Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me Buddy

Still in the trenches. May not be out for some time. In the mean time, head over to Sugarzine for a pretty lucid, but fairly equivocal, review of the new Bloody Hollies album, "Who to Trust, Who to Kill, Who to Love". In short, the lead singer is trying to stretch himself (good), but the new record is not quite immediate enough (bad, at least in punk rock terms).

Monday, January 29, 2007

Clintonian Slip

I am in a world of dayjob, but rather than sitting in the lavs and waiting for the drill sargent to come by, I will leave you with this slightly tart observation. Hilary Clinton made most of the morning news show's headlines with this remark from Iowa, where she trails badly to the other democratic candidates for president:

"We should expect him to extricate our country from [Iraq] before he leaves office."

The context of this remark makes it clear that Hilary Clinton claims to be speaking on behalf of the American public. Now Hilary may be many things - smart, determined, capable, frightening - but an average Joe she is not. The first thing I thought on hearing this, and I haven't even attempted to read the whole lot, was "why on earth would she basically vocalise the understandable fear of Democrats to get lumped with a hideous mess in Iraq at the end of the Bush administration?"

It seems like only yesterday when such talk would have resulted in the Dems being labelled as weak pantywaisters unfit to send American troops to their deaths. Now it's proof of a no-nonsense approaching to confronting the bush administration. I'm confused.

Still, I'll let her off. For starters, I have yet to see a flattering picture of her on the front page of any major newspaper, so I think its fair to say that her framing is still running pretty heavily in the negative direction?

Who does noted non-citizen, yet permanent resident Gari N. Corp endorse for Democratic candidate? OBAMA. He's pretty much the only one of them that talks like a sodding grown-up.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vinyl Solutions

Apologies for the headline there, but it seemed so apt that I allowed my crassness to get the better of me. Actually, who am I kidding? I'm nowhere near the first person to have this bright idea. Still would have been by far the best name for the shop in film/movie/flop musical High Fidelity.

I've become increasingly baffled by the plethora of vinyl digitsation aids that crop up on the news these days. The most recent offender was this from the New York Times' Anne Eisenberg, in an article that at least has the virtue of being filed under "novelties".

There's something deeply depressing about the rash of products that have come to market promising a simple way to digitise the buyer's record collection. Thus, turntable companies, which have experienced precious little joy in selling their wares to the non-DJ market, now chuck a USB cable on the end, and market the device as a digital wonder.

What's depressing is that the average computer has a sickening amount of computing power, the ability to record audio in high quality, and usually a microphone port. Just take your old turntable, connect it to your existing amplifier, and then connect the amplifier's headphone output to your computer with a five-dollar cable. Download the same free software that you'll get with the digital turntables, read the instruction manual, and off you go. You're welcome.

Should anyone update the CD Spin Doctor software there might be a reason to pay for the software, but most of the paid packages are pretty humdrum. The rest of the stuff is just fluff. Rant over.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Two Gripes.... Hold The Barclays

I needed to check for a moment whether Mayor Bloomberg's grasp of electricity policy is as bad as it sounds. I caught him yesterday opining on whether our delightful local utility, the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, should face fines in connection with leaving vast parts of Queens without power last summer. His answer was " "If you want to fine Con Ed, just go to your electric bill, and next time you're going to have higher costs. You're going to pay the fines."

There's a few ways to read his comments. The first is that this is a deeply depressing and cynical view of the value of regulation, that any attempt to control a corporation is a cost for them, one that feeds into higher prices. The second is that he's saying that the . The third is that he's genuinely unaware that utility rates in New York aren't set with regards to utilities' profits. I mean, obviously he could just be deliberately exploiting the public's lack of knowledge of the arcana of electricity regulation, but we'll leave that aside for the time being.

The Daily News, bless 'em, gets in the rebuttal pretty quickly. ConEd had the misfortune to report its results that very same day, and they showed a 2.5% rise in profits on 2005, and expects a further rise in 2007. In record time a characteristically noisy Queens Councillor (no, not that QC) chimed in to note "Now it is clear that Con Ed has plenty of money to pay the fines without passing it on to ratepayers."

Moreover, ConEd's rates are set according to a basic service charge, whioch is regulated, and the cost of various components, which would not reflect fines for ruining the food of the residents of Astoria. Since ConEd's insurance has covered the cost of replacing this, or at least as much as ConEd's gonna pay, it's hard to see how ConEd would get a rise out of the regulators given its profits and the cock-up last Summer. Am I missing something, or is Mayor Mike engaging in crimes against the actualite?

