Check out Walter’s previous articles in this ongoing series Thursday mornings exploring video games, cultural villains, and American values at PJ Lifestyle. From May 2: “Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness” and last week: What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature. And also see Walter’s A Reason For Faith series, reprinted last week here. In these four articles Walter begins to formalize his task of synthesizing the Judeo-Christian tradition with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Tea Party activism. - DMS
In one of the most vivid dreams I can recall, I witnessed the landing of a plainly alien spaceship. It came lucidly, dancing on the edge of wakefulness, informed by enough of my rousing consciousness that it felt particularly real. I remember the feeling that my feet were glued to the ground, that I couldn’t move if I wanted to, not on account of some external force, but due to an overwhelming sense of awe and anticipation. The one thought dominating my mind: everything is about to change.
Though it was only a dream, I retain the memory as vividly as though it were of an actual experience and believe I will respond similarly if ever confronted by a true interplanetary delegation. Something about that kind of moment, when the veil lifts upon an existential mystery, produces an irresistible thrill. Perhaps that tops the list of reasons why our popular culture remains ever fascinated by the prospect of extraterrestrial life.
Aliens have become such a prolific device in our entertainment that we sometimes take them for granted. Like a modern deus ex machina, aliens can be relied upon to suspend disbelief in an otherwise inconceivable scenario. (How does Superman fly? Simple, he’s an alien!) Extraterrestrials rank alongside Nazis, zombies, and generic terrorists as the most common villains found in video games. Unlike those others, however, aliens may also be allies. Nothing inherent to extraterrestrial life demands it be villainous. Beings from other worlds often act as mirrors for examining the human condition, when not merely lurking among shadow and neon strobe.
It’s probably no coincidence that the advent of ufology, which is an actual word in the dictionary meaning the study of unidentified flying objects, coincides with the initial proliferation of aviation and the early years of the space age. We began to look up into the sky right about the time we realized there was nothing left to find over the horizon. In times past, when the known world was still defined by the flickering edge of torchlight, we imagined unspeakable monsters much closer to home. Spirits, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, fairies, vampires, all were the alien invaders and abductors of their time. As we have come to dismiss them as infeasible and childish, our imagination turns to the stars, where the realm of possibility remains seemingly infinite.
Certainly, we can see how aliens have stepped in to fill the role of menacing ghoul. Ridley Scott’s original Alien was essentially a horror film, a science fiction creature feature. While the execution was masterful, the formula proved well-established and has been revisited ever since.
Government loans, grants from the Department of Energy, and private parties, pooling money in hopes of creating the next “Apple” of autos have flooded the “green vehicle” market with a motley crew of “earth-saving” cars. There was Fisker. There is Tesla — as well as an array of “EV” models added to mass-market brand portfolios… everyone and their cousin is jumping on the wagon to create an electric car. In the midst of this scramble, a historical EV maker has been revived.
It’s almost been two months since the new and improved Detroit Electric was relaunched to the world. Albert Lam, former Group CEO of Lotus Engineering Group and Executive Director of Lotus Cars in England, is the mastermind behind this historic company’s revival. The original “Detroit Electric” (also Anderson Carriage Company) produced electric cars from 1907-1939 but eventually went bankrupt due to the stock market crash of 1929 and its inability to keep up with the battery’s main competitor: the combustion engine.
While the American dream supports Detroit Electric’s pursuit of happiness (and success), I am not 100% sold on what D.E.’s niche will be… what will make them stand out compared to its competition? The start-up EVs tend to be super-cars on a veggie diet… or electric sports cars. Tesla has its sporty Model S and now we have, essentially, an electric Lotus Elise in the Detroit Electric SP.01. Keep in mind, buyers also have another luxury option in the electric BMW ActiveE.
The hybrid super-car competitor for Tesla and Detroit Electric, Fisker, is currently exploring bankruptcy and Tesla just made a profit (after 10 years). Do we really need another electric sports car? It sounds like something isn’t working… and it think it’s the price-tag.
“She’s a show stopper…she’s a jaw dropper…she’s burning hot like fire! She’s my Miss America!”
Tesla is on fire right now! (And I mean that in a good way). If cars had a Miss America pageant, Miss America Electric Vehicle 2013 would definitely be the Tesla Model S. She’s got the personality and the looks. Also, Tesla, the ten-year long shot, made a profit—this is better than the underdog winning the Miss America pageant! Consumer Reports recently gave the Model S a glowing review: “[the Tesla Model S] performed better, or just as well overall, as any other vehicle—of any kind—ever tested by Consumer Reports.” She also received a score of 99/100. Wow. She must have nailed that dance routine. Electric vehicles (EVs) have had some trouble getting out of the gate the past few years—so this review bodes well for the start-up and gives some hope to the EV cause.
