Monday, November 30, 2009

When will we ever learn?

US troop levels the Afghan war - 2003 through the planned increase - laid alongside US troop levels in Vietnam during 1960-1965

Don't forget: Community Energy Strategy Skull-Session Tomorrow, 12/1

Salem Conference Center in downtown w:Salem, O...Image via Wikipedia

Ahhhh, it becomes clear at last. Salem finally sets about doing what it should have done long ago -- because that came as a string tied to a grant.
Tues., Nov. 24, 2009
CONTACT: Nicole Wahlberg, Public Information Manager
City of Salem – Urban Development Department
Tel: 503-588-6178, ext. 7552
Email: Website:

Help Shape a Community Energy Strategy for Salem
Community Energy Forum Dec. 1 at Salem Conference Center

Tues., Dec. 1, 2009 – Salem, Ore. – Join City of Salem staff, business leaders, and industry experts at Salem’s Community Energy Forum and learn about energy trends, technologies, and tools that Salem businesses and residents can employ to reduce energy use, cost, and spur economic growth. The Forum is being held at the Salem Conference Center on Tues., Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The public is invited to attend. The classes and lunch are free, but a lunch RSVP is required.

Climate Solutions, a Washington-based company [sic -- actually a non-profit] that specializes in energy, will lead morning informational sessions with support from Portland-based ECONorthwest.

Session topics will target ways to prepare our community for future energy needs including efficient buildings, renewable energy, transportation options, next generation energy infrastructure, finance, and community engagement. Information will also include an overview of Salem’s current energy use, relevant energy policies and programs, and practical tools for preparing Salem to meet future energy demands and capitalize on opportunities for economic growth.

Afternoon sessions will provide an opportunity for stakeholders and interested citizens to provide input on draft goals and actions to be included in Salem’s Community Energy Strategy (a road map for implementing energy savings measures next year and beyond). Short term action items may be included in the City’s December submission to Department of Energy and eligible for funding in 2010-11.

In May 2009, the City of Salem became the recipient of a $1,521,000 formula grant from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Development of an Energy Strategy is the first grant requirement. Having a Strategy in place will also position the City to compete for future funding.

A final Community Energy Strategy will be completed by March 2010, at which time staff will seek Council’s adoption of the document. The strategy will include actions the City can take to improve energy efficiency and save cost in its own facilities and as well as goals, projects, and programs designed to improve energy efficiency, conservation, and cost savings in the industrial, commercial, transportation, and residential sectors, promote sustainable industry and jobs, and related activities as appropriate.

RSVP is required for those attending lunch on the day of the Community Energy Forum. For questions or to RSVP, please contact Annie Gorski at 503-588-6178 or
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Tuesday 12/1 -- A chance to untangle the tangled web some

Punto interrogativo ? Question mark?If you're a cat with questions, this meeting might be for you. Image by silgeo via Flickr

Every week we hear something new about the debate on reforming our broken health care system. As we gear up for the home stretch, its important that we are all on the same page. So, we are holding a series of meetings to clear up any confusion, frustration, or misinformation that comes with following the process in Congress. Come join us and your fellow health care activists for an evening of lively discussion.

Salem - Tuesday, December 1st
5:00 - 6:30 pm
Salem Central Library
585 Liberty St, SE, Salem, OR

If you can't make it to a meeting, but still have questions please feel free to email me and I will do my best to get back to you by the end of the week. Hope to see you soon.

To your health,

Betsy Dillner
Oregon Health Care for America Now
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Friday, November 27, 2009

For your pre-New-Year's-Eve tax-planning

You probably already support one or several of the 1,200 arts and culture groups in Oregon that, collectively, look to the Oregon Cultural Trust for support. Thanks to a unique law, you can turn your support for those groups into a zero-cost-to-you donation to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

It works like this. Say you gave ten $100 gifts to arts and cultural organizations in Salem, such as
That means you gave a total of $1000 to supported groups -- now, give another $1,000 to the Oregon Cultural Trust and it costs you nothing because you get a $1,000 Cultural Trust Tax Credit. Thus, you can give a total of $2000 to support arts and culture in Salem and your net cash outlay, after tax deductions and credits will be range from only $210 to $410, depending on your federal tax bracket -- so you get to support arts and culture in Salem with real dollars that only cost you dimes. It's the best deal in town. Check it out.

Celebrate the IKE BOX's 5th Anniversary

One of the unsung gems in Salem is the Isaac's Room program and its coffee house, music room, and video production studio known as the IKE BOX. If you get downtown much you will have noticed the amazing transformation of this beautifully restored and spiffed up icon at Chemeketa and Cottage where they help directionless or struggling youth "Get a Life."

Isaac was our first son. Born in October 1998 with a heart problem, he only lived for two months before we lost him on December 29 of that year.

Isaac's Room is our effort to extend the family love and support that we would eagerly have given Isaac throughout his life to the young people in our community who have suffered from a shortage of it throughout theirs. Just as the room that Isaac was supposed to live in is physically empty and therefore available, the space we make in our lives for our own kids is now available through Isaac's Room.

So IKE is a nickname for Isaac, and the IKE Box is the street name and "storefront" of Isaac's Room in the community. The IKE Box is a place where we look after each other and encourage each other to pursue our best life possible, just like we would have done for Isaac. It is, appropriately, like a family.

Our family tree has a lot of branches - we do concerts and coffee and event hospitality, we offer a life-development program called IKE Quest, and we are home to many other interesting groups and cool projects - but bringing it all together is this place in town called the IKE Box, named after this space in our lives, a creatively devoted space for fellowship and belonging one to another, a space we call Isaac's Room.

We hope that when you walk into the IKE Box, you can feel that you’re walking into a story. And we hope you walk in sometime soon.

Mark and Tiffany Bulgin
They are having a 5th Anniversary party on Wednesday, December 16, with desserts and coffee at 6:30 and a video and some speakers at 7:30. Join them and help this unsung gem find a few more fans.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urban hens update

Barb Palermo sends this encouraging update, which ends with some optimism for the makeup of the post-May-2010 council. On that note, there has been a disquieting silence from Anna Peterson, mayoral candidate, who has not replied to several inquiries (to the email address listed on her website and via her campaign website email contact form) about how she feels the urban hen debate was handled, whether there was anything she would do differently. We know that Jordan Blake is good on urban hens and that Chuck Bennett is terrible on the issue -- but at least Chuck gives you the courtesy of letting you know where he stands and why.

