Too Solar to Fail

Following on the news that Paris is spending €1bn to revamp/fix/heal Les Halles comes more news that the City Of Light is getting even more serious about where that light gets it power:


The French government plans to pave 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of its roads with solar panels in the next five years, which will supply power to millions of people.

“The maximum effect of the program, if successful, could be to furnish 5 million people with electricity, or about 8 percent of the French population,” Ségolène Royal, France’s minister of ecology and energy, said according to Global Construction Review.

La route photovoltaïque indeed. 14 feet of solarized roadway would be enough to supply the electrical needs of one household. Way to go, Republique Francaise. Here,  take this road.

Trivialized media

Compter-sur-les-mains-en-ChineIranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan was sent to prison in 2008 for what he had written and advocated for online. When he was released in 2014, the internet had greatly changed:

There’s a story in the Qur’an that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep and wake up under the impression that they have taken a nap: in fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food – and I can only imagine how hungry they must have been after 300 years – and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realises how long they have been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. It represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web – a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralisation – all the links, lines and hierarchies – and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks. Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realised how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.

The piece is full of pull quotes, so read the whole thing. How little we notice just how much social media sites and our use of them has changed is a tribute to the ingenuity of engineers in Silicon Valley. They think about this stuff all the time, so we don’t have to! But the punchline is… we do have to. Derakshan’s perspective is a stark reminder of just how limited the use of social media has made our world – all beneath the aegis of connecting, sharing and informing. Frogs eventually do notice the water boiling. It’s crucial to set the irony aside, and reset the way online convenience has conditioned us already.

There’s a resolution. Happy 2016.

Image: Count on your hands in Chinese

Capacity Factor

That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential actually achieved over time. And Bloomberg reports that wide spread adoption of renewables is lowering the hitherto incomparable capacity factor for fossil fuels. This begins the virtuous cycle.


That’s because once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed.

Again, no use getting all Pollyannish about any of this. But the business news only reports the business view and it doesn’t really care if renewables are more profitable than fossil. Business only cares about that middle part – the profit.

So, BFD.

Image: author photo, near Valreas, France.

What does Project Greenlight mean?

Good grief. As a writer and filmmaker, I’ve got at least two dogs and three cats in this fight (never attempted to get on this show, but all other conflicts apply). But still, come on:

Last night was the fourth season premiere of HBO’s Project Greenlight—a Matt Damon and Ben Affleck passion project where they give first time filmmakers the chance to make a movie. It also provided a platform for Matt Damon to deliver a masterclass in whitesplaining—a whitesplaining sermon, if you will.

They enlist a group of producers to help them choose their finalists—the group included a bunch of white guys and one white woman.

The finalists are flown to Los Angeles to meet in person with the producers. At these meetings, they introduce Effie Brown, an experienced Hollywood producer and a black woman. She has produced seventeen feature films, including Dear White People and boy, the Irony Gods are working overtime today.

As the only person of color in the group, Effie clearly understands that any attempt at diversity will be on her shoulders. She recalls growing up in the 1970s where most of the time when she saw black people in films, they were playing gangsters, criminals and prostitutes. She also explains that she is passionate about making films where marginalized people are recognized.

You would have to buy a Brooklyn Bridge-sized benefit of the doubt to just turn around and give them in order to believe this sequence was included in the episode to show the transparencies of inherent bias in Hollywood. No, I don’t believe that either. Come on, Matt. This is embarrassing.

Two Invisible Hands Clapping

Even scienticians agree: the modest new goals of the new EPA plan for clean power are only making official what the invisible has been waving through like a naked [invisible] traffic cop:

_CLAPOur best hope for carbon reduction is steep price drops in the cost of generating electricity by wind and solar; in the cost of installing wind turbines and solar panels; and in the cost of storing energy in batteries. If those price drops are achieved, we’ll head toward vast reductions in emissions regardless of what the EPA does. No one is going to pay 12 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity (our current national average) if it can be had for 2 cents a kilowatt hour, all other things being equal.

Coal-use as the source of electricity has been trending downward for a while, for many reasons, and as long a modest rule-making [see Cole’s discussion above] keeps sending signals to the invisible hand, it will continue to do so. But, crappy analogy aside, the bigger news in the in the new rules is the commitments to clean energy R & D. That, coupled with reductions for carbon emissions from power plants will leverage even more research and new businesses to sprout. Even silicon itself will be replaced with cheaper alternatives that bring the price down for solar panels. I remarked to my passengers on a recent road trip down a super bright hot interstate highway that I couldn’t believe we weren’t using all of that glarea [get it?] to generate electricity and connect every city along the way with the power it soaks up on a daily basis. The same goes for the waves that pushed us around along the shore over a clear, windy weekend. Whatever the technological difficulties in doing either of these, let you remind me that we just saw pictures from a space probe we sent to Pluto ten years ago.

That was a year before the first iPhone.

Teaser image: The Beach, Sunset, Gustave Courbet, 1867

Greece vs. History

o-GREECE-FLAGMy affection for Greeks and Greece knows no bounds, but even setting that aside, via Digby, here is Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, bringing some historical perspective in an interview with DIE ZEIT on the subject of Greek debt:

ZEIT: But shouldn’t they repay their debts?

Piketty: My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.

ZEIT: But surely we can’t draw the conclusion that we can do no better today?

Piketty: When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.

