Imperium Delays IPO; Fed Rate Cut Still Coming; Bartiromo, Gates, Soros, Dell, Bono at WEF Summit; Obama Doubles Clinton; Kennedy’s Double Endorse Obama

Imperium Renewables, the Seattle based firm with the largest US based biodiesel plant (at Grays Harbor) has delayed plans for an IPO citing “market conditions”. This move was widely anticipated after the departure of their CEO. However, another interpretation has also been put forth which is that because of the tripling of biodiesel production capacity in the US, and the rise in Soy Oil prices there just is not enough available feedstock to supply additional plants at this time. Indeed the Greentech Media article that summarizes these facts proclaims “Feedstock Shortage” in its headline.

Of course, the “not enough” feedstock is not really the problem at all. The problem is that feedstocks for the popular, cheap and easy method of making biodiesel, using a catalyst, and ethanol (or methanol) to esterify vegetable oil needs cheap vegetable oil to keep it cheap (which is to say, competitively priced). Biodiesel as an industry has become its own major competitor. According to the same Greentech Media article, Soy Oil cost just US$ 0.27/lb. (or US$ 540/Ton) back in August of 2006, while the December 2007 price has soared to US$ 0.44/lb. which comes out to US$ 960/Ton. That’s a 56% increase in less than 18 months.

Few will question that when cooler heads prevail that we will be seeing a lot more of jatropha and other non-edible oils becoming more important rapidly over the next few years. Off to a slower start may be the algadiesel based on the oil content of the fast growing green plant. But let us not neglect, either the use of genetic engineering and “synthetic biology” in which microbes are being grown specifically to produce “long chain alcohols” (butanol, for example) from cellulosic sources. Since, as far as I know, the oil content of algae is of no particular interest to these microbes that are producing butanol from the cellulose and lignin of plants (5 carbon sugars, as opposed to the 6 carbon sugars of glucose and sucrose) it would well behoove those working in these to areas to start talking and experimenting cooperatively and collaboratively. Wouldn’t you agree?

I always find it incredible that occasions like a G8 meeting or this week’s World Economic Forum annual Summit in Davos, Switzerland, produce a horde of, often unruly, protestors who are AGAINST globalization. There is entirely too much of the “us” (whoever “we” are) against “them” (and it matters little which “they” anyone refers to, since being “not us” is perceived as being inherently a bad thing). Globalization is about spreading the wealth. That is not to say that I don’t recognize that some exporters of jobs aren’t doing it to “exploit” the cheap labor in other parts of the world, but driving down costs while increasing profits is the aim. The idea that all CEO’s and boards of directors of major multinational conglomerates somehow match the moustache twisting, black hat image of 19th century melodrama villains is a little far out there.

The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries were building on ancient knowledge that had been ignored (if not outrigh suppressed) for anything up to a couple of thousand years. Unrestrained by public opinion, or the threat of exposure to public criticism, the so-called “Robber Barons” were indeed almost incomprehensibly callous in their tactics and even occasionally completely immoral in their practices. But major publicly held corporations do tend to have to answer for their actions and even their motives to the media and the public. The collapse of Enron is the prime example in recent times, though there have been others too.

My wife (I blame her NYC upbringing) tends to see corruption and conspiracies lurking around every corner, even brazenly in plain site. She is not entirely wrong, but I hope she is not right as often as she believes she is. (That’s dangerous talk to put in print, so I’m hereby claiming temporary insanity in case we ever find ourselves in court.)

The fact is that I hope that the majority of businesses and business people have in mind to make their living by an ethically sound set of business practices to make the world a better place for themselves, their family and ultimately the world entire. Now all of that is preamble to the fact that I was teaching a class on industrialization last week, combined with the fact that I have been paying attention to a gentleman who I know only through internet correspondence as S. Kumar. S. Kumar is a resident of India, and seems to know a good deal more than I do about how to make money on the internet. The combination of these two factors, along with my long support of micro-credit as a means of bringing about some greater degree of equality globally, have led me to a new paradigm that I hope some readers will find interesting.

NEW PARADIGM

Global Village Cottage Industry is not as catchy a name as I would like it to be, but it does describe this concept that borrows a little, too, from Isaac Asimov’s writings. Examples have been cited in literature about microcredit that speak of an “instant phone company” when a small, and previously isolated village suddenly gains access to market information because a microloan allows one villager (or that that villager’s family) to acquire a cell phone. Suddenly the local basket weavers can access information from an uncle or a cousin in a larger town or city to discover what the market price of baskets (or whatever commodity) may be that week, and therefore better able to either price their own labors locally, or to attempt to calculate the costs/benefits of providing their own transportation and/or wholesale to the big city markets.

It is, in fact, possible now to earn several hundred dollars per week from a modest web presence, some of which can operate on “autopilot” for years drawing a few dollars a week, while others, which might require more human intervention and attention to keep it “tuned” to the market. For those villages where average wages are about US$1 per day or less, facilitating a micro-economy of internet information brokerage could well represent a doubling of the village’s total net income. In remote villages where impoverished populations are isolated additional challenges and difficulties might also need to be addressed. Items like how to connect to the internet via phone lines, much less high-speed data lines could be a really difficult feat, especially at moderate costs. Just supplying power to a computer or two might require a generator or a solar panel (charging all day just to run the computer for a few hours at night) perhaps.

It is of no particular consequence to the owner of the web site, nor to its’ users whether the owner may be in New York City, or Elberta, Alabama, or Mumbai, India, though server space on a direct high speed optical connection to the backbone of the net may be more expensive than a server in a basement in Siberia somewhere. Nor am I advocating that this should be the only industry in town, for we saw what can happen to a New England milltown when competition closes the mill. But it is possible to establish this kind of “cottage industry” virtually anywhere, and by capturing even a miniscule percentage of the worldwide traffic for certain items of ecommerce, it becomes possible to generate a modest income by American or North American standards, but that same very modest income to us, might represent full-on luxurious to an otherwise impoverished family in an isolated and economically disadvantaged community.

Just to be clear, here, let me state that I am not talking about publicizing the basket weaving skills of the locals, although that too could be one way to monetize a web presence. I mean that merely becoming a source of information that attracts people, one has the opportunity to earn a living by having once gained their trust, to refer them to other information of value, which might include pure information (“how to’s” or houseplans) or access to money saving opportunities, like sales at Amazon.com (collecting affiliate commissions on sales made because of their referrals). At the same time large organization in the retail field like Wal-mart, K-Mart/Sears, Circuit City, and so on, are also placing retail advertising wherever they can “capture eyes”, so merely having traffic to your sight could make you eligible to earn from the “publishing” of some of that advertizing content as well.

CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, who had a rather rapid rise to national television stardom just a few years ago had an interesting program this Sunday with an array of movers-and-shakers for guest. Not the least of her interviews was a satellite link to Texas (Ms. Bartiromo was in Davos covering the World Economic Summit) with former President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, Mr. Robert McTeer. Mr. McTeer claims that he had been advocating “strong action” to avoid recession, meaning at least 50 basis points (0.5%) cut in the Fed Funds Rate. Mr. McTeer, with better comic delivery than most economic heavy-weights, joked in poker playing terms that they saw his bet and raised him a quarter, which resulted in the Fed Chairman Bernanke’s cut of 3/4’s of a percent in the first cut issued by the Fed outside its regularly scheduled meetings since 1971 according to Ms. Bartiromo’s Wall Street Journal Report program on CNBC.

Mr. McTeer, however, was not impressed with the tax rebate giveaway the politicians were putting together. He didn’t mention, but I think that I did (with respect to one of Congressman Ron Paul’s policies about expansion of the money supply), that the M4 money supply was increased by fiat in December by more than US$ 40 billion. (Yes, “Billion,” though the “funny money” auctions, as Congressman Paul might call them, were not until this month and next, I believe.) Mr. McTeer also said that he felt that the economic effects of the US$ 150 billion giveaway by Congress and the President in the form of direct rebates to taxpayers (plus business incentives and tax breaks) [and the probable “piling on” of some “tasty” pork by the Senate, as Donna Brazile on This Week with George Stephanopolous put it] was unlikely to be necessary considering the cooperative spirit of the Fed and it’s quick action. Mr. McTeer did suggest, however, that he felt it was a good possibility that there may be an additional 0.25% interest rate cut coming, and that could happen as soon as the next regularly schedule Fed meeting.

