Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A few thoughts on Ethanol...and other things that are a gas

CH3CH2OH. That is the chemical formula for a form of alcohol that can be created from plants such as corn, sugar cane and others and is also at the heart of a rather ugly debate about alternative fuels. Or put another way, the battle over getting the US off the Middle East Oil Bottle.

Now it would seem a little odd that if the cars that run either at the NASCAR superspeedways [Bristol and Martinsville excluded in that definition, those are more or less very small, oval parking lots] or at Indianapolis for the 500 can be made to run on Ethanol [it is a race formulated version but you get the idea], then why in heck can it not be done for the rest of the country? After all, the raw materials for this are readily available [corn, sugar cane, soybeans], plus the processing plants do exist. If they did not, then firms such as Archer-Daniels Midland [ADM for those of you who watch 'Meet the Press' on NBC] are spinning tall tales about the ability to make this relatively cheap source of fuel.

However there are some devils in the details as far as getting this clean liquid to the pumps. One of them sadly are the oil companies. Yep, the same ones who have said that they were expending funds to research the possibilities of 'alternative fuels' [a buzzword term that came out of the 'Earth Day' events] such as ethanol, solar power, coal gasification, hydrogen based cars [no they would not blow up like The Hindenburg] for some reason still want to stick with their old standby. Black Gold, Texas tea -- oil. As such they have seen to it that those people in Washington, D.C. and other capitals in the western world keep the mind on oil. Them as well as such wonderful, prospering companies as Ford, GM, Daimler-Chrysler who want the public to purchase those esteem building SUV's as well as other suburban assault vehicles because they are good for the country. If they are good for the country and its economy, how could this be wrong.

Well there is one thing to consider. Oil and where it comes from is a finite source of fuel. In straight English, it is going to run out at some point. The fact that there are also new economies that are growing [China, India] which are gobbling up oil at a rate not seen on this planet -- in relative terms since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is not helping matters any if only because all of the planet will be fighing over not just the supply that does exist, but over what comes out from any untapped oil fields [one in Canada has been mentioned in ths space before]. But ethanol, can be grown and seeing that the aforementioned developing countries have land which can be dvoted to the growth of the crops to provide the basics. And if there are some really sharp entreprenurial types in those countries [and there are, after all they went hand in hand with Western investors and venture capitalists to get their balls rolling in the first place].

Before this one ends, the cost of ethanol gas per gallon [or litre for that matter] will over time drop down to the point where it will be competitive with gold old refined regular gas. It would make sense after all because the technology to produce this fuel will only get better over time. That is of course unless the old Standard Oil Trust [Esso, Mobil, Sohio, Amoco and other picture postcards for those of you who remember those good old days of the colorful names for Standard Oil] decides to get in on the action and buys the farms and the processing plants. However that would be unethical and those companies would not act in that fashion, would they?

Friday, April 07, 2006

It is time for 'United 93'

It is time. At the risk of possibly fanning some rather harsh, terse and direct emotional flames -- it is time. The movie about the heroes of United 93 is due for release in the US by the end of this month. It is time. While this has been mentioned before in this blogspot, perhaps it is time for another reminder.

During this week when there were other scandals that had hit different parts of the US [some to be mentioned at another time], the death penalty phase of the trial of the only person to be charged with being a conspirator in 9/11 has started. To hear some of what was said by not just those who lost family and friends on the planes and in the towers, but also the survivors was to bring back a day that many of us thought would not happen to the US again. While Pearl Harbor is similar in that it was an attack on a US territory, as we all know, 9/11 was more sinister. More evil -- with the faces of the bastards who comiitted these acts on tapebefore they boarded the planes. The stares of those who supposedly practice the 'religion of peace'.

Peace my ass. These vermin and others like them took a sick, twisted amount of joy in seeing tapes and hearing about the World Trade Center being destroyed and the Pentagon being hit. Plus these little sh*ts have vowed to take aim at the US again at some point.

Now if this movie does inflame some here in the US, good. If it spurs action to take political correctness out of how we handle the borders, even better. If it will mean that we will be even more vigilant about keeping our skies, oceans and cities safe -- excellent [if some of you are about to say 'this will lead to racial profiling' and 'we will then persecute people because of religion, etc' -- get over it and get over yourself. If it was any other group that had comminted these henious acts on 9/11/01, very few reading this would object to proflling, detention, expulsion or even the death penalty/extermination for them].

Listed below are the names of those who were on United 93:

The Crew

Jason Dahl

LeRoy Homer, Jr.

Lorraine Bay

Sandra Bradshaw

Cee Cee Lyles

Wanda Green

Deborah Anne Jacobs Welsh

The Passengers

Christian Adams

Todd Beamer

Alan Beaven

Mark Bingham

Deora Bodley

Marion Britton

Thomas E. Burnett Jr.

