Mail Call with a Conservationist

A few weeks ago I hiked in to visit Devin in the California Conservation Corp camp in Yosemite. Here is my report for reference.

When Devin went out in April, he basically mothballed his truck, closed his apartment, and as part of that had all his mail forwarded to me.

I scanned his mail for urgent stuff, paid any bills that might need taking care of, and collected all the letters in one file. When I hiked out, I brought all his mail with me. It was a small bundle of maybe 20 letters or so. It probably weighed half a pound, and as a backpacker who counts every ounce, it was substantial.

We sat around the campfire when he opened the various letters, saved those that needed saving, crumpled up those that could be burned and threw them into the fire pit.

I noticed that he kept tearing off the windows of the envelopes, where the addresses show, and stacked them on the log next to him. Then he burned the rest of the envelopes.

After he’d accumulated about 10 of those, I became puzzled and asked why he was doing that.

He said that one of their rules was not to burn plastic, and these envelope windows were plastic. So rather than throwing them into the fire, he separated them from the envelopes, collected them and put them in with all the other plastic trash to be packed out by mule train every Tuesday.

Now mind you, we’re 8,500 feet up in the mountains of Yosemite. The next hiker may be several miles away. The next road is four miles down the mountain. But the conservationist didn’t burn the little envelope windows in order to keep our air clean.

That’s mail call with a conservationist!

Book Review: Insane Mode – by Hamish McKenzie

Tesla has changed the landscape of the automotive industry. Musk, through sheer vision and will, made that happen. Other people certainly could also have done it, but it would have taken longer. The large automotive firms, like Toyota, Daimler-Benz, BMW, GM, Ford, Nissan, all could have started the revolution, but they didn’t. Just like Checker Cabs could have become the Uber, but didn’t. It takes vision and grit to make a revolution happen. Musk had both, the started something unique, he started something big. In the the end, Tesla might not succeed, but the movement will certainly survive and there will be electric vehicles everywhere.

In Insane Mode, McKenzie guides us through that revolution and gives us the back story. He also shares some of his own thoughts and vision on just what an impactful revolution the electrification of automobiles actually brings, and how much it will change the way we live, work and play.

Insane Mode will change the way you think about electric vehicles. If you have an enterprising mind, it will make you ponder where you might apply your own ingenuity in the tremendous opportunities the near future offers.

Unbelievable: I Have Some Praise for Trump (about the F-35)

I didn’t think this would ever happen, but in a year where I have said this many times, I actually have a bit of praise for Trump. Here it is:

I have been an outspoken critic of the F-35 programs and its massive cost overruns over the years. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s largest single program, and is likely to cost the government around $400 billion over the next 22 years.

It has always bothered me that a single F-35 fighter plane costs between $100 and $200 million, and we’re buying 2,443 of them. How can that be? How can nobody in the government stand up to this and deal with it? Obviously, the military industrial lobby is extremely strong, so even Obama in his eight years didn’t stand up to it.

The fact that nobody can even tell us exactly how much each plane costs is alarming. Try to google it! The difference between $100 and $200 million is $100 million. Do you realize how much good $100 million can do for our country? Do you realize how much good $100 million times 2,443 could do? Yet, we have no problem blowing that kind of money on a marginal and highly criticized program that may never even work.

Here is a list of posts I have published over the years to give you some background on the F-35:

February 14, 2016 – The F-35 is an exceptionally bad plane

November 13, 2015 – Trump on the F-35 Boondoggle

May 21, 2015 – Buying the F-35

April 5, 2016 – Government Contracting at its Worst

November 14, 2016 – The Insanity of the Republican Candidates

November 7, 2015 – Giving Foreign Aid to Israel

Trump, with his loose Twitter finger, has been poking and prodding Boeing about the cost of the new Air Force One 747 planes and Lockheed Martin about the F-35 and its incredible cost overruns. The stock of both companies declined immediately after he did that, and sure enough, the CEOs of both companies responded.

Here is a tweet from the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson:


Here is Trump commenting on it later:

It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the cost down,” he said, calling the F-35 program “very, very—uhhh—expensive.

