Wild Green Yonder
Saturday, August 23, 2003
Go Organic - With Your Solar Cells
Dutch designers have come up with "Nanocrystalline dye sensitized Solar Cells," which have the potential to not only greatly reduce the cost of solar photovoltaics, but make their manufacture much more benign. This is soooo cool.
"The dye-sensitized solar cell replicates the most important principles of its prototype, photosynthesis. Due to its simple construction it offers the hope of a significant reduction in the cost of solar electricity. "Their manufacture is relatively simple on laboratory scale." In fact, according to ECN-researcher Jan Kroon, "you can practically make this solar cell in your kitchen with TiO2 (commonly used in toothpaste) and raspberry juice". Jan Kroon: "the present state of this technology has resulted in working prototypes of cells and small modules, but these are not available on the market yet. Market introduction of the cells requires an efficient and reliable production process based on low cost materials and long term stability. We expect that within five years these solar cells will appear on the market for low-power applications either on glass or flexible substrates (i.e. calculators, watches, price labels). Hopefully, this will function as a stepping stone for the introduction of high power applications, which are mainly intended for outdoor use." Their efficiency is only 5 - 10 percent on small areas, which is much less than conventional silicon solar cells, but the promise of low manufacturing costs and versatility, make practical applications of these photovoltaic devices feasible in the future."
(from design goddess Dawn Danby's wonderful ecoportal)
Monday, August 18, 2003
Costly in Blood and Treasure
The Daily Kos has a biting post today on the costs of war, at home and abroad, to which I added the following comment, which has since been getting picked up elsewhere:
So, let me see if I've got this right:
1) we have the worst budget deficits in our nation's history;
2) our national infrastructure is crumbling, social safety nets for the old, young and veterans are fraying to pieces, and our education system is a shambles;
3) all democratic debate has been washed under by a fair tidal wave of "campaign contributions," "soft money," and other bribes while influence-peddling in our nation's capital hits a level not seen since Teapot Dome days;
4) corporate criminals who stole billions of dollars, tanking the economy and ruining retirement hopes of millions of people, have yet to be significantly punished, and while the richest of rich wallow in tax cuts and tax-free inheritances, the nation has lost more jobs than in any Administration since Hoover's;
5) our global climate is gone all weird on us, killing thousands of people in Europe and spreading terrible fires and tornados here at home, while our president demands that all notice of such ideas as climate change and carbon emissions reduction be stricken from key reports;
6) and we're in an expensive, deadly quagmire in an Arab nation which is not only taking our focus away from the murderous terrorists of 9-11, but perhaps provoking others to join them?
Is that about where we are?
Army of One
Every soft-bellied bully from our chicken-hawk right-wing should have to watch and answer this Take Back the Media animation. While conservative talk-jocks have been shrilling at this war's critics for "not supporting the troops" this Administration has turned, in the words of a major veterans' group, "the armed services into a superb machine for the creation of poverty," cutting VA benefits, throwing returning reservists off their health insurance plans, slashing money for enlisted housing and child care, reducing educational benefits, and trimming hazardous duty pay and death benefits (not to mention getting 330 of our countrymen killed so far in a war it is more and more obvious was sold to the American people through a screen of lies and half-truths).
Remind me: Who are the real patriots here?
Oh the Anomie! Oh the Tedium! Oh, ho, it's a writer's life for me!
Charlie Stross (who is, btw, the man) lays it all out for the folks at home here:
"I'm in the second and final edit pass through that goddamn novel, and there is absolutely nothing on the web with which I can distract myself. Baah. Near as I can figure I've got a 500-word glue scene to write (to replace the scene I wheeked out of the penultimate chapter to turn into the surprise-epilogue), some tap-dancing transplantation to perform on a minor mcguffin, and some polishing in the last chase scene, and then it's done. Which makes it all sound so self-contained and predictable that you might be forgiven for wondering why I just backed up the files (to spare laptop and iPod) before downing tools in order to go to the pub. I mean, why not finish the damn thing and get it out of the way?
"The answer can be encapsulated by a word: tedium. Writing a first draft is fun, and scary, and challenging, and obsessive, and exciting. Editing an n-th draft for the sixth time, two years after that first wild explosion of ideas, is one of the most tediously boring kinds of intellectual drudgery I can imagine. And I'm just reaching the peak of anomie...."
Omigod can I relate. This is exactly where I'm at with Wild Green Yonder. Having written mostly short (800 - 1,500 word) pieces for the last ten years, and lots of them, I feel like a sprinter who's forced to run a marathon and then, when he gets to the finish-line, told to turn and around and run it again, but with better technique.
I'm so filled with anomie that I had my freakin' wisdom teeth out in order to have an excuse not to work on the damn thing for a couple days.
