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Mail 440 November 13 - 19, 2006
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Today is Remembrance Sunday. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6140592.stm>
Iraq and Rumsfeld stories: <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,1945874,00.html> <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2449835_1,00.html>
Freedom of speech and race hate laws <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6140574.stm> <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,,1945884,00.html>
Local example of the problem. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wear/6139190.stm>
Terror policy in the UK <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6140542.stm>
Mercy killing and the Church <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1945866,00.html>
BBC licence fee increase slashed to below inflation. Revenge for how the BBC has been covering the Government? <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1945865,00.html>
Commentary: There are three things I would do if I were Gates (and Bush): First, I would reconstitute America's strategic reserve. Probably having the First and Second Marine Divisions and a couple of Special Forces units freed up from Iraq and Afghanistan would be enough. There are a number of international leaders--starting with North Korea and Iran--who need their indicator lamps reset by the right sort of demonstration. Second, I would give CENTCOM carte blanche to surgically decapitate Al Qaeda. I'd put a really smart, expert, and non-political general in charge, give them the intelligence, command and control, and special operations assets needed, and turn them loose to do the job. We've been just throwing dirt clods at Al Qaeda for far too long. "Klotzen, nicht Klecken." (Guderian) Third, I'd convene the movers and shakers in Iraq, tell them we're headed out within four years, and suggest that if they don't want a messy *long-term* civil war with no winners, to sort out the terms of the departure.
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>
If we are going to pull out, the Army has to be given a chance to sort out its friends and help them get to places of safety. That probably means some wholesale population shifts of Kurds from southern areas to north, rearrangements by tribes and confessions, and in general a partition of Iraq, with the training of regional militias. This is the only way the Legions can protect their friends. And our political masters are unlikely to allow this.
I know you're tired of the analogy, but . . . oh well. Lions and weasels are both theats -- anyone who has ever raised chickens will confirm that weasels can be very destructive. But, you don't kill weasels with weapons meant to kill lions. Similarly, you use different skills to kill weasels than lions. Weasels, unlike lions, can fit through tiny holes and are hard to see. You kill weasels by thinking like they do and then trapping them. Or, you learn where weasels live and you trap them where they live.
One of the major differences between weasels and terrorists is that weasels dislike notoriety. If you patrol an area regularly, weasels will avoid you. Terrorists, by their very nature, need notoriety. If you patrol an area regularly, the terrorists know where to find you. Accordingly, if you want to fight terrorism, you quietly kill the leaders. If you want to kill terrorists, you draw a line in the sand.
One of the characteristics of a republic is that the people demand to know how threats are being handled. Secretly killing/capturing terrorists does not satisfy this appetite. But, invading another country that is declared to be a terrorist breeding ground can be very satisfying to the people. This might have been one factor in the decision to invade Iraq -- much like a magician we drew the world attention to Iraq while we tried to quietly go about the business of finding and capturing terrorists. Of course, freedom of the press makes it very difficult to maintain the secrecy of any secret program.
If the purpose was to dazzle them with footwork in Iraq while quietly decapitating the leadership, I do not believe is it working.
"There is nothing new under the sun."
In my perusal of past columns from Chaos Manor, I have reached the week of 11 September 2001. I see that even then you were advocating US withdrawal from NATO. And here I thought I had a new idea. Ah, well. I've been wrong before.
When I read your interview with Time or Newsweek (one of those "news" weeklies) shortly after the HMS Sheffield burned, I had to increase my estimate of how smart you were. Now I have to increase it again.
How long after the Soviet Union collapsed did you first have the idea of the US withdrawing from NATO? The next week?
If we consider Mr Bo Andersen's opinion as typical of that of the Danes, then the reason the small European nations want the US in NATO is to subsidize their defense with American taxes and ensure their sovereignty with American blood. He has told us what the Danes get from the alliance. What does the US get from it?
