our biological imperative drives our expansion, the desire to eat the richest food (to give us strength and build our energy reserves as fat) and live in the best areas conducive to sating our desires to, well, eat and reproduce a lot. The number of simple behavioral studies that reveal this simple unconscious drive abound, each confirming that despite what we say, we are greedy little piggies that crave tasty (meaning energy-rich) foods and sex with the most reproductively viable candidates. Remember, folks, Darwin's "survival of the fittest" referred to reproductive winners, the organisms that most successfully got as many biological copies of themselves made before they croaked.

Where Frank went off the rails in the talk with [ profile] kmo, though, was where he started talking about . . . capitalism. Wait, haven't I gone over this already?!?

But then the Professor did something very few who throw the C word about willy-nilly actually do: He explained what he meant. I'm not saying he got it right in my eyes, but I will say he at least had the courtesy to quote Marx's writings directly and explain the nitty-gritty details that might elude the less familiar. Someone who has obviously read Marx so carefully is rare to find even amongst Marxists. That was refreshing.

This explanation, though, confirmed something that has been nagging at me for quite some time: That Marx himself missed the most salient element of capitalism's expansionist tendencies, specifically by by conflating the necessity to expand with the ability to expand. )
peristaltor: (Default)
By now I hope everyone out there has seen this story about computer viruses that store kiddie porn on computers. From the article:

Pedophiles can exploit virus-infected PCs to remotely store and view their stash without fear they'll get caught. Pranksters or someone trying to frame you can tap viruses to make it appear that you surf illegal websites.

Whatever the motivation, you get child porn on your computer — and might not realize it until police knock at your door.

Let me briefly emphasize one salient element of that story, one probably glossed over by most, but which I feel cannot and should not be emphasized enough: the virus exploits PCs -- shorthand, as most know, for "personal computers," but almost universally acknowledged as "personal computers running a Microsoft operating system."

Don't get me wrong: I don't harbor a conspiracy-theory twitchy loathing for All Things Bill. I do, however, recognize that Microsoft's historical disregard for the security and integrity of its operating systems has finally produced consequences far too devastating to be ignored. For decades, it has built back-door access into all of its products, including the operating systems, specifically to enable features in its software that gave a Redmond a competitive edge. Of course, these back doors did not remain a secret. Once revealed, they became the means that enabled just about every virus writer to become a star in Black Hat shenanigans.

When the viruses were disseminating up to a third of all spam mailings, it was a problem. When the viruses made Command and Control slaves of PCs by the tens or hundreds of thousands, enabling one person to engage in Denial of Service attacks on anyone they felt deserved an attack -- including Live Journal -- it was a serious problem. But now that these back doors can ruin lives it is an unforgivable problem. We must all realize that Microsoft is culpable for enabling these malicious acts and should be held legally accountable.

This should be as much a turning point, as much a wake-up call, as much a call to legal action as Preston Tucker's indictment of the major automakers was when he installed seat belts and safety glass into his 1948 Tucker . . . "accessories" not found universally in other cars at the time.

If they have any energy to fight left in them, the Fiolas and others ruined by the legal entanglements they have faced should file suits against Microsoft until their settlement allows them to enjoy certain waterfront properties in Medina, Washington.
peristaltor: (Default)
[ profile] solarbird has once again passed along a couple of wonderful posts from Karl Denninger. In the first, he suggests it's time to waterboard those responsible for covering up the vast extent of our current unreported financial crisis:

All these new "proposals" are doing is attempting to once again screw the American public, turning them (once again!) into debtors and renters while lying to them about being a "homeowner." In addition if the original mortgage was a purchase money first an effective refinance into an interest-only product will destroy the non-recourse nature of the note in those states where it applies, leading those who are trapped in these loans a couple of years from now to lose not only their house but everything else they possess. (Emphasis by the author)

In the second, he seems to echo Chris Martenson (whom I've mentioned before) when he says how very badly our debt will eat our future:

Everyone in America wants "a pony" - the magical alchemy that will turn lead into gold, or return their stock market portfolio to its previous purchasing power.

It won't happen so long as our government and citizens spend more than they make.