Sunday, August 17, 2003
Barking Crickets kick ass!
This sustainable design portal made me jump out of my chair and throw my arms up, shouting "Yes!" It is, simply put, the best collection of links I've ever seen for tools, techniques and practices for our mission of recrafting this drab, ruined future we've been handed into something rich, strangely irresistable, and deeply sustainable. Jumpin' Jesus on a hotplate this is some kinda cool - somebody give these folks some money!
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Is California's Recall the Beginning, or the Beginning of the End?
Republicans are not-very-quietly crowing about how California's gubernatorial recall vote is the beginning of a wave of Republican political domination that'll last decades. Others are not so sure that recall will actually pass, or that Schwarzenegger can actually win.
While it's illuminating - and amusing, if one has a sardonic streak - to watch the Repugs hone their knives and stock their bag of dirty tricks, it's also worth remembering that Liberals have traditionally done well in years when the turnout is large. They buy, we vote. And I've never seen the progressive half of the country this angry and motivated.
I think there is some real chance that 2004 is a turning-of-the-tide year.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
The Universe, a weirder place than we ever thought, part 493:
"By studying the mysterious properties of black holes, physicists have deduced absolute limits on how much information a region of space or a quantity of matter and energy can hold. Related results suggest that our universe, which we perceive to have three spatial dimensions, might instead be "written" on a two-dimensional surface, like a hologram. Our everyday perceptions of the world as three-dimensional would then be either a profound illusion or merely one of two alternative ways of viewing reality...
[Link] (from Warren Ellis)
Ready to do the Gaia Hypothesis one better? Step up to the Selfish Biocosm hypothesis:
"Gardner's hypothesis is called the "Selfish Biocosm." It states that intelligent life plays a key role in a cosmological cycle whereby the universe, over enormous timescales, creates new copies of itself. The laws of physics, in this view, strongly favor the emergence of life and intelligence -- and indeed are designed to do so. However, this design is not of supernatural origin. Biocosm (Inner Ocean Publishing) carries the subtitle "The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life is the Architect of the Universe."
"The universe, in Gardner's telling, is "selfish" in the same metaphorical sense that genes are regarded as "selfish"; it is geared for self-replication. The Big Bang thus resulted from a Big Crunch in a previous universe. Our universe will end with a similar event, giving rise to one or more baby universes. Intelligent life arises in each universe, and eventually develops the ability to create new universes friendly to intelligent life."
Sunday, August 10, 2003
"Graft, which is like a leech, draining the blood of all civic virtue..."
Great NYT piece on corruption around the world, why it's hard to fight, and what can be done about it:
• The most corrupt nations are indeed poor ones, but grand corruption can be found everywhere: illicit deals between top officials and big business have brought down governments in Japan and Europe. Money distorts America's political system as well -- that it is largely legal does not make it less corrupt.
• Big governments tend to be less corrupt. It might seem intuitive that a large role for government in the economy would provide a large opportunity for mischief, but in fact weak states often lack the mechanisms to fight graft.
• Democracy helps -- a free press, strong opposition political parties, an independent judiciary and a healthy civil society all limit corruption. But getting there is perilous. The transition to democracy tends to be a very corrupt period, during which shaky institutions, rapid privatizations and unclear rules contribute to the problem. Countries recently emerging from dictatorship tend to be more corrupt than the dictatorships they displaced.
• Regional variations are unpredictable. Northern European countries tend to be less corrupt than Southern European countries. But a clean colonizer doesn't mean a clean colony. Although Britain is now one of the least corrupt European countries, Bangladesh and Nigeria, former British colonies, score high on a global list of the most corrupt countries.
• A key factor is how a country makes its money. Oil hurts. Countries that make their money from oil have usually neglected to develop a middle class and solid political institutions. High levels of non-oil international trade help, perhaps because trade has historically given powerful private citizens an interest in effective government and leaders incentive to raise standards to international levels. Singapore, Hong Kong, Chile and Botswana, all trading nations, are significantly less corrupt than their neighbors and cleaner than many wealthier countries.
In the last couple of decades, anticorruption campaigns have met with sporadic success in isolated countries. But now, for the first time, the struggle against corruption has gone global. A nongovernmental group founded in 1993, Transparency International, today has chapters in 90 countries. It is best known for its annual ranking of the perception of corruption -- that is, the general sense among people doing business in a given country that officials are demanding bribes. But Transparency, based in Berlin, also mobilizes people to fight corruption and disseminates information on how best to do so.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
My friend and land-partner Melody Ermachild Chavis is on tour for her new book, Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan, which is about the founder of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which has got to be about the toughest, most bad-ass women's rights group in the world. Melody's a terrific writer. If you're around when she's in town, do yourself the favor of going to hear her.
