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Sat Aug 31st, 2013 at 05:04:20 PM EST
In three years, Switzerland will open the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT). In this second part of my documentation of the old mountain line while it still carries all traffic, I cover the southern ramp, from the exit of the old Gotthard Tunnel to the exit of the GBT, along the Ticino river in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.
After five full minutes, German Railways (DB) 185 107 and a sister (both factory type: Bombardier TRAXX F140AC1) reached the bottom of the double spiral next to Biaschina Gorge with an intermodal freight train, while Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) class 430 No. 355 (old designation: Re 4/4III 11355) follows on the middle level with a ballast train
Thu Aug 29th, 2013 at 08:57:32 AM EST
After years of halting and flip-flopping policies, the Dutch government is on the brink of presenting a long-term commitment on the development of renewable energy sources and the reduction of carbon-based energy. As a result of the decades of wavering energy policy, the Netherlands currently hold, unsurprisingly, the semi-last position in the list of EU nations, measured by the percentage of durable energy production: a little over 4 percent (4.4% in 2012) of Dutch energy production is listed as renewable, and even that figure is a result of the increase of biofuels.
The new accord sets out to change the ranking, aiming to reach 14 percent of renewable energy production in 2020. In other words, an increase of 1 percent every year until 2020 - thereby fulfilling, barely, the Dutch commitment to the EU-required minimum of producing 14 percent renewable energy in 2020.
Officially, the plans are still under the hood - but a final draft of the agreement of the sparring partners was leaked to the press yesterday, and can be found here (in Dutch, of course). The accord is an archetypical Dutch result, the product of months of negotiations between over 40 parties and stakeholders. As a result, this is not a visionary document about the future of energy for the Netherlands, but a policy agreement with each line seemingly fought over tooth-and-nail. One wonders what the result would've been without the 14 percent European commitment hanging across the country like a sword of doom.
Below the fold, an overview of the stated main goals - and a first commentary.
Mon Aug 26th, 2013 at 08:20:56 AM EST
Watching Arte news last night, I was stunned by a German person offering a reading of Goethe's Faust. The reading was that Goethe, before Marx, showed capitalism stuck at a dead end produced by its own contradictions. Mephistopheles came along with a solution, paper money, and of course everything collapsed.
Nothing stunning there, you will say. We have already discussed Goethe's paper-money phobia on ET. But there was more. The person claimed that the "German government and the ECB" were currently practising the Devil's policy by "overheating the banknote printing press". "Creating money without creating value leads to a crash".
The notion that the German government was not sufficiently hawkish on monetary policy and was printing banknotes as if Hell did not exist came to me all the same as a surprise.
But here's why I was really knocked back: the German person was vice-chair of Die Linke and "close friend" of Oskar Lafontaine, Sahra Wagenknecht, a highly intelligent and highly-educated woman. Was she flying a kite to see if Merkel could be tarred with the lax monetary policy brush? It didn't seem like that to me: Wagenknecht appeared enthusiastic about Faust and the lessons we should draw from it, and she also looked appallingly sincere. And that kind of kite would call for Bild support rather than Arte news.
Sat Aug 24th, 2013 at 07:26:53 AM EST
The transit routes in Switzerland bear a significant part of the massive trans-Alpine traffic between Germany and Italy. In a 1992 referendum, voters approved the multi-billion-franks NEAT plan to redirect that traffic onto railways that provide a near-level route with giant tunnels crossing mountains at their base. The centrepiece of the plan, the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT), is now being fitted with tracks and is scheduled to enter service in three years.
The opening of the GBT will also mean that most traffic will be withdrawn from the spectacular old Gotthard railway. As I did for Austria's Old Westbahn last year, I used my railway employee free tickets for a photo tour to document the line while all the express and freight trains still use it. In this first of two diaries showing a selection of my photos, I cover the northern ramp.
A Swiss State Railways (SBB) class Re 420 (old designation: Re 4/4II) with a late southbound EuroCity (EC) train to Milan (apparent replacement for a defect tilting train) at Wassen. The traffic jam on the parallel highway lasted all day. You can make out traces of the railway at two higher levels: the station building on the right edge and a gallery near the top edge
Thu Aug 22nd, 2013 at 09:25:27 AM EST
A familiar idea here on ET is that the 1% crowd is pushing for the creation of a neo-feudal order, waging a class war of the very richest versus everyone else in which they progressively destroy every ounce of economic and social security and independence held by those outside their circle, and neuter the ability of the state to step in and protect individuals from economic exploitation. This is simply the end result of a push to maximize relative status.
