Category Archives: Energy

Africa Foreshadowed U.S. Abandonment of Allies in Syria: Opening Doors for Russian and Chinese Military Expansions

During Southern Accord 2012 U.S. Army Africa, and other U.S. military forces foster security cooperation while conducting combined, joint humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuation exercises. (U.S. Army Africa photo by Sgt. Adam Fischman)

The latest analysis of the Syria crisis increasingly reveals it is a Russian plan that the White House has swallowed hook, line and sinker. Both Russia and China stand poised to expand into areas formerly allied with America, to expand their own operations that will erode American relations and influence.

Unilateral withdrawal clearly harms U.S. interests both short (UN Security Council now comparing it to Bosnia, with regional destabilization) and long (high bar to gain foothold or respect for re-entry) terms, yet America somehow allows Executive-branch folly to proceed.

Perhaps you recall just a few months ago a similar withdrawal story was brewing in Africa? That probably should have been reported as a much starker warning of what was to come.

Gen Waldhauser said the troops will be deployed to missions where the US sees as high-priority.

“We all realise, you know, Africa, with regards to the prioritisation of our national interests … there’s no doubt about the fact that that it’s, you know, it’s not number one on the list,” Gen Waldhauser was quoted as saying.

The Trump administration views preparation for potential conflicts with China or Russia to be of higher priority than combating terrorism in Africa.

Now with the White House flying a white flag in abandoning its Kurdish allies in Syria, inviting Russia to roll right in afterwards, there might be a clearer explanation for abandonment of African forces.

The Kremlin’s goal is to emulate China’s success in fostering economic, diplomatic, and military links with Africa. To become an important partner, Moscow is organizing the first-ever Russia-Africa summit on 23-24 October.

The American pull-out from Africa serves the opposite of preparation elsewhere for potential conflicts with China or Russia.

Consider that turning tail and intentionally opening doors to Russian military sales expansion has been manifested by a brand new announcement that Russia is abruptly now pushing into new African allegiances:

While Moscow is focused primarily on other regions, it regards Africa as an attractive venue to evade international sanctions imposed by Western nations and deepen ties with old and new partners while scoring points at the expense of the United States.

Part of Russia’s engagement in Africa is military in nature. The Russian military and Russian private military contractors linked to the Kremlin have expanded their global military footprint in Africa, seeking basing rights in a half dozen countries and inking military cooperation agreements with 27 African governments

America claiming to be redirecting its military towards confrontation with Russia is double-talk. It’s pulling its hands off the wheel, literally opening the door and handing keys to arms dealers to drive. This will mean a spread of anti-humanitarian influences and locking the U.S. out of “forward” stations for military and civilian operations, which will greatly increase risk of harm to the United States (along with any democratic nations and states).

What is especially baffling is how China and Russia are doing basically the same expansionist plan, threatening American influence and ability to protect values, yet get such different treatment by the White House.

Replace the word China with Russia in this next story and you should see the problem with the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from Syria as well as Africa:

“There are two concerns about these investments,” said Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs, the top Republican on the Subcommittee for Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. “First, the dual commercial and military uses of these assets; second, that the debt incurred by these countries will tie them to China in ways that will facilitate China’s international pursuits and potentially inhibit U.S. overseas operations.”

We’ve seen this already as China uses its offer of loans to later squeeze control of ports

Kenyan government risks losing the lucrative Mombasa port to China should the country fail to repay huge loans advanced by Chinese lenders. In November, African Stand reported on how Kenya is at high risk of Losing strategic assets over huge Chinese debt and just after a few month the Chinese are about to take action.

Bottom line is that pulling back to confront Russia and China is counterproductive. Advance deployments and influence is what was designed to prevent a lopsided confrontation, by forming global alliances that maintain what Eisenhower wisely referred to as the American need for a confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Losing alliances also means American warfare technology (which depends increasingly on intelligence) becomes less reliable in the very near future. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but things like “Simple map displays require 96 hours to synchronize a brigade or division targeting cycle…” will get performance gains faster/better through augmenting human alliance networks in the field rather than pulling out and relying on AI alone.


Update October 24: LSE’s Stephen Paduano and alum John McDermott write in The Economist that the rise of Russian activity in Africa has been accompanied by senseless violence.

