Retirement

October 31, 2014

2014-10-12-when-i-retire

Via Candorville.

Lamont and Susan are both right.

Poor misunderstood spiders

October 30, 2014

misunderstood.spiders

I never kill spiders, although I do brush away cobwebs when they become too conspicuous. I wouldn’t kill a non-poisonous snake, either.

Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and Ukraine’s future

October 29, 2014

I don’t know Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine, but I don’t see anything that threatens the United States or is worth risking war over.

_77307916_ukraine_voters_regions_624mapUkraine held elections Sunday which evidently were won by anti-Russian, pro-European parties.  But the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk districts did not take part, and will hold their own elections this coming Sunday.

The government in Kiev objects to the Donetsk-Lugansk vote, but spokesmen for the Russian government say they’ll honor its results.

A smart Ukrainian-American friend of mine said Putin’s policy to Ukraine is the same as Hitler’s policy toward Czechoslovakia.  Hitler’s demand was to annex the Sudetenland border region, where Germans were in the majority.  But Hitler went on to annex the whole of the country and then to attack Poland, launching the Second World War.

In the same way, he said, Putin’s aim is to first annex Donetsk and Lugansk, then take over the whole of Ukraine and then move against Poland and the Baltic states.

worldaccordingtoputinAnother friend, who speaks Russian and watches Russian television, agrees with this assessment.  She said Putin is an extreme Russian nationalist and imperialist.  Russians despise other nationalities, and especially look down on Americans as naive and weak, she said; it is important to stop Russia in Ukraine and nip Putin’s ambitions in the bud.

My impression of Vladimir Putin is that he is a tough and ruthless, but realistic.  He may lie, but he doesn’t deceive himself.  As a Russian nationalist, he no doubt regards himself as the protector of Russians wherever they are, including Russians in Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan.  Putin is trying to organize something called the Eurasian Union, an economic bloc consisting of the republics of the former Soviet Union, as a rival to the European Union.  No doubt, like all Russian statesmen before him, he thinks it essential that Russia have access to the Baltic and Black seas.

I don’t see anything in this that threatens the interests of the United States or the European Union, and certainly not anything worth risking war over.

Read the rest of this entry »

Can we do without nuclear power?

October 29, 2014

A lot of smart people think it is possible to eliminate or drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels while also eliminating nuclear power.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t see it.

Presently New York’s electrical generating capacity is about one-third coal and oil, one-third natural gas, one-sixth nuclear power and most of the rest hydroelectric power.  Only about 3 percent is wind energy, and there is tiny plant powered by biomass.

nuclearplant1The burning of coal and oil, especially coal, creates greenhouse gasses, so ideally we’d eliminate coal and minimize oil.

Natural gas, in contrast, burns cleanly, which is why it is promoted as a “transition” fuel.  But unburned natural gas (methane) is one of the worst greenhouse gasses, and fracking releases methane into the atmosphere.  Fracked natural gas doesn’t help the climate, but, without fracking, natural gas would be scarce and expensive.

All the good hydroelectric sites in New York are already used, so there’s little potential to increase hydro.  So you would have to step up production of wind energy by a factor of 25 or more.

I don’t see how it is possible do do without nuclear power and still maintain a dependable electricity supply.  I think nuclear power is a dangerous technology which nevertheless can be operated safely, provided the industry uses the best practices and the best technology.

This would mean phasing out existing U.S. nuclear power plants, most of which are past their scheduled decommissioning dates and some of which are located on earthquake fault zones, and building a new generation of nuclear power plants using the newest and best technology.

I will change my mind about this if Germany is able to stick to its moratorium on nuclear power without increasing its use of coal-fired and oil-fired power.  But as I see it, nuclear and coal are the only alternatives for increasing electric power generation.

The United States happens to have ample supplies of coal at current rates of use, as does China, but coal is the worst fuel in terms of effects on human health, the environment and climate change.  Maybe someday the USA and China can invent a way to burn coal cleanly, but otherwise I see no alternative to nuclear.