The Norwegian contingent in Afghanistan is more hindrance than help. The deployment of a Bundeswehr infantry company to Somalia nearly precipitated a constitutional crisis in Germany.
The summit in Riga 28, 29 November may well determine the vitality of NATO. Its original purpose -- to guard Europe from Soviet invasion -- is gone. The Afghan intervention points the way to a new mission, but it implies an expansion of NATO membership. If NATO expands its membership to include Japan and Australia, I suggest we also invite Russia to join.
But I'm sure you thought about this long ago and reached better conclusions than I.
Respectfully h lynn keith
I see no value to the US republic of membership in NATO or any of the other entangling alliances we put together in the face of the Soviet threat. We have no territorial ambitions in Europe or Asia, and I see no need to be concerned with their territorial disputes. The exception is Iraq, where we have created instabilities and upset the balance of power between Iraq and Iran; we have some residual ethical obligations to the Iraqis, and certainly our military have some obligations to those we recruited and befriended.
Nations have no friends. They have interests. There was a time -- there may still be a time -- -- when the special relationship with Britain was an exception and I certainly have an emotional attachment to the mother country; but England appears to be committing suicide with liberal consolation, and the special relationship will end will we nill we then that happens.
This story is titled "Did an Asteroid Impact Cause an Ancient Tsunami?" The impact and subsequent tsunami may have occurred on the morning of May 10, 2807 B.C.
Hmm. 600-foot-high waves on Madagascar. Big floods. Hmm. I wonder what it would have done coming up the Persian Gulf? Did an asteroid cause Noah's flood?
WOW! Oh wow!
You said it yourself: Because, of course, in 1975 the North did it again. Not an insurgency, not a guerrilla war, not a civil war, but a flat out invasion by more than 12 divisions...
We "won" the first battle and other actions, lost 50000 troops and it was not over.
I think it is fair to say that the American people could not see a durable military victory and chose to leave the playing field and wash their hands of the entire affair.
You make a great deal of our lack of commitment to the troops left fighting in Viet Nam . I can't say if it would have made any difference.
In any event - is there a lesson that helps with today's problems?
If we send boatloads of money or weapons to any faction in Iraq do you think that it will be used wisely - in a way that furthers American interests?
Kurds? A step closer to a greater Kurdistan leading to a destabilizing war with Turkey.
Sunnis? More evenly matched forces prolonging the fighting and death; how does that help the U.S.?
Shiites? Why not - everything else we have do has pretty much helped Iran interests. For that matter, we could just ship the money/guns directly to Iran.
Is it fair to say that? And think of the implications. In other words, there is no possibility of trusting the pledges of the United States. The various accords ending the Viet Nam war were not kept by the North -- what a surprise -- but the United States should do nothing in response. Our pledge to our South Vietnamese allies means nothing; the novelty done wore off and so long, it's been good to know you.
Let the killing in the killing fields begin. Let the reeducation camps begin. Those who trusted us are left to the tender mercies of our enemies. We're coming home, and let the good times roll.
You may be right. There may be no possibility of a democracy keeping any pledge or commitment. Many have said so. But think what you are saying.
My view is that one does not lightly pledge one's word, but when that is done one is committed. I expect that is a peculiarly old fashioned notion.
For we hold that in all disaster
You may be right. God help us.
To Jerry Pournelle,
I don't think lynn keith read my opinion right, or maybe I wasn't all that clear.
At no matter what defense budget, small European nations cannot defend themselves against larger nations. Medium sized nations can develop their own nuclear weapons, which will make them safe (but not necessarily make the US safer). With the experience from WW1 and WW2, it has not been in anybody's interest to have small nations being open to military adventure from larger neighbours, as it always tends to draw in the US and the other world powers in the end. The existence of NATO stops military adventurism even before it can be seriously contemplated.