The second target of my scepticism (yeah, I know that "Barclays sponsoring the Nets arena thing is nonsense" line worked out very well, didn't it?) is NY1's launch of an evening news cast at 11. Our 24-hour local news channel has been steadily trying to inch itself out of the "bite-sized news for bleary-eyed workers slurping their coffee in the morning" ghetto. First we had "The Call", this weird phone-in show where in theory the public sets the news agenda, but in practice anchor John Schiumo gets to chew out callers for not turning down their telly.

Now we've got NY1 hiring a CBS anchor to run an evening round-up by eating into a re-run of "Inside City Hall", where the city and state political class watch eachother being vindictive. That said, according to a Daily News article i dug up, the new show won't be costing them too much extra. And the channel's trailers for the show have taken a deserved pop at the other channels' fondness for fluffy human interest stories?

But let's turn that on it's head. What evidence is there that the average viewer wants hard news at that time of night? For weather and traffic, two elements at which NY1 is pretty good, you can wait till morning. After a hard day's work, there's nothing quite like watching a statuesque, immaculately coiffed reporter hassling a bodega owner for selling cigarettes to kids. Beyond the politicians, which make up a disproportionately influential share of the channel's politicians, there's little mass audience for this kind of stuff.

But then again, since this is essentially a reheated and slightly more accessible version of the previous purely political gabfest, maybe this is a bet NY1 can't lose. The rest of us will probably stick to the Daily Show.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Diamond b*llocks

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Well, looks like I was wildly, totally, abjectly wrong. Barclays does indeed want to provide some fine limey gilding on the Atlantic Yards Gehry poop. I had forgotten, of course, that Barclays' president, Bob Diamond, is an American, and that the asset management arm is headquartered in San Francisco.

I still say it's a fairly strange fit for Barclays, and note that the Nets fetched a third less than the mighty New York Mets raised from Citi, and that the Yankees are much too posh to put their stadium name on the block. Still, given the aversion of Bruce "Mad Ugly Building Inflicta" Ratner to spending his own money on his projects the deal is unavoidable. I'll just note here what I noted at Mr. Oder's place - let's see what else Ratner has to mortgage to get his bauble built, and what shape that leaves the hapless Nets in.

For those of you wondering whether I am going to dine heartily on a feast of my own poor predictions, I must beg to disappoint you - owing to a forthcoming tooth extraction I must be fasting. Yeah, it's been that kind of day. On the plus side, I have moved this blog to a special domain of my own choosing. It's almost as if a grown-up's in charge. Except for the new, er, logo, which is a placeholder for something more sophisticated.

Below, bonus footage screencapped from NY1 of some hack trolling for screen time in front of a banner fashioned from Barclays logos.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Urgh, so I'd settled pretty definitively on the subject for today's post, my first after a week's absence. It connected stadium financing, the accursed Atlantic Yards project, and UK retail banking, subjects about which I have a little more to offer to a debate than the average observer. And then Gothamist covered it pretty solidly.

That's right. Barclays Bank, a UK retail bank with a decent-ish Transatlantic investment banking franchise, is reportedly set to hand over hundreds of millions to sponsor the proposed basketball arena that Bruce Ratner wants to build over the ashes of the best bar in Brooklyn.

I could say I'm absolutely disgusted with this move, and threaten to withdraw my money from said institution, much as I also attempted to bring the hurt to the Brooklyn Brewery over its support for the project (they're bearing up, I hear, as am I, with the help of copious amounts of Six Points and Anchor Steam). But alas, while I was a customer of Barclays between the years of 12 and 18, I discarded it in disgust at some transgression or another over ten years ago. I cannot even urge my relatives to do likewise, since I believe my sainted grandmother gave them the boot as well fairly recently.

But I find something about the deal - and it has yet be confirmed - fishy. Talk about the price exceeding the $400 million set by Citigroup in its purchase of the naming rights at the Mets stadium is probably premature. Citigroup has a huge retail, investment banking and asset management franchise, and has pretty good name recognition. I don't quite see how Barclays is going to capitalise on such naming rights from a standing start.

Which isn't to say there aren't some marketing opportunities for Barclays, even though, as Gothamist notes, it does not have any branches in the US. It does has an enormously successful asset management division, and pretty much invented exchange-traded funds, securities that cheaply and simply track the performance of certain indexes or sectors of the stock market. Building up a presence amongst less wealthy customers is a logical expansion, although since no-one knows what sort of demographic the new arena would attract.

