Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peace, y'all

(Traditional sign from the French Quarter in New Orleans)


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Harper's, you poor thing

That didn't take long:

Similarly, writers and editors, as Harper’s Magazine’s Thomas Frank points out, are being driven into penury by Internet wages — in most cases, no wages.... I have been radicalized, both as a publisher and a writer, and have instituted a “protectionist” policy in regard to the Internet and its free-content salesmen.

Does that mean that Harpers is going to take my money in return for access to their website (otherwise known as "paid subscription")? I think not.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bye-bye, New Yorker

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a regular reader of the New Yorker. Until a few weeks ago, practically all of the magazine was available for free online, so I simply read everything online and provided gift subscriptions to friends in the US in return. The US annual subscription price is 40 dollars, whereas the international subscription rate is 120 dollars – and I do not need to hold the thing in my hand. Reading the articles online was fine for me; after all, I sit at my screen all day anyway.

But a few weeks ago, the New Yorker started charging for access to many full articles; only abstracts are online for free. So I signed up for the "digital edition," which costs the same as the US postal subscription, but you do not get anything in the mail. Essentially, it's what I wanted at Harpers, but they don't offer it.

Unfortunately, the digital edition of the New Yorker is a travesty. Check that first screenshot above from a 24-inch screen (click to enlarge) – this is what you see. They have essentially scanned in the print version, so you get a full two-page layout (I cannot find a way to make this thing visible as a single page), and the writing is simply too small to read. There is also no full-screen version; that you get both pages at a time on a part of your screen.

Granted, you can zoom in (see screenshot to the right), but the page is not scrollable; you have to drag the page down, and in doing so you need to be careful not to shift left and right too much lest you lose the beginnings or endings of columns. Need I point out that the three-column format, which may be useful in print versions where you can easily follow a column all the way down the page, is worthless on modern computers, whose screens are almost always much wider than they are long. Also, the text is no longer accessible as such; you are looking at an image – a major drawback for a blogger like me, who enjoys copying and pasting sections.

Of course, I could buy myself an iPad, but each issue there costs $4.99, which essentially means that you pay 250 dollars for an annual subscription – twice as much as for the international edition. And I'm not even sure that that offer is open to me over here in Europe. I own a Kindle, and although the New Yorker is available there, it is not available in Europe. I'm sure that licensing is the problem, but these publishers are shooting themselves in the foot. They complain about us not wanting to pay, but then they make illegal versions attractive by restricting access so much.

In short, this year my annual donation to the New Yorker does not go out as a subscription to anyone, but rather as digital access for myself, but I cannot use it. The New Yorker makes it practically impossible for me to read the magazine. They could have simply provided subscribers with access to an HTML page with the text. I was happy reading everything like that up to now. Hell, they could have made this readable via RSS or sent me the text by e-mail. I wouldn't have minded.

So if the authors of the New Yorker start complaining about how readers are not willing to pay for content, I will probably not even realize that they are complaining because I will no longer be reading the magazine even though I have a paid subscription.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Interesting twist on Wikileaks


judging by my email traffic, not all American officials are all that upset. Some, in fact, are delighted with the whole affair, for reasons ranging from professional pride in their handiwork to the opportunity to air longstanding grievances over possibly wrongheaded public perceptions of foreign events.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mono Lake - not of this world

A tufa tower rock formation in Mono Lake, 2006.Image via WikipediaA few years ago, I managed to visit Mono Lake and I made a pledge to myself that I would get my kids over to it one day.

Last summer, that dream came true. On a trip from Long Beach to San Francisco, through Yosemite, from Mono Lake to Las Vegas (where my boy turned 13) via Death Valley, over to the Grand Canyon, and back to Long Beach via Joshua Tree National Park, I told the kids that they would see at least three places that simply do not seem to be on the earth. One of them is Mono Lake (the other two are Joshua Tree NP and Yosemite, but actually Death Valley should be included; I simply had not been there before).

I told the kids to be on the lookout for places where Capt. Kirk could beam down with Spock, and no changes to the scenery would be necessary for us to believe they landed on a different planet.

Now, there is news that scientists have discovered a bacterium in Mono Lake that basically constitutes a new form of life. As one NASA scientist stated on television, we can go looking for ET now.

It should be kept in mind that Mono Lake was almost depleted to provide water to the city of Los Angeles, but environmentalists stepped in, and the lake is now gradually being refilled.

Imagine the loss had Mono Lake been drained. As of this writing, Wikipedia still contains the following sentence under "phosphorus": "Phosphorus is a key element in all known forms of life." As of today, that is no longer true. All forms of life use of phosphorus, and arsenic has a similar structure but is toxic to every living organism – except the one now discovered.

Phosphorus is used in farming (it is a main ingredient in fertilizer), and supplies of it are limited. Countries like Morocco are main exporters of the material. There is even a theory of "peak phosphorus"– the point where it will not be possible for the earth to have any additional living organisms for a lack of phosphorous (see this). The theory of peak phosphorus is quite mainstream now; see this article from April and Foreign Policy, which points out:

Nearly 90 percent of the world's estimated phosphorus reserves are found in five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan, and the United States. In comparison, the 12 countries that make up the OPEC cartel control only 75 percent of the world's oil reserves.

The discovery of this new bacterium will not allow us to switch to arsenic when we are out of phosphorus, however. But it it is the kind of thing Spock and McCoy would have been fascinated to find, and which TV viewers would have thought too fanciful.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wikileaks - who needs it?

Now that Amazon has announced it will no longer be hosting Wikileaks documents, the first Germans are announcing in Internet forums that they have deleted their Amazon accounts.

I side with George Packer of the New Yorker on this:

If WikiLeaks... were uncovering crimes, or scandals, or systemic abuses, there would be no question about the overwhelming public interest in these latest revelations. But the WikiLeaks dump contains no My Lais, no black sites, no Abu Ghraibs.... Should no government secret remain secret? Is diplomacy possible when official views have all the privacy of social networking? Assange’s stated ambition is to embarrass the U.S. This means that his goals and those of most journalists are not the same.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Faveread: Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.

Banks claim that we need them because they finance our businesses, but this recent report at the New Yorker finds that most of what banks do is not financing businesses:

"In the first nine months of this year, sales and trading accounted for thirty-six per cent of Morgan Stanley’s revenues and a much higher proportion of profits. Traditional investment banking—the business of raising money for companies and advising them on deals—contributed less than fifteen per cent of the firm’s revenue. Goldman Sachs is even more reliant on trading. Between July and September of this year, trading accounted for sixty-three per cent of its revenue, and corporate finance just thirteen per cent."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch

I am a bit frustrated with Apple's policies, but this one looks like it's going to take the cake: Jobs is apparently working with Murdoch to come up with a new digital "newspaper" specifically and exclusively for the iPad.