And in the rest of the class of “heavy-weight” Maria found Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and Bono promoting Bono’s “RED” campaign to pay for HIV/AIDS drug treatments for Africans. Another interesting picture on the World Economic Forum website was one in which I believe I saw Bill Gates on stage with the Chairmen and CEO’s of BOTH Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nor would it be prudent to ignore that George Soros was also present at the summit. Mr. Soros is, I understand, also scheduled to appear on a CNBC European broadcast in a debate on economic policy in which the resolution he speaks to is something to the effect that their needs to be, “a new sheriff in town,” on the world economic stage, because central bankers have, “lost their way.”

Speaking of, “lost their way,” the anticipated boom from computer telephony integration (or “CTI” as it was called in the comupter and communications industries) never really took place (except behind the scenes where it ended up crashing some of my early retirement dreams as Lucent Technologies stock took a dive at the turn of the century) although the anticipation of it may have inspired physicists to postulate “dark energy” because most of the fiber-optic cable that was laid in preparation for the explosion of demand remains “dark” (unlit by the necessary lasers to make it useful) because bringing it on line would cause existing tariffs to drop like stones to virtually nothing and it is hard for communications companies to continue to charge premium rates for guaranteed premium grade “quality of service” when there is no shortage of bandwidth for everyone everywhere. (It’s another one of those “corporate inertia” things I spoke about last week that I find so annoying, everyone is so worried about preserving today’s established markets that they stifle the evolution of new markets and new technologies to protect the old territories.) But the convergence we are now seeing is one of cell phones with video displays also accessing web based data and gradually creeping in is the GPS integration of local commercial information as well.

Things do not always work out the way we expect or plan them to. I predicted the future of the internet quite a number of years ago. Projecting the number of subscribers was not my field (and still isn’t), but technology was, (and is), so I predicted several things. I expected to see a proliferation of “virtual reality” sights. That has been slow in coming about, but one example does stand out. I believe the most prominent example today is “Second Life”, which is a really interesting phenomenon itself, because although it strongly resembles the Dungeons and Dragons romantic sword and sorcery roll playing games of the 1980’s and 1990’s, this seems to be a place to meet and greet real friends (new and old). I won’t try to pigeonhole the D&D crowd but I will say that computer game players started out as the more geeky among us, and while one cannot know how many still are, the mere fact that these communities of online folks interact socially makes them seem to have more adventurous and more gregarious natures than those nerds and computer jockeys of old.

Now I have to admit I was more than a little bit spoiled by my early computer experiences. Mind you, I admit that I am discounting [naturally enough, I THINK] the Timex/Sinclair 1 kilobyte “toy” computer, which introduced me to programming but never did a single useful thing in its life with me. So I have had some optimistic views on the future of computers and the internet. At that same IBM and IEEE sponsored speech I gave in Toronto many, many years ago, I showed a picture of a video watch, or rather a mockup of a video watch that I predicted would be the future common access and interface device to the internet and most people’s computer experiences. Along with that I predicted that it would be a voice interactive experience, which is to say that like the denizens of Star Trek we would just speak to the computer, and receive much of what we wanted back in the form of voice response as well, supplemented by screen graphics only when really needed. Video is a terrible waste of bandwidth, especially if all you are sending is the graphics to represent text that conveys the information.

Well, through a series of semi-disasters I just received on my desktop a Gateway GT5404 computer with Microsoft’s VISTA Home Premium operating system. It has 1 GB of RAM, 250GB of SATA hard drive and a Pentium Dual-Core CPU, which is a 64 bit processor that handles two 32 bit streams at 2.8 gigahertz. Both a sticker on the machine itself and the software reporting the type of system it is emphasize that “dual stream” feature. The sticker says, “2 x 2 MB L2 cache.” The software says that it is “rated” 2.80, but then goes on to explain that it is 32 bits at 2.8 GHz and another 32bits at 2.8 GHz. This operating system also contains the speech recognition features that became standard with Windows XP editions. I am not, by any means, holding my breath, but I am hoping that this will become a feature of my computing in the very near future. This XP machine on which I am working (a Dell, by the way, but “only” 1.6 GHz, and 768 MB of RAM) can barely handle my 9 windows of Word, Internet Explorer and Outlook email if Outlook is attempting to download new messages (as it does several times an hour). Therefore speech recognition would be totally impossible since I would have long since forgotten what it was I intended to say LONG minutes before the operating system got around to attempting to copy my words to the screen (or execute the commands if that is what the words were). The dual execution scheme on this new Gateway might be the answer to this kind of problem, but I am fearful of getting too excited about it. I was doing voice/speech recognition work on an IBM XT computer back about 1986, and even though that was “discreet speech” (un-connected, distinct words with “pre-trained” vocabulary) the progress in this field has been of dire disappointment to me over the last 21 years, especially relative to the increase in computing power. For a comparison (you can do the math if you like) my old IBM XT type (actually from Matsushita) operated at 10 megahertz and had 1 megabyte of total RAM (even the hard disk was 10 megabytes total capacity).

Please wish me luck on that front.

Amazing political news: Caroline Kennedy wrote a endorsement for Senator Barack Obama, published by the New York Times newspaper, in which she said, “I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them.” The Times also reports that Senator Ted Kennedy is slated to provide his endorsement of Senator Obama on Monday (January 28th, 2007).

Not so amazing political news: Senator Obama won the Democratic Primary election in South Carolina. What was surprising, perhaps, was that Senator Edwards, who was born in South Carolina did so poorly. What was almost more surpising was that Senator Obama’s vote count was 55% for Senator Obama, and just 27% for Senator Hillary Clinton. And talk about “globalization”, it is certainly NOT a one way street. That article link above about the South Carolina election results is to a Korean newspaper website that just happened to be one of the top results on my Google search terms.

love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

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Greenfuels UPGRADE, Safeway goes GREEN, ODU algae, + Sanitation Year

Don’t you find it gratifying when one of the REALLY BIG guys comes over to your side, your way of thinking? Try to imagine for a second that you are reading this while I am speaking in an Irish accent as I say, “It warmed the cockles of me heart t’ hear it!” (It just seems appropriate to have an Irish accent when announcing a major “green” event.) Anyway, enough stalling, the fact is that America’s third largest chain of grocery stores, Safeway, based in Pleasanton, California, has announced that all 1000 of its trucks will be running on biodiesel. Details were sketchy in the Associated Press newswire item released in the San Jose Mercury News online site, but they did say that they wanted to make the company more environmentally friendly by using soy and canola based biodiesel fuels. They also included mention of installing solar panels on a couple dozen California based stores, and buying power from wind farms as part of their greening efforts.

Another big sign is when you start hearing about cross industry development deals. That is, when multi-national corporate interests start to collaborate to explore exploitation of a market. In this instance I am talking about a news release that came out a couple of weeks ago (and I just didn’t want to drag out my column’s length any further at that time, so I skipped it until now) [thanks Charlie for the reminder though] that the D1 and BP alliance on jatropha are also cooperating with both Bayer (you know, the aspirin people) to develop crop sprays for jatropha, and with Daimler (aka formerly known as Mercedes & Chrysler) to test jatropha derived biodiesel in their engines. That’s a pretty broad range of coalition partners from chemical/pharmaceuticals to auto/transportation and fuels/agriculture. Certainly an interesting sign of the depth of interest in jatropha as an organic oil source.

