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Is Thorium Our Energy Answer?

nuclear-plant

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France – Photo by Stefan Kühn

Slowly but surely I’ve become a believer in thorium reactors as one potential energy source that is abundant, cheap and an element that is naturally present everywhere in the world. 

We will need it and Bill Gates is on board and investing in thorium so you know there has to be something world-changing about this element to get him involved.

To give you an idea of why we need more major energy sources — and we won’t be able to satisfy demand with solar, wind or other renewables since the demand is so great globally — let me share with you one sentence that starts off the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2013:

“The International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that
world energy consumption will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040.”

Holy shit. A 56% increase in the next 37 years? Yep.

If you want to know more about thorium — and I’d hope you would at least ask your elected representatives about what the U.S. is doing with thorium research to make sure energy is top-of-mind for them — here is a link to a Wikipedia article on thorium and the video from that Bill Gates page here is about 28 minutes long, but is a great overview and I encourage you to watch it.

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Don’t Believe in Climate Change?

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

Must admit I’m still stunned when I talk to an actual human being (one who seems intelligent) and they tell me that they do not believe in climate change. Anyone with an 8th grade education who can read should be able to figure out that the evidence is overwhelming.

NASA has this Global Climate Change website and the graphic above comes straight from their page entitled “Evidence.” With all of that extra CO2 in the air — a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and is a concept even an 8th grader who has been in a hot car could understand — the evidence goes beyond what we can see and experience ourselves. Seeing, analyzing and cataloguing the data from space and satellites is an amazing set of tools to collect it all and prove climate change is real. 

From NASA’s Evidence page:

  • normPage-3Sea level rise: Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Global temperature rise: All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.6 Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
  • Warming oceans: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • Shrinking ice sheets: The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  • Declining Arctic sea ice: Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
  • Glacial retreat: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
  • Extreme events: The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.
  • Ocean acidification: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.12,13 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

It might be too late to stop the acceleration in global CO2 levels. When it comes to climate deniers, maybe they will wake up when their crops whither and die due to abnormal heat and little rain, or when the oceans rise and either they’re inundated with water or millions of refugees flood their towns and neighborhoods. 

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Skype to be renamed “Scrape”?

skype-backdoorSomething happened four and a half years ago that made me stop and wonder what the hell really happened: Skype was mysteriously taken offline so I dashed off this post: Skype. How big *is* the back door?

Confirmation of my paranoia back then has become clearer with articles about how Microsoft has setup Skype to be “scraped” by the National Security Agency like this one Skype: Reportedly Funneling Your Calls To PRISM Since 2011:

Skype, long thought to be a privacy haven for its encrypted communication, reportedly began integrating its systems into the NSA’s PRISM program as early as November of 2010, nearly a year prior to joining Microsoft in the fall of 2011, according to a new report from the Guardian

Skype reportedly began sending audio and text messages to the NSA, which shared the data with the FBI and CIA. The Guardian also reported that Skype, under the helm of Microsoft, worked closely with the NSA to enable the collection of video calls starting in July 2012.

Or this one Microsoft Hints Skype Calls May Be Fair Game for NSA:

Microsoft indirectly hinted that Skype communications can be intercepted and handed over to the National Security Agency, according to two privacy and security researchers’ interpretation of the latest statement by the company regarding NSA surveillance.

For security experts, that means Skype calls are at the mercy of NSA requests, just like traditional phone calls made with landlines or cellphones. In other words, the U.S. government, through its PRISM program, can legally compel Microsoft to hand over Skype communications, something that the company previously denied was even possible at a technical level.

I always try to leverage my strengths and use them to see what’s coming next. Rarely do I take on face value any announcement, strategic move or even terrorist ‘attack’ since I’ve been wrong every single time I did so. Only when I try to read between the lines or do a smell test on whether something feels right — all while taking in to consideration the facts I’ve been sticking in my brain through all my research and knowledge — that I become paranoid enough to take action and one action is to move off of Skype. More on that to come…

Good discussion from a quite varied group of folks on This Week on ABC:

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We Are All Gonna Die! (But Before You Go…)

no-noNone of us are going to get out of here alive (meaning life overall) and ignoring the fact that you are going to die is never a good idea. But since you could very well live into your mid-80s—and be retired for 20 years or more—not planning for those 20 years is a huge mistake.

