mm499: Blast from the Past! No. 53 – Fuel without oil, or corn

September 19, 2008
© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

So it’s been pretty tough this week, as Faithful Reader might imagine, and we’re dipping our toes gingerly back into the blogging sea tonight.

Nevertheless, we’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons. And, with nearly 470 fresh daily posts in the past 16+ months, the recycling process has an exceptionally rich vein to mine.

I hereby stop apologizing for resuming our observance of the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th[2]

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, originally posted November 13, 2007, and with a woman vice presidential candidate, more germane than ever, titled “mm193: Fuel without oil, or corn.”

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s been an ongoing theme (here, here and here) at Left-Handed Complement: the pandering, wrong-headed concentration on corn derived ethanol as the U.S. main alternative to Saudi (and Nigerian, Gulf of Mexico and North Slope) petroleum to fuel our transportation system.

This past weekend, the NYTimes featured a fascinating look at non-corn alternatives to powering our SUVs.

biomassethanol

For years, scientists have known that the building blocks in plant matter — not just corn kernels, but also corn stalks, wood chips, straw and even some household garbage — constituted an immense potential resource that could, in theory, help fill the gasoline tanks of America’s cars and trucks.

Mostly, they have focused on biology as a way to do it, tinkering with bacteria or fungi that could digest the plant material, known as biomass, and extract sugar that could be fermented into ethanol. But now, nipping at the heels of various companies using biological methods, is a new group of entrepreneurs, including Mr. Mandich, who favor chemistry.

The conceptual problem with ethanol from corn has always rested in the strong suspicion that the energy required to process corn to burn in one’s automobile exceeds the yield of energy so created.

Ethanol from corn is a political hot button, especially for all of the presidential campaigners prostrating themselves before Iowa’s farmers — isn’t it high time to divest this country from its inappropriate emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire in the primary process?

You don’t see Georgia influencing election trends, and yet:

In Georgia alone, enough waste wood is available to make two billion gallons of ethanol a year, Mr. Mandich said. If all that material could be captured and converted to fuel, it could replace about 1 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fuel Without the Fossil – New York Times

Obviously, there are some very bright people working hard at solutions, made increasingly economically attractive as the baseline of comparison to petroleum-based fuels persists in climbing inexorably toward $4/gallon.

And, corn-based or not, it looks like ethanol is going to be the end result of all of this chemical creativity, since it’s ethanol that has the Congressionally mandated tax credit.

MUDGE used to believe that the fuel cell guys had the answer, but what with the way the real world works, I can’t see corner hydrogen pumps popping up in many neighborhoods in my lifetime. So chemically derived ethanol will have to do.

Good to see U.S. innovation persists. Like the current IBM advertisements proclaim, it’s easy to say, and so very much more difficult to actually do.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm491: Blast from the Past! No. 48 – War with Iran?

September 6, 2008
© Kandasamy M  | Dreamstime.com

© Kandasamy M | Dreamstime.com

Events, continue to conspire, making it unacceptably late to start a fresh project, but hey, recycling is IN, right? We’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons.

I hereby stop apologizing for observing the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th[1]

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and, unfortunately, still all too timely, originally posted November 6, 2007, and titled “mm186: War with Iran: Inevitable?”

MUDGE’S Musings

The potential catastrophe of Iran just keeps scaling up. William Arkin, the Washington Post‘s excellent commentator on military affairs updated us Nov. 2 in his Early Warning blog:

arkinearlywarning

The presidential campaigns can’t get enough of talk about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Bush administration’s eagerness to go to war. Thirty U.S. senators, including Hillary Clinton, sent a letter to President Bush yesterday, reminding him that “no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action in Iran.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama submitted a Senate resolution, also emphasizing that congress must explicitly authorize military action, and that, in regards to Iran, it hasn’t done that so far.

Let me say now, based on my discussions with Pentagon insiders and observers and more than 30 years following the military: We are not going to war with Iran. At least we are not going to start a war now or any time soon. At least not intentionally [emphasis MUDGE].

Can’t help but land hard on that sentence. How much tragedy has the present administration caused, both intentionally and not, over the past nearly seven years?

Read the rest of this entry »


mm489: Blast from the Past! No. 46 – Abolish the Air Force

September 4, 2008
© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’S Musings

Events, continue to conspire, making it unacceptably late to start a fresh project, but hey, recycling is IN, right? We’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons.

