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As Hurricane Gustav heads towards New Orleans, the relatively good news is that a massive evacuation has been conducted, effectively getting huge numbers of people out of the storm's path well before landfall. As we should have done during Hurricane Katrina (but didn't), we're using planes, trains, and automobiles (including buses) alike to get people out. I did some rough calculations on such an evacuation back in 2005, and concluded that the only way to empty a big city like New Orleans is to use every available tool...not to just rely on getting everyone out by car alone.
The eerie part to all this is that the Gustav event comes almost exactly three years after Hurricane Katrina. The good news is that we may have learned some of the lessons of Katrina -- like the importance of simply getting the authorities (like the President and the mayor) to talk on the phone. Louisiana also appears to be benefiting this time around from having a governor who seems to know what he's doing. Applause, as well, is owed to WWL Radio, a station a lot like our own WHO.
The State of Louisiana, and its governor, Bobby Jindal, ought to be applauded for moving quickly to get comprehensive information onto a centralized website, emergency.louisiana.gov. That's exactly the kind of responsiveness people need from their elected officials.
If you haven't been on the road between Des Moines and Omaha in the last month, you're in for a surprise. A huge wind farm is being constructed around Adair, with MidAmerican Energy leasing the land from local farmers for a few thousand dollars a year per turbine. A truck driver involved in hauling things to the site has shared some impressive construction photos.
We may need to get used to seeing those wind farms just about everywhere, since in the long term we're probably going to need to become far more dependent upon electricity to replace our use of fossil fuels, particularly for transportation. In an ideal world, we'd be able to use solar cells to capture the energy from the solar radiation that pounds down on our homes and other buildings during the day, capture the energy, and then use it to charge up electric or hybrid-electric cars at night. But that means we'll need better solar collectors than we have now, and we'll also have to make some progress towards using batteries and capacitors more effectively. Electric-car batteries tend to be slow to recharge and have other hassles as well (including some safety concerns), though some manufacturers claim to have made major progress in these areas. By contrast, though, new types of capacitors are being developed that could allow virtually-instant recharging (a characteristic that capacitors have that batteries do not), but energy-storage capacity equal to that of a conventional battery (which has always hobbled the use of capacitors for powering things like cars). If that kind of progress can really materialize and be put into service, we could all be driving electric cars soon.
Just switching from gasoline-powered cars to electric cars won't make everything perfect, but it's very likely to happen as we try to move away from dependence on oil (foreign or not). And as we come to depend more upon electricity, we'll need to find ways to conserve it better -- like reducing transmission losses along power lines, which right now siphon off almost 10% of the electricity produced at the power plants before it reaches consumers. But even that kind of loss is considerably less than the "transmission loss" of the energy used to ship oil across oceans in supertankers and down pipelines.
Japanese scientists say they've extracted stem cells from wisdom teeth, which could offer a way to get at those incredibly useful cells without the ethical problems involved in getting stem cells from human embryos, for instance.
Britain is finding that the formal criminalization of nuisance behaviors is hampering their efforts at preventing and solving real crimes. The problem is that the people they're focusing on are the young. So instead of getting a safer society, Britain is getting a generation of kids who will grow up with a sense of disrespect for the police and a less-effective system of crime prevention.
American savings-and-loan associations are in trouble again, which ought to come as no surprise to anyone who understands how S&Ls work: They take short-term deposits (like banking and checking accounts) and loan them to long-term customers (in the form of mortgages). That's an untenable situation to be in when short-term rates start to rise.