Sustainable Energy

A couple of months ago, I attended a symposium at the University of Michigan that offered a lot of food for thought about the global energy future.  There are a lot of people that are working on the problem of supplying the world's energy needs for the next century, and beyond.  But the energy supply is only a problem in as much as there is likely to be growing demand for many decades to come.  In terms of energy supply, the problem is getting the energy to the people that want it, but there will be no shortage of energy sources for centuries to come, even if we have no further technological advances.  We have enough resources to power the growth and development of human civilization for as long as it is likely to exist using existing technology.  But we have to make choices about what we want our power supply to look like, and inherent in that choice is a decision about what we want our planet to be like.  The decision that we have to make has everything to do with the emission of carbon gases.  Now I know that I'm not going to convince any global warming skeptics about anything.  The science of the greenhouse effect is there, and the empirical evidence of a precipitous rise in average global temperatures over the last half century that is altogether unheard of in, in terms of magnitude and speed, in at least the last million years is clear.  I will say no more about this issue in this post, except to direct interested parties to the recently released United Nations  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 2007:

The IPCC report is very conservative as far as main stream climate science goes.  So if you are not convinced by the UN estimates, you must either have a pretty strong counter argument, or you aren't going to be convinced by chunk of glacial ice hitting you in the head.

In terms of looking at the world's energy future, and the decisions that we have to make as a global society, I thought that Nate Lewis' presentation at the symposium presented a pretty good picture of the reality that we are facing.  If we wish to create a world that is able to meet the global energy demand without emitting enough carbon gases to raise the atmospheric CO2 concentrations above 350 ppm, and I hope that we are, we have to look at the entirety of the problem.  We have to look at the total world demand for energy, and look for solutions, maybe a whole group of solutions, that can address the entire problem.  I suggest that anyone that has any interest in the topic of the energy supply to check out Nate Lewis' presentations.  The first link is to a video of his presentation last February at the University of Michigan.  The second is a presentation that he gave at Cal Tech a couple of years ago.  It's basically the same presentation, though the Cal Tech version is longer, and the Cal Tech version offers more information about Lewis's own research into photovoltaic energy production:

U of M symposium

Cal Tech Link

Let me point out that any of the possible solutions to creating a sustainable energy economy include a heavy emphasis on energy conservation.  This is a problem that can be solved by technology, but technology alone is not enough without the will.

Charter Schools

I just attended a conference on corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the University of Michigan, and I was really frustrated by the people that they got to fill out the last panel of speakers.  There was a guy from IBM that basically presented a list of the corporate green-washing programs that IBM is donating to, which are a bunch of non-profit charities that the company is donating a few million dollars to here and there.  This is the exact opposite of what corporate social responsibility is supposed to be.  CSR is all about corporations incorporating ideas of sustainability and social justice into the fabric of their day to day operations, and making them part of the very foundation and strategy of the business.  All business decisions should be considered through the lens of CSR.  What the IBM guy was talking about was just charitable giving, which is completely extraneous to the concept of CSR.

The other two speakers on the panel were promoting companies that are, in my opinion, conducting business that is exactly the opposite of CSR.  The first speaker was shilling for a charter school company called KIPP.  KIPP operates around fifty charter schools in cities in states around America that have favorable charter laws.  KIPP only operates in places where it can get a lot of per pupil funding, and where it has broad legal latitude to educate students in any way that it sees fit.  But that's all a lot of talk, and it's neither here nor there.  The real issue here is that charter schools are designed to take students away from public school districts.  When charter schools succeed in enticing students away from their local school districts the state gives the money that would have gone to the public school to the charter school.  Yes, they use that money to educate students.  Yes, their students tend to attend college at higher rates than the average students in the districts from where they are drawn.  Yes, KIPP is a non-profit organization (though many charter schools are run for profit).  But the point is, the main reason that charter schools out perform public schools is that they are freed from the legal constraints that public schools have to deal with, many of which are in place for very good reasons. 

Public schools are required by law to educate every single student, including disabled, mentally challenged and developmentally impaired students.  Charter schools can educate anyone they like.  Charter schools can set arbitrary entry requirements or deny access to students that might be too difficult or costly to educate, especially disabled or learning impaired students, who are far more expensive to educate than other students, and who require far more time and resources from educators. 

Public schools have large fixed costs.  They have property and buildings that need to be maintained.  They have contracts with unionized teachers that need to be honored.  They have legacy costs associated with retired teachers on pensions and health insurance.  They have school buses to operate.  Charter schools are often free of any of these kinds of fixed costs.  They often rent buildings.  They don't necessarily have to provide busing.  Their teachers are rarely unionized.  They have no retiree pension or health care obligations to address, and they may selectively choose to only hire young workers to keep insurance costs down.  They don't have to provide busing to students.