I hereby stop apologizing for observing the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th[2]

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, especially since it’s back to school time for millions, originally posted November 2, 2007, and titled “mm183: Abolish the Air Force.”

MUDGE’S Musings

From the “If it’s the weekend, it must be military” department, we bring you this fascinating analysis from The American Prospect.

Was sent this earlier today by MUDGE‘s ex-Navy son, who was interested, as is his parent, not due to his parochial leanings toward the maritime forces, but rather due to his interest in history, especially military history.

And the thesis here is based, not only on the present straitened circumstances in which the U.S. Air Force finds itself, fighting in conflicts using techniques in which it has little interest, and causing as a result inexcusable amounts of what is delicately called collateral damage.

No, the analysis expertly recounts the troubled history of the Air Force, built from the first on a flawed premise: the value of strategic bombing.

americanprospect

Abolish the Air Force

What it does on its own — strategic bombing — isn’t suited to modern warfare. What it does well — its tactical support missions — could be better managed by the Army and Navy. It’s time to break up the Air Force.

Robert Farley | November 1, 2007

In August of this year, reports emerged that British Army officers in Afghanistan had requested an end to American airstrikes in Helmand Province because the strikes were killing too many civilians there. In Iraq, the Lancet Study of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war suggested that airstrikes have been responsible for roughly 13 percent of those casualties, or somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

This watershed comes at a particularly important time, as the Air Force observed its 60th anniversary this past September.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm487: A Truman for our times?

September 2, 2008
© Oleksii Sergieiev | Dreamstime.com

© Oleksii Sergieiev | Dreamstime.com

This one got me.

But, in recognition of Republican week, I don’t have a problem with having the infamous George III smirk atop this post.

I might have a problem with the thesis, but it’s worth exposing, since it represents a point of view that had never occurred to yr (justifiably) humble svt.

prospectuk

A Truman for our times

The received wisdom is that President Bush has been a foreign policy disaster, and that America is threatened by the rise of Asia. Both claims are wrong—Bush has successfully rolled back jihadism, and the US will benefit from Asian growth

August 2008 | 149 » Cover story » A Truman for our times | Edward Luttwak

That George W Bush’s foreign policy has been a total failure is now taken for granted by so many people that one usually hears it stated as a simple truth that need not be argued at all.

It has happened before. When President Harry S Truman said in March 1952 that he would not seek re-election, most Americans could agree on one thing: that his foreign policy had been a catastrophic failure. In Korea his indecision had invited aggression, and then his incompetence had cost the lives of some 54,000 Americans and millions of Korean civilians in just two years of fighting—on both counts more than ten times the number of casualties in Iraq. Right-wingers reviled Truman for having lost China to communism and for his dismissal of the great General Douglas MacArthur, who had wanted to win it back, with nukes if necessary. Liberals despised Truman because he was the failed shopkeeper who had usurped the patrician Franklin Roosevelt’s White House—liberals always were the snobs of US politics.

Abroad, Truman was widely hated too. The communist accusation that he had waged “bacteriological warfare” to kill Korean children and destroy Chinese crops was believed by many, and was fully endorsed by a 669-page report issued by a commission chaired by the eminent British biochemist Joseph Needham. Even more people believed that Truman was guilty of having started the cold war by trying to intimidate our brave Soviet ally, or at least that he and Stalin were equally to blame.

How did this same Harry Truman come to be universally viewed as a great president, especially for his foreign policy? It is all a question of time perspectives: the Korean war is half forgotten, while everyone now knows that Truman’s strategy of containment was successful and finally ended with the almost peaceful disintegration of the Soviet empire.

For Bush to be recognised as a great president in the Truman mould, the Iraq war too must become half forgotten. The swift removal of the murderous Saddam Hussein was followed by years of expensive violence instead of the instant democracy that had been promised. To confuse the imam-ridden Iraqis with Danes or Norwegians under German occupation, ready to return to democracy as soon as they were liberated, was not a forgivable error: before invading a country, a US president is supposed to know if it is in the middle east or Scandinavia.

Yet the costly Iraq war must also be recognised as a sideshow in the Bush global counteroffensive against Islamist militancy, just as the far more costly Korean war was a sideshow to global cold war containment. For the Bush response to 9/11 was precisely that—a global attack against the ideology of Islamic militancy. While anti-terrorist operations have been successful here and there in a patchy way, and the fate of Afghanistan remains in doubt, the far more important ideological war has ended with a spectacular global victory for President Bush.

