Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rant of the Week: Olympics (or “I'll zuke if I see one more gymnastics routine or beach volleyball match”)

So the 2008 Olympics have come to an end. As usual, I have some thought to impart.

On NBC and Olympics coverage: My biggest grips with the Olympics were the primetime content and the marathon of commercials. There were many exciting events that went uncovered by NBC, at least during their primetime schedule. I was really looking forward to watching some Olympic soccer, but alas, it was completely ignored. After being spanked by Brazil in the world cup, our women’s soccer team was not expected to beat Brazil in the finals. They pulled off a great win, which didn’t seem to interest the network in the slightest. Our men didn’t do so well, being knocked out in the group stage, but we didn’t see the great semi-final matchups of Argentina and Brazil and Nigeria and Belgium, or the final when Argentina beat Nigeria by one goal. That irks me more than anything. I was also looking forward to watching our softball team kick ass. Unfortunately, Japan surprised us with a 3-1 win. But you had to read the news to find that out, as NBC could have cared less about the sport. That night we saw BMX racing and even MORE fucking gymnastics (even though the medal events were over it was merely the gymnastics’ own closing ceremonies where we get to see all our cute stars do meaningless performances. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.)

Yes, I saw enough gymnastics to vomit uncontrollably. Sure, I can understand showing the team competition and individual events, but why do we have to see all the qualifying bullshit too? Same goes for swimming and track and field. How about a diversity of events on primetime instead of filling up 75% of primetime with three events: swimming, gymnastics and track. We saw every freaking time Michael Phelps entered the pool but nothing of judo, badminton, handball, or hockey. Of the other 25% of programming, 15% was taken up by beach freaking volleyball. As’s Dr. Z said, “When I die and go to hell, hell will be beach volleyball -- for all eternity.” I’m not sure if lots of perverts tune into this sport just because the female athletes’ uniforms are composed of all of about 6 square inches of fabric or what, but it’s definitely wrong.

Of course NBC’s choices comes down to catering for the market. I’m sure they’ve done a bunch of surveys that show that Midwest families eat up gymnastics like Wonder Bread. I guess my tastes are out of line with most Americans. So I can’t really fault NBC with their primetime coverage, but that doesn’t mean I can’t rant about it. Plus, I didn’t watch the daytime programming although I could have taped it and watched it later. Additionally, supposedly the Olympics has a great website where you can watch soccer matches in their entirety and other sports dissed by NBC. The endless litany of commercials, however, squarely falls on the shoulders of NBC. I truly hope many Americans got so sick of the advertisements that they turned off their televisions. Unfortunately, I doubt this was the case. Any NFL fan can tell you that the commercials are insane, but at the same time, football enjoys greater viewing than every before. Thank God for DVR/Tivo.

Track and field: Not a lot of words here, just a huge congrats going out to Jamaica. What an impressive showing for the small island nation, and what a fun thing to watch. While some Americans cried and whined about their silvers and bronzes, the jamacans were busy kicking our asses. Hopefully this serves as a bit of humility for the States (even though, despite all the headlines about us choking on a few events, we still ruled track).

Usain Bolt’s antics on the 100 meter race didn’t sit well with me. It’s not that he disrespected his competitors, it’s that he disrespected a sport, where an athlete is supposed to give it their all, not prance down the last 20 meters thumping your chest like you’re T.O. headed in for a touchdown. I would suspect he was talked to about this ego problem, and was happy to see that Bolt took this criticism into account. He ran the 200 meter all out, and was a good sport in the 4x100 relay as well. (One of the coolest moments in the Olympics for me was to watch how absolutely and honestly ecstatic Michael Johnson was about Bolt breaking his record. See the celebration on You-Tube here.) Anyway, huge “big-up” to the Jamaican track team. Thanks for some of the greatest Olympic moments of 2008. I really, really hope all of them are drug free.

China gymnast age controversy: Lots of things I could say about China, including non-games related issues such as Darfur or the romantized Tibet; lots of stuff I could say about its behavior during the games, such as detaining protesters and denying visas to athletes. But what I want to rant about is the issue of these young Chinese "woman" gymnasts. While I was watching the Olympics with my parents, we weren’t immediately aware of the 16 year age limitation. We thought several of these Chinese girls were around 11 or 12. You’ll hear a few people talk about “how dare you make judgments on their age just from their appearance!” Yes, gymnasts look younger anyway, but give me a freaking break, a few of these girls look a few years off puberty and one girl is missing what appears to be a baby tooth. Despite China’s effort to erase all evidence, there are documents indicating that He Kexin is 13 and Jiang Yuyuan is 14. I know, I know, innocent until proven guilty, but my money is on China cheating. If they are caught, of course all medals obtained by under age gymnasts should be stripped, including their team gold. Never mind that it’s debatable how much being young is actually an advantage. Rules are rules, and 14 year-olds living in Kansas, Russia and Japan were denied the opportunity to compete because of these rules. I can’t see any other option here.

First of all, the US needs to quit screaming and crying about it. First of all, we had the opportunity to beat this Chinese team if it weren’t for several bad chokes. The Chinese deserved to win and I don’t want to hear any excuses for taking silver. Secondly, I don’t want to hear any righteous, holier-than-thou talk from Americans about using children and subjecting them to lots of stress too early in life. Did we forget 6-year olds in beauty pageants, 5th graders in spelling bees, and 11-year old boys playing little league games that come out on top of national TV sports ratings?

My final point is this: This age issue is an all-around sad situation for EVERY gymnast involved, from China and the US. If China gets caught, my heart goes out these young girls, who undoubtedly didn’t have any say in the matter whether they competed or not. These girls will pay the price of getting their medals stripped for what? Powerful, greedy men, who care only to brag of their nation’s victories.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Slacker Rant of the week: More on energy

Been too busy this week to write a real rant. I need some help from you guys. I'll be bothering you this week to fork out a guest rant. You guys have a lot of stuff you can school people on. I want to hear it.

I did take a few minutes to reply to Micah's comment on last week's rant. This will have to serve for now.

once we get some realistic system to control CO_2 production, the cost of the oil will not be the limiting factor. smoke 'em if you got 'em, cuz it's gunna be a different world. just my opinion.

Never thought of that. That's not surprising—after the last 10 years, regulation was the farthest thing from my mind.

on a different note, i've often heard oil companies blame the lack of refining capacity for high gas prices. this seems like utter bullshit (why wouldn't some entrepreneur just build a new refinery and sell for less??).

Definitely. Many refineries are running near capacity. So why aren’t more being built? According to a comprehensive report on the state of the US refining industry conducted by Senator Ron Wyden, 24 refineries have been closed down between 1995 and 2001. Why? From the BBC article:

US environmental laws have made it near impossible to build refineries close to residential populations. But the primary motive behind the lack of US refinery new builds is a basic one, a lack of profits for oil companies.

Wyden uncovered several memos and internal documents from major oil companies. These charted the way that capacity in the US refining industry was reduced to maintain higher profits.

Wyden received one such memo from oil company Texaco, written in 1996. The company felt it was quite clear that petrol supplies needed "reducing."

"The most critical factor facing the refining industry on the West Coast is the surplus refining capacity, and the surplus gasoline production capacity," said the memo.

"The same situation exists for the entire US refining industry. Supply significantly exceeds demand year-round. This results in very poor refinery margins, and very poor refinery financial results. Significant events need to occur to assist in reducing supplies and/or increasing the demand for gasoline."

Interesting stuff. Maybe I need to go back and amend my rant about how rising gas prices aren’t the fault of oil companies….

i like you idea of an apollo-style effort in AE. BUT i think there has been a pretty sustained effort for about 30 years w/o much real success (e.g. we have a national lab in your home state dedicated to renewables: nobel laureate walter kohn (UC santa cruz) has spent much of his career working on AE. he says that solar and fusion are the only reasonable alternatives. fusion still has echnological problems, and solar still costs more than dead dinosaurs.

I’ve heard this before, but this is the first time I’ve heard it from someone with a credible background in science with left-leaning views. This usually comes from folks who say “nothing packs the punch that oil does, therefore we should stop waiting time and money on renewables.” My answer is twofold: well then what do you plan to do when gas becomes too expensive for you to buy it and not enough R&D has been done to make that determination yet. It’s pretty scary to think that might not be the case. Do you think incentives, subsides, and pouring more government money into research will yield any advancements or do you think Kohn and company’s work is about as definitive as it will get? If many renewables aren’t economically feasible with $4/gallon gas, are they more competitive when gas gets to $8 a gallon?

personally, i think there is no "alternative". the answer is to (drastically) reduce the amount of energy we use. i propose doing this by designing our society to be efficient: live in moderate climates, don't travel much, don't transport things long distances, don't support such a large population of humans. if we cut our pop. to 500 million our environmental problems would quickly disappear....

Well that should be easy, Prange. ;-) But I agree that conservation must play a huge part. Even if we can’t transition to these societal changes right away, we can start doing somethings now.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Rant of the Week: Energy policy, Part II: Sticking it to Dubya and McSame.

The “new” neocon (which includes Bush, and yes, McCain too) energy policy is to drill more oil wells. Period. Specifically, Republicans are pushing for opening up off-shore drilling and the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). They also want to lift the moratorium on oil shale development in western CO, Utah and Wyoming, even though the oil companies say the technology isn’t ready to produce oil from shale economically or safely. This week McCain spoke at a bikers’ rally: “We're gunna become energy independent. We’re not going to pay $4 a gallon for gas because we’re going to drill offshore, and we’re going to drill now. We’re going to drill here. We’re going to drill now!” This is the Republican party energy mantra. The GOP occasionally pays lip service to alternative energy and conservation, yet their actions and words indicate they are serious about no such thing. Conservatives contend increasing domestic supply will bring down prices. This is actually an enticing option to many people because it plays on simple supply and demand economics. If we increase supply, price goes down, right? This is just not the case.

Last week I told you three factors that are contributing to the rising price of gasoline. Republicans and the oil and gas industry like to blame “liberal environmentalists” for resisting domestic drilling and not allowing any more oil refineries. I’d like to ask them when “liberal environmentalists” have had any political power in the last 10+ years. If this issue was so important to the GOP, why didn’t Bush address this issue when they had control of Congress? I’d also like to ask them why we’ve got more drill rugs running right now on American soil than ever before. In Colorado, the BLM has opened up the Roan Plateau for development and will do the same for Vermillion Basin. So who’s restricting development again? Oil and gas companies have over 30 million acres of federal minerals leased in the US (mostly under public land in the west) that they’re not drilling. And don’ tell me restrictions hurt you. You’re making astronomical profits. We need to make these companies ante up that extra money to drill with fewer impacts.

Okay little diversion rant there, but back to the important point that drilling offshore and ANWR will simply not lower prices by any significant amount, and what small impact it will have will be a decade off. Both the Bush-controlled Department of Energy and the energy industry agree (when they let the truth slip). Even oil baron T. Boone Pickens understands and has put forward an energy plan relying heavily on renewable energy. Lets hear what the experts have to say. First from the Casper Star-Tribune:

Looking to the next year, Charles F. Mason, the H.A. "Dave" True Jr. professor of petroleum and natural gas economics at the University of Wyoming, said the notion that the nation could simply drill more wells to become "independent" of foreign oil imports simply isn't realistic."It's a myth," Mason said.

Of America's potential to unlock more domestic resources, Mason said, "It's truly small potatoes in the context of the global oil market."

Former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, Thomas B. Evans, summarized the situation well in a recent editorial for the Tampa Tribune when he wrote:

“Unfortunately, some find it easy to take advantage of these hardships. These misguided leaders are capitalizing on the high price of gasoline...It is terribly misleading to suggest that drilling would reduce the price of oil anytime in the near future...Speaking as a Republican, I fervently hope we will not be led down a path that may benefit oil companies but is so clearly wrong for America.”

In an article in The Advisor, Lee Fuller, a lobbyist for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, let it slip:

“There’s very little Congress can do in the short term because we’re dealing with a global market.”

Even by the Bush administration's DOE’s admission, opening ANWR to drilling will not produce results until 2018, and even then the contribution to the global oil pool will be insignificant.

Additional oil production resulting from the opening of ANWR would be only a small portion of total world oil production, and would likely be offset in part by somewhat lower production outside the United States. The opening of ANWR is projected to have its largest oil price reduction impacts as follows: a reduction in low-sulfur, light crude oil prices of $0.41 per barrel (2006 dollars) in 2026 for the low oil resource case, $0.75 per barrel in 2025 for the mean oil resource case, and $1.44 per barrel in 2027 for the high oil resource case, relative to the reference case.

I would also like to ask these GOP dolts this: If we have more drill rigs running on US soil than ever before, why is the cost of natural gas and oil increasing? Why isn’t your simple supply and demand philosophy working now? Finally, let’s not remember that fossil fuels are a finite resource. Regardless of how much we drill, we will eventually run out. Instead of buffering against this impending supply decrease, we’re continuing to feed our addiction. The shortsightedness of Bush and McCain is downright frightening.

Following the lead of the neo-cons when it comes to energy policy would be a monumental mistake for this nation. The environmental impacts are one thing, and I worry about the affects to climate more than those which can be more easily mitigated. However, we cannot overlook what this “no change” philosophy will do to our economy. The US used to have the best bunch of scientists and engineers in the world. While we can make the case that we still do, no one can deny the fact that we’re falling behind. A president could issue an ultimatum to the American people to lead the world in development of AE (much like Kennedy challenged us to beat the Russians to the moon), which could stimulate a scientific renaissance. This resurgence will create jobs and help shift our economy away from what could be a catastrophic collapse if we don’t wean ourselves off oil.

I’m all about a three pronged approach of seeking alternative energy sources, conservation (including forcing many conservation measures, such as fuel standards), and some responsible domestic drilling. But until we get moving on those other two legs to the stool, we should open no new areas to oil and gas development. Until our government shows that it is dead serious about AE and conservation, no giveaways to the oil and gas industry. To me, maybe next to foreign policy, this is the most important issue of the 2008 election. I can’t think of a worse way to address this issue than the Republican energy policy.

Professional Rant of the Week: Know-Nothing Politics

Paul Krugman came out with an op-ed about the neocon energy policy at the right time to support my Rant of the Week.

Know-Nothing Politics

And the debate on energy policy has helped me find the words for something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Republicans, once hailed as the “party of ideas,” have become the party of stupid.

Now, I don’t mean that G.O.P. politicians are, on average, any dumber than their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don’t mean to question the often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rant of the Week: Energy policy, Part I: Letting Dubya and big oil off the hook

Okay, it’s Friday night and I’m putting off my head altering activities to pound out this potentially long and very broad topic about energy policy. I’m taking another look at this on Saturday morning and I want to go camping, so instead of writing one long piece, I think now I’m going to split this topic into two posts. In this post I will try to argue the forces that have raised gas prices are largely beyond our government’s and oil companies’ control. The next post I will rip part the Bush/Republican energy “policy,” which will just make things worse. I’m also looking for a lot of participation on this one, because *gasp* I can’t find many ways to blame the Bush administration or “big oil” for the rising price of energy in America.

As far as I see it, there are up to 3 reasons why gas prices have increased in the last 6 months.

1. Millions of people in the world are pulling themselves into the energy-consuming middle class in countries like India and China. This is increasing global demand, which of course, raises the price of a barrel of oil.
2. The US dollar is very weak, which means we’re paying more for a global resource.
3. There is a lot of “futures” speculation going on.

Folks aren’t arguing about the first two reasons, but there’s some disagreement as to how much futures are contributing. This concept is a bit confusing to me and maybe some of you can enlighten me. Futures are contracts that require delivery of a commodity of specified quality and quantity, at a specified price, on a specified future date. Um okay….so how does this affect prices? Any help from the market experts? I’m also reading that there’s some market manipulation going on that could be affecting prices.

So how can we hold oil companies responsible for high gas prices? Yes, Exxon and their friends are making a bunch of money, and so are their CEOs, while we suffer.
These companies make billions in profits, but they also have very high costs. Exxon made 10% last quarter. That’s a lot, for sure, but Apple, for example, made 15%. So why aren’t we protesting Steve Jobs for heading up an evil corporation that makes too much money? (I do acknowledge that buying an Apple is a luxury and buying gas, for some, is not). Isn’t it a company’s job to make as much money as they can? Don’t they have a responsibility to their share holders to do just that? Why in the hell would I want to own any stock in Exxon (which I surely do in my 401(k)) when they decide to sell gas for less than the market will pay? Of course, if the government decided pull out those billions of dollars in subsidies (or maybe even increase taxes, such as windfall taxes, but I’m undecided on that), I’d be all for it, but it’s not up to the companies to do that.

The one gripe I have with oil companies is that there’s no real competition going on. I can’t drive from the Exxon station to a Shell station and get gas for much less. It seems all the companies increase their prices at the same time, kind like gas stations in Craig or Salmon. These oil companies seem to be colluding to increase prices together. Because competition is not driving down prices, the market just isn’t working the way it should. Please chime in with other reasons we can hold oil companies accountable for high gas prices.

So how is Bush responsible? He has to be, right? There’s no doubt he and Cheney love the oil and gas industry. And there’s no question their corrupt Department of the Interior is making it easier for oil companies to make money by opening up more areas and going very light on restrictions. But specifically, what have the neocons done to raise the price of a barrel of oil? Sure, Bush supports subsides for oil and gas companies, but he doesn’t create these subsides—Congress does. We can also point the finger at Bush for not pushing the development of alternative energy (AE), but creating incentives and requirements to use AE isn’t done by the Executive branch of the government. Again, it’s Congress who has been sitting on their hands. Bush has squandered an opportunity to provide leadership in development of AE, but other than that, I’m having a hard time linking him to high prices.

So here’s your challenge, my fellow Bush-detesting readers. Tell me how oil companies and Bush are responsible for high gas prices. Even if they aren’t responsible for gas prices, the Republicans are taking the worst possible steps to “remedy” the problem. Stay tuned for next week when I won’t be as nice on Dubya.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Recipe of the week: Salmon Rice Bowls with Ginger-Lime Sauce

I'm a huge fan of Vietnamese food. The flavors are fresh and they do such a great job mixing sweet, spicy, sour, and salty. This dish is no exception, leaning on ginger, chiles, and garlic for flavor and lime and cuccumber for freshness. This salmon dish is a household favorite.

1 3/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 Thai red chile, chopped
10 small garlic cloves
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 kirby cucumbers (10 ounces), cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Four 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of the water and the rice to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook the rice for 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a mortar, pound the ginger with the sugar and chile to a coarse paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of water, the lime juice and the fish sauce. Add the cucumbers.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Add the salmon to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the whole garlic cloves. Turn the salmon and cook over moderate heat until opaque throughout, about 4 minutes.

Mound the rice in bowls. Top with the salmon, garlic cloves and ginger-lime sauce with cucumber strips and serve. Pass any extra sauce at the table.

Adapted from Food and Wine recipe.