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

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