Another project that has just come to my attention is taking place at Hampton Roads Sanitation District sewage processing plant. Old Dominion University is growing algae on their roof. Well, more specifically in tanks on their roof. Reporter Scott Harper of pilotonline.com (aka Virginia-Pilot newspaper) reports the basics in his article, but the “research” purpose (other than giving the Virginia Governor something to crow about in the alternative energy sphere) seems to gone below the reporters notice. The overall ambitious talk of using algae cultivation to sequester carbon dioxide from power plants and other factory smokestacks, as well as agricultural runoff of both nitrogen and phosphates sounds like a good idea, and reportedly the Governor is seeking to expand funding for the research, but why this is at the stage of fundamental research and not at least demonstration gauge is baffling to me. None of this is new, although methods of getting carbon dioxide from power plants to sewage processing plants may prove to be a considerable challenge.

There was one other insight contained in Mr. Harper’s article, however, which is that, “The Pentagon does not want to pay more than $1.50 per gallon of green jet fuel.” Somehow with the price of petroleum crude oil is running at close to $2.00 per gallon, I have difficulty seeing where the Pentagon thinks this $1.50 per gallon “magic green fuel” is going to come from. It is certainly unlikely that this stuff will come from soy or corn oil, chances are pretty slim that palm oil biofuel (upgraded to jet fuel) will make that price benchmark either. The Air Force is just going to have to wait for algafuel, and I guess that’s what the ODU researchers are hoping to achieve.

A little further along the development curve is a small new company with about 4 acres under current cultivation, as I understand it, but looking at a much larger development area in Malaysia. The company is called Aquatic Energy LLC, and has a PhD on the roster, one, Clare Gutteridge, who is presently teaching organic chemistry at the US Naval Academy. Now, be warned that in the video I am point you toward, the company person speaking mistakenly says it is “rain forest” area. It is not, according to the company Chief Executive Officer, David A. Johnson. He explains that the Malaysian land in question is actually underutilized rice growing land that has been inundated by salt water infiltration and therefore unproductive. This is exactly the kind of area that SHOULD be cultivated for an algae crop, since many stains of algae are very tolerant of high salt content. The other point made in the video is that the company is expecting a yield of about 1000 to 1500 gallons per acre as compared to 100 gallons per acre for soy and perhaps 500 gallons per acre from palm oil. The interview is by “ecogeek”. Take a look for yourself.

Next on my list this week is a re-visit to Greenfuels Inc. You may recall that I have been critical of the Greenfuels designs for bioreactors that called for a vertical triangles of translucent acrylic tubes. Well, take a look at this video and see what I discovered this week.
http://www.winfotech.com/energy/greenfuelsproj1/greenfuelsproj1.html

Politics is a puzzle at the best of times, so I am not going to try to unravel the 4 contests 3 winners in the Republican Presidential nomination race, nor the 3 contests 2 winners, except the loser got more delegates in the second caucus than the winner of the popular vote did on the Democratic side. I’ve got my favorites, and apparently so does everybody else, because it was a surprise to me that Ron Paul managed a second place finish at this stage of the game, so even he is not out yet.

On the other side of the world, however, Pakistan is at minimum a conundrum. What baffled me this week was not so much news of any particular even, but a reporter’s update on the status of the country. Fareed Zacharias, frequent guest on This Week with George Stephanopolous and editor of the international edition of NEWSWEEK magazine, appeared this past week, instead, as a satellite video guest on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. That in itself is hardly newsworthy, but what he said about events in Pakistan recently (having just returned from Pakistan, reportedly) was less than clear to me. Or rather, it was less than clear in the implications in particular. Fareed said that the Pakistani Army (remember, President Musharraf is no longer head of the Army, too), has “finally” taken the fight against the Talaban and Al Qaeda seriously enough that they are actually attacking the Al Qaeda strongholds within Pakistan. They are no longer distinguishing between “our terrorists” and “their [US’s “bad guy”] terrorists”. Indeed it is well known (or at least often reported) that the Pakistani Army is well peppered with Islamist sympathizers. Mr. Zacharias said that the army, in now actually taking action against Al Qaeda strongholds within Pakistan, that, “They have turned against their former masters.”

Unfortunately, the clamour of local politics has drowned out any minor news developments from Pakistan, so I am not sure what he means by that statement, or what real actions have taken place. Musharraf, remember is under considerable US diplomatic (and other world) pressure to keep his promise of democratic elections (now scheduled for February, following the disruption and national mourning of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto). If real progress is being made about rooting out Al Qaeda in Pakistan, we have not heard about it here.

Steve Zahn is not the most attractive man on the planet, but he has a certain charm about him. I was horrifically disappointed in the mini-series Comanche Moon in which Mr. Zahn played a fairly significant role. The acting was wooden, the dialogue worse, and although the plot was winding its way into some interesting twists and turns, I had completely lost faith that it would ever improve by the time we had watched an hour of it. Rachel Griffith has never looked worse, and the acting was so broad and course it was no more than caricature. Sorry, Rachel, I really love your work as a rule, but not this time.

Mr. Steve Buscemi, on the other hand, was a real standout in an intimate little grinding drama where the character is less appealing, verging on despicable slime, in fact, but the plot worked extremely well, and considering that the tale was essentially just two characters locked in conflict in a single room for almost the entire movie, Interview which also stars the stunningly beautiful Sienna Miller, who was also prominently featured as the ingénue star in Stardust where the stunningly beautiful Michele Pfeiffer played the villain. In this case the plot twists DO hold together and make it one of the best “intimate” little movies since My Dinner with André.

Mr. Buscemi directed and also wrote the screenplay, in an adaptation re-make of a Dutch movie from just 4 years earlier. That film (also called Interview was directed by Theo Van Gogh, the director who was murdered by Islamist extremists for his less than reverent view of Islam. BBC news quoted Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende as saying “it is unacceptable if expressing your opinion would be the cause of this brutal murder”.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention that according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the U.N. has declared this to be the International Year of Sanitation

Love,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Keywords:
Biodiesel, green energy, biofuels, jatropha, Greenfuels, Pakistan, Buscemi, Giffiths, Commanche Moon, Interview, ecogeek, assassination

Perversity & Inertia, Soy Futures v WVO, Diabolical Diebold? Election 2000 v 1876

It seems perverse if not downright self-destructive to develop a passionate dislike for one of the laws of physics, but I am doing it none the less. Strictly speaking, it is not Newton’s First Law with which I have so much trouble, it is the fact that society and economics seem mired in it. Carefully considered conservatism, is only sensible. Idiotic investment inertia is unconscionable, and yet the law of the land, or at least the slope of the economic landscape.

News items are starting to appear about the business failures in Germany of their still nascent biodiesel industry, just because the tax break went away. Well, that and the rising costs of vegetable oils. But ringing the death knell of the industry is certainly premature at best.

On the other hand, it seems like pure leverage that Brazil is seeing in their biodiesel industry. Just as the B2 deadlines are approaching (government policy that all diesel will be blended with 2% biodiesel), prices are spiking for soy beans (the majority of Brazil’s biodiesel is produced from soy beans) (Brazil is the #2 producer of soy beans in the world and soy is also one of Argentina’s largest crops, by the way). Producers are claiming that the price for biodiesel, set by auction, is no longer viable based on their costs. Government officials are reportedly unsympathetic, or rather, perhaps just not too quick to respond to what they consider a rouge by producers to force prices higher. ANP, Brazil’s national oil and petroleum products market regulatory agency spokespersonEdson Silva, told Reuters news agency that, “Producers are interested in gaining a foothold in the market, which has an extraordinary potential, so they may work with reduced profitability now for a while. We believe they will deliver everything that was contracted.” He also indicated that he thought prices of soy would ease with the approaching February harvest season. However industry spokesmen say that prices will have to become “realistic” at the next auction or subsidies will have to be created. Defaulting on deliveries could see the producers barred from future auctions, but the government spokeman was not concerned and expected that they will deliver the contracted amounts for the program.Still, in Brazil, the Brazilian Society for Scientific Progress (BSPC), has announced they are creating a network of small local biodiesel plants to convert WVO (waste vegetable oil) to biodiesel in order to help meet the B2 initiative goals. Local citizens are expected to contribute their waste oil to these local plants. But if you think that sounds too “third world” and impractical on a larger scale, well, you might need to revise your thinking. In Kilmarock County, Scotland, they have come up with a system of trading a bucket of used cooking grease for a bus ticket, according to an article in Autogreen Blog. The bus company distributed collection containers to homes all along the routes it services. And in Murcia, Spain, in order to keep the sewer water clean enough to be used for the usual grey water purposes, a local company has distributed funnels to the citizens so that they can now take used cooking oil and grease to any school or grocery shop to be redeemed, which also recycles the plastic soda bottles they use as the standard containers for their deposits.

