Friday, July 31, 2009

"Quitter" in German

Wikipedia does not help here, for there is no entry for "quitter," but yesterday's post got me thinking about whether there is any word for "quitter" in German. One German website gives a few entries, but Drückeberger is not about giving up mid-stream, but rather about shirking responsibility. My German children have never heard of "Aufgeber," and "Versager" is a general "loser." Maybe "Kneifer" comes close, but I'd say it is rarely used (and only in Duden as a nez-pierce, not with this slang meaning).

Often, when you think you have found a word that exists in one language but not another, you realize that the other language has a sort of opposite meaning. German has some words meaning "not give up" (Durchhaltevermögen, Sitzfleisch, or simply "dran bleiben" / "man darf nicht aufgeben") - just not the pejorative term for the person who quits. Ten-year-old Germans may lack the vocabulary to call each other "quitters" with one word.

Having said that, there are lots of cases where quitting is the right thing to do. Many times in life, we all have to cut our losses and move on. I suppose I never understood all the hububb about quitting - until Palin resigned. Thanks, Sarah, I learned something!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jon Stewart on Palin

After I posted my first image from elsewhere yesterday, I am starting to like this legal grey area, so here is a screenshot of the Daily Show. Somehow, Jon and his team consistently manage to boil everything down into its pithy essence. Here, they have even managed to say what lots of people have been saying in a new way. It's up there with Bild Zeitung's "Wir sind Papst" ;-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A German political scandal

In case this has not been reported in English, Germany's Health Minister flew down to Spain and had her chauffeur drive her Mercedes down after her. She was basically on vacation but managed to set up a few public speeches to make the whole thing look like a business trip. According to a few reports, sending the chauffeur down in the armored car cost 9,300 euros.

All of this became public when the car was stolen and it turned out that the German government does not insure its cars because, apparently, cars are never stolen in Germany, and German politicians never drive to Spain.

Anyway, I am basically writing all of this so that I can break the law myself by posting the image to the left from the website of a European rental car service, which has come up with a rather brilliant advertising scheme: put up the picture of the German Health Minister along with the price of the cheapest car per day (including "theft insurance"). In other words, our German politician could have had a car for 29 euros a day rather than for 9,300 for the whole trip.

I have rented cars from that company before, and I never got anything for less than 80 euros a day, and none of the cars I had were armored, but I'm sure they would cut a special deal for such an important person. Apparently, the German politician did not break any rules; she will simply take the kilometers from this trip off of her overall kilometers, and deduct the amount from her personal income.

Anyway, now the rental car company gets to sue me for using their intellectual property -- or do I get to sue them for using their advertising?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bush said no to Cheney

More evidence is mounting that George W. Bush, though he may have been surrounded by some fairly radical and dangerous people, was not the complete puppet had that many of us took him to be. I recently wrote about his dismay at Rumsfeld's inaction after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and now Time magazine has published a wrap up of how Bush refused Cheney's request to give Libby a pardon.

I especially like Scott Horton's take on the issue:
The new disclosure seems again designed to show Cheney as an extremist whose advice was not always followed by Bush.
I didn't expect to be writing twice in 2009 that George W. Bush served to partly rein in the extremist forces he unleashed (or at least to keep them in check some of the time), but the evidence certainly seems to be mounting that he was not the blind, power-hungry, fundamentalist dope I took him to be.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The scariest thing this year...

... so far -- and it will be hard to top for the rest of the year -- is probably the story about C Street, which Harpers has been covering for a number of years, starting especially with this article from 2003:
If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that's who you guys are.
This is apparently a kind of Christian fundamentalist frat house in the greater Washington DC area that is open to both Democrats and Republicans and operates as a sort of secret society. A lot of high-ranking politicians in the US that have recently been making news for all kinds of mundane sexual affairs are members of this "organization." They apparently do not feel that they are answerable to the general public or their constituents, but only to each other.

If this does not sound like the Jesus who told people not to throw the first stone unless they were free of sin, then you have a different view of who Jesus is. While these guys do apparently read the Bible aloud to each other constantly, Jesus, it turns out, rewards those who do well: "God loves a man who can sink a three-pointer," they put it into basketball terms.

This is full-blown wacko, but if you think I'm exaggerating or taking quotes out of context, you might want to start with this video or this video or this one. Somewhere in there, you can read the following:

"Hitler, Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden, and Lenin are held out as positive examples of how a politician can achieve his goals."
Once you have become successful and profess your faith in Jesus, apparently anything is allowed. Thus, the powerful in America use religion as a way of throwing out morals altogether; we are a long way here from the argument that morals come from religion ("where do you get your morals from if not the Bible?" the religious ask agnostics in the US).