The cost to the US is small, and Denmark has at present 900 troops in Iraq, 500 in Afghanistan, and a good number in Ex-Yugoslavia (remember the tank battle in Bosnia in that conflict?). And the Danish navy is patrolling the shores of Lebanon. Yes, the US could do easily without, but I would say that the Danish contribution in blood and treasure to the US (or common western interest in case of Afghanistan) is larger than the current US contribution to Danish defence. Without NATO Denmark would have to concentrate on territorial defence once more, and any international crisis would be have to be handled by the US (or France) alone or not at all.
My Norman ancestors came from Denmark, and I have always had considerable affection for the land of the Danes.
Smaller nations never could defend themselves; see the Schleswig Holstein affair. There was a time when King Christian of Denmark thought his intervention in the Thirty Years War would make some difference, but it took Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to actually accomplish some defense of the German Liberties and Protestantism. Of course the English thought the Danish empire important enough to destroy the Danish fleet lest it be put at the service of Napoleon; I do not believe that a US guarantee would have been effective there, and I suspect Nelson would have put the telescope to his blind eye in any event.
One of my objections to NATO is that the US umbrella has made it possible for Europe to engage in disastrous practices they might not have found so attractive if they had to provide for their own defense. I notice the Switzerland and Sweden have managed to survive as armed neutralities. The Danes were not spared by Germany but a US guarantee would not have stopped the Third Reich from trying to build its European empire. The purpose of NATO and keeping US troops in Europe is for us to "sit on Fritz" as the French once put it; but I am not convinced that is in our interest now that the Red Army is not poised to come through the Fulda Gap.
As to former Yugoslavia, I don't recognize any US interest in the Balkans, and if the Concert of Europe or whatever European alliance thinks it important, surely they can make do with their own troops?
I understand that it is very good for small nations to have a big and powerful friend guarantee their borders directly rather than having to rely on the United Nations. What I don't see is why the United States actually profits from that alliance. I know the Danes do, and to that extent I count NATO a plus in my personal analysis, but as a foreign policy realist I am afraid that isn't a factor.
NATO served its purpose during the Cold War. That purpose is long past, in my judgment.
Subject: Congressional Investigations
This quote from a Stratfor article today makes me want to scream that our government isn't supposed to be this way:
"Congressional investigations are not about coming to the truth of a matter in order for the laws of the republic to be improved for the common good. They are designed to extract political benefit and put opponents in the wrong."
Given a society that accepts a government that operates like this, count me as a despairing sinner.
Regards, Peter Czora
Thank you for pointing out the difference between combat forces (Legions) and occupation troops (you called them auxiliaries; I call them Sitztruppen). I had not thought of it before, but once I read your short presentation, I reflected on my studies of military history. I quickly concluded that in every case I knew of in which Legions were used as occupation forces, their combat effectiveness eroded. The best occupations were those that used Sitztruppen for the day-to-day patrols reinforced by flying columns of Legions to quell serious uprisings. Off and on the Romans and Byzantines did this well. In the last century the best at this were the Soviets.
The US now possesses the best combat forces the world has ever seen, but they are wasted as Sitztruppen. Mobility and firepower are our strengths. Mired in occupation patrols that pit M16s against AK47s, the army gives up these advantages.
Let's rent the Pakistani army to occupy Iraq. Or maybe recruit a mercenary army from the refugees of Dafur and train them to be half-decent soldiers. Ought to cost less than half what we are spending now. And I would dearly love to see what would happen to those bastards in Sudan when an American-trained mercenary army returns after a few years of fighting in Iraq.
Respectfully h lynn keith
Armies break things and kill people in the face of opposition. That is not the objective of occupation forces and constabulary. Breaking things and killing people in Iraq will not stop the civil war there.
We had an Army and Air Force in Viet Nam which would have been able to defend South Viet Nam against the North for a thousand years, but the Congress of the United States wouldn't let it do that in 1975. Viet Nam didn't fall to a civil war. It fell to invasion from the North.
