Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Can Hear 'Em Buzzin'

Bill Gates...  I read a random headline on a blog today that indicated Bill Gates decided to make an impression at this years TED conference... by opening a can full of mosquitoes.  The generalized consensus on the blog was a call for outrage, but I'm not feeling it.  In some ways, it seems to me, there is nothing more appropriate than a bunch of kings of culture seething in mortal fear at a can full of mosquitoes.  What do these Bay Area mavens do in the summer, stay near to the cool breeze of the shore?  It must frustrate them when TED invites people calling for systemic change in the way we organize society----- oh wait, that would never happen.  So, the Mosquitoes.  How ironic that a capitalist such as Gates should find himself so desperate to speak to the hearts of the TED congregation.  Their hearts are there.  I actually believe that.  From an evolutionary standpoint, so do the Mosquitoes.

I really enjoy TED, which should be obvious to anyone who reads Brand of Make Believe.  I mention TED constantly, and since I don't avail myself to the charms of television, have plenty of time to watch TED's brilliant and seemingly endless supply of twenty to thirty minute improvisations by technology, entertainment, and design professionals.  Many of the "talks" are ridiculous in tone and exposition, but have nuggets of fascination that keep me from doing more with my attention and eyes then rolling them, and waiting.  Some of the "talks" are genuinely brilliant, humane, and heartfelt.  I try to stay away from the ones that promise advances in longevity, as they remind me a little too much of the fact that we live in a culture that takes license with, rather than takes seriously, our spiritual responsibilities as mortals.  Then again, what culture doesn't.  Oh well, that isn't my problem.

The days grow longer.  Holy Mackeral!  I just found this in thirty seconds by Googling "Chart of the length of the dya".  Yes, Google kindly asked me if I meant "day", not "dya".  Offended at a lack of deference from a mere machine, I clicked its wild guesswork, and damn, if it didn't give me what I actually wanted.  Landsakes!:

For Thursday, Feb Fifth:

Begin Civil Twilight        7:21 AM
Sunrise                               7:49 AM
Sun Transit                       1:00 PM
Sunset                                6:12  PM
End Civil  Twilight           6:40  PM

How do you like that:  "civil twilight".  What a great thing that it actually takes into consideration the dusk and dawn.  This time of year, twenty-eight minutes may not seem like much light before the rise of the sun, or after its setting, but it makes a difference to me.  Some people claim, from what I've heard that February is too dark.  Well, compared to what?  Lets look at December fifth on the same fabulous website: 

SUN December Fifth:

Begin Civil Twilight 7:21 AM
Sunrise 7:51  AM
Sun Transit 12:37  PM
Sunset 5:23  PM
End Civil Twilight 5:53  PM

Notice, and this is consistent from something I read a long time ago, that the actual time of Sunrise has changed little in the intervening two months, but the time of sunset is almost an hour later.  Something to do with the 23 degree angle of the earths axis.  Upon checking Wikipedia, I have found that the day's length relies upon latitude as well.

The point is, we have nearly an hour more daylight in February, than December.  Do you really need data to notice the beautiful rosy glow of the sun an hour later.  Maybe you do.

Enough of that, except one thing:

The present day length in the Northern Hemisphere is about 9 to 10 hours.  The day length in July will be close to fourteen.  It's no wonder I feel so good in my garden round about 9:00 PM in July.  Just incredible to have fourteen hours to get stuff done.  Eight hours of work, six of free time.  In winter, two hours of free time.  At least while you are young it feels like a piece of cake to use that extra time in the summer.

Lastly, yesterday I saw a 60 Minutes show from sometime in the last couple of months (since the market crashed anyhow) about the cost of oil.  While I had realized that the manipulation of the commodity markets by investment bankers had played some role in the price of commodities such as metals and oil, I had felt for a very long time that the price of oil was predominantly a matter of supply and demand, and its rise mostly due to a much larger presence by players in Asia, and the former third world.  The 60 Minutes show contraindicated my assumptions with very very clear evidence.  Investment company assets including oil storage silos on the east coast and extensive pipeline ownership in the west were shown and discussed.  And holdings by the investment companies (banks) were shown to influence the price of oil over the last few years independent of supply and demand.  Even given the increase in the energy demands of China, India, and other emerging economies.  Perhaps most damning of all was the discussion on the show of Enron, and some legislation passed by Enron (well, actually passed by your representatives, paid for in full by Enron:  I guess you shouldn't call something paid for "theft").  This little revelation of how Enron got passed legislation to free up control and monetization of commodities like oil and natural gas is just one of the things that makes me laugh when I hear people's high hopes for Obama.  It is going to take a new attitude on the part of we westerners and toward our representatives and their system of incentives before we have any hope of a President (or God for that matter) making any inroads on our fabulously complex lives.  I keep hearing metaphors that are variations on Warren Buffets comments round about late September 2008 where he compared the US (or the West) to a patient in the ER.  Well, those heart problems turn out to be conveniently treatable compared to the better metaphor I see:  a burn victim with eighty percent of her skin charred.  It's gonna take more than mortally dangerous procedures to fix Lady Liberty, Uncle Sam and the rest of the posse that got sick on these fixins of jimson weed from the powers that were.  How many dollars were taken from the economy (or redistributed) due to the inflation of energy prices from legislation passed by lawmakers and written by criminals?  

Not to beat a dead horse, but it's probably too late to let myself off the hook.  My basic instinct on hearing that 60 Minutes thing was to ask myself what I was thinking when I used (last couple of years) to tell people I thought the rise in the price of energy was a good thing.  I still think, ala Thomas Friedman's argument, that a price floor for energy has to be established in order for the private sector to have a place by which to plan a new energy infrastructure.  It was a new infrastructure that I thought I was seeing an impetus for in the price of energy, and a changing system of values that I thought I was hearing in the frustration of my community, country, family and friends. So I supported that pain, high prices, in hopes for a gain of a new world of conservation, and really, individual awareness of what impacts we are having on the world in terms of our behavioral footprint.  I still pine for these things.  I still pine for a floor for energy prices.  I still believe that the private sector will find a way through these hurdles, and this criminality on the part of Enron's policy progeny.  But it did bother me, watching the numbers on my computer (via the 60 Minutes great reporting) detach themselves from the macro-economic standby of supply and demand.  Why?  Not because I only wished Americans and Westerners in general needed cheaper energy, but also because I had believed we were subsidizing in part, through higher energy prices, the infrastructure that was lifting the remaining undeveloped world into the twenty first century.  It turns out our end of the lever was far shorter than I hoped.  Far shorter than my memory will be in the future as well.

It will not be Obama who gives America its place of leadership, and a new agency by which to exercise our powers.  It will be the exercise of our brains, and our own caution learned by long struggle with our species.  We can hold those fools feet to the fire.  We can discuss the mechanisms of hope, separate from the notional symbolism of politicians.  We can make hope more than an election, and not let the bastards get us down.

Andy Coffey

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