Thursday, July 04, 2002

Carbon tax?

I started to address Doug Turnbull's comment on a previous item here, but it got too large (imagine that). So I'll expand on it here. What inspired me was his mention of a carbon tax.

What usually happens when electricity, gasoline, natural gas or other prices rise? The lefties start bitching about cartels, capitalism, exploitation...the same tired BS we've been hearing for years.

Yet they would have us use less of these commodities to minimize our impact on the environment. How to do this? Allocation via rationing or by prices.

Nobody likes rationing, and lefties don't like it in particular because then the govt gets the blame it so richly deserves. So it'll have to be price increases.

Forget the ideology - what needs to be done to reduce pollution? That's too big a topic - what needs to be done to reduce pollution resulting from electric power consumption, or at least to assure that the consumers bear the costs of the environmental impacts of their consumption? And how do we make sure that each watt consumed has the minimum practical impact on the environment?

Reducing the pollution per watt requires capital investment. Reducing the consumption requires increasing prices. Voila - we let electric power prices rise to reflect these costs, using existing regulatory bodies and local pollution standards. An added bonus is that every dime spent on the increased power costs goes back into the industry for further investment and development.

The left can't stand this - it's too simple, too decentralized, and they have too many groups to pander to. Wearing their pro-labor mask, they support coal miners. In the pro-environment mask, they support higher prices on power. In their coal-black hearts, they support more govt power, higher taxes and lower revenues to "capitalists", while trying to deflect the blame to "capitalists". So how do they reconcile these?

A carbon tax! You can still mine the coal. The prices will rise to reduce consumption, furthering green goals. The govt gets more regulatory power and revenue. And because the charges show up on your utility bills, the "capitalists" look like the bad guys.

Who's left out here? The guys who generate the power and have to make the capital improvements to reduce pollution per unit of power. Well, to quote an old Communist sympathizer, to make an omelet you have to break some eggs.

Oh, the generators will be thrown a bone - maybe they'll be able to apply for some grants to install newer technology. That will give the govt still more power, and the left will bitch about it as "corporate welfare". Congress will turn it into a pork program, channelling available funds to their pet utilities. And just as gasoline taxes do more than just maintain our highways, some of this revenue will be redirected far from the power industry.

So there are your choices for simultaneously reducing power consumption and pollution per unit of consumption. You can set standards for the environment and leave utilities free to meet them, and leave existing regulators to keep resulting price increases in line. Or you can set up still another complex bloated govt bureaucracy to redistribute money from your utility bill to pork projects and unrelated govt expenditures while furthering socialization of the power industry. It sounds like a simple choice to me.

What can the left do to help? They can quit yapping about every energy cost increase that doesn't go straight into the govt's pocket.

It sounds easy. But they won't do it. Because given a choice between environmentalism and bigger govt, they'll sell out the environment every time.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Great moments in Ebay


Wind power - still not profitable

Wind power is a favorite of green groups because it's renewable and nonpolluting. And in the right applications it's very useful. But when alternatives are readily available, usually the cost of wind power is not competitive.

Some countries are associated with wind power initiatives, such as the Netherlands. Denmark has also been particularly active with wind power - several major wind turbine manufacturers are based there and Danes have subsidized wind power for years.

But they still can't make it pay, according to this item from Tech Central Station. Here's my favorite quote from it:
Just as a footnote to all this, I looked up data on Danish electricity at America's Energy Information Administration website. Almost all Danish electricity, other than the small part deriving from wind, comes from that notoriously environmentally green source -- coal. So the Danes produce more carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour than the supposedly environmentally-hostile Americans, where only about 55% of electricity comes from coal.
Actually Americans have been using windpower for a long time too. Old Aermotor wind-driven pumps were a common site on isolated farms going back to the 1880's and are still around now. They are good for tasks like pumping water for livestock in isolated areas where steady energy delivery is not essential.

Green activists love to point out that the "true costs" of coal burning and other "non-renewable" power sources are not recognized on our utility bills, and they say that if those costs were recognized that windpower would be cost-competitive.

OK, suppose they're right. Then let them talk the public into paying more for electricity so these costs can be paid. Why don't the greens do this?

Because they're watermelons - they're green on the outside and red on the inside. They're more interested in big govt programs, more regulation, more taxes, and demonization of opponents than they are in real practical solutions to their alleged concerns. And they can't raise money without raising issues, so the bitching will never stop.

Incidentally, I'm a mechanical engineer. Energy is my business, and I can make money off it no matter how we generate it or distribute it. Wind power in particular offers the prospect of all sorts of design, operations, maintenance and other consulting business. Paying more for power is a small price for me to pay - I'll make it back many times over from the rest of you. So all of my personal financial incentives are in favor of wind power.

Sunday, June 30, 2002

No, Virginia

I'm a Virginia Postrel fan. She was one of the few Day 1 links on this blog, I have subscribed to Reason over her term, and I've had a copy of "The Future And Its Enemies" from the day it landed on the shelves at the local bookstore.