When three Russian journalists tried to investigate their country’s shady operations in the Central African Republic they turned up dead in July 2018

Why Your Toaster Has a Firewall

Presentations I have given over many years about cloud safety will reference the fact a ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI) made toasters safe.

My point has been simply that virtual machines, containers, etc. have an abstraction layer that can benefit from a systemic approach to connectivity and platform safety, rather than pushing every instance to be armored.

The background to the toaster safety story is actually from a computer science (and EE) professor in the 1950s at Berkeley. He was researching physiological effects of electric shocks when applied to humans and animals to (pinpoint exactly what causes a heart to stop).

He narrowed the cause of death enough to patent an interrupt device for electric lines, which basically is a firewall at a connection point that blocks flow of current:

The first regulation requiring GFCI was for electricians working on swimming pools:

GFCIs are defined in Article 100 of the NEC as “A device intended for the protection of personnel that functions to de-energize a circuit or portion thereof within an established period of time when a current to ground exceeds the values established for a Class A device.” Class A GFCIs, which are the type required in and around swimming pools, trip when the current to ground is 6 mA or higher and do not trip when the current to ground is less than 4 mA.

Fast forward to cartoonists today and some obviously have completely missed the fact that selling consumers a firewall for connected toasters is a 50-year old topic with long-standing regulations.

Why Does NYC Hate Cycling to Work?

The mythical NYC bike commuter in a car-dominated toxic landscape

The other day I pointed out a strange disconnect between transit safety models in Holland and NYC.

While the Dutch claim their density is what causes their cycling safety, there’s no such effect in the US. San Francisco is far less dense than NYC yet far more progressive in terms of cycling safety.

Amazing analysis coming in from CityLab confirms the US has something else going on:

San Francisco tops the ranking of large metros in the index, followed by Boston and New York. What’s interesting is that the New York metro leads on three of the four variables of the index. It has far and away the largest share of households who report no access to a vehicle, 22 percent. (That’s more than three times the share in both San Francisco and Boston.) New York is also the clear leader in the share of commuters who use transit to get to work, with more than 30 percent, almost double San Francisco’s share. And it has the edge on the share of commuters who walk to work, roughly 6 percent.

But New York has a far smaller share of commuters who bike to work. It even fails to crack the top 10 on this metric, coming 101st out of 382 metros, or 22nd out of 53 large metros.

Full disclosure: I have commuted by bicycle in cities around the world all year through wind, rain, snow, sleet…up hills and down.

The reasons against cycling to work in NYC definitely are not topographical or weather related. San Francisco obviously is hilly and many other cities have comparable temperatures and precipitation than NYC.

56% of Copenhageners ride a bicycle for transport daily. 75% cycle all winter.

“Rush Hour Copenhagen” by Mikael Colville-Andersen

The core reason, I believe, is the politics of NYC and how they perceive personal power accumulation measured by dollar bills in their bank accounts to be inversely related to the health of the environment they commute in/through.

The city has a pollution-loving history with a huge “we’re busy trying to get rich/famous, leave us alone” lobby that claims doing the right thing for “others” is economically unfeasible in their list of priorities.

The term “economic feasibility” has been subject to debate in the past. When the city banned styrofoam, it said that recycling the stuff was not economically or environmentally feasible. Restaurants and other industry sued in disagreement — and it took several more years and some back-and-forth in the courtroom before the ban was finalized.

The typical NYC powerful resident would go to the gym and spin to look “better than others” in work or personal life, but has little interest in getting on a bike for the same workout when told it results in making the city a better place to live for others.

Anthropologists can probably explain why trains have escaped this dilemma, and it likely just has to do with momentum (Victorian cycling trends that benefited women most can be wiped off the streets in a day by car lobbyists, but it takes a lot more to kill popular yet unprofitable trains).

This of course is not saying NYC has no residents concerned with the environment.

It is to say the people who care have very little political power in a city filled with Napoleonic Ubermensches who blatantly ignore the genius lessons of Grant’s anti-Napoleonic ethic (memorialized yet disrespectfully hidden away at 122nd Street) and instead believe they must constantly be stepping on others to get ahead.

The city’s Five Borough Bike Tour shows how good-intentioned people of the city are so disenfranchised they have exactly the wrong attitude, marketing safe cycling as some kind of weird special event:

The idea of seeing all five boroughs in one day and seeing the streets shut down is such a unique opportunity

First, the streets aren’t shut down. They are being used more effectively. Stop calling proper use of streets to maximize throughput a shutdown.