The most frightening thing about this is how widespread it is. The organization is male-only, but apparently Hillary Clinton is as involved as she could be. I haven't read anything yet about Obama being involved, but this certainly gives me an eerie feeling about his basketball skills ;-)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Palin's corrected last speech as governor

(Hat tip to Dorothy): Vanity Fair has published a rather interesting corrected version of Sarah Palin's speech announcing her resignation. I especially liked all of the corrections in green ;-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama as Gorbachev

Obama has been compared to numerous historic figures: Lincoln, FDR, Reagan - hell, even Spock. But when discussing Obama's attempt to reform America, a German TV commenter compared him to someone else this week: Gorbachev. A good guy loved abroad, he may ultimately fail to change the juggernaut he has taken the helm at - and may even take the juggernaut down with him.

Ouch, that smarts...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Renewables supporters twisting the facts

Die Zeit has published an article critical of the nuclear power sector in France, and it contained the following contention:

"Dass beim Abbau und der Aufbereitung des Kernbrennstoffs Uran mehr Kohlendioxid pro Kilowattstunde Strom anfallen kann als etwa in einem modernen Gas-Blockheizkraftwerk, wird in den CO₂-Bilanzen der Atomlobby verschwiegen."

(The nuclear lobby fails to mention that more carbon dioxide can be emitted per kilowatt-hour of nuclear power than in a modern combined cycle gas turbine once the emissions from the mining and processing of uranium are calculated in.)

Because that figure is much different than what I am used to seeing, I contacted the author to see if she would provide me with her source. She responded by saying that the figures are not new, and she has them from Mycle Scheider, among others.

I looked up Schneider online, and immediately found something more in line with what I am used to seeing:
"The Darmstadt-based Öko- Institut, a think tank, has calculated that a typical nuclear plant in Germany, with enriched uranium from a mix of supplier countries, emits 32 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour"
You can view a chart at that website that is in line with what I am used to seeing; clearly, once the provisioning of uranium is calculated in, carbon emissions from nuclear power are a fraction of emissions from cogeneration gas turbines (meaning that the waste heat from the gas turbine is piped to consumers nearby rather than sent up the chimney) and are more in line with emissions from renewables (while wind turbines and solar power also do not entail any direct emissions, the manufacture of such systems does).

I kept looking, and then discovered where the figures come from:
"the report concludes that unit CO2 emissions from nuclear power plants are approximately the same as those from natural gas cogeneration systems... The comparison, however, is made between a natural gas cogeneration system and a system which supplies electricity through nuclear generation and heat by oil."
In other words, since nuclear power generally does not provide heat (though it certainly does in France, where electric heating systems in many homes switch on at night to create demand so that nuclear power plants can keep running at high capacity), Schneider then added in the emissions from oil heating.

This is quite a pernicious argument, and proponents of renewables must be careful not to use it lest it be turned against them. After all, like nuclear, wind and photovoltaics also mainly produce electricity, not heat, so anyone could then make the same calculation and discover that renewables have the same emissions as a modern cogen gas turbine.

I reported this to the author, but she merely responded by saying that "I sent the figures by Schneider, and he approved the wording before publication" -- as though nonsense became legitimate if you get the source's approval.

I support renewables, but I don't support nonsense. If we want to have renewables, we have to have good reasons, and we cannot twist the facts to serve our ideology.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Desertec critic: "energy cathedrals"

Die Zeit has published an interview with German historian Dirk van Laak, who does not mince his words about the Desertec project:

Jedenfalls ist bisher nicht zu erkennen, dass ergebnisoffen, mit Zeit und auf gleicher Augenhöhe mit den Afrikanern verhandelt würde.... Solche Großprojekte wollen begeistern und faszinieren, statt nach Legitimation zu suchen. Desertec wird von einem Firmenkonsortium getragen: Das spiegelt auch wider, wer sich heute als Akteur versteht...
("There is no sign of any open-ended negotiations being conducted in good faith and on an equal level with Africans... Such large projects are designed to excite and fascinate, not prove that they are needed. A consortium of firms is behind Desertec, and that itself reflects who sees themselves as decision-makers today...)