And a sincere word of thanks are owed to Barb, Dana, and all the others who have worked so hard to make it possible for people to keep a few laying hens as pets and self-sustainability assets. The economy is only going to get worse, so all the many reasons for allowing residents to keep a few urban hens will all become more and more salient as time goes by. Most of the objections raised are absurd, and the rest can be handled by responsible owners being responsible neighbors.
Our documentary is finally finished! This professional-quality film is about 75 minutes long and chronicles our efforts to join the Urban Chicken Movement here in Salem. We explore the Northwest and interview chicken-keepers in Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland where backyard hens are allowed. We also visit the Urban Farm School in Vancouver and the Avian Medical Center in Lake Oswego where they host classes to teach pet chickens how to do tricks.

The film features a trip to a farm in Canby to emphasize the difference between traditional chicken-raising and urban hen-keeping. Throughout the film, you will see a variety of backyard coops, including one made of straw bales, and those featured in the Portland and Eugene coop tours. We interview illegal chicken-keepers in Salem (with faces blurred) to find out why take the risk. Our travels are intermingled with clips from the nine City Hall presentations we made and reveal the ineptitude of some of our elected officials.

Our documentary will be shown on CCTV local cable channel 21 a total of ten times, beginning at 1:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. For a complete schedule, go to and click on "The Chicken Revolution."

We are hoping to have the film featured on OPB's "Oregon Lens" and through other media outlets. The documentary can be purchased on our new website (remember to include the hyphen) for just $12! Your help in distributing this film will be greatly appreciated.

Please take the time to explore our new website. It is dedicated to helping people in cities across the country who are interested in trying to change an ordinance. It has a wealth of information to help people get started and they can learn from our experiences by watching the film. Our 60-page research packet is available on the website for anyone to use, as well as exact ordinance wording found in a variety of chicken-friendly cities. There is a table on the website that shows the current status of chicken ordinances throughout Oregon. You will see that Gresham will re-consider a chicken ordinance on December 1st and Hillsboro and Beaverton are expected to consider one in January. We are currently helping people in Independence prepare for their first City Hall presentation, as well.

When I first set out to try to change the law here in Salem, I felt overwhelmed and didn't know where to begin. Remembering that feeling, we put together a website that we think will help people in that very same situation.

While our efforts may not have worked here (yet), they are paying off for citizens in towns nationwide who have consulted us, used our research, and learned from our experiences.

I believe our chances of passing a chicken ordinance next year are very good because the election in May will bring at least three new people on the council board, and if just one of them is interested in a chicken ordinance, we will have the majority vote. I also anticipate a quick and easy process next time because all of the work has already been done.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope you enjoy the film!

PS: If you haven't heard yet, there is a new magazine I highly recommend called "Urban Farm: Sustainable City Living" featuring articles about urban chickens and related subjects. You can find a link on our website under the `Resource' page.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beware of Gifts Bearing Strings

Trojan Horse, at the Istanbul Archaeological M...Image via Wikipedia

Well, here we go, the "gift" that bankrupts you. The Salem City Council is getting set to decide whether to accept a "gift" to create a "Teen Library" in the old CCTV studio space.
Salem City Council also will:

-Consider accepting a $121,338 gift from the Salem Public Library Foundation to pay for renovations to an area that would house the teen library.

It's not just that a "Teen Library" is a truly terrible idea, offering little but a way to further isolate and segregate young people from the adults that they need more exposure to, not less.

It's also that the library budget is in dire straits, and we're whittling away at core library services. And that this "Teen Library" will require new staff to supervise the place, which means removing staff from elsewhere, which will further the deterioration of our already-shrinking library.

Essentially, the goal of the "Teen Library" crowd appears to be creating something like an Ike Box within the dank interior of a windowless basement (because if there's anything our teens need today, it's MORE time spent inside with gadgets and "hanging out" with other teens). (SEE CORRECTION BELOW.)

For teens actually interested in what the library has to offer, the whole library is the teen library. And what's really needed in Salem is a lot more libraries in a lot more segments of the city -- not a wasteful boutique for teens in the basement that comes out of the services that should be made available to everyone of all ages.

Want a far better use for $120k invested to help teens? Forget the renovation and hire a bunch of teens to bring seven-day-a-week library book pickup and delivery services to every neighborhood center across the city so that every Salem resident is within walking distance of a neighborhood book drop/pickup point.

Also: the library is without a librarian right now. Salem should not be embarking on a "Teen Library" project before a new librarian is hired--instead, the candidates for the job should all be asked to prepare a brief analysis of the Salem Public Library's needs and the means it should use to meet them. There's no way that a professional librarian could look at Salem's declining services and conclude that it makes sense to spend any money on a boutique library hangout for teens within the main library.

The Council should refuse this burdensome gift and direct the City Manager to get a librarian hired before anything else. If there's any value to a "Teen Library" then it will wait.

CORRECTION: A library friend sends:
I wanted to send you a link to the full staff report so you can see how the project has evolved. Probably the biggest change is that the proposal no longer put the Teen Library in the CCTV area. Instead, we're looking at relocating the collection and services into the area currently occupied by Technical Services. It's much brighter and more accessible. We've also developed a plan to ensure that the collection is available and accessible to anyone who wants to use young adult materials during all open library hours. Here's the link:
Well, thank goodness for that --- although whomever gets shoved into the CCTV space will probably regret the change . . . it's quite the dungeon down there.

However, the central issue is not about the ambiance of the "Teen Library." The problem is the whole notion of a "Teen Library" separate and apart from the library for everyone. What teens most need is an opportunity to interact with and learn about being an adult, not more segregation into ghettos of teendom, where everything is provided for them and nothing is expected of them.
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If only gay sex caused climate change (instead of dapper gents like this)

That dapper gent is Salem's own M. Lee Pelton, President of Willamette University and one of about a dozen Oregonians who are most responsible for
  • creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees,
  • melting the polar ice sheets,
  • eliminating glaciers we depend on for drinking water,
  • acidifying the oceans, destroying the ocean food chain,
  • driving species extinction on a historic scale,
  • further impoverishing the already impoverished, and
  • causing Biblical-scale droughts, fires, and floods.
That's because Pelton and his accomplices on the PGE Board continue to imagine that "cheap" electricity from the Boardman coal plant -- Oregon's single largest polluter and greenhouse gas emitter -- is more important than a livable planet. Just as the banker-gangster class drove the global financial system into the ditch by failing to understand risk and pursuing profits today without a care for tomorrow, utilities like Pelton's PGE are doing exactly the same: misunderstanding and minimizing the risks for tomorrow to pursue higher profits today.