— Donald Trump

Here is an article that provides a bit more background about the exchange between Trump and Hewson. This concession by Lockheed Martin would never have happened without the brash and bold behavior of Donald Trump. I was hoping over the years that Obama would show backbone and stand up to this boondoggle. He didn’t. Bush before him didn’t. No modern politician did. I would venture to say that the word “F-35” never once got mentioned in any presidential debate by any candidate of either party. Lockheed Martin had (and still has) a steady stream of cash coming to it – a redistribution of wealth from the American taxpayer to the shareholders and executives of Lockheed Martin.

We have been blaming Obama for being a redistributor, and we have pointed to the measly food stamps program that helps destitute Americans to get nourishment for their children. But right in front of our eyes, glaringly in the open, we have tolerated a redistribution program on a much grander scale – and nobody has spoken up.

Enter Donald Trump.

I have nothing but disdain for the man Donald Trump. But this is good.

This little tweet of his might have been worth quite a few billions of dollars of American taxpayer wealth that can now go to more noble causes.


Trump is the first politician in my memory that is standing up to the military industrial complex.

And there you have it. I have posted in praise about Trump.

Food Stamps and Children

I came across this post on Facebook today:


I wonder what the person posting this is offering as an alternative? In his post, he is not offering anything. So I must assume that he advocates abolishing the food stamp program altogether.

Does he know:

Close to one in six children (16.2 percent) lived in families that faced difficulties affording adequate food (“food insecure”) in 2010.  Close to 1 million children lived in families that had to substantially change their eating patterns or reduce food intake as a result of inability to afford an adequate diet.  Food insecurity among families with children would be even higher without SNAP benefits.

I have written plenty about food stamps in posts in this blog. Just search for Food Stamps and see. Here is one with statistics on the food stamp budget and the Afghan war.

I have also analyzed the use of food stamps by state and have found the red states, where the politicians who condemn food stamps the most come from, are using food stamps almost at twice the rate as the blue states.

Let’s for a minute ignore all the other myths being spread about food stamps and just focus on children. It’s not the fault of the children that their parents are poor. I myself grew up in a poor family, and I remember how scary it was as I got older and I realized that my mother often didn’t know where the next grocery purchase was coming from. So what are we suggesting we do with those children who are hungry?

Let them starve?

Don’t tell me that comparing feeding animals in National Parks is in any way related to hungry children. Wild animals forage and sustain themselves, or they die. When humans can’t forage and sustain themselves, before they die, they turn to crime. What other choices do they have?

We can turn off the spigot of food stamps and see what happens. It won’t be pretty.

Or we can keep our senses, remember to compare the food stamp budget to other insanities we spend billions of dollars on every month and year, and make an effort to force Wal-Mart and other companies to pay their employees adequately so they don’t have to rely on food stamps.

Then we can focus on education of our children, and raising an educated generation with skills that the economy of the 21st century badly needs and is willing to pay for top dollar.

But if we want our children to stay in school and pay attention, we must make sure that they are adequately nourished. And that is one of the reasons why we have a food stamp program.

If you have other, better suggestions, I am listening.

Welcome to the Priushood – Take Four

[click to enlarge]
A line of Prius taxis, as far as the eye can see, at San Diego airport. Every taxi is a Prius. It lends itself as the perfect car for taxis as well as Uber for the following reasons:

  1. The gas mileage is about 1/2 or 1/3 that of conventional cars. For somebody driving all day long, that will make a huge difference.
  2. The engine is off when the car is standing, at a red light, or in traffic, or in a taxi line. It burns no gas and does not pollute when it stands.
  3. The back seat is roomy and comfortable.
  4. Toyotas just don’t break down. The reliability is phenomenal.

I guess I am part of the Priushood.

There is Contraband at Our House


The shower at our house is “unsatisfying” so I went online and searched for shower heads. Finally I found one, I ordered it, paid for it, and waited.

And waited.

When I contacted the company they said there was some “mixup with my address.”

It turns out, they were not allowed to ship this item to California.

I had to have it shipped to our company office in New York, and then had my colleagues forward it to me in California.

I got it today. It’s a 2.5 gallons per minute shower head. The old “unsatisfying” one is also a 2.5 gallons per minute. But this one is disallowed.

I wonder if the bathroom-appliance-police will knock on my door now when they read this?