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Tue Aug 20th, 2013 at 05:44:06 AM EST
George Monbiot may be right about fracking:
It seems to me that this is not about jobs. It's not about securing energy supplies. It's not even about the money. The government's enthusiasm for fracking arises from something it shares with politicians the world over: a macho fixation with extractive industries.
Extracting resources, like war, is the real deal: what politicians seem to consider a proper, manly pursuit. Conserving energy or using gas from waste or sustaining fish stocks are treated as the concerns of sissies and hippies: even if, in hard economic terms, they make more sense.
So we miss part of the story when we imagine it's just about the money. It's true that industrial lobbying often defeats a rational assessment of our options, especially, perhaps, when Lynton Crosby has the prime minister's ear. But cultural and psychological factors can be just as important. Supporting shale gas rather than the alternatives means strutting around with a stiff back and jutting jaw, meeting real men who do real, dirty things, shaking hands and slapping backs, talking about barrels and therms and rigs and wells and pipelines. It's about these weird, detached, calculating, soft-skinned people becoming, for a while, one of the boys.
Extraction is an ideology, gendered and gendering, pursued independently of economic purpose. As Cameron says, without shale gas "we could lose ground in the tough global race". It doesn't matter whether the race is worth running. It doesn't matter that it's a race towards mutually assured destruction, through manmade climate change. The point is that it's tough and a race. And that's all a politician needs to feel like a man.
Most politics is about status and tribe rather than the narrow economic interests of the players.
Sun Aug 18th, 2013 at 03:44:05 AM EST
cross-posted from Voices on the Square
... all US-centric qualifications apply, even if the source study is Ozzie-centric ...
In Baseload power is a myth: even intermittent renewables will work, Mark Diesendorf, Asst. Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales (Australia), writes:
The old myth was based on the incorrect assumption that base-load demand can only be supplied by base-load power stations; for example, coal in Australia and nuclear in France. However, the mix of renewable energy technologies in our computer model, which has no base-load power stations, easily supplies base-load demand. Our optimal mix comprises wind 50-60%; solar PV 15-20%; concentrated solar thermal with 15 hours of thermal storage 15-20%; and the small remainder supplied by existing hydro and gas turbines burning renewable gases or liquids. (Contrary to some claims, concentrated solar with thermal storage does not behave as base-load in winter; however, that doesn't matter.)
Anyone who engages in online discussion on issues involving renewable energy for any length of time will encounter the myth that renewable energy is unreliable in supplying base-load demand. This myth is pushed into the discussion with substantial financial investment, directly and indirectly, by vested interests in continued reliance on the Global Suicide Pact power sources of coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Writing from Australia, Mark Diesendorf flags the use of the Murdoch press empire in propagating this myth. Here in the United States, the myth is promoted by both Big Coal and Big Oil funded propaganda mills ~ including those libertarian "think tanks" that argue against the government getting involved in defending our economy from the prospect of collapse in the face of climate chaos ...
... because the "free market", together with billions of dollars of government subsidies for fossil fuel industry and tens or hundreds of billions of unfunded third party costs of fossil fuel consumption, will surely choose best.
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Thu Aug 15th, 2013 at 05:29:52 PM EST
[Hoisted from the Newsroom]
The upcoming winter Olympics is shaping up to be all about gay rights, and from the Western perspective, the Russians are being assigned the role of the heavies:
Isinbayeva says Green Tregaro's gesture was disrespectful to Russia | Sport | The Guardian
Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the face of the Moscow world championships, has defended her country's controversial laws banning the promotion of homosexuality and criticised international athletes for showing support for gay and lesbian people during the competition.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist, who won her third world championship to roars of approval at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium on Tuesday, told a press conference that Swedish athletes who painted their nails in rainbow colours were being disrespectful to Russians.
But what narrative is the rest of the world going to take away from this?
Wed Aug 14th, 2013 at 10:00:33 AM EST
Or, specifically, a woman: Laura Poitras.