The army we have in Iraq cannot win this civil war there.
Subj: Project Valour-IT == Voice-Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops
Your readers might find this a particularly appropriate way to support for our injured troops:
Project Valour IT - A Soldiers' Angels Program
=Project Valour-IT, in memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, provides voice-controlled laptop computers to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand and arm injuries or amputations at home or in military hospitals. Operating laptops by speaking into a microphone, our wounded heroes are able to send and receive messages from friends and loved ones, surf the 'Net, and communicate with buddies still in the field without having to press a key or move a mouse. The experience of CPT Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, a partner in the project who suffered severe hand wounds while serving in Iraq, illustrates how important this voice-controlled software can be to a wounded servicemember's recovery.=
November 15, 2006
Subject: Stone sea and volcano
A new volcanic island in the pacific has produced large quantities of pumice, resulting in large sections of ocean being covered in stone
Photos from a passing yacht tell the tail:
I propose the ending of cheap oil that is predicted to result in four billion dead, would be acceptable as Cochran's "existential threat".
Only way I can see out of this approaching trainwreak is us spending the iraq money getting into space.
1) Steve Setzer:
It says here that the Golden Mean is at the root of human beauty:
The Stupid Party.
- Roland Dobbins
Learned nothing and forgot nothing.
Subject: Noah theories
More on Noah's flood theories at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/blacksea/ax/frame.html This one postulates a breach of the end-of-ice-age Mediterranean into the Black Sea. R
Yes, that's been around a while. But recent asteroid strikes are a fascinating thought. Hitting the Earth with something huge has been very lucrative for me (Lucifer's Hammer, Footfall)...
Subject: Chuck's Medals
A time-waster, but interesting.
Subject: Mass Daylight Kidnappings In Baghdad, Iraq
This newest wrinkle is an indicator of the total anarchy we have fostered. We are achieving less than nothing and it is delusionary to claim otherwise. The stark choices are:
1. Fold our tents and go home now. 2. Provide enough combat unit reinforcements to finally gain control of Baghdad. Strong measures will be needed. These include phyiscally partitioning the city, instituting an ID database, issuing residency permits and expelling all non-residents and controlling intra-city movement.
Option #2 has two sources of combat units. These can either come from out-of-country, or from in-country by withdrawing from most of the Sunni Triangle. This second variant will most likely lead to a miniature Sunni Ba'athist regional government. Under these conditions this is acceptable so long as Sadaam Hussein is promptly hanged. Once Sunni Ba'athists are masters in their own house they will quickly expel any foreign jihadis.
To paraphrase John Christian Falkenburg, soldiers don't deal in justice but can provide stern order. We'd better get to it.
ps In the conditions now prevailing, all Iraqi politicians complaining about "inconvenience" of security measures can be reasonably marked down as double agents secretly supporting the violence.
Subject: Global Warming
Human induced Global Warming is a worse problem than even Drs. Hansen and Mann have told us. Evidence is accumulating the effects extend solar system wide.
Earth we know about, or so Dr. Mann says.
I'm sure it's even caused what's wrongly interpreted as increased solar heating:
The solution is clear and time is running out. The UN and Kofi Annan must get 100% control of all the world's resources and people now. Dr. Hansen should be appointed Minister of Media for Earth. Dr. Mann should receive $100 billion in emergency research grants and dictatorial control of ten major university campuses to mobilize enough paleo-climatogists.
"A spectre is haunting Earth...the spectre of Global Warming."
Subject: How to teach reading
I suspect that you and your wife will find this editorial interesting, but not too surprising:
One telling quote:
"I'm feeling more confident now in teaching reading," Fran Murphy, a first-grade teacher at Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School, told me. "It's not stuff that's really specifically taught in college."
Hmmm.... You'd think that the most important thing someone could learn while getting an "education" degree would be how to teach the subjects in which you are supposed to be an expert. But I guess that is just too damn obvious......
