April 29, 2011

Instant Runoff Voting Explained

The U.K. will be voting on the "Alternative Vote" next week. It is equivalent to what Americans call "Instant Run-off Voting": a fairer alternative to the "Winner Takes All" (U.S.) or "First Pass the Post" (U.K.) systems now in place.

The illustration below, adapted from the British campaign, illustrates why IRV is fairer.

How IRV works:
  • On the ballot, each voter marks first choice as "1", second choice (if any) as "2", and so on.
  • After vote, first choices are counted as usual.
  • If no candidate gets more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the second choice on each of those ballots is counted (i.e., instant run-off).
  • This continues until one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.

April 28, 2011

Iraq can avoid U.S./U.K. Orwellian state

Dallas Darling writes at World News (click the title of this post for the entire piece):

By the time former President George W. Bush ordered massive and deadly bombing campaigns over Iraq, followed by a preemptive military invasion that killed thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, there was no need to burn books. Neither was there concern over public demonstrations, anti-war rhetoric, acts of sedition, or Americans disrupting Congressional hearings and televised news accounts of the war. In a nation that no longer reads books, there is no need for book burnings. In a society that no longer knows how to think, there is no need for the thought police. In a country that speaks only in euphemisms — words and phrases devoid of any meaning and reality and facts — there is no need to suppress speech. In a state that fences and cordons off areas for protesters, the Gestapo and secret police are not needed. Furthermore, in a society socially engineered to consume manufactured, yet illegal, wars and high-tech atrocities, brutal occupations and collectivized murder becomes entertainment. Reality in an empire, or what appears to be reality dictated through illusions, is much more comfortable and easier to digest and to live with than moral convictions, moral courage, and moral outrage.

This is exactly the kind of totalitarian society and state George Orwell warned and wrote about in his book: "1984." ... Even though Orwell warned of such thought control and mass persuasion, referring to it as "brainwashing" and "protective stupidity," he believed that the State's sophisticated and subliminal control over the masses could never ultimately penetrate the heart. In other words, Orwell believed the inner workings of the soul would somehow remain mysterious and impregnable. The heart of humanity could never be completely mastered. There would always be some form of political dissidence and resistance to totalitarian regimes.

But Orwell never foresaw a corporative and market-oriented society, especially one that has been deeply internalized, and a society and culture in which addictive consumerism and mindless entertainment replaces thinking and ethics and universal principles of goodness and the importance of human life. He could not have realized that through global capitalism and neo-liberal policies, a new mentality and humanity could be fashioned and formed, that selfish unconscious desires could perpetually override more global conscientious morals and behavior, and that ideals like freedom, mercy, love, justice, and equality, and events and actions like preemptive invasions, wars, torture, murder, and rape, could be packaged and then advertised and sold. For Orwell, this preemptive invasion of the mind and the continued occupation of the heart and the very essence of "being" was foreign, nearly impossible. But in America, the pacification of civic engagement and thinking and the moral concepts of right and wrong has become sloppy and impoverished and in many cases, nonexistent.

In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell prophetically wrote: "This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases ... can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits." But in a consumerist and market-oriented for-profit culture and society, like that of America, selfish and materialistic and dystopian habits are difficult to overcome. ... Within this Americanized and inhuman environment, it is no wonder demonstrations are considered disturbances and dissenting voices and ideas are treason. Blatant lies are merely unfortunate mistakes, torture is useful and needful, revenge and militarism are glorified, and political indifference and aloofness are virtuous.

... In a disturbing twist of fate, Orwell's nightmare is Britain and America. Not only have Americans and Brits become their own thought police, but they have become their own demonstration and speech and petition police. By allowing their thoughts and ethics to be purged by the state and corporate powers, they have built their own "cages," their own Guantanamo Prisons, their own secret black sites.

Some Iraqis are aware of an American and British-like Orwellian state being established in their nation and around the world. Recent attacks against U.S. military bases and personnel were in response to America's continued support for a totalitarian regime in Bahrain and its crimes against humanity. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has courageously denounced the ban on public rallies, calling it "undemocratic" and based on fear. Sadr further added that the Iraqi government claims democracy but is undemocratic by allowing massive anti-U.S. protests to only be held at three stadiums. Nor have other Iraqis submitted to the extreme spectacles of preemptive wars and high-tech atrocities. They have not drunk the bitter waters of global capitalism, nor consumed and internalized its images and false realities. Dissent is not only imaginable but still a possibility. They have rejected "herd intoxication" and well honed psychological appeals to the basic instincts of humanity. And Orwell would have probably agreed with El-Baradei's words and ideas when he said, "Do we, as a community of nations, have the wisdom and courage to take the corrective measures needed, to ensure that such a tragedy will never happened again?"