Barclays is a huge presence in UK banking, although we're fairly certain it isn't the world's largest by assets, as the Post suggests, even accounting for the pound's rather screwy performance of late, which might have inflated any dollar figure. And there's another thing that's bothering me. If Barclays were to announce some abrupt attempt to charge into the US retail market, I'm not sure whether a pikey Brooklyn Museum news conference with Bruce Ratner and Marty Markowitz would be the place to do this.

There certainly aren't any major indications, at least from Barclays, that such a move is on the cards. Its investor presentations have noted that a growing proportion of its earnings are from overseas, and that it wants to accelerate this. Still, there's a large gap between buying up ABSA, a decent-sized South African bank, or a 4.7% stake in an Indian infrastructure finance company, to mention some of its recent acquisitions, and buying up a richly-valued US retail bank, like, say Commerce or Sovereign, both of which do have local presence. These might be a bit much for the conservative Barclays.

Still, I dare say all of this will be revealed tomorrow, at which point I will beg Mrs. Cutesome to cook me up a hearty meal of Crow au hat

[N.B. Here's the reason for the stupid title of the post]

[UPDATE: Scott , as ever, does it better, pointing our Barclays' history of questionable business practices, and foundation in slave-trading. I think this post might have betrayed my residual patriotism. Plus, the Times seems to have semi-confirmation from Doctoroff that the deal is going down. So tonight's eating is going to be tasty]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Birdz Brainz

Right. So. In order to maintain my slightly improved rate of posting, I'm going to fall back on another comment that Attytood's compuders rejected. This one isn't bad, probably better than the last one, which was nitpickery, pure and simple. In fact, this one is making making me think that viewing the entire US experience through the eyes of an English country gentleman might be the key to enlightenment, or at the very least a rather tenuous book deal. I mean, no-one's tried that one before.

Thus, by way of an appetizer, it would certainly be easier to respond to one of those interminable discussions on the Park Slope message boards that cover the desirability of controlling one's children in public by just declaiming "would it not be easier to send them away somewhere cold and bracing to be educated, and let them return once they have learned to appreciate the benefits of adult company!" It would also, mind you, get one banned, or at the very least turned into a lazy blog post, down the line.

Still, the best example I can provide of the benefits of an upper-class English twit's perspective comes in the discussion of Dick Cheney's fondness for canned hunts. These hunts tend to involve pen-reared animals released into a confined area and slaughtered willy-nilly and quickly by top Republican donors with guns. The comments at Attytood, which alerted me to Cheney's hobby, unfortunately missed the point. "Real hunters don't join canned hunts," many noted, a sort of combination of roots authenticity sentiment and a stab at manliness from liberal opponents of the vice-president.

What they don't realise is that Cheney doesn't have a choice. I mean, he HAS to kill his animals in this way, a fashion in which there is absolutely no possibility for the "prey" to emerge from the process alive. I came to this realisation at a holiday party in rural England.

We were chatting about the mechanics of shooting in the 21st Century, as distinct from those of hunting, which in England tends to conjure up images of tosspots in red coats chasing after little red-coloured cat-dog hybrids on horseback (the hunters, not the foxes, that is, doing the riding). And by shooting, I mean raising game birds (pheasants, partridges, grouse), releasing them into a limited area to fatten up, and then beating them towards guns, where they will quite probably be shot.

How charming you think this pastime is will likely depend on your belief in the capacity of such animals to feel pain. I will not dwell on this in detail, except to note that pheasants are amongst the stupidest of animals granted a continued existence on god's earth, and that it is almost in our interest to ensure that they are killed in one convenient place rather than serving as an ever-present menace to the blameless motorists of surrounding areas.

My conversational partners and I were discussing the relative intellectual merits of French and British pheasants. Which is rather like comparing the relative contributions to urban architecture of Bruce Ratner and Adolf Hitler's Luftwaffe, but we were a little tipsy.

It transpires, and I cannot vouch completely for the accuracy of this assertion, that French shooters are wont to take pot shots at the stragglers of a group of pheasants forced into the air, while the noble British hunter will take on the fastest and most noble beasts to emerge from their cover. The result, my patriotic correspondents informed me, was that natural selection had bred in pheasants reared in England a tendency towards slowness. French pheasants, on the other hand, had everything to gain from shaking a tailfeather now and then, and their bloodlines and as a result shown a steady improvement. Unfortunately, since I have not spent much time on the roads of rural France, I must take this hearsay on trust.