First thing you have to do when confronting an essay such as this is to consider the source.

Edward Luttwak is one controversial bloke. Even Luttwak’s biography in Wikipedia is controversial.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm468: And the band played on

August 14, 2008
© Catia Amadio | Dreamstime.com

© Catia Amadio | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

In case current events in the nation of Georgia haven’t made the fact crystal clear, yr (justifiably) humble svt is unhappy to inform you that the U.S. military hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory over the past nearly 20 years since the end of the Cold War.

And the diplomatic corps has similarly shown itself to be overstressed and undermanned.

Nicholas Kristof made the point this past weekend: the U.S. has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats!

And what Kristof’s story omits, due to rapidly breaking events, is the failure of both U.S. diplomacy and U.S. military strength during the Russian invasion of Georgia this past week.

Military strength? Well, we can’t simultaneously put sufficient boots on the ground to meet our objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, much less come to the aid of a strategically critical ally, Georgia.

Diplomacy? A strong diplomatic corps might have foreseen (yes, hindsight is always 20:20) that Georgia was simultaneously taking U.S. and NATO support as more than words, while underestimating Vladimir Putin’s urge for regained empire, and warned Mikheil Saakashvili away from his adventuristic invasion of South Ossettia.

Or a diplomatic arm with some heft might have been able to forestall, or at least mitigate, Russia’s response. Putin may now be emboldened to exercise his brand of “diplomacy” over other, West-leaning, former states of the old Soviet empire, and the U.S. will be hard pressed to protect them, diplomatically or militarily, if it even figures out that this would be a useful strategy.

But George III is a happy warrior, as befits a civilian who took giant steps to avoid substantive military service, and diplomacy apparently doesn’t mean much to him, or it appears, to Congress.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm462: Impervious to the Olympics

August 8, 2008

dreamstime_5517370

© Claudio Negri | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Long ago, yr (justifiably) humble svt was quite the sports fan. Some of this was genetic; my long-deceased father was a baseball fan, first and foremost; during his prime he was pleased to have season’s tickets for both Chicago ball clubs.

His oldest son is more of a fair weather fan. And the weather thus far this season has been quite fair, thank you very much, on both the North and South sides of town, although all such observations are via television or Internet; stadium tickets, parking, refreshments are luxury goods.

Professional and college football I find more compelling; even though I never have been at all athletic, the large size of football players fits my self image better, I think. Those seasons are just about to begin; it’s been a long several months football-free drought. But, interest is vicarious; the past two seasons, courtesy of my Naval Academy children, I have actually attended a couple of live college games, but it’s been 30 years or more since I’ve attended a professional contest.

For many years, I was a happy subscriber to Sports Illustrated, and a voracious consumer of televised sports of all kinds, although until the past few years penury deprived me of many years of ESPN.

And, every four years, and lately, since the Winter and Summer games have been split, every two years, I was a consumer of televised Olympics.

A fellow denizen of BlogExplosion.com, michiganrafter, much more into things athletic (and commercial) than am I, had a listing the other day of the Top Ten Olympic Moments, and I could recall and concur with all of his choices.

That was then. It’s no accident, I think, that most of his top 10 occurred at least 20, and some more than 30, years ago.

Sport has changed.

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mm453: Go with the wind

July 30, 2008

dreamstime_1129778

© David Davis | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Electricity generated by windmills, sponsored by one of the last of the iconoclastic oilmen.

Electric powered automobiles that actually have a driving radius between recharges of more than an hour or two.

We’ve looked at wind power several times [mm294: Making the world unsafe for bats and birds; mm220: It’s all about power; mm204: Wind power – Ugly, noisy, destructive! Who knew?] in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© as an idea whose time has arrived.

And we caught the first inklings of Shai Agassi’s ambitious electric dream earlier this year [mm271: The automobile post – diesel / electric].

Leave it to Tom Friedman of the NYTimes, global strategic thinker that he is, to make the connection.

nytimes

Texas to Tel Aviv

Op-Ed Columnist | By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN | Published: July 27, 2008

What would happen if you cross-bred J. R. Ewing of “Dallas” and Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club? You’d get T. Boone Pickens. What would happen if you cross-bred Henry Ford and Yitzhak Rabin? You’d get Shai Agassi. And what would happen if you put together T. Boone Pickens, the green billionaire Texas oilman now obsessed with wind power, and Shai Agassi, the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world’s leader in electric cars?

You’d have the start of an energy revolution.

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