Thursday, April 24, 2008

Clean, Cheap, Unlimited Energy: Why You Can't Have It

Imagine an energy source that is unlimited, clean, safe, and available now. An energy source that is so scalable, it can be used to power anything from an 18-wheel truck to a city the size of New York. An energy source for which all the science and most of the engineering has already been done. An energy source so clean that it has a zero carbon and nuclear footprint. An energy source so safe, you could put an infant care center next door to it. An energy source that can be retrofitted to every fossil fired or nuclear fired power plant on the planet. An energy source for which you'd pay a tiny fraction of what you pay today for electricity. A technology which the United States could export and earn trillions of dollars in foreign exchange credits.

Sound like a fairy tale? It's not. It's been available since October 2006, but the Bush Administration killed it because it needed the insignificant amount of money required to fund it's final engineering development for the Iraq War. What's worse, its inventor and project leader died in 2007.

Dr. Robert Bussard, the inventor of what's called the Polywell Farnsworth-fusor, was one of those rare individuals able to bridge the gap between theoretical physics and practical engineering. While at NASA, he developed a nuclear propulsion system that could have taken us at a fraction of current costs in a single-stage rocket from the surface of the Earth to the surface of Mars in two weeks and back again, instead of the months and billions required for multi-stage chemical rockets. It would have reduced our moon landings to day trips. That project was killed as a result of internecine warfare at NASA. NASA's big ticket contractors correctly saw the end of their costlier, less effective systems in that developed by Dr. Bussard and successfully lobbied to kill it. While still at NASA, Dr. Bussard also designed an interstellar ramjet that could propel a vessel to the stars. That, too, still sits somewhere on a forgotten NASA shelf.

When the Navy decided it needed a smaller, safer power plant for its nuclear fleet, it hired Dr. Bussard to make it happen. He succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, coming up with the now scrapped fusion reactor that could have changed human society and history and saved the planet.

There are three obstacles that need to be surmounted before this technology can benefit us. The first are scientifically illiterate Washington politicians in Congress and the White House who seldom make wise decisions on anything more complex than bridges to nowhere. Next are the web of university and private research organizations that benefit from the non-performing but enormously lucrative big ticket programs administered by the Department of Energy. Finally, there are the private energy companies whose fossil fuel and nuclear products will be rendered obsolete by this new technology.

Taken together, these obstacles may well be insurmountable. It may take a private actor like a Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates to provide the roughly $200 million required to fund a demonstration project. Make no mistake, however. If this is funded in the private sector, whoever steps up to the plate will become not only a social icon but the planet's first trillionaire.

For a good explanation of Dr. Bussard's technology, see the WikiPedia article on the Polywell Farnsworth-fusor (also known as Electrostatic Confinement Fusion).

Before he died, Dr. Bussard gave a talk to Google employees about his new fusion technology:

Listen also to this earlier interview.

Dr. Bussard's original website: Digg Stumble Upon Toolbar propeller Furl

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Truth About The Surge: Iraq Is A Failed State

Freelance reporter Nir Rosen was invited to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Wednesday, April 2, 2008. Mr. Rosen is a highly respected journalist who has reported extensively on Iraq as both an embedded reporter and independently. His written statement, submitted to the Committee before he testified, is available here.

Some of his more telling comments:

Today Iraq does not exist. It has no government. It is like Somalia, different fiefdoms controlled by warlords and their militias.

Now thanks to the Americans the Sunnis, formerly on the run, are once again confident, and control their own territory. The Mahdi Army is consolidating its forces, ridding itself of unruly elements and waiting for the inevitable reduction in American troops. Iraqi
Security Forces will also be able to once again operate with impunity when there are less Americans present. Both sides are getting ready to resume fighting.

Iraq remains an extremely unstable and failed state, with many years of bloodshed left before an equilibrium is attained. There is no reconciliation occurring between the two warring communities, and Shiites will not allow the territorial gains they made to be chipped away by Sunnis returning to their homes, or Sunni militias being empowered.

Most embedded journalists, just like embedded politicians and embedded members of think tanks on Washington’s K Street or Massachusetts Avenue, lack language skills and time on the ground in Iraq—and since they are white, they cannot travel around Baghdad without attracting attention and getting kidnapped or killed. They know nothing about Iraq except what they gain through second- or third-hand knowledge, too often provided by equally disconnected members of the US military. Recently we have seen positive articles about events in Iraq published by so called experts such as Anthony Cordesmen, Michael O’Hanlon, Kenneth Pollock, Fred Kagan and even former members of the Coalition Provisional Council such as Dan Senor. These men speak no Arabic and cannot get around without their babysitters from the American military. But it seems that the more they get wrong, these and other propagandists for the war, such as Thomas Friedman, manage to maintain their credibility.

According to his WikiPedia entry:
Nir Rosen (born 1977 in New York City) is a journalist and a chronicler of the Iraq War. Rosen writes on current and international affairs.

Rosen is best known for his writings on the rise of violence in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, which form the basis of his first book, In the Belly of the Green Bird (2006). He spent more than two years in Iraq reporting on the Coalition occupation, the relationship between Americans and Iraqis, the development of postwar Iraqi religious and political movements, inter-ethnic and sectarian relations, and the Iraqi civil war.

He regularly contributes to leading periodicals, such as Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, the Boston Review, and Harper's. He contributed to the footage of Iraq in Charles Ferguson's documentary No End In Sight and was also interviewed for the film.

Nir Rosen is a fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security, and a former fellow of the New America Foundation. In September 2007, he was the C.V. Starr Distinguished Visitor at the American Academy in Berlin. Digg Stumble Upon Toolbar propeller Furl