Monthly Archives: June 2009

Crisis For Solar Power

Let’s Not Screw This Up Kruddie!

Here’s an article that should be read, about the state of solar power in Australia.

Australian support for the solar industry is faltering just as the technology promises to deliver baseload power.

Recent breakthroughs in concentrating solar power technology allow heat energy to be stored almost indefinitely – in molten salts – and dispatched as needed.

The Andasol parabolic trough solar thermal plant near Guadiz in Spain, developed and operated by German company Solar Millenium (which has an Australasian joint venture with Leighton Contractors), generates 50MW of clean electricity with enough storage to run for 7.5 hours without sun and around the clock in summer.

Spanish company Torresol, in joint venture with giant Middle-Eastern clean energy investor MASDAR – which is sniffing for opportunities in Australia – is developing other solar thermal projects near Seville and Cediz.

And there’s plenty more coming with Bloomberg reporting 14000MW of solar thermal power stations are in the pipeline in Spain alone. That’s enough clean power to run NSW, according to Matthew Wright, of Melbourne-based advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions.

In the United States, SolarReserve and a division of giant defence contractor United Technologies plan a series of solar thermal “power towers” in the Californian desert – generating between 50MW and 300MW each – again using molten salts to store energy and able to run 15 hours without sun.

The US Department of Energy predicts that by 2020 concentrating solar thermal power stations with storage will generate clean electricity at a cost of US3c to US6c per kilowatt hour. That’s comparable with the cost of existing (and heavily-subsidised) coal-fired power and way cheaper than if the unknown additional cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) was factored in.

Even better solar technology is being developed here, at the Australian National University, using super-heated ammonia to store energy. A company called Wizard Power is joint venturing with ANU to commercialise the process.

John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian New Zealand Solar Energy Society, fears a bitter replay of earlier brain drains.

“Australian scientists and research and development are at the leading edge of the world,” he says. “What we lack is government support to commercialise and capitalise on that research.

“We will be the dumb consumers of the technology that we invented.”

Of course the Federal Government turns around and sends mixed signals. While it will fund solar power stations, it has effectively pulled the rug out from under the domestic Photo-Voltaics. It means that most households have minimal incentiveto move to solar power, and that the very manufacturers have deserted Australian markets.

The Federal government really needs to look at the Solar Energy Industry more seriously rather than pretend it’s some kind of unviable Science Fiction. The carbon capture schemes they’re putting a lot of money in is a lot more fanciful than what the Solar Energy Industry is offering.

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Global Fried Chicken Critique

What Were We Doing Before The GFC?

Here’s a cool article in the SMH. The juiciest bit is here:

It would be nice if we could rule out the next Great Depression as a result of such committed actions. But the evidence on a worldwide basis is muted at best. Two economists, Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O’Rourke, have tracked the current crisis against the falls that occurred during the Great Depression. Their conclusions, updated this month, are unsettling: “World industrial production continues to track closely the 1930s fall, with no clear signs of ‘green shoots’ as [Bernanke] had labelled the recent signals of incipient recovery; world stock markets have rebounded a bit since March, and world trade has stabilised, but these are still following paths far below the ones they followed in the Great Depression.” (See graphs, right)

The main difference, they point out, is the unprecedented policy response.

Bernanke’s co-authored textbook, Macroeconomics, gives a flavour for how far we have moved from established economic practice, with governments of all stripes printing huge amounts of money to fund the spending packages.

“Heavy reliance on seignorage [printing money] usually occurs in war-torn or developing countries, in which military or social conditions dictate levels of government spending well above what the country can raise in taxes or borrow from the public.” Usually. But now is not “usually”.

The sheer amount of global government spending, without precedent in history, means predictability is very low. The economy takes off like a rocket? Maybe. The huge deficits used to fund the spending create – as a natural consequence – inflation? Maybe. A long, slow, grinding recession after depression is averted, akin to Japan’s lost decade? Again, maybe.

While all this may seem fatalistic, it gives some context to the huge diversity of opinions about the world economy.

Central to the future is whether we have learned anything. The philosopher Herbert Spencer once observed: “The ultimate result of shielding man from the effects of folly is to people the world with fools.”

To the detriment of former Federal Reserve governor Alan Greenspan’s reputation, we were all fools after the Federal Reserve “saved” the US economy from the fallout of the dotcom bubble by keeping official interest rates low and alleviating the 2001 recession.