Over the past several weeks I’ve been examining our retirement portfolio in order to decide on when we could/should/probably-will retire. We’ve saved all of our lives (even when we didn’t have two nickels to rub together) and thankfully are in great shape, but it turns out that most people are not and the recent economic downturn didn’t help (though investment assets and 401ks are rebounding).

A few weeks ago Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, Inc (a wealth management firm), had his “radical retirement recommendation” discussed in this CNNMoney article. 

BlackRock Inc. chief executive Larry Fink said during a speech Tuesday that longer life spans and underfunded retirement plans are the defining challenge of our age, and went so far as to recommend that the U.S. consider making retirement savings mandatory.

Radical? Probably not, especially if someone 25 years old expects to get anything out of social security when they retire. Yes, Fink has a vested interest in sparking interest in retirement funds management, but he’s not the only one talking about this as a crisis[Read more…]

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The Ends Justify The Means?

TEJTM101Was at two high school grad parties yesterday and found myself having disheartening conversations with several young people who had just graduated high school. We talked about what they’d be doing post-high school, their visions about their future lives and whether they thought what they wanted to do was achievable, and what kind of world they thought they were inheriting from those of us were close to passing it on to them.

I was not prepared to hear their sense of sadness, fear, pessimism and, especially, their true befuddlement that the BIG lesson they had been taught by those in power was that:

  1. It was OK to lie to the world to start a war and no one is held accountable
  2. If you are a huge financial institution and instrumental in facilitating a global economic meltdown, not only will you not go to jail but your company is saved and it’s back to business (and bonuses) as usual within a year or two and no one is held accountable
  3. That a “terrorism Pearl Harbor” is excuse enough to spend trillions abroad while at home our infrastructure fails and our country embarks on the largest runup in mass surveillance while trampling on our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and no one is held accountable (at least not yet)
  4. The richest and most powerful nation on earth has the highest incarceration rate in the world, while many of the crimes (especially ironic compared to no jail time for those in #2 above) are petty in nature.

While I tried to continually steer the conversations toward a more positive note—and part of their funk might have been partially attributable to our crappy, rainy weather yesterday—they continued to be gloom-and-doomsters about the state of our country and how uncertain they felt about the future.

gordon-gekkomother-theresaThe lessons taught to (and learned by) these young people? The ends justify the means. Makes me wonder if the next several decades may make many of these young people look more like a Gordon Gekko character than a Mother Theresa, and that our country’s ethical decline is now systemic and most of the skids-are-greased to make it easier for the United States to become a totalitarian country.

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Thoughts About the Secret Police

stasi

The Ministry for State Security (German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS), commonly known as the Stasi, has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. (More here at Wikipedia)

All last evening, and over lunch today, I’ve been reading dozens and dozens of articles on the shitstorm going on with respect to the National Security Agency and their scooping up data about Verizon phone calls and how the NSA has access to major companies (see U.S. intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program) to collect our emails, photos, tweets, chat logs and more. Last night and today the aggregator Google News displayed links to over 2,000 articles (and that doesn’t count all of the blog posts) about this ongoing issue. 

But it was a post today that crystallized the FEAR about what’s going on in a way I’d not yet read from anyone or any news outlet.

