The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

March 27, 2011 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Self-explanatory title. Interesting posts.

    tags: market_urbanism urban_development

  • More on David Owen’s 3/17 talk in Vancouver, organized by former Mayor of Vancouver, Sam Sullivan:
    Owen’s speaking engagement in Vancouver is being organized by the Global Civic Policy Society of ex-mayor Sam Sullivan.

    Sullivan, a former politician who takes pride in taking on hard issues, pushed the City of Vancouver during his term to adopt EcoDensity, his brainchild concept that seeks to build a greener city through greater population densities.

    Now an adjunct professor at the UBC school of architecture and landscape architecture, a position he took on starting in January this year, Sullivan reflected on how he changed the way many Vancouverites view density.

    “I noticed that when people would come to public hearings after the EcoDensity initiative started, it was very rare to hear…[them] say density is bad,” Sullivan said with an amused laugh in a phone interview with the Straight. “What they would say is: ‘I’m not against density, but not here.'”

    According to Sullivan, Owen will also help him launch what he called the Centre for Market Urbanism. “The idea is that government has a lot of responsibility for creating sprawl,” Sullivan said. “There’s a great demand by the market for increased density. And because government is constantly saying ‘no’ to density, we now have the sprawl we have across the region.”
    Victoria could learn from this.

    tags: david_owen sam_sullivan density sprawl urban_development vancouver market_urbanism

  • Former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan on the creation of a Centre for Market Urbanism in Vancouver.
    From the article:
    It’s the rules and the way city governments impose them, not the taxes and the fees, that pushes housing costs so high in Vancouver, says Sam Sullivan, the former mayor and councillor who’s launching a new Centre for Market Urbanism.

    “We’re constantly saying no to density,” he told me this week as he launched the privately funded initiative to explore solutions to urban problems. “We have height limits. We have this dome skyline policy. We have suburban view corridors criss-crossing the city. We have urban view corridors, hundreds of them, in the downtown. …

    “These things have constrained development in the city very much.”

    tags: vancouver market_urbanism urban_development density sam_sullivan centre_for_market_urbanism

  • Ed Glaeser on development limits. (This fits in with the recent spate of interest in Vancouver around Market Urbanism, too.)
    The relationship between housing supply and affordability isn’t just a matter of economic theory. A great deal of evidence links the supply of space with the cost of real estate. Simply put, the places that are expensive don’t build a lot, and the places that build a lot aren’t expensive. Perhaps a new 40-story building won’t itself house any quirky, less profitable firms, but by providing new space, the building will ease pressure on the rest of the city. Price increases in gentrifying older areas will be muted because of new construction. Growth, not height restrictions and a fixed building stock, keeps space affordable and ensures that poorer people and less profitable firms can stay and help a thriving city remain successful and diverse. Height restrictions do increase light, and preservation does protect history, but we shouldn’t pretend that these benefits come without a cost.
    This sentence, “Simply put, the places that are expensive don’t build a lot, and the places that build a lot aren’t expensive,” applies very well to greenspace-eating suburban sprawl, too. It’s cheap to build single-family homes for Victoria families on Langford’s Bear Mountain or in the Cowichan Valley, but our city politicians (and NIMBY community organizations) continue to ensure that it’s prohibitive (if not impossible) to develop (tall) buildings right downtown, where we have ridiculous height restrictions to go with a moribund economy and scores of empty storefronts. Further down in the article, Glaeser also notes: “One could quite plausibly argue that if members of the landmarks commission have decided that a building can be razed, then they should demand that its replacement be as tall as possible.” This makes sense, and again, we don’t do it (here), insisting that razed, empty parking lots in heritage-designated districts can only be built up according to severe height and density restrict

    tags: edward_glaeser skyscrapers urban_development urbanplanning density development market_urbanism

  • Fascinating exegesis by Peter Wynn Kirby on the meaning of “Godzilla” for Japan.
    The film was inspired by events that were very real and very controversial. In March 1954, a massive thermonuclear weapon tested by the United States near Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, codenamed “Bravo,” detonated with about 2.5 times greater force than anticipated. The unexpectedly vast fallout from the bomb enveloped a distant Japanese tuna trawler named the Lucky Dragon No. 5 in a blizzard of radioactive ash. Crew members returned to their home port of Yaizu bearing blackened and blistered skin, acute radiation sickness and a cargo of irradiated tuna. Newspapers reported on the radioactive traces left by the men’s bodies as they wandered the city, as well as “atomic tuna” found in fish markets in Osaka and later at Japan’s famed Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. The exalted Emperor Hirohito himself was said to have eliminated seafood from his diet.