Yes indeed. So it would seem we are slap bang in the middle of an economic Depression which we’ve muted to a recession with gobs of public debt, that in turn will mute recovery for decades to come. Thus it seems we certainly won’t be seeing the likes of recent prosperity for a good while yet. It really sucks to realise this, but there’s not much you can do.

The prosperity itself was an unsustainable mirage. I don’t think this reality has sunk in to the world just yet as I see the barrage of expensive Eurocars banked up in peak hour traffic. Or the insane consumerism that I see on weekends. It’s as if people are in denial or they’re indulging in expenditure as a way not to think about things too deeply. I’m sure people are cutting costs but you can’t see it when everybody is out there in consumerland pushing trolleys like it’s Christmas.

What I Did With My KRudd Money

I’ve spent it on dentistry. I was listening to the dentists and his assistant talking about the 90million lottery, as my jaw lay open, implements prodding around my teeth and gums. They were discussing what they might do if they won 90million dollars. My dentist said he would opt to work 6 days a week instead of 7.

“What?” I asked.”You’re saying you’d just keep working even with 90 million in the bank?”

“Yes,” he said. “I quite like dentistry. I enjoy every moment I’m doing this. I love it, so I’d like to keep doing this.”

I blurted out, “Doc, I love you man. I’m gonna keep on coming here.”

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Yankees Update 28/06/09

Marginally Better

After a moribund 3-3 week, the Yankees wen 3-2 this week. They ended up dropping that series in Florida and went on to lose the first game in Atlanta. During this time, A-Rod sat out to rest his hip. The loss in Atlanta was particularly galling because Chien-Ming Wang actually pitched all right but the bats went quiet.

After that, A-Rod came back and the Yankees won the next two in Atlanta and trundled back in to NYC to play the Mets again,this time at Citifield. The Mets obligingly committed 3 errors in an inning and the Yankees steam-rolled them for a 9-1 win. The problem with this is that Jeter and Damon are now out with the flu,

It either looks like the Yankees turned it around or they are a streaky team with bad patches. In any case they are 4 behind the Red Sox.

Brett Gardner Is Back

Just as Melky Cabrera faded back to Melky-ness Brett Gardner has found himself back in Centerfield. After his 5-for-6 haul with 1 HR, and in 170PAs, he is hitting .303/.374/.441. He’s at about 18 batting runs above an Average CF, and 34 batting runs above replacement level across a 650PA season.

Most encouraging to me is that Gardner’s strikeout rate is much lower than projected. Gardner was projected to strike out in about 20% of his PAs based on his MLEs. He’s striking out 12% of the time. He was projected to walk in about 10.5% of his PAs, and he’s walking in 9.7% of them, so his BB rate hasn’t suffered all that much from any change in approach he may have made to cut down on his Ks.

Like most statheads, I harp on sample size. 170 PAs are not enough to definitively say Gardner’s going to be a starting caliber MLB CF. Still, part of the concerns about Gardner’s game translating to the majors were based on his supposed physical limitations, particularly in the area of power, and his high strikeout rate. So far this season, we are seeing at least some evidence that those concerns may have been overblown and Gardner’s game may be able to play at the major league level, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Makes plenty of sense to me. Brett Gardner is hitting .387 in his last 27 games. That .374 OBP means he’s a decent threat to pitchers and once he’s on base, he steals bases at a very high percentage. He may yet turn into a Mickey Rivers/Kenny Lofton type of player, which is very useful.

His BABIP is .336 which is actually not as high as you would think. As a player who normally has about a 050 – .070 gap between his BABIP and BA, he’s arguably been unlucky for his usual play style. That is to say, he could actually get a higher BABIP and with it his average may actually rise. I know, it’s a bit bullish, but I don’t think super-fast guys sport a BABIP of .336. (For example, Jeter’s career rate is .360.)

A closer look at his BABIP reveals that hi LD% is 21.9 this season, up 4.9% from his 2008 figure. This is pretty good, and an added reason fro optimism.

Xavier Nady’s Injury Woes

Nady, on his way back to the big club through rehab assignments has re-injured his elbow. It’s looking like a second Tommy John surgery for him, which is both rare and sad. He was in his contract walk year so this affects him greatly. If he goes under the knife now, he won’t be back until 2011. He’ll essentially be doing his entire rehab as a free agent.