I wrote the following this morning in a fit. Don't pay it too much attention:
Three-ring circus. Carnival. Ship of fools. Inmates running the asylum. Yes, it's suddenly election season again in California, and the national press is on a bender, writing stories about how goofy those Left-Coasters are. And the coming vote on whether to recall Governor Gray Davis is weird, and crazy, and worth every column inch of coverage, but not for the entertainment value.
It is nuts that California voters, having just elected Davis, will now be asked on the same October 7th ballot whether to recall him and with whom to replace him. It's even wackier that – should the first question on the ballot, the recall, pass – the candidate to take a simple plurality will win. Add to this that any Californian with $3,500 and 65 signatures can put herself on the ballot, and you have the wonderful spectacle brewing of hundreds of candidates and, potentially, a Governor elected by as few as 10% of that small minority who bother to show up and vote.
And this last provision has drawn the loonies from the woodwork. Former Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger declared last night on the Jay Leno show. Hustler publisher Larry Flynt has climbed in the gubernatorial hot tub, too, as have bitter divorcees Arianna and Michael Huffington. Gary Coleman – yes, that Gary Coleman – is in, too. David Issa, the alleged-car-thief-turned-multimillionaire-care-alarm-salesman, who bankrolled the recall using illegal carpetbagger signature collectors, is running. So's a spoiler Green Party candidate, and even the respected Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. And the filing period isn't even closed yet.
But none of this is what's really craziest about the whole thing. What's really craziest is that the entire US press is missing the real story: that this is yet another bald perversion of the democratic process by a filthy-rich and powercrazed Republican party, that will stop at nothing to get its ways. Strip away the circus bunting and this is a putsch.
Though almost no one here likes Davis, this recall has nothing to do with an outraged electorate, and everything to do with a Republican party that has seen its statewide presence obliterated in the last four elections, and is willing to drop millions of dollars and pull any dirty tricks it can find to get a do-over.
In that, this ugly power-grab special election – which will, with all its other virtues, cost the cash-strapped counties of California the equivalent of the salaries of more than 2,300 teachers – is part of a larger trend, one that erupted most ominously with a stolen Florida presidential vote, but also includes the Texas state legislature's Repugs using the Department of Homeland Security to try to track down their Democratic party colleagues who'd fled the state to prevent a vote on an unconstitutional redistricting plan that'd have turned the Lone Star State into the Lone Party State; Repug Rep Bill Thomas calling the Capitol Police to round up Democratic congresscritters who'd left his committee so that they might – the gall! – actually read the bill they were supposed to be debating; propaganda and outright lies spewing from Fox and the right-wing think-tanks 24 hours a day; potentially rigger voting machines; FBI agents questioning editorial cartoonists; activists finding their names on the national no-fly list; Karl Rove with a reelection campaign that centers around staging the Republican national convention in New York just days from the anniversary of 9-11 and then splashing gianormous slop-troughs of money on the voters... it goes on and on, but it all boils down to one thing: R's who are willing to do literally anything to grab our democracy by the neck and throttle it.
Their own language tells us this is true. Conservative head strategist Grover Norquist says he wants to shrink the government down enough that it could be drowned in a bathtub. Tom Delay says bipartisanship is another term for date-rape. Newt Gingrich snarls about how you don't stop hitting the other guy until he stops moving. Karl Rove speaks enthusiastically about the coming decades of one-party governance.
And while the media keeps coming back to the circus aspect – harping on how California has "reclaimed its rightful place as the wackiest state in the nation" – it's a circus that covers up a vile reality. Those creepy clowns on the elephant? They're coming for you.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Speaking of the Strange and Funny
Skot may be one of the funniest bloggers alive... well, maybe not quite alive, but still writing at least:
My Bother, The Car
All right. It was time to stop jerking around. This car thing had gone far enough. I was going to fix things one way or another. I grabbed some stuff at the bookstore and walked up to the moribund little pile of shit.
I was calm. I was cool. I popped that hood open with a practiced flick of the wrist and gazed down at the engine with an icy, clinical stare. "All right, hombre," I whispered, "it's high noon. I'm Gary Cooper. And you're . . . " I thought a moment. "You're the other guy in High Noon." I've never seen High Noon, but the car didn't know that. Neither did the two hot chicks smiling at me from the sidewalk. "Just gonna whip this fucking car into shape, ladies!" I screamed at them. "I've got SKILLS!" I waved my arms madly in a display of raw passion. They giggled and ran away. They wanted me.