"If only gay sex caused global warming" instead of handsome, dapper gents like Pelton.

Airline industry has lost almost $60 billion in last decade

Now why would Salem think that ANYTHING Salem could do would make a difference as far as airline service goes?

Remember that oil is now more expensive than ever on an average annual cost basis -- the spike to $147 and collapse to $33 showed people how volatile prices will be now that Peak Oil is here, but the grinding reality is that, under the volatile spikes and collapses, is an inexorable upward trend . . . and that's even before the carbon taxes kick in that the article talks about.

Bottom line: It's time to privatize Salem's McNary Field -- Give the feds the portion they use and get the rest onto the tax rolls as an airfield or for whatever other purpose an investment group wants to use it for. An industry that loses $60 billion in a decade of historically very cheap oil prices will never make money again. The only thing that public subsidies do is take money from public purposes and allow airline executives to lavish it on themselves.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Jobs Plan suggestion

Metal Roofing AllianceMetal roofing with integral water collection features should be mandatory in the building code. Image via Wikipedia

A commenter at The Oil Drum asked for suggestions for a national jobs plan. Here's a low-tech, high-value, project that could benefit virtually every community in America and be funded and started tomorrow:
And don't forget a national program to do millions of add-on insulated white metal roofs with water collection features.

1) Insulated -- most energy loss in a home/apt is out the roof; but adding insulation in the attic is labor intensive (not a minus in your project, but if your money all goes to labor, you get fewer roofs done -- better more roofs, more saving)

2) White -- see Secy. of Energy Chu's presentations

3) Metal with water collection features -- most American homes have toxic roof shingles where the rain washes a steady stream of the asphalt away; it is possible to collect and use the water, but to unknown result. Rather than tear these off (wasted labor, creation of landfill waste), leave them all on there, under a nice insulating blanket and metal roof that drains into an integral guttering/collection spout system that flows into barrels or cisterns.

Imagine all the energy saved (1) from the added insulation; (2) from the reduced air-conditioning load in summer; and (3) from reduced water pumping. And the nice increase in global albedo doesn't hurt either.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving reminder: If you are reading this, you are rich

Sustainability and Social Justice: Do the Math
According to data compiled by the UN, the Global Footprint Network, and Dr. William Rees at the University of British Columbia, total human consumption already exceeds the Earth's capacity by 30 per cent. This is known as biological 'overshoot'. The UN estimates that most natural services to human societies - forests, fish, fresh water and clean air - decline annually. As human population and consumption grow, our collective overshoot increases.

Meanwhile, the wealthy 15 per cent use about 85 per cent of the resources - the total energy and materials - the 'stuff' - that Earth provides. The 'wealthy' includes anyone who has a home, job, transport, access to education, hot showers, convenient fuel and food every day: people in the so-called 'developed' world. If you have those things, you live among the wealthy 15 per cent who use most of the world's resources.

WORD: Joe Bageant

The Death of Socrates (1787)Bageant could well meet an end like Socrates, and for the same reason. Image via Wikipedia

Joe is the author of a great book, "Deer Hunting with Jesus." This excerpt is from his blog post "One party has no heart, the other no spine":

Unfortunately, we have an economic system and national philosophy based on the idea of every man getting rich. Impossible, unsustainable and bound for disaster from the start. Mankind's entire idea of what constitutes an economy is about to come into question at some point soon. Not just in America, but all the other (over) developed nations too. We cannot manufacture our way out of it, or spend or invest pour way out of it, through a free market "green economy." That's what got us here in the first place. Superheated spending to pump up a malignant economic system that devoured the earth.

No American political party is ever going to admit that. And no party will ever represent the constituencies that cannot speak for themselves, much less raise hell. The trees, the animals, the rivers cannot cry out from their appointed courses, nor the oceans from their beds that, "Hey, we are not your resources. We are the only god damned shot you have at survival!"

I never expect to see politicians tell the people: "Quit buying. Quit using all that electrical stuff. Quit traveling all over the world. Quit driving. Just eat, be happy you are breathing and work to grow your mind and soul and let's see if we can come to understand this ruined world around us and how to heal it -- or at least do less damage. Let us change our entire idea about what constitutes governance, and work and happiness."

That's what it will take. . . .

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something to be really thankful for: That we do not get what we deserve

Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide Emissions Up by 29 Percent Since 2000

ScienceDaily (Nov. 17, 2009) — The strongest evidence yet that the rise in atmospheric CO2 emissions continues to outstrip the ability of the world's natural 'sinks' to absorb carbon is published November 17 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

An international team of researchers under the umbrella of the Global Carbon Project reports that over the last 50 years the average fraction of global CO2 emissions that remained in the atmosphere each year was around 43 per cent -- the rest was absorbed by the Earth's carbon sinks on land and in the oceans. During this time this fraction has likely increased from 40 per cent to 45 per cent, suggesting a decrease in the efficiency of the natural sinks. The team brings evidence that the sinks are responding to climate change and variability.

The scientists report a 29 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel between 2000 and 2008 (the latest year for which figures are available), and that in spite of the global economic downturn emissions increased by 2 per cent during 2008. The use of coal as a fuel has now surpassed oil and developing countries now emit more greenhouse gases than developed countries -- with a quarter of their growth in emissions accounted for by increased trade with the West. . . .

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No comment

Humble became part of Exxon as the Standard Oil octopus reassembled itself, like the blown apart pieces of the Terminator. (h/t to The Oil Drum)

Global Forecast: Mass suffering, thanks to Salem's own M. Lee Pelton and the rest of the PGE board

Portland General ElectricThis is Oregon's biggest polluter and biggest contributor to a hellish future for billions of people. Image via Wikipedia


Independent, UK - The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6C (10.8F) by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday. Such a rise - which would be much higher nearer the poles - would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilization.

We are headed for it, the scientists said, because the carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and deforestation which are responsible for warming the atmosphere have increased dramatically since 2002, in a way which no one anticipated, and are now running at treble the annual rate of the 1990s.

Although the 6C rise and its potential disastrous effects have been speculated upon before, this is the first time that scientists have said that society is now on a path to meet it.
Here are the names of the people who would rather that billions suffer than PGE's profits be reduced by so much as a dollar:

Board of Directors
PGE's Board of Directors includes executives in utilities, management, finance and accounting.

Corbin A. McNeill Jr.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Portland General Electric

John W. Ballantine
Retired executive vice president, First Chicago NBD Corp.