I don’t know what the Yankees are going to do when all is said and done but it’s unlikey he’s going to be back. If you work back from the results, that trade to the Pirates hasn’t worked out well at all, given that the Yankees missed out on the post-season last year and Damaso Marte hs been largely missing with injury as well this year.

Jeter and Matsui Turned 35

Added to the fact that Michael Jackson just died at age 50, I don’t think I recognise the world any more!

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Malcolm’s Malcontents

This Can’t Be A Coincidence Can It?

It’s interesting how within a week of politics we saw Peter Costello call it quits, and Malcolm Tunrbull blow himself up with the fake e-mail case. I’ve been thinking about this a bit as you know and I’m guessing now that the attack on the Prime Minster was most likely discussed by the Senior Libs at some point. My guess is that Peter Costello took one look at what Malcolm Turnbull was pushing for and decided he wanted no part of it. He may have even been defiant and pointed in his objection, but no matter, Turnbull was going to go for it.

I would imagine Peter Costello would have said, “you can’t go ahead if you haven’t verified the e-mail.”

To which Turnbull might have replied, “mate, it’s from my secret mole in the Treasury, it’s true blue legit.”

“Yes,” Peter Costello might have asked, “but how can you verify this thing?”

To which Malcolm Turnbull would have said, “you can’t, because if you asked for verification, we’d tip our fucking hand to the Government.”

“So you don’t have any real verification, do you?” Costello would have said.

“But it come from a trusted source,” Turnbull would have declared.

At which point I imagine Costello would have rolled his eyeballs and said “Mate, if you’re doing this, then I’m out.”

“what do you mean out? You’re a back-bencher already!” Turnbull might have said.

“I’m quiting politics if you’re going ahead with this stupid plan.”

“Fine, I’ll have your resignation in the morning!” Tunrbull might have said, and so Costello kicked off the week by calling it quits.

What I’m conjecturing is that it’s no coincidence that these 2 events took place in the same week. Which leads me to my next observation, just how long will the Libs take of this punishment before they dump Mr. Turnbull and beg Mr. Costello to stay on?

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Obituaries for Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

NJNEW NEWARK STAR LEDGERPop icon and the man who defined the MTV approach to music marketing, Michael Jackson has died.

More Reports | 6:29 p.m. “A lot will be said about Michael Jackson as we learn more about this story,” Brian Williams said on the “NBC Nightly News.”

“He was incredibly talented, a child star who was an adult with deep troubles and physical and mental health issues.”

The reports of Mr. Jackson’s death ricocheted around the world with remarkable speed. The news led Friday morning newscasts in Japan.

CBS and ABC are also reporting the news, standing on their own reporting now.

L.A. Times Reports Jackson Is Dead | 6:24 p.m. The newspaper cited “city and law enforcement sources.” The networks and CNN are also broadcasting the news, citing the Times story.

Reports: Jackson in a Coma | 6:15 p.m. Several news organizations including the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Jackson “is in a coma.” The newspaper attributed the news to one law enforcement source. CNN is also citing “multiple sources” as saying that Mr. Jackson is in a coma.

Updated | 6:11 p.m. LOS ANGELES – An unconscious Michael Jackson was rushed to UCLA Medical Center on Thursday afternoon by paramedics who performed C.P.R., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

And so it went.

He’s a lot more than the simple appellations and epithets, and his passing reminds us that nothing in the flesh is eternal. Yes, and he sure did alter his flesh quite a bit. If ever there was a signpost for scary plastic surgery, Michael Jackson was it. He constantly transformed himself like one of the monsters in his ‘Thriller’ film clip.

The aspect of Michael Jackson that I will always remember is the glavanising, boundary crossing power of his music, which I actually held in suspician for the better part of the 1980s. It was only in the 1990s with the release of ‘History’ that I went and bought something of his ouvre. Until then the only thing I had was the ’45 of ‘Beat It’ for the Eddie Van Halen solo.

In hindsight it is clear to see the lasting impact of the Thriller album to totally transform the music industry. If the transition from LPs to CDs was killing the AOR thing, then the album full of hit-singles propelled by video clips on MTV essentially buried album-oriented rock. Over a quarter of a century later, the music industry would still like to see an album with lost of hit singles than a considered series of song with an over-arching concept.

