FM newswire for 18 February, articles for your morning reading

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis, collected from around the Internet.  If you find this useful, pass it to a friend or colleague.

  1. This looks interesting:  “Algae to solve the Pentagon’s jet fuel problem“, Guardian, 13 February 2010 — “US scientists believe they will soon be able to use algae to produce biofuel for the same cost as fossil fuels.” Odd that this was leaked to a UK newspaper.
  2. For more information about the DARPA biofuel program, see their Fact Sheet (April 2009) and Information Paper (June 2008).
  3. Interesting perspective:  “Commentary on China’s External Grand Strategy“, David M. Finkelstein (The CNA Corporation), 38th Taiwan‐U.S. Conference on Contemporary China, 14–15 July 2009
  4. Worthwhile reading from A-team economists:  “The future of public debt: prospects and implications“, Bank for International Settlements (BIS), 3 February 2010
  5. Another IPCC Error: Antarctic Sea Ice Increase Underestimated by 50%“, World Climate Report, 16 February 2010
  6. Using the climate doomsters’ own words to show their follow:  “Consistent with Being in a Deep Fog“, Roger Pielke Jr, 16 February 2010 — Everything is “consistent with” climate change”.
  7. Bulk of Stimulus Spending Yet to Come“, Wall Street Journal, 17 February 2010
  8. Climategate 2.0 — The NASA Files: U.S. Climate Science as Corrupt as CRU (PJM Exclusive — Part One)“, Christopher Horner, Pajamas Media, 17 February 2010
  9. Today’s must-read:  “Wall Street’s Bailout Hustle“, Matt Tabbi, Rolling Stone, 17 February 2010 — “Goldman Sachs and other big banks aren’t just pocketing the trillions we gave them to rescue the economy – they’re re-creating the conditions for another crash.”

Feature story of the day:  Who are the people supporting the Tea Party movement at the Tea Party demonstrations?

Results from a CNN Poll, 17 February 2010: 

  • They’re mostly male (60% vs. 50% of those polled),
  • White (80% vs. 71%)
  • Some college (74% vs. 54%)
  • Upper middle class (66% with income over $50 thousand, vs 42%)
  • Rural (50% vs. 38%)
  • Conservative (77% vs. 40%)
  • Tend to vote Republican (87% vs. 46%)

22 thoughts on “FM newswire for 18 February, articles for your morning reading

  1. Re biofuel from algea:

    The Guardian IMHO is usually not very good when it comes to hard science, so when the German FAZ, a newspaper with a very good reputation for their scientific articles, comes yesterday to the opposite conclusion in regards to a economically useful production of biofuels, I tend to believe the FAZ version : “Wer zaubert Biosprit aus dem grünen Topf“, 17. Februar 2010

  2. “Feature story of the day: Who are the people at the Tea Party demonstrations?”

    I don’t see what the poll has to do with the title. Better title: “Meaningless CNN poll mis-interpreted 99% of the time, says poll”.
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    FM reply: The last page of the report is a demographic analysis of Tea Party supporters. I don’t understand your comment.

  3. Algae oil is bogus: Algae derived oils and products as a food supplement for both human and animal feed is worth vastly more than $3/gallon that you can get for jet fuel, due to the quality of the amino acid and protien distribution.

    So unless oil spikes to a point where Jet-A is $10/gallon, burning algae-based synfuel is pouring dollars into the plane’s exhaust, and this is a way of getting DARPA to improve how you run a spirulina production operation.

  4. Biofuel from algae: “Pentagon to announce miracle any moment now.” This is the sort of “techno-triumphalism” that James Kunstler always warns about. Pardon while I put on my skeptic’s cap.

    If we pretend that this be fo realz Wu Tang style, what does it mean? This breakthrough would rocket the economic and military capabilities of the US to untold heights. It’s hard to imagine the government releasing such an unthinkable advantage to the rest of the world or even commercially to the US public. Would the military become a fuel producer for the US as a whole or would the capabilities be hoarded entirely for the military while the rest of us are left contending with volatile oil prices? Neither scenario is particularly appealing: becoming a nation entirely indentured to the military or becoming a nation where the military is afforded nearly unlimited energy.

    If the government, in an unprecedented show of magnanimity, released this to the world, what would the impact be? OPEC would become irrelevant. The idea of rebuilding Iraq with long-term oil revenues would go down the commode. Oil poor countries such as Japan and China would become unfettered. Rich nations that use oil to build power, such as Russia, would be thrust into economic and geopolitical irrelevance. Suddenly a portion of the globe is facing destitution while another portion is facing a future where its largest problem has evaporated like morning dew. Sounds like prime conditions for a global conflagration.