It's not enough that, for instance, the iPad has very limited communications, such as restricted Bluetooth access, or that the iPhone was (outside of France, where the company's policy was ruled illegal) only sold along with a specific range of data packages from a single mobile provider – and the phone does not officially support tethering.

No, the deal with Murdoch is not just a nuisance, but potentially a threat to democracy. Fox, of course, is the network that practically called the 2000 residential election between Bush and Gore. At a time when the state of Florida was saying that the election was too close to call and that discarded ballots would have to be recounted, the network announced that "Florida goes to Bush," and the other networks then repeated Fox's claim. In effect, Gore was on the defensive from that point on.

A few years later, Fox played the drum roll in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. I wrote about the matter back in 2002 in German, but even if you don't read German you will enjoy the screenshot here, which shows how Fox was claiming that the death of Saddam Hussein would somehow boost stock prices.

If this deal comes about and Apple begins to promote Murdoch's minions, I'm going to reconsider future purchases of the company's products.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

U.S. welcomed some Nazis

It's not news to those of us who studied history a bit, especially US and German history, but the New York Times recently reported that the US actively recruited some high-ranking and Nazi officials after World War II to get their expertise.

It's an interesting read if you are interested in the topic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thanks, Hermann, for everything

Last night, the Hermann Scheer passed away at the age of 66.  It is safe to say that no one has done more for the cause of renewables worldwide than Hermann.

His death comes as a bit of a surprise. Over the past few weeks, I have been in personal contact with him because he personally decided that I was to be the translator of his new book. Ironically, I sat down to begin the translation yesterday.

Until the very end, he remained very active. Only recently, he was in the running for the head position at IRENA, the international renewables agency he was principal in founding.

His input will be sorely missed. No one was able to dissect competition issues like Hermann.  I have therefore made available an interview that my agency translated last summer of him talking about Desertec (PDF).

One of the most fascinating and perhaps least understood aspects of his history was that he actually began his career at Germany's nuclear fusion research Center in Jülich, a phase of his life that is not even mentioned at his English Wikipedia site (though it is in the German entry). I was going to investigate this at a meeting with him this summer, which was postponed until the first week of November -- and it's not going to happen now.

But thanks, Herman, for your input over the decades. With renewables taking off now, there will probably never be another single person who can play such a pivotal role.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I don't miss about home

From the Gambit:
At least 70 of the 315 houses that Habitat for Humanity has built in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina have tested positive for corrosion problems caused by defective Chinese drywall, leaving people who were once grateful to Habitat for their homes feeling betrayed by the organization they had trusted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wow, Sean Wilentz is worried...

... about the Tea Party (at the New Yorker):

It appears that the extreme right wing is on the verge of securing a degree of power over Congress and the Republican Party that is unprecedented in modern American history. For defenders of national cohesion and tempered adversity in our politics, it is an alarming state of affairs. 

A famous historian, he explains why the Republican party has been able to keep its own extremists in check over the past half-century -- and why it is failing to do so now. Excellent read.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Scott Horton agrees

Over at Harper's, Scott Horton has something to add about my last post:

"If the terrorists’ principal object is to paralyze a society with fear, why should the government play right into their hands?"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Home of the scared

US media are apparently full of reports about how Europe is unsafe because of threats of terrorist attacks. There is a good wrap-up at Der Spiegel about how the German media are just not buying it.

I should add that the German public isn't buying it at all either -- we simply aren't scared over here. The comments under this article at Die Zeit are revealing. Everyone is really tired of the "hysteric Americans." I especially like comment 4 entitled "Home of the Brave," which begins, "So much for that..."

Incidentally, a comment on the nightly news just prompted me to write this post. The woman on Channel 1 (ARD) said America apparently needs to feel like it successfully fighting something, but German politicians and security officials are remaining calm, "Und das ist gut so" ("as they should"). Those interested in seeing her comment can view it starting sometime tomorrow here.

I'm not saying that we won't be hit, but rather that being afraid is not going to help prevent terror. The public does not need to be warned about the danger of terror with some ludicrous color scheme like the one used just a few years ago because we are never told how we are to react differently anyway.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A wonderful map/video

It's a bit long to watch at around 15 minutes, but a truly wonderful idea, especially for those of us who became politically aware around or after the end of the Cold War - thanks so much Isao!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Advice from France: "use cutlery"

knives, forks, and spoons made from a biodegra...Image via Wikipedia
On German television, there was just a review of this book, in which a French woman living in the US provides her own tips on why the French are the least obese people in Europe: never eat with your hands, always sit at a table and use cutlery, and don't diet.

Interestingly, Wikipedia presents a picture of European metal ware (along with wooden chopsticks and a porcelain Chinese spoon) for the German Besteck, whereas the only picture given for Cutlery is of "starch-polyester disposable cutlery."

As I have written before, but the use of plastic cutlery in the US is one of my major pet peeves every time I come back.

I wonder if the Frenchwoman also recommends never eating alone.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New website online

Marstal Solar power plants, have a area of 18,...Image via Wikipedia
As I announced back in April, my blog writings pertaining to renewables are moving to a professional website. Originally, I thought it would be going online in June, but you know how big projects are -- at any rate, it went online today and is called Renewables International.

My first series, entitled Peak Demand Parity, focuses on what will happen when peak solar power production reaches peak power demand, which will probably happen first in Germany. While everyone seems to be focusing on "grid parity" (the point where solar power costs the same as power from your wall socket), I argue that peak demand parity will be more of a paradigm changer.

You can find the first five of six installments here.
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mr. Bill told us so

A pre-Katrina public service announcement (the creator of Mr Bill is from NOLA):

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Louisiana wants offshore drilling

Fire on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Ho...Image via Wikipedia
If you want to know what I do not miss about Louisiana, look no further than this article.

More than 10,000 Louisianans gathered at the Lafayette Cajundome July 21 to urge the Obama administration to lift the moratorium on deepwater drilling.

Mark Hertsgaard, who has written two of my favorite books, also recently visited the area and surmises:

It may be shocking to read in The Nation, but a blanket moratorium on new deepwater drilling may not be the best policy to pursue in the wake of the BP disaster. No state in the union is more addicted to oil than Louisiana; the oil and gas industry is responsible for roughly 25 percent of the state's economic activity.

Yes, that is an obstacle, but let us not forget that Louisiana generally lands in the bottom quintile of US states in terms of economic performance -- meaning that we feel like we've done a good job when we come in 40th. The other 75 percent of the economy counts as well, and what do we find there? A bit of tourism, fishing and agriculture, etc. But Louisiana doesn't really lead when it comes to innovations; most of what the state produces is based on exploitation of natural resources, some of which are renewable and some of which aren't.