Picture: Olaf Blecker for The New York Times
Every Batman needs a Robin, every Holmes a Watson, and every Watson has a Crick, every Woodward has a Bernstein. Appealing stories of superheroes or heroic super-stories, the formula of timely partnerships seems to apply in both.
This engrossing portrayal of Laura Poitras in the New York Times tells how the news story of this year, and quite possibly of much longer, was not just the work by prolific journalist Glenn Greenwald. But what's more, the portrayal is also underlining the encroachment of the shadow government of the USA. And finally, the story provides a strong testimony of the virtues of advocacy journalism.
Below the fold I lift out a few noteworthy snippets that I found particularly outrageous or revealing.
[Update] 14:20 CET: Minor edits and additions to the original text.
Wed Aug 7th, 2013 at 11:19:30 AM EST
This is cross-posted on my blog.
Reading the New Statesman correspondence section (yes, I know...), I came across a letter referring to a leader that had apparently stated that the UK needed an extra one million houses over the next five years is the level to meet present needs. The letter proceeds to explain via a small calculation that the figure is actually four millions over ten years. So far, so good (or not - I really have no idea about the actual figures, the calculation is worded in a way that might suggest that there is some confusion between yearly need and backlog, and I don't know the source of the numbers used), I don't mean to dispute the need for extra housing in the UK.
But the reader, after apparently making a call for a strong building program (this is about meeting present "needs", not fanciful wishes), then adds:
"A damaged economy cannot afford to allocate such a large share of limited resources to housebuilding."
This left me nonplussed on several levels.
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by Frank Schnittger
Sat Aug 3rd, 2013 at 03:34:12 PM EST
I've long been an admirer of Paul Krugman's blogging style never mind his skills as an economist. I suspect it's his writing skills as much as his economic expertise which makes him just about the most influential US political and economic commentator this side of Rush Limbaugh; but he has really excelled himself with his latest piece: The She-Devil of Constitution Avenue
I've spent five years and more watching the inflationphobes, who weren't particularly sensible to begin with, descend into shrill unholy madness. They could have reacted to the failure of their predictions -- the continued absence of the runaway inflation they insisted was just around the corner -- by stepping back and reconsidering both their model and their recommendations. But no. At best, we see a proliferation of new reasons to raise interest rates in a depressed economy, with nary an acknowledgment that previous predictions were dead wrong. At worst, we see conspiracy theories -- we actually have double-digit inflation, but the BLS is spiriting the evidence away in its black helicopters and burying it in Area 51.
So at this point I thought I'd seen everything. But no: the prospect that Janet Yellen, a monetary dove, might become the next Fed chair has driven the right into a frenzy of -- well, words fail me. Jonathan Chait has the goods: the New York Sun ran an editorial titled The Female Dollar, warning about a "gender-backed currency". I kid you not.
And the Wall Street Journal thinks this was such a great analysis that it quotes the phrase, and argues at some length -- or, actually, asserts, since if there's a rational argument there I can't find it -- that the only possible reason people might want Yellen to succeed Bernanke is that she's not just a monetary dove but a woman.
And they have a point. After all, what possible non-gender case is there for Yellen? That is, aside from the fact that she's been a highly successful team player at the Fed, has a distinguished record as a research economist on the very issues she would have to deal with as chair, and, according to a recent assessment, has the best forecasting track record of 14 top Fed policymakers. Whose assessment? Um, the Wall Street Journal's.
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Fri Aug 2nd, 2013 at 09:56:14 PM EST
Shocking numbers from Santiago de Compostela in Spain continue to mount as the hours go by: Over 60 dead and 100-odd injured as train derails in Santiago
The accident took place near 21h barely 2km from the Santiago station, at the junction of A Grandeira. Renfe confirms that an investigation has been opened to determine the causes of the accident, and it's not et confirming that it was caused by excess speed, the hypothesis considered so far.
Update [2013-7-30 4:19:46 by Migeru]:
As told by passengers and witnesses of the accident, the train derailed at the curve of A Grandeira -limited to 80km/h- and one of the cars overturned, the rest derailed, and some of them burst into flames.