There is one and only one way to make that happen: You must grow output faster than debt. When there is a credit overhang this means you must get rid of the debt at a faster rate than GDP declines.

Don't listen to talk of "the recovery." Until these un-discussed debt problems are dealt with head-on, there won't be one. Instead, there will only be more kicking the can further down the road, where it will grow and wait to impoverish the next generation.
peristaltor: (Default)
Jim Kunstler whipped out another gem in which he wrote:

For decades we measured the health of our economy (and therefore of our society) by the number of "housing starts" recorded month-to-month. For decades, this translated into the number of suburban tract houses being built in the asteroid belts of our towns and cities. When housing starts were up, the simple-minded declared that things were good; when down, bad. What this view failed to consider was that all these suburban houses added up to a living arrangement with no future. That's what we were so busy actually doing. Which is why I refer to this monumentally unwise investment as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

(Emphasis from the author.)

Why is he so glum about our economic expansion? For lots of really good reasons. )

Addendum, August 10, 2009: Calculated Risk shares a paper describing a move from expanded building from city cores to a "new era of infill and redevelopment." Which will have to happen if "this monumentally unwise investment" called suburbia is ever to be corrected.
peristaltor: (Default)
I just got back from the doctor's office, and witnessed another . . . what to call it? Visitation? Haunting? Bout? Infestation?

They dress in the finest business couture, sporting expensive accessories and finely-coifed hair. From a cursory appraisal only, some bear the looks of further, more surgical enhancements. They are happy to pick up bits of fallen crap in the waiting room, or help move file boxes behind the counter. They always smile. You can see this last duty can sometimes hurt their faces. They always come bearing gifts. Always.

They are the Pharma-Barbies.

Pharma-Barbies (and the lesser-seen male version Pharma-Kens) work as local representatives for large pharmaceutical companies extolling the virtues of the various unguents, polstices, compounds, capsules, pills, and et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum produced by pharma large and small. They make mostly weekly rounds, driving within their clearly defined boundaries and chatting up doctors at local offices, promoting, begging, wheedling, doing anything necessary to somehow convince the docs to prescribe goodies found exclusively in the company's pharmacological cornucopia. Since the only way behind the counter is through the reception desk, they never treat receptionist with anything but cheery goodness, bringing coffees, lunch coupons for the whole office, tickets to dinners (provided the doctor also attend), even dropping (and I witnessed this twice, once today and once yesterday) gift-wrapped designer chocolates right on the desk alongside the sample stacks. These same samples, given freely to doctors without obligation, in some cases cost needy, uninsured patients hundreds of dollars a month.

You see, Dear Readers, pharmaceutical companies have a dirty secret. Remember the health care dog-and-pony shows the senate or the house or something conducted a few years ago investigating the staggering cost of prescriptions? Remember the various representatives of "big pharma" testifying as to the astronomical costs involved in developing any given drug, "from a low of $800 million to nearly $2 billion per drug?" Well, perhaps those "development costs" should be clarified. "Development" includes the cost of developing the market for a drug.

That's right, folks. Every new drug budget includes advertising and marketing costs, everything from the money paid to inundate the airwaves for the latest purple, boner or hair-growing pill, to the snacks, treats, goodies and other effluvia flooding doctors far and wide.

Things used to be worse, according to a little chat I had with my doctor today. (He's chatty and easy-going. We talk about his college days working on halibut boats and mine on more local craft, about the news, the weather, whatever. He's pretty cool.) Doctors in high-volume and high-end offices (read: lots of money-bearing patients) used to get all-expenses-paid Caribean vacations sponsored by Big Pharma. When the gov clamped down on this more obvious graft, they shifted to sponsoring "continuing education seminars," meetings where doctors could listen to experts in various medical fields talk about their research. I "attended" several of these myself when I captained and crewed passenger boats. These seminars most often featured generous buffets and open bars. They tucked the speaker in a corner with a mike so those actually interested in what he or she had to say wouldn't get in the way of the free Pharma party -- always, always, always hosted by a smiling, convivial, and very well-proportioned Pharma Barbie.