    In a nation fixated on purity, the revulsion against this second nuclear contamination of the homeland was visceral. In late September 1954, the Lucky Dragon’s radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama died. “Gojira” appeared in cinemas the following month, breaking the record for opening-day receipts in Tokyo and becoming one of the top-grossing films of the year. During the same month, there was an upsurge in anti-nuclear petitions in response to Kuboyama’s death, and the peace movement went national. UNQUOTE

    tags: peter_wynn_kirby nyt godzilla japan socialtheory

  • JPEG of Victoria BC earthquake map.

    tags: victoria earthquake maps jpeg reference

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Do you have a pet?

March 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm | In business, health, victoria | Comments Off on Do you have a pet?

I spent today at the USANA Cross Regional Conference in Vancouver. Lots of engaging, interesting speakers who spoke about the wellness industry and a changing economic landscape that makes individual entrepreneurship and business ownership increasingly important. The event continues tomorrow – more on that in a bit.

First, though, I want to tell friends in Victoria BC about a USANA Lunch + Learn event that my team is hosting this Monday (3/28) from noon to 1pm at Chinatown’s Eco-Design Gallery (17 1/2 Fan Tan Alley): Pet Nutrition with Guest Speaker Cari McCune.


(click image to open PDF invitation)


This is bound to be a fun and informative event, presented by someone who’s passionate about animal health and welfare. As always, it will be followed by a delicious lunch catered by the Dan Hayes, aka the London Chef.

I’m sending this to my Victoria friends, but with the Vancouver conference happening right now, I got a bit behind in getting this information out. So here’s the thing: if you’re in Victoria and want to attend this Monday’s Lunch+Learn, you must RSVP to me by 5pm tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon. Click through on the invitation for details. You’ll note there’s a cost involved, but I’m extending two invitations to attend as my guest – I’m looking for two people who are really keen on preserving (or restoring) their pets’ health. Leave a comment, send me an email, get in touch if this is you! Invites going out on a first-come basis! 😉

Back to Vancouver and the USANA XRC (Cross Regional Conference): tomorrow morning’s session is open to the public. I’d love to see some of my Vancouver friends there.

Details available on this PDF flyer, but briefly, tomorrow’s open-to-the-public morning session, “A Commitment to Excellence,” starts at 10am and goes to 12:30pm. It’s happening at the Vancouver Convention Centre in the East Ballroom A-C. There are four speakers, including Mark Wilson (Executive VP of Sales) and Dr Tim Wood (Executive VP of R&D).

You will be entertained and informed, believe me. So stop by tomorrow morning, text me on my mobile (we’re Facebook friends, right?, so you have my number), and say hi!

Dying Downtown Victoria BC Part 3

March 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm | In business, dying_downtown, land_use, victoria | 10 Comments

Welcome to the third in a series of now three posts about Victoria BC’s dying downtown. Read the first one here (3/21/11) and the second here (3/22/11).

As you can see in the second post, one of my commenters on Facebook remarked that for her, that stretch of Fort Street isn’t really downtown. I answered that it is officially a part of downtown – it’s in the Harris Green neighborhood. Also, my photos included the 700 and 800 blocks of Fort Street, and if that’s not downtown, nothing is.

I would argue that if people don’t think of it as “downtown,” it’s because it doesn’t look like a downtown.