Rodney L. Brown Jr.
Managing Partner, Cascadia Law Group PLLC

David A. Dietzler
Retired Pacific Northwest partner-in-charge of audit practice, KPMG LLP

Kirby A. Dyess
Principal, Austin Capital Management LLC

Peggy Y. Fowler
Retired CEO and president, Portland General Electric

Mark B. Ganz
President and CEO, The Regence Group

Neil J. Nelson
President and CEO, Siltronic Corp.

M. Lee Pelton
President, Willamette University

Jim Piro
President and CEO, Portland General Electric

Robert T.F. Reid
Corporate Director
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Another hopeful sign

It is absolutely depressing these days, and not just because the days are getting shorter and shorter. When the very best that politics offers falls far, far short of even a shadow of a reflection of what sustainability requires of us (and the heads of esteemed universities are climate criminals) it is frightening.

So every now and then, it's good to stumble on signs that there is still a lot of creativity out there working on developing practical approaches to things.

The Solution to Boardman Pollution is Conversion, Not Diversion

(h/t to Sightline Institute for the snap.)

Under the "Be Careful What You Wish For" heading comes the ill-conceived plan to stick scrubbers and other emissions reduction devices on the tail end of the Boardman coal-pollution generators (if you look at Boardman realistically, pollution is the main product -- electricity is the much smaller byproduct). The principal issue is that there is no form of CO2 scrubber . . . the carbon starts out as coal, and that's the perfect storage medium for it. But once you burn it, there's no capturing it, and it stays in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years, destablizing the climate and acidifying the oceans.

Stories like this focus on the direct health effects of all the other nasties emitted along with the CO2 -- but every story fails to mention that these scrubbers and emission controls would cause the plant to produce even more CO2 for every kilowatt. And this is for a plant that's only about 33% efficient to start with (in other words, two-thirds of the energy in the coal is wasted and sent out to heat the atmosphere and only one-third transforms into electricity, which then suffers 8-10% line losses before reaching electric loads -- that's why the plant is really a pollution plant with a small electric byproduct).

The only sane solution is to close the coal burning portion of Boardman ASAP, and replace it with one or two combined-cycle natural gas turbines with heat recovery systems. Such plants can approach 80% efficiency, meriting the name power plants rather than pollution plants, and there is far less CO2 and none of the other nasties (radioactive materials, mercury, sulfer oxides . . . ) emitted either.
From the story: Coal-fired power plants still provide about 40 percent of the electricity used in Oregon, about the same amount as comes from hydroelectric dams. Most of the rest comes from natural gas and wind.

But when coal is burned to generate electricity, it releases toxins like sulfur dioxide. Coal plants are also a major source of carbon dioxide, which is the main gas associated with global warming.

Important: Help Salem create an energy strategy

Downtown w:Salem, Oregon from top of w:Oregon ...Image via Wikipedia

Long overdue but all the more welcome as a result.
Help Shape a Community Energy Strategy for Salem!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at the Salem Conference Center

9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Participate in Sessions on: Solar - Wind - Electric Vehicles
Financial incentives and tools to reduce energy, save costs, and generate jobs

1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. provide input on draft goals and actions for Salem’s Energy Strategy

Free and Open to the Public.
Lunch attendance requires an RSVP.
RSVP by contacting Annie Gorski at 503.588.6178 or
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Start making your lists

Sustainable Holiday Market.

City of Salem has money to burn, apparently

Airmail pilot Robert Shank after crashImage by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

The other night, the City of Salem signed up to submit a grant that, if it's obtained, will require the city to waste yet more taxpayer money -- $160,000 or so, from the general fund that we keep being told has no money -- as corporate welfare for a private, for-profit business, SkyWest Airlines. This is on top of $8,000 that Salem is pouring down the drain for "market analysis."

Apparently the council is fine with slashing public services like pools and parks and library services to find the money to shovel into well-tailored airline pockets in a doomed attempt to pretend that flying from Salem makes economic sense. (Not to mention that, in the era of $80+ oil, flying is making less sense for anyone, anywhere.)

It seems that Salem's losing scheduled service every time the subsidies run out should tell us something, but the optimists in City Hall have their fingers pressed firmly in their ears, determined not to hear what the market is really saying. After all, who needs public services when you can be chasing the dream of flight?
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Advice to young people

Septem artes liberales from "Hortus delic...It's tempting -- especially for those in the liberal arts -- to imagine that this "Great Recession" is simply a perturbation in the economy, which will eventually return to "normal" (growth). Young people are well advised to use some of that famous youth skepticism on that. Image via Wikipedia

A column at Inside Higher Ed about the problems of "graduating into the Great Recession" ends with this:
The last couple of recessions felt like somebody had hit 'pause.' When they ended, things came back in relatively recognizable forms. This one's different. If an 18 year old asked me what the hot occupation would be in a couple of years, I'd have no idea what to say. It's just not obvious.

Paradoxically enough, that actually becomes a kind of argument for the liberal arts. It's one thing to juxtapose the employable to the abstract. But if nothing's employable anyway, why not go with something that's at least fascinating? Or, if you go the business route, focus on the entrepreneurial side; if the established firms are shrinking, there's not much point in trying to conform your way up. You can't play it safe anymore; there isn't any 'safe.'

I had a rough economic ride in my late twenties, but not like this. My condolences to the latest graduates. I hope you all keep this time in mind the next time you hear someone say that the economy is meritocratic.
I know it's probably a waste of time, but I couldn't resist submitting this comment.
If you haven't been paying attention, there are two dominant forces that will dictate circumstances in the US for the foreseeable future, and they combine to create a third that will seem like an independent force in itself. They are

(1) the end of cheap energy due to the peaking and then inexorable decline of oil production rates (Peak Oil); since virtually everything grown, mined, made, or moved comes to us courtesy only of a huge investment of energy, we've built our society on the assumption that there will always be an affordable abundance of energy -- everything about us points to this implicit assumption.

(2) the urgent need to slash fossil fuel carbon emissions drastically to avoid the worst effects of climate disruption (many serious effects are already "baked in" since there is a lag between emissions and effects of about 30 years, and CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries);

(3) As a result of 1 & 2, we are going to be a much, much less wealthy country. We are going to have to do without many of the consumer baubles we've become accustomed to and many of the daily comforts we've taken for granted.

Thus, the advice I give young people today is this: Learn how to grow your own food using as little energy or imported materials as possible or be important to those who do know how to do that. That simple rule unfailingly helps you decide well.

