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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Peak Oil at SF LAFCo

Such excitement!

A few days ago, the fine folks in the SF Energy Community

(Offnote: I am disabusing myself of the notion of Peak Oil. From what I can gather, it's either upon us or will happen soon enough that the notion is absurd. It's like "Modernism" or its stumpy halfwit encore, "PostModernism". They are not the answers to the problem of contemporary history, and Peak Oil is not the correct understanding of the problem of contemporary civilisation. The problem is energy production and resource consumption combined with massive overpopulation and a rapacious political economy and attendant false consciousness. But - I digress. Suffice to say, Stuart Studebaker has had it up to his eyeballs with Peak Oil which now has become more of a gloomy subculture with pseudo-religious overtones - and that creeps me out. So, from here on, you may consider me an Energy Activist. Attach my name to peak oil, and expect to arrive home to a house with your garbage missing and the pets all pregnant. Or something really bad like that. I digress...)

were able to set up a meeting in front of the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission. This was held beforecity Supervisors Mirkarimi, McGoldrick, and government employees Schmeltzer and Sullivan. Mr Mirkarimi was Chair. First, there was a Media Advisory on the steps of City Hall.

1. 2.
3. 4.

I was starved, and went down the block to get a small sandwich, and arrived as the speeches were already in swing. first up at the podium was Mr Richard Heinberg. (Picture #1)

He gave a very nice verbal outline of the Obvious Situation, and was well recieved. I would estimate that there were at least 40 people standing and listening.

After Mr H, was was David Room (picture #2) who shared a few words as well. He was followed by Supervisor Mirkarimi, (picture #3) who was forceful in his views which seemed quite sympathetic with the audience at hand. He was followed by someone in a beige suit whose names escapes me (picture #4)

(off note: if anyone can fill in the names I forget - and I forget often - please leave a comment and I'll fix the post itself. I make no pretense to journalism - this is a blog of my bad attitudes and observations.)

Then we all filed into the meeting room. It quickly filled up to standing room only.


Another room was opened and a video feed was sent in and projected so people could at least see the proceedings. I sat up front so I could take pictures. The Supervisors McGoldrick, Mirkarimi and gov't apparatchiks Schmeltzer and Sullivan filed in and took their seats.


After some pro forma agenda stuff regarding the minutes of the previous meeting and such like - all performed under Robot's Rule's of Order and other similar parliamentary hocus pocus - the first to present was Richard Heinberg.


It was a classic Heinberg tour de force of facts and figures that paint a very ugly picture for the 21st Century. If you've read Powerdown or The Party's Over, you're pretty much up on what he has to say. The benefit was that he had several pieces of recent data to support his ideas. Excellent presentation, in his classic low key demeanor.

The Next speaker was David Room.

David's presentation was interesting but was about twice as long as it needed to be. I thought he had a number of good ideas, but didn't seem to have any concrete proposals. The supervisors had to ask him to cut it short, so perhaps he would have gotten to more concrete policy suggestions and strategic proposals, but we didn't get to find out.

The third person was a clear and articulate woman from the San Francisco Department of the Environment. (her name escapes me - anyone?)

Being the natural born clumsy doofball that I am, I accidentally stabbed myself in the hand with a ball point pen at that moment, and was in some pain and didn't really get to concentrate on what she had to say. I do remember it was interesting when I wasn't wincing in pain.

After she spoke, the citizens were allowed to come up and talk to the Supervisors. Most of the speeches were passionate and articulate. A few were off the point, but not absurdly so. One gentleman started railing on about how we don't have a democracy, and seemed completely oblivious to the irony of his statement... But even he had good points about energy and politics. I even spoke - I said who I was and what I do, and that I knew politicians liked specific and useful ideas, so I chimed in with three.

1. Disallow the Registration of SUVs as private passenger vehicles in San Francisco.

2. Subsidise electric bikes.

3. The city should invest in a kind of polysilicate bank, and use these cheap rates of PV to develop its own electrical generation for City Government buildings and public housing. This would do two things - it would permit the City to get into the business of renewable electricity generation, and act as a first step int opublic ownership of city based wind and tide power generation. The localisation angle on this is obvious, as is the direct connection to Public Power, but leapfrogging the gooey disaster that is PG&E - rather than "get control" of PG&E, the city could get into renewable power generation directly, and bypass the whole mess - let PG&E die on the vine as the oil runs out...

Supervisor Mirkarimi was impressed and asked me to email him with my ideas - he's a well known advocate of public power, so I am not surprised that he'd find my idea #3 to be interesting...

More people spoke, and with some more Parliamentary hocus pocus, the meeting was over. At that point I got to take a nice picture of Mr Heinberg.

At that point a bunch of us all wandered down to a vegetarian restaurant run by devotees of Sri Chimnoy. The food was very very good, and the conversation was great.