To prove my point, take a look at the photo below (let’s call it Exhibit A):

I’ll have a lot to say about this scene in just a sec, but first, allow me to show you the other six already-empty or endangered storefronts on that same stretch of Fort Street, except this time the south side of the street (my first post in this series looked at the same blocks on the north side of the street).

Once again, we start at Fort and Cook Streets, heading east (this time on the south side of the street). First, a clothing boutique (which used to be in the 700 block of Fort a while back) is closing:

Next up, a high-end antiques place. The owner has had the building on the market for a while – don’t let the faux Tudorbethan decoration fool you, this is a plain cinderblock box. It’s just the front facade that has been prettied up:

Right next door is a real disgrace: the ex-Little Piggy, which has been an empty eyesore for going on years now:

Again, the Tudorbethan facade is just tacked on. The building itself is nothing much – and has been on the market for a while.

Alright, heading further east, we hit the 900 block where a new building recently completed. One retail space has been leased, but the other is still waiting for a tenant. At least this is a quality building (but rents are therefore accordingly steep, tough for indie businesses to enter into):

Leaving the 900 block behind, we’ve now crossed Quadra Street and are continuing toward Blanshard. On this block (800) we see a couple of holes:

And, same block:

Finally, in the 700 block (between Blanshard and Douglas Streets), the tacky frontage shown in the first photo that headed up this entry:

As you can see, if you compare my first Dying Downtown Victoria BC entry and this one, the empty storefronts exist on both sides of the street, and the 900, 800, and 700 blocks in particular are by any definition downtown.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Let’s take another look at the picture I started with:

Look at it. What you see here is what is basically a tiny little lot with a tiny little structure on it – one can’t even deign to call it a building – which in any other market would be bulldozer bait. This is a one-story thing – it houses two retail units: one of them happens to be rented out at the moment, while the other one has gone bust and is empty. …And will probably stay that way for a long time.

Now, in any  normal world, this structure would be torn down and developed because it’s right downtown, it’s sitting on incredibly valuable land. But instead, what we do here in Victoria, is we allow a one-story waste-of-space space waster to continue existing downtown.

So what should the city do?

Well, how about this?

Instead of enabling property owners like the one who owns the property in this picture to continue propagating this kind of decay downtown, why not say to him or her, “You know what? We’re going to put tax incentives in place so that you can develop this property. Forget about height restrictions, you can go as tall as you can need to make the numbers work, but let it be known that we are going to hold your feet to the fire for a real quality product. It has to be a total quality product. You don’t have the height restrictions, you don’t have the density restrictions, so in exchange you have to include rental components and on the street frontage you have to include retail spaces that are specifically affordable for local businesses. So. How about this, Mr or Ms Developer? You build something that’s anywhere in the 15- to 20-story range, or whatever it takes to make the numbers work. Your building is on a very small lot, so you have only a tiny footprint to work with. So the top 4 to 6 stories could be given over to duplex-style penthouse condos that you can sell at a premium, another 3 to 5 stories below the top 6 floors could be smaller condos, while everything below that is given over to rental, including market rental and a healthy percentage (30%?) of subsidized rental. And, as mentioned, at street level, we have retail. Ok, Mr or Ms Developer, go and make those numbers work. See what you can come up with. See how tall it has to be, and then get back to us and we’ll make sure it moves through the approvals process, pronto.”

That’s what I would do, and that’s my advice to the City. And I won’t even charge a consulting fee.*

…Although, if someone wants to hire me in some such capacity, I’m available… 😉

Furthermore, if you did that with one site, other bulldozer-bait sites in the vicinity would also get the message and finally get developed.

Maybe, just maybe, if our downtown actually looked like one and if people could actually live there once again (we currently have fewer people living downtown than we did in the early 1970s!), we’d begin to treasure it. But as long as we have asinine restrictions that not only keep the built form low but also depress the entire ecosystem of the city, as long as we have councilors who cling to some weird notion of low-rise density, and as long as we have NIMBYs in the surrounding neighborhoods who scream blue murder because a highrise is going up downtown, we will continue to create market conditions that are inimical to human economic life downtown.