Subject: End of oil
I agree with your other correspondents in that oil can (and will) be replaced by other sources of energy. Even if we donít rely too much on nuclear, we have enough coal to last us hundreds of years. One thing I think modern farming depends heavily on, though, is natural gas. They use it to make the fertilizer necessary for modern farming. Certainly our farms would be much less productive without it. The question (and I donít know the answer) is, can we make fertilizer some other way, say, from gasified coal? Is there some way to make sodium nitrate from nuclear power?
Incidentally, this is one reason biodiesel made from corn is so silly.
The first dam on the Tennessee River was at Muscle Shoals, and was financed by the Federal Government: the justification was that it would make electricity, which would be used to fix nitrogen into nitrates, which makes guncotton for the US Armed Forces. The TVA was originally set up to sell the "surplus" power generated by the big dams.
Given electricity you can make nearly any other form of fuel.
November 16, 2006
It looks as if Bush is plumping for a ' last big push' in Iraq, a last try: sounds if they're planning to inject another 20k troops, I guess in Baghdad.
It won't work. You can take that to the bank. Since it is the last try, since everybody _knows_ it is the last try, the local contenders can and will wait it out - since it is a try at imposing order in a country where the state no longer exists at all, a country whose language we do not speak and whose inhabitants most American soldiers come to view with contempt after long exposure, since 20 k troops is way too few to make much of a difference in this kind of effort, failure is certain. . What it _will_ do is blow another hundred billion dollars and get another thousand or so Americans soldiers killed.
Invading Antarctica would have so much more sense. It's not too late!
Subject: end of cheap oil -> four billion dead
" propose the ending of cheap oil that is predicted to result in four billion dead, would be acceptable as Cochran's "existential threat".
[Nonsense.] I could go into the details - the size of unconventional oil sources such as shale oil, tar sands, Venezuelan heavy oil - the size of coal reserves - the size of nuclear fuel reserves ( considering breeding with U-238 and thorium) - various kinds of solar PV s in the middle to longer term - which I know and understand - but that's _your_ job. If you're going to say something provocative, why don't you do your homework first?
There are certainly many alternatives to cheap oil, particularly for wealthy nations like the US. I have more than once pointed out that for the $300 billion we have spent on the war in Iraq we could have built 100 one thousand megawatt nuclear power plants, invested in fuel cells, built conversion plants to make synthetic fuels from non-edible vegetable wastes -- that kind of conversion takes energy but with the nuclear plants we'd have the electricity -- and started a space program to build Space Solar Power Satellites. We could then tell the Arabs to drink their oil. They wouldn't do that, of course, but they would sell it to others at whatever price they could get.
King Hubbard's curve has generated a lot of "oil theory" but most of it takes little account of alternative energy. By alternative energy I do not mean chimeras like windmills (useful in a few places but not a general solution to anything), ground based solar (ditto), and the other wisps that liberal arts educated greens are forever chasing. Nuclear power is not a chimera. Given electricity, you can make synthetic fuels for cars (and of course if there is plenty of power, you can power both trains and trucks with it for a large capital investment).
The Arab oil countries don't have an economy other than selling oil.
Subject: Iraq, peak oil
Now _that_ is absolutely correct.
Re: the peak oil commenter, this whole idea has always seemed to me to have lots of holes. Oil is important for energy right now, ok. What would be the costs to the industrialized world - or even just the US - of switching over suddenly to purely coal and nuclear power generation? Seems to me it would be painful but doable; car usage would drop drastically for a while and more would get done via phone, telecommuting, or mass transit. What about the other areas where oil is critical - plastics and so on? Disposable plastic bags would skyrocket in price. I don't see that killing 4 billion people. Has anyone done a systematic analysis of what exactly in modern industry depends on oil, to what extent substitutes can be found, and what the costs (in money and effectiveness of the substitutes at doing the job) of switching are?
