Thursday, October 28, 2010

Superintendent of Public Instruction

I have been trying to research candidates for Calif. Superintendent of Public Instruction. Tom Torlaksen has a long solidly liberal voting record in the Assembly. He is articulate, and a monogamous heterosexual with kids. He taught a sport (cross country) with a high level of white participation.  He was a full-time teacher before  being elected to the Assembly.

Aceves seems slightly more of a hands-on practical guy.  He has been a teacher, principal and superintendent, and has not run previously for political office.  However, he is endorsed by the council of La Raza, and was once quoted as saying there were too many old Anglo, white teachers in his district. (As it happens, my daughter was a young white Anglo teacher in his district for a year.) 
I may end up voting for my tribe.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mojave Solar Plant Approved

Here is good news on the energy front.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved the mojave desert solar project. 
(NY Times)

Of course, it will kill a few desert tortoirses.  Evidently, Senator Diane Feinstein has dropped her opposition.  I wonder whether Barbara Boxer will take credit for this in her reelection campaign.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Water Rights Initiative--The end?

So, On Tuesday the 12th of this month, the Mount Shasta City Council took no action on the question of potentially calling a special election on the Water Rights Initiative.  This will effectively kill it, although the proponents could sue to force a special election.  Initiative proponent Angelina Cook indicated after the meeting that the group probably had no stomach for further litigation, and would take a break, perhaps rewriting the ordinance for another try. 
The initiative proponents had argued, before the council and in litigation with the county, that there had been two versions of the initiative back in August of 2009, and that the wrong one was inadvertently given to the Mount Shasta City Clerk on August 25, for the Notice of Intent that began the process. 
Your writer pointed out that the date stamp on the current version is actually October 7, 2009, six weeks later.  This is a smoking gun of sorts, but was not considered newsworthy by the Mount Shasta Herald (here).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hate Speech Laws

The first amendment right to free speech is substantially limited in other western nations such as the Netherlands, Canada and Great Britain.  In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders is on trial for speech critical of Islam.  I don't have any really original thoughts on this, so I will link to Randall Parker's post here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Water Rights Initiative Derailed

Judge Karen Dixon's decision of Sept 20 did not reinstate Measure A, the Mount Shasta Water Rights Initiative, to the November ballot.  The initiative proponents had gone to court after County Clerk Colleen Setzer removed the measure from the ballot.  Here is the story from  the Siskiyou Daily News with a link to the full decision.  Dixon did not rule on Setzer's claim  that the initiative had been changed between its initial submission to the city clerk and the submission of  the signatures to get it on the ballot.    Nor did she consider the allegations submitted by the county counsel that the initiative violated the single subject rule, and that it blatantly violated the constitutional separation of  powers doctrine.    Instead, she ruled that the County Clerk was not legally the elections official, and could not be forced to reinstate the measure to the ballot.  This was in spite of the fact that Setzer had acted as the elections official in accepting the signatures, and later in removing the measure from the ballot.  My first reaction on reading this was very politically incorrect-- Judge Dixon is a blonde. 

However, the 11 page decision goes into a lot of detail about how the initiative proponents were given the runaround, with neither City Clerk Sandra Studer nor County Clerk Colleen Setzer willing to assume responsibility for processing the initiative.  Dixon puts the primary responsibility for this fiasco on the city, and evidently wants to toss it back to the city, possibly for a special election. 

But by failing to decide  whether changes in the wording would disqualify the initiative, Dixon makes additional litigation almost inevitable.  The initiative was changed in a very significant way.   It contains wording that would prevent corporations from  doing business in Mount Shasta as corporations, and also language that could prevent a property owner from  building on his property in a wetland or other ecologically significant area.  However, the second  version (here) contains a single sentence at the beginning of section II, on page 3,  which says in effect that, as long as one is not cloud seeding, modifying the weather or exporting water, the rest of the ordinance is just verbiage. 

The first version was filed with the city clerk on August 25, 2009, according to Studer.  The second version was not created until October 7, 2009, according to the proponents' website.  This reduces the credibility of the proponents' contention that they had two versions, and inadvertently gave the wrong one to the city clerk.   Changing the initiative during the process would be a violation of Elections Code #9210. 

The City Council agenda for Monday, October 4, will probably include an item  on what action to take next.  For local politics junkies who can't make it in person, it should be an entertaining program  on channel 15.   [CORRECTION: NEXT CITY COUNCIL MEETING IS NOT UNTIL TUESDAY OCT 12.  MEETING WAS MOVED FROM MONDAY BECAUSE THE MEETING HALL HAD BEEN DOUBLE BOOKED.]