And if you, like me, are frustrated every time you read that energy prices are rising because countries like India and China are consuming more energy, then you will enjoy how van Laak speaks of Europe's "Verlogenheit des uneinheitlichen Maßstabs..., dass andere weniger verbrauchen sollten als wir" ("the double standard that others should consume less than we do").

It is a rather nice touch that van Laak calls such large solar projects in the desert "energy cathedrals," because that brings the difference in culture/religion back into the picture.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Coal collapsing in Germany

In case this is not being reported in the English-speaking world: a landslide occurred a few days ago at the site of a disused land fill in eastern Germany. You can see some pictures of it at Die Zeit here.

Interestingly, that paper's coverage of the issue includes a mention of similar events, such as the rising land around the geothermal boreholes in Staufen, Germany, just a quarter of an hour from where I am sitting. I did not, however, know that something similar happened a few weeks ago in Kamen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ah, that America...

Recently, I published a post discussing how different the world of public swimming pools is over here in Germany and in my hometown of New Orleans. It now seems that Philadelphia is not much better:
"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."
The pool denies all charges of racism:
We had originally agreed to invite the camps to use our facility, knowing full well that the children from the camps were from multi-ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that we underestimated the capacity of our facilities and realized that we could not accommodate the number of children from these camps.
Those in charge apparently came to this realization when the kids were literally jumping into the pool for the first time.

Hang in there, Philadelphia. With any luck, you may also one day learn to live with each other.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rolling Stone on Goldman Sachs... and energy

There has been a lot of hullabaloo about Goldman Sachs' recent announcement of its return to profitability, to put it mildly. Now, Rolling Stone has published quite an interesting article that explains the history of the bank's involvement in bubbles in language that its lay readers (like me) can understand:
[Goldman] bundled hundreds of different mortgages into instruments called Collateralized Debt Obligations. Then they sold investors on the idea that, because a bunch of those mortgages would turn out to be OK, there was no reason to worry so much about the shitty ones: The CDO, as a whole, was sound. Thus, junkrated mortgages were turned into AAArated investments.
Though there are also frequent forays into foul-mouthing for frat boys:

[Goldman] fucked the investors who bought their horseshit CDOs by betting against its own crappy product, then it turned around and fucked the taxpayer by making him pay off those same bets.
I don't know much about all that banking stuff, but I do have an opinion about the author's arguments that the recent spike in oil prices is the result of speculations:
In the six months before prices spiked, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world oil supply rose from 85.24 million barrels a day to 85.72 million. Over the same period, world oil demand dropped from 86.82 million barrels a day to 86.07 million.
It seems in both of those cases that demand outstripped supply, which the author ignores. During those six months, the world was obviously working down some stockpile of oil somewhere. Under those circumstances, I would expect oil prices to rise considerably.

Having said that, I do think the author provides some interesting energy information:
By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.... By 2008, at least three quarters of the activity on the commodity exchanges was speculative, according to a congressional staffer who studied the numbers — and that's likely a conservative estimate. By the middle of last summer, despite rising supply and a drop in demand, we were paying $4 a gallon every time we pulled up to the pump.
Of course, all of this specualtion is potentially dangerous, but I would actually argue that higher oil prices do us a favor by allowing us to use this finite resource more efficiently -- we waste things less when they are expensive. This thinking is behind the concept of environmental taxation, which I support. Most proponents of "eco-taxes" would, of course, prefer not to have the mechanism left up to speculators, not least because proper taxation allows price hikes to be planned so that people can prepare, whereas speculation leads to unpredictability. But overall, higher oil prices are a good thing.

Finally, the Rolling Stone article gives us a good taste of the skepticism that Americans have towards carbon trading, which I am not particularly fond of, but which we are apparently going to get in the US soon:
Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, who is intimately involved with the planning of cap-and-trade, started up a company called Generation Investment Management with three former bigwigs from Goldman Sachs Asset Management, David Blood, Mark Ferguson and Peter Harris. Their business? Investing in carbon offsets.
So there you have it: because everything in the US is corrupt, renewables and clean tech must also be. The world sure is a much different place over here in Germany...

Anyway, I actually do like the article overall because of the way it boils the financial scandal down:
Paulson elected to let Lehman Brothers — one of Goldman's last real competitors — collapse without intervention.... The very next day, Paulson greenlighted a massive, $85 billion bailout of AIG, which promptly turned around and repaid $13 billion it owed to Goldman.
I suppose if I knew more about the banking scandal, I might find that to be an oversimplification, but it certainly seems like a poignant way of summing up events given my limited knowledge.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ecological footprint of a Google search

Recently, I expressed my doubt about some of the figures being floated for the power consumed every time you search for something at Google. Now, Die Zeit (the German newspaper which also reported the original estimate I found exaggerated) has revised the figure. It now appears that a 60-watt light bulb would not be able to run for an hour on the same amount of electricity, but rather only for 18 seconds.