Your iPhone Works for the Secret Police, from Harvard Business Review blogger James Allworth, recapped our fear about what the NSA mass data vacuuming means for all of us. As someone whose ancestry hails from Prussia and Germany — and that I’ve spent alot of time in Germany, especially just a few years after the Berlin Wall fell — I can tell you that the effects of the Stasi repression was still palpable. Allworth points to the Stasi as an example of an intelligence service run amok and what it could lead to:

The infamous East German secret police, the Stasi, managed to infiltrate every part of German life, from factories, to schools, to apartment blocks — the Stasi had eyes and ears everywhere. When East Germany collapsed in 1989, it was reported to have over 90,000 employees and over 170,000 informants. Including the part-time informants, that made for about one in every 63 East Germans collaborating to collect intelligence on their fellow citizens. You can imagine what that must have meant: people had to live with the fact that every time they said something, there was a very real chance that it was being listened to by someone other than for whom they intended. No secret police force in history has ever spied on its own people on a scale like the Stasi did in East Germany. In large part because of that, those two words — “East Germany” — are indelibly imprinted on the psyche of the West as an example of how important the principles of liberal democracy are in protecting us from such things happening again. And indeed, the idea that it would happen seems anathema to most people in the western world today — almost unthinkable.

President Obama, Congressional leaders and any others are defending the subversion of our Constitution and the 4th amendment as “legal” and “sanctioned”. But when everything is secret, how can we do what President Reagan said about our relationship with the former Soviet Union “Trust…but verify”? The answer is “we can’t” and what’s going on right now in the present-day United States would have been a Stasi leader’s wet dream back then.

If you read nothing else about this important issue, take a few minutes and read Allworth’s article here

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Geeks vs. Norms

My son and I love the I.T. Crowd (and they’re coming back for an encore show!) but this snippet always made me realize how most people are clueless. They’re not stupid, but they have yet to learn:

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Where is your OUTRAGE!?!

hulkWhile many of you are outraged over anything that might control guns in the United States—and anger over criminal behaviors like the Boston bombing, armed robberies and physical crimes—hardly anyone is getting mad over the global financial industries who are rigging the game against ALL OF US.

I know most people don’t read the newspaper, watch TV news or read more than a headline or couple of paragraphs in an article. Maybe that’s why there is no outrage. Or perhaps it’s just a bit too complex for Joe SixPack to grasp. My gut tells me that people not paying attention is why the global financial industry is getting away with rigging the financial game while the masses get all pissed off about Obama, gun control, the Boston bombing or other things that distract us from paying attention to the real crimes.

Just over one year ago the Libor scandal broke. Turns out traders were in direct communication with bankers before the rates were set, thus allowing them an advantage in predicting that day’s fixing. According to this article at Wikipedia (my emphasis), “Libor underpins approximately $350 trillion in derivatives. One trader’s messages indicated that for each basis point (0.01%) that Libor was moved, those involved could net “about a couple of million dollars”.”

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi

Now comes this article by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and still there is no outrage: “Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever The Illuminati were amateurs. The second huge financial scandal of the year reveals the real international conspiracy: There’s no price the big banks can’t fix.”

Taibbi points out how huge scandal #2 is as he describes the manipulation of interest-rate swaps (again, my emphasis), “Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.” Now the banks are manipulating THAT market too. (Sigh…)

We all know the ‘players’ in the stock market have enormous advantages. In Las Vegas I don’t mind 1-2 percentage points going to the ‘house’, but when my 401K, home value and business revenue drops like a rock because the big banks, hedge funds and brokerage houses are rigging the game, you bet I’m pissed.

If you do nothing else, read Taibbi’s article and think about it. If you start to feel anger welling up inside of you, go and read a few of Taibbi’s blog posts and other articles here. He’s one of the few consistent voices who call out the financial industry’s hucksterism. Taibbi wonders out loud why, for example, NO banker has had so much as a token fine or any jail time after the biggest fraud perpetrated on the global financial system in history that caused the 2008 crash.

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What Car to Buy?

oil-drillingGlobal warming. Peak oil. America is dependent upon foreign oil, but demand is weakening here and prices might fall. So what is the right choice I should make when buying a new car?

Today I drive a 2009 Toyota Prius (see my 2008 post here) and now I’m torn about what to buy next. Another Prius that gets 50MPG? A plugin hybrid Prius that gets 99MPGe? A Chevy Volt that, like my neighbor who has driven over 12,000 miles and still has 25% of his first tank of gasoline, uses electricity for most driving?