The internets are continuously aflutter with ‘who has the facts,’ and ‘who has them right.’ But the easy moral indignation available about the Greek debt crisis for any and all is actually… too easy. One needs to look deeper and as usual, history is instructive. Not saying the Germans or any nation is wrong, but as Krugman points out, the ‘No’ vote was actually a victory for democracy in the face of demands from the banksters. It’s more complicated than just ‘the Greeks need to pay up.’ It takes a bit to suss all this out and gain anything like an informed opinion. But we owe (get it?) it to ourselves to do so.




Tubman_20With some ferocity, I usually resist the impulse to delve into matters financial. But this Dr. K item on GE Capital seems both clear-cut and easy-to-understand:

Most economists, I think, believe that the rise of shadow banking had less to do with real advantages of such nonbank banks than it did with regulatory arbitrage — that is, institutions like GE Capital were all about exploiting the lack of adequate oversight. And the general view is that the 2008 crisis came about largely because regulatory evasion had reached the point where an old-fashioned wave of bank runs, albeit wearing somewhat different clothes, was once again possible.

So Dodd-Frank tries to fix the bad incentives by subjecting systemically important financial institutions — SIFIs — to greater oversight, higher capital and liquidity requirements, etc.. And sure enough, what GE is in effect saying is that if we have to compete on a level playing field, if we can’t play the moral hazard game, it’s not worth being in this business. That’s a clear demonstration that reform is having a real effect.

Bold is mine, because this is key, both to Dodd-Frank and what largely works for business in the U.S. today at the behemoth level. Orwellian language about fairness and tax burdens and putting America to work [again] is just that – all myth. The megacorps want every tactical advantage to operate as alpha predators, forcing all non-megacorp entities to use language like this to accurately describe their actions. It’s win-win, and very savvy of them. Terrible for everyone/thing else. But his little crack of light – an admission that they can’t play if those are the rules is telling, so let’s listen.

Image: will we put American heroine Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill?

ISIS as Islamic Reformation?

Unpacked take on the Islamic State phenomenon as a microcosm of the Protestant religious wars that ripped apart Europe for centuries:


The problem set that we face with ISIS has several components. Among the biggest is that this is a problem internal to Islam. As a result Muslims have to resolve it for themselves. In many ways what we are watching in real time is the Islamic equivalent of the Reformation, counter-Reformation, and then the splintering within the Reformation that led to hundreds of years of struggle, conflict, and warfare in Europe. A lot of it had to do with which version of Christian theology and dogma was supposed to be correct and followed, but a lot of it used that as a motivating factor so elites and notables could control resources. Ultimately they became so intertwined, that even into the 1990s in Northern Ireland or the Balkans they could not be easily teased apart. The other big one for me is that America and its Western allies cannot really resolve this problem set. Even if we were to go in with overwhelming force and just decimate ISIS it would not resolve this dispute, which is multifaceted and internal to Islam.

Read the whole thing, for sure. It’s a response to/critique of a long read in The Atlantic on the same subject. Are these in any way analogous? Even considering it outs the struggle into a different context.

Image: Pilgrimage to St. Isidore’s well, Francisco Goya, 1819-1823, Museo del Prado. Also known as The holy office. The holy office is another name for the inquisition.

Sum Zero

Guardian_KXLdepotThis reads like a cartoon manual for an evil PR firm:

The company behind the Keystone XL project is engaged in a “perpetual campaign” that would involve putting “intelligent” pressure on opponents and mobilising public support for an entirely Canadian alternative, bypassing Barack Obama and pipeline opposition in the US.

Hours before a Senate vote to force US approval of the Keystone pipeline, the industry playbook to squash opposition to the alternative has been exposed in documents made available to the Guardian.

Strategy documents drafted by the public relations giant Edelman for TransCanada Corporation – which is behind both Keystone and the proposed alternative – offer a rare inside glimpse of the extensive public relations, lobbying, and online and on-the-ground efforts undertaken for pipeline projects. The plans call, among other things, for mobilising 35,000 supporters.

So, in the face of the Senate vote, TransCanada is mobilising [sic] support for an alternate route for the pipeline. They’re going to play offense, strike first, and ‘neutralize risk before it is leveled.’ I’m not even sure I want to know what that means. But this whole thing has been catapulted far beyond merely Green issues, environmental concerns or even energy independence rhetoric – those are just for window dressing at this point. Can corporations do what they want, damn the consequences, or not? That the is principle on which this rests. Even political support in the U.S. for the pipelines seems to rest not on its benefits but on one party’s ability to jam something unwanted down the country’s throat most important aquifer.

And this is nice, from further down in the article:

They advise: “Add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources,” and warn: “We cannot allow our opponents to have a free pass. They will use every piece of information they can find to attack TransCanada and this project.”

Recruiting allies to deliver the pro-pipeline message is critical, Edelman says in the documents. “Third-party voices must also be identified, recruited and heard to build an echo chamber of aligned voices.”

Most certainly! Echo chambers are just darling this time of year.

Image: A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp’s planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota, last week. Photograph: Andrew Cullen/Reuters, via

In A World

…that has a day on which there is an election

in which voters have been bombarded by nonsense

and limited in the number of their votes that will actually be cast

to decide whether a range of important problems will be addressed

and to determine whether crisis-level issues will even be acknowledged,

one woman man group of candidates voter can make all the difference.

That difference is the key, and that voter is you!

So get out there. Too many people have suffered, fought and died for this right for it to be allowed to lay fallow.

Washington isn’t the problem. The problem is the problem, and you can be part of the solution.

Yes, you can.