Regulation in California is ludicrous. Private citizens can’t buy the shower heads they want. They are trying to force us to conserve water. Yet, for months, I had noticed that at 10:00pm there was this loud splashing going on a couple of houses down the road. After I heard it a few times, I went out with a flashlight and checked. One of the sprinkler heads was broken and it shot a stream of water as thick as my thumb some 30 feet into the air and then down on the road. This fountain went off for months, until I finally broke down and reported it to the association. It’s been fixed, but there is another one in the bushes across the street that I have noticed goes off at about 3:30am on a regular basis.

Nobody seems to care about the enormous waste of water in our automated sprinklers.

But I have to use contraband to take a satisfying shower.

Screwed up, this is.

The Atrocious Waste of Telephone Books

Every year when we get a delivery of telephone books I get angry, since I pick them up at the door and toss them straight into the recycle bin. What a colossal waste! They are printed and then distributed by hand to households. How expensive that must be. But nobody seems to use them anymore. It’s been at least 20 years that I actually opened up a telephone book. But I get them every year.

This year was even worse. The book must have been delivered at our gate on Saturday afternoon. Then it rained overnight. Today, I picked up a soggy phone book and before I tossed it into the recycle bin which is a few feet from our gate, I decided to take a picture:

Telephone Book

I got frustrated about this and checked online. Most of the links are about “recycling” phone books. What the heck? Why recycle. Why not just print stop printing them, and producing them on demand when somebody actually asks for one? Who is paying for this? I am sure we consumers are, somehow.

Here is a site with Opt-Out information. I am registering myself right now.

Will Apple Stop Selling iPhones in Switzerland?

Switzerland just ruled that starting mid 2017, all smartphones have to use the same charger, thus minimizing electronic waste. I can see that this is a good idea. I don’t like to have all these chargers lying around.

Yeah, that’s going to get attention. So Apple will change its design to accommodate Switzerland? My guess is that Apple will not care if 8,236,000 Swiss can buy iPhones. The Swiss market is too small to matter for Apple. The Swiss are just going to have to drive over to Austria, Germany, France or Italy to buy those. My guess is that their nearest Apple store is closer in those other countries than some Apple stores in American states like Idaho and Montana will be from many consumers.

Let’s wait and see what happens.

Hilton Key and the Air Conditioner

If you have traveled in Europe and stayed in a hotel, you might have noticed that they are usually very efficient with their room electricity. When you enter the room, right by the door, there is a slot for the magnetic room key card. You have to insert the card for the power in the room to work. All the outlets and lights are off without this switch. There is no way to bypass it. It’s also not possible to leave the room and leave all the power on.

Recently we stayed at a Hilton hotel in Sacramento. It had such a slot that controlled the power in the room. It was the first time I had seen one of those in the U.S.

However, the slot already had a key card in it. When we asked the attendant, she said that the rooms get hot with the air conditioning off, so they insert the keys so the power works and the air conditioning can be on.

So why did they install the system in the first place, if they were not willing to use it the way it was intended to be used – to save power when the room is not occupied?

That’s why the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but uses 25% of the world’s energy.

Aquafina is Tap Water

AquafinaAccording to this article, Pepsi admitted that Aquafina is tap water.

I try not to buy much bottled water, but in airports, and on road trips, I sometimes can’t avoid it. I like Aquafina because of their more sturdy, durable bottles, which I can refill – from tap water.

Of course, the more durable bottles also use much more oil, and are much more likely to last millennia before breaking down – so they are much worse for the environment. I really should not be buying them.

I have often argued that we should not be buying tap water. This admittance from Pepsi validates my opinion.

Water, anyone?

Bill Koch and the Wind Farm

William Koch
[click for picture credit]
According to an article in the New York Times two years ago, Bill Koch has been fighting in court for more than a decade to keep a wind farm out of his neighborhood in Nantucket. He believes that the farm’s 130 industrial turbines would not only create what he calls “visual pollution” but also increase the cost of electricity for everyone.

Who is Bill Koch?

We all know the “Koch Brothers” from watching MSNBC. They are the “evil industrialists” that are sponsoring the Republican agenda by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the campaign. However, those are Charles and David Koch, the “big” Koch brothers. There are actually two more: William (Bill – featured here) and Frederick.