So while he created a new landscape, he also demolished the old one. Maybe it was a good thing, maybe it wasn’t. In the long run, his music will be seen more and more as a sign of the times than the curios that they were, adorned with his ever-changing face and skin tone.

Perhaps that is being harsh. On his best days, Michael Jackson’s song contained within them the transformative power of music and carried with it the distinctly American ideology into parts of the world that were highly resistant. His music was heard in the old communist block as well as Communist China, Vietnam and all over India and Africa. He was embraced as a man who sang we are the world.

If there is one thing I can say about Michael Jackson today, is that it would be best to remember him for his best moments rather than all the sordid rumours, speculations and trials for child molestation and eccentric behaviour.

UPDATE: Here is my tribute to the man, with the help of Mr. Clay Potts.

Charlie’s Most Loved Angel, Farah Fawcett 1947-2009

Farrah FawcettFarah Fawcett wasn’t just a name, she was like a sexual position men fantasised about. She defined the blonde bombshell in the 1970s, and in turn was defined as leading angels in Charlies’ Angels, and then faded into obscurity in the 1980s, only to reemerge with a nude spread at the age of 48.

She passed after a long fight with cancer.

Her death, at St. John’s Health Center, was caused by anal cancer, which she had been battling since 2006, said her spokesman, Paul Bloch.

To an extraordinary degree, Ms. Fawcett’s cancer battle was played out in public, generating enormous interest worldwide. Her face, often showing the ravages of cancer, became a tabloid fixture, and updates on her health became staples of television entertainment news.

In May, that battle was chronicled in a prime-time NBC documentary, “Farrah’s Story,” some of it shot with her own home video recorder. An estimated nine million people viewed it. Ms. Fawcett had initiated the project with a friend, the actress Alana Stewart, after she first learned of her cancer.

Ms. Fawcett’s doctors declared her cancer-free after they removed a tumor in 2007, but her cancer returned later that year. She had been receiving alternative treatment in Germany and was hospitalized in early April for a blood clot resulting from that treatment, according to her doctor, Lawrence Piro. He also said her cancer had spread to her liver.

A lot can be said about her career but I won’t go into that. I think it best we remembered her for her incredibly toothy smile that she flashed and the fact that she defined sex appeal for a generation of men. That alone is an accomplishment of sorts that stands the test of time.

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Free Ute?

These Guys Got Expensive EuroCars!

I know one ute is causing so much ruckus in Australia’s political landscape, but spare a thought for what goes on in North Korea that passes for news.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has put his youngest son in charge of the country’s spy agency in a move aimed at handing the communist regime over to him, a news report said.

Kim visited the headquarters of the State Security Department in March, along with his 26-year-old third son, Kim Jong Un, and told agency leaders to “uphold” the son as head of the department, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed source.

Kim also told department leaders to “safeguard comrade Kim Jong Un with (your) lives as you did for me in the past,” and gave them five foreign-made cars, each worth some $US80,000 ($A100,743), as gifts, the mass-market daily said.

Just in case you thought our politics in this country had hit rock bottom, I thought you should know that there is much earth and many layers of hell beneath that bottom of the barrel.

Who Is Godwin Grech

Yes, who is this weasely wretch, an ill-omen-ed fetch from the horrors most eldretch!

Here’s a sketch:

He likes advising younger colleagues on how to advance their careers, although some of his interlocutors regarded him as a little on the paternalistic side.

Mr Grech has spent most of his career in Treasury, the elite Canberra department that prides itself on the intellectual rigour of its analysis. He wears his economically rationalist heart on his sleeve, describing himself as a “believer in the positive power of the market”.

In the late 1990s Mr Grech had executive assignments in Treasury’s markets group dealing with financial institutions and systems and with competition and market access policy.

By 2003 he had risen to the senior position of general manager of Treasury’s competition and consumer policy division, according to Hansard records. The position put him just two levels below the Treasury secretary in the department’s organisational structure, but he held it for just a few months.

By early 2005 he had moved to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, working for three years in effect in a level below his position at Treasury.

After the change of government in 2007 Mr Grech may have spent a lot of time responding to requests for briefs from one Andrew Charlton in the Prime Minister’s office, an economist more than 10 years the public servant’s junior.