Where exactly is the one oil-based nail that, when removed, causes the collapse of everything?
It seems to be a common idea that because the modern global economy is so complex, it is extremely fragile and could easily come crashing down. Seems to me one could equally make a case that because it is so complex, it is extremely robust and self-reinforcing and capable of responding to unexpected changes.
Kent Peterson firstname.lastname@example.org
"... there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past ..." - Ray Bradbury, _The Martian Chronicles
Subject: Nuclear waste - partition
I love the quote about nuclear waste being simply mostly unrecycled nuclear fuel. So much for the big waste problem.
For some reason there is a principle among Western governments that Partition is a nonacceptable solution. The Bosnian peace treaty required a reversion from partition. I recall a lot of utterly intractable civil wars that never ended no matter what until partition quickly solved them.
Earliest known autopsy in North America.
- Roland Dobbins
Peters: 'As an Army officer remarked to me, Saddam's starting to look good.'
-- Roland Dobbins
Two items, actually subpages:
1) Restatement of problem:
[Statement] There is plenty of oil in the ground (as much as we've already extracted)
[Answer] We all agree. Running out is not the problem. We probably never will actually run out. The problem is the end of cheap oil with the resulting shortages and high prices.
[Statement] There is plenty of oil in the ground (the R/P ratio says 40 years)
[Answer] If oil could be produced like wood from a pile (see Production) and consumption remained level, the oil would indeed last for about 40 years (and more, allowing for discoveries). Unfortunately oil production will drop, consumption is rising and, again, the problem is the end of cheap oil, not the end of oil.
2) Examples of the future, or in other words, possible futures for the unprepared:
[Excerpt] Around 1990 the Soviet Union collapsed and support was withdrawn from North Korea and all transactions consequently has to be settled with hard cash. ...
[Me] My concern is the USA debt. Debt is not hard cash. We currently have the military and the nukes to threaten the rest of the world to continue to supply us.
[Excerpt] Cuba and North Korea are very similar. They are almost the same size (111,000 km2 for Cuba and 120,000km2 for North Korea in land area), ... But whereas North Korea has a population of 23 million ... Cuba has a population of 11 million ...
[Me] I suspect North Korea's target population concerning its "situation" is 11 million.
Your comments to Gregory Cochran are entirely on target. And I wish we were already doing what you have repeatedly recommended.
3) I admit there could be a problem with my four billion number:
[Me] Both the optimistic and the pessimistic futures estimate a final population of two billion. The only difference is the kind of future those two billion are living in, and how the four billion died or did not get born to get there.
Subject: Peak Oil and the Third Horseman
Dear Dr. Pournelle:
As I have sent a number of e-mails to you (on varying subjects), and as none of them to date appear to have been printed in your weblog, I am not sanguine about the probabilities of this one making the grade. Nonetheless, I will make one more attempt.
There has been some discussion in News as regards "Peak Oil", ranging from the author of www.wolfatthedoor.org.uk <http://www.wolfatthedoor.org.uk> , who asserts that four billion people will die when oil starts to run out, to Kent Peterson, who quite reasonably asks the question: "Where exactly is the one oil-based nail that, when removed, causes the collapse of everything?"
In a word, that "nail" is "agriculture".
WIth both the developed and the developing worlds becoming more and more dependent on a monopolistic agribusiness, and with that agribusiness dependent on internal combustion engines for its planting, cultivation, and harvesting, on petrochemical based fertilizers, and on petrochemical based pesticides, the removal of petrochemicals would occasion famine similar to the sort that has occurred on a more limited basis in North Korea, when its oil subsidies were withdrawn, except that such famine would be on a global, not a national, level. It would take years to figure out and to implement substitutes. Death by famine only takes weeks to months.
While normally, I prefer the King James Bible, I think that a more modern translation of Apocalypse 6.6 (referring to the Third Horseman) would be applicable for such a future: "A day's wage for a quart of wheat, and a day's wage for three quarts of barley, and don't even think about wine or oil."