Biodiesel Magazine reports that the Galveston Bay Biodiesel plant that started with a 20 million gallon per year output capacity, only to immediately start expansion plans to 100 million gallons, seems to have settle US$6 million in liens from contractors for just $2 million, as well as having a US$15 left from the contribution of a new investor to apply to the expansion efforts. Meanwhile Galveston Bay Biodiesel is also suing Chevron for pulling out of the deal last year, claiming that Chevron misrepresented their intentions. Biodiesel Magazine characterizes the suit as more like a domestic dispute than a contractual issue.

Chrysler, being one of the “victims” (as well as perpetrators) of the myths that create corporate inertia in the world, points out that all of its current models of diesel engines come out of the factory capable of running fuel that is 5% ASTM biodiesel. Now I grant that with “variable geometry turbocharger” technology, your engineers might get a little nervous about whether the still ruggedly frontier-like industry of biodiesel production might jeopardize the peak performance of your carefully tuned torque. But on the other hand, here in Phoenix, Arizona, the Deer Valley Unified School District had already completed 4 million miles of proven reliable transportation in their buses and other vehicle BACK IN 2001 using biodiesel blends. And it was recently announced that one of their suppliers has won another contract to supply them with fuel, including what they call OXyG B-60, which is a little deceptive since it is “only” 20% Biodiesel blend. What is innovative (relative to the Deer Valley contract) about this sale is that OXyG B-60 is that this is a product made from WVO, not purpose produced vegetable oils.

Speaking of “on purpose”, although there has been a lot of speculation about Senator Clinton’s “near tear” the day before the New Hampshire Primary, and I am not coming down on either side of that fence, I did find that Bill Maher’scomment onHBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher somewhat … (I’ll save “offense” for the next subject) … disturbing. It seemed that Bill was stuck in the 50’s, comparing Mitt Romney to the Leave It To Beaver character Ward Cleaver, but also implying that Hillary Clinton’s crying was inappropriate for a presidential candidate. Specifically he mocked the concept that one might choose to be, “electing a president you want to have a good cry with,” while finding acceptable the “want to have a beer with,” as an electability criterion. Okay, Bill’s job is to be a comedian. (Bill Maher, not Bill Clinton.) (And by the way, Mike Huckabee really CAN tell a joke well, as proven on the Tonight Show recently.) But that was a blatantly sexist remark. Women, given the chance to vote for an equally qualified candidate who happened to be female, would find it completely normal and even “intelligent” to choose the candidate with whom she could imagine she might have a good cry. Heck in the last gubernatorial race here in Arizona, I would rather had sat down for a beer or any other beverage with Janet Napolitano that any of her opponents (and I liked one or two of those guys too). Still, she’s endorsing Senator Barack Obama.

While in political mode, I am sorry to say that (former) Senator John Edwards has fallen from my list to even consider, though it isn’t even his own fault. No, this one I blame on his lovely wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth seems to have picked up the bad habit from somewhere of pronouncing “nuclear” as “noo kew lar”, and I swear I would vote for a Republican candidate who pronounced it correctly before I would put even a spouse of someone who cannot in the White House again.

then there is THIS, a video of Republican Fred Thompson on Fox News, Hannity and Colmes talks about the assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. He is critical of Governor Huckabee’s comment that, following the assassination, “it is a police matter, now.” He ratchets up the rhetoric, and beats the drum for the “global war on terror,” the standard “party line” for Bush Republicans. But while that is understandable, it clearly reveals that Governor Huckabee has a more realistic idea of how to deal with terrorism.

Just in case the embedded version of the video clip can’t be seen here, you can download it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NROUayHtd3k.
It is not often that you can say that a comedy is inspirational. Occasionally a good comic movie has a serious point to make, and oddly enough, despite former White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow’s claim that “none of us” know what is really happening inside those voting machines (and Mark Cuban’s legitimate claim that he REALLY DOES — he was a computer guru before he was a billionaire, and because a billionaire because he was a computer guru) (in the most recent HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher) Robin Williams 2006 movie, Man of the Year where the plot hinged on a hacker tapping into the voting boxes from Diebold (though as [former Judge, now broadcaster] Catherine Crier pointed out Diebold has now changed its name). It is a serious issue and should get some attention before we embark upon another national election, unless we want to actually live with results far more dire than those in the Robin Williams movie. At least in the Hollywood Happy Ending, they CAUGHT the tamperers.

Now hold that thought for a second. Back to politics.

E.J.Dionne, columnist for the Washington Post (and Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institute) pointed out that the Republicans haven’t been in such disarray in terms of putting forth a presidential nominee since the election of 1836 when the Whigs had put forth 4 candidates in hope that at least one of them would appeal to each of the 4 geographical constituencies that would play a role in determining the next President. Politics repeating themselves is just another aspect of that old cliche that “history repeats itself” (since we seem to refuse to learn from past mistakes). That point came home to me a few weeks ago when I was called upon to teach a history class that focused on the Presidential election of 1876, which was filled with both similarities and contrasts to the election of 2000. Ohio and Florida played pivotal roles then and now, the support or lack of public support from the incumbent president and accusations of corruptions of the outgoing administration also seemed to have significant effects on the results, and the outcome was eventually decided not by the voters (winner of the popular vote did not prevail in the electoral college due to political party partisanship regarding the certificates of the electors) but by the members of Supreme Court. Even the impending inauguration date played a role in both dramas.

On the subject of inspirational comedy, perhaps the comedy of errors in both 1876 and 2000 should inspire us to action on the voting machine issue, but that is not the only inspiration I came upon this week. I had the true pleasure of watching The Bucket List, directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The concept, the “bucket list”, if you haven’t seen it revealed in the publicity already, is that before you die, you should keep in mind that life is finite, and that whatever you feel you want to do, or just HAVE TO DO, should be put on a list, “before you kick the bucket.” For anyone too young to recognize that phrase, it means, “before you die.” The movie is a delight, and I hardly need mention that the three named individuals are master craftsmen at what they do, so quality is never in doubt. What amazed me was that it actually inspired my wife to want to create her own bucket list. That’s pretty high praise from her, and I agree.

Love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

p.s. check out the free ads from Google, Yahoo and elsewhere
at the Google Ads For Free page.

Politics Waits for No Man – New Hampshire PRIMARY today

To Ron Paul’s “fans”, I apologize for “promoting” him from Congressman Paul to “Senator Paul” in my previous post.

If you needed proof, Ron Paul and the courts just may provide it. The “proof” I am speaking of is that there has rarely ever been so blatant a mis-use of journalism as the slogan of “Fox News” when it claims, “fair and balanced” news coverage. CONGRESSMAN Dr. Ron Paul appeared on the Monday night edition of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno saying among other things that in response to being left out of the Fox News Republican Debate on Sunday (Jan. 7, 2008) that he was considering taking them to court because this was clearly an instance where they were showing bias against his campaign. He made it clear that after his showing in Iowa caucuses and still ranking ABOVE Former NYC Mayor Giuliani in public opinion polls in New Hampshire that (though he could only “speculate”) that Fox did not want their listeners and viewers to hear the message he wanted to deliver.

He also delivered his most popular and inciteful platform plank that terrorists (Islamists or not) did not target Americans and New York’s World Trade Center because we are free and prosperous, the stupid bumpersticker explanation and jingoistic clap trap the Bush administration has been feeding us for years. He is aware, as he states, that over 50 years of political meddling and “occupation” as he puts it, of Middle East countries and puppet dictatorships, and CIA sponsored violence (not to mention the Afghanistan War – no not “OURS”, theirs against the Soviets)(aka Charlie Wilson’s War in the movie version) is what make the USA a target, not only here, but at our foreign embassies and military bases, too.