Dying Downtown Victoria BC followup conversations

March 22, 2011 at 10:55 pm | In business, dying_downtown, land_use, victoria | 3 Comments

Yesterday’s post (Dying Downtown Victoria BC) generated a fair bit of comment on Facebook. I decided to take screenshots of the comments and post them here. (However, since I haven’t had time to ask the people who commented whether they were ok with having their comments taken from Facebook’s walled garden into the open access world of the blog, I erased their names.)

First, a friend “shared” my link to his page, which produced the first comments string, below (with names erased in yellow). This is followed by the comments posted to my Facebook page (names erased in blue).





^ That’s from a friend’s page.

Below, comments from my page:






FYI: about a year or so ago, I had a most interesting chat with a retired City Hall employee who had worked his way up from literally digging ditches for the City as an 18-year old to going into engineering. One of his hobbies was researching land titles. From what he told me, I got the impression that the city doesn’t have a real data base on who owns what (which was echoed by a woman who tried to find out from City Hall how many rental units there were in Victoria: the City couldn’t tell her). Anyway, my contact was quite insistent that a lot of property is in family hands and hasn’t changed ownership in several generations. The heirs can make more money sitting on half-empty buildings, charging high rents for the storefronts, than they would if they tried to redevelop their properties (or even sell them). The tax structure is set up to make it more attractive to hold and let decay than to develop. Add to this the mania we have about height restrictions and not allowing density, and perhaps a pattern emerges…



Dying Downtown Victoria BC

March 21, 2011 at 8:26 pm | In architecture, business, dying_downtown, johnson street bridge, land_use, scenes_victoria, victoria | 12 Comments

If downtown Victoria BC storefronts were teeth, this city would need a new bridge.

…Oh, wait. That’s a bad joke (see posts tagged with Johnson Street Bridge)… We are getting a new bridge. But as the following photos will show, what we really need is economic revitalization.

This afternoon, I was walking down Fort Street to Monk’s at Fort and Blanshard. I passed one empty storefront after another – just on one side of the street, just on one street, just on three-and-a-half blocks.

This is what many parts of downtown Victoria look like.

We start at Fort and Cook Streets, the northeast corner, before we head east on Fort St. (we’re traveling on the north side of the street).


We see 1090 Fort St, and there isn’t just one empty storefront, but two.

This is Kona Coffee Shop – or rather: was. Now gone.


Next up, same building:

This used to be a hair salon. Even a hair salon can't survive here?


Next up, in a small, low building a few doors down:


Charles Baird Antiques – closed


The next one’s demise (just a few doors down) was new-to-me:

Plenty Epicurean Pantry will be closing next. 🙁


Nearly next-door to Plenty (ironic name) is the Korean specialty clothing boutique that closed earlier this year. The sign claims that someone new is taking over, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Right now, the place is empty and bereft:


Specialty knits boutique – closed earlier this year.


Ok, we’re still in the same block (1000s), and here’s another place that has been sitting empty for months and months:


This used to be a niche home decor store. Has been empty for months. No new takers.


Ok, we now come to the 800 block of Fort St. (The 900 block on the north side of Fort is mostly surface parking lots – next to Lund’s – and a grassy trash-lot in front of View Towers. So, there are only a few stores in that block anyway…)


Seeing that this one is closing was a shocker: it's a Korean grocer, next to a French butcher. Why is it closing?


A couple of doors down, there’s the carpet place, which recently started claiming that it was closing. Probably just a ploy, but I thought I’d include this to replace Marvan (in the 1100 block of Fort, on the south side), which is closing, sadly:

I'm guessing this store isn't really closing. It's just a cheap ploy to convince rubes there are deals to be had.

The alleged going-out-of-business carpet store did take over (in a most unattractive manner) an empty storefront next door – yes, another one, and it has been empty for …what?, years now?

The ex-Miroirs home furnishings store, an empty storefront for months upon months, currently being used by the carpet store two doors up (the carpet store that's claiming to go out of business, too)…


Now we’re in the 700 block of Fort. I can’t even remember what this store used to be – but it’s empty, and will probably stay that way for ages…

Empty storefront in 700 block of Fort St.