Someone has got to make the case to these coon-asses (note: that's what we call ourselves) that the oil and gas sector is going to dwindle anyway -- even if we do not ban offshore drilling -- and that we have to come up with other sources of energy and other types of jobs starting now.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Ten Million Roofs USA - a joke, as usual

Over at his blog, my colleague Sebastian Göres tries to figure out the numbers behind the new 10 Million Roofs policy proposal in the US. Coming at it from the angle of system size, he finds that the US would have 70 gigawatts of solar by 2021 instead of the 40 gigawatts talked about in the bill -- but, more importantly, the policy would then cost 122 billion dollars instead of around 250 million, roughly 500 times more than is budgeted.
Since that doesn't work, he takes the opposite approach and tries to see how many systems he can get out of the budget. He comes up with around 20,000 solar roofs instead of 10 million -- which, again, is off by a factor of 500 because he simply reversed the math.

Personally, I think Sebastian should stop taking Americans seriously. The bill he takes apart clearly demonstrates that there is no thinking behind it, and there is nothing new about brainless US energy policy.

But there is one thing I don't want to leave standing:

According to Senator Sanders, the legislation would help finance the installation of up to 40,000 Megawatts [sic] of new solar energy [by 2021]. He says that in the process, the cost of generating solar power would fall and the US would become the world's leading market for electricity generated from the sun.

Somebody needs to tell America how far behind they are. Germany had nearly 10,000 megawatts installed last year, and they will probably have far in excess of 15,000 installed by the end of this year. Growing at a rate of 5,000 megawatts a year, Germany would reach the US target for 2021 by 2015.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yes, the Guardian again...

The Guardian writes:

The world's first molten salt concentrating solar power plant
'Archimede' demonstration solar plant in Sicily becomes the first to use molten salts to store energy overnight

Here's Wikipedia on Solar Two from 1995:

Solar Two used molten salt, a combination of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate, as an energy storage medium instead of oil or water as with Solar One. This helped in energy storage during brief interruptions in sunlight due to clouds. The molten salt also allowed the energy to be stored in large tanks for future use such as night time.Solar Two proved it could run continuously around the clock producing power.

[Update: Carlo, the author, responds. It's the Guardian's fault, not his ;-) I'm not surprised.]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can't buy my own book

A friend just wrote and said he has purchased my book for his Kindle. I took a look at the Kindle website myself and could not even find that my book was available. I told my friend that he had probably bought the wrong book, but he sent me back a different link, and I suddenly saw the problem:

"This title is not available for customers from your location in: Europe"

So we have this digital world where we can send around little bits of light everywhere, but we have copyright restrictions that prevent us from doing so. In this case, I cannot get my own book. (I own a Kindle.)

The iTunes store is also a blast. Because I only have credit cards with German banks, I can only sign into the German store. The German store sells movies that always have the German soundtrack but do not necessarily have the English. I cannot access the store in the US at all (nor the one from the UK, Spain, France, or anywhere else), so I simply cannot buy a legal digital copy of any number of movies with the English soundtrack.

Of course, I can always buy a DVD (and sit through the parts warning me not to steal the DVD I just purchased; if I want to skip over such bits, I have to get a pirated version) and switch languages, but if I want the movie as a file when I am traveling, I'm out of luck.

Essentially, they do not want my money. But they do get pissed off if you pirate something.

And before I forget, Ken Silverstein, one of the main writers over at Harper's, said he would try to help me get a paid (!) subscription, but I haven't heard back from him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another brainless article at the Guardian

The Guardian has published another completely misleading article, this time conflating "solar power" with concentrated solar power. The former is simply any electricity generated from solar energy (photovoltaics and solar thermal), whereas the latter are only systems that use solar heat to boil water to drive a conventional turbine (no photovoltaic cells are needed).

The author himself seems to have no idea what he's talking about when he writes:

Last year, solar energy met 2.8% of demand out a total of 12.9% for all renewables.

The author puts the figure or CSP at just over 400 MW, whereas Spain has around 3,400 MW of photovoltaics installed. Obviously, we are getting more electricity from photovoltaics than from CSP in Spain.

And in case you are thinking that the 50 MW Spanish CSP plant the British author refers to as the largest in the world is a far bigger than anything that could be done with photovoltaics, take a look at this list, which shows that Spain already has 60 MW photovoltaic plant.

A recent press release from Germany is more insightful. This week, Germany was producing up to eight gigawatts of electricity from photovoltaics, compared to 14.5 gigawatts from nuclear plants. Germany has 17 nuclear power plants, but four of them are currently off-line for scheduled and unscheduled repairs; furthermore, they are currently slightly being throttled because the waste heat would otherwise heat up rivers too much.

It is possible that photovoltaic electricity production will peak at levels above nuclear power production as soon as next year in Germany. And if you are focusing on large systems, keep in mind that Germany is mainly doing this with small rooftops.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Credit where credit is due

I have been on a business trip, but before everyone forgets all about the World Cup I wanted to congratulate Spain on a well deserved victory. The Dutch were lucky to still have 11 people on the field at half, and de Jong's foul was probably the worst I have ever seen. Frankly, it wouldn't have been right for the Dutch to win.

It is worth noting that Spain got the fewest number of penalty cards during the World Cup, while simultaneously being fouled the most by its opponents.

When the final goal was scored, I noticed that the Spanish striker pulled off his jersey to send a message to the world and wondered what it meant: Daniel Jarque, always with us. It was a poetic moment. Think about it -- the guy had written this message on his undershirt before the game and played the whole game hoping to be able to show it. And then he scores the winning goal in the 117th minute.

And then I remembered the great Spanish movies I know that deal with sadness in life: Talk to her, Take my eyes, and The Sea Inside to name just three.

Right now, the Spanish do two things better than anyone: football and movies.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dutch national anthem

(Kudos to Jan)

Tonight, the Dutch will once again be singing their national anthem, and it's a quite interesting one. For the full story, see the anthem's Wikipedia entry.

Fascinatingly, the lyrics are in the first person, so the Dutch sing as though they were William of Nassau himself -- and the first two lines are especially interesting for the Germans, who are used to being hated by the Netherlands (what with the bombing of Rotterdam and all):

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
Ben ick van Duytschen bloet

Translation: I, William of Nassau, am of "Duytsch" blood. As Wikipedia explains, the Dutch anthem is arguably the oldest in the world, and Wikipedia gives the text not only in the original Dutch, but in a more modern version. Back when the text was originally written, "Duytsch" would not have referred to any kind of Germany, of which there was none (up to Napoleon's days, the various Germanic states were collectively still referred to as the Holy Roman Empire, though with the attribute "of the German nation"). Indeed, we see today that the word "Dutch" itself is close to the word "deutsch," and the Pennsylvania Dutch in the US are generally from the Low German-speaking world, of which northern Germany is part.