The Tesla Model S is still very expensive and does require some more infrastructure planning in order to make it a serious “every-day American driver,” but the sedan is starting to look like the “It girl”–oops, I mean car–of green transportation. So what is different about the Tesla that is making it eclipse other EVs? How did Tesla clinch such a great review and why is she taking the auto world by storm? I’m not an engineer, thus I will not regale you on its potentially superior features that blow its competitors out of the park, but I would like to talk about Tesla’s design.
Ain’t prosperity grand? We have so much to eat in this country that we toss nearly half of it in the trash. At least that’s the finding of a recent study conducted by a prominent environmental organization. From the Los Angeles Times:
Americans are throwing out nearly every other bite of food, wasting up to 40% of the country’s supply each year – a mass of uneaten provisions worth $165 billion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
An average family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20 pounds per person per month, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental advocacy group.
Among the study’s prescriptions is a call for government “to set a target for food-waste reduction” as the European Parliament has. After resolving to reduce food waste, the body stated:
The most important problem in the future will be to tackle increased demand for food, as it will outstrip supply. We can no longer afford to stand idly by while perfectly edible food is being wasted. This is an ethical but also an economic and social problem, with huge implications for the environment.
The obvious alternative to any government “standing idly by” is its taking action. Whenever government takes action, it applies force. That is the NRDC’s ultimate prescription, to force Americans to reduce food waste. This is ironic since government action already plays a substantial role in the amount of food produced and consumed. The Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards explains:
Farm subsidies damage the economy. In most industries, market prices balance supply and demand and encourage efficient production. But Congress short–circuits market mechanisms in agriculture. Farm programs cause overproduction, the overuse of marginal farmland, land price inflation and excess borrowing by farm businesses.
Force is not a morally permissible or practically effective means of guiding productive behavior. Our rejection of slavery is an acknowledgment of that truth. Yet the notion that government ought to act forcefully to prevent pollution and reduce waste remains popular. Why?
The case built by green movement organizations like the NRDC relies on a tightly wound knot of lies. These falsehoods appear in the NRDC’s mission “to safeguard the Earth, its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends,” as well as its “priority issues”:
- Curbing global warming
- Creating the clean energy future
- Reviving the world’s oceans
- Defending endangered wildlife and wild places
- Protecting our health by preventing pollution
- Ensuring safe and sufficient water
- and; Fostering sustainable communities
Underlying this mission and these goals are six green lies which threaten to starve you and your family…
Video: A123 Systems
Just as the flurry of news about the potential fire risk in the Chevy Volt’s battery pack was dying down, Bloomberg reports that the battery manufacturer for another high profile electric vehicle, the Fisker Karma luxury extended range hybrid, has revealed what it called a “potential safety issue” in the cooling system of the batteries that it makes for the car, currently assembled in Finland using a $529 million loan from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
A123 Systems, a leading producer of Lithium-Ion batteries that supplies Daimler and General Motors in addition to Fisker, said that hose clamps connecting parts of the Karma battery pack’s internal cooling system were not aligned properly, creating a the potential for leakage of the coolant, which might cause overheating and also possibly short circuit the batteries, causing a fire.
Because current Li-Ion batteries are flammable, battery temperature control and cooling is a critical process. Concerns over EV fire safety were raised when a crash-tested Volt later caught fire in a NHTSA facility. Short circuits caused by leaking battery coolant is suspected to be the cause. While GM uses a different battery supplier, LG Chem, for the Volt, A123 will be the battery vendor for the EV version of the Chevy Spark subcompact, to go on sale in 2013.
The news was made public in a letter from company CEO David Vieau published on A123′s investor-relations website. Since production of the Karma started only recently, less than 50 cars are said to be affected by the problem. Vieau said that a “confirmed repair” for the potential leak has been developed and that A123 has already started to fix the defective batteries. The cost to A123, Vieau said, will be “minimal” and the company’s relationship with Fisker “remains strong”. Last week the Anaheim based luxury hybrid car company announced that it has shipped 225 Karmas to Fisker dealers, with another 1,200 in the pipeline. Currently put together by Valmet in Finland, Fisker says that production of the Karma will eventually be moved to a former GM assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware.
Lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Congress has quietly ended subsidies on ethanol fuel as well as ending a special import tariff on Brazilian ethanol. The ethanol subsidy paid fuel blenders 45 cents per gallon to make E10, gasoline blended with 10% ethanol. The tariff added 54 cents to the cost of importing a gallon of ethanol from Brazil. The ethanol subsidy currently costs US taxpayers about $6 billion per year. Over the past 30 years, the program has cost $45 billion. By taking no action on the subsidy before adjourning for the end of the year, Congress effectively killed the program.