And next door to the above, the former Cairo Coffee Merchants, defunct:

Cairo Coffee Merchants, closed, empty, …for how long?

Ok, that was depressing.

It never fails to amaze me that Victoria is full of attractive neighborhoods, bounded by gorgeous scenery that’s unparalleled.

But go downtown, and you have to wonder why Victorians hate their city so much that they let it die.

Note: this post is the first of a series of three – it just kind of happened that way. Part 2 is here and part 3 is here.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

March 20, 2011 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • This post could also be applied to glean insights into how the Sendai earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disasters were mediated (both in the mainstream and via social media).
    FOMO [fear of missing out] is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on.

    tags: caterina_fake fomo socialmedia socialtheory

    The city website of my dreams would not only let me find relevant information, process transactions, lodge complaints, and communicate with elected officials. It would help me connect with my neighbors.

    When I move into a new neighborhood, I wish I could go to the city’s website and join a group for my block (or a collection of several blocks) — complete with discussions, event calendar, photos, videos, and listings of relevant city services, businesses, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, and so forth. That way I could plug in and get to know my neighborhood (and my neighbors) quicker than ever. I could browse archived discussions to see what issues have been on my neighbors’ minds, peruse photos and videos from recent block parties and festivals, and check the calendar for upcoming events. And if I moved to a new neighborhood, I could just quit the online group for my old neighborhood and join my new one, taking my profile, friends, and history with me.

    Such a platform would give me and my neighbors a powerful tool to self-organize — everything from potlucks to crime-watch patrols, yard sales, childcare swaps, street cleanups and community meetings about city policies of interest to the neighborhood. We could organize car-, bike-, and tool-sharing coops. It would give us a quick way to share alerts about burglaries or fires.

    And it would give the city a powerful way of targeting communications to specific blocks. Need to clear the street because of a snow emergency, tree-trimming, or a broken water main? Just send a message to that block’s listserve and word will spread fast. Add an SMS gateway to send text messages to residents’ mobile phones and word will spread even faster. Connect it all to a CRM database and an Open 311 system and you’ve got a powerful tool set for citizens to engage with the city not just as individuals, but as groups, as neighborhoods, as communities.

    2011 Chinese New Year Parade in Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown, Victoria BC

    tags: zanby_blog community neighborhood hyperlocal hyper_local gov2.0

  • Must read opinion piece in the Washington-Post about Conservatives’ use of what could be called the “starve the beast” strategy: drive up bankruptcy fears to force cuts in programs – but never tax the rich. Shock doctrine…
    …the fiscal issues are just an excuse for ideologically driven policies to lower taxes on well-off people and business while reducing government programs. Yet only occasionally do journalists step back to ask: Are these guys telling the truth?

    The admirable Web site examined Walker’s claim in detail and concluded flatly it was “false.”

    “Experts agree the state faces financial challenges in the form of deficits,” PolitiFact wrote. “But they also agree the state isn’t broke. Employees and bills are being paid. Services are continuing to be performed. Revenue continues to roll in. A variety of tools — taxes, layoffs, spending cuts, debt shifting — is available to make ends meet. Walker has promised not to increase taxes. That takes one tool off the table.”

    And that’s the whole point.

    tags: washington_post economy shock_doctrine starve_the_beast republicans ej_dionne_jr

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Last 15 Seconds

March 18, 2011 at 11:59 pm | In arts | Comments Off on The Last 15 Seconds

Tonight I saw The Last 15 Seconds, currently playing in Victoria at the Metro Theatre. If you have the chance, go see it. I will admit upfront that the subject matter made me a reluctant theater-goer, and I was almost sure I would dislike the play. The teaser says, “You have 15 seconds left before the explosion. What would you say to the suicide bomber?” …Suicide bombings, in Jordan… Great… How uplifting (not)…

I thought for sure we’d get preached at, witness some kind of propaganda, get depressed…

Boy, was I wrong.

