Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blowing for Good

Graph: U.S. Energy Information Administration
In recent years, I have noticed wind turbines in a lot of new locations, and it is not my imagination that generation of electricity by wind has been increasing rapidly. A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration confirms that wind is poised to overtake hydroelectric power this year, with each generating about 250,000 megawatts hours of electricity per day.

The report provides some interesting insights into the geography of renewable energy generation (note: some parts of the site label hydroelectric as separate from renewables, though geographers would consider it part of the renewables mix). Month-to-month changes in each are a combination of differences in built capacity and potential that varies with climatic factors. Because hydroelectric construction has all but ceased in the U.S. (most optimal sites already being in use), fluctuations in this sector have to do with season and secular trends in rainfall, snowmelt and evaporation. Winds vary seasonally, too, of course, but rapid expansion in infrastructure dominates the wind-power curve.

Overall electricity generation in the United is projected to remain remarkable steady at around 11 million megawatt hours per day. To me this suggests that conservation efforts are just keeping pace with economic and population growth, which is better than not keeping pace, but suggest that conservation alone will not lead to actual reductions in electricity-related greenhouse emissions.
Graphic: U.S. EIA
Although overall production is expected to continue at the same level, analysts expect two recent tendencies to continue: a gradual increase in the use of natural gas at the expense of coal and a gradual increase in still-small contribution of renewables, mainly wind.



Accountability versus Voter Suppression

Congress has finally gotten around to doing something about sexual harassment by its own members, but true accountability remains elusive. In an unusual act of decency, the usually unprincipled Speaker Paul Ryan named a commission to expose, among other things, the heretofore secretive practice of using public money to settle claims by victims.

The work of the commission soon exposed one of its own members, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA). It is not clear whether he simply hoped that the commission would not be bright enough to discover his transgressions, or whether he volunteered for the post in an effort to keep covering his tracks.

I first noticed the story because of Adam Peck's reporting on Meehan's convoluted rationalization, which included blaming President Obama's healthcare legislation. One phrase in Peck's report piqued my geographic interest, though. I decided I needed to learn more about his "heavily gerrymandered district to the west of Philadelphia." 

Pennsylvania's 7th District, which NRP reporting describes as "suburban Philadelphia" nearly surrounds the City of Brotherly Love, carefully avoiding its left-leaning neighborhoods. Encompassing carefully selected neighborhoods in five counties and in the direction of the four winds, the district is considered one of the ten most egregiously contrived districts in these United States.
Map: Ballotpedia
This contorted shape of District 7 is the embodiment of what is wrong with extreme gerrymandering, which undermines both the Preamble and Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which was written in a space encircled by -- and excluded from -- this particular district.
The story broke just as Pennsylvania's highest court joined a number of other courts around the United States in rejecting voting districts that have clearly been contrived so that politicians could choose their voters, rather than risk the reverse. As I have written previously, gerrymandering was invented in Massachusetts almost immediately after the Constitution was ratified. It has been employed by politicians of many stripes throughout the history of the Republic, but never with the sophistication that has been brought to bear by malfeasant geographers in recent years.

It is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to voter suppression that journalist Ari Berman writes is being used quite effectively in combination with dark money and voter-ID laws. Only in such an insulated environment would a person of Rep. Meehan's caliber have the audacity to run for re-election.

Lagniappe

Voter suppression efforts are not limited to the drawing of boundaries, of course. In North Carolina, arcane rules about the composition of local election boards were designed to give incumbents an advantage in choosing who would likely show up to vote. The rules did not strictly exclude any particular voters, but a court agreed that they were contrived to push turnout in a predictable direction. The geographic argument here is subtle but persuasive -- see the bar charts in the map below, depicting driving distances to polls under different scenarios.
Image: Daily Kos
Still More...
Some of the worst examples. Maps: Washington Post

In a May 2014 article, journalist Christopher Ingraham wrote about some of America's most gerrymandered districts, and described some of the counterintuitive goals of what he called "crimes against geography." 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Billy Bragg's World

I sometimes hear it suggested that musicians and other artists should keep politics out of their work and "just" perform. More than once I have heard this from fans who have somehow heard their favorite musicians for years without ever listening to them. Music does not have to be about something, but quite often it is -- and quite often it makes a difference.

Billy Bragg
(LA Review of Books)
To start the new year, Boston radio journalist Christopher Lydon decided to reprise a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion he had had in 2017 with British troubadour Billy Bragg. Those familiar with Lydon's earlier program The Connection will be pleasantly surprised to hear that he now knows how to interview with a few deft questions. The result is Billy Bragg's Guide to the Music of Dissent -- a relaxed conversation about the relationship between music and social change, from the blues to punk to anti-fascism. In addition to uncovering a lot of interesting connections among musicians, Bragg offers thought-provoking ideas about the role of music listeners.

The discussion is based on Bragg's book Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World, which is also the subject of a print interview with Scott Timberg of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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