To the extent you can't participate in taking care of your own subsistence needs -- grow your own food successfully -- you will have to get it from others. If you want to be important to people who grow food, you will have to think about what they are likely to need in a much more relocalized world. You don't have to be a farmer -- you can be a doctor, or a nurse, or a PA or an EMT, or a plumber, or an electrician, or a miller, or a cook, or a builder of super-efficient houses, or a good mechanic, or a welder . . . and of course, here in the last throes of empire you can always be in the "protection racket" of the military.

What you will likely not want to be is anything that Toffler would have called a "symbolic analsyst" -- someone who only makes their living writing, speaking, or pushing pixels and only has a career in the context of an expanding economy (with steady tax revenues).
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Speaking of attacking the wrong problems

The coming Parking War is just another manifestation of how we've put the care and feeding of cars ahead of everything else -- especially public health, including that of expectant mothers-to-be and newborns.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Circling around the endless parking debate (Looooong post)

3D: Rodin's ThinkerHow fitting that the illustration for a post on parking wars comes from a larger work called "The Gates of Hell." Image by Major Clanger via Flickr

UPDATE: A glimpse at the same problem up in Portland.

ORIGINAL: My email inbox is littered with parking messages this past week, all started by this post here, which has led to this more anodyne message to the local biking community:
Their lead issue is the prospect of ending free auto parking downtown.

They claim it will get public visibility for the first time when it is considered for adoption as an official Council Goal for 2010 next week.

Certainly from my standpoint this issue should be on our radars! The artificial subsidy of auto parking is pernicious for rational transportation policy and is a cost largely externalized and therefore ducked by auto users.

Unluckily, downtown merchants and interests have over the years really hitched their fortunes and claims for downtown vitality to the horses of free parking. There will be some pain and much anxiety over the shift. The large strip mall parking lots will remain free, and people fear business will go there.

Which is all the more reason to make bicycling, car-pooling, walking, and transit even more effective! Making the shift to paid parking in a way that retains - or even grows! - downtown business surely is something we have an interest in.
And the original post also prompted this comment from a local civic activist:
The Taylor Administration wants free parking ONLY at big box retailers and malls outside the downtown business district.

Please email them and encourage a more thoughtful approach.

A locally owned diverse economy is a safeguard against economic collapse.
as well as this note to City Council is circulating an email saying someone has proposed a Council goal to, "adopt parking meters and sale of the downtown parking garages."

Of course that's absurd because it would mean ONLY malls and big box retailers around town would be offering free parking. Everyone knows a locally owned diverse economy provides jobs and taxes to the local economy. It doesn't make sense to levy a parking tax on local business then tear down the free parking that tax helps pay for.

The parking study from 2006 provides some data and ideas for alternatives that might work better than the heavy-handed proposal. When citizens were asked about their vision for 2020 none of them said "more meters" or "less free parking."

Maybe it would be better to toss this ridiculous proposal and add the five themes of Vision 2020 to Council goals for 2010. Instead of creating obstacles to parking, let's start create more places for people to live, shop and gather downtown.
and this note expressing grave concern from a downtown merchant:
I have a strong need to inform you of a major change affecting downtown Salem. Please read the attached information regarding the removal of free parking in downtown. As a long time merchant I want to keep parking free for all my customers. If you have feelings on this matter I would encourage you to contact any or all city council members. Th[is] link will take you to their email.

Mayor Janet Taylor's email is:

Time is of the essence.
Council member TJ Sullivan responded to one of the earlier posts thus:
There is much more to this than what is being promulgated here. As part of this discussion I would commend to you Donald Shoup's book The High Cost of Free Parking.

As some may know, the parking downtown isn't free; it is paid for by a tax on the building owners downtown. Some business owners and building owners have asked the city about going to paid on-street parking so folks could pay to park for as long as they wanted and the parking tax could be done away with. They want the money generated by the on-street parking to belong to the downtown merchants/building owners.

I have head from one building owner that she thinks the city should essentially subsidize downtown building owners and businesses with money out of the general fund. The general fund is too tight to go back to the days when the city paid for a lot of services for downtown out of the general fund. These were services that other building owners around the city paid for out of their own pocket.
To which our local activist replies:
I found a recent review of Shoup's book and clipped this. To me it makes sense to consider ALL transportation impacts before we make major adjustments to parking policy. This same review reports on projects and policies other cities are undertaking.

Our community could do a LOT more to get us out of our cars. Unfortunately some community leaders express negative opinions about Salem-Keizer Transit. One obvious solution to car use is to quit permitting sprawl.
"The fundamental change that cities need to make, according to Shoup, is to charge a price for metered parking that would be expensive enough to create roughly a 15 percent vacancy rate. At that rate, Shoup said, many drivers will either park in private lots or use other means of transportation, and those drivers who want to park on the street will find readily available spaces without “cruising” endlessly. Indeed, one of Shoup’s studies claimed that in a variety of high-traffic areas in Los Angeles, curb parking was always cheaper than pay parking, by as much as a factor of 10. In Westwood Village alone, this disparity leads to “cruising” that “creates enough vehicle travel to make 38 trips around the earth.”

'Once you manage the curb parking then you can really think about removing off-street parking requirements, or reducing them at the very least,' said Shoup. As for the seemingly arbitrary 85 percent, Shoup said, 'When you explain this to people you ask, do you have a better rule? And they’re just speechless.'

One group likely to raise protests, though, are businesses owners who may fear that higher prices will drive away patrons. In fact, Shoup contends that higher turnover (prompted by higher rates) will benefit some businesses, and he ensures that the benefits will be more than just theoretical. Shoup proposes “parking benefit districts” by which revenue at the meters would be re-invested in the immediate neighborhood for upgrades such as sidewalk improvements, signage and other amenities that would make the areas more comfortable for pedestrians and less comfortable for cars." Putting Parking into Reverse: Professor’s Theories Influence Cities to Reconsider Pervasive Free Parking, By Josh Stephens.
Another citizen responds to the idea:
Didn't the City spend a lot of money refurbishing the city owned parking structures downtown? It might be that those structures were refurbished in order to make them attractive to a buyer. Someone should look at the market value of the parking structures, the cost of repairs, and their market value without the repairs. Is it possible the City will loose [Arrrrrggghhhh! sic!!] money if they are sold?