Frederick is actually the oldest brother. He was practically disowned and denied by his father Fred when he was young and openly gay. After their father died, Charles took over the company and the other three brothers were partners in it. Bill and Frederick didn’t really want to continue and wanted to liquidate their portion and cash out. Both got bought out for over $800 million together, more than half of which went to Bill. Charles and David stayed in and continued with Koch Industries. When they went on to thrive, Bill was upset that his $400 million wasn’t enough, and he sued his brothers. That legal battle waged for twenty years and almost tore the family apart. Charles and David prevailed in the end. Incidentally, Bill was also the Koch brother who won the America’s cup in 1992, defeating the Italian team.

The 2015 Forbes 400 issue just came out last week. Charles and David Koch are now #5 on the list, with $41 billion net worth each. Bill is #307 with $2.2 billion. Not shabby, but he must be kicking himself for taking the $400 million decades ago so he’d have liquidity.

Bill started  the Oxbow Group, a company which traded in coal, gas and oil, and he did well for himself. I find it ironic that he does not want a wind farm in his neighborhood, because they look unsightly to those mansions of billionaires nearby. I wonder what he ever did for those thousands of homes of miners, workers and Wal-Mart employees who live downwind from his coal mines, or drink the water downstream from his oil wells? They don’t have unlimited funds to stall him in court for decades, like he did with the wind farm.

I actually understand how one can fight for his business. You have to do what it takes to make it live on, survive, and thrive. But I do have a hard time understanding how you can argue against a wind farm, a facility that generates clean, renewable energy as a byproduct of nature.

You can sell all the oil in the world. But don’t stop our wind farms as you go about your business.

It’s humanity’s business.

Ruminations on Self-Driving Cars – Take Two


Earlier this year I posted some Ruminations on Self-Driving Cars. Last week, 60 Minutes broadcast a piece about self-driving cars, and the challenges automakers are facing. They focused on what the cars will be able to do, and how many deaths will be prevented.

Tesla just announced that this coming Thursday, October 15, 2015, they will release the much-anticipated software upgrade version 7.0 for the Model S. This upgrade has many self-driving features, and Model S owners will now be able to drive hands free on highways.

I actually believe that once self-driving cars become commonplace, they will have a much more profound impact on our lives than just relieving us from the daily chore of driving or reducing traffic accidents and fatalities. They will fundamentally change the way we live, the way our cities look, and the way we structure our societies.

A similar change took place about 100 years ago when conventional automobiles took over the horse and buggy world. In New York City alone around 1900, we estimate that there were 170,000 horses at any time. The horses were worked in 12-hour shifts. Horses defecate every 2 hours and urinate every 3-4 hours. All this went onto the city streets. There were workers called “dirt carters” that picked up the manure from the streets and hauled it to specially designated “manure blocks.” Imagine the flies and vermin this attracted.

In the winter, the frozen waste was covered by layers of ice and snow, and the streets sometimes rose up by several feet, as this built up. Imagine the stench and mess when the spring thaw came around. When horses died, as all living things do eventually, they were often left on the streets until they were rotted sufficiently so they could be taken away in pieces. While they were there, children played with the carcasses.

Behind every house, there was a stable. When citizens wanted to travel, they had to get the horseman to prepare the team. Horses needed to be cared for and fed daily. Only the richest could afford horses – and therefore transportation.

This changed rapidly when cars come along.

The advent of self-driving cars will once again change the way we live and travel as fundamentally as the change from horses to cars did.

When we can summon our cars using a mobile app on our smart-phones, similar to how we can hail an Uber car right now, we really won’t need parking lots anymore at work places, airports, train stations, shopping malls or restaurants downtown. We will simply have our cars drop us off at the front door wherever we are going. Then the car will drive away to a parking garage that’s designed just for cars.

Cities will be clean. The streets will no longer be littered with parked cars on both sides. The only cars on city streets will be those that are on their way to drop off or pick up their passengers. They will park in peripheral facilities away from the human activity.

We hail our cars when we need them, and send them away when we don’t have use for them. That, of course, begs the question: Why would anyone still “own” a car? We really don’t spend enough time in our cars to warrant having them sit in our garages all the time, like the horses waited in the stables behind the houses of yesteryear.

Imagine requesting cars of varying luxury and grades. If we just want to go down the street to the mall for a couple of miles, we might get an entry-level car, just for transportation. It would be very cheap. However, if we are planning on a 45 minute drive downtown to the Opera, we might get a luxury model with leather couches, a bar and a high-end sound system. There would be no need to own either. We would just use them when we needed them.

