Friday, August 13, 2004

The Siege Of Najaf: Historical Parallels Abound

This is insane. The Americans are repeating the strategic self-defeat of Fallujah, now in Najaf.

I don't expect as tough a resistance from the Mahdi Army in Najaf as there was in Fallujah: a weakly organised bunch, most of whom are not even locals - Najaf is pro-Hakim territory, Sadr chose it as focus of the uprising because of the religious significance and because he wants to take it over - and some believe they don't have to shoot on target because God will guide their bullets. But no Najafi will thank the Americans for ruining the city in the process, and even less sympathy from the mostly pro-Sadr Shi'a in Baghdad, Amara, Nassiriyah and the deep South.

And the whole thing is so bizarre! I mean, they attack people who have nothing to do with Saddam, nor with international terrorism, but now they barely bother to justify the assault, not even with lies - the only reason is to ensure continued occupation.

What is even more bizarre how closely this clampdown resembles other clampdowns the US right wing, these stalwarts of the fight for freedom, usually recall when blasting their favourite enemies.

There is the parallel to the siege at Waco, as Juan Cole notes. Then, of course, there is the parallel to Saddam's crushing of the Shi'a rebellion, a rebellion involving militias quite similar to the Mahdi Army, after the 1991 Gulf War.

And for me from Central-Eastern Europe, there is the parallel to both the 1956 Hungarian and the 1968 Czechoslovakian interventions by Soviet (& allied) tanks, when as legal justification, the official line was that certain local communist leaders "invited" the Soviets to "end disorder" - just like the Americans now have the Allawi puppet government "authorising" the latest carnage they visited upon an Iraqi city.

I wonder whether our dear "New Europe" leaders, and if I shouldn't expect it from them - as at the moment they are mostly ex-communists - the liberals and ex-dissidents among the supporters of their Iraq/pro-US policy are turning aware of this, and feel uneasy...

UPDATE 18/08 Further parallels: "a collague" of Juan Cole was reminded of the storming of the Golden Temple, the holiest place for the Sikh, by the Indian army when a radical leader was holed up there some thirty years ago. Ultimately, it resulted in the assasination of both then-PM Indira Gandhi and a decade later his son Radjiv Gandhi by Sikhs, as the culmination of a wide terror campaign/civil war.

Also, in the eighties, an armed gang of Iranians took over the Mekka sanctuary during the Hajj, which the Saudi police crushed in a bloodbath. It resulted in strained relations between the leading Sunni and Shi'a theocracies, bt also increased the instability of Saudi Arabia - whose oil-rich regions along the Persian Gulf are populated by the large supressed Shi'a minority of the country.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

More Good News

Apparently, there is a solar power boom worldwide, but especially in Germany (where, while elsewhere sceming against wind power - as wind reached a level threatening to conventional quasi-monopolies, the lobbyists started to work overtime -, all parties agreed to raise mandatory feed-in tariffs for photovoltaics).

Last year was a record year, with 145 MW generating capacity added (almost twice of what was added in 2002), pushing the German total to 417 MW. For this year, the industry expected 200 MW, but last week they raised the number to 330 MW - an even higher growth only limited by the fact that factories are working at full capacity, and companies are scrambling to accelerate construction of more assembly lines. At this rate, world leader Japan (887 MW total at the end of 2003 after adding 219 MW) is not far away. And once capacity reaches demand again, the economies of scale, as well as the increased budget for R&D enabled by the increased income, plus competition will surely lead to significant cost reductions.

Worldwide, additions of 744 MW pushed the total to 3120 MW; with until-the-nineties dominant USA still in third place behind Japan and Germany, but for the first time with falling production. As one facory was closed in California, maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger took notice, and that's why he is said to be about to implement some of his election promises regarding solar-favoring house construction and better feed-in possibilities.