    I repeat, the story like the ultimate in wishful thinking. But if it turns out to be true, it might not be the inauguration of peace, love and ponies its being made out to be.
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    FM reply: I believe you comment is wrong in several ways.
    * I checked this with a major energy expert. It’s possible, albeit perhaps with some exaggeration about the timing.
    * If true, I believe the odds of the US military keeping this secret are near zero. It would be like keeping secret the invention of the steam engine.
    * Your analysis of its scope is certainly wrong. Even if cheap, several decades would be required to scale this up to produce the equivalent of tens of millions of barrels of oil. They announce lab results. Next comes a pilot plant, then small-test commercial plants, then expansion.

  5. Second point: They may not be successful in keeping it a secret. It’s not to say they wouldn’t try or that powerful people would not lobby to keep the lid on. The comparative advantage this would bestow would be gigantic. Surely you’d agree that there are power hungry people at the Pentagon and all levels of government who don’t share well with others. Washington has certainly shown a willingness to begger the general public to the advancement of the military.

    Third point: The timing may vary, and I’m not claiming to have a crystal ball, but I don’t think you can reasonably deny that this would dramatically change the world’s political landscape. I don’t have all the timing, and the article was vague, but it seems like the military already HAS the pilot plant. Once the capability is there it seems like it would mechanically simple to produce, as opposed to something like shale oil extraction, which has a crap economy of scale. Once the initial breakthrough is made, every oil-dependent nation on the planet would throw scads of money into native capability.

    While this infrastructure is being built, I have a desperately hard time believing that the fuel powers would meekly trot off into history’s has-been file. If anything, the Russias of the world would feel almost compelled into action before being swept away by irrelevance.
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    FM reply: I think your first and second points are without foundation (aka wild guessing). As for #3, of course this would be a big development. My point was that it would take decades to have large global effects. The DARPA fact sheets suggest this is still small-scale testing. A pilot plant is a preliminary to industrial production. DOE specs for CTL and GTl projects call for pilot plants in the 5-10 thousand gallons/day scale.

    Promotional materials widely misuse this term. If used loosely, there are already many biofuel pilot plants in operation — yet the world does not appear to have changed yet. Like that of Aurora Biofuels producing 1000 gallon per year. See Google for more.

  6. Per #3: Even if it is not cost-competitive for ordinary fuel use under the status quo, I can certainly imagine it would be worth $10/gal to the Pentagon to have a fuel supply that cannot easily be interrupted by oil supply shortages.

  7. If anything the poll shows that in terms of race, the TEA parties are just as diverse as America – 70% of all poll respondents were white, and 65% of the country overall.

    Mikyo: both? It seems like they are more interested in dressing up in goofy costumes than anything else. Still, the movement is in its infancy. Many genuine grass roots movement start off as a disorganized rabble.
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    FM reply: No. What’s relevant is the percent “white” among the Tea Party supporters (80%) vs. all respondents in the poll (71%). You cannot compare the response to the US demographics. The margin of sampling error is 3%, so the difference is statistically significant. I have updated the post to make this more clear.

  8. I recall reading similar algal oil stories here in NZ: “There’s oil in them sewage ponds“, New Zealand Herald, 19 September 2009. There’s other articles but seems to have quietened down of recent. Maybe it just wasn’t economic enough….
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    FM reply: Nothing has slowed down or quieted down in biofuel research, as showed by the Google link I gave above. Perhaps the media just moved on to other naratives.

  9. China is much more powerful and influential than Mr Finkelstein projects it to be. For example, read this report on the China National Day 2009 parade. “Trump card strategic missiles spotlighted in China National Day parade“, People’s Daily, 1 October 2009. Excerpt:

    Experts say the missiles “shoulder a divine mission of curbing the threat of war and safeguarding state sovereignty”. … The PLA headquarters praised the nuclear missiles as a “trump card”. “With the development of the PLA’s strategic weaponry, the army’s capability in maintaining world peace and containing war crises has been enhanced,” military sources say.

    You have to note these above sentences very carefully. When something is put out by the People’s Liberation Army, or The State Council, anyone else who’s really powerful in China, then their style is to attribute it to “military sources” or any other kind of anonymous “sources”. All the other quotes in the article are attributed to specific persons. The real message is in this particular excerpt above.
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    FM reply: There is zero new information in this. Most of us already knew that China had atomic weapons and global delivery systems.

  10. Awesome! The great thing about algae fuel is that we can control the production. Plus, there are some other external benefits. I spoke to one of the head scientists of an algae-to-fuel group, and he said there is stock feed as a left over from production. So it could be a double win.

