14th January 2006

The wait is over

The U.S. has said it, loud and proud: Your long wait is over! It’s been almost 4 years since Bushie bombed a country the U.S. had previously left untouched by aerial ordnance. (Oh come on, you remember little old Yemen, don’t you?) But now, Pakistan joins the list.

There’s nothing like trial by air strike to teach the world about democratic values.

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

12th January 2006

Good idea, bad idea

Check out TerraPass, an “eco-capitalist” venture. The premise is this:

Every car produces a certain amount of CO2 annually. However, if we offset that production of CO2 by reducing our production somewhere else by a commensurate amount, then the net effect of driving is essentially zero. In real-world terms, this can be achieved via the Chicago Climate Exchange, where greenhouse-gas production credits are traded. If we buy up credits and “retire” them, then we are increasing the real-world value of production credits and thus forcing companies to conserve more. TerraPass, the product of a Wharton professor and his students, does exactly this.

The Chicago Climate Exchange seems like a good idea, and it actually has some teeth to it. Although its membership is small, not even a thousand companies, it accounts for 230 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, which is something like 4-5% of U.S. annual production. Not bad. And its emissions-reduction performance is also reasonable.

And the idea of “retiring” credits also seems relatively sensible. There’s other organizations that do this; the other one on the CCX is Carbonfund.org, which is based on a similar premise to TerraPass; reduce your footprint by giving them money, which they’ll use to retire credits on the Exchange.

But I vastly prefer Carbonfund to TerraPass. Why? Simple: marketing. TerraPass sells itself as a way to reduce the guilt of driving. First, your TerraPass footprint is based entirely on your car’s gas mileage (which, by the way, underestimates your car’s CO2 footprint, since the energy returned on energy invested for gasoline is at least as bad as crude oil, which is 20:1) instead of a more comprehensive assessment of your total lifestyle. Second, their “product” is a sticker you can put in your car window, or on your bumper, showing what a good citizen you are. Third, all their press indicates that this is what they are offering to people.

Not to be unreasonably vicious about this, but people really should be made to suffer for the crime of driving. I say this simply because they need to be encouraged to stop, or at the very least drive 95% less. The last thing that we need is more ways to stabilize car culture, which is explicitly what TerraPass offers. (See their TerraBlog if you are unconvinced.)

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

12th January 2006

Judas gets a makeover

Woah! After 2000 years, the Vatican is apparently softening its view on Judas.

Two things to think about here:

One is the simple theological question, which is a major one for Christianity. It’s remarkable that such important questions should still be open questions after so many years. You’d think God would have made his perfect plan a little less ambiguous.

Anyway, my favorite statement of the problem of Judas comes from Borges, who wrote a little “short story” about it called “Three Versions of Judas”, which are:

  • Judas is the tool of Satan. This has backing in the Gospel according to Luke, which says “Satan entered him”, and John, which says the same. Problematic, since it means Satan was doing what God wanted after all.
  • Judas was only fulfilling God’s plan; Christ had to die and thus had to be betrayed. This is an oft-favored viewpoint, popular amongst liberal types. See “Jesus Christ Superstar” or “The Last Temptation of Christ”. Problematic, since the Bible clearly has Judas being punished and makes him out as a villain.
  • Finally, Borges farcically proposes that since Christ’s suffering was brief, and mankind’s sin is endless, surely it was not enough to redeem us. Therefore the true messiah should be someone who is still suffering in Hell on our behalf, viz., Judas.

It should also be noted that Judas has historically been a standard card played by anti-Semites; in art he has often been portrayed with red hair, stereotypically associated with Jews in medieval Europe. So there’s clearly good political reason to revise the role of Judas. But as I’m fond of saying, political imperative does not necessarily coincide with the truth. The Gospels are without a doubt documents written to be antagonistic to Jews. The early Christians surely had many adversaries within the Jewish community; the majority, even. So it shouldn’t surprise us to see that what’s been handed down through history plays well in generating anti-Semitism. This is more a call to abandon the Gospels than anything else. Attempting to reconcile it with current mores is needlessly futile.