During the heyday of the Hanseatic League, the part of Europe that became the Netherlands was closely connected to what became northern Germany and northern Poland, and people in Amsterdam would have spoken language very close to the dialect in Hamburg, for instance.

While we have come to see Germany as consisting of an eastern and western part, historically (since the Reformation) it consisted of a North and the South -- Protestant and Catholic, but also Low German and High German in terms of dialects. In fact, when Bismarck first united the various German states to create what became the Wilhelmine Empire, he united the North and the South (from the old Hanseatic towns into Prussia and down to the Bavarian world, so to speak) in the Protestant-Catholic conflict know as the Kulturkampf, not the east and west. So when the Dutch sing that they are of "Duytsch" blood, they are really just saying they are Low German (from the "nether lands") -- as opposed to Spanish.

Spain had been messing around in the Netherlands back then, and William tells the Spanish (while also pointing out he has always respected the King of Spain):

Dat van de Spaengiaerts crencken
O Edel Neerlandt soet,
Als ick daer aen ghedencke
Mijn Edel hert dat bloet.

So Spain was exploiting the Netherlands, and it broke William's heart.

The Dutch anthem has an incredible number of stanzas (15!), so the whole story will not be sung before the game tonight, but you can bet your klompen that the Dutch will know they are singing an apology to Spain -- "sorry, Spain, no disrespect intended, but we do choose liberty over subjugation." It's as though the Dutch sang "give me liberty, or give me death" as their national anthem.

The Spanish national anthem is also a bit unique in that it has no lyrics, the lyrics adopted under the Franco regime having fallen out of fashion in the late 1970s, much as the Germans no longer sing the first of three stanzas in their national anthem -- the one beginning "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles". Now, the Germans focus on "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (unity, justice, and freedom -- sort of the German trilogy for France's liberty, equality, and brotherhood). It is interesting to note that Spain has dealt with its fascist past in the same way it dealt with the lyrics to its national anthem; they don't sing their lyrics, and they don't talk about their past -- whereas Germany simply dropped one of its three stanzas, still sings the other two, and has done an exemplary job of dealing with its past.

For those of you thinking that Spain is going to win tonight, keep in mind that the Dutch have not lost once in the past 25 matches. Yet another reason why the Dutch are going to beat Spain 1-0 tonight. And if the Dutch don't win? Als ick daer aen ghedencke, mijn edel hert dat bloet...

Friday, July 9, 2010

The 1990s - when Germany was unbearable

It is nice to have two new teams in the finals. As you can see here, Brazil and Italy have both come in first more often (five and four times, respectively) than Germany, but no team has been in the final four more often than Germany at 12 times (followed by Brazil and Italy with 10 and 8 times). Furthermore, three countries have won 12 of the 18 finals, which is too high of a concentration if you ask me. Sunday night, we get a new winner.

The German performance is all the more impressive if you consider that their first appearance was in 1954. By that time, Brazil and Italy had already been in the final four twice. So actually, Germany is almost always in the final four, whereas Brazil and Italy are only there half the time.

Since 1954, Germany only missed the final four in two consecutive world cups once, in 1994 and 1998. In 1990, Germany won the World Cup for the last time as West Germany, with a separate team still playing for East Germany. Back then, Frank Beckenbauer spoke the infamous words:

Es tut mir leid für den Rest der Welt, aber wir werden in den nächsten Jahren nicht zu besiegen sein.

Translation: I feel sorry for the rest of the world, but we will be unbeatable in the next few years.

Beckenbauer the Unbeatable was himself unbearable in the press conference ("we were fantastic in all seven games"), insisting that things would only get better when the players from East Germany started playing for a united German team:

Tiny Denmark, which had planned to spend the summer at the beach after not even qualifying for the European Cup in 1992, ended up playing when Yugoslavia crumbled (leaving the tournament without a Yugoslavian team), and Denmark beat Beckenbauer's unbea(t/r)able German team to win the cup.

I moved back to Germany in 1992, and it was during this era that I began following football (the World Cup was also played in the US in 1994, which helped keep my attention). It was with great pleasure that I watched those arrogant Germans eat their hats throughout the 90s.

This year, there is none of that arrogance. The general feeling is that we have this really young team with a lot of players who were not even well known within Germany, and while we may not have a Ronaldo, Messi, or Rooney, we do have 11 guys who play as a team. The sentiment has been expressed over and over at the games, as (German) friends of mine looked over to me with a look of pleasant surprise (bordering on shock) and the words: "We are good!" Yes, we are. And because the team is still young, we're going to be good for some time to come. So as the surprise wears off, let's watch the wording: we're good, not unbeatable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Germany is a good loser

Sadly, I have been proven wrong. But the nice thing about Germany's loss to Spain last night is that the public reaction shows everyone here takes it for what it is -- a game. Overall, everyone from fans to TV moderators and the press agree that Spain that simply played better and deserved to win:

Manchmal gewinnt im Fußball der Glücklichere, aber an diesem WM-Abend gewann mit Spanien die bessere Mannschaft.
Or, as the game blogger over at Die Zeit put it:

Über die zwei diskutablen Entscheidungen (Foul an Özil in der ersten Halbzeit? Foul an Schweinsteiger in der zweiten?) diskutiert in Deutschland niemand. Gute Verlierer.

Translation: Nobody in Germany is talking about two questionable calls (a foul on Özil in the first half? And a foul on Schweinsteiger in the second?). Good losers.

So now, Spain and Holland face off in the finals, whereas Germany and Uruguay go toe to toe for third place. Now that Germany can't be number one, I realize I actually have a soft spot for Uruguay and wish them well on Saturday, though I will still be rooting for Germany.

On Sunday, two pretty boring teams will be battling it out, and it will probably be a nail-biter, but I will be rooting for Holland. Not that Spain that doesn't deserve a break these days, with its incredibly high unemployment among 20-year-olds, it's crumbling real estate sector, etc. etc. But I find myself having little sympathy for Spain because, having spent quite a bit of time down there myself in 2007-2008, I could actually see all of this coming. And since then, Spain has only further proven how irresponsible it is by screwing up solar policy in ways no one else had even thought of before, such as by retroactively reducing rates paid for systems already installed.

A lot of us have worked very hard to make feed-in tariffs understood worldwide, Spain, and you do a unique disservice to an otherwise sound policy.

Because of that, and because your soccer team is boring, I hope the equally unexciting Dutch team manages to squeak past you on Sunday 1-0.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

German figures for solar in Q1 published

In the midst of my blogging on soccer (and as we wait for my new energy website to go on line at the beginning of September), I wanted to report the latest figures on solar in Germany, especially because there seems to be a misconception in the English-speaking world that Germany has changed its solar policy like Spain did, with the expectation being that the German market will not grow in 2010. For instance, in May this guy forecast no growth for Germany in 2010 and claimed in his title, "Germany No Longer Critical To PV Market Growth." Also at Renewable Energy World, an editor claimed in May that Germany has used up "the allocated budget" for solar (actually, there is no budget) and added, "even under earlier scenarios for feed-in tariff reduction, the growth of the German market was expected to slow in 2010."