To those who might have seen “American Woman’s” blog who seemed to assume that I was attacking Dr. Paul, I assure you, I genuinely admire him for bringing these truths to light. There is also some value in what he says about monetary policy, especially in the month after the Fed decided to increase the M4 money supply by some 40 billion. Yes, of course that contributes to some degree of inflation, but that is far from the principal reason the Canadian dollar is now worth more than the US dollar (as Dr. Paul implied on the Leno Show).

Does Hillary Clinton Have Enough Experience?

IF experience really was the question as to whether or not a candidate will make a “good” President, there is little question that she is at least as qualified as most of the people who have held that office.

THE question of Hillary’s candidacy is does her position on the issues match yours on those issues that are most important to you. Better yet, are the kind of policies that she is likely to implement (Universal Health Care, International Cooperation and Development, Debt restructing for poor nations, cap and trade carbon markets) are GOOD for the nation and the world.

Is it likely that Senator Clinton will be strong on campaign finance reform, reducing the influence of lobbyists, ending pork-barreling “earmark” budget items? Can she, with or without a majority in both Houses of Congress, be able to bring about the rather sensible concept of line-item veto to prevent earmarks if she can’t get those eliminated in the first place. Senator Obama’s campaign does have a point that as part of the LONG ESTABLISHED Washington political machinery, can we really expect her to work hard for those kinds of reforms.

I think that the answer is a resounding YES, but will it really be working hard enough for her to succeed on every front? It cannot possibly be that easy. At least not unless we also give her the kind of OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of elected members of CONGRESS, too. It may take that kind of solidarity to reform and reverse the damages done by the current administration, but we need to act swiftly. We need immediate action on the “War” in Iraq (remember, we cannot BE “at war” without a formal declaration from CONGRESS, not just the actions of the President and the military), and with repect to Climate Change. We need strong legislation and decisive policies and we need them as soon as possible.

If you could pick today: Obama or Clinton?

Tough question.

I’ve been watching the debates, and some of the candidates positions, and I think that Hillary’s experience in dealing with the Washington process, which is, after all, a process of compromise to arrive at the best solution that can be achieved which is acceptable to both sides, is a really important factor. When she is “accused” of falsely claiming to have represented the US in foreign trips, and the claim is made that Madelaine Albright (as Secretary of State) was the “real” voice of our country in the rest of the world, these attacks are essentially unfounded, and worse, the attackers know that they are unjustified slights on the work Senator Clinton did as First Lady. She was the soft persuasive voice, one of the “back channel” channels the news people like to talk about who often are the “real” diplomats that bring about compromise on the more visible side of the world stage.

We recently saw picutres of Mrs Clinton and Mrs Benazir Bhutto walking together. I doubt that either of them could bake a pumpkin pie, nor were they likely to be exchanging recipes. Yes, clearly they could be talking about raising their children (and the special nuances of doing so with millions of people watching), but I rather suspect that they were more likely discussing microfinance and its ability to provide economic opportunities to impoverished women to start businesses that not only sustain families, but can bring about relative prosperity rather rapidly. Both of the Clintons were very active in this field for decades now.

That is not to say that Obama is not appealing, and for some similar reasons. He too has been working (or did, in the past) to better the lives of less fortunate citizens. He too got things done by “political” means of compromise and forging agreements between groups with conflicting interests. He also brings his youthful enthusiasm and eloquent speaking style. He can be very persuasive on the mass scale of public speaking, which, as many people know, is what brought him to national attention through his speech at the Democratic Party National Convention. I like, too, that Senator Obama comes as half of a highly capable couple. Michele, like Hillary, is a highly educated, articulate and dynamic partner in their marriage, as we have already seen on the campaign trail.

So how would I vote? Well, I recognize that there are those who will have negative reactions to each of these two candidates, but given an absolute freedom to vote the way I would want, I would “VOTE” for a Presidential “ticket” of Hillary Clinton for President, with Barack Obama as her Vice-President, and hope that we might see President Obama emerge from the 2016 election.

I have not doubt that Obama can be a GREAT President, but I would like to see him take on that task after an apprenticeship under the very capable tutelage of Mr. & Mrs. Clinton. With 8 years of that kind of guidance, and experience, I truly believe he could be the greatest US President of ALL TIME, or at least maybe second after Jefferson.

Love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

p.s. If you didn’t catch my posts elsewhere, I am tickled pink (some of my more conservatives friends think I’m a little pink, tickled or not) that we now can get Arabic language television via satellite in the USA through DISH Network

p.p.s. I am also really pleased to have found a new diet, even though I am planning on opening a website at http://undietlifestyle.winfotech.com soon. (It may not be working yet, but it should be “soon”)

NH Double Debate, Obama, Edwards v Clinton, Romney no winner

Governor Bill Richardson called for 50 MPG in the CAFE standards during the Saturday night double debate for both Republicans and Democrats from St. Anselm in Manchester, New Hampshire. A FACEBOOK poll (FACEBOOK was a co-sponsor of the debate, with on screen reporter Bianna Golodryga giving us the updates on comments made by Facebook’s web visitor, but unlike the prior debates where YouTubers got to propose questions to the candidates, this was strictly a “view from the bleachers”) showed that most viewers wished that the Republican candidates had spent more time talking about the Economy and about the Environment. Republicans’ candidates occupied the first half of the evening’s broadcast, while the Democratic candidates, now winnowed down to just 4, were second on the bill. The same poll taken after the Democratic candidates were done also found that viewers/visitors to Facebook’s political outpost were also disappointed that more discussion and illumination of policy on the Economy was not forthcoming. However, it was a far smaller percentage who felt that they had not adequately addressed issues of the environment.

Governor Richardson also praised Al Gore for his work on publicizing the crisis of climate change, but he also THANKED Vice President Gore for staying OUT of the Democratic Presidential Candidate Race. That wasn’t the only laugh the New Mexico Governor got Saturday night. After former Senator John Edwards, and Senator Barack Obama double teamed Senator Hillary Clinton as the “forces of the status quo” (versus them as the voices for “Change”), Governor Richardson claimed he had been in hostage negotiations which had been more civil than the current debate. It got a laugh, but unfortunately, it was almost Governor Richardson’s best moment of the night.

Surprisingly (??) it appeared that the big LOSER in the debates was Republican Senator Ron Paul. He might have been disrespected by host and moderator ABC’s anchorman Charlie Gibson, when he said that Senator Paul’s positions had been reasonably consistent. The question of the moment was candidates’ changed positions, so it seemed like a compliment, but Gibson slipped in a dig about Senator Paul’s one “inconsistency” was changing from the Libertarian Party to the Republican Party after being elected the first time.

Senator Paul, a favorite on the internet, suffered more from his own rhetoric, in fact. Although some of this positions are, indeed insightful, and acknowledge truths that are glossed over or ignored by the rest of the candidates, he spoke so narrowly from his Libertarian point of view that it appeared he believed all the evils of the world were rooted in a “runaway” welfare state, excessive taxes and bloated government. I think he is aware that his core of supporters do not share his anti-choice opinion on abortion, so he failed to rally the more conservative troops by raising that issue. On the other hand, you could hardly expect him to bring up his “drugs are a medical problem, not a legal one” stance for this crowd, either. Frankly, in spite of his nearly tying Senator McCain’s numbers this past week in Iowa caucuses, he is less of a factor, in fact, than is Governor Richardson.

Richardson, by the way, managed to hold on to 2% in Iowa’s, which, because of the odd double elimination inner working of Democratic caucuses in the state (not the same as the more straightforward Republican procedures) this really means that he was able to hold on to at least 15 % of those caucusing in at least 40 precincts (if I’ve got the math right, and it is more complicated than I really care to re-calculate to check myself).

Governor Romney faired poorly as well. He was under attack from all sides, particularly on the “flip-flop” issue, and he looked like “Neo” dodging bullets (in the Matrix for those in my generation who might not recognize the reference). Certainly he showed nothing to counter Senator McCain’s strong lead in the polls in New Hampshire in time for the Tuesday Primary there.