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Can Europe keep the lights on this winter? by Mark Gilbert for Bloomberg View.  [added 10/30/14].  Another example of the problem of trying to do without both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The dangerous new ‘precariat’ class

October 28, 2014

Millions of people in the USA and other industrial countries are living paycheck to paycheck.  There are millions more for whom being able to live paycheck to paycheck would be a considerable improvement.

The people in this second group, “the precariat,” don’t know from week to week whether they’ll be able to work or how much they’ll earn.   From the perspective of the elite, that means a “flexible” labor force, which from their perspective is a good thing.  But the flexibility is all on the part of workers, not of managers or holders of financial assets.

Prof. Guy Standing of the University of London said the precariat class is growing in all industrial countries.  This class consists of three categories of people—sons and daughters of blue collar workers who had secure jobs, migrants and minorities who live on the fringe of society, and college graduates who find themselves unable to work in their fields.

Few of them participate in politics because they’re too busy just scrambling to make a living.  They’re divided among themselves, with the children of the middle class sometimes blaming minorities and migrants for their plight.

But they’re discontented, and while their discontent mostly takes the form of violent protest, Standing thinks that, under the leadership of the educated part of the precariat, they could become a powerful force.

The militarization of the police, the spread of universal surveillance and the criminalization of dissent indicate that a lot of people in authority think the same thing.

  LINK

The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class by Guy Standing for Working Class Perspectives  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

 

Before and after autumn photography

October 28, 2014

These photos from Bored Panda show the beauty of the transformation from summer into fall.

Central Park, New York City, in summer

Central Park, New York City, in summer

Central Park, New York City, in autumn

Central Park, New York City, in autumn

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Paying the bill to stop climate change

October 28, 2014

This Moyers & Company broadcast was aired about a year ago.

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Naomi Klein’s THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate has convinced me that, in order to maintain a habitable planet, it’s necessary to limit and maybe eliminate the burning of coal, oil and gas, and that energy companies will never do this unless they are forced to do so.

What I’m not convinced of is that it is possible to painlessly transition to some green utopia, in which everybody’s material standard of living is the same as it is now, except for a small group of plutocrats.

naomi-klein.book0coverMy house is heated with natural gas, and my gas bills lately have been low, due to an abundance of gas supplied by hydraulic fracturing (of which I disapprove).   My car runs on gasoline, and the computer on which I write this post is powered by electricity.

Over the years I’ve read books by Lester R. Brown, George Monbiot , and Al Gore making the case that with smart technology, I can heat my house with solar energy and better insulation, I can ride a streetcar that is almost as convenient as a private automobile, and that electricity can be provided by windmills, solar panels, other innovative sources of energy and a smart electrical grid that eliminates waste in the system.

I don’t have the knowledge to question their proposals on technical grounds.  I agree with Arthur C. Clarke—that the only way to test the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.   And the alternative to trying is to accept the “long emergency” foretold by James Howard Kunstler.

But even at best, the transition will cost enormous sums of money.  Who would pay?  Naomi Klein says that rich people in rich countries should pay, especially countries that enjoy a high level of consumption based on fossil fuels.   This means first and foremost the USA.

Read the rest of this entry »

Housing, financialization and the crash

October 27, 2014

Via Corrente

This video by Richard D. Wolff is a clear and accurate account of the financial crash and the current struggles of American working people.  It dates from 2011, but it is still relevant.  I recommend fast-forwarding through the first three and a half minutes minutes, which are about economic classes, and getting to the meat of the video, which is about the foreclosure and credit crisis.

I can remember when most goods and services were paid for through cash and check, without having to go through credit card companies, other lends and insurance companies.  I don’t deny the benefit of credit or of insurance, or advocate going without either, but it is striking how much we Americans are at the mercy of lenders and insurers.

A professor who teaches blogging

October 27, 2014

I never knew that the art of blogging was taught in college.

‘We are ISIS! … Our brains are upside down!’

October 26, 2014

Via Frankly Curious.

Humor in the face of danger.

This music video from Iraqi Kurdistan reminds me of how British and Americans in World War Two always regarded Hitler as ridiculous rather than fearsome—the equivalent of the Charlie Chaplin character in “The Great Dictator.”


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