Second, people are restricting their movements because cars make it so painful to go any distance let alone the magic 30 minute commute in a city that’s pushing a sad 40 minute average. Five boroughs is not actually much distance to cover in a day.

Third, this should not be seen as a unique experience. It needs to be a monthly event if not weekly. A single day for cycling to be made safe is pathetic in a city that claims it wants always to be “on” and alive.

I’ve written before about the benefits of cycling in cities and the bottom line is the economics are clear and simple. What’s unclear is who in NYC has the political power and sense to do the right thing?

The real story presented by Citylab data is bicyclists must find a LaGuardia-like talent to overcome NYC power culture now rooted in the self-gain mindset of cars that brings willful disregard for others’ safety and health.

Here’s what the National Motorist Association said to block NYC allowing multi-passenger high-density traffic priority over individuals in cars:

…what is really tedious is that we are not allowed to drive, but you expect money from motorists…

That’s crazy talk (absolutism and a fallacy), given how redirection from one street in an entire city doesn’t mean cars are being banned from all streets.

Think about what the motorist association is claiming: a single person who pays any amount of money demands that they are entitled to blockade hundreds or even thousands of others on the street just because they like to sit in public inside a private inconvenience box.

Thinking inside the box. Cyclists demonstrate the stupidity of cars

Drivers were being told they would have to avoid a street (small inconvenience) where a dedicated bus lane was being created for greater good… and that car association said no way would they allow smarter traffic planning if it takes away one inch of asphalt for them to generate harms, because they’re wealthy.

This is not an isolated case according to repeated psychological studies of motorists:

Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Piff monitored intersections with four-way stop signs and found that people in expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers, compared to folks in more modest vehicles. …expensive cars drove right on by 46.2 percent of the time, even when they’d made eye contact with the pedestrians waiting to cross. Other studies by the same team showed that wealthier subjects were more likely to cheat…

If I were the city, I’d point out that motorists are heavily subsidized already and thus stealing from others by not paying nearly enough for the damage to infrastructure they cause:

American Infrastructure is crumbling. The ASCE has given American infrastructure a “D+”. It could cost almost $5 trillion to fully fix and upgrade American infrastructure. Congestion charging systems could potentially raise billions of dollars per year.

Here, let me frame (pun not intended) this another way: if a car is on the street then that street in NYC should be declared shut down.

I mean if we use that first point of the Five Borough Bike Tour properly, when cars use the streets the streets are effectively shut down and highly polluted (from brake dust to exhaust it’s a huge mess with slow cleanup).

People forget how influential and successful LaGuardia was dealing with the predatory and selfish mindset in NYC, and that his rural experiences and humanitarian values arguably are what made his vision of the city so great.

When will the next LaGuardia ride into town?

German Prosecutors Bring Criminal Charges Against VW Execs

In a stunning move by German prosecutors, criminal charges have been brought against VW leadership for failing to disclose to shareholders (in a timely fashion) the huge financial risks of cheating diesel emissions tests.

It is certain the team bringing this level of charges against a CEO is very well aware what it means to the German economy; they are doing the right thing anyway.

In fact the American diesel companies effectively ran similar cheats as VW yet, politically speaking, they seem to be facing little or no reaction unless you count some legal wranglings starting in 2018.

…class-action lawsuit filed today accuses Ford and Bosch of knowingly installing emissions-cheating software devices in 2011-2017 Ford 250 and 350 Super Duty diesel pickup trucks, akin to the devices at the center of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, allowing the affected pickups to pollute at levels up to 50 times legal limits, according to Hagens Berman

In a completely unreported event earlier this year, Ford tried to tell the court their executives are immune to charges of cheating and fraud because “no true defeat device” can be defined.

Thankfully their silly fallacy seems to have been thrown out.

The Court agrees that Plaintiffs’ claims are not contingent on their ability to prove that Ford used defeat devices in its vehicles. […] Ford fails to point out that even if Plaintiffs were no longer able to refer to Ford’s alleged use of defeat devices, Plaintiffs could still succeed with their fraud claims. The true issue with regard to Plaintiffs’ fraud claims is whether or not Ford materially deceived (under the various state laws) its consumers. The Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a claim for fraud, under state laws, without relying on Ford’s alleged use of defeat devices. […] Plaintiffs’ overpayment theory is sufficient to provide standing to sue Bosch LLC because of its role in the use and concealment of a cheat device that allegedly constrained the emissions control system of the vehicles purchased by Plaintiffs.