There is a certain irony in that Molly Brown, one of the primary sponsors of this initiative, tried to start a movement four years ago based on the very real issues of peak oil and climate change.  This got a lot of  initial interest, but little long term  traction.   Yet the current initiative, tilting at windmills and non-issues, has generated a huge public concern. 
Many people share the proponents' concern about bottled water, including myself.  But the local bottling plant just outside the city, with all its permits in place, its own water supply, and a shining new building, isn't making money, and is scheduled to close unless a buyer can be found.  It would hardly require a new law to keep another manufacturer from starting at square one and seeking the use of the city water supply. 

The weather fronts that would lead to firing up of the cloud seeding pots about 30 miles southeast of the city come mostly from the northwest, and occasionally from the southwest in the case of the pineapple express storms.  The wind will blow towards Fall River and Burney, not Mount Shasta. 
Pacific Gas and Electric does have an economic motivation to cloud seed in that area because they generate about two gigawatts of hydroelectric power in the Pit River watershed, using the same water over and over.  Nobody has this economic reason to want to cloud seed within the city of Mount Shasta.  An ordinance to ban cloud seeding here would be purely a symbolic gesture.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Global Warming and probability Distribution

Here is a really sensible post on global warming from someone who is a phd physicist, but only an informed layperson on the specific subject of climate science.  

We live with uncertainty on the total amount of global warming induced by a given increment of greenhouse gases.  The truth is best expressed as a bell curve.  The value with the highest probability is near the center of the curve, but there is some much lower probability that a value close to the left or right sides of the bell curve might end up being the truth.  After studying the matter for some time, the author believes that the center of the bell curve is probably about where the IPCC says it is.  However, his version of the curve is much flatter, because it is human nature to be more sure of a conclusion when you are the one doing the science. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Gull Island Oil Field

Re: Lindsey Williams and the Gull Island oil field.

I was at the library desk today. (It looks like it will not close, but the county Sups will vote 6/22)

Anyway, there was a stack of typed paper stubs there advising us to google "The energy non-crisis," and Lindsey + Williams. When I showed these to Cheryl behind the desk, she was a little embarrassed and decided not to leave them out. It definitely was not something the library endorsed. But I took one and looked it up, just out of curiosity.

Lindsey Williams is a Baptist minister and was a chaplain during construction of the Alaska pipeline in the 1970's. In a video and an out of print book titled "The Energy non-crisis," he claims that a super-giant oil field capable of producing about 2 million barrels per day was discovered on Gull Island, somewhere near Prudhoe Bay, but that this discovery was suppressed by the government.   He says this field would supply the US with 200 years worth of oil.

A writer for the Kalamazoo Gazette tried to get to the bottom of this. . Here is her story
The writer, Joyce Pines, says she and her intern found 106,000 Google hits for Gull Island Oil, but they all traced back to Williams. Some of her information is inaccurate. According to other sources, there is a Gull Island in Prudhoe Bay, and there has been some drilling there.

However, if such a field did exist, it would be one of the biggest fields in the world, but would still be able to supply only 10% of the United States' oil consumption, and 2.5% of the world's consumption.

Here is an article from a petroleum industry magazine that gives actual data on the production from three wells drilled in the Gull Island area. It says the biggest pool in the area is currently being pumped, and has produced 396 million barrels, with an estimated 164 million barrels remaining recoverable. Contrast this with Williams' claim that there are 1.2 trillion barrels in this field.

The very conservative Free Republic website contains most of this same information. This is a site that is generally pro-drilling.

There is nothing about this supposedly suppressed oil discovery on the main urban legend sites, but this would qualify as mostly legend, with a small underlying grain of truth. There were three test wells drilled on Gull Island, which showed some oil there, but the total amount was about 1,000 times less than claimed by preacher and conspiracy theorist Lindsey Williams.

The internet is a fertile ground for spreading conspiracy rumors, but interested researchers can usually find both sides of a story, and ferret out the truth. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Peak Oil Coming, Says EIA

The graph in this article is similar to others.  The nost noteworthy aspect is that it comes from the EIA, the statistical branch of the Department of Energy.  Of course the demand line is based on a price assumption.  Actual quantity demanded will go down to match the available supply.  . 

However, as the following graph shows, oil discoveries have declined drastically from a peak in the 1960's.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recall in Mount Shasta?

A group of 10 individuals has initiated a recall petition for three city council members, including Mayor Michael Murray, Tim Stearns and Sandra Spelliscy.  The only sponsor mentioned in the press is Kim Latos, who is the manager of the Humane Society's animal shelter.  (Mt Shasta Herald)  

However, the recall appears to be directed by unhappy city employees.   The petition accuses all three of "“Participation in creating a hostile work environment for city employees by willfully ignoring the advice and recommendations of the city manager, financial manager, Mount Shasta Police Department, fire department and public works with disregard for the expressed wishes of the citizenry and best interests of the community.”