But what we are observing here is natural selection, the bedrock of evolutionary theory, at work. And if there's one thing that top Republicans hate (well, apart from taxes, poor people, peace in the middle east, atheists, privacy, ethnicities, taxes and Keith Olberman), it's evolution. This is why their hunts must be conducted in such a way that escape is utterly impossible. The idea of going out for a gentle afternoon's kill-frenzy and being confronted with a very plausible test of a scientific theory that is anathema to their base is a truly horrifying prospect. And if there's one thing conservatives price themselves on, it's intellectual rigor.

Next week, we apply the principles of droit de seigneur to getting some damn respect at the corner bodega. I think the phrase "yegads, I will make free with your daughters, your fencibles be damned," will make an appearance.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

They Call It The Planet

That's Gang Starr, referring to Brooklyn, though I always found The Place Where We Dwell to be a better evocation of the borough's charms (Bonus fact: A snippet on the "Place..." where, referring to the A train, Guru mentions "take the uptown to Queens and the Bronx," ended up opening DJ Cam's "Bronx Theme", which is hardly cricket).

So yeah, this is going to be a Brooklyn post. I greeted NY1's story that Brooklyn had made the Lonely Planet's list of top 10 global tourist destinations with a certain amount of trepidation. This is because, as any NY1 watcher knows, there's a clause in NY1's license that says that if a story mentions Brooklyn more than once, then they must interview Marty Markowitz (the link goes to Wikipedia rather than his own site, since Wikipedia's digest on Google helpfully highlights his campaign fraud episode).

I'll try and say something more constructive in this post than "Urgh, I saw that fool Marty Markowitz on the telly and it made my blood boil, god damn the man's a fool." In fact, I'll go further, and note that as a tourism promoter, the man looked knowledgeable, articulate, and presentable. In fact, if either the city, or whichever gang of real estate interests bought up his support during his Borough President campaigns, could possibly pay for him to keep charge of tourism in an ex officio capacity after he's term limited out, it would a) avoid him causing any more mischief and b) free his successor to do something more useful than what Marty has spent the last five years doing.

More importantly, the interview marked the first time I've seen Markowitz acknowledge that the Borough's attractions extend beyond familiar 50s tropes he brings up again and again in interviews. To leave aside, at least for this post, the question about what a gaggle of skyscrapers is going to do to the vibrant yet small town vibe of Brooklyn, the Beep must surely be aware that the high-end backpackers' bible Lonely Planet is not buying the same story as the Broadway and Bubba Gump crowd. Markowitz probably thinks that getting through to the world's travel agents involves establishing the Borough as brand, probably in the crassest fashion possible. He'll find, though, that maintaining the Borough's appeal will require a much more nuanced approach.

Which is all another, much less readable, way of echoing what Fans For Fair Play's inestimable Scott Turner said in a much more eloquent fashion, that bogus nostalgia peddlers have gone from being a nuisance to those of us that care about the Borough, to being a threat. He manages to get through an entire post about Markowitz' inferiority complex without saying "Williamsburg Savings Bank envy", and only including one peculiar simile, which I'll reproduce here simply because it's so colourful:

If Freddy's is Saddam, then the News' publisher and editors are beneath the scaffold in skimasks shouting "Ratner! Ratner! Ranter!!!"

Monday, January 08, 2007

Flare Fighterz

Wasn't planning any further posts today, beyond alerting you briefly, and furtively, to the fiasco that is my latest Sugarzine column, which wasn't written when drunk, but might as well have been.

But I have a post in me, borne of a comment that for reasons that are obscure to me Will Bunch decided not to allow on Attytood, preferring instead to give over the floor to assorted trolls and flamers [UPDATE: After being blocked a second time I have contacted Mr. Bunch, who says that it is a know issue, and he is looking into it. He does attract a lot of trolls, though]. It concerns a recent story by the LA Times about the investment policy of the Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation. The article basically concludes that the foundation's investments belie its lofty goals of improving the human lot.

It's not unfamiliar territory, since fund managers for foundations with philanthropic goals often face such dilemmas. Several of them, noting that many foundations were built on the back of questionable business practices, have chosen not to let it trouble them. And it should be noted that by comparison with some of the old money sloshing round the eastern seaboard, Gates' fortune was acquired by clean and largely legitimate means.