Also, the value of free parking to Salem's ability to attract business should be considered. A dying downtown and crumbling infrastructure will not attract businesses with high paying jobs, but businesses who pay minimum wage and need a move to a desperate city because no one else will have them.
And another, this time with the sentiment most feared by the downtown merchants:
Again, this would need a lot of study. For me, if I have to pay to put money in a meter, I don't go there...period!
It looks to me like the whole premise of Shoup's book does not apply to Salem. We are not LA, we are not even Portland. No one is going to pay for a parking space in a parking structure unless they work there. We will just go to a Mall or some outlying store. If I can't park for free to get to a store downtown, most of us would not go
there. This sounds like a way to destroy downtown. Any business person who thinks they can save a few bucks on a parking tax and then charge people to park they are dreaming. I will ask a few people what they would do, but so far the couple I have asked said that they hate shopping downtown anyway and this would kill that last
remnant of any hope they might. Ironically this from someone who travels through downtown every day to work from West Salem....would not even stop if they had to pay.

The other thing that seems to be in what Shoup's is saying is that people will shop closer to home which is better for it sounds to me like we do not bother with downtowns at all with his method.

Is this the goal? Get me to shop at Lancaster Mall? Take away free parking and I have no excuse left and so I'll save the gas and not shop downtown anymore. Does this stop urban sprawl or just move us out to the suburbs with more malls closer to where we live?
Leading Councilman Sullivan to expand on the parking treatise suggested earlier:
Shoup's book is 752 pages of conclusions drawn from a great deal of research. The notion that the whole premise doesn't apply to Salem is kind of funny- especially if you haven't read the book.

The research does show that when you stop subsidizing parking and use the funds generated to improve the area and improve transportation modes into an area that the area will flourish. In several examples in the book they actually cited cities that started charging for parking in decaying areas which would seem counter intuitive.

I'm not sure what the exact reason is, but many of the folks in my neck of the woods haven't been to Lancaster Mall in years. If you gave them the first hour for free and started charging a progressive rate it wouldn't affect them going downtown nor would it lead them to shop at the Lancaster Mall. The idea isn't to create sprawl or drive people to suburban malls, but to make an area more distinct, more attractive, and draw more people to it.

Reducing taxes on downtown business/building owners and working with them to further improve our downtown without using urban renewal dollars is a worthy end goal.

Finally, paying to park downtown isn't something that Janet cooked up to benefit a certain class of people. When I first came on to Council I remember talking with Rick Stuckey about what paying for parking in downtown needed to look like to be successful.
And there the debate parked for the day, at least so far as can be ascertained from LOVESalem HQ. And believe me folks, I guarantee that is just the tippy top point of a huge iceberg of fear and loathing that's going to be generated if the original proposal (remember that?) is in fact what's being contemplated.

In cities and towns all across America, the parking wars are to downtown urban planning what the pandemic explosion in Type II diabetes is to the USDA recommended diets for the last 60 years: a flaming bonfire in the night saying that something has gone horribly awry. (Fun and slightly relevant fact: we get our word bonfire from the old English word for bone fire, for the fires used in cremations. Among the good terms to know when the parking wars heat up.)

What can we say for sure, since in all likelihood, none of us has, at most, more than skimmed or seen a copy of Shoup's $70 book? Let's see, I bet there's at least 10 things we can say that are true:
  1. Trying to fix what ails downtown Salem by tinkering with parking regulations is like trying to fix a broken cuckoo clock by moving the hands around with your fingers but not otherwise touching the clock. That is, you can briefly make things seem better (to you), unless you look at it from a different perspective, such as someone who comes along several hours later, when your "improvement" now seems like "epic fail."

  2. Parking is more like brain surgery than you think: when you mess with parking, you are messing with part of a complex, evolved system that brings vital nutrients (money, people, goods) to the urban "brain" (downtown core). It is all-too-easy to be an urban planner or city official who follows in the footsteps of all those doctors who say "The operation was a complete success! That the patient died on the table was simply one of those things."

  3. Given that getting parking right is a lot more complex than 99.99% of everyone understands, an ounce of real, local experience is worth a ton of theory. All over America you can find towns with ruined downtowns where the locals fell under the sway of this or that parking or planning guru and drank the Kool-Aid that poisoned their downtown core and rendered it desolate and lonely.

  4. But, everyone just has their own experience. Just like everyone considers themselves to be an expert on education because they spent a brief few years in classrooms, everyone thinks that they are a parking policy expert because they can, more or less, park a car without violating too many traffic laws or hitting too many pedestrians and bicyclists. The real, local experience that's valuable is obtained through detailed, thorough, careful observation -- the kind that takes a long time and might cost some money (although there are good ways to do it for a lot less than your typical planner can imagine). In other words, we get good experience by collecting good, valid statistical data, and not operating via anecdote, where everyone starts every sentence with "Well, people won't put up with . . . " (which normally means nothing more than "I hate . . . ").

  5. Besides, Parking is the Wrong Problem to attack. To a very great extent, parking problems are a measure of success, not failure. (If you think competition for parking is bad, wait until there's plenty of parking for everyone, all the time!) Because of human and bureaucratic nature (yes, they're sometimes the same), if you define "parking" as your problem, you will inevitably come up with a raft of "solutions" that involves tinkering with parking, preferably by getting someone else to pay more while you pay less or nothing.

  6. Be wary of fooling yourself. The Hawthorne Effect isn't just another name for white people with birkenstocks and dreadlocks in SE Portland. It can also occur in cities and towns. Sometimes problems get better (or worse) despite a counterproductive new policy, just because change causes unanticipated consequences anyway.

  7. Remember causation vs. correlation. Always. Given that most places only pay lip service to the kind of data collection (see #4) that is needed to make good judgments about changes in parking policies, it's pretty easy to mis-attribute changed behavior B as being caused by policy change A. And VERY common to do so. Any parking changes that Salem makes in the next few years will be blamed for the loss of a huge number of businesses, because we're likely to lose a lot of businesses in the next few years -- but for reasons that have nothing to do with parking or lack thereof, or cost thereof. Failing businesses and declining residential units love to blame other people for their failures, and parking is one of the most convenient targets because (see #4 again) it's right out there where everyone can see it and everyone's got an opinion on it.

  8. Don't let downtown businesses call all the shots . . . but at the same time, don't overweight the views of people who don't care about downtown anyway. It's very easy, and very common, to help downtown businesses destroy a place by giving into them on their every wish, from urban renewal districts that divert revenue away from other parts of town to whatever parking scheme that most of them favor -- even though the local businesses demanded the exact opposite scheme in some similar town somewhere else. Local business people are not typically any smarter about parking than anyone else.

    BUT, you have to give them this: they care, and they don't want their downtown area to fail. That's worth a lot --- with proper handling, the downtown business folks are the ones who can make city planners get serious about actually measuring things and proceeding carefully, instead of just slamming new policies into place that were gleaned from the current urban planning guru or textbook. A lot of the people who will weigh in during a parking war are people who hardly ever go downtown anyway (but who seem to think that there should always be a space open within 10 feet of whatever store they might happen to want to go to that rare day -- not realizing that this would mean the death of those businesses they bother to patronize once every blue moon).