This play is absolutely brilliant in every respect: script, development, story, staging, acting – everything.

Yes, there’s a suicide bomber – Rawad Jassem Mohammad Abed, fantastically played by Trevor Copp. Yes, he is reared in a petri dish of violence, the legacy of Western (read American, but also French & English) policies. But he’s not given a free pass for what he does. Instead, the story – beginning with a surreal enactment of the bombing – slowly but surely brings together the bomber and his family with his victims, also represented by a family, all of which takes place “postmortem,” as it were. The script is one of the most intelligent I’ve come across in a while – the way the two sides meet, collide, and confront is worthy of a tessellation to decorate a mosque.

The acting by all five performers is stunning and kept me fully enthralled. Copp plays Rawad (and, briefly, a television talk show host). Alan K. Sapp plays the tragic figure of Moustapha Akkad, one of the suicide bomber’s victims. Sapp is perfect in the role, bringing the right combination of urbanity and sophistication, mixed with earnest moral and ethical seriousness.

The three women performers play two roles each: as mother, wife, and daughter to Akkad; and grandmother, mother, and bride to Rawad.

Pam Patel plays Rawad’s bride as well as Rima (Akkad’s daughter). She switches seamlessly from embodying a traditional bride who’s controlled by customs and by Rawad to being Rima, the American-raised shining apple of her Arab father’s eye. Copp (who is amazingly physical, starting with his death scene at the start of the play) and Patel acted out some of the most tension-inducing scenes, effectively leveraging a Thanatos-Eros dialectic. (Or was it a Master-Slave dialectic? …Hm.)

Anne-Marie Donovan plays Rawad’s mother and Akkad’s wife. She brings great gravitas to her essential roles as woman-in-between. In the Akkad family, she’s the serious woman between the idealistic-seeming daughter and the mischievous grandmother; in the Abed family, she’s the self-sacrificing mother whose husband was killed, the woman who has to let her child be raised by the grandmother while she works to keep food on the table. Both Patel and Donovan sing parts of their roles, and while Patel sings soprano, Donovan hits a mezzo (mezzo-soprano) note. Very effective.

Nada Humsi plays Akkad’s mother and Rawad’s grandmother. She is staggeringly good, able to move from sophisticated Westerner to traditional matriarch without skipping a beat. A native Syrian, she rejoices and cajoles and ululates in Arabic, which fully enriches the play. But aside from that authentic touch, she is just an amazing actress who really makes audiences understand the family dynamics, the traditions, and the deep emotions (joy and pain) embodied by her two characters. I absolutely loved her performance.

If you get the chance, go see The Last 15 Seconds. It’s playing in Victoria for another two nights. Then it goes to Vancouver.

It’s expensive.

March 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm | In green, power_grid | Comments Off on It’s expensive.

It’s expensive – whether we’re talking money or resources. There’s no “free” energy, sadly. I’m referring to the question of how we’re going to proceed on the question of nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan.

Earlier today I read about Iowa’s nuclear problem. Let’s talk money. From the article:

MidAmercian Energy wants to explore the possibility of constructing a nuclear power plant in Iowa. They want their utility customers to pay higher rates to pay for engineering studies necessary for the plant, which may not even get built.

Historically, when a utility wants to add new generating capacity it must build the plant and begin producing electricity before seeking to recover the costs from its customers. They can only recover costs that are reasonable and prudent.

Last year, the Iowa legislature considered cost recovery legislation that had a provision empowering the Public Utility Board to require competitive bidding for new electricity resources. Under that approach, only if nuclear is cheaper can the project proceed, but MidAmerican knows nuclear is much more costly than efficiency, natural gas or wind, so this year’s bill drops that language.

We argued against this measure last year. This year’s measure is worse.

The shareholders, the ones that will benefit from increased profits, should take on the risks and expenses related to this project, not the captive customers.

It seems unreasonable to argue with the Daily Sentinel’s reasonable argument. But you can bet that there will be plenty of argument and shifting around of responsibility, because nuclear power plants are incredibly expensive to build.