Mr Heinberg liked me bringing up electric bikes. He said that he thinks electric bikes were likely more efficient than regular bikes. Each calorie you burn pedaling represents 10x as many calories that you don't get to expend, because it takes so much energy just to make food. From a total energy view, the electric bike is much more efficient. Personally, I'm not sure that's all true, but I do find the idea rather exciting. I'd have to do some crazy Odum-like analysis to figure it out, but I wouldn't be surprised if Heinberg is correct.

I made some points to the assembled dinner crowd that we need to get culture workers hip to and working to promote energy awareness - even if they are celebrities and make their living on the commodity culture, they are in positions of great value in our society, as people trust their culture heroes more than politicians. Celebrities sell soap and life insurance, cars and medication - why not energy awareness?

I pointed out Al Gore's movie went ahead because of the entertainment industry, and that culture, as a lens AND mirror of society, will always be out ahead of the politicians. Whether its writers, filmmakers, musicians, actors, DJs - whatever - we need all hands on deck, and the biggest gains to be realised in the slackening of the depletion curve will come culturally.

After dinner, myself and two companions, Dennis and Chuck, wandered over to the Noc Noc club and hoisted a few foaming frosties to our health and did a post-mortem of the meeting. After much convivial and interesting conversation, I found my way to a bus and after a long walk up a hill, I went to bed.

Today, I sent some dead computer gear to be properly recycled, and then Beth, Elizabeth and I had lunch at Kan Zaman middle eastern restaurant. Then it was off to Amoeba, where I purchased some used CDs and then home to a yummy salad dinner.

Monday is my birthday. Yay.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ford: they lost money because they build gas guzzling death monsters.

What I find amusing about Ford and all the other hapless American car makers is this:

Even with "hybrid technology" the stupid Ford Escape still only gets (on a good day) about 25 mpg. My neighbour's Toyota Prius regularly gets twice that much, and often more.

When my wife and I bought our car, an Audi A4, back in 1997, we bought it as a highway cruiser, because she had to drive all the way to Santa Clara for work (She's been telecommuting since 2000 - so thank Bog those days are gone) Once it was paid off in 2002, we figured - heck - we don't drive that much anymore, and the car is in perfect condition. To this day it still gets 32 mpg on the highway, and 24 in the city. When we bought it, high test was about $1.50 a gallon. Now it is $3.50 a gallon. about 2.3 x as much, Which means our car's mileage per dollar of gas is 42% of what it used to be.

So, our 32 mpg car, for the dollar spent, now gets 13.4 mpg per dollar.

This means that an SUV that once got 12 mpg is effectively getting 5 mpg per dollar. So - doubling your mileage from 12 to 24 is really only getting you back to 10 mpg, which is less than where you were...

That is the razor of PeakOil - "we've doubled the mileage on our SUVs" isn't going to wash because the mileage they're starting from is so absurdly low and isn't keeping pace with the increase in expense.

America IS ready for hyper-efficient vehicles. I also believe that America IS ready to let go of the SUV. It will start with commuters and city dwellers, and eventually sink into the brains of the suburbanites who still labour under the illusion that they NEED an SUV to get their spawn to soccer practice, or that driving an SUV three blocks to the liquor store to get some beer and a pack of smokes is any more effective tan driving a Prius three blocks to the liquor store to get some beer and a pack of smokes.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Middle East Muddle

Obviously the most valuable thing in the Middle East is the Oil, and I think it is fair to say that we are now in the Age of Resource Wars (per Prof. Klare). So: the second largest exporter of oil is Iran, Saudi Arabia is #1. Most Saudi Oil goes through the narrow Straights of Hormuz, which is nearly surrounded by Iran. Iran's Supreme Poobah Khamenei has said that if we fuck with Iran, they'll close down the straights of Hormuz. which would effectively cut off about 60% of the world's oil, striaght up.

That's why the USA et al are so freaked - it's like the Pusher Man saying "no dope for YOU mofo!" Keep an eye on the G8 meeting this weekend. Dollars for donuts, the diuscussion will NOT be:

America's insane trade deficit
China's insane trade surplus
china's wildly undervalued currency
America's insane budget deficit
The impending global oil peak

It will be Iran.

The neocons are desperate to keep the foot to the floor on American overconsumption of oil, and that foot will increasingly rest on the neck of Iran.

Note: The USA basically intimated "bad things" would happen on July 12 if Iran didn't come to the table with something the USA considers worthwhile.

What happened on July 12?

Israel invaded Lebanon.

What does that do? It takes ALL THE HEAT AND LIGHT off of Iran. Iran is STILL the big target - if people keep their hats on and chill, Israel will eventually leave Lebanon and things there will be a mess, but a suitable distraction from the real target: Iran.

How? The Hezbollah are trained and supported by the Iranian Military, and (IIRC) specifically a weird bunch of Green Beret Types called Al Qud. So, what we have in Lebanon is a Proxy War between the USA and Iran:

USA -> Israel -> (LEBANON) <- Hezbollah <- Iran

Which JUST HAPPENED to erupt the very DAY when the USA was about to do something against Iran. The USA will continue to do that, but the war in Lebanon has sucked all the air out of the room, and now the G8 can sit and plan out "what is to be done with Iran" without the spotlight being "what is the G8 going to do with Iran".