(Via CT)

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

11th January 2006

Bageant Blog!

Woohoo! Your daily dose of cantankerousness, right here. His blog is titled “Drink, Pray, Fight and Fuck”. Awesome.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

11th January 2006

Bisphenol A on the hot seat

Brita filter pitchers, Nalgene bottles, and some sippy cups are all made from a chemical that has been linked in many independent studies to serious developmental disorders. The chemical, Bisphenol A, is the main component of the hard, clear plastic called polycarbonate.

Bisphenol A can be released from the plastic when scrubbed with detergents, scuffed, or fogged from exposure to sunlight. It can then enter the body of a person or animal eating or drinking out of the polycarbonate container. In the body, it imitates estrogen and causes all manner of sexual disorders, from low sperm counts to genital cancers.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Fred vom Saal, a reproductive biologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said the effects of low doses of bisphenol A, known as BPA, are clear in animal studies.

“Every aspect of maleness is disrupted,” Vom Saal said, including the animals’ sperm counts, prostate size and behavior, because it blocks testosterone production.

Now California is considering banning polycarbonate in baby toys. Unsurprisingly, the plastics industry has sent its pet scientists out to prevent regulation.

“Human exposure is extraordinarily low,” said Steve Hentges of the polycarbonate division of the American Plastics Council. “And there is no evidence that any human has been harmed by use of these products.”

Unfortunately for the plastics industry, these scientists are probably charging way too much for their services. The good news for any industry seeking to prevent regulation is that Chris Hoofnagle, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has created a handy guide to preventing regulation — even if you know nothing about the industry. And his guide is brilliantly written as a deck of poker cards, for easy memorization. Next time, perhaps the plastics industry will take on some high school student-council vice-president who would gladly accept a volunteer “internship” testifying in Sacramento. She could probably do a perfectly competent job.

Just to bring her up to speed, let’s see — so far, the plastics industry has used:
2 of spades
3 of clubs
5 of hearts
5 of diamonds
and at the end of the LA Times story, a hint of the deadly 8 of diamonds.
I am sure that Jack of Spades is waiting in the wings.

Meanwhile, the story gives a great insight into the power of the purse when it comes to the alleged objectivity of science:

Vom Saal countered that 140 animal studies have found hormone-altering effects from low exposure to the plastics chemical. In a published review of the studies, Vom Saal reported that every one funded by industry showed no effects while more than 90% of the government-funded studies found effects.

Go figure!

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

11th January 2006

Hot air in Australia

So the U.S. and Australia, the only two Kyoto holdouts in the world, are putting together an alternative climate change coalition along with India, China, Japan and South Korea.* They’re calling it the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. To me it seems something like a well-written farce. The premise of the partnership is that real action on climate change will be driven by industry and new technology, not by government regulation.

Playing the part of Head Clown was U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, who told reporters, “”It’s really the private sector, the companies that own the assets, that make the financial allocations, that are ultimately going to be the solvers of the problems.” His best joke was this: “I believe that the people who run the private sector, they too have children and they too have grandchildren. They too live and breathe in the world and they would like things dealt with effectively.” This should pass without commentary, I think.

The favorite technology being pushed by this coalition is “clean coal”, which we’ve previously insulted here (mostly by describing it). Clean coal, you’ll recall, is expected to come to market, optimistically, in ten years’ time, which might coincide nicely with Tuvalu being completely submerged.

Be sure to note that the coalition will not set any targets for countries to meet, and will instead rely on a “non-binding compact” to reduce emissions. They won’t even include the sort of carbon credits trading favored by Kyoto. One has to wonder what sort of incentive is there going to be for development of low-emissions technology in the complete absence of any regulatory pressure. In fact, this seems like nothing so much as a bid to allow foreign investment into difficult-to-reach corners of the four Asian countries. Never lose an opportunity to engage in some shameless capitalism at the world’s expense.