Very truly yours,
I take it that you believe Oil==Energy, and there is no possibility of a modern society if there is no oil. I have heard this asserted fairly often, but I have yet to accept the argument. There is a lot of oil in oil shale and sands if it takes oil and only oil to sustain agriculture; and if it takes more energy to extract the oil than the oil will yield, we still have nuclear power and space solar satellites to provide it.
I believe we are closer to a Dark Age than most; I believe Jane Jacobs showed one path to get there; and it is possible that oil shortages could cause collapse, but the way that would happen, it seems to me, would be for terrorists to destroy all the oil tankers. We don't have too many substitutes for that in the short term because we don't have the energy sources. On the other hand, it's not a likely scenario.
I do not understand why it would take years to figure out and implement substitutes. We have known since World War I how to use electricity to fix nitrates -- look up Muscle Shoals Dam and the TVA -- for guncotton, and nitrates for explosives make darned good fertilizers.
If the United States ended dependency on imported oil -- and we certainly could have for what has been spent on frivolities (we spend far more on lipstick and cosmetics than on access to space research and development) -- the price would fall and other countries would have oil available.
A quart of wheat will sustain a hard working man for a day.
November 17, 2006
Interesting you should mention Muscle Shoals and TVA.
I worked there for over 30 years - I think I am of the last generation that could expect to spend a career with one employer - at what was, when I first started, the National Fertilizer Development Center. That a part of TVA established to exploit U.S. Nitrate Plant No 2 which was completed just in time to provide munitions for the Spring 1919 Offensive. Completed two weeks after the Armistice in 1918 and mothballed until after 1933. I worked about half that time in phosphate fertilizer development and then we diversified as declining fertilizer R&D funding forced us to look for more modern projects.
One such was the Ammonia From Coal Projects (I don't know why it was titled in the plural, we just had the one approach.) The objective was to divorce fertilizer production from rising natural gas prices. Nearly all U.S. nitrogen fertilizer is based on natural gas. Natural gas is used to produce ammonia in the Haber Process. Nitric acid is made from ammonia. Ammonium nitrate is made from ammonia and nitric acid. Urea is made from ammonia and the carbon dioxide exhaust from the ammonia plant's reformers. But with all that the fertilizer industry uses (or used at the time) only 6% of US natural gas production. And so had little leverage over gas prices. So we went to coal gasification to supply synthesis gas to the ammonia plant. (Or low BTU fuel to our steam plant.) A dirty and expensive process, we demonstrated technical feasibility but little economic sense. There were not many commercial installations following our lead and the price of natural gas did not rise as fast as predicted.
So I moved on, to the Biomass Projects. My assignment was engineering in the acid hydrolyis of hemicellulose and cellulose to fermentable sugars; the Alcohol From Wood Process. (And about any other cellulosic matter, from waste paper to sugar cane bagasse and so on. Never any of the Prez's switchgrass, though.) Same conclusion, a dirty, expensive, and inefficient process. Most later work has focused on enzymatic hydrolysis which avoids the temperature, waste, and corrosion problems I fought, but substitutes slow action and even more dilute solutions to be fermented and distilled.
All that was 20 years ago, and there has not been much advancement in either field since. I think they are sort of like terrestrial fusion, feasibility receding into the future at one year per year.
With that as background, I think the problem of energy supply and dependence on foreign oil is being overstudied. We do not need, in the short to mid term at least, elaborate replacements for oil in transport fuel or synthetics. We just need to free up oil for transport fuel and synthetics. I favor nuclear and coal for electrical power, no use of oil or gas for baseload utility power. Electrification of the railroads and favorable treatment for the railroad tycoons to make their companies come back as the prime mover of freight. Trucks should be for small loads and local distribution. Forget passenger rail, we don't need Amtrack or bullet trains, we need Casey Jones and the fast freight.