    Also, I am really surprised that all the blogs aren’t super stoked on Obama signing off on the Nuke deal. The only blog I read that was excited about it was Planet Gore, ran by National Review. I think a lot of conservatives like myself should really give Obama a pat on the back for moving that initiative forward (even if it uses public money).

    Energy is so important. Cheap energy makes life easier for so many. So these developments could be really good.

    FM, I don’t understand your Tea Party hating. Demographic info can be useful, but it doesn’t confirm attacks on the Tea Party as something race-based. Anecdotally, I was at a major Tea party in San Diego, and there was a black guy giving a speech to the tea party folk. His focus was that the Tea Party should try to expand there ideas and not be afraid to talk to black people about cutting spending and that kind of stuff. Nobody was racist.

    Do you really believe the color of the skin is important to mention? Just because there is a lot of whites doesn’t mean they’re racist. The only reason CNN would post that poll or you to repost it, IMO, is to create an obtuse ad hominem attack. Are they saying anything racist? You should go to one of the rallies and ask them yourself if they are racist. I get the feeling you have a theory that they are all dumb and are simply freaking out with a black president. If that’s the case, then I could accuse you of being racist for not agreeing with Obama.

    Now, that being said, I do agree with a lot of what you have posted about monetary policy, macro-econ, and how the tea-partiers are missing the point. But I think they have the right idea of how things should be in a perfect world. Reality is different and I think we have to work with what he have in the way Vockler and Koo describe. Perhaps someday, a more perfect framework can be realized.

    I do recognize that the spending problem we have is not new, and is all probably reagan and W’s fault somehow. Now, all of a sudden, a new movement springs up coinciding with Obama’s arrival. I think you’d have a tea party if it were hillary too. So, the hypocricy, IMO, is not race-based, but party based. And the mainly republican people maybe bitched and moaned during BushW but didn’t do anything cause he was Republican. I accept that. But not the race part.

  11. BTW, planet gore had two conflicting takes on nuclear: “Nuclear Obama, Meeting Himself 2 Percent of the Way“, 16 February 2010.

    And just to be clear, what I was trying to mean was: why isn’t everybody as excited as I am? This is so cool. Ever since I started caring at all about anything, I thought we need more nuclear power. I would consider myself a conservative, and I read many conservative (yeah, propagandic) blogs, and I am just shocked that more people aren’t super stoked. If the Right is going to be so dumb as to not support Obama in this, I think they are failures and won’t get my vote again.
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    FM reply: Why are not more people excited? We can only guess. Three decades of false starts. It’s only 2 reactors, which have yet to recieve approval from the Federal government. Even if approved, it’s just the first step to increasing the role of atomic power in the USA — not even offsetting the reactors that will be going out of service in the coming years. I agree it is good news.

  12. And one more thing, I was talking to a friend who is a Navy officer about this in San Diego. And he says if environmentalists and liberals are concerned, they should be protesting the 7 or so nuclear reactors in the bay, on the subs and ships. Duh. People need to give and inch.

  13. “FM reply: The last page of the report is a demographic analysis of Tea Party supporters. I don’t understand your comment.”

    No, it is not. It is a demographic analysis, of the people who were called, at random, and who then identified themselves as Tea Party participents. The title implies a certainty that does not exist in the report. It is NOT an analysis of Tea Party demonstrations.
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    FM reply: This is confused. First, the headline “Who are the people at the Tea Party demonstrations?” was mine, not CNN’s. As you correctly note, the poll is of people who have actively supported the Tea Party movement, not specifically of those who have attended the meetings. I have fixed the headline.

    My statement in the reply (which you quote) was accurate; your comment “it is not” is incorrect.. CNN provides an “analysis of Tea Party supporters”.

    “then identified themselves as Tea Party participents”

    Exactly.

  14. “China is much more powerful and influential than Mr Finkelstein projects it to be.”

    So was the Soviet Union. Gone now. Their leaders talked, and talked, and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche.

  15. I’ve been investigating the Tea Baggers a little bit and have come to the conclusions:

    1. They are going to be a major force in the 2010 elections. I’m not sure how yet, but they are too big and have too much staying power to not play a role.

    2. They are beginning to show a little political sophistication and are mostly successful in fending off efforts by the Republicans to bring them into the party mainstream. They (correctly) blame both parties for the current mess and are determined to have nothing to do with either of them.