However, for comparison: a 1000 MW nuclear power plant block, which mostly runs at full capacity, produces 8 billion kWh a year - that's 8 kWh per Watt. An average 1.5 MW wind power plant on land, which on average runs on a fourth of full capacity, generates 3.75 million kWh per year (those on a seashore more, up to 5 million) - that's 2.5 kWh per Watt. And an average 150 W solar module on a Central European rooftop, with its energy yield a function of day and night and clouds and summer and winter, produces 150 kWh a year - that's 1 kWh per Watt. In other words, the end-of-2003 German capacity would still just replace one-twentieth of a modern nuclear block.

In other words, still a long way to go.

However, I have reason to think an even bigger boom is not far away - the reason is the development of multi-band solar cells on film. Current solar cells, those familiar blue silicon chips in glass, are heavy, unwieldy, on some buildings an eyesore, and have a photovoltaic efficiency (that is, how much of the incoming light they convert to electricity, NOT the previous stuff about non-ideal sunlight exposure) of 13-18% (and a module efficiency of 10-14%).

However, multiband cells in development will push that to 50%, so that a family home rooftop will be enough area for solar cells to work not just as backup, but (with the help of a storage battery) will be able to carry the full load and more - and on film, they can be formed into various shapes, plus colored to some extent (they obviously have to be dark) according to taste.

Kerry Has Moved (a Little)

It seems John Kerry has begun to placate the Left with a series of policy speeches. I very much welcome this, even if my short first analysis below finds them rather hollow.

Kerry first said that he wants to greatly reduce US troop presence in Iraq over the next year. Of course, this is vague, and no firm commitment that could be called upon - and it still seems to be based on the condition that foreign troops can be persuaded to replace US troops.

Then, Kerry outlined his '10-year plan for US energy independence', with some specifics. He calls for a 20% share for alternatives in both electricity generation and transportation fuel by 2020. It is significant that he doesn't just focus on electricity. Then again, he should aim for a higher target - not because 20% would be less than what most European governments aim for by 2020 (it isn't), but because US consumption doesn't stagnate but still grows rapidly: 80% non-alternatives in 2020 could be more than the total in 2003, that is CO2 emissions would still increase.

Kerry named $30 billion as the amount of money allocated for the task. That seems impressive, but is less so if we consider it is to be spent over 10 years. $3 billion a year - that's less than the costs of one month of Iraq war. It would be enough to yearly replace one block of one nuclear power plant with wind turbines.

It looks even less impressive if we consider the sub-sums.

$10 billion goes into the overhaul of coal-fired power plants. Now this is is a tricky sale: this money ain't no support for alternative energies or a move towards energy independence, nor does such a powerplant overhaul significantly reduce CO2 emissions - it is merely a clean air policy. But spending the same amount on replacing coal-fired power plants with say state-financed wind power farms would achieve more in terms of clean air while it would also reduce CO2 emissions and increase energy independence - and would that money be spent on subsidized private investment into alternatives, even more so.

$10 billion is allocated for subsidizing car efficiency research, and tax exemptions are meant to persuase consumers to buy the products. That's a good thing, subsidizing the industry to do some development only works if you change regulations so that a market pressure working towards the same direction is created. However, it still gets the priorities upside down: creating that market pressure would be the more important thing.

Racking up the pressure at the other end - i.e., raising the taxes for fuel-guzzlers (if a politico doesn't want to be explicit, call it "emission-based tax reform"), and removing safety exemptions and tax reductions for pickups. And subsidies for private company research should be focused on specific projects, with grant pay-outs made a function of certain targets, or else companies may handle it as just extra cash.

A further $5 billion also goes into biofuels. What is apparent is that public transport is off the radar. This is the biggest problem, without it, there is no energy independence in the transport field (speak oil). But at least Kerry doesn't try to deceive with the hydrogen mirage. (For those who don't know, the vision of hydrogen-powered cars has three problems: one, it is far from ready; two, its most ready version, using the reformer fuel cell, gets the hydrogen from - fossil fuels; three, if the hydrogen comes from water via electrolysis, three times the current US electricity generating capacity would be needed to supply US cars.)