Forget about the problem of radiation leakage in the event of an accident. Just on the basis of expenditure, maintenance, and upkeep, nuclear has a huge financial drawback.

Take a look at Do We Really Need Nuclear Power? (subtitled “After Japan, everyone’s asking the question—and the answer is more complicated than you think”) by Bradford Plumer.

The pro-nuclear power argument, as rhetorically laid out by Plumer, goes something like this:

…nuclear power carries some risks, but those aren’t nearly as great as the risks of burning coal, cooking the planet, and sending all sorts of deadly pollutants into the air. Air pollution kills two million people per year and much of that is due to fossil-fuel combustion. The right answer is to learn from Japan’s mistakes and improve nuclear safety. (It’s also worth noting that the next generation of reactors are supposed to be even safer.) No energy source is risk-free, and nuclear is one of our best bets. Right?

That’s compelling – if you count up deaths, then you might conclude that nuclear is safer. Surely, it’s not killing 2 million people annually.

But as Plumer goes on to illustrate, the financial calculations are a different matter. The US, for example, gets 20% of its energy needs from nuclear and has 104 plants. (I did not know this; it’s a substantial number of nuclear plants and a substantial percentage of power.) What’s standing in the way of nuclear power plant expansion isn’t “the fear of fiasco” via melt-downs. It’s cost:

New nuclear plants go for at least $10 billion a pop—and that’s before cost overruns inevitably set in (as has happened with a much-hyped new reactor in Finland). Building intricate concrete and steel structures that can withstand all manner of disaster is a costly enterprise. According to a 2009 MIT study, “The Future of Nuclear Power,” getting electricity from nuclear costs about 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with 6.2 cents for coal and 6.5 cents for natural gas. Other industry analysts have suggested that the MIT study is too optimistic, and that power from new nuclear plants could cost twice as much. (source)

Now you can see why MidAmerican Energy wants to stiff the customers for building a new plant. They probably can’t afford to do it on their own. Additionally, as Plumer notes, private companies like MidAmerican Energy might now realize that post-disaster remediation can really bite. Even Three-Mile Island cost $1billion and 14 years to clean up (1998 figures?). Plumer refers to a 2007 report by Charles Ferguson of the Council on Foreign Relations, and then observes: “all of the 104 reactors currently operating in the United States will likely need to be decommissioned by mid-century. Replacing those reactors (so simply preserving the status quo) would mean building a new reactor every four or five months for 50 years.”

Did I mention that they cost $10 billion each?

Read the whole article – it covers a lot more than the cost of nuclear power plants, and goes into a lot of detail about the feasibility of getting energy from renewables. But the bottom line? There’s no magic bullet.

Note: clicking on the illustration takes you to CNN Money article on Aging Nuclear Power Plants in the US.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

March 13, 2011 at 1:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Important reading for ‘girls,’ irrespective of age (it seems):
    Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.

    Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

    We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because Bright Girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves — women who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.

    Even if every external disadvantage to a woman’s rising to the top of an organization is removed — every inequality of opportunity, every chauvinistic stereotype, all the challenges we face balancing work and family — we would still have to deal with the fact that through our mistaken beliefs about our abilities, we may be our own worst enemy.

    tags: education gender gifted girls psychology heidi_halvorson huffington_post

  • Love this: Harvard Business Review (management nerd mag) telling people to get enough sleep. Will we finally see the end of “I only sleep [ridiculously few hours] each night” one-upmanship?
    Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week. At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? You’d probably be hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly somewhat thinner. But basically you’d be fine.

    Now let’s say you deprive yourself of sleep for a week. Not so good. After several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function. That’s why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

    tags: sleep harvard_business tony_schwartz health

  • 1996 article by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on creativity.
    When we’re creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life. The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do. Perhaps only sex, sports, music, and religious ecstasy—even when these experiences remain fleeting and leave no trace—provide a profound sense of being part of an entity greater than ourselves. But creativity also leaves an outcome that adds to the richness and complexity of the future.

    tags: mihaly_csikszentmihalyi creativity personality psychology psychology_today

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