Car ownership, car maintenance, use of energy, expedience of transportation, quality of the ride, quality of the air we breathe, cityscapes, inner-city ambiance and the structure and construction of office buildings, all will change rapidly because cars drive themselves.

We will watch old movies of 2015 and it will seem as quaint as westerns look to us now.

That’s how we will think about the days when we still had to drive our own cars.

Changing the Earth without Changing the Climate?

Here are some examples of where man has changed the face of the globe. It’s called manmade change, or anthropogenic change. There is no doubt that this was done by man.

The picture below shows the Neza Chalco Itza slum with its epic 4 million inhabitants. It is the world’s largest slum and has the highest crime rate in Mexico.

[click for photo credit]
Here is another picture of a Mexico City slum:

Mexico City 1
[click for photo credit]
Here is the Twin Creeks gold mine in Nevada.

“Twincreeksblast” by Geomartin – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons [click to enlarge]
Then finally, a picture of the Chicago O’Hare airport that I took myself a few years ago.

Chicago O'Hare Airport, June 3, 2012
Chicago O’Hare Airport, June 3, 2012 [click to enlarge]
These are visible, tangible examples of anthropogenic change in the Earth.

I know this is anecdotal and not very scientific, but given these visible examples of what humanity has done to the planet, do we really want to believe that we didn’t modify our air just as drastically? Too bad we can’t see the CO2, and what it does to the planet. We’ll just have to wait a hundred years when our grandchildren won’t be able to walk in lower Manhattan or when most of coastal Florida will be under water. Let’s not even talk about New Orleans.

I wonder what our descendants are going to say in 2100, when they watch the 2015 videos of Marco Rubio or Scott Walker saying that they were not willing to jeopardize oil or coal mining jobs or have the price of gas rise, in the face of this hoax?


Koch Industries and Renewable Energies

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a Koch-backed conservative group that drafts bills, many of which are designed to repeal and weaken renewable energy laws and standards state-by-state. Republican politicians, who are funded by the Kochs, push these laws in their respective state legislatures.

— Ring of Fire

The Koch brothers built the world’s largest fortune based on oil, coal and the distribution, transportation, processing and sale of those commodities. In the last 30 years, Koch Industries expanded into many other areas, buying up hundreds of large and small failing companies and turning them around. One of the largest acquisitions was Georgia Pacific, that makes products like paper towels and such.

The Kochs have an uncanny formula for making companies work. Much of their business philosophy is based on libertarian principles, teachings and values. No government. Since the libertarian movement in this country had its peak around 1980 and have never flourished since, the Kochs have backed the Republican Party and its candidates as the closest fit.

The less government, the better. No government would be best. Let the free market take care of things. Supply and demand should be the only guiding principles.

With renewable energies, versus fossil fuels, the supply and demand principles didn’t work so well over the last 40 years. There were many government subsidies for oil, coal and gas, and Koch Industries has benefited from those. It stands to reason that they will try to squash efforts by the government against support of renewable energies.

When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding – that’s a problem.  That’s not the American way.  That’s not progress.  That’s not innovation.  That’s rent-seeking and trying to protect old ways of doing business and standing in the way of the future.

— President Obama

Fortunately, the tide has turned, and there are more and more people in the country who are genuinely interested in renewable energies. There are still forces that try to squash renewables, calling them job-killers, but they are consistently proven wrong. Here are some facts:

  1. No matter what we say about fossil fuels, they are limited. Perhaps we have a few decades’ worth left in the ground, perhaps a few centuries. But they will run out. Not planning for that time would be negligent.
  2. Renewable energies do not leave greenhouse gases. Whether greenhouse gases cause global warming or not, it is still better not to pump CO2 into the atmosphere.
  3. Renewable energies will return energy independence to countries. There will be less reliance on trade and therefore dependence on other countries. OPEC countries will suffer, but now is the time for them to retool, if they have the wisdom.
  4. As renewable energy becomes more used and cheaper, it will drop below the tipping point and it will become a massive local job creator. Preventing or delaying that for today’s profits, as the referenced article suggests, would be obstructionist and unacceptable.

Koch Industries knows how to make money and they are not shy about pushing their agenda. We need to take them very seriously. They are one of the most powerful forces in our government today.

But I do believe the tide has turned. Now how long will it take China to figure this out?