Though ethanol interests, like corn growers and affiliated industries, have considerable political power, a wide variety of critics, cutting across political lines, had coalesced around the issue, encouraging Congress to let the subsidy end. The food processing and livestock industries joined with environmentalists to oppose the subsidy. The policy was encouraging diversion of corn from feedlots and food processors to ethanol production, raising the cost of foodstuffs. Environmentalists, some of whom used to endorse ethanol as a biofuel, now say that it’s “dirty” because its production is carbon intense.
Ethanol trade groups have said that the industry would survive the loss of the subsidy, now that the US ethanol production industry has become established. The industry is still protected by congressional mandates that call for 15 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2015 and 36 billion gallons by 2022.
The ethanol issue involves a number of powerful players, corn growers and affiliated industries on one side and food interests, automakers and engine builders on the other. Then there’s the EPA to consider. The EPA has approved the use of E15, an 85/15 gasoline/ethanol blend, for use in post 2001 cars. Manufacturers say that without modifications, E15 will damage engines. In February, in a bipartisan move the House voted 285-136 to block the EPA from moving ahead with E15 regulations.
While ending the subsidy would seemingly discourage ethanol’s use, the end of the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol might do more to encourage that use than the subsidies did. Brazil is one place where it makes sense to use ethanol as a fuel because of Brazil’s huge sugar industry. The ratio of energy needed to produce it vs the energy obtained in the fuel for ethanol made from corn is barely greater than one, 1.3:1, compared to 2:1 for using sugar beets and 8:1 for sugar cane, the feedstock for Brazil’s ethanol. It costs half as much to make Brazilian cane ethanol as it does to make American corn ethanol. According to one academic study transportation costs to US ports eliminate that competitive advantage, but if that was a certainty, Brazilian sugar cane producers wouldn’t have threatened to start a trade war if the tariff wasn’t ended.
The day’s nanotech news in nanosized bites:
Electric-Car Batteries a No-Go, But Don’t Blame the Nano: A123 Systems, which makes lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, is laying off 125 people at two Detroit-area plants. The company received some pretty decent tax incentives to get the plants online. But, it turns out, electric-car manufacturer Fisker Automotive ran into some production troubles and left a whole bunch of A123 Systems batteries with nowhere to go. What does this have to do with nanotech? As I wrote in a previous Crain’s Detroit Business article, it’s the “nano inside” that gives A123′s li-ion batteries their charge.
Hi-Ho Nanosilver! The EPA has given a conditional four-year go-ahead for nanosilver-based products. Nanotech critics are frightened because they fear it might build up in water and soil despite a lack of evidence that any such buildup is harmful. It’s just kinda a feeling that environmental activists have that it may cause problems. But silver has been used for centuries to fight germs. The only difference now is that nano prefix. More in the New Haven Independent
Capturing Quantum Craziness: An Aussie lab searches for the dividing line between the larger world we know and the Bizzaro world down below. “It’s all about trying to understand where quantum mechanics collapses into classical physics.” More in Cosmos magazine
Happy Birthday, Nature Nanotechnology: The publication turned 5 this year, which means it’s ready for kindergarten. In celebration, they’re giving away treats — five nanotech articles to share with the class for free. Enjoy
NanoPower: Is there anything carbon nanotubes cannot do? Light those little things on fire and the “combustion wave” can become a power source for things like “smart dust,” tiny defibrillators or cancer fighters. More on IEEE Spectrum
Making Nanotubes Biocompatible: Questions over biocompatibility have prevented carbon nanotubes from reaching their potential as drug delivery vehicles or scaffolds for tissue engineering. Now, researchers at Stanford University have figured out a way to make carbon nanotubes safer to use inside the body. Details on Nanotechweb.org
NanoSchooling: New York state prepares its educators to teach the nanotech revolution. Your News Now reports
Eric Drexler is Back: The controversial father of advanced nanotechnology is working on a new project: “exploratory engineering.” It’s a hybrid between physics, engineering and the unpredictable nature of human behavior. Sounds like Drexler is out of the wilderness and leading a new charge. Story and video courtesy of IEEE Spectrum’s Dexter Johnson
Following a fire in a Chevy Volt battery pack that had been damaged in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash test, NHTSA recently performed additional impact tests on Volt battery packs to simulate that incident. Two of the three batteries that were tested experienced what the agency calls “thermal events”, including fire. As a result, NHTSA has now opened a formal investigation into potential risks from “intrusion damage” in Volt batteries. It should be pointed out that the tests involved a very specific sequences of events. The original crash test was a 20 mph side pole impact test, followed by a post impact rollover. Chevy Volts have a sophisticated battery conditioning and temperature management system that involves liquid cooling. In the crash test the Volt battery case was penetrated and a battery coolant line was cut. Three weeks later, while the wrecked Volt was sitting in a storage lot, its battery caught fire, burning the Volt and nearby vehicles. GM now says that their own procedure in the event of a serious collision is to drain the battery’s electrical charge. That information was not shared with NHTSA and the burned Volt’s battery had not been discharged.