This is NOT to say that the invasion of Lebanon was timed, conspiracy theory is boring - as the evidence indicates that everyone's shooting in the dark, however: it came at a VERY convenient time, and on a *very convenient day*.

So, my guess is this:

Israel's invasion Lebanon is one of those fortuitous terrible events and will provide suitable cover for the major powers to convene and deal with notions of Iran while the rest of the planet freaks out over Lebanon. The Bush Junta will push for military force against Iran, or something that will lead to force. After their total fuck up in Iraq, they're scraping the barrel on international support, but Iran has everyone (except Russia) by the short and curlies with one crucial ingredient: Oil.

Thus, it makes it easier to get the rest of the G8 (sans Russia) exercised over Iran. China's not in the G8, and is not big on action against Iran, because a big chunk of Iranian oil goes to China, and while action against Iran would screw everyone up, it would mostly screw China.

I would figure the G8 would fracture along those lines. Russia has europe by the short hairs (natural gas) so the europeans can't pull too far from orbit, but there is a lot of room for movement on side issues that appease the 900lb gorilla (USA), like IRAN.

Hence, Europe will tend to fall against Iran, Russia doesn't care (oil at $100 a barrel works for them!) so China would be the most agrieved. Hence: Bush making nice nice with Putin lately so grinding the Chinese won't seem so bad.

These aren't the end times, by a long stretch, but for the first time in 80 years, we're really looking down the throat of True Disaster. Which wouldn't be so bad if True Disaster would bother brushing a little more often.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Late at Night

It's very late - 1.30 AM, and I am here futzing with my computer and electronic gizmos. The light above me is a compact flourescent - not very bright, but it doesn't have to be - my laptop's monitor is plenty bright, and as the rest of the room is cluttered with the detritus of years of accumulation - dead computers, broken monitors, keyboards that use a legacy bus that stopped running years ago - there isn't much else to look at.

I make electronic music, and I give it away, for free. I make art and I give it away, for free. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. I give you my words, my ideas, here - for free. Free as in speech, free as in beer.

I'm up late every night because I snore. I have always snored. As I have aged, it has gotten worse, and my wife can barely sleep because of it. I've tried a number of remedies, and none work. So, I stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning, so she can get 4 or five hours of good solid sleep. I crawl to bed and within half an hour I'm out, and usually, she is so deeply asleep, that my snoring doesn't wake her. At least, that is what I hope - it's what I tell myself.

In the meantime, I have time to work with my machines - type blog posts, type email, do some web design. On my little G4 iBook. It's slow, by today's standards, but it works and it's cute. I bought it used, for very little money, and it's very good on electricity - a battery charge can last 3 or even 4 hours, as long as I'm not doing something insane like rendering video clips.

What is interesting about my music system here is that it actually uses a fraction of the amount of electricity it used 20 years ago to do so much less.

In 1986, I got a credit card and maxxed it out and bought a pile of gear. I bought a Korg DSS1 sampler, a Yamaha TX81z synthesizer, an Atari 1040ST computer and monitor, MidiSoft Studio MIDI recording software, Minstrel compsing software, a dot matrix printer, a keyboard stand, a Yamaha SPX90 processor, a MIDIverb reverb unit, a Yamaha mixer, a crown power amp, a Yamaha MIDI merger, and a pair of TOA speakers and stands. Several months later, I bought another sampler, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 2002 and a Yamaha DX11. I had quite a rig.

All that gear sucked down huge amounts of electricity.

Now, my entire electronic music system consists of my laptop, a USB powered Oxygen8 keyboard, two Firewire drives, an Edirol UR80 MIDI USB recording system, Ableton Live software, Propellorheads Reason software, Audacity audio editing software, a Mackie Mixer, and a pair of Event PS8 speakers.

I also have a USB powered WACOM tablet for graphics, but it's usually not hooked up.

All that gear I had back in '86 is now just a small part of a drop down menu in Reason.

I often wonder about that - all that electricity to make music - where did it go? I was more productive back then, but I had more time back then - I wasn't living with a daughter... I was able to get more done then. I have more ideas now, but less time to do them. And now I have compeeting interests with video and imaging. It seems endless...

But now I have these late evenings under the cool glow of the CF lamp, music quietly oozing from the speakers as iTunes spews my CD collection back at me in random fashion.

Sometimes I think iTunes is psychic. At random it pulled "All the Things We've Made" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark up for my listening enjoyment.

The lyrics go:

To want this.
Of everything we've made.
The times it's worked before.

Of all the things we've said.
Times that worked before today.

To want this.
Of everything we've made.
The times it's worked before.

Of all the things we've said.
They've always worked before today.

Will that be the theme song of the transition?


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