Let the niche players play. Wind, wave, ground solar, and biomass are not going to run the country, but let them contribute what they reasonably can. My experience in biomass says it doesn't have to be fancy, might not can be made fancy. You can co-fire about anything combustable with coal and recover its heating value and put it on the grid. Few fuels are as dirty as coal and if the coal stack gas and ash can be managed, a little eucalyptus or garbage (gotta get rid of the incinerator stigma) is not going to foul the air.
I recall an old, old, John W. Campbell story; The Black Star Passes. The hero is flying coast to coast on a giant ten-motored airliner and looks out the port at the vast fields of corn to be fermented for alcohol fuel, and the nearly as large castor bean plantations for lube oil. As we say hereabouts, it ain't gonna happen.
Conclusion: we ain't out of oil, we won't run out soon, and if we do there ar technologies that can take over.
Which was my point. And if we would put real money into space solar power, we would build a Lunar colony on weekends and third shifts.
The major capital investment for trains is running one conductor parallel to the tracks, and providing the electric power. The current fleet of diesel-electric locomotives are best described as electric locomotives with self-contained diesel generator power plants. Converting the mainlines to electric power and adding an external power pickup option to the existing locomotive fleet is the cheapest method we have for implementing 'electric transportation'. GM's Electro Motive Division and GE both manufactured dual power variants of their standard locomotive models in the past.
Doing this is a 'national' decision requiring a national government to make it, something we lack right now. It's easy to implement. Raise diesel fuel taxes, progressively lower truck weight limits on the interstates, reduce the number of daily hours semi-drivers can drive, lengthen their intervening rest periods and provide the railroads major investment tax credits for mainline electrification and nuclear power plant construction.
The four major Class I railroads, UPS and FEDEX will sort out the rest of reorganizing transport into long haul electric rail lines supplemented with local hub and spoke truck container delivery.
Subj: Peggy Noonan: Who'll Claim the Center?
=Can the Democrats spend the next two years showing a moderate, centrist, mature face to the country?=
That's Noonan's key question, or one of them anyway. But I think the more important question is, Has the electorate sunk so deep into Liberalism -- the anesthetic for the West as it commits suicide -- that the "center" of the electorate is now so far Left that the downward spiral towards democratic despotism is now unstoppable, let alone reversible?
Noonan also describes the President's and the Congressional Republicans' mutual disenchantment, shading over into hostility. She predicts that the President will stop even bothering to try to work with the Congressional Republicans, and will work instead with the Congressional Democrats to try "to build his popularity and create a new legacy." For example: the liberal immigration bill the House Republicans blocked will now pass and Bush will sign it.
I guess one hope that remains is that the Republican grass roots will come to its conservative senses and start putting candidates forward who don't have an ideology, but do have conservative principles. But I doubt that can happen before the 2008 election; we're probably in for at least one more turn of the downward spiral.
Exactly. We live in interesting times.
The Haber-Bosch process j is what kept Germany from collapsing in WWI: nitrogen compounds for fertilzier and explosives. You need hydrogen - we often use natural gas [ reforming] but you can use the water-gas reaction with coal. You could do it with a nuclear reactor as well.
Today fertilzier produced by variants of the Haber-Bosch process feeds about 40% of the population of te world. Haber is also famous for his role in the the first military use of poison gas.
Indeed. I am not sure who you are quoting there. I don't think it would have been me.
The simple truth, of course, (as Cochran and anyone who has paid much attention to the matter knows) is that given enough energy you can make molecules dance to any tune you like, as I said back in A Step Farther Out about thirty years ago. Alas, the chattering classes and most of the ruling class have not a clue about this.
The American people get the government they deserve, and they get it good and hard.
Global warming worse than we thought . . .
-- Roland Dobbins
I think I printed something like this earlier but it's worth repeating.
Damascus swords contain carbon nanotubes?
-- Roland Dobbins
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