April 27, 2011

If Not Wind Then What?

There was once a time when "No" was a respected and essential side of an argument. Classical debates are still based on one side supporting a proposition and the other side not. Support of the proposition requires mustering proofs to show its validity. Opposition requires showing it to be invalid, unsupported by solid proof. "Questioning", after all, is one definition of "proving", i.e., testing. It is the essence of intellectual inquiry.

Now, in the age of marketing, such proof of a proposition is no longer expected, much less required. The proposition is that you have a solution to some problem, but only the existence of the problem can be questioned (though such questioning is then scoffed at: "head in the sand!"). Rather than burdening yourself with having to prove that your product is indeed a solution, you turn the burden on to the antagonist: not to question your proposition, but to provide an alternative proposition.

This is no longer logic, much less science. It parallels religious faith. An atheist can not argue with a believer, because the believer needs an alternative: not "no god" but rather a different god.

And so we come to large-scale wind energy on the grid.

We have a fossil fuel crisis, due to either dwindling supplies or the ill effects of burning it. We also have large-scale wind turbines, which generate electricity without burning fossil fuels. Ergo, by illogical leap, the latter must be a solution to the former.

And anyone who notices that the evidence supporting the proposition is not only weak but even absent, is denounced as a naysayer, a stooge for coal, a climate change denier. Rather than prove the proposition, the marketer demands the questioner to come up with something better: If not wind, then what?

But the question is: If wind, what? It is not enough to simply assert that wind-generated electricity entering the grid reduces the use of and emissions from fossil fuels. The proposition requires numbers, data, real-world experience to show how much fossil fuel is burned per unit of electricity consumed before versus after the addition of wind power on the grid.

Since I first sought to learn more about large-scale wind energy 8 years ago and noticed the striking absence of such numbers, thus calling into question the entire enterprise, the situation has not changed. Arguments are churned out to prove the soundness of the theory, but actual data regarding fossil fuel use remain missing. The theory is not to be tested, i.e., proven.

(The theory leaps from the essentially true statement that "one kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity displaces one kilowatt-hour of electricity from other sources" to impute that that "one kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity displaces the fossil fuel otherwise required to generate one kilowatt-hour of electricity". This ignores fossil fuel burning while not generating electricity — e.g., in spinning reserve — and by less efficient operation. That is why actual numbers are needed to test the imputation.)

The heretical fact appears to be that not erecting giant wind turbines does as much good as erecting fields and fields of them. In other words, the endless erections on every hill and dale do not do much, if any, good at all.

So the question is indeed, If not wind then what? But it is for wind's proponents to answer, not those who have tested their claims and found them to be invalid.

See also:  'Saying "yes" to wind — or the new hat'

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

April 20, 2011

Green power LOVES chemicals

An ad for BASF notes the chemical dependency of wind turbines, in addition to each turbine's hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and coolants and rare earth metal–based magnets (click the image to see the full-page ad):

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism

Saying "yes" to wind — or a new hat

Richard Sullivan, Massachusetts' Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, wrote in the Cape Cod Times, April 19, 2011:
Saying "yes" to wind energy is a vote against polluted air, energy insecurity, and climate change — and an affirmation of our commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable economic growth.
In the same vein, I could say:
Saying "yes" to a new hat is a vote against cancer, bullying, and social injustice — and an affirmation of our commitment to gardening and thrift.
And I would be expected to justify this remarkable claim. I might be able to argue that psychologically a new hat symbolizes those votes and affirmations, but if the hat cost a couple million dollars and caused birds and bats to fall out of the air and my neighbors to fall sick and required everyone else to buy other hats to counter the effects of my hat, then I would be expected to show real evidence supporting my claim.

The same is true with industrial wind power, which does indeed exist in the real world of nature, the power grid, and people. If you claim that wind energy reduces polluted air, energy insecurity, and climate change, then you must provide the evidence not only of such benefits, but also that the degree of its achievement of such benefits is not outweighed by its adverse impacts.