Let's now put that into perspective: if you look something up once a minute, that's like consuming around 20 watts all the time. But if you do so once every 20 minutes, it's like consuming one watt all the time. Anything less than one search every 20 minutes around the clock is consuming less electricity than some old cheap toaster or other kitchen appliance probably drains off the power socket all the time.

If you really want to conserve electricity, the Internet is not the place to start as a consumer. You would want to start with all of these standby units and "leaking" home appliances.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I want my HPV!

Alright, this is getting frustrating. It appears that an Italian scooter manufacturer plans to release a hybrid trike next year. According to this report in English, it will only cost around 9,000 dollars and have an electric range of 40 miles; according to this report in German, it will cost some 10,000 euros (closer to 14,000 dollars at current exchange rate) and have a range of 20 kilometers (around 13 miles).

Obviously, a lot of details still have to be cleared up. But what I don't understand is why my beloved Twike has to cost around than 22,000 euros in the most basic version (with a range of "40 - 80 km") if Piaggio can make a hybrid scooter for half that price.

Of course, you might now advise me to simply buy the Italian hybrid scooter, but you'd be missing the point. The Twike has two things that are important for me:
  • you actually sit inside the vehicle, which is crucial if you, like me, live in a part of the world that has bad weather more than half the time
  • it is a human-powered vehicle (HPV), which means you can actually get some exercise while you drive instead of being forced to sit more or less motionless for the entire trip
So if anyone wants to do me a favor, I'll have the top-end Twike HPV with a battery range of 200 kilometers for around 30,000 euros...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The sixth Tesla in Europe

Last week, I saw a Tesla in person in Germany. There are only five of these things in Europe according to the technician, who was also quick to point out that Europeans could consider themselves lucky to be getting the next generation, which will apparently include some improvements. That's another way of saying sorry we did not even really offer the car over here the first time around, but we are used to that in Europe with iPhones and all kinds of other devices.

Anyway, the battery in the US version I saw (the black box that takes up half of the trunk in the picture below) weighs 600 kilos alone. According to the executive of the company that plans to purchase five of them, the car is faster than anything in the straightaway (electric motors reaches maximum torque more or less right away, whereas internal combustion engines generally do not have much power until they reach around 2000 RPM), but because of the weight the car is actually not that great in curves.

Of course, this car is a good demonstration of what is possible with electric vehicles, but it certainly will not help us reduce our energy consumption. The thing is designed as a power hog, not a thrifty means of transportation; there is just barely room in the trunk for a slender suitcase. But it is a nice toy for grown-up little boys, so I am sure we are going to get as many of these vehicles as money can buy, while I still wait on an affordable version of my ultra-thrifty Twike.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why we need to study the humanities

Last month, I wrote about the announcement of the concentrated solar power project planned in the Sahara. I expressed my disbelief that anyone could believe that imports of renewable energy would not constitute the same kind of security vulnerabilities that imports of fossil fuels already do.

After that post, I visited Desertec's website and found the following at the top of the FAQs:

Is this simply another way in which Europe will exploit Africa? What are the benefits for the MENA communities?

  • The current situation is based on exploiting limited resources like gas and oil, but solar energy is practically unlimited and as such, the owners can’t be "exploited".
This answer shows an astonishing ignorance of history. Basically, we have turned over a lot of financial resources to a bunch of engineers, and if they can figure out that the technology will work, then of course there will be no societal problems, right? After all, we didn't come across any social upheaval in any of our engineering classes.

So here is a synopsis from someone who did spend some time looking into what colonialism and the history of oil exploration were. The people who decide whether locals are being exploited are not the European engineers behind the project, nor the politicians representing local people when contracts are negotiated and signed. Rather, these agreements can potentially be called into question at any moment by anyone affected.

Imagine a democratic uprising like the one we are witnessing in Iran (I understand that Iran is not part of the Desertec project; I merely mention it because of the current political protests). If a new government takes power after such a revolution, the new government might want to represent the people better. It might then look at these contracts with European energy firms and realize that there is quite a hefty margin. For instance, Europeans might be importing this electricity for two or three cents less than they can produce it at home. Since these investments are literally stranded in these foreign countries, this new government -- not the one that negotiated and signed the original contracts -- might then decide that there is nothing to stop them from charging a tax that will bring the price of electricity up to the rates that Europeans already pay at home.