Actually, the German market was only expected to slow down in English. In German, I have seen nothing but expectations of record growth.

Now, the official figures are slowly coming in. Germany's Network Agency reports at SolarServer that 714 MW was installed in the first quarter - far more than the US installed all of last year (estimated at 435 MW). In fact, that performance alone would make Germany a leader (probably in second place behind Italy) in 2010 if nothing else were installed for the rest of the year. As the Network Agency points out, the figure is 10 times greater than for Q1 2009, when a total of 3.8 GW was eventually installed.

The report quotes EuPD as estimating that Germany will install 5.5 GW this year, a figure that is at the bottom of what is seriously being floated. iSuppli believes (PDF) that Germany will install 6.6 GW in 2010. Other estimates go up to 10 GW.

The breakdown of array size is also interesting. According to the report, 55 percent of installed capacity and 91 percent of installed systems were smaller than 50 kilowatts, with the average arrays size being 23.2 kilowatts in Q1 2010, only slightly below the average size of 23.8 kilowatts in 2009. Clearly, small systems are driving the world's solar leader.

Journalism in the age of Wikipedia

Over at the New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg has something interesting to say about interruptions in soccer:

Compared with its established rivals, big-time soccer is ill suited to televisual exploitation. The game’s continuous, almost uninterrupted flow of action denies it a steady supply of intervals for the advertising of beer and the fetching of same from the refrigerator.

I didn't mention that when I recently discussed how video reviews of referee decisions would interrupt the game, but the incompatibility of soccer with the commercial aspect of US sports has occurred to me. Having said that, it should be possible for soccer to be broadcast on publicly funded (PBS, BBC, etc.) or pay-per-view/ subscribed channels, which is basically what happens in Europe, where public television broadcasts some games alongside the premium channels. And of course, Europeans do not insist on having their beer that cold, so getting a beer from the fridge is not really a problem (and is one beer every 45 minutes not enough?).

What I found most interesting about his article, however, was the way Hendrik seems to have cobbled together a bunch of information from Wikipedia. At the beginning, he speaks of a game:

... that the rest of the world calls “football,” except when it’s called (for example) futbal, futball, fútbol, futebol, fotball, fótbolti, fußball, or (as in Finland) jalkapallo, which translates literally as “football.”

As a translator, I can assure you that, just 15 years ago, few people would have been able to line up
a list of equivalent terms like that across nine languages, but look up "football" today in Wikipedia, and you get a list of far more languages in the column to the left.

The rest of the article also contains things that seem too close to Wikipedia for comfort, such as the reference to Jack Kemp's comment that soccer is un-American, which (Hendrik/Wikipedia points out) was a comment apparently made in jest.

Does that overlapping matter? Somehow it bothers me. I suppose I expect a journalist to have deeper knowledge than Wikipedia and to do research that I can't do just surfing around Wikipedia at home. I also cannot be sure that his article is based on Wikipedia as much as it seems. Who knows, maybe he actually remembers Kemp making that statement? And maybe it just doesn't matter anyway in this age of cut & paste.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Germany's coach Joachim Löw

The German coach is currently renegotiating his contract, which normally would have expired on June 30 (I assume it will simply the tacitly extended for the rest of this World Cup). Certainly, with the German team playing the way it is, he can probably dictate his terms at this point (during negotiations in late winter, no compromise could be reached). But there is one thing I would like to see -- he should have some coaching himself on basic etiquette on the sidelines.

Coaches, like a lot of other celebrities, are constantly under video scrutiny, and Löw seems to have some habits he should restrict to his own four walls (incidentally, part of this video was the Moment of Zen on the Daily Show last week, so probably tens of millions of Americans have seen it).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Klose's flip

I certainly thought Argentina was going to be a real opponent for Germany and was honestly concerned, but the Argentinians only played like Argentina for the first 20 minutes of the second half. Otherwise, even the first half (Germany led 1-0 at halftime) was a rout.

Overall, the referees seemed to be focused on not determining the outcome of the game themselves, which is laudable, and they did an excellent job overall, but it is worth pointing out that the yellow card that Thomas Müller got for a handball would not have been given had the referees seen that the ball bounced off of Messi's arm and onto Müller's -- so Messi should have got the card.

A truly unfair game, this soccer.

But it was the most enjoyable match in this year's World Cup from where I am sitting. Klose, known for his post-goal flips, has come under criticism in recent years for not being more effective and reacted by not flipping any longer. It was therefore good to see him let one fly on Saturday (see pics).

The German team has been quite modest overall, and modesty becomes Germany very well (because they basically kick everyone's ass), but because of the fight between the Argentinian and the German team in 2006, some of the German players warned Argentina before the game to be prepared for the worst. The German press at least partly responded by telling the German team to go back to being modest before they get their butts kicked. The comments below this article before and after the game are quite entertaining if you read German.

Did I mention that Germany is going to win the World Cup this year? If they keep playing like themselves (and do not turn into a completely different team like the French and Italians did -- or like the Argentinians did for 70 minutes on Saturday), they will be unstoppable. But don't hold your breath. Germany has played like Germany for five games running.

Friday, July 2, 2010

No "public viewing" for Robert Byrd

Over in Germany, there has been some discussion about the term "public viewing" for events where a large group of people gather to watch the World Cup on large screens. Apparently, "public viewing" can be used in English for a wake if the person who dies is prominent and a lot of people come. Thus, "public viewing" is now understood in Germany as yet another supposed Anglicism that actually doesn't exist in English as such -- like the word "Handy" for "cell phone" or "Shooting Star" (mispronounced with the stress on SHOOTingstar, as though it were one word) to mean "rising star."

But frankly, I didn't think "public viewing" sounded wrong for soccer because I had never heard of a wake being called a public viewing before it became the official term for a public soccer screening over here, and most reports about late Senator Byrd's wake also do not use the term. The Associated Press states that "his body will lie in repose," for instance. But you can find examples of it, such as here:

The public viewing starts at 9 p.m. in the Rotunda of the State Capitol, and continues until 9 a.m. Friday.

Like most other very long-serving Senators (one thinks of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond), Byrd had an extremely racist background; in his case, he was once a member of the KKK. He also is behind the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, in which the Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto protocol as it was being prepared. Interestingly, he also opposed the Iraq war and was a fierce opponent of George W. Bush at a time when few other senators dared speak out.