Remarkably, with decades of data, the people saying "yes" to wind energy have yet to provide such evidence.

Their vote is non sequitur. Therefore, its defense is necessarily ad populum, its reply to critics necessarily ad hominem.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

April 18, 2011

The Nature Conservancy calls for killing 1 million birds, innumerable bats

A paper in PloS One by Nature Conservancy researchers describes how almost half of the more than 12,000,000 acres (19,305 square miles; 50,000 square kilometers) estimated by the Department of Energy to be required for 241 gigawatts of wind power as part of its plan of 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 can be erected on "disturbed" land. Disturbed land includes croplands, hay and pasture lands, surface mines, and urban development.

Unfortunately, although the paper provides estimates of the total acreage of each of these, it does not provide how much wind development on each that they recommend, only the total. Since strip mining and mountaintop removal do not to a large extent exist in the high-wind states that the paper recommends focusing on, and urban/suburban areas are off-limits to giant wind turbines owing to health and safety concerns, The Nature Conservancy is apparently recommending that sprawling wind turbine facilities be primarily erected in the plains states on crop and pasture land. Which is already where development is focused.

That still leaves more than half, almost 7,000,000 acres (10,425 square miles; 27,000 square kilometers) to be developed on undisturbed land, i.e., in wild areas. How The Nature Conservancy can dare to call this scenario a "win-win for wind and wildlife" beggars belief.

These estimates are based on capacity factor assumptions ranging from 38% to 53%, the latter figure being exactly twice the actual average figure for wind turbines in the U.S. So the actual land area (before the adjustments described below) would be a total of 20,400,000 acres (31,875 square miles; 82,556 square kilometers): more than 8,500,000 acres (13,281 square miles; 34,398 square kilometers) on farms and ranches and almost 11,900,000 acres (18,594 square miles; 48,158 square kilometers) in wilderness.

Their discussion of the study's limitations acknowledges the need for new (high-voltage) transmission lines (but they ignore the impact of heavy-duty roads, as well as the need for new thermal generation to balance and back up the wind energy) and their ignoring of the aerial impact on birds, bats, and insects: "In particular, birds require migratory stopover sites, and these may occur along rivers, wetlands, or playa lakes that are embedded within heavily disturbed agricultural landscapes. Second, even terrestrial species may require migratory corridors through disturbed areas to access undisturbed habitat."

The authors note that "mitigation measures, such as feathering blades (which stops their rotation) or reducing operations during lower winds speeds when bat mortality is known to be high ... could reduce bat mortality independent of where wind energy is sited; micrositing of turbines can reduce bird mortality". These measures, of course, would require even more wind turbines to be erected to make up for the loss.

So ultimately they must resort to the craven comparison to other causes of bird deaths by human activity, as if adding 1,000,000 more (ignoring wind power's unique and devastating toll on bats and the larger proportion of raptor deaths) is thus absolved. In addition, they appeal to the imperative of combating climate change, that we have to kill more birds and bats to save them, without examining the premise that wind energy contributes to that battle to any meaningful degree.

This is only a "win-win" for developers and The Nature Conservancy's donations from them.

See also:
"Environmentalism Against the Gods"
"How Green Became the Color of Money"

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

April 14, 2011

Environmentalism against the gods

Friends of the Earth Australia states (reasonably) that
There are four basic questions we need to ask to evaluate any 'solution' proposed to address climate change:
  • Does it result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the timeframe required?
  • Is it equitable on a global level? (We should all be concerned about schemes that say it's okay for people in the industrialised world to keep consuming as usual.)
  • Does it avoid social or environmental risks for this or future generations?
A solution is viable only if we can answer 'yes' to all these questions.
Yet, about 6 minutes into a news report on the Australian Senate inquiry into health effects of wind farms, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth joins his voice with that of the industrialists to dismiss health concerns in the name of jobs, investment, and industry.

Similarly many "environmentalists" in the U.S. join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in decrying regulations that slow the march of wind development for such concerns as wildlife, the environment, and human health, again primarily citing investment and jobs.

It has been a while since major environmental groups actually put the interests of the environment ahead of those of industry, so this should not be a surprise. It stands instead as yet more proof of their hypocrisy.

