December 30, 2006

"Enfeebled conscience"

Aware of the Other Vibe's growing reluctance to trust reports from out in the field, Foley, who usually was out there and thought he had a good grasp on things, at first resentful and after a while alarmed, had come to see little point these days in speaking up. The headquarters in Pearl Street seemed more and more like a moated castle and Scarsdale a ruler isolated in self-resonant fantasy, a light to his eyes these days that was not the same as that old, straightforward acquisitive gleam. The gleam was gone, as if Scarsdale had accumulated all the money he cared to and was now moving on in his biography to other matters, to action in the great world he thought he understood but -- even Foley could see -- was failing, maybe fatally, even to ask the right questions about anymore. Who could Foley go to with this?

Who indeed? He had at least brought himself to reckon up what the worst outcome might be, and it came out the same every time. It was nothing to recoil from, though it did take some getting used to -- maybe not massacre on the reckless, blood-happy scale of Bulgarians or Chinese, more, say, in the moderate American tradition of Massachusetts Bay or Utah, of righteous men who believed it was God they heard whispering in the most bitter patches of the night, and God help anybody who suggested otherwise. His own voices, which had never pretended to be other than whose they were, reminded Foley of his mission, to restrain the alternate Foley, doing business as Scarsdale Vibe, from escaping into the freedom of bloodletting unrestrained, the dark promise revealed to Americans during the Civil War, obeying since then its own terrible inertia, as the Republican victors kept after Plains Indians, strikers, Red immigrants, any who were not likely docile material for the mills of the newly empowered order.

"It is a fine edge here," the tycoon had hinted one day, "between killing just the one old Anarchist and taking out the whole cussèd family. I'm still not sure which I ought to do." ...

But a voice, unlike the others that spoke to Foley, had begun to speak and, once begun, persisted. "Some might call this corrupting youth. It wasn't enough to pay to have an enemy murdered, but he must corrupt the victim's children as well. You suffered through the Wilderness and at last, at Cold Harbor, lay between the lines three days, between the worlds, and this is what you were saved for? this mean, nervous, scheming servitude to an enfeebled conscience?"

--Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

December 29, 2006

The Wayward Wind

The front page of yesterday's New York Times Business section featured an article by Matthew Wald about the fickleness of wind as an energy source (it was also in the International Herald Tribune). Click the title of this post for the whole article. Here are some excerpts.
[B]ecause it is unpredictable and often fails to blow when electricity is most needed, wind is not reliable enough to assure supplies for an electric grid that must be prepared to deliver power to everybody who wants it -- even when it is in greatest demand. ...

[P]ower plants that run on coal or gas must "be built along with every megawatt of wind capacity," said William Bojorquez, director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The reason is that in Texas, and most of the United States, the hottest days are the least windy. ...

Frank P. Prager, managing director of environmental policy at [Xcel Energy, which serves eight states from North Dakota to Texas and says it is the nation’s largest retailer of wind energy], said that the higher the reliance on wind, the more an electricity transmission grid would need to keep conventional generators on standby -- generally low-efficiency plants that run on natural gas and can be started and stopped quickly. ...

Without major advances in ways to store large quantities of electricity or big changes in the way regional power grids are organized, wind may run up against its practical limits sooner than expected. ...

In May, Xcel and the Energy Department announced a research program to use surplus, off-peak electricity from wind to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could be burned or run through a fuel cell to make electricity when it was needed most. Xcel plans to invest $1.25 million, and the government $750,000. But storage imposes a high cost: about half the energy put into the system is lost.

The Electric Power Research Institute said that existing hydroelectric dams could be used as storage; they can increase and decrease their generation quickly, and each watt generated in a wind machine means water need not be run through the dam’s turbines; it can be kept in storage, ready for use later, when it is most needed. [If the reservoir is already full, however, then the water is run through the dam without generating electricity. --Ed.]

The institute listed another possibility, still in the exploratory stage: using surplus electricity made from wind to pump air, under pressure, into underground caverns. At peak hours, the compressed air could be withdrawn and injected into generators fired by natural gas. Natural-gas turbines usually compress their own air; compression from wind would cut gas consumption by 40 percent, the institute said.

That would help with an important goal, reducing consumption of natural gas, which is increasingly scarce and costly in North America. But not everyone is so sanguine that wind will do that.

Paul Wilkinson, vice president for policy analysis at the American Gas Association, the trade group for the utilities that deliver natural gas, said that wind, while helpful in making more gas available for home heating and industrial use, would still need a gas generator to back it up. And the units used as backup are generally chosen for low purchase price, not efficient use of fuel.

At the American Wind Energy Association, Robert E. Gramlich, the policy director, said that one solution would be to organize control of the electric grid into bigger geographic areas, so that a drop-off in wind in one place would be balanced by an increase somewhere else, reducing the need for conventional backup. That is among several changes the wind industry would like in the electric system; another is easier construction of new power lines, because many of the best wind sites are in prairies or mountain ranges far from where the electricity is needed.