Overall, we've got a pretty lame Senate.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Retrofitting suburbia

In this interesting video over at TED, Ellen Dunham-Jones discusses how suburbia could gradually be converted into more energy-efficient, healthier dense developments. I don't agree with everything she says. For instance, she complains about gasoline being too expensive, whereas the answer to our problems is constantly increasing the price of finite energy. I am also not convinced that we need all of that densely packed area, but she does also talk about re-greening.

The examples she gives are also not that radical. Simply converting the post office into a restaurant is not that exciting. I would be more interested in seeing shopping malls converted into mixed-use areas -- housing alongside businesses, with public spaces where people can just hang out without having to buy anything.

She nonetheless has some interesting ideas.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Technology in soccer

The first day without soccer in two weeks -- I can go back to reading and cycling now.

In the last four games of the round of 16, one game was decided by penalty kicks. The other three included goals that should not have been given for the team that ultimately won. It is hard to think of an unfairer game than soccer.

FIFA is now apparently responding by talking about which technologies could be used in the next World Cup. But keep in mind that if FIFA has constantly discussed the use of technologies -- and rejected it. "Technology will kill football. The human system is better," explained former FIFA head and current UEFA head Michel Platini recently. In an article at Germany's Tagesspiegel, current FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke is quoted as saying, "The special thing [about soccer] is people, and people make mistakes."

Der Tagespiegel does not even disagree:

Soccer is an unpredictable, man-made drama, and errors are part of the script... One change would lead to another and break the game up into parts. The rhythm would be lost if there were constant interruptions to review situations. Goals are not the only important thing, but also red cards, penalty kicks, and offside calls.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Translation notes: Vorstand

Vorstand is an interesting word. Look it up, and you will almost always read that it is the board of executives, or something to that extent. The Vorstandsvorsitzender is the chairman of that board, more commonly referred to in English as the CEO.

But bizarrely, German tends to use Vorstand for the chairman, not for the entire board. I recently came across this at Wacker, a major German manufacturer of solar silicon. They present their CEO in German under "Vorstand" here and in English under "Executive Board" here. One man does not a board make, however.

A few years back, a new customer sent me a text late on Friday which she had to have back on Sunday. I did her the favor, and when she saw that I had translated Vorstand as "Board Chairman," she gave me a real shelling (she wanted CEO), even calling me incompetent. Needless to say, she didn't thank me for doing the text at no extra charge over the weekend.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Proof of funniest German video

The British Telegraph writes:

Adolf Hitler wrote a begging letter to a Mercedes dealership asking for a loan for a limousine until his royalties for Mein Kampf came through.

We therefore have proof that this video, one of the funniest in German at YouTube, is true:

And since I recently wrote about how Germans do not think courts are fair, I'll translate the last joke for you. "I told the judge that you just can't have someone like me, who has never done anything wrong, never even gotten a parking ticket, has worked and paid taxes all of his life, you just can't have someone like me be cheated in such a lease. And the judge said, oh yes you can."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Germany beats England 4-2

At halftime, the Germans I watched the game with were not happy. "If we don't win this game by a few goals, we'll never hear the end of this," one said. "I don't want to win like this," said another.

After Germany won the game by a few goals, the Germans I was with were pleased to still be in the World Cup, but not convinced that the referee's obvious mistake (good God, how far does a ball have to be behind the line?) did not matter. "Germany was able to play defensively because they had a lead," one German friend said, "and the two goals in the second half were counterattacks based on a strategy we could not have pursued if the game had been tied."

I see now that England's coach agrees:

The game was different after this goal. It was the mistake of the linesman and I think the referee because from the bench I saw the ball go (in).... The goal was very important. We could have played a different style.

The German coach also agrees:

What I saw on the television, this ball was behind the line.

Not exactly a fair game. Interestingly, it does not seem that either coach is calling for video reviews in soccer.

On the streets of Freiburg after the game, hundreds (if not thousands) of people streamed into town from Eschholzpark, where loads of people watched the game outdoors on giant screens. When a streetcar approaches, everyone rushes onto the tracks and sits down and begins singing. One popular song, in commemoration of the French, is:

Allee, Allee
Alle, Allee, Allee
Eine Strasse mit vielen Bäumen
Ja, das ist eine Allee

I don't know how (perhaps it is my New Orleans upbringing), but I actually found two young ladies riding through town on top of a car in first gear who were are interested in flashing the crowd. I'll try to get some photos up over the next few days ;-)

It's fun being in the winning country. Sorry about that crap decision, England.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What Americans don't quite get about soccer: it ain't fair

In 2006, France’s Zidane head-butted an Italian player in the final game, and although everyone in the stadium and hundreds of millions of TV viewers saw it, the French coach nonetheless challenged Zidane’s red card. He thought the referees had not actually seen the foul except on the screens in the stadium, which would have constituted a sort of video review – and that is not allowed.

How French. Americans want to see an ideal world in spectator sports – a world where the winner is always the best team and justice is always served. But in soccer, the best team does not always win – and you can forget about justice. In a way, Americans like to have escapism even in spectator sports, whereas Europeans don't mind blunt reminders of how unfair life is when watching soccer. Resistance to video reviews in soccer is the best example of how Europeans tolerate a degree of unfairness.

In terms of fairness, soccer differs from the main three types of American team sports (football, baseball, and basketball, all of which currently have video reviews) in three main ways. First, the ball is practically always live, and the clock is always ticking. This aspect keeps the tension up in a way we Americans are not used to with all of our timeouts; and, of course, baseball could go on all day. (Europeans often comment that they find our sports boring because so little happens half the time.) The fast pace of the game means that soccer referees would have to stop things completely when they want to review something. More reviews might make soccer fairer, but it would also slow the game down, especially since soccer has no timeouts where video reviews might naturally fit in.

Second, very few points are scored, which means more luck is involved. Team A might have as many as 12 shots on goal and even hit the post once or twice but never get one in. Team B might only get a couple of shots on goal and otherwise be completely dominated during the game, but they could still win 1-0 if they got lucky and one of those shots went in. Such an outcome would not be considered unusual. In contrast, it would be strange if an NBA team shooting 60 percent from the floor were to lose to a team shooting 40 percent (though turnovers in the NFL could produce such an outcome).

Third, and perhaps most importantly, bad calls left standing are simply more common in soccer. American football has just as many people running around on the field as soccer does, but the NFL uses seven referees – compared to three in soccer on the field and a fourth referee off. Two of the referees in soccer are mainly concerned with making sure that no one is offside, leaving the other two to scan the entire field for unfair play and everything else. (There are almost no rules in soccer, whereas US sports practically require a degree in law.) Soccer players know they can get away with head-butts because the refs cannot see everything; there is no equivalent in American football.