Back to business. First thing first: check those spark plugs. Carefully, one by one, I took out what I assumed were the spark plugs and inspected them each. They looked good, and reminded me of little spaceships, so I zoomed them around playfully for a while making whooshes and laser noises. Then, remembering that spark plugs needed to be "gapped," I checked the teeny little space between the dongle and the other thingy. Problem: not much of a gap. There was just a tiny space in there, and I didn't see how that was helping matters--why suppress the spark so much?--so I took a screwdriver and reamed out some really big gaps in each of them. Now we'll see some fucking sparks, won't we? I replaced the spark plugs with just a little intermittent hammering with the butt of the screwdriver to get them properly seated, and replaced the odd little plastic helmets they wore. They looked like tiny executioner's hoods, so I hollered "LONG LIVE THE AUTOMOTIVE REVOLUTION!" at a passing old woman. "You're lucky I'm standing between you and these little fuckers. They'd have your tiny head off in a flash, especially now that they're power-gapped!" She displayed remarkably little gratitude for this precious knowledge and tottered away. Old people are sad.
Now for the oil. I consulted my Audi owner's manual--I had picked one up used earlier that day from a very confusing rack full of them, so I just grabbed the ones with the coolest covers--and quickly discovered where the oil-hole was. Underneath the fucking car! Who designs these things, cripples? It just seemed stupid. Why not in the glove box, or on the dash? Whatever. I got down on my back and started inching under my car, getting a little more pissed now, because I was wearing a new shirt. Which of course turned out to be a total wash, because the oil-hole wasn't anywhere that the owner's manual said it was. I looked at another one, this one for a Volkswagen, and this fucking thing told me it was way in another spot, like in the trunk or something, and I just got fed up and tossed away the damned books; clearly none of these fatheads had ever cross-checked their facts with each other, so their damned books were all just a pack of fucking lies. I wondered idly what the morons who made my car--I checked, and it said "Honda" on it--claimed the damn thing was. Probably in space, or maybe the eleventh dimension.
So there was only one thing to do. I checked the oil-hole (the top one this time; can these things be more confusing?) and looked inside. It was blacker than hell in there; it looked like Donald Rumsfeld's soul. So I lit my lighter and waved it around in there, peering for a good look of where the oil got put, but it was still hard to see. Figuring, well screw it, I wasn't getting anywhere with this, I decided to use my hole card. I didn't want to do it, but desperate measures were in order. I took a deep breath, and steadied myself.
I began speaking the Old Words, and my voice came like syrup from my throat, the words hung glistening and heavy in the air. I felt a slight heat as the mystical energies swirled around me, and the fabric of space around me began to tear. The summoning was working. I opened my eyes and beheld a man.
"Doctor Strange," I said, "can you help me fix my fucking car?"
Doctor Strange looked at me briefly, and then flashed his eyes at the "Honda"--strange word! He blanched and looked back at me. "Dormammu's Eyes! Your car--it's--it's---" he trailed off. "It's really fucked up," he concluded softly. "Yes, Doctor, I know. Can you help me?"
The Doctor let his scarlet cape swirl around him mysteriously, and stroked his black beard. His eyes were hooded in shadow, and he seemed not to notice the small crowd of little boys who had gathered to stare at his floating form. I threw small stones at them so as to prevent their disturbing Doctor Strange, and they fled, screaming at my deadly accuracy.
"It is done!" the Doctor suddenly cried, and powerful energy coursed down his arms and into his hands; orbs of light manifested in his palms, and he held them there, like magical basketballs.
"You have fixed my car, Doctor Strange?" I was so happy! I ran to my car and snapped off the antenna and began savagely whipping the sides of the aged jalopy, fiercely screaming, "Don't EVER do that to me AGAIN!" Doctor Strange looked on bemusedly, and said, "No, no, Skot. Leave off your ministrations, much they may be deserved. The car is not fixed. I have simply arranged towing transport for your vehicle to the nearest mechanical shop, where they shall attend to what ails it. In the meantime, we shall enjoy cold beverages, and when they are done, you need only give them money in the amount which is indicated on their 'bill'."
Radio Free Left Coast
For those of you with Pacifica stations in the hood, I'll be making my fifth appearance on Caroline Casey's Visionary Activism show on KPFA 94.1 this Thursday at 2:00 pm PacTime. It's far-out, eccentric and currently my favorite news program on the air. Check it out.
Ask Dr. Hal!
When I was living in the Mission, going to see Hal Robins perform his zany and brilliant "Ask Dr. Hal" show was frequently one of the highlights of my week. Now SF Weekly has done a pretty good profile of him and his work. Few artists more deserve the press. I can't wait to see him being dragged around the playa on a lifesize replica of a pirate ship, reciting the Rime of the Ancient Mariner at this year's Burning Man.