A problem for new power lines is that they would be fully loaded for only some of the year, since the amount of energy that the average wind turbine produces over 12 months is equal to just 30 to 40 percent [actually, 20-30% --Ed.] of the amount that would result from year-round operation at capacity.
wind power, wind energy

December 24, 2006

"Alternative" wind energy requires massive new transmission lines

Dec. 9, Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent: "Costs, especially of new power transmission lines, must be taken into account when considering new wind farms, [Nebraska Public Power District spokeswoman Jeanne Schieffer] said."

Dec. 15, Rocky Mountain News: "Building the high-voltage power lines, which carry electricity from generating stations to substations before delivering it to homes and businesses, has lagged the rapid construction of wind farms because of cost, location and regulatory and technical issues. ... A study by the U.S. Department of Energy released in August identified areas of severe transmission constraints, with New England, Phoenix-Tucson, Seattle-Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area topping the list. The second level included Montana-Wyoming and Kansas-Oklahoma."

Dec. 23, Green Wombat: "But renewable energy projects like the huge wind farms to be built in SoCal’s Tehachapi region face a big hurdle: insufficient or non-existent transmission lines to connect the windy and sunny parts of California to the power grid."

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

Damn the poor

Joseph Kennedy has written an excellent defense of his company's providing low-cost heating oil from Venezuela to the poor of Massachusetts. It's in today's Boston Globe: Click the title of this post. In short, it's time for those who enjoy so much socialism for capital to stop complaining about a little socialism for people.

December 20, 2006

Land of the free market

But sometimes Veikko went on and got philosophical. He'd never seen much difference between the Tsar's regime and American capitalism. To struggle against one, he figured, was to struggle against the other. Sort of this world-wide outlook. "Was a little worse for us, maybe, coming to U.S.A. after hearing so much about 'land of the free.'" Thinking he'd escaped something, only to find life out here just as mean and cold, same wealth without conscience, same poor people in misery, army and police free as wolves to commit cruelties on behalf of the bosses, bosses ready to do anything to protect what they had stolen.

--Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

December 19, 2006


From "Beyond the Grave," by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau:

I've heard every excuse in the book for eating animals, but I've yet to hear a convincing reason. It's a pretty simple equation: since humans don't need to consume animals to survive, killing them simply to satisfy our taste buds amounts to senseless slaughter. But our eating habits and appetites have very deep roots, and we prefer convenience over conscience. With a determination that belies an irrational attachment to animal flesh and secretions, otherwise sensible and sensitive people spend vast amounts of time and energy concocting outrageous excuses to justify this unnecessary habit. Using lyrical and exalted language, they extol the virtues of tradition, glorify the need to conserve "heritage breeds," and wax poetic about our "evolutionary heritage." With "humane meat" gaining popularity, non-vegetarians have co-opted the ethical argument ..., but it's not the vegetarians who are losing. It's the animals. ... If we have to disguise, rationalize, romanticize, and ritualize eating animals to such a degree that we're no longer living in truth or reality, then perhaps we're not comfortable with it at all. Adopting a vegan diet is the best choice I've ever made, and I've never had to offer any excuses for it.

animal rights, vegetarianism

When Animals Resist Their Exploitation

From "Kasatka, the Sea World Orca," by Jason Hribal:

Two weeks ago, an orca named Kasatka intentionally grabbed and pulled her trainer underwater twice-nearly killing him in the process. Kasatka is a performer for Sea World Adventure Park, San Diego. She is one of seven orca entertainers at the Southern California park. With operations in five other US locations, Sea World and Busch Gardens are owned by the Anheuser-Busch corporation. Indeed, as Susan Davis demonstrated in her Spectacular Nature (1997), these flagship zoological parks are corporate enterprises: for-profit businesses.

According to a park official, the Sea World orcas perform as many as 8 times per a day, 365 days a year. The Kasatka attack happened during the final daily show. As for the performances themselves, they are finely choreographed and composed of several acts. Each is highly complex in its routines and challenging in its stunts. These shows require skill, patience, labor, and hours of weekly practice. The orcas are, in every sense, performers and entertainers. ...

In order to see the world from Kasatka's perspective, three facts need to be considered. First, there are no recorded incidences of orcas "in the wild" attacking humans unprovoked. This is an institutional problem. Second, Kasatka and other performers have a long history of attacking trainers. Resistance in zoos and aquariums, in truth, is anything but unusual. Third, the zoological institutions themselves have to negotiate with their entertainers to extract labor and profit. Indeed, animal performers have agency, and zoos have always (privately, at least) acknowledged this. Therefore, the next time you hear about an orca attack, don't dismiss it from above: "Animals will be animals." But instead, look from below: "These creatures resist work, and can occasionally land a counterpunch or two of their own."

animal rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism