24 November 2008

At a New York Seminary, a Green Idea Gets Tangled in Red Tape
At one point, the seminary waited three months for the city Department of Transportation’s permission to drill into the sidewalk, Ms. Burnley said. “The conversation went like this: ‘What is the status?’ ‘It has no status.’ ‘Do you need more information?’ ‘No, we have what we need.’ ‘Then how can we get it moving?’ ‘You can’t get it moving.’
Lets get one thing clear from the start, I do not think that bureaucracy is always the problem. Most bureaucracies were put in place because there was an issue that needed to be addressed. People were putting bad wiring into houses, the electricity would short, start a fire, and burn down three houses; answer, electrical inspections. But we all know there comes a point when the bureaucracy becomes so dense it takes on a life of its own, and halts progress.

I think we might see more of this as individual groups take the Green Energy movement into their own hands. From making sure solar panels are installed on homes properly, to deciding if your neighbor gets to put up a small wind turbine, to colleges installing larger turbines and geothermal heat pumps. We need to be able to get this technology in use, but we can't give it a free pass. Look at corn-based ethanol and the damage it has done to local aquifers; we can't let the Green-ness of a thing blind us to the potential problems. But neither can we let a good idea die in the thickets of red tape.

But are there enough people like Ms. Burnley and Mr. Frawley — human drill bits — to drive through the crust of the status quo? She laughed. Not drill bits, she said, “human battering rams.”
I hope so, we badly need them.

10 November 2008

Small nuclear reactors, Safe?

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes
I don't know how I feel about this at all.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.
Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year.
First off, I'm pretty much opposed to nuclear power across the board. The reactors may be safe, but it's the waste that is dangerous for millennia. Then again, I'm not sure I trust the reactors either. That said, these do have a pretty strong potential to bring electrical power to many people without producing CO2 on site.

CO2 output is only part of what we need to look at when trying to make decisions about new sources of energy. We have to look at every component, and we have to look at each one from cradle to grave as it were. Where would they get the radioactive fuel? Where would it go in the end? So they're encased in concrete, what about regions that are prone to earthquakes?

'You could never have a Chernobyl-type event - there are no moving parts,' said Deal. 'You would need nation-state resources in order to enrich our uranium. Temperature-wise it's too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.'
I beg to differ Mr. Deal, the whole contraption has to move to get there, as does the spent fuel and the refill fuel. Transport of spent fuel rods around the US has been opposed time and time again.

I think I would want to hear a LOT more about how this works before I let them install one in my neighborhood. But I live in a nation where we have the luxury of opposing things like this. I'm sure there are plenty of places where the need for electricity outweighs the (apparently minimal??) risks.

09 November 2008

Obama's Speeches

Some time back in the fall of 2004 I downloaded Barack Obama's keynote address from the Democratic Convention. I don't even remember how I got it. But here it is for you to enjoy. Keynote 2004.

And to have things come full circle, here is his victory speech from Tuesday. Victory 2008.

I do have the acceptance speech from this year's convention, but weighing in at 42 minutes and 39 mb, (even after I edited out him being introduced and about five minutes of "Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much.") I don't know where anyone would host it for free. If you want it (cause you're a huge nerd like me) let me know.

06 November 2008

My day at the Polls

I got up before dawn on election day and drove a half hour in the dark to a north east suburb of the Twin Cities. I was a DFL "challenger" though the DFL didn't want us challenging anyone (besides, the law says I would have to have personal knowledge that the person couldn't vote, hard to do when you don't live there). Really I was there to be the eyes and ears of the party and to report back any problems.

I sat myself down in a corner and got ready to spend the day people watching. I sat behind the same-day-registration tables and watched people register and reregister to vote. There were two major themes; the problem with the same-day-registration law, and the wonderful people that came and really really wanted to vote.

First, the problem with the current law. I'm not sure when the law was written, or when it was last updated, but there are some obvious problems. To register a voter has to bring a form of photo ID to prove that they are who they say they are, and a bill with their name and current address. Or they can get a voter registered in that precinct to vouch for them, a staff member of a group home will also work.

So the problem is that only specific bills are accepted and some things that logically should work, don't. Signed leases? Nope. Car payment? No. Medicare payment? Try again. Paystubs? Nope. There were even two different people who thought maybe an alcohol citation would work. They didn't. (Quote of the day: "I was in an accident I wasn't aware I was in.")

The other problem I saw could be addressed if a signed lease could be used; there were at least three couples that had moved on the first of the month. All they had were leases, no bills had come yet.

But here is where I start to feel better about democracy. ALL of the people that had moved came back with someone to vouch for them, or a receipt for a new drivers license. One couple was turned away twice and the second time the guy was talking like he wasn't going to come back. But they did, separately, and both voted. Even the woman who was probably 6 months pregnant. A young man that was registered with his wife earlier in the day, was brought back with a friend to vouch for him and they brought another woman with them. More than that, he realized that he lived down the hall from the couple at the other end of the table and could have vouched for them too.

But the most heart warming thing I saw was a older woman, blind and deaf, with an aid who registered and voted. It must have taken the better part of an hour for them to fingerspell the entire registration form, the entire ballot and her vote.