Expectations can be a beast in the world of music criticism. Bands can blow up overnight thanks to blog reviews, even when they don’t have an album to promote – the live shows are that good. Then, when the album drops and it isn’t as magnificent as people expected, the band is dropped like a hot potato, while sites like Pitchfork leap to the next flavor of the week they can’t help hyping to death.
The dreaded sophomore slump isn’t so much named for a significant drop in quality or artistic vision, but rather for the frequent sales drop-off when fans don’t like a band’s second album as much as the one they worshiped maybe a year prior. Worse is the fate doled out to bands who initially sound like another popular act; they initially get a benefit from that comparison, only to have fans turn on them when their music either doesn’t follow closely enough in the footsteps of the iconic act, or conversely fails by following too closely with the original.
Such has been the fate of Coldplay, a band which clearly can’t win for losing.
If you were to spend too much time reading what the majority of the criticsphere has to say about Mylo Xyloto, the latest Coldplay album, you’d have to wonder if this one collection of songs happened to be the worst thing to happen to music since Kevin Federline’s rap abortion. “It’s a bit uplifting, but ultimately insipid,” was the write-up they received in the UK’s Observer, while the Guardian referred to the album as “standard issue Coldplay” in the perjorative, as though a band’s fifth album sounding like anything recorded prior to its release is somehow a brutal disservice to all appropriately cultured music fans.
It’s almost been a competition to see who can damn the album with the faintest praise. You see, what’s worse than a sophomore slump is the brutal crash to earth which comes when a band previously christened as a “hipster alternative to pop” decides to continue recording pop music long after the hipsters have decided to throw said band to the dogs.
I, for one, was never a particularly huge fan of Coldplay. “Yellow,” off their debut Parachutes, bored me to tears with its repetition and was doomed by radio overplay. And A Rush of Blood to the Head, the band’s sophomore effort, featured solid songs but frequently seemed to this critic as though the band was trying too hard to come up with songs to match what radio wanted from a follow-up to Parachutes. That, and the band was fighting to avoid becoming overly pretentious. While many have always lumped them in with the 90s brit-pop of Oasis and the rousing stadium rock of U2, with others clamoring for Chris Martin to follow in Thom Yorke’s avant-garde footsteps, the band was merely at the time trying to find its own voice and follow its own path.
Over the last eight or nine years, however, the band has grown on me. They’ve proven to be willing to push the envelope and try experiments with style, while sticking primarily to the world of pop music. While Radiohead saw a chance to go mainstream with the uber-success of OK Computer and then turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction, choosing to avoid pop at all costs, Coldplay wants to be the pop band everyone likes, with hooks that stick in your head and won’t leave, like tiny musical viruses. They finally found songs that led in that direction on Viva La Vida, which had a title signaling pretension even as the music was more mainstream than ever: I dare you to keep the tribal hook that is “Lost!” out of your head once it sneaks in.
NEXT: Why Mylo Xyloto is far from the abomination critics have made it seem.
Note: A previous version of this post was published here on PJMedia.
Victor Wouk with his hybrid car, EPA lab, Ann Arbor, Michigan circa 1973
It’s the kind of story Hollywood normally loves: An independent genius’ invention ends up being suppressed by powerful interests. In Tucker: A Man and His Dream, political agents of the Big 3 automakers maneuver to put Preston Tucker out of business; intermittent windshield wiper inventor Robert Kearns is ripped off by the Ford Motor Company in Flash of Genius; The documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? accused General Motors of suppressing the development of electric vehicles by crushing them.
The truth is that GM and other Detroit automakers have been doing research on EVs for decades and that perhaps a better question would be “Who Killed (or at least delayed) The Hybrid Electric Car?” In the early 1970s, 25 years before Toyota started selling the Prius hybrid car in Japan, Dr. Victor Wouk, an independent American inventor, with encouragement from GM, developed a practical hybrid car that cut down on pollution and saved gasoline, but a conspiracy killed it.
Today’s Hollywood would never make that movie. Too many elements of Wouk’s story run counter to the preferred Hollywood narrative of evil businessmen or faceless corporations despoiling the environment. In this case, car companies aren’t the villains. To the contrary, corporations encouraged and helped Wouk in his research. The villain in this story was a government bureaucrat, working, ironically, at the Environmental Protection Agency, as part of a program designed to improve air quality.
Continue reading the complete post here.