But where the reporters have aimed for greatest impact is by juxtaposing the beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation's largesse with the suffering the ill effects they continue to suffer at the hands of the Foundation's investments. The first of these, Justice Eta, was vaccinated thanks to a Gates programme, but suffers respiratory problems from a refinery owned by Eni, the Italian oil major in whcih the foundation owns a decent-sized stake. As the article notes:

"The oil plants in the region surrounding Ebocha find it cheaper to burn nearly 1 billion cubic feet of gas each day and contribute to global warming than to sell it. They deny the flaring causes sickness. Under pressure from activists, however, Nigeria's high court set a deadline to end flaring by May 2007. The gases would be injected back underground, or trucked and piped out for sale. But authorities expect the flares to burn for years beyond the deadline."

This suggests, by the way, that the oil companies are happy to be burning the gas that comes up as a by product of their oil extraction activities. But the fact is, they aren't. If they can capture the gas produced as a byproduct, liquefy it, ship it to the US or Europe, and sell it to electricity generators there, they'll make a killing right now.

In fact, several do. The LAT lists Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total of France is the main companies responsible for flaring in the delta. By a not remotely weird coincidence, these firms are all involved in current or future production, in a joint venture with Nigeria National Petroleum, of such liquefied natural gas.

The reasons for continued flaring are a little more complicated, and have much to do with the capacity for infrastructure improvement of NNPC. There is, in this instance, little that the majors can do, and much they'd prefer to do to in the normal course of turning a buck from the ruthless exploitation of the earth's resources.

As i hope you can tell from this, I'm not utterly in love with the majors' ways of doing business. I've found them to be as secretive, obstinate, and duplicitous as the next market observer. I also think that there's a very valid debate as to how charities invest their funds, although I'd note that the group of utterly spotless companies would probably not form a liquid enough pool of opportunities for Foundations' funds without being the subject some serious market distortion.

But if you're going to make such a stark juxtaposition, I think you need to explain it in a little more detail.

Stansfield Stories

David Bowie turns 60 today, providing all of us with a great deal of exciting inspirational fodder, and a good old chuckle at how risible his Tin Machine output was. For my money, though, the critical nadir was the drum n' bass odyssey Earthling. I sometimes wonder whether drilling out my own ear canals might erase the echoes of Bowie wailing "You li'le wahnder, li'le wahnder, you li'le wahnder, li'le wahnder, li'le wahnder" over a tepid jungle soundtrack in a mockney accent.

Dispiriting to see, though, that the BBC neglected to mention the two most important contributions of Mr. Bowie to world culture. Firstly, he pioneered the use of securitisation techniques for intellectual property assets. Secondly, I grew up three doors down from his birthplace, a fact with which I have already bored the commenters at Stereogum. Did I post a picture of said South London idyll there? No I did not.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

On The Yards And Volubility

This post was going to wait until tomorrow, but then the talented Mr. Guskind went ahead and touched on it anyway. He's referring to the debates that have cropped up on Gothamist and particularly the Park Slope Forum regarding a celebrity mugging.

No doubt without the presence of world culture guru Douglas Rushkoff the subject of class, race, and criminality in northwest Brooklyn would recede into background noise. But it's worth noting again how peculiar such agonizing is to this corner of Brooklyn.

You don't get this in the East Village to anywhere near the same extent, and I'm not certain that anywhere else in Manhattan had it to the same extent, although it's also worth noting that the gentrification of these neighborhoods did not involve questions of race to the same extent as some of the present debates in Brooklyn.

So what else is different? The first is that a huge number of the new arrivals, have broadband and, um, a sense that they deserve to be heard. The second is that Park Slope is seriously underweight in alpha males (and alpha females for that matter). The amount of soul-searching that goes on in online discussions about schools, housing, crime and so forth, and the amount of flaming that goes on at the bottom of any discussion where a poster cops to being a recent arrival, is pretty astonishing.

People who can be incredibly assertive when going after a restaurant with poor service become incredibly guarded and defensive whenever race or class comes into play. You could see this dance taking place fairly clearly on the Rushkoff thread.

This is not to urge people to become more callous, racist, stuck-up, mean-spirited or awful than they are. Lord knows the Slope and its environs needs less, rather than more, attitude.