At that point, power from the Sahara will cost exactly as much as power from Europe, so the very purpose of the project -- providing cheaper renewable electricity to Europe -- will have been ruined. Europe will then be caught between a rock and a hard place: if we are getting a large chunk of our electricity from the Sahara at that point (say, 15 percent), we will not be able to do without this power. The whole thing will become a way of making these Saharan countries richer, and when non-democratic countries follow the example of the country with the democratic revolution, we will then be funding states that we have serious human rights problems with.

It has all happened before with oil and gas, and it will not be any different with renewables.

In retrospect, another fact seems astounding: this project was all over the news even though nothing has happened at all. A number of major firms have merely announced that they will be conducting some meetings. I suppose you can not only be too big to fail, but also too big to ignore.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Swiss geothermal quakes hit the NY Times

A few days ago, the New York Times reported on the earthquakes that occurred in Basel, Switzerland a few years ago around a geothermal site. A few "minor" earthquakes (between 3 and 3.5 on the Richter scale) and more than 3,000 earthquakes smaller than 3 on the Richter scale occurred when water was pumped into the boreholes. Now, new projects are popping up in California, so the New York Times apparently felt compelled to report on the events in Switzerland.

A number of petty things are wrong in the article, which makes me wonder if the New York Times doesn't have anyone who speaks German or knows basic cultural facts. "Shafer Lane" is Schäferweg, and the English for Münster is "minster," so "Münster Cathedral" is like saying "Church Cathedral." In addition, Basel is not a "city of medieval cathedrals"; a cathedral is the seat of a bishop, and back in the Middle Ages there was only one denomination, so most towns did not have a cathedral, and those that did had only one.

And then there are a few things more central to the topic at issue. For instance, it is not true that the event was "soon forgotten by nearly everyone outside Switzerland." As the article writes later, "Geothermal Explorers’ insurance company ultimately paid more than $8 million in mostly minor damage claims to the owners of thousands of houses in Switzerland and in neighboring Germany and France." The article does not, however, point out that a similar event took place some 30 minutes north of Basel in the German town of Staufen (just south of me). Lots of similar projects are planned. The event in Basel is still quite a hot topic in this part of Germany and neighboring France.

While I basically agree with the skepticism expressed in the New York Times, the article does not cite proponents of geothermal who claim that these minor quakes -- as bad as they are -- relieve stress underground, thereby preventing a major quake which could flatten a city. I don't know enough about this to make a call, but the engineers are certainly taking on a lot of responsibility here.

In closing, it should also be pointed out that oil and gas extraction has been the cause of some major earthquakes and similar disasters, though generally not close to a major city. But that will not appease the residents of this small German town near a coal mine, who suffer from earthquakes as severe than those in Basel.

For those of you who can read German, I reported on the events in Switzerland back when they happened here, here, and here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Germany copies US TV

For some decades now, German television has been attempting to copy some of the best ideas from US television -- with mixed success. Late-night talk shows are perhaps the most obvious example, with Germany's Harald Schmidt being undoubtedly the most popular such talk show host. After starting off with really stupid sexist jokes, Schmidt eventually did a wonderful job of finding a German groove for the originally American format. Over the years, he continued to play with the format he once called "Hate Night Talk" and ended up at one point with a French woman alongside him who did not speak great German and therefore made everybody laugh all the more because she repeatedly did not get the joke -- and then made you laugh even more when she came up with something really witty herself. It was a truly European moment, as was the show he did entirely in French (he does not speak French well at all -- he speaks about as well as I do, but that's a different story...). And if you watch the video and realize that no one is laughing, it's because the audience didn't speak French. He went on for an hour anyway -- kudos!

But today, I am writing about the dismal attempt to copy the Daily Show. Germany now has a heute show, and it is absolutely awful. It could not be anything but awful since, to the extent that it is copying the Daily Show, it has absolutely nothing to talk about.

The Daily Show was a beacon of hope for me after the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004. The show can now be streamed in its entirety online, but in 2005 you could only get 30 minutes a week over here on CNN. Watching the show proved to me that there was still an America out there that had its thinking cap on.

But while Der Spiegel says that the Daily Show "mercilessly make fun of Obama's election campaign," in fact Jon Stewart is revered for his criticism of Bush/Cheney at a time when mainstream news media were not asking hard questions. Now that Obama is in office, he still has quite a bit to talk about, such as the idiocy at Fox news, the videotapes of Cheney that keep popping up, Obama putting people in charge of fixing problems they caused, etc.