The encouraging part was that, as the audience generally perceived, the Democrats at least paid lip service to the environmental issues. Climate change/global warming, CAFE mileage standards, energy security, renewable sources for electric generation, alternative transportation fuels (though they avoided being pinned down to any particular position by avoiding mention of any of the candidates, from ethanol to biobutanol, from biodiesel to hydrogen), wind and solar power all were at mentioned by one or more candidates. Again, Governor Richardson’s performance was quite possibly the best in the area of delineating specifics of policy, though he punched up the “executive experience” pillar of his platform just about 9 times too often. (His record is genuinely remarkable, and Senator Clinton again acknowledged and thanked him for his long service to the country.) But “experience versus change” was the main theme of the night, and Governor Richardson was the only one not to try to re-draw himself with a new paintbrush, which is, I guess, really to say that Senator Clinton was trying to board that train before it left the station.

Senator Clinton’s take on the issue of change was that although Senator Edwards and Senator Obama have made clearly passionate appeals to the public on the matter of “change” she is the one who has really given her life to producing effective change. Senator Edwards, when called upon to cite some accomplishment during his time as a US Senator, pointed to the “Patient Bill of Rights” that he helped Senators McCain and Kennedy to write and pass through the Senate. Senator Clinton countered that “we don’t have a Patient Bill of Rights today,” because Senator Edwards great accomplishment died in the House of Representatives and never did really have any effect on the state of health care for anyone. She also pledged to work hard to achieve (finally) a Patient Bill of Rights, when she is President.

Senator Obama incites a great deal of enthusiasm, and “passion” as Senator Clinton acknowledged, but Senator Clinton clearly looked like a winner, whether or not she can win in New Hampshire, which is, after all, just one more step along the road to the White House.

I guess the good news is that as painfully difficult as it is to break bad habits, it is hard to give up good habits, and I suppose that I will claim that writing this column (whether for American Chronicle or not) is one of my best habits. I just couldn’t bring myself to break it this week.

Which brings me to my “entertainment section” for the week. I tired to watch a movie called “Once” that has an intriguing plot outline about a struggling musician. The film is one of those typically quirky production from out of the mainstream of the British film industry, which is to say, it has the local flavor common to Scottish and Irish independent cinema. It was charming, but it was also rather like a painfully long music video of only mildly pleasant songs in something like an amateur version of Cat Stevens’ music. When nearly nothing had happened in “the plot” (and I use the term loosely, because it was hard to tell if there really was a “plot” as such) by one hour into the movie, I am afraid Maggie and I gave up on it. My brother-in-law’s daughter had mentioned that she enjoyed it, so I can’t say it was awful, or beyond any hope of being enjoyed, but it just didn’t suit either my taste of my mood.

Unfortunately, an unfavorable DVD review doesn’t constitute my “happy ending” tradition, so I will turn elsewhere in the entertainment scene for my uplifting note.

I discovered that the DISH network now offers SEVERAL slightly varied “packages” of Arab language programming to viewers in North America. It was only in the last couple of months that these programming packages became eligible for the highly incentivized deals to attract new customers to the DISH network. Indeed the deal offers, free installation, free HD upgrade, free HD DVR dual-channel recorder, and up to 4 rooms worth of receivers, all at no cost to the subscriber, provided they commit to 18 months subscription to the programming service itself. I believe they charge an extra $5 for local channel access, but the prices are also highly competitive to most cable offerings, and the Arab language packages really look like a good deal.

Now, my confession is that I signed on to advertise these DISH network deals. You can get all the details at http://arabictv.winfotech.com, and the prices are attractive.

But the reason this is a HAPPY ENDING note for me is not that I might make a couple of bucks from it, the HAPPY part is that, fairly obviously, that a large part of most Arabic language countries is the Muslim religion, which will also doubtless be reflected in the programming content too. In these times when we hear so very much rhetoric that is anti-Islamist (note: “anti-Islamist” is NOT the same as “anti-Islam”, the Islamists are the fanatical fundamentalists who want to take over the world and push us back toward the glory days of the old caliphate, [i.e =Dark Ages, roughly] under strict Islamic theocratic rule) it is truly a shining bright light, well, of hope and enlightenment, that a major American corporation has made this programming offering to North American viewers.

Hurray for DISH Network!!

Love,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Why are you still paying retail for printer ink or toner?
http://www.Sav-Mor-On-Ink.com

Habeus Corpus and the Patriot Act and NSA

I found an interesting site today called YEDDA.COM though I have no idea where they got that name for it.  In any case, though, it was quite interesting because it was very much like a couple of other popular sites where people post questions and others post answers.  I tend to be a “know-it-all” so I was a little conservative as to which topics I might be able to answer questions about, but the automated scripts had no trouble finding one that fascinated me.  I decided having once put the effort into writing my opinion on the subject, I would share with you too.  And besides I wanted an excuse to try out my new “social bookmarking” script that allows a person to bookmark to several of the social bookmarking sights, each with a single click, and it automatically provides the article title and URL.  Look for it below somewhere (or maybe it will be above, or maybe it just won’t work, but it will be an interesting experiement anyway)  ;O0

The question I found was “What is ‘habeus corpus’ and why is there a campaign to restore it?”

The first answer was nicely put, giving an historical perspective on the origins of habeus corpus in the British roots of constitutional democracy in the Magna Carta, signed by King John (the first, and the worst) at the insistence of his barons.  The second and third answer outlined “habeus corpus” as a writ from a court to a jailer to release a prisoner, or equally a petition to a court to have an imprisoned person released (or at least show cause).  Here, then, was my (lengthy, is anyone surprised?) response.

MY RESPONSE:

Those are three excellent descriptions of what Habeus Corpus means, historically, and both the writ (issued by a court) and a petition (made on behalf of someone to a court, soliciting release).  The campaign to “restore” habeus corpus actually contradicts HarryVan’s statement that, “It has never been abrogated in the U.S. as it has in otheer countries.”

The idea behind the “restore” campaign is that true habeus corpus was suspended by the (socalled) Patriot Act.  The act provides for imprisonment of enemies of the state (generally these days they are called “terrorists”, but the definition is VERY broad and includes people who “give aid” or support to terrorists, or organization believed to support terrorists).  The point is that no proof of wrong-doing is required to place these people in a jail (the special jail at Guantanamo, where we also have a Navy base on the island of Cuba, is especially controversial because it was created specifically to avoid legal issues like habeus corpus, and the burden of proof principle).  All that is required under the patriot act is the accusation that the person is, or even just MIGHT be a terrorist, and the government is allowed to lock them up with no time limit on a)When they must be released, or even b) when they must be brought to trial to determine guilt or innocence of any crime or wrong-doing. 

The “right” to a speedy trial is in the US constituion, as is a provision that the punishment should be in proportion to the crime (“cruel or unusual” punishment is not justice is the way that is generally stated) I believe (though I am often wrong about many things).  

 So essentially the campaign to bring back the right of habeus corpus is a campaign to correct the injustice(s) of the Patriot Act that attempts to throw out a person’s right to know the crime he/she is being accused of, of the right to speedy trial, and several other things including a “right” to reasonable privacy, which includes both a right not to have police search or “sieze” (confiscate) any property without prior authorization, and a reasonable expectation that one could hold a “private” conversation (as in a phone call, or email) without the goverment being allowed to look at or listen in to it. 

Another recent act of Congress allowed for the National Security Administration to “intercept” communications INSIDE the US (previously they were only allowed to listen in on communications OUTSIDE the US) as a kind of “extension” of the Patriot Act’s idea that we need to watch terrorists wherever they are.  This came about partly because internet communications and much of the world’s telephone traffic now travels THROUGH the US even if it is on its way from (for example) Germany to Saudi Arabia.  It just has become more “practical” for the NSA to “listen in” on this foreign traffic as it passes rather than go out and seek a method of listening in both Germany and Saudi Arabia (which they were doing before anyway).  But this other “act” goes further to legitimize the (previously “illegal”) tactic of the current Bush Administration of wiretapping conversations between Americans in the US and other persons (citizens or not) outside the US.  (Which the NSA was doing anyway even before the Bush administration, but they would have to do it FROM Germany or Saudi Arabia or some other foreign place.)