We know climate change is happening and that total oil production by the big producers has fallen 25% since 2004 while global energy demand is expected to double by 2050 (see 2013 World Energy Issue Monitor (PDF)), so the obvious choice is to buy the most efficient vehicle I can afford (and fit in to).

But it’s not so simple. Since CAFE standards are focusing car manufacturers on ensuring the average mileage of their fleets increase fairly dramatically to 2025, if prices fall and mileage rises isn’t the net impact of a larger vehicle justifiable? 

lnavigatorI thought so until this past week when I was behind a woman driving a Lincoln Navigator at the gas pumps. She asked me what kind of mileage I got in the winter and what it cost to fill my tank. “42-44 mpg and a full tank is about $38,” I replied. “How about you?

Um…I asked because my husband and I measured it over the last few months and it’s supposed to get 14 in the city and 20 on the highway but we were getting about 8mpg driving around town and 12mpg when we drove up to Duluth to see my mother.” She went on, “…and it costs about $115 to fill the tank.”

Well, that’s what happens in the winter when we run our heaters, electric seats and it’s harder to efficiently burn fuel. What she and I DIDN’T talk about was an ugly truth I discovered later: That $115 would fill her 33.5 gallon tank and take her about 396 highway miles. My Prius (at the 44mpg highway amount) would go 462 miles for filling my 11 gallon fuel tank for only $38! A savings of $77 and for not using 22 gallons of gasoline.

I know, I know…it’s a helluva lot better to drive a Lincoln behemoth vs. a tiny little Prius. But what a waste of fuel—not to mention the extra carbon I’d be spewing in to the atmosphere—when I’m just hauling my own ass around. Do I really need something like that Lincoln Navigator? Nope. Regardless whether gas prices fall to $2/gallon since it’s just an inefficient waste of energy.

So now the questions: regular or plugin Prius or Chevy Volt? 

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Is Romney’s Tax Plan ‘Mission Impossible’?

Like me, if you have a job and a family it is likely you can only invest limited amounts of time in trying to figure out what’s the truth in this presidential election season. The arguments either way are compelling and those that believe one way or another (Obama’s a socialist; Romney’s a closet liberal but the only hope the GOP has and anything is better than Obama) are only latching on to those news articles and revelations that confirm their beliefs.

Here’s one to consider and why uncovering the truth is so damned hard:

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which did a comprehensive analysis to date of Romney’s tax plan, famously called it “mathematically impossible”. Ezra Klein, a columnist and blogger at The Washington Post and a policy analyst for MSNBC, penned this post for Bloomberg which ignited a sh*tstorm of cries: “it’s NOT mathematically impossible” and “they made ‘garbage assumptions“.

I have family, friends and acquaintances that are smack-dab-in-the-middle of the middle class who either don’t have the analytical skills, the time or the education to be able to wade in to discussion and try to figure out who is telling the truth and what to believe. These same people — some of whom have no healthcare and yet rail against “Obamacare” as well as having worked at companies who have outsourced their jobs overseas — are some of the staunchest conservative folks I know who have cheerfully leapt on to the bandwagon.

The real ‘mission impossible’ these days is determining the truth. As a guy with a German ancestry, I have studied Germanic history and tried to read everything I could about the manipulation done by the Nazi party in the 1930s to sway a nation, in order to attempt to make some sense of how the German people could allow this regime to take hold. The difference today is that it is NOT JUST THE STATE that has become masters of the lie: it’s conservatives vs. liberals; right-of-center vs. left-of-center; the certain vs. the certain. All of these aligned groups of people now have the power of personal publishing (i.e., blogging, social media, podcasting, etc.) on their side to throw their noise in to the fray.

One paragraph has stuck with me from a speech by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and is the filter through which I view the rhetoric and lack of truth discourse going on in our country right now. Think about this as you read all of these articles and watch TV:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”