Basketball moves quickly and makes do with only three referees on the court -- but that is where the similarities end. To begin with, basketball courts are third the size of soccer fields, and there are half as many players on the field and basketball. Video reviews are not only used in the NBA; there is even a dedicated video referee. And as Wikipedia puts it, NBA “officials must watch an instant replay of a buzzer beater to determine if the shot was released before time expired.” Americans do not want to see NBA games decided because of bad calls by referees.

The situation is the same in the NFL, where the rule is that a coach can demand a video review if his team has a timeout left. In the last Super Bowl, as I remember very well as a New Orleans native, the Saints coach demanded a video review of a two-point conversion – and won the contest. The referee’s changed call affected the Colts' game strategy on the next drive. Had the referees in the last Super Bowl not been forced to award the two points to the Saints, fans of both the Saints and the Colts would have felt gypped if the Colts had then won the game by a point with two additional field goals. Say it loud and say it proud: we are Americans, and we want fairness in our sports.

As a result, we have little patience for players who say that the referee is at fault when they lose. Over at Harper’s, Ken Silverstein has been asking for reader comments to his blog posts about the US soccer team's performance at the World Cup (he is not a fan). As he wrote in an e-mail to me, “One could also argue that, if not for the British goalie’s mistake, the US would have lost game 1.” But there is a difference between losing because of the referee, whose participation should not decide the outcome of the game, and because of an opposing player, whose participation should. To come back to the Super Bowl, Peyton's interception is not in the same category as the referee's bad call on the two-point conversion. Ditto for turnovers, which are bad luck, but not unfair.

Silverstein was especially critical when US “players complained that the game [against Slovenia] was stolen by the refs.” He explained, “My son plays Little League, I have to tell him all the time that his first reaction after a game should not be to blame the umps.”

I would tell my children the same in the US sports, where bad calls simply do not make or break games. (Ever heard of the "hand of God"? Well, it happened again this year.) Silverstein references this article from the Washington Post as an example of how referees get things wrong in US sports as well, but the article actually only mentions one example of a bad call outside of soccer, and it merely robbed a baseball pitcher of a perfect game, not a win.

Now take a look at some examples from soccer. In this year's World Cup alone, everyone agrees that both the US and Switzerland were robbed of a win. The US team was not alone in complaining about it. Here is what the German coach of the Swiss team had to say after the game taken from him:

“At the World Cup we need the best referees available, and not just a referee who blows the whistle on the beach."

No one in the media I read and watch had any problem with that statement. In fact, German weekly Die Zeit (where this discussion at Harper's was originally printed) published an article explaining why referees at the World Cup have to suck (all continents must be represented, so you simply cannot take the best).

Silverstein is off the mark when he praises the Italian team at length for being good losers; he even wrote me in an e-mail that Italian head coach "Lippi did not complain about the controversial plays” in Italy's second game. Here is one thing that Lippi said after that game:

“I just regret that we did not get the points we deserved, but sometimes that's what happens, you get less than you deserve.”

And here is a statement from an interview I could only find in German (again, in an article about how the referees at the World Cup suck):

"Ich bin enttäuscht, aber: keine Panik. Wir haben in zwei Spielen zwei Schüsse aufs Tor bekommen, und beide waren drin. Das war Pech. Wir hätten eigentlich beide Partien gewinnen müssen."

My translation:

I am disappointed, but there's no reason to panic. In two games, we got the ball in the goal twice, but we had bad luck. We should have won both of those games.

My feeling is that Silverstein is surrounded by complaining Americans who feel that their soccer team is being cheated, perhaps because the world bears a grudge against us after all (you know, 9/11 and all that). In fact, the US team is one of a handful (out of 32) that have indeed suffered remarkably from bad calls. Americans simply need to realize that no one is out to get them. Bad calls are just part of soccer.

At the same time, Silverstein needs to realize that what he perceives as complaining is simply everyday post-game soccer banter in Europe – and that more teams are complaining than he realizes. The Germans, for instance, felt slighted in their second game because the Spanish referee handed out so many yellow cards that their only striker had to leave the field in the first half. You bet your Weizenbier the Germans were complaining – not because they didn't think their players had committed fouls, but because similar events in other games had not elicited yellow cards.

You would think, at such times, that Germans would warm up to the idea of video reviews in soccer. But when famed German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who is now moderating the games on German television, was asked by his co-moderator if Germany's bad luck with refs this year is not proof enough that we need video reviews in soccer, he replied, “No, it means that the line judges need to pay more attention.”

Say what? Why would Germans (and Europeans) oppose video reviews in soccer? I cannot know for sure, but it wouldn't be the first time that Germany/Europe has been accused of being opposed to progress. Indeed, Europeans like quaint small farms and farmers markets, not just large agro-business and supermarket chains. Germany is fiercely proud of its Mittelstand (basically, SMEs), while the US likes its global corporations (Germans seem a bit ashamed of theirs). So who needs fancy new technology when you can still improve workmanship, eh Oliver? Forget about cameras – referees need to pay more attention. A quite un-American sentiment if you ask me. But genuinely German.

If we come back to the concept of escapism, we find that we Americans like happy endings in our movies as well. Europeans tend to make more movies where bad things happen to good people, and they like their soccer with a heaping helping of luck and injustice -- just like life.

What's the difference? Americans do not have a greater sense of justice than Europeans. On the contrary, Europeans would view a lot of what goes on in the US as unjust. Think of the death penalty, which many Americans support because they think the US court system is fair, but Europeans have no such illusions about their courts - or, as one German saying goes: "Being in the right and getting your rights are two different things" ["Recht haben und Recht bekommen sind zweierlei"].

Likewise, Europeans definitely watch the World Cup to escape, ever so briefly, from reality -- or, as France's Le Parisien put it when their team embarrassed all self-respecting French people last week: "Thanks guys, you ruined our summer, in which we hoped to forget about the worries of everyday life."

Perhaps that is the main difference, then: Europeans do not need what the Germans disdain as Heile Welt – a Disney World of happy endings and just victories – in their light entertainment. Say it loud and say it proud, Europe: we are adults and face the world as it is. If we Americans are going to enjoy their number one sport, we may just have to put up with more real-world nastiness in our pastimes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy days

Over at Harper's, Ken Silverstein seems to be having a frustrating life. Rather than writing informative articles like his colleague Scott Horton, he merely posts asinine personal attacks that fail to rise above the level of the people he criticizes.

Perhaps he is having a good time with his completely unfounded attacks on the US soccer team, and specifically on Landon Donovan, but I can assure him that, if he could read foreign languages [UPDATE: Ken writes, "I read Portuguese, Spanish and can even make out a bit of French." Touché, Ken, I should have expected as much.] like his colleague Scott Horton, he would realize that everyone who saw the video realizes that two goals have now been taken from the US in three games by bad referee calls -- or, as Die Zeit recently put it:

Die US-Amerikaner trauerten vor dem Spiel dem aus unerfindlichen Gründen nicht gegebenen Siegtreffer gegen Slowenien nach.