Like all cities in California, Mount Shasta had a budget crunch this year that was very difficult to deal with.  Employees were temporarily furloughed on alternate Fridays, and more radical furloughs were considered.  City contributions to fringe benefits were reduced.   The most hated change was a repeal of the policy allowing some employees to drive city vehicles home. 

The city finance director and city manager made relatively optimistic revenue estimates for the city, before a final state budget was passed, and did not allow for cuts to local government that had been proposed by governor Schwarzenegger.  This estimate was not accepted by the three, especially by Murray.  Some employees thought it scandalous that he didn't accept the projections of the staff, and used his independent judgement. 

So who would sign this petition, if it gets that far?  It needs about 190 signatures, 20% of the vote in the last city council election.  The Republicans in town would tend to respect these council members for standing up to the employees' union and recognizing that difficult and unpopular cuts need to made.  The Democrats would support these three because they are the liberal, environmentalist wing of the council on many issues.  City employees and their families will sign it, but many employees live out of town and are not eligible.

There are some unsettling parallels between the local situation and the state situation.  In Sacramento, nobody really wants to make the hard choices required to balance the budget.  The budget analysts, under a lot of pressure to make the numbers work, come up with optimistic revenue estimates.  The legislature finally passes a budget that is "balanced."  Then, a few months later, the revenues do not meet expectations, mandated spending exceeds expectations, and the budget has to be redone.  Fortunately, in Mount Shasta, we have some councilmen who are independent enough to reject the optimistic projections.  Unfortunately, these are the council people targeted in the recall. 

The state's fiscal problems began when we elected a governor who was overly beholden to the state employee unions.  We got saddled with employee salary and pension expenses that we can't afford.  The Mount Shasta City employees are definitely not overpaid, but this recall is an attempt to install a city council more friendly to the employees, both union and non-union.  If you are thinking of supporting the recall, imagine the city being run by Gray Davis.  That is what you would be voting for. 

A third parallel is that the current governor did hold his ground with one union, the prison guards.  In response they initiated a recall.  The recall was denounced and ridiculed throughout the state as a blatant abuse of the collective bargaining process, and was dropped.  It is quite likely that this recall will end the same way.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Power Outage

We are finally getting electricity again after three and one half days.  An extremely heavy snowstorm (heavy as in wet and clingy snow)  caused hundreds of trees to fall in the area.  Living without the power company wasn't too bad, but this was combined with fighting to clear snow with a blower and shovels for five days.  We did better than many in town because we have wood heat with a hot water loop in the stove.  Our old RV has a propane cooking stove, and I even ran a couple of lights with a 400 watt inverter on the car battery.  That was expensive power.  Anyone know how much gas a Camry burns if you idle it for one hour?   The city water here is basically gravity flow so that wasn't a problem.  However, our neighbors are still on a well, and had to fill jugs from our hydrant near their house.  We are expecting another major storm Monday.   I am definitely feeling my age.  Size D batteries are hardly used for anything except heavy duty flashlights and lanterns now.  Guess which size the stores run out of in an outage?  The alarm clocks with the digital readout and the 9 volt battery backups are battery hogs.  They went from new battery to low battery and didn't even tell us the time during the outage.  They just kept track so they could show the right time 80 hours later when we got juice. back.  The kind that just runs on two AA batteries with no cord would probably be better, especiallly for a place with frequent outages like Mount Shasta.  You need an alarm because there are only 10 hours of daylight this time of year, and lots of work to do. 
Why didn't I get my snowblower tuned up before the storm?  It has an idling problem and goes dead frequently.  Plus I broke the starter cord two hours before we got power back to use the electric starter.   And I didn't get the winter tires on the pickup in time.  The chains won't fit the summer tires.   One of this summer's projects has got to be widening the driveway at the street for a level parking spot.  We can't always count on keeping our 400 foot driveway clear of snow. 
We have about 10 down trees on our acre to clear out, including oaks and introduced Leyland Cypress.  Fortunately, nothing hit the house, garage, or greenhouse.  Lost half of the black walnut tree.  Actuallly, there are plenty of walnuts in town to scavenge.  I'm going to have to rebuild the animal canopy over my tiny garden.  The PVC framing over the chicken wire was crushed.  I will have a lot of firewood right in my yard this year. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Choice. A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

I promised a while back to review Al Gore's book, "Our Choice."  It is not a hard read.  Much of it could be subtitled, "good ideas that even a skeptic could buy into.  Chapters three through 13, plus chapter 17, are solution oriented.  There are good summaries of the potential for wind and solar, plus a surprisingly optimistic appraisal of the potential for geothermal power development.  The sources, most of them online, are here.  There are even a few ideas in the book that Republicans could buy into.  The nation's dairies are so heavily regulated that it is cheaper to transport milk hundreds of miles even half way across the country, than to produce it locally.  Regulation of the electrical generating and transmission industry (p 295) sometimes prevents the utility from owning storage systems to smooth out the flow of wind and solar. 

