Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Aquarium

One of the most despicable religious fallacies is that suffering is ennobling -- that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. [My daughter] Isabel's suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world. We learned no lessons worth learning; we acquired no experience that could benefit anyone. And Isabel most certainly did not earn ascension to a better place, as there was no place better for her than at home with her family. Without Isabel, [my wife] Teri and I were left with oceans of love we could no longer dispense; we found ourselves with an excess of time that we used to devote to her; we had to live in a void that could be filled only by Isabel. Her indelible absence is now an organ in our bodies, whose sole function is to a continuous secretion of sorrow.
-- from The Aquarium by Aleksandar Hemon

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nothing to envy

Reading Barabara Demick, I understand better how it is that the North Korean regime has survived so long. Potential dissidents in the 1990s knew that, on the 'tainted blood principle,' not only they but their families for three generations and including cousins could be irreparably harmed. A lot of people, says Demick, were content with the idea of risking their own life in the hope that things might change but not those of their entire families. The system combined the most repressive aspects of Confucianism and Stalinism.

There's that line in The Big Lebowski:  'say what you like about National Socialism but at least it's an ideology.'   

P.S. Recent articles on N. Korea : Exogenous Zones and North Korea’s Meth Export.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The IPPC muddle

Sensible analysis from O.M. on the IPCC renewables 'scandal'. For example:
Without really understanding costs, how can one go forward to assess the merits and believability of scenarios.

Predicting future demand is as hard if not harder. This is one of the reasons why Vaclav Smil, doyen of energy analysts, devoted a magisterial chapter in his book “Energy at the Crossroads” to the manifest failure of more or less all predictions about the future of energy markets. Closer to home, Dr Pachauri wrote a book premised on the imminent arrival of higher oil prices in the mid-1980s; it didn’t happen. [The Economist] has similar skeletons in its cupboard.

It is exactly because assessing scenarios is so hard, says [Ottmar] Edenhofer, that the IPCC authors instead chose to simply expand on the details of four particularly striking ones. The Greenpeace one was chosen for this spotlight because it had the highest renewable penetration; the median penetration in 2050 across all 164 scenarios was just 27%.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Carbon future

‘Schumpeter’ in The Economist has a sobering overview of trends and forecasts for world energy. Here are some of the key points:
* Robust growth was seen in all regions and in almost all types of energy use: the world consumed more of every main fuel bar one [that is, nuclear] than it had in any previous year. Consumption of oil, which accounts for 34% of the world’s primary energy by BP’s calculations, rose by 3.1%. Coal, at 30% the number two fuel, was up by 7.6%, growing faster than at any time since 2003. Consumption of gas, which contributes 24%, was up by 7.4%, the biggest annual growth since 1984.

* The growth in fossil fuels was so strong that although non-fossil-fuel energy also had a record year, its share of the world total primary energy decreased a little. Hydro (6.5%) saw its biggest annual increase on record, in part due to more dams and in part due to a lot of rain; Christof Rühl, BP’s chief economist, notes there was more precipitation in 2010 than in any year in the past century...Most of China’s growth came from burning more coal: in 2000 China accounted for just under a third of world coal use; in 2010 a staggering 48.2%. Repeat that sort of expansion on a smaller scale for a number of other countries and you see why coal is going up in the global mix. You also see why the world’s energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions have grown even faster than its energy use—by 5.8% last year, on BP’s figures. That is the fastest growth since 1969...

* The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook [forecasts] a new “golden age of gas” scenario for future energy production and consumption. This sees global gas demand rising by more than 50% over the next 25 years, as gas outstrips coal to come close to equalling oil in the energy mix. Meeting that demand would require an increase in production equivalent to three times the amount of gas produced by Russia today, which the agency imagines being handily met by a mixture of conventional gas and shale gas, as well as some other unconventional forms of the fuel such as coal-bed methane. China becomes both a principal producer (its shale-gas resources are reckoned the largest in the world) and perhaps the largest importer. But all this does not do anything like as much as you might expect in terms of reducing carbon emissions. This is because cheap gas does not just displace dirty coal, as it has been doing in America; it also displaces expensive renewables and nuclear...
A view from Michael Klare here.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Beyond the rings of Saturn

CASSINI MISSION from Chris Abbas on Vimeo.

The Paypal Atlantis

"I envision tens of millions of people in an Apple or a Google country," where the high-tech giants would govern and residents would have no vote. "If people are allowed to opt in or out, you can have a successful dictatorship," the goateed Friedman says, wiggling his toes in pink Vibram slippers.
-- from Patri Friedman makes waves with 'seasteading' plan.  It sounds like the very opposite of Wolf's dream. Characteristic that it should have support of 'libertarian' Peter Thiel

Friday, June 03, 2011

Tree of lights

A very poor quality camera-phone image of a quaking tree in a park fails to convey sensations created by Andrei Tarkovsky or Victor Erice.
The problem of consciousness can now be stated somewhat more precisely: How does the brain produce qualitative subjectivity? How does it get us over the hump from the objective third-person character of neuron firings to the subjective first-person feelings we have when we are conscious?
-- John R. Searle