But on stem cell research she's lost it. We can argue about whether embryonic stem cell research ought to be banned or not. What is unmistakably wrong is that Virginia Postrel's opponents are "criminalizing science" or are supporting "prison terms for biologists".

Unless we are to assume that she believes that anything a biologist might want to do for research is legal and ethical. Which puts her in some select company - do I have to mention who?

I expect better than that from her.

UPDATE: Gary Farber attempts to teach me how to parse English. The post I was referring to was "Ban Stalls", currently at the bottom of her site (her permalinks don't work). I responded on GF's site.

Two story outhouses

I found this looking for something else. Honest.


This article is worth reading before continuing.

What inspires this is Glenn Reynolds' post of an email suggesting that WorldCom was a "stupid company", in part by growing by acquiring "lousy companies".

IMO the only "lousy company" they acquired was MCI. Among other things, MCI's billing problems were incredible, and my sources have told me that there have been times when MCI had buildings full of people calculating bills using Excel. Even without such nonsense, billing costs money, and penny-ante customers are losers for the long-distance companies. (Notice the pricing plans - the phone companies are pushing for largely fixed bills guaranteeing them a minimum amount, and most of us can avoid usage-sensitive charges.) What MCI had that WorldCom wanted was lots of Internet backbone.

Former CEO Bernie Ebbers was able to acquire all those companies primarily with stock. So it was imperative that he keep the stock price high by any means necessary. I heard stories of salary cuts without warning so Bernie could make his numbers. And as long as he did make them, the stock stayed high enough to keep the acquisitions coming.

Of course you don't keep stock prices high by losing money, as WorldCom's books would have shown had their costs been accounted for properly. There must have been tremendous pressure on the CFO to do something to keep the price up. We see what he came up with, and there's no possibility of "mistake". Whether Bernie knew what was going on or not remains to be determined.

The CFO for sure violated the law and investors' trust. But isn't it amazing that something that happened in the back room (not operations) would cause such a change in the stock price so far removed from the time of the offense?

WorldCom has substantial hard assets that would be valuable to healthier competitors, and it might be a ripe target for a foreign telecom firm to take over. I haven't looked at annual reports, but it's hard to believe that WorldCom doesn't have more than enough assets to cover recent quarter per share prices.

It will be interesting to watch the current CEO, John Sidgmore, as he deals with his situation. Laying off 17,000 will surely lower costs, and it's a backdoor way of running off unprofitable customers via poor customer service.

They won't be funding any acquisitions with stock for a while, and the bad PR may sink them. But if they can keep their business customers, the ones they wanted all along, we might yet see them recover.

If they don't recover, well, keep an eye on AT&T for the next couple of years...

If you're considering changing your telecom provider, take a look at One Star Communications of Evansville, IN. They are a small privately held firm that offers a number of telecom services, including local service in limited areas (primarily New England). They also offer a referral program - if you refer people to them as noted on their website, they offer a bonus on your next bill based on the billings of the new account.

A beautiful naked blonde jumps up and down

If you don't remember where that phrase comes from, then you need to read the rest of this item.

Some years ago Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas released "The Memory Book". I should know, I have two copies.

Anyway, they offered any number of ways to help remember otherwise incomprehensible things. For instance, consider the number 91852719521639092112. How long would it take you to memorize it, if you needed to? It didn't take me long at all using the Lorayne/Lucas scheme. Using their system, numbers are translated into consonants, and vowels are inserted as needed to convert the string of consonants to a phrase you can remember. So one way to express that number from earlier is also the title of this post.

I was into this for a while in college. I wound up visiting a house in Atlanta and I remember the street number to this day. The person who brought me there was kind of touchy, and I really didn't have to point out that the street number translated into "mule shit". I don't figure on going back, and it's just as well - I don't remember the name of the street.

Someone blogged on some mnemonic devices a while back. I remember a few from engineering school, such as the color code on resistors. Each color stripe represents a digit or an exponent based on its position, and the colors (black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, white) can be remembered by "bad boys rape our young girls, but Violet gives willingly."

Biology wasn't my long suit, but I was able to remember the taxonomical schemes of the day (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) from the lamer but effective "King Philip came over from groovy Spain".

Of course there's the flip side of this, where meaningless numbers stick in your head for some reason. For instance, 1.71E98. That's 69 factorial, the biggest factorial that the old "slide-rule" calculators like my long-retired TI SR-50 could calculate without overflowing. The square root of 69 is easy to remember too - eight something...

This one is arcane: May I have a large container of coffee? There are several others like this, but the trick is that the number of letters in each word is the corresponding digit in pi - 3.1415926.....

This one is timely - to remember the "circle of fifths" in music there is "Father Charles goes down and eats bananas".

Enough. I'll bet you remember at least one of the above.