That’s still a very long way from Ford executives being accountable for anything, let alone facing criminal charges for deceptive practices.

Last time I checked the only CEO scandal at Ford was firing the guy who failed to build electric cars fast enough for market demand after the company proudly removed regulatory requirements to build electric cars faster and quickly destroyed its own fleet of them.

Try to figure that one out.

With the widely promoted news about VW cheating America basically lit a fire under German regulators, while seemingly doing little domestically about the same. Have you heard of any real diesel emission cheating impacts to Ford or GM? And those aren’t the only three. Many car companies were cheating…

The impact to VW has had the perversely competitive effect of passively warning American manufacturers about emissions cheating by making an example of a foreign company that is held back now under real accountability to its regulators.

I’d suggest we consider at this point whether German behavior is some kind of time-capsule from Allied 1940s ethical thinking about doing the right thing, instilled during the Eisenhower occupation of Germany; a mindset sadly that has faded away in modern America.

Imagine today seeing posters like this one that told Americans to read and appreciate black history in order to defeat fascism:

US anti-fascism posters encouraged Americans to read about black history and culture

Industries of Nazi Germany infamously went along willingly with obviously toxic policies of Hitler such as using slaves to build vehicles. Only when bombs were raining down on Nazi car executives’ own heads did change begin, and even then reparations have been slow.

“The ghost of the Third Reich will hang over every Volkswagen car unless the company takes action and provides justice to the thousands of its former slave labourers around the world,” Mr Weiss said.

Some Nazis who experienced the ill-gotten wealth from white-nationalism have even recently said they don’t object to how their company used to engage in slavery to increase their own wealth.

…her remarks that the firm did nothing wrong when it employed 200 forced labourers during World War II were thoughtless. […] Former forced labourers have failed to obtain compensation from Bahlsen in individual lawsuits, with German courts citing statute of limitations laws. […] Verena Bahlsen has also been criticised for boasting about her wealth and love of conspicuous consumption. “I own a fourth of Bahlsen and I am very happy about that. I want to earn money and buy a … yacht,” she said at a business event in Hamburg earlier this month.”

The difference today in Germany, after Allied bombing campaigns cleared the way, seems to be that government prosecutors are in position and willing to go after abusers early, with real authority to hold executives accountable and force their course-corrections.

CHP “Spike Stop” Tesla Driving Wrong Way Across Bay Bridge

Was the driver asleep? Failure of the car’s “intelligence” seems the most likely explanation, although we can’t yet rule out a human deciding to drive into oncoming traffic across a bridge at 230am. The driver looks alert and standing freely, surrounded by CHP:

KTVU Footage

Here’s the map view of the Freemont entrance to the Bay Bridge, with yellow lines to demarcate I-80 and its various tentacles gripping the city. It’s been going through renovations and at least confusing enough that Google felt a need to place directional arrows on their map:

Again, it’s tempting to say Tesla has nothing to do with this. Perhaps some will say a human would have had a reason (from being confused to willful disregard) to enter the wrong deck (upper, westbound) while headed east over bridge. They may even argue the computer could have done a better job.

However it’s even more likely and tempting to discuss whether a SF driver asleep like so many other cases put too much trust in their car (typical tech worker living in East Bay taking Tesla into city because awesome supercar autopilot is awesome, duh why don’t you believe in the ubergenius of Musk?).

Remember drunk Tesla driver who parked on Bay Bridge?

Officers say he failed a sobriety test but told them it didn’t matter because his car was on auto-pilot.

And then there was Tesla guy asleep while driving south on 101 at 3:30am at 70 mph. CHP put themselves in front of the Tesla and hit the brakes to convince the computer to stop:

CHP could not confirm that the vehicle was on Autopilot, but “considering the vehicle’s ability to slow to a stop when Samek was asleep, it appears the ‘driver assist’ feature may have been active at the time.”

And another Tesla was spotted in LA operating without a driver, apparently because a “little thing” defeated Tesla’s best safety attempts to detect human alertness

the Tesla driver appeared slumped over with something tied around the steering wheel.