Willam Cashman

Georgine Rose Corrigan

Patricia Cushing

Joseph DeLuca

Patrick "Joe" Driscoll

Edward Porter Felt

Jane Folger

Colleen L. Fraser

Andrew Garcia

Jeremy Glick

Lauren Grandcolas

Donald F. Greene

Linda Gronlund

Richard Guadagno

Toshiya Kuge

Hilda Marcin

Waleska Martinez

Nicole Miller

Louis J. Nacke II

Donald and Jean Peterson

Mark "Mickey" Rothenberg

Christine Snyder

John Talignani

Honor Elizabeth Wainio

Kristin Gould

If you look at page for the film, there are two simple words in the background. Never Forget. Keep that in mind folks.

[The best background piece about the people of Flight 93 can be found at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Others have talked about the passengers -- ranging from Michael Savage to John McLaughlin. However, this is straightforward and brings it home. Never Forget. It is time to remember]

4/16/06 Another voice did stand up with regard to those on 93. Neil Young [yes, as in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young]. The words of Todd Beamer were put on record, not for profit, but as another reminder:

Let's Roll - Neil Young

I know I said I love you
I know you know it's true
I've got to put the phone down
And do what we gotta do
One's standing in the aisleway
Two more at the door
We've got to get inside there
Before they kill some more

Time is running out
Let's roll
Time is running out
Let's roll

No time for indecision
We've got to make a move
I hope that we're forgiven
For what we gotta do
How this all got started
I will never understand
I hope someone can fly this thing
And get us back to land

Time is running out...

No one has the answer
But one thing is true
You've gotta turn on evil
When it's coming after you
You gotta face it down
And when it tries to hide
You gotta go in after it
And never be denied

Time is running out...

Let's roll for freedom
Let's roll for love
Goin' after Satan
On the wings of a dove
Let's roll for justice
Let's roll for truth
Let's not let our children grow up
Fearful in their youth

Right on Todd and Right On, Neil

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some notes about the immigration debate [Caution - Logic Ahead]

Politics in the US does make for some rather ugly displays of behavior and the current debate over illegal and legal immigration is no different. During the past week, viewers of the nightly news programs have been witnesses to scenes of schools being closed, highways being clogged, state capitals being beseiged by persons saying that

- this debate would penalize those who come over the border into the US for a better life.

- is racist because it is targeted towards Mexicans which at the same time paints these new people on these shores as being criminals .

- that such laws will hamper the economy due to the fact that those immigrants work for rates that are much lower than native born Americans -- hence keeping the price of new houses, produce, meats and other items down.

Well let's try to take these by the numbers and bring some logic to the debate.

On the first issue, yes there are many who are willing to risk life and limb to come over the border to start a new or have a better life. Compared with much of Mexico and Central/South America -- this is the case. Salaries here are much higher than what they would get in their native countries, which even includes the maquiadoras [US Factories built just over the US -Mexican border in places like Ciudad Juarez]. With this being the case, what those who are seeking a better life are doing is no different than those waves of immigrants who have come to the us by air, boat and by land for years. In this case though the major part of the argument is that quite a few of these folks are not willing to go through the process to become a citizen like others have done. As in, apply for visas, file the paperwork, take the citizenship test and therefore become full participants in the American system. While President Bush's ideas for a guest worker program may work [more about this in a few]what would be best to take care of this part of the issue would be to ask that all those who want to come and live here make the effort to become citizens, Every other country that has an immigration policy does that [or if they have not -- in this post 9/11 world are on their way to it] and those that have an 'open borders' policy are now paying for that.

How you may ask? If France is any example of this, the payment for this are riots, social unrest [which has this eerie look of something out of the US in the 1960's] and people being sent to prison. Odd because this in a sense dovetails on what we have had because of illegal immigration here, in that there is a sizeable population in the jails and the Federal penal system who are illegals. Compound this with a stream of illegal drugs [See this link to Frontline's program about the Meth Epidemic] and this situation gets even stranger. Before it is said, yes it is a fact that many meth-heads here in the US are anglo and do not look like that they come from south of the border. Yes, most of the arrests as a result are of meth are anglos. However, because of a clampdown on the sale of one of the main ingredients in meth -- there has been streams of this item making their way via drug mules into the US from Mexico [this as well as cocaine and other illicit chemicals]. So there is a need, a real need to police the borders if not just to cut down on those who do not want to follow the process but also to cut down on the drugs that are being moved.

In a sense, the last paragraph dealt with the latter portion of bullet-point 2, however there is also the former of this. Those of you who see the targeting of the Mexican border as being racist, intentions and practice sometimes go into a gray zone of logic. The US does have a porous border with Canada [there are parts where one can cross into the US from Manitoba -- for example and not get noticed in the least] but the Mexican border is being focused on because of the aforementioned problems that have come through as a result. Sadly, if there is a sizeable portion of those who are commiting crimes after crossing the southern border are from Mexico, then there would be a targeting of those who would come in through that means who are of that descent. This is no different than targeting some communities in the inner cities where crime is committed by one or two particular groups and the police focus in on them in an effort to alleviate the situation.