But (and you knew this was coming), I can't help but see in every single self-conscious bulletin board scribble a blueprint for the public relations and political strategy that Bruce Ratner used in pushing the Atlantic Yards project. It's all there - nervousness about gentrification, racial code words, relentless repetition of "affordable". That the developer was able to brush aside most meaningful criticism of the project, including some from from pretty powerful local pols, says a lot about how precarious the position of some of the louder of the recent arrivals are.

But maybe I'm just projecting.

I have not missed the recent reports of a curse-laden interview from our buffoonish Borough President Marty Markowitz. I'm not going to be as censorious as No Land Grab, because the episode is real gift. Particularly for those of us that hope that Marty does not attain another office where he can do yet more damage to the Borough of his birth.

Firstly, it highlights how much the Atlantic Yards project has dented the cheerful persona with which Marty has wafted up through the ranks of the city's elected offices. He was, by all accounts, worse than useless as head of a tenants' association in 70's Flatbush, but a cheery demeanor and a knack for self-promotion have served him well in advancing his career, and have served as acceptable substitutes for a lack of talent or an ability to complete a coherent sentence. But in the interview we get a snarling, defensive Marty, a man so consumed with worry over what the project does to his image that he barely remembers to unleash his trademark mindless boosterism to the interviewer.

But let's assume that he's trying to be pugnacious. The fact that he was happy to let a transcript of his interview get out suggests that the man really isn't ready for prime time. Let's hope that our kids' TV Borough President has stopped himself getting a better slot.

Gaer Theory

I was having a quick flick through the Sitemeter yesterday, since navel-gazing in most every instance beats working for a living. In between a bunch of references from google searches for "Hot fresh girls" and links from the Park Slope message board (about which more later), was another lost soul trying to find out more on the provenance of indie rock iconlet and Lower Manhattan habitue Herschel Gaer.

You probably wouldn't call this nasty, scrappy, hateful blog a reliable repository for information on Mr. Gaer. Especially since what does exists here should more be read as a claim on my part to have belonged to the Lower East Side demi-monde of the early part of this century. In this respect, I think my half-formmed reminiscences do him a good service, because his rapid-fire friendliness on that, um, one occasion, convinced me that I was in the coolest city on earth. Still, he's definitely worth following.

And he's now on Myspace. Looking well louche, but still pretty well-preserved.

He has a new song up there titled "Sweatshop 'Till You Drop", which proves again, that while he doesn't birth forward insane catchy ditties at the rate of some songwriterz, he can do it every now and then. Yeah, even with Tourist. I can heartily recommend you go listen. Is power pop. Hold the electro.

[If you're wondering why I've stopped adding adroit and sarcastic little photos to posts, it is because blogger has forbidden it, a not unreasonable stance since almost every one is is the fruit of sweet larceny. Uploading the things to flickr seems to me to be even less ethical, so I'm going to sit around, scratch my capacious derriere, and think of a workaround. UPDATE: Hotlinking to Myspace pictures. If it's Rupert Murdoch's bandwidth, iss that wrong?]

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fire Un-Starter

Work is about to become a miasma of pain and degradation, and so it is important that I compile a decent-ish corpus of posts before I disappear back down the boring articles hole.

But first, an article that references the day job, sort of. I read with a little interest this article in the New York Times on the costs of dealing with wildfires in the Western United States.

The Times mostly treated the question "Who will pay?" as an extension of the question "Whose fault is it that there are more fires these days?" Thus, we're treated to a lively discussion of whether it is federal mismanagement of forest resources or breakneck development of communities near these resources that is to blame.

This is a slightly fruitful question. It looks at the changing expectations that the US public has of its public spaces, and looks at whether the venerable model of public ownership has a future, even in a country as large as the US. It also highlights the current administration's attitude to the Interior Department, which any casual observer of the Abramoff scandal will find illuminating.

But the article did not really look at the question of who CAN pay. This is an area where a few hardy souls are putting together some interesting proposals. The first of these is the growing use of biomass (a fancy name for dead plants, trees, and animal poo) to generate electricity.

Firms with contracts to clear, either pre-emptively or following a fire, forestry areas can use the wood gathered during these clearing expeditions to run power plants. The fuel is mostly free, or comes with a low cost, and mostly comes with transport costs attached. There are, to be fair, a number of other uses for such wood, especially in more developed areas, where it can be used for mulch and other uses, but few where it can be consumed broadly in situ.

I'd stress that for the moment it's unlikely to make a huge dent even in the forestry services industry in the Western United States, much less reduce our dependence on foreign oil or some such nonsense. Still, it deserves a wider hearing.