Ken, you should ask Scott what that means. He'll probably tell you that it means that everyone who views the matter objectively would agree that the US did not just squeak by in winning its group, but actually won the group by quite a large margin.

And while I am at it, Ken, why don't you change your magazine's stupid subscription policy.

Otherwise, I have already said what I have to say about the World Cup. (Thanks, Özil.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Germany will win World Cup

Ok, I know Germany just lost, but even with ten people on the field, they were the more exciting team in the second half, and they had more opportunities than most teams I have been (bored) watching. Yes, the Serbs had two shots at the post, but not much more. It could have been 0-3. But Germany still dominated.

Let's call it an off game. Get eleven guys on the field, and there is no holding back the German team. That's my prediction after round two.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

White House never had PV

Just a quick note to clear up a misunderstanding -- you may have heard of the new Globama campaign, which aims to put photovoltaics on the White House. Essentially, a US company will donate the panels for free.

The confusion comes in, for instance in this article, when people start putting the word "back" into the campaign (the campaign itself does not talk about putting solar back on the White House). The reference is to the solar thermal panels that were put on the White House while Jimmy Carter was president. They were taken down (allegedly because of a leak) while Ronald Reagan was president and are currently found here.

Solar thermal panels have water running through them, which they heat up. Photovoltaics generally consists of solar cells, which generate electricity. There have never been photovoltaic solar panels on the White House, though an Annex to the White House has had PV on it since 2003 (installed while George W. Bush was in office).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conviction in New Orleans no reason to rejoice

(Hat tip to Scott Horton at Harper's)

For those of you who missed it, in Dec 2008 the Nation published an in-depth report on events in Algiers, a part of New Orleans just across the Mississippi River, in the days after Katrina hit. A warning to the faint-hearted: it's not an easy read. But it is apparently all true -- except, that is, for this one sentence by a staff member at Tulane University:

I can't see a white person being convicted of any kind of crime against an African-American during that period.

As a Horton reports, on Friday a white man was indeed found guilty of killing a black man during those days. To make things worse, the white man was a police officer at the time. (A total of five police officers were indicted.)

I visited Algiers and spoke with some of the people in the Nation article in late December 2005 myself. I was only in New Orleans for around 10 days and only in Algiers for one, so I was not able to do this kind of in-depth reporting. I certainly heard a lot of stories about white vigilantes patrolling the streets, but a number of things that some of the (black and white) locals claimed were simply not true, as I pointed out a few months later in this article (unfortunately only in German).

What I did not do, but the Nation journalist did, is try to speak to white vigilantes in the community, which seems to be fairly easy to do -- they certainly do not seem to have much of a problem speaking to the Nation journalist, and also see this Danish documentary. Had I spoken to these gun-toting white wackos, I probably would have believed more of the stories I had been hearing.

Overall, it seems that a group -- or perhaps a number of separate groups -- of white vigilantes responded to a quite small number of crimes in the wake of Katrina by setting up their own militia-driven state. They then proceeded to harass, threatened to kill, and in some cases murder law-abiding black citizens from the community. It's quite frightening, especially when we think about the implications of all of the gun-toting that still goes on right out in the open -- or, as blogger Tim Wise recently put it:

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters - the black protesters - spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic?

Friday, June 11, 2010

FIT ≠ solar

A highly misleading article entitled "Calm the Feed-in Frenzy" has been published over at Renewable Energy World. The article is so bad it is not really worth commenting on except in one respect: it conflates feed-in tariffs with feed-in tariffs for solar power, which a lot of people do.

You can see it coming near the beginning, when FITs are described as providing "returns from generating renewable energy from buildings." Nothing of the sort is true, not even for solar; rates are paid regardless of whether buildings are involved or not. If you put up a wind turbine on a hill, a biomass unit inside or outside of a factory building, or solar power on a roof or in a field, you get paid for the electricity you generate.

Things get even sloppier later:

Feed-in tariffs were introduced in Germany in 1999, offering index-linked payments of 51 euro cents for every KWh of electricity produced. The popular programme was met with a whirlwind uptake. By 2005, renewables already accounted for 10% of electricity in Germany, 70% of which was supported by feed-in tafiffs (sic).

Actually, no -- Germany has never had index-linked feed-in tariffs (meaning that they are not adjusted for inflation). And the feed-in tariffs that went into effect in 2000 (and were voted on in 1999) were only 51 euro cents for the most expensive type of solar power. Less was paid for large solar arrays in the field, and the solar rates for just about everything else were around 10 cents, which was significantly below the retail rate at the time (meaning that all types of renewable energy aside from photovoltaics had already reached "grid parity").

Then comes this really mind-bending analysis:

The bubble in Germany stemmed from the government doubling the rate at which the feed-in tariff decreases year-on-year (by between 5% to 10% depending on the size of the installation) just over a year ago. Reductions in the cost of raw materials and the ensuing over-supply of solar panels contributed to a 25%–30% reduction in the price of building a solar farm, but with no equivalent reduction in the feed-in tariff, the market suddenly promised huge returns for anyone opening a solar farm before the end of last year.
It seems that, for the first time in history, a bubble was created when a government doubled rate reductions. The author makes no mention of the largest economic crisis since 1929, which drastically affected all markets everywhere. Indeed, other policies to promote renewables were also affected; in the US, tax incentives are a common mechanism, and they suddenly proved completely ineffective because companies had insufficient profits to reinvest and write off. And in fact, Germany has responded by adopting lower rates, which go into effect on July 1 (see my previous post).

And then this self-proclaimed "solar energy analyst" provides this insight:

However, too many countries have implemented feed-in tariffs in a piecemeal way and have adopted levels of subsidy that have been unrealistically high, resulting in huge profits for investors and the creation of conditions in which speculators have rushed to build renewables infrastructure purely for the short-term returns.

Which countries?

The article is terrible in so many ways that I do not have time to go into everything, so let's just focus on the author's final conceit:

But how many markets must collapse before more purposeful regulations are introduced to prevent this?
I don't know, maybe you can tell us first how many markets have collapsed? To my knowledge, only the Spanish solar market collapsed, and the question is whether that is a FIT problem or a Spanish problem or a photovoltaics problem (or some combination).

According to Miguel Mendonca, the great collector of global FIT statistics, some 50 countries have FITs, and I don't hear many reports about problems anywhere. The Spanish wind market did not collapse while its PV market was collapsing, and contrary to some reports the German PV market - far from collapsing - is certain to set a new record this year.

So let's make a crucial distinction from now on: feed-in tariffs are not just for solar power.