“If his little thing tied around that steering wheel fell off, and he was still sleeping, he would have slammed into somebody going 65 miles per hour,” Miladinovich said.

When the system doesn’t sense adequate torque on the steering wheel, Tesla says…[it does something about it]

It may turn out Tesla engineers didn’t think about common safety issues for upper and lower deck bridges. That’s what we’re waiting now to have CHP confirm, based on the story so far and that screen grab of the driver.

In birds-eye view you can see the reports of Tesla going the wrong-way at Freemont Street and I-80 puts the car right at the start of the upper/lower deck split:

Entering upper deck means a primitive navigation tool still would register right path on map and be unable to react until it was far too late (separated past Treasure Island) and restricted by barriers…continuing about 10 miles into the 880 northbound on the wrong side.

All that above begs the question whether a 2019 computer would allow such navigation variances that it wouldn’t prevent a car from driving directly into oncoming traffic on the wrong deck of one of the longest bridges in America, close to Tesla HQ.

Tesla engineering has been known to misread road lines, misread road-signs, slam into barriers and even spontaneously explode into fireball…at this point I’ll wager a stacked double-decker bridge entrance was all it took for Tesla AI to willingly start driving wrong way.

Take Your Bike Helmet Off and Hold Cars Accountable

There’s a new first-person account in the New Yorker of some cultural differences between cycling in Holland and America:

Angela van der Kloof, a cycling expert and project leader with the Delft mobility consultancy Mobycon, told me, “From a young age in the Netherlands, we’re trained to take note of others. Not by a teacher but by the way we do things. I think we are very much used to physical negotiation.” Dutch people live in small houses, ride on crowded trains, and generally jostle against one another—the Netherlands has the sixteenth-highest population density in the world. Navigating complicated traffic situations, calmly and systematically, came naturally to our neighbors.

The key to this story is actually how Dutch women had the power to organize and campaign for protecting children from being murdered by people operating cars:

With cars came carnage. In 1971 alone, thirty-three hundred people—including more than four hundred children—were killed on Dutch roads. A number of organizations, including a group named Stop de Kindermoord, or Stop the Child Murder, began agitating to take the streets back from automobiles.

Contrast this story with America, where cars are treated like guns and operators are allowed to commit indiscriminate murder as an expression of an individual’s power over society, which Next City has explained in qualitative examples:

Morgan stayed in the intensive care unit for another month. For the first two weeks, the doctors weren’t positive she would survive. By the end of it all, medical expenses totaled more than $500,000.

“I was scared to death,” says her husband, David Morgan.

His fear would soon turn to anger when he realized that local police had no interest in pursuing charges against the woman who nearly killed his wife. After the State Highway Patrol’s investigation concluded that there were no grounds for felony charges, the district attorney also demurred from pressing charges.

“As far as the state of Mississippi goes, you could be an armadillo hit on the road, and the state treats you just the same as a… cyclist,” Morgan says.

What the New Yorker article about cycling in Holland misses entirely, ironically, is that the density of crowds cited by those living in Holland is not a sufficient ingredient on its own. Next City explains this using NYC quantitative data. Clearly NYC is an American city where people also are used to physical negotiation:

Consider crash data from New York City, which has installed more than 350 miles of bike lanes. There were 14,327 pedestrian and cyclist injuries in 2012 as a result of vehicle crashes, but police cited only 101 motorists with careless driving, a rate of less than 1 percent.

The actual difference is thus not growing up in density, but rather the levels of political engagement by women.

Cycling historically has been described as an independence movement for women, which should put male-dominated legislative action impeding people cycling in its proper perspective. Also women cyclists in America tend to be more at risk from cars and thus more likely to design safety infrastructure, as drivers put them more at risk:

“What we found was that female cyclists had a significantly different experience riding than the male riders did. … Female riders tend to have more aggressive interactions with drivers than male riders did.” …researchers found — no surprise — that protected bike lanes offered the best protection. Cars stayed an average 7.5 feet from cyclists cruising along a bike lane separated from traffic by bollards. No bike lanes, more close calls.

A campaign like “Stop de Kindermoord, or Stop the Child Murder” emphasizes the rights of children to live free from harm by adults in cars. America is about as likely to see a campaign like that succeed as elect a woman President instead of a man repeatedly accused of harming children for his self-benefit.

Don’t forget, America remains the only country in the world that has failed to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Holding