In the early months of the Labor Government Dr Charlton was Mr Rudd’s adviser on employment, business conditions, competition and consumer affairs. In a strange twist, the concocted email that has now involved Mr Grech was supposed to have been written by Dr Charlton.

Then, in June last year, Mr Grech was offered a position as a policy director in a strategic policy division set up for the Prime Minister.

A couple of months after that sideways shift, Mr Grech returned to Treasury as a principal adviser in its financial systems division.

Late last year he was given the huge project of pulling together the Government’s emergency response to the crisis in motor dealer finance. It was that assignment that inextricably involved him in the Ozcar affair.

Sounds like a careerist conservative weasel. Why is it that these rogue apparatchiks always find their way into the breach? It’s a mystery isn’t it? And what was the faked e-mail doing on his computer – and nowhere else legitimate in the system? Why, he’d fit right in in North Korea.

How Now Mr. Turnbull?

As I pointed out yesterday, I think it best if he turned bear and fled. The only reason he will still be Leader of the Opposition next month would be because the Libs have nobody better.

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Fake E-mails And Bad Politics

That Old Trick Never Works

Some years ago I was over in Japan just as a really strange scandal was taking place. The opposition Democratic Party bovver boy in the Diet, Hisayasu Nagata was in full flight with the ‘Livedoor scandal’. His big claim was the senior LDP members took bribes from Takafumi Horie, and that he had the e-mail to prove it.

As you can imagine, this allegation created a media storm in March 2006, and as the event unfolded, it became clear the email was a fake. It was incredible because it brought the Democrats to their knees in popular standings. The electorate could not believe that Nagata and company would go public with the allegations without actually verifying the damn thing first. It was quite amusing watching the accused LDP guys on TV as they joked and said that there might be other skeletons in the closet but taking bribes from Livedoor wasn’t going to be one of them.

I mean, how weird is that as a response from a politician. That’s just how outrageously wrong the faked e-mail turned out to be. The LDP didn’t even have to sweat it, live on National TV. They knew.

The subsequent events from the faked email incident essentially claimed Nagata’s career as a politician. He committed suicide this year, on the 3rd of January. The point is, you’ve got to be pretty gung-ho and the opposite of circumspect if, as a politician of any standing, you’re going to throw wild accusations on the basis of an e-mail that may or may not be verified.

Anyway, I bring all this up in light of the recent faked email incident in Australia.

The Australian Federal Police revealed this afternoon that the email that sparked the so-called Utegate controversy was faked.

The email was alleged to have been sent from prime ministerial adviser Andrew Charlton to Treasury official Godwin Grech, raising the plight of Queensland car dealer John Grant and his possible access to the taxpayer-funded OzCar scheme.

Mr Grant gave Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a free ute.

The  AFP statement came following a raid this morning on the home of Mr Grech and Treasury offices.

Mr Grech has been questioned by the federal police about the fake email.

“Preliminary results of those forensic examinations indicate that the e-mail referred to at the centre of this investigation has been created by a person or persons other than the purported author of the e-mail,” the Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

The interview with Mr Grech was consistent with these findings, police said. The investigation is continuing.

Senior sources believe that Mr Grech’s role in the affair is more complicated than previously thought.

The controversy has dominated proceedings in Parliament today.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull  moved to censure Treasurer Wayne Swan over his involvement in the OzCar affair but the motion failed along party lines.

Now, it is true that if the allegations raised by the Opposition were indeed true, then it would amount to the scalp of the treasurer Wayne Swan. But if the e-mail was fake, then whoever stood up in parliament and lobbed it going to take the maximum heat for the slander. The really amazing thing is that it in this case, it is the latter scenario, with Malcolm Turnbull himself lobbing the accusations.

Something tells me that this is not going to go well for Mr. Turnbull, no matter which way they spin this. I’m not saying that Mr. Turnbull is going to commit suicide, mind you; I’m saying this thing might end up taking his political career away from him.

I sort of can’t believe anything so stupid is going on in Australia, but there you have it. Our very own faked e-mail scandal. Then again, I can see how politicians might have fallen right into this whammy. The Opposition should be moving to damage control within the week. This is ridiculous that they’ve run this up their flagpole without having done their verification and due diligence. It’s Amateur Hour with a good dose of incompetence there.

I’m more appalled by the low standard of rigor and the intellectual laziness of these polticians. It’s exasperating.

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