Public school districts are permanent institutions.  If the state or local funding for a school district declines, it is still required by law to provide education to every single student.  If a charter school finds itself unable to make enough money, it can simply close it's doors and leave the community, or it could lower it's enrollment.

Public schools are evaluated on the basis of the state and federal government mandated standardized tests, and one of the remedies that is prescribed by federal law for schools that have low average test scores is conversion into charter schools.  But many charter schools aren't legally forced to administer the mandated standardized tests that public schools are judged by.  Charter schools can really teach students important information, instead of acting as glorified test preparation institutions, as many public schools now do.

Given all of the advantages that charter schools have over the public schools that they compete with, it isn't surprising that they have, in many cases, greatly outperformed their public school counterparts, especially in extremely impoverished areas.  But many charter schools have underperformed the public schools that they have competed against.  Not all charter schools can meet their advertised expectations, despite the advantages that they typically have over traditional public schools.

As I have explained, public schools have large fixed costs and legal mandates to educate all students to a specific level, and these costs and mandates do not disappear when charter schools come in and siphon off the best students and the funding that they would have represented to the school districts from which they came.  As more and more charter schools pop up around the country (KIPP operates around fifty, but it is planning on doubling that number in the next few years) they put more pressure on public schools to educate their students and maintain their facilities on a shrinking budget.  The best charter schools provide outstanding education for a very small number of students, while the rest of the students suffer as their school districts fall further behind.  This is not corporate social responsibility, it is a kick in the teeth to the taxpayers and their children.

Best News Conference Ever

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The Boston Police Department is obviously populated by a group of idiots, considering their overreaction to a bunch of Light Bright units that were placed around the city.  To actually get the bomb squad out to detonate a children's toy is just going a bit too far.  And then the news media was even worse.  Fox, CNN and the other cable outlets were going into hysterics talking about the explosive devices that had been found around the city even after it had been determined that they were in no way bombs, or even fake bombs.  The city of Boston and the media basically created this story out of nothing and then they got upset when the people that were arrested for the alleged crime of planting fake bombs (which these devices clearly weren't) refused to talk about their case.  I, for one, think these guys gave the reporters exactly what they deserved.

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Happy New Year? And what the hell is an olecranon anyway?

New year's eve was not so good this time around.  The night started off nice enough.  It had been raining pretty steadily all day, so I donned my rain gear when I left my apartment.  Jen and I met early in the evening at the state theater to see "Copying Beethoven," a movie that I'd been hoping to see for several months.  The movie wasn't bad, but it didn't quite live up to expectations.  After the movie, we headed to the Arbor Brewing Company for a light meal and a few beers.  By the time we left ABC, at a little after nine, the rain had completely subsided.  We headed to the new "Metro Cafe," where my sister was to be performing on the piano.  My intention had been to only stay for a little while, and to head to a party several miles out of town at around ten.  But an hour and a half, and a couple of big glasses of scotch later, and I was still sitting at the bar with Jen, Katey, Anthony and others.  Jen remarked on how drunk I looked, but I didn't feel too intoxicated.  I jumped on my bike a little after eleven, expecting my cell phone to ring at any moment with Dom or Mike wondering where I was.  I stopped at the Main St. party store to pick up some beer, before riding out on Liberty St. towards the country.  I didn't put my rain gear on, as the weather appeared to be clearing up.  The moon was shining brightly through breaks in the clouds, though a few flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance.  I rode a couple of miles down Liberty, past Maple and Wagner.  I was nearing the Thompson's house, out next to Zeeb, when a big storm came crashing in out of nowhere.  The rain came down steadily and the wind really kicked up.  The visibility dropped so much that I passed right by the Thompson's  house without seeing it, and had to turn around.  I arrived at the party soaked.  I joined the smokers that were standing around in the garage to avoid the rain and pulled out a beer.  I heard someone shout inside the house: Dan's here, and he's drunk.  But I still didn't feel very drunk. 

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Pinochet's Dead!

Let the world rejoice that another scum bag mass murdering tyrant has left the face of this planet,  I only regret that the legal system was unable to bring him to justice in his lifetime.

Fuck the Police!

Okay, this is some serious bullshit right here:
The story goes, a 23 year old man was using a computer in a UCLA computer lab.  The staff did a regular check of all of the people in the lab to make sure that they all had student identification cards.  This man did not have an ID.  The cops were called ot remove him from the lab.  He refused for a long time, but eventually consented to leave.  As he was walking out, one of the cops put his hand on the man's arm.  The man then refused to leave and became angry, yelling, don't touch me!... etc.  The cops pulled out a tazer and shocked him, which caused him to fall on the ground.  When he didn't stand up they shocked him again, and again, and again, and again.  The fucking cops can't get away with this bullshit.  They had no justification to use the tazer in the first place, as they guy wasn't physically threatening the cops.  But to shock the guy over and over again?  These cops should be fired and prosecuted.

Some kid in the lab recorded this on his camera phone

Here's an article about it

Fucking Pigs