It appears that the driver has admitted he was "distracted" and was not aware he was going into the last tunnel before Santiago, where he needed to be braking the train from 200km/h down to 80km/h. The ERTMS safety system, which is necessary for safety above 200km/h and can prevent the train from exceeding the speed limit and cannot be overridden by the driver, was by design
not installed in the last 7km of the 87-km stretch to Santiago, presumably because the train is supposed to go below 200 on the entire 7-km stretch and ERTMS was seen as "overkill". But this left the line only with the ASFA security system, which can signal to the driver that he's going above the speed limit but requires driver input to slow down the train. Moreover, the last 7km of track before Santiago and in the tunnel just before the curve where the crash took place have a low number of ASFA beacons installed, and they appear to be the older-spec "analog ASFA" and not the newer "digital ASFA". Digital ASFA is used as backup for ERTMS throughout Spain's high-speed network because it can operate at speeds above 200km/h. It also appears the Alvia train hasn't been certified to use ERTMS and/or the ERTMS wasn't fully operational on the day of the crash.
In sum, it looks like there was a combination of four factors (sources below the fold):
- the driver had a distraction. At 200km/h it takes 70-90 seconds to traverse the 4-5 km on which the train is supposed to slow down to 80km/h. The driver braked too late if at all.
- the Alvia train was not an AVE, it is halfway up from a conventional train, upgraded to run on high-speed track. It is possible that the on-board speed safety system was not certified to use ERMTS because its top speed is lower than regular AVE.
- the installed speed safety system on the last 7km of track was done on the cheap, going for fewer analog ASFA beacons as opposed to digital ASFA.
- the design of the speed safety system was not fail-safe: excluding ERTMS from the last 7km of track implies the assumption that the train will never enter that stretch above 200km/h.
This looks to be one of Europe's worst rail accidents. Use this as an open thread.
by Drew J Jones
Mon Jul 29th, 2013 at 01:37:04 AM EST
(Crossposted in Orange, at the Frog Pond and at my blog)
Let me put this bluntly: A good way to think of Larry Summers is to take Paul Krugman, up the arrogance tenfold and deduct 99% of the intelligence. He should never be allowed within a thousand yards of the Federal Reserve.
Felix Salmon hits most of the high points here -- his destruction of Glass-Steagal, his sandbagging of Brooksley Born's efforts to regulate derivatives at the CFTC, his all-world incompetence in screwing the finances of Harvard when he was its president, his protection of scumbags on the Harvard faculty in the face of their participation in the rape and pillage of post-Soviet Russia, his half-assed scholarship and accompanying sexism regarding women in the hard sciences, and -- most of all -- his utter refusal to admit that any of this might have been a mistake on his part.
I'll add a bit. Let's journey back.
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Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 03:44:13 AM EST
crossposted from Voices on the Square
In the online support for the April, 2013 Scientific American article on Energy Return on Investment (EROI), Scientific American online interviewed Charles Hall, developer of the EROI concept, on whether Fossil Fuels will be able to maintain economic growth. In one of his answers, Charles Hall responds to the question:
What happens when the EROI gets too low? What's achievable at different EROIs?
If you've got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you've got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you've got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.
Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can't do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].
A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they're all so low EROI. We'd all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it's not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we've got to deal with it realistically.
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Mon Jul 22nd, 2013 at 04:47:00 AM EST
A couple of days ago Krugman posted a very interesting graph on his blog:
Unprecedented Globalization - NYTimes.com
A couple of weeks ago I posted a chart showing the long-term trend of world trade in manufactures relative to world production. The paper I took the chart from, however, only went up to 2000. And I decided to update it for the next edition of Krugman Obstfeld Melitz. And it's pretty striking:
You see the interwar trade decline; the growth in world trade after World War II didn't return to 1913 levels of globalization until around 1970. But since then, trade has grown incredibly. Interestingly, the big tariff cuts in GATT rounds had already happened; what we're looking at here is trade liberalization in developing countries plus containerization, and the emergence of massive vertical specialization (iWhatevers being made in many stages in different countries).
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by A swedish kind of death
Sat Jul 13th, 2013 at 07:49:40 AM EST
In Egypt, things are getting interesting. Morsi is unseated but his supporters do not accept it. The military has installed a new government but its backing is falling to pieces. No common framework is established to settle conflicts, and the tourism economy is not doing well.
Now, I am no expert on Egypt, but if I jot down my impression of things, and you all chim in with comments, info and analysis maybe the picture will get clearer.