The book does not contain a summary of what could be done, similar to the wedges proposed by Paccala and Socolow.  here, but if you search hard, there is a free version    Nor does it have a price tag.  However, it does have a ranking of all potential climate mitigation measures from those that save us the most money to those that cost the most.  (p. 246 )  Here's the link. 

Chapters 1 and 2 summarize the climate problem, and have good information on the different types of greenhouse gases. They probably won't by themselves convince anyone who does not already accept the probability of man-caused global warming.  He does briefly discuss peak oil as a related problem.  He also mentions geoengineering, and cites Teller's paper, which I discussed in an earlier post here.  (Gore thinks it would be a very bad idea because we don't know the consequences, and doesn't mention the conspiracy theorists who think we are already doing it.)    The book is skeptical (properly, in my opinion) about the potential for biofuels and clean coal, but not totally dismissive. 

The biggest disappointment is chapter nine, on population.  Gore claims that emancipating women and improving the standard of living in the third world will lead to population stabilization.  I just don't think he has done the math.  A typical third world nation uses about one eighth the amount of fossil fuels that the United States uses.  How will their standard of living be improved while the world is ratcheting down its fossil fuel use.  Gore looks at capital as something that government and the banking industry could provide in whatevert quantity needed, if only they have the proper mindset and incentives.  In that respect, he doesn't buy into "limits to growth." And he understandably avoids the issue differences and limitations in human capital.  We are currently watching Haiti, which has had most of its infrastructure built with US Aid, descending into chaos.  Overpopulation has stripped the country of its forests, and it had lost most of its tourist revenue, in spite of its lush tropical location and abundant beaches, because of the oppressive poverty and lack of security.  Even an establishment sociologist like Jared Diamond, in "Collapse," notes that the differences between Haiti and the more successful Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are caused in part by the greater influence of European culture and genetics in the Dominican Republic.  And the book has only a fleeting mention of immigration as a source of conflict in African nations.   Nowhere does he state the obvious point that the population stability which the caucasian populations of western nations have gotten by reducing their birth rates is going out the window because of immigration.  Sure, there is the argument that consumption is the problem, not population.  But the immigrants to this country will dramatically increase their carbon footprint.  And their fertility rate is about 60% more than it would be (in Mexico, anyway).  Gore doesn't make an estimate of population growth, but it sounds like he expects the world to reach equilibrium around nine to ten billion.  Maybe my next book will be William Catton's "Overshoot," to help me decide whether this planet can support that number at all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Copenhagen--The Road Not Taken

The talks broke down, evidently over the unwillingness of the developed nations to subsidize forest preservation in underdeveloped tropical countries.  The price tag seemed too big for any of the delegates to bring home to their legislative bodies. 

Well, there is another way.  The wealthy countries of the world could all agree to impose a 300% tariff on palm oil, tropical hardwoods and beef from the tropics.  According to Al Gore's book, scientists estimate that more than 40% of the excess CO2 that has accumulated in our atmosphere has come from deforestation in past centuries.  Only since 1970 has the consumption of fossil fuels replaced land use as the primary source of excess CO2 emissions.  Right now, we are actually subsidizing palm oil as a biofuel, even though the impact of clearing tropical forests increase emissions more than the biofuel reduces them. 

In the Amazon, 80% of the land that has been deforested is now used for cattle crops.  If we put up barriers to beef importation, that would mean higher prices at McDonalds and other chains.  For most of us, that isn't too much of a sacrifice.   Ranching in the tropics would generally be limited to what is needed for domestic use, and the pressure to clear forests would be proportionately reduced.  And tropical hardwoods are a niche product, quite valuable for some uses, but replaceable with temperate zone woods grown more sustainably. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nuclear Poker With Iran

Here is a sensible article about dealing with Iran's uranium stockpile from Pat Buchanan, one of the most conservative pundits around.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Buy in Quantity?

We needed some new kitchen trash bags.  So, a box of 15 is $2.29 at Ray's market, or $4.58 for two.  A box of 30 is on a special reduced price at $4.75.  I wonder how many suckers they get for that deal. 

Tax Time Approaches

Yesterday, I got a state tax form 540 in the mail.  I haven't used one for several years.  The form carried the admonition to save trees by doing taxes electronically, but they still sent it to me.  This is one small way the state could save a little money. 
Actually, I have been paper filing state returns from my Turbotax.  This isn't the most tree friendly way, but it is still the cheapest.  Perhaps there is a way the state could distinguish this kind of return from a hand written return.