How wide-spread is this high-heeled boots on the ground marketing system? A few years ago, I accompanied my wife to our doctor's office and waited for her to finish her appointment. I saw three different representatives go in and out of the office in the hour and a half I warmed the waiting room chair. At one point I nearly lost my lid when the receptionist informed a rep that she was the second PhB to visit that week. (One rep usually visits once a week, a limit established by the docs themselves.) Imagine, if you will, the money needed to:

  • Buy PhB outfits;
  • Pay for a PhB convertible;
  • Pay for a PhB Dreamhouse;
  • Pay for the Starbucks and Godiva presented at every visit;
  • Pay for the lunches, dinners, picnics, cruises and other goodies;
  • Pay for the coffee cups, note pads, post-its, pens and other swag dumped on the receptionists, all emblazoned with the Pharma logo and Pill of the Week;


    I got so worked up and mad mentally compiling this figure, staring at the (in this case) overlapping Pharma-Ken in his expensive suit who was at that moment sucking up to the receptionist by picking up toys a waiting child had scattered . . . I freaked out one of the doctors. He walked into my wife's exam room and mentioned there was some evil-looking and threatening bus driver (I was still in uniform) in the waiting room, and that he was thinking about calling the cops. I guess I have an expressive face.

    I guess I'm not the only one steamed at the system. You see, pharma supply drugs to the local drug stores. The stores pass on information about which doc writes each prescription. This info is passed down to the reps along with a goal for those reps to improve those sales figures. Reps are paid by commission, so the more pills they can push through the docs, the more they get paid. . . no matter whether the drug is needed or not. Today the doc told me they (my doc and the other doc at the same practice) sometimes have to ban individual reps that get too pleading, clinging and whiney. A few years ago they banned reps altogether. They allowed them back only because the free samples are awfully handy. Doctors can give a couple different drugs to patients without charge so the patients can see which drug -- each from a competing pharma company and pushed by a different PhB -- works best for them.

    He also mentioned he and about 90% of his colleagues would love a nationalized health care system. It would eliminate the swarms of PhBs, the hassles he has fighting with insurance companies, the ensuing paperwork generated by those hassles, the whole nine yards. He could actually spend his time at the office doctoring. What a concept.

    Until then, however, be aware, Gentle Readers, of the tricks Big Pharma has to inflate their "development" dollars. Remember the bevy of bouncing, er, personalities, and the treats they bear paid for by these "development" dollars, and think of how much less you might have to spend on pills or -- if you are so blessed -- the insurance necessary to get said pills. Do as I do, if you have a mind, and tell your doctor that you will not swallow any non-generic drug (generics are older drugs whose patent protections have expired, and are therefore not promoted in marketing).

    Or go further. Pressure congress to pass legislation. Perhaps they can strengthen HIPA legislation and forbid drug stores from revealing which doctors actually write prescriptions. This double-blindness would greatly reduce the pressure individual docs currently receive. Also, laws could require Pharma to specify how "development" costs are spent, itemizing every line on the budget and publishing that info. I would be very curious to know exactly what portion of the billions spent yearly go to television ads I have to skim through or receptionist chocolates doled by Those That March In High Heals. I must assume that many folks out there are completely unaware of this loophole and would be equally galled to know the real dollar amount of crap wrapped in the cost of every capsule we must swallow.
    peristaltor: (Default)

    Very few news or opinion pieces concerning the future of our electrical grid seem nowadays to lack a nice picture or two like those above and below these words.

    What makes these two technologies possible, however, often eludes the corresponding press pieces, perhaps because even the reporters writing the stories fail to appreciate the beauty and promise of distributed generation. )

    X-Posted to [ profile] home_effinomic.
    peristaltor: (Default)
    That's right, folks, I've gotten three different television sets in as many years. What's interesting, though, is that each newer set came to us free. Gratis. Cuestan nada. Also interesting: Each newer set got bigger and better. It also brought to mind a quirky personal statistic, that though I have never been without a television in any home in which I've lived, I've never bought a set. Whether there was already a set owned and made available by a roommate, or someone gave me an older set, or both, the glass teats have always presented themselves to my suckling eyes without cost.

    More big-ticket items for which I've not paid! )

    Addendum, the next morning: I've decided we need a new word for items with utility that one gets from folks who would otherwise simply dispose of them, simply toss them away. How about



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