The problem for Germany's heute show is that there is little to make fun of over here. In comparison to the US, most German politicians are fairly eloquent people who are generally smarter than the general public. And there is nothing in Germany that comes anywhere close either to MSNBC or Fox News. Everything over here seems trapped back in the days of Walter Cronkite, when you still had faith that news moderators were not card-carrying members of any party -- and would certainly never parrot what politicians say or make their own personalities more important than the message.

On German talk shows, there are practically no interruptions at all. But don't take my word for it -- take a look at this video (if you don't speak German, you will still be able to see that people are listening to what the other person is saying) of quite a heated debate on Maybrit Illner's show. If you can understand German, you will quickly see that the speakers have quite a lot of disdain for each other, but it's still a far cry from the kind of nonsense Jon Stewart famously criticized on Crossfire. (Crossfire was off the air shortly afterwards - kudos, Jon).

Stewart was basically asking the two moderators on Crossfire to help keep US politicians honest instead of conducting shouting matches on television. But German newscasters need no such instructions from German comics. When the CDU came up with a poster with mugshots of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, all of the newscasters on the nightly news here reported the event only as a major embarrassment for the CDU, and the poster was taken out of circulation the next day.

Other German talk shows are just as free of interruptions as the one above. Take a look at videos of Anne Will's show (here's one) or Sabine Christiansen's (example of an "interruption" at 7:30, where one conservative person tells the anti-globalisationist that she is "full of it"). That's as bad as it gets here. No McLaughlin Group on German TV.

There is absolutely no need for a German Daily Show, which is why the heute show is doomed to fail if it does not find some other groove to work in.

But that is perhaps a trivial matter. The more important point here is that this comparison reveals just how abysmal reporting is in the US, and how easy it would be to get up to the German standard. No freak shows here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

ZMF Gala "Yes, we can"

As a follow-up to my recent post on "yes, we can"-related sitings, I now see that Freiburg's local music festival ends on July 12 with a gala concert (including Take 6) entitled "Yes, we can." Based on the information at the website, there seems to be no motivation whatsoever for this appellation.

It only goes to show that people over here are nuts about Obama.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Goodnight, Irena

The world's latest organization, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), got its official seat and director-general in the past week. To the dismay of many of my colleagues, the seat went to the United Arab Emirates; the position of director-general, to Frenchwoman Hélène Pelosse.

I won't go into why the world needs yet another org; that would be another blog post. But I would like to clear the air on a few things.

First, the election of Pelosse was not a "major coup for the French government," nor was it a "further snub" for Germany. Rather, the German government was complicit in the entire affair. Germany did not even nominate anyone as D-G. Instead (my sources on the ground tell me), an agreement was reached behind closed doors: Germany would support Pelosse, and the French would support Bonn as the seat. Tit for tat between Germany and France, the way EU politics has always worked. Most interestingly, Germany did not nominate Hermann Scheer, the founder of Irena. Leading German politicians apparently felt that having HQ in Germany was more important than having a German as D-G.

Unfortunately, the behind-doors dealings got nasty. One person spoke out against the UEA as the seat on the basis of human rights issues -- and received feedback from customers saying, "Shut up, or you'll lose our business." So we know that Irena will be like every other international organization.

Some are concerned that a French D-G will undermine Irena because the French are the world's major promoter of nuclear. Pelosse has also apparently done little to support renewables. Her appointment is thus mainly political.

Pelosse has said she does not intend to bring nuclear into Irena through the "low-carbon" door. Now, she gets her chance to prove it.

And while the UAE, like Pelossi, have little to show for themselves in renewables, how long have many of us waited for the oil-producing Arab world to discover solar and wind, which they have lots of? The UEA has pledged $136 million to Irena. Ok, so they bought the org -- let's see how they use the funds, and let's work to see that they use it well.

So while all of this may seem like utter defeat to many of my colleagues, I urge everyone to keep up the good work. Had Scheer become D-G in Bonn, we might have expected too much and contributed too little. That won't happen now, will it?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Billboards in Berlin

Just a quick note for anyone wondering how popular Obama is over here. He could probably beat any European politician for any office. Were he to run against Merkel or Sarkosy as head of Germany or France, they might as well not even show up.

These pictures were taken with my cell phone on the road, so excuse the poor quality.