Now about the economic end of this situation and here is where things start to get really fun. Let's be a little blunt here, there is some truth to the statements that have been made that the Mexicans and others who cross over will do the work that some Americans are not willing to do. Such as the picking of produce, working in the meatpacking and poultry houses, doing janitorial work, etc. But this did not happen overnight. Far from it. Over time and this had to do with how the waves of society work, these jobs were done by those who either came into this country or had very little skills otherwise and as such worked their way up by performing same. The list of groups that have done so is long and I will not detail that here, suffice it to say that this was the case. With that being the preface, we now go to the mid part of the last century.

With the advent of the civil rights movement, also came movement and the statements that these jobs tended to not only be demading and trapped some groups in a cycle of being confined to that level of work without there being any chance of advancement. In short folks did not want to be the beasts of burden and that part of this makes sense if only due to societies progressing over time. Add to this some programs that were geared towards social engineering [a term that I despise as well but it is here for illustrative purposes] and some of the work that used to be done is not any more. After all, when there is the governemtn dole, there is very little need to break one's back so to speak. So these jobs were filled by those who came caross the border, who performed those duties and also did those for very low wages. The beauty of those who were willing to work for those wages is that they also helped to keep the prices down.

With the prices down, stores are able to sell those goods rather quickly because folks are able to afford the veggies, meats and other items. As slightly perverse as this may sound, it has been and is a good situation for the businesses involved. Those who are now protesting the labor that comes across should also keep in mind that housing proices also are lower [not to mention improvements to said same housing] due to the cheap labor. Be it the day laborer who gets picked up on the streetcorner at 6am in the morning or the ones who work on a project for a little while and them move on, the overall effect is lower prices. Regretably that is an economic fact.

Granted, there have to be ways to keep the prices down and hire natives of the US first. After all there was a day years ago when there was a certain amount of pride in that line of work [some of us kids looked up to the guys who could stand on a roof...or thought that being out in the sun in the fields was something kind of cool]. This can go hand in hand with some revamps of the programs that led to why the immigrants came in and have and are perfoming thse jobs in the first place.

Which does lead into the following, a slight digression but you will see the connection on this in time. Someone in one of the major US papers had been questioning why the major civil rights groups have not been involved in this debate. The aritcle about this is
here , but the portion that is really telling is this:

In 2002, the NAACP made a slight nod to the immigration fight when it invited Hector Flores, president of League of United Latin American Citizens, to address its convention. The NAACP billed the invite as a "historic first." But it was careful to note that immigration was one of a list of policy initiatives the two groups would work together on. That list included support for affirmative action, expanded hate crimes legislation, voting rights protections and increased health and education funding. There is no indication that the two groups have done much together since to tackle immigration reform.

The caucus and civil-rights leaders tread lightly on the immigrant rights battle for two reasons. They are loath to equate the immigrant-rights movement with the civil-rights battles of the 1960s. They see immigrant rights as a reactive, narrow, single-issue movement whose leaders have not actively reached out to black leaders and groups.

Black leaders also cast a nervous glance over their shoulder at the shrill chorus of anger rising from many African Americans, especially the black poor, of whom a significant number flatly oppose illegal-immigrant rights. But illegal immigration is not the prime reason so many poor young blacks are on the streets, and why some turn to gangs, guns and drug dealing to get ahead. A shrinking economy, sharp state and federal government cuts in and elimination of job and skills training programs, failing public schools, a soaring black prison population and employment discrimination are the prime causes of the crisis in many inner-city black neighborhoods.

Yet, many blacks soft-target illegal immigrants for the crisis and loudly claim that they take jobs from unskilled and marginally skilled blacks. Black fury over immigration has cemented an odd alliance between black anti-immigrant activists and GOP conservatives, fringe anti-illegal immigration groups and racially tinged America-first groups.

While a brilliant anaylsis, it is missing here too that the current generation is missing the work ethic. There is an assumption by some employers [and I have actually heard the following from some as 'off the record comments'] that some in the current black population, in particualr the males....do not want to work. If a population or pool of potential employees is not willing to work, this places the employer in a bad position. Hence the employers are left with no choice but to look elsewhere for those willing to not only work cheap, but also will work hard.

So this brings this post to the following:

1. Let's have a common sense immigration policy. Do not penalize those who want to work but strongly, emphatically encourage that the persons go through the same process to become a citizen as others have.

2.Send those who are the criminals back to their homeland and make sure they never come back here. If they do instead of catch and release, jail them but bill them -- through the state department -- to the government from where they came from. Like let's say the Mexican governemt for the mules or trafickers who come over as well as other felons.

3. For the US workers who do not want to do these jobs, fine. Let there be the incentive of either work or no more of the dole to the mailbox. However, employers and employment agencies should not act as though they are the discriminator of first choice as well as those who want the work should make sure their skills are up to snuff.

Could this be a win-win? Not immediately, it will happen over time. But this can make this issue less contentious. After all no city wants to look like Paris has over the past few weeks. Or for that matter -- have traffio clogged by demonstrations as Los Angeles has.