  9. Whenever possible, proceed in increments, with reversible changes, using volunteers to lead the way. It's possible to get that good, local experience by generating it in small pilot projects. Some people tend to favor uniformity for various reasons (police, ordinance writers, etc.) -- but nature's example shows us that the healthiest settings are those where new species are constantly testing the habitat out, seeing how best to thrive. If it's actually the case that (a) parking is an issue; that (b) can be ameliorated by a change in parking policy then it should be possible to find a block of two of businesses to volunteer to make the change first and to see how it works. (If every business in town wants to implement the new policy ASAP then the new policy is very likely too much of a subsidy for them and shortchanges some other group. There are very few free lunches in older downtown areas.)

  10. Beware the impending drought when you're fighting those alligators, intending to drain the swamp. Just about every book of sage advice reminds us to keep our primary goal in mind and to not let ourselves get distracted from it by urgent but less-important matters. Hence the joke about "It's hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp when you're up to your ass in alligators." What's even harder, when you've prepared and equipped yourself for a good, long swamp-draining effort, is to stay alert and to note the changes that, collectively, mean that the swamp is not only going to drain itself but will become a parched and arid desert -- as the Sahara desert was once a swampy forest where Rome got its wood.

    In the context of the parking wars, this means paying attention to the meta-factors that we don't control every bit as much as to those alligators: Peak Oil (the end of cheap oil) and Climate Disruption (the urgent need to limit carbon emissions, including from transportation). Both of these have put us in a predicament that means that we will experience profound and not-completely-foreseeable changes in how we go about our daily lives. Together they will likely wreak such havoc on our economy that our present "problems" with parking are likely to be seen as "The Good Times."

    When you understand the imperatives that we face as a result of Peak Oil and the climate crisis, you gain a valuable perspective on issues like "parking," which are symptoms of a dysfunction (automobile dominated society) that is likely to correct itself in fairly short order.
UPDATE: LOVESalem's foreign correspondent in the Bellingham Bureau has this interesting response, which probably resonates with some people in Salem:
Here in Bellingham, we have our malls on the north end of the city, one medium-size mall near WWU, metered parking in the downtown core, and free parking (including a free, pretty large gravel lot) in the south shopping area of town known as Fairhaven.

As the parking rates went up to 75 cents/h downtown, people started shopping elsewhere and those business are hurting - the economy went sour at the same time as hike to 75 cents, so it's tough to tell cause and effect for sure. But the Fairhaven district, a funky place for the most part, continued to be extremely busy. The malls are of course generally busy, but even they felt the curse of the fading economy, and there are some vacant spaces I hear (I never go there, unless there's no choice).

I despise the metered parking, not so much for the meters and fees, but for the f---ing parking tickets. These dipshit ersatz cops in electric 3-wheelers motor around constantly doing nothing but dispensing tickets for $10 fines if the meter's been expired for 1 minute. That means not only paying a ridiculous fee to support the ticketers, but having to either go to the f---ing courthouse to park and feed more f---ing meters, or having to mail the goddam thing with a check. About once a year I get one of these f---ing tickets after having fed the f---ing meter to the max so that I can talk with someone in a coffee shop, only to be a few minutes late and find a parking ticket. As a result, I tend either

a. not to shop at all, or

b. go to either the medium mall near the U or Fairhaven to shop, or

c. pop the bike on the car and park in the Trader Joes or downtown Public Market large lots and bike around downtown.

So for me, it's the parking tickets that are the rub, and downtown definitely gets much less of my business than it otherwise would as a result. The only positive I can think of for our metered parking system is that it provides a big part of the livelihood for one of my [friends]. He's . . . an extremely bright guy for the job he has (tons over-qualified English major), and hates his job. But - it comes with med insurance and a relatively steady long-term employment.

Every time I am downtown for a couple of hours I meet him on the street somewhere collecting money from the meters. We have lively discussions about metered parking, which is where I learned about the complex interplay between the city (for which parking fees/fines are a major source of income and a minor source of outlay), the business owners (who originally asked for metered parking to free up spaces hogged by downtown workers), customers (who mostly want a parking spot within 10 steps of their destination), and the parking garage (that's cheaper to use than paying tickets if you spend lotsa time down there, as M. does for her business).

And to anyone who claims to know everything because he/she did some research & wrote a book, I say "in your dreams." It is indeed a complex situation with no unique 'solution' (imagine that!) and (as you said) is about to expire anyway due to fallout from peakoil/ economic decline, when it will become an even messier situation with few good results - so much more rewarding to prepare for the likely future rather than waste time trying to fix an unfixable parking situation.

I imagine people parked permanently and living in the malls and/or their vehicles, with totally disgusting restrooms inside the malls. I also imagine areas of town that are no-go regions.

Perhaps a few food shopping places, with lotsa bicycle parking and rolling carts that people keep at their home for walking. Most of the shops everywhere will be gone because they sell unnecessary crap. The shoe repair shops (and other repair shops) will probably survive, but they may have to move if they are in a no-go region.

(Downtown is, ironically, now getting quite impacted by young homeless people who are noisy, irritating, high/drunk, and at times violent - and that's just the tip of the iceberg to come - they congregate on street corners, blocking walkers who want to cross there - THIS is where I first thought about trying to walk/bike there in the future carrying a bag of groceries, and concluded I would not be living in town during retirement!).