[[[[ ]]]]

Apparently, this place that has never had much use to the larger world beyond that of hosting a new prison or a solid-waste dump turns out to be an ideal location for an industrial "wind farm," ideal mostly because the people are too few and too poor to offer much in the way of resistance. So far only one of the towns affected has "volunteered" — in much the same way and for most of the same reasons as our children volunteer for service in Iraq — to be the site of what might be described as a vast environmentalist grotto of 400-foot-high spinning "crosses" before which the state's green progressives will be able to genuflect and receive absolution before zooming back to their prodigiously wired lives.
—Garret Keizer, Harper's Magazine, June 2007

April 12, 2011

What I Has Learned

The purpose of a government is to collect taxes from a group of people called a "nation" to fund wars for the benefit of corporations that do not themselves pay taxes because they instead support the careers of legislators. Such wars are not only against foreign "nations", but just as often against the very people (one's own "nation") funding them. As with the fasces, the populus is bound as one by its government to be wielded as a club by the corporations.

human rights, animal rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

April 9, 2011

Reflections of conspiracy theory

Sam Smith writes at Undernews:

Why are we allowed to have theories on every topic from the creation of the universe to who is going to win the World Series with the sole exception of wondering who in power is screwing us and how?

The very use of the term 'conspiracy theorist' is an anti-intellectual attempt to silence argument for which the labeler has no factual answer. Ironically, it is often the very accuser who is more inclined to believe in conspiracies, albeit benign ones, because it implies a small number of people deciding the course of history, which is how these critics were taught in college that society properly functions.

Thus anyone who attacks someone else as a conspiracy theorist should be ignored on grounds of simple incompetence with the possible additional liability of disingenuousness. To do the job right, one must follow the evidence and be clear when it stops. The rest is theory or hypothesis, acceptable and worthy of debate, but in a lesser category than fact.

The massive effort to stop people from wondering about such matters is itself reasonable cause for suspicion since the effort relies so heavily on ridicule and so little on fact. Not probably the result of a conspiracy, mind you. More likely, one might theorize, absent further evidence, just plain stupidity.

April 5, 2011

Monbiot: Radiation no danger

George Monbiot of The Guardian has been convinced by the Fukushima disaster that nuclear power is safe. His opinion is reinforced by the Chernobyl disaster — because few people have actually died from them, and those that did were (or will be) just the workers or other people who shouldn't have been around or shouldn't have drunk contaminated milk.

You see, radiation is safe — as long as you don't go anywhere near it or let it into your body!

A hundred thousand people around the Fukushima plant have probably lost their homes forever, more proof of how safe nuclear radiation is, as long as you drop everything and flee and never come back.

Monbiot's first announcement of this revelation was titled "Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power", paraphrasing the subtitle of Stanley Kubrick's sendup of the arms race, "Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". Kubrick was being satirical, embracing Armageddon for comedic effect. The ironic edge of the title was apparently lost on Monbiot, who embraces nuclear disaster not as a warning, but as proof of its benefit to humanity and the earth.

Monbiot does argue that there are no safe alternatives, but that does not require pretending that nuclear is safe. Embrace its destructive power, George! Love the danger. Waa-Hooo!

April 3, 2011

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

White River Valley Players' Vermont Teen Theater


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Sat. 4/2 at 7 pm
Sun. 4/3 at 2 pm
Fri. 4/8 at 7 pm
Sat. 4/9 at 7 pm
Sun. 4/10 at 2 pm

Rochester (Vt.) High School Auditorium

Tickets $7 (not appropriate for young children due to some language)

April 2, 2011

Scary stuff

From artist Judy Taylor:

A Cobbler trains his young Apprentice. In the background are scenes from that era.

Child labor was common in Maine. They frequently performed dangerous tasks for long hours.

Young women were often sent to the mills by their families, who could not, or would not, support them.

For the first time, workers were allowed to vote anonymously in 1891.

In 1884, Maine celebrated its first "Labor's Day", a day for the workers to celebrate.

A member of the IWW or "Wobblies" tries to organize the Maine woodsmen.

Scenes from an unsuccessful strike attempt to create better conditions for women workers.

Frances Perkins, FDR's Labor Secretary and untiring labor activist, a Maine Labor icon.

Maine's version of WWII women workers participated as ship-builders.

The International Paper strike of 1986 in Jay, Maine, one that still divides the town.

A figure from the past offers a hammer to workers of the present, who are unsure of its value in a changing world.

human rights