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Thu Jul 11th, 2013 at 02:52:29 AM EST
From the Bubble Economy to Debt Deflation and Privatization Michael Hudson naked capitalism
The Federal Reserve's QE3 has flooded the stock and bond markets with low-interest liquidity that makes it profitable for speculators to borrow cheap and make arbitrage gains buying stocks and bonds yielding higher dividends or interest. In principle, one could borrow at 0.15 percent (one sixth of one percent) and buy up stocks, bonds and real estate throughout the world, collecting the yield differential as arbitrage. Nearly all the $800 billion of QE2 went abroad, mainly to the BRICS for high-yielding bonds (headed by Brazil's 11% and Australia's 5+%), with the currency inflow for this carry trade providing a foreign-exchange bonus as well.
This financial engineering is not your typical bubble. The key to the post-2000 bubble was real estate. It is true that the past year and a half has seen some recovery in property prices for residential and commercial property. But something remarkable has occurred. So in this new debt-strapped low-interest environment, Hedge funds and buyout funds are doing something that has not been seen in nearly a century: They are buying up property for all cash, starting with the inventory of foreclosed properties that banks are selling off at distress prices.
Something else that has not been seen for almost a century is the USA on a gold standard. Under a gold standard it was common for banks to call in loans in bad times and then buy up the assets those loans had financed on the cheap. TPTB have figured out how to accomplish the same thing with fiat currency in the hands of a compliant monetary authority by pretending that we labor under the same constraints as those imposed by a gold standard. So this time we are being crucified on a virtual cross of gold.
Tue Jul 9th, 2013 at 10:12:41 AM EST
This week, two more passenger-dedicated lines entered service in China, while the Beijing–Shanghai high-speed line celebrated its second anniversary with a 40% traffic boost. Such growth and the resulting achievement of profitability on a number of high-speed lines first resulted in a recovery of rail infrastructure spending (which was throttled by the reviews in the wake of corruption scandals [bringing a suspended death sentence for the former minister, see comments] and the 2011 Wenzhou disaster), and now there are some interesting new projects. I also used the occasion to update my map of the high(er)-speed network.
Photo of test train on a run from Nanjing to Ningbo from Yuyao municipal government
Mon Jul 8th, 2013 at 01:26:05 AM EST
Economics and Politics by Paul Krugman - The Conscience of a Liberal - NYTimes.com
I've been having a strange reaction to recent news about economic policy. Stuff is happening: the Fed bungled its communications, doing its bit to undermine modest economic progress; the European Commission is sorta kinda relaxing its demands for austerity; the Bank of England appears to have issued forward guidance that it's going to issue forward guidance; and so on. But with the possible exception of Abenomics, it's all pretty small-bore stuff.
And that's disappointing. We had what felt like an epic intellectual debate over austerity economics, which ended, insofar as such debates ever end, with a stunning victory for the anti-austerity side -- and hardly anything changed in the real world. Meanwhile, the pain caucus has found a new target, inventing dubious reasons for monetary tightening. And mass unemployment goes on.
So how does this end? Here's a depressing thought: maybe it doesn't.
Thus starts Krugman's blog today. As usual, I recommend you read it all, it's not that long and it's interesting. I post this though more out of psychological interest than anything. I think most of us in part cope with our political malaise using that old Marxist theory in the back of our minds - the notion that as things roll along badly, eventually it sows the seeds of change. We fear a descent into fascism or failed states, we hope for (flavour depending on who you ask) the rise of the left.
However, as Krugman suggests, there's another way for our societies to fail, not with a bang, but a whimper, a fall back into permanent high unemployment, poverty and inequality:
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Sat Jul 6th, 2013 at 02:38:43 AM EST
Minister of Ecology of Ayrault's government until she was fired on Tuesday 2nd July, Delphine Batho held a press conference yesterday to give some background on the affair.
She explains that powerful interests are blocking France's energy transition, which was Hollande's electoral policy and which she was working to implement, and that these interests got her fired. I find it sufficiently explosive to merit a diary, though I don't have time to develop the subject.
Here's an extract from Le Monde :
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by afew - Mar 7
by DoDo - Mar 1
by marco - Mar 3
by Oui - Mar 5
by Katrin - Feb 20
by afew - Mar 7
by Oui - Mar 5
by Oui - Mar 4
by marco - Mar 3
by vbo - Mar 1
by DoDo - Mar 1
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by gmoke - Feb 26
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by Oui - Feb 24
by Oui - Feb 22