    3. They are what John Robb at Global Guerillas calls an “Open Source” movement. They are an extremely diverse set of small organizations who don’t have a single unifying goal but are intent on rapidly improving their effectiveness. They seek out innovation, constantly experiment, and learn from each others successes and failures.

    4. FM has been looking for a people’s movement to start thrashing some sense into our government and political parties and I think, with some major caveats, this is it. These people need a great deal of education in political realities but at least they seem to be trainable and know they need to know more. That puts them in a better place than about 70% of the population.

    The thing that scares me about the Tea Baggers is that they remind me quite a bit of the more revolutionary elements of the French Revolution and that one didn’t go so well as the American Revolution did…

    Here’s a good article from the NY Times that summarizes a lot of what I’ve seen in my brief foray into the political darkness: “Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right“, 15 February 2010.
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    FM reply: You might be correct. However, IMO at this time they are part of the problem — not a solution. They have big wishes (less govenment spending and regulation). But so far no useful solutions — other than cutting government benefits to other people, regulations that they don’t like, and so forth. Plus many of their beliefs clearly come from conservative propaganda, and could have fast ill effects if implemented (e.g., such as belief that government stimulus programs either don’t work or are harmful). Plus a large measure of ignorance (e.g., successful operation of health system in other nations). It’s a noxious brew, which I suspect will breed only monsters. Good intentions count for nothing, esp in public policy.

    The sign “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare!” represents the Tea Party movement’s combination of selfishness and ignorance. It might evolve, but from a ugly beginning.

  16. FM reply: “This is confused. First, the headline “Who are the people at the Tea Party demonstrations?” was mine, not CNN’s. As you correctly note, the poll is of people who have actively supported the Tea Party movement, not specifically of those who have attended the meetings. I have fixed the headline.

    The poll is of 1024 voters. Only 143 of those identified themselves as Tea Party supporters. This is meaningless. The poll is of 1,024 random people, who were called. We don’t know what parts of the country were called. Only 143 of those identified themselves as Tea Party supporters. This is meaningless. Draw what conclusions you will, from this paltry nothing.
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    FM reply: I suggest you read a book about statistics and polling, or call your local community college to enroll in an intro course. Most of what we know about the world results from sampling (e.g., most demographic and economic data).

  17. FM wrote: “I checked this with a major energy expert. It’s possible, albeit perhaps with some exaggeration about the timing.”

    The current compounds isolated from algea are high-price “fine” chemicals. Even an small up-scaling of the algea production will kill this market. The energy provider, which run some of the research programmes in Europe, do not see a usefull contribution within the next decades, so while algea are a long term project with some merits, the peak oil problem needs other solutions.
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    FM reply: There does not appear to be a “solution” to peak oil. Some alternatives can work soon, some scale fast, some can scale to a large magnitude, some provide niche solutions (e.g., electric cars), some provide liquid fuels with broad applications. No one provides a magic bullet. It’s not a reasonable standard by which to evaluate — let along dismiss — alternative energy sources.

    “current compounds isolated from algea are high-price “fine” chemicals. Even an small up-scaling of the algea production will kill this market.”

    I do not understand what you mean by this.

  18. FM: You might be correct. However, IMO at this time they are part of the problem — not a solution.

    I agree with all statements in your response however there are two factors in their favor:

    1. The Tea Baggers seem to be trying to find their own solutions and seem to be willing to try to learn. Admittedly they are almost criminally naive but with a few gentle bumps they might well be persuaded to go in more intelligent directions. Remember, these people are very fearful for their country and their future and they want to succeed. If we can feed a few groups some small ideas that succeed the rest of the groups will adopt them.

    2. I don’t know how much time the country has left before we discard the last remnants of a semi-democratic government and turn towards becoming the world’s largest banana republic but I fear that it isn’t long.

    You take the longer view and normally I’d agree with you but the current circumstances seem to be driving the country over the cliff very quickly. Back in 2004 when I first realized what a pickle the country is in I estimated that we had 30-50 years. Now my estimate is between 6 and 16 years and leaning towards the lower number.

    The Tea Baggers are at least trying to go in the right direction and sometimes you have to ride the nasty ugly horse that’s here rather than wait for the nicer prettier horse you hope will come down the road sometime soon.

  19. FM: “current compounds isolated from algea are high-price “fine” chemicals. Even an small up-scaling of the algea production will kill this market.” I do not understand what you mean by this.

    All algea products are sold in small scale (few tons) and are used in high price products (cosmetics etc.). The market is almost saturated and an upscaling of the algea production will probably cause problems. To my knowledge, no algea products are used as fuel because their price is much too high and in current production the primary energy demand is too high.
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    FM reply: Thank you for the explanation!

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