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In defense of losing

DictionariesRemember folks, these books are your friends. Computers are too stupid to warn you to distinguish between "loosing" instead of losing. Image by jovike via Flickr

Not as a practice, but as a unique word with its own spelling. There's hardly a day goes by that I don't see some formerly august publication or website unloose "loosing" where "losing" is the correct word. Today's example:
While boreal forests are under attack, the Greenland ice sheet is loosing mass at an accelerating rate. So reports a new study published in the journal Science. The mass loss is equally distributed between increased iceberg production, driven by acceleration of Greenland’s fast-flowing outlet glaciers, and increased meltwater production at the ice sheet surface. Recent warm summers further accelerated the mass loss to 273 Gt per year (1 Gt is the mass of 1 cubic kilometer of water), in the period 2006-2008, which represents 0.75 mm of global sea level rise per year. The Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to cause a global sea level rise of seven metres. Since 2000, the ice sheet has lost about 1500 Gt in total, representing on average a global sea level rise of about half a millimetre per year, or 5 mm since 2000.
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WORD: Our choice

American Physical SocietyImage via Wikipedia

Bob Park is a former president of the American Physical Society (APS), the professional organization for physicists.
WHAT’S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 13 Nov 09 Washington, DC

Two years ago the elected council of the American Physical Society adopted a strongly worded statement calling for reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases. The statement called the evidence for global warming "incontrovertible," which is about as far as you can go in that direction. There are, however, eminent physicists who do not agree. They petitioned the Council for a reconsideration of its statement. APS president Cherry Murray appointed an ad hoc committee, chaired by Dan Kleppner, to consider whether the statement needed to be revisited. The council overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to replace the statement with one favored by those who deny anthropogenic climate change, but the society's Panel On Public Affairs will review it for "possible

There is no place else to go. If global warming is real and we're the cause, we need to mend our ways. We are not going to clean up the Earth's atmosphere by burying carbon. There are just two things we can do: make fewer people, and use energy more efficiently. The first seems to be mostly a human rights problem; the second falls squarely on our shoulders, but it won't help if the fertility rate remains high. But what if carbon in the atmosphere is not a problem as the deniers insist? We ought to promote efficiency anyway, if only for the sake of future generations.
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SJ: Editors? We don' need no steenkin' editors

What is up with the Statesman-Journal? I wouldn't expect this from a high-school newspaper:
A Salem man accused of shooting a man and hiding the body was sentenced to life in prison in Marion County Circuit Court this morning. . . .
On Oct. 22, Garibay pleaded [sic] guilty to the charges, which also included a charge of possession of a firearm — and of a driving under the influence of intoxicants from a previous case.
So that's not a typo -- the writer knew the guy had already pled guilty, but then went ahead and used the term (accused) that makes it seem as if guilt was still a question. The real interesting question is how does something like this make it past an editor . . . or do they even use editors any more?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I think, therefore I am. . . . Or at least I think I am . . .

On the so-called "Health Care" bill

Healthcare in America
Mary Vorachek, M.D., Salem, Oregon

Now that we have the worst healthcare bill that our representatives in government could contrive there is no place lower to go except the grave. Our government wants our money and the money of all our descendants for the enrichment of Wall Street, Detroit and the corporations; and our government wants the limbs and lives of your fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children so they can kill people in the Middle East, Africa, Colombia, Honduras, etc. (poor countries that are not respectful enough with people who are not quite white enough but with coveted resources that we wish to exploit because we think we can).

Our representatives in government give our taxpayer money to the corporations that then give some of it back to our representatives so they can continue giving more of our money to the corporations that impoverish America’s citizens. President Obama took money from millions of people who placed their hopes for a better America and a better world in a man who could talk a good talk but who has not delivered and seems reluctant to deliver anything substantial to the American people. A few crumbs may fall off the kakistocracy’s (rule by the most reprehensible elements of society) table, and we can scramble over our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens to lick crumbs off the floor but we will never have a seat at the table. Is it any wonder that Americans do not care about government? The government does not care about us, and the corporations that run the government do everything possible to disenfranchise voters.

The House of Reprehensibles has given us a bill that:

1) does not rein in insurance premiums,
2) has a public option with co-pays and deductibles that will continue to make insurance unaffordable and bankrupt its consumers,
3) ensures the pharmaceutical industry will never have to worry about losing patents on new drugs,
4) mandates the purchase of unaffordable insurance, and
5) will not cover comprehensive reproductive needs of women.

On the plus side, the Reprehensibles have given us an unaffordable bill that:
1) eliminates discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

The House bill enriches the private insurance and pharmaceutical companies and ensures the Reprehensibles of continued re-election coffers full to the brim. The insurance industry will get millions of new customers plus $500 billion for public option subsidies. And you will be charged with a federal crime if you do not qualify for the unaffordable public option but refuse to buy private insurance.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As Salem merrily plans a return to business as usual

The economic establishment accepts the world soon won't be able to meet energy demands, but wants to keep quiet about it

It is very hard for the average person in the street to come to a sensible conclusion on peak oil. It's a subject that prompts a passionate polarisation of views. The peak oilists sometimes sound like those extraordinary Christians with sandwich boards proclaiming that the end of the world is nigh. In contrast, the the international economic establishment – including the International Energy Agency (IEA) – has one very clear purpose in mind at all times: don't panic. Their mission seems to be focused on keeping jittery markets calm.

Faced with these options the majority of people shrug their shoulders in confusion and ignore the trickle of whistleblowers, industry insiders and careful analysts who have been warning of the imminent decline in oil for over a decade now.

Remember the Queen's question – that uncannily accurate and strikingly obvious question she put to economists at the London School of Economics a year ago after the financial crisis: did no one see it coming? Apply that question to peak oil and the answer is that many people did see it coming but they were marginalised, bullied into silence and the evidence was buried in the small print.

Take the 2008 edition of World Energy Outlook, the annual report on which the entire energy industry and governments depend. It included the table also published by the Guardian today, and the version I saw had shorter intervals on the horizontal axis. What it made blindingly clear was that peak oil was somewhere in 2008/9 and that production from currently producing fields was about to drop off a cliff. Fields yet to be developed and yet to be found enabled a plateau of production and it was only "non-conventional oil" which enabled a small rise. Think tar sands of Canada, think some of the most climate polluting oil extraction methods available. Think catastrophe.

What made this little graph so devastating was that it estimated energy resources by 2030 that were woefully inadequate for the energy-hungry economies of India and China. Business as usual in oil production threatens massive conflict over sharing it.

Now, this all seemed pretty gigantic news to me but guess where the World Energy Outlook chose to put this graph? Was it in the front, was it prominently discussed in the foreword? Did it cause headlines around the world. No, no, no. It was buried deep into the report and no reference was made to it in the press conference a year ago.

The fear is that panicky markets can cause enormous damage – panic-buying that prompts fights over resources, which in turn could lead to power cuts in some places and other such mayhem. But so far in facing this huge challenge, our political/economic system seems unable to cope with reality. We are forced to carry on living in an illusion that we have so much time to adapt to post-oil that we don't even need to be talking or thinking much about what a world without plentiful oil would look like. Reality has become too dangerous.

So in reply to the Queen's question of a few years hence, we did see it coming but we chose to ignore it.

The Most Awesome Book Review EVER

the pileThe raw material supply for the Freakonomics authors. Image by SerenityRose via Flickr

Elizabeth Kolbert on SuperFreakonomics in the New Yorker.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]