* This might be news to China, India, Japan and Korea, all Kyoto signatories who perceive this as a complement, not an alternative, to Kyoto. Meanwhile, however, the Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell explicitly stated that this would be an “alternative”, and it’s hard to see how the anti-Kyoto Bush administration could see this as anything other than a way to cloak their inaction.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

11th January 2006

Hello, mummy.

Did the Ancient Egyptians invent Freon?

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

10th January 2006

Important stuff you never knew

I’m always amazed at the crucial judicial verdicts handed down by people who should rightly have recused themselves. Previously we’ve complained about John Roberts and how he should have recused himself from Hamdan v. Rumsfeld when he found out he was in consideration for a Supreme Court appointment.

Today I was startled to find out an even earlier incident of a similar sort. Apparently, back in 2000, Sandra Day O’Connor was thinking to retire, but didn’t want to do so during a Democratic administration. A Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics article describes her disgust when the election was initially called for Gore:

Sitting in her hostess’s den, staring at a small black-and-white television set, she visibly started when CBS anchor Dan Rather called Florida for Al Gore. “This is terrible,” she exclaimed. She explained to another partygoer that Gore’s reported victory in Florida meant that the election was “over,” since Gore had already carried two other swing states, Michigan and Illinois.

Moments later, with an air of obvious disgust, she rose to get a plate of food, leaving it to her husband to explain her somewhat uncharacteristic outburst. John O’Connor said his wife was upset because they wanted to retire to Arizona, and a Gore win meant they’d have to wait another four years. O’Connor, the former Republican majority leader of the Arizona State Senate and a 1981 Ronald Reagan appointee, did not want a Democrat to name her successor.

And yet, when the opportunity presented itself several weeks later to choose the fucking President of the United States, “Justice” O’Connor did not recuse herself. I quote United States Code, Title 28, Section 455, Disqualification of Justice, Judge, or Magistrate (found here):

(4) He [sic] knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding;


posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

10th January 2006

Big anvil

America’s widest newspaper has an interesting story today about shipcracking in which it casually mentions that the world’s steel mills produce 1 billion tons of steel per year. I figure it’s probably metric tons. If steel has a mass of 7.86 grams per cubic centimeter (see CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics), a ton of steel is .12722 cubic meters.

I am glad it is so compact, as I want to build the world’s largest steel anvil. I would hate to have it take up too much room.

According to my exhaustive research watching various episodes of the documentary program “Animaniacs,” a 25-kg anvil is 40 cm long, 11.25 cm wide, and 17 cm tall. (Note this is a nice hard steel anvil, not the more common cast iron anvil or the more Anvilanially musical brass anvil.) Multiply it out and you find that the anvil will 1.37 km long, 384 m wide, and 581 m tall, with enough steel left over to make a hammer so I can use the very large anvil to forge a new bicycle to replace the one stolen from my back yard. Then I just need some steel for the bicycle.

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

9th January 2006

A meteoric rise

Last year was a pretty remarkably bad year for oil markets. That is, “bad” if you are a consumer of oil. Good if you are a seller somewhere along the supply chain. Observe this amazing performance:

(Apologies for the low quality. Blogger insists on resizing the figure and converting it to a jpeg. I am unspeakably annoyed.)

Aside from a few hiccups along the way, this is a pretty astounding, exponential climb in price, 2.5-fold in only two years. This is amazing behavior for a commodity. For some perspective we can look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s the average price for fuel oil in the U.S. compared against white bread for the past three years:

Meanwhile, here’s the behavior of the same two commodities during the 1990s:

This is not quite indicative, since the price of fuel oil in the U.S. is subject to many non-market forces, but it at least suggests that there’s a sea change going on in the oil world. It ought to be an interesting year.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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