Monday, January 31, 2011

Self Immolations in Saudi Arabia

In both Tunisia and Egypt, the main demonstrations were preceded by desperate individuals publicly setting themselves on fire as a protest against the hopelessness of their lives, or their treatment by their respective regimes.

In Tunisia, the first person to do this was on December 17th, but it took until January 4th for him to die.  Protests built over several weeks, until President Ben-Ali was obliged to flee the country on January 14th.

In Egypt, the first self immolations were on January 19th, and now, 12 days later, although the outcome is uncertain, the regime hangs by a thread.

So far, there have been two self-immolations in Saudi Arabia: a 60 year old man on January 22nd, and a 42 year old on January 25th.  So far, demonstrations have been limited to a few hundred people (video here) in Jeddah, mostly protesting that the government had failed to prevent devastating floods there.  Demonstrations are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, and the authorities arrested tens of the protesters.  I am not presently able to find any evidence of the self-immolations leading to further protest (feel free to provide any further links in comments).

Demographics and Wealth in MENA

Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekend Blog: Virtue Can be its Own Reward

Minor note.  I just received the NYSEG bill for a month of heating and powering our Victorian farmhouse in upstate New York, with 100% renewable electricity in the middle of winter: $429.36.  Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at our bills from the same time last year, when we paid to heat and power a similar aged (1880) almost identical sized rental house in Sausalito, California: $462.11.

In Sausalito, the bill was for about half natural gas and half electricity of whatever provenance PG&E chose to provide (ie mostly not renewable).  Here the electricity is supplied by Sterling Planet via Agway Electric, and delivered by NYSEG.

The main difference is that the house here, having been owner occupied, is insulated to a more-or-less average contemporary standard, whereas the rental house in Sausalito was not (presumably because the landlords had had no incentive to do so).  Also, electricity here is somewhat cheaper than in the Bay Area.  These effects are enough to more than overcome the difference between about 3000 degree days and about 8000 degree days, as well as the premium for renewable power.

My smugness knows no bounds following this bill :-)

Oil, Food, and the Wealth of MENA Countries

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

US Revenues and Outlays

The latest CBO projections for the US government deficit.  Note the break in the y-axis. The report came out today.

Obama on Energy and Climate

Here is the portion of President Obama's State of the Union Address devoted to energy and climate, followed by my reaction:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chinese Oil Consumption Growth

Creating a Toaster From Scratch

Want to know what civilization does for you?  This video is one man's account of trying to build a toaster from scratch himself starting from raw materials (iron ore, oil for the plastic, etc).  I mean, you already know how that's going to turn out, right?  Still, it's pretty eye opening to follow the details.

Hat tip Ran Prieur.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Growth Was So Faster in the Post War Years

Kevin Drum tries to set Matt Yglesias straight, arguing that this logarithmic graph of real GDP demonstrates that growth has not been any slower in the past thirty years than the previous thirty years:

Expensive Potatoes, Cheap French Fries

Paul Krugman commented the other day on this article in Commodities Now by John Kemp.  The article's main thesis is:
Leading commentators such as Martin Wolf in the Financial Times and Paul Krugman in the New York Times argue the problem facing the global economy is lack of sufficient demand; the remedy is some combination of fiscal and monetary expansion. But sharply rising commodity prices suggest global growth is already hitting supply-side limits. The problem is not aggregate demand but its distribution.

Until firms significantly raise productivity, especially resource efficiency, the painful remedy is likely to involve increased competitiveness and reduced living standards across North America and Western Europe (through a combination of commodity price inflation, weaker exchange rates, higher import prices and falling real wages and incomes).

There is not much Keynesian demand management can do in the face of this sort of structural shift. Central bank policies are simply shuffling costs around (from borrowers and banks to savers and pension funds) while stoking further increases in food and energy prices.
This is the implication of the syndrome I christened misflation the other day (and since I haven't see any other term in general circulation yet, I'm going to stick with mine for now).

Anyway, Krugman responds:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Blog: Living in the Country makes you Smarter!

Well, roughly.  Via Andrew Sullivan, here's an interesting paper which compared the cognitive performance of undergraduates after taking a walk in a natural environment (a university arboretum) versus taking a walk on busy city streets.
We compare the restorative effects on cognitive functioning of interactions with natural versus urban environments. Attention restoration theory (ART) pro- vides an analysis of the kinds of environments that lead to improvements in directed-attention abilities. Nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish. Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically and ad- ditionally requires directed attention (e.g., to avoid being hit by a car), making them less restorative. We present two experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities as measured with a backwards digit-span task and the Attention Network Task, thus validating attention resto- ration theory.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Romanticism is not New

There is an interesting essay by Michael Lind in Salon, America in the age of primitivism. Lind bemoans the irrationality of modern politics on both sides of the right-left divide:
A case can be made that yes, we are indeed in a period of rising irrationalism. This irrationalism permeates our politics, from the right to the center to the left. And it has done so for some time.
and he makes that case at greater length:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back Problems...

On an administrative note: I hurt my back on Monday and am under physical therapist's orders not to sit up.  That has cramped my blogging style more than a little!  It has started to improve and I hope to return to light blogging tomorrow (albeit from a near horizontal position...).

Monday, January 17, 2011

OPEC: December Global Oil Supply Flat at New Peak

NY Times: US involved in Stuxnet

As far as I can see, the NY Times is burying the lead in this story.  I think the most important news is:
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chevy Volt Availability Gossip

I had to come out to California on business this week.  Last night, I took the opportunity to go into the San Jose Chevy dealership to inquire about the Volt.  They have seen three total.  One came in a couple of weeks ago, and sold in an hour for $10k over list.  Two more came in Wednesday morning, and both sold by Thursday afternoon at $8k over list to a business owner who had come in from out of town and was on his third different city trying to buy Volts.  I got to sit in those two, but not test drive them.

So, based on this one data point, it's not exactly impossible to buy a Volt at present, but it's certainly not easy.  It's not like they are back-ordered for months, but you'd probably have to sit in a major urban area where they are available, make friends with all the dealerships, and then be ready to pay well over list when one showed up.

This particular dealership said they had only 40 allocated to them for all of 2011.  So it could be a while till things settle down.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Environmentalism ≠ Socialism

Yesterday's Archdruid report triggers me to write a post I've been meaning to write for a while, which is to make the following point: the project of transforming society to use less resources, have less environmental impact, or emit less carbon, does not necessarily have anything to do with the project of making society more equal.  Environmentalism != Socialism, to reduce it to a bumper sticker.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

State of the Blog, Q4 2010

Pete Postlethwaite, RIP

I see from the NYT that character actor Pete Postlethwaite has died:
Oscar-nominated actor Pete Postlethwaite, a craggy-faced British character actor described by director Steven Spielberg as "the best actor in the world," has died at age 64 after a long battle with cancer.

Friend and journalist Andrew Richardson said Monday that Postlethwaite died in a hospital Sunday.

The actor was instantly recognizable for his unusually shaped face — with prominent cheekbones that gave him a lean, rugged look — and his intense eyes. He was not conventionally handsome like many film stars but had a powerful presence and authenticity on screen and on stage.
This would normally be of no interest to this blog, but...