Generally Americans don’t want to give the government the “right” to listen to their private conversations without going through the proper channels (the courts) to seek permission, and having to at least show the court some evidence (not necessarily “proof” but some evidence) that listening in on those people is in the interest of justice and the public good.

Since these “rights” are not only believed by most people to be “natural rights” that belong to everyone, but in our case are also GUARANTEED to us in the US Constitution, it seems to many of us that these things should never have been allowed to be provisions of a less important law, and are therefore “unconstitutional” (and therefore unenforceable).  There is a famous old saying (no, Ben Franklin did NOT say it) that goes roughly, “Those who give up fundamental rights to secure a little temporary security, deserve neither their rights nor can they expect security.”

I hope this has helped you understand this more fully.

Sincerely,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Biofuels and “Legislative Risk”, Bhutto Assassination, Movies and Awards

There are all kinds of risks associated with any kind of economic activity, but the one that seems to have been overlooked in the training I received at the populist brokerage firm Schwab and Company or perhaps just seems to have neglected an appropriate emphasis on it is “legislative risk”; the fickle finger of government politicians and their inability to stand by the policies that created the economic climate in which we are operating.

By the way, when students ask me, “How many sentences have to be in a paragraph?” I often tell them, “I can do it in one, but I’m a professional writer, and you shouldn’t try that until you’ve managed to get better than I am.” (Actually the “required” number of sentences often depends on the grade, the school district and the individual teacher’s requirements as to what constitutes adequate number of sentences to satisfy their definition of “paragraph”, which the Online Etymology Dictionary defines as a section of text with no other specifics as to structure, size or anything else, because it was originally just a margin note “next to the writing” (para=near, graph=writing) to show that there as a “change of sense.”)

It certainly seems this is a propitious time to be writing about “legislative risk”, though, doesn’t it? I mean, the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire state primaries are mere days away, with what many Americans like to think of as the fate of the free world hanging in the balance. I hate to think of it that way, but certainly in some senses they are correct about that too. Certainly with respect to the evolution of American foreign policy toward the Middle East in general and now, toward Pakistan more importantly than ever, balance of the world seems like not too strong a term for it. I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.

For the present, however, the effect of the recent legislation in the US with respect to energy policy is clearly a harbinger of things to come. Not only were the “improvements” to the CAFÉ standards pitiful, but Syntroleum and Tyson’s variations on biodiesel (synthetic diesel, non-ester diesel or whatever you want to call them) were fairly specifically excluded from the “goodies”.

As I see it, and admittedly I have three different optometric prescriptions to cover different focal lengths with respect to actual vision, never mind the fact that I’ve misplaced my “crystal ball”, so my insight and foresight might not be any better than yours, I think we are in for a significant change. I think it is clear that we will have a predominantly liberal Democratic congress after the next general election, and that it doesn’t even look like it matters at this point which Democratic Party candidate is put up against any of the Republicans (save the slimmest of chances that Ron Paul’s libertarianism might buoy him to the top) we will have a Democratic Party President. None of the Republicans are sufficiently anti-war, and specifically anti-Iraq-war, enough to find the majority of Americans backing them come voting time. Unforeseen events may happen, as the recent assassination has shown, but the weak legislation signed by President Bush is not going to get us anywhere near where we need to be in the next 8 or 9 years.

The fact that we have not had politicians with sufficient qualities of statesmanship to make some of the hard decisions, take strong steps, even if they are unpopular, to solve the nation’s and the world’s problems means that the next crop of legislators whom we elect to serve in Washington are going to have to make some of those decisions, quickly, decisively and with the determination to implement those policy changes with effective measures. Those measures must also prevent and avoid stalling and delaying tactics on the part of those in entrenched positions who might have to revise their thinking and their way of doing business in order to survive. Rio Tinto (second largest US Coal producer through its Rio Tinto Energy America division with almost 2 billion short tons in reserves after the recent purchase of an additional $150 million of US Government land in Wyoming, and 3rd largest mining company in the world) and Peabody Energy Corp. (US largest coal producer) may have to clean up their act at both ends. They will have to improve both in mining practices (although Rio Tinto’s safety record is good compared to many), and at the “market” end (selling to electric companies, producing electricity from coal). Companies scarring the land on that scale will have to put it right before they move on to the next hundred billions in profits. We may need better legislation to put an end to slippery practices like selling off “assets” near the end of their life cycle, only to watch the new “owners” go bankrupt and be “unable” to do the proper remedial land reclamation work required under their licenses. But they are also going to have to be enthusiastic partners in carbon dioxide sequestration and reuse or resorbtion by algae or some other source of cellulosic materials that can be blended into the fuel stream of the electric generating facilities which are their main customers and the main source of industrial carbon dioxide in this country (as they are in much of the world).

Perhaps Google’s dipping a toe into the energy research area is no threat to these giants at the moment, but it is unlikely that will remain the case for long, for the influence of the best and the brightest on politics is undeniable. When the power shifts from one party to another, the new broom may not sweep clean, as the old saying goes, but it is likely to knock some of the cobwebs out of the thinking that goes on at the uppermost levels. Inside the government, at some level, you get some of those outstanding people like George Stephanopolous, or Robert Reich, men of real genius who are willing to take time to serve their country. That is not to diminish the other side of the political street either, Dr. Milton Freedman, John Kenneth Galbraith and Alan Greenspan (all were trusted advisors to multiple presidents) were/are some of the cleverest people ever to provide advice to the White House. Ideas change people, and the liberal side of the political spectrum has been under-represented for over a decade in Washington.

And that was the GOOD news!

Are you ready for the bad news? I instantly became fond of the orchestra joke that the oboe is (as double reed instrument) “an ill wind that nobody blows good.” The real expression of course is, “It is an ill wind that blows no one some good.” So, indeed although this is bad news for much of Europe and for European farmers in particular, Germany is going to begin a new tax on biodiesel sold in that country starting tomorrow, January 1st, 2008. Although the tax is minimal, a few cents per gallon, the doom-and-gloomers are saying it is the end of the European biodiesel industry because the tax will gradually but relatively rapidly increase over the next few years to remove any competitive advantage it might otherwise have had with the subsidies it now enjoys. There is the effect of “legislative risk”. When the government policies change, the economics change and those who have invested heavily can be left holding assets that are suddenly worth far less than they were in the previous legislative climate. On the other hand, as I mentioned recently, Argentina is a net exporter of biodiesel, and even though Brazil is ramping up its biodiesel production, Argentina may well be a major beneficiary of the fact that German farmers are already planting less rape seed, in anticipation of declining prices.

On the other hand, and in the opposite direction, while it is hardly a good thing for biodiesel producers in America, soy bean prices reached US$12.48 beating a 1973 record ( and in particular soy bean oil) has hit a 34 year high according to the National Biodiesel Board. But again, by our old “ill wind” adage, that makes it a good time for farmers, and even potentially tax payers since fewer farm subsidy increases would be likely in the short term, one might hope. It surely does seem that the see-saw tips both ways, even if sometimes you have to wait your turn to be on the high side.

There is, somewhat suddenly, a flurry of activity in a company known as Biogold Fuels. Biogold is run by Steve Racoosin, who was introduced to me earlier this year (well, it is almost last year now) by a mutual acquaintance. Since then Mr. Racoosin, who has been actively “talking trash” as he likes to joke, for quite a number of years, has more recently acquired a CFO by the name of Chris Barsness, and relatively recently announced an agreement to partner with Universal Green Corp. As the name of the company readily implies they plan to be in the biofuels business, through a process they call “catalytic thermal conversion” taking trash and turning it into a synthetic fuel (close to biodiesel, though not exactly that). I can hardly state it more concisely, so here, from their recent press release are the basics of the alliance.

“The agreement allows Biogold Fuels to bring the energy and
waste stream contracts to joint projects, as well as its autoclave
technologies, while Green Universal Energy will bring the energy conversion technologies and plant design know how, as well as assist in obtaining the funding for each project the companies design and build.”

I liked Steve, and really enjoyed chatting with him on the phone. I wish him well, and hope that working with Alan Richmond and Moshe Kreinberg from Universal Green Energy on Biogold Fuels’ advisory board will be a highly productive and profitable enterprise for all concerned.

I would like to share with you a paragraph from my correspondent in Pakistan, Mr. Imran Khan. Mr. Khan works in the power industry in Pakistan, and writes for various publications around the world from Morocco to the American Chronicle. He has recently moved his family from a smaller town into the city following the death of his father. Here is part of the note he wrote to me, today, December 31, 2007.

“In 2007, I lost my father, a huge loss which I can never forget in my life. His kindness, his care, his love are with me and though I am under huge family burdens, I hope with the help of God I will be able to continue marching towards success. For my country, it was one of the worst year in the history of Pakistan. Continues suicide bombing and other barbaric acts thought 2007, resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people and in the end a great tragedy hit the country when we lost Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. I may not be her supporter but still I can not believe that has happened and I have no words to express my feelings of great sorrow. I hope that 2008 will bring much needed stability in Pakistan, which is a desire of 160 million people. ”

My reply to Mr. Khan is included below:

Imran Khan,

You do me an honor to be remembered in your thoughts at a time of such great sorrow, not only for you and your country, but for the world.

I may have (and I admit, at least partially out of my own ignorance) been more of a fan of Ms. Bhutto than you were, but her loss is felt by all the world, for we had placed in her a sacred trust to help guide her country and much of the world to a state of greater peace and a resolution to at least some of the violent conflict that afflict us all.

I too have suffered a great loss in my family this year. My sister died last month. Her daughters have arranged a memorial service for January 3rd, but unfortunately I will not be attending. I did attempt to bring both some insight and some mild humour to the proceedings by writing a recollection of our life together. I expect that my “gift” of writing something for the occasion will better serve the intent of recalling her than would my tears if I were present at the ceremony.

I spoke of Ms. Bhutto’s death a moment ago as a matter of sorrow for the world. I assure you, that from my perspective the tragedy of her assassination echoes my reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy. You will recall that I was born in Canada, and that at the time of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination I was just 13 years old and still living in that country. Yet, I cried for days at the great sadness, not only of his loss, but of the inhumanity of such an act. That is the only event in my lifetime that I can equate to the feelings of sadness I want to express at this time. There are tears in my eyes, now, as I write about both our personal tragedies, and those of the wider scale of the world, and while my tears mean little in terms of condolences to you, your country and the world, I hope most sincerely that my words may help you feel the kinship that is a bond between all the people of this planet.

(a personal note was omitted here)

Sincerely, etc.

As you know, I like to end on a positive note. This is not it.

Following the events of this past week, and I haven’t even begun to touch on the violence following the elections in Africa, and I suppose, to some extent the uncertainties of the outcome of the political situation with both sides of the presidential races so much in the air, I think my mood was one of vulnerability as I attended a screening last night of “The Kite Runner”. The tale of Pashtuns and mullahs, Afghanistan and Pakistan, violence and intimidation, fear and courage tugged at my emotions deeply. The story of two boys growing up in Kabul before the Soviet invasion was almost entirely in subtitled dialogue. I am not fond of “reading my movies” but I guess I do still prefer it to badly sync’d dubbing. The movie was very well done. The amateur actors, in some cases, seemed a bit stilted, but overall were quite natural, and certainly the professionals left little to criticize. The photography was very well done, and the directing by Marc Forster precise and well tuned. The emotional effect was devastating. I was stuck early on by a terrible sense of loneliness and helplessness, and it never left. The evolution of the main character is both subtle and perhaps, a little too small a progression, given the magnitude of the challenges he faces (mostly rather badly). The acting of the young man, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, who plays Hassan was incredibly charming, a perfect “street urchin” type. I would say that I recommend the movie highly, but if you are feeling depressed when you enter this world, you may come out positively suicidal.

On to the brighter notes.

I mistakenly (apparently) believed, because of the involvement of Robert Lantos, founder and famous producer from Alliance (now Atlantic-Alliance) that the film Eastern Promises was a Canadian made movie that you can’t tell is a Canadian made movie. That’s about as high of praise as I can give to most movies from Canada. They don’t quite have an artistically unique character, and yet they normally have a technical quality that is readily distinguishable, at least to those of us raised on a diet of occasional “Made-in-Canada” movies. It is unfortunate that the political forces that be in Canada insist on the funding mechanisms from government sources must have their logos appearing in all the advertising as well as in the end credits. Sometimes it just puts me off. Not in this case, however. Director David Cronenberg, master or horror and suspense that he is, just happens to be from Montreal. Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen do good work as the heroes of the movie, although it is tough to tell sometimes who the “good guys” are (which is a good thing, in this case). Armin Mueller-Stahl is suitably menacing as the villain, and even he manages to looks mildly innocent at times. The story is well woven, the surprise twists and turns, including the violence (though bloody) well crafted too. Viggo has already won a couple of “best actor” awards, Cronenberg is nominated, Mueller-Stahl won at least one already too, and 3 Golden Globe nominations (upcoming) certainly speak well of the quality in this one. The production has “many fathers” as the old saying goes, including BBC and various other countries involved in the financing (Canadian Director, Stars and producer tend to make it eligible for Canadian government backed financing too, I believe, though I haven’t checked their ever-changing rules recently).

Lastly, on my list (if you were expecting a maudlin retrospective on all the famous people who died this year, I’m getting too old for that. I know too many of the names, and it would take me most of the rest of the year just to attempt to do justice to the contributions of all those who have left us in the preceding year) another film worth watching.

Rescue Dawn probably never should have been made. That is NOT, however, to say that you should not watch it. Christian Bale and Steve Zahn give riveting performances in a tension filled drama that had me so enthralled that I “forgot” to take a sip from my glass of juice for over an hour while mesmerized watching it. It is often brutal and violent, and almost constantly unpleasant, and yet, it seems to have some of that slow motion automobile crash quality that makes it hard to take your eyes off the screen. I saw this movie last night AFTER having watched The Kite Runner, so it is possible I just wanted to escape the very “real world” that The Kite Runner presented. Oddly enough, though, this was a “true story” from the early days of Vietnam, 1965 bombing the Ho Chi Mihn Trail in Laos that put the leading characters into a series of prison compounds controlled by various factions from Pathet Lao to North Vietnamese. The fact that it was actually told from the point of view of the pilot (Bale’s character) made it a “fictionalized account” that left the guards as cardboard cutouts, only the dwarf they called “Jumbo” had any more than one dimension. The jungle settings didn’t convey the sense of a harsh gritty reality achieved in the dusty Chinese locations that passed for Afghanistan in The Kite Runner. The overall tone was far more “Hollywood” and escapist fare, which was a relief after The Kite Runner. But as I say, it was completely absorbing, and therefore not entirely surprisingly that, thus far, the visitors to the films’ pages on IMDB.com have rated both films at exactly the same, 7.8 out of 10. That rating is certainly not bad considering that Eastern Promises with its tons of award nominations only rated a 7.9 from the regulars on IMDB.com. And to be fair, The Kite Runner has been nominated for Golden Globe and is expected to be seen somewhere in the AMPAS “Oscar” nominations soon, too.

Please note:
This is probably the last of my regular WEEKLY columns for American Chronicle. From now on my contributions here will be occasional, not on any regular schedule. However, I plan to take this WEEKLY column to a “private” site. It usually takes me all day to write this column (sometimes more than one day), and if I am going to be able to keep it up, I am going to have to try to “monetize” it somehow. Check at http://winfotech.com or at http://thesecondmostimportantpage.blogspot.com/ or https://thesecondmostimportantpageontheinternet.wordpress.com/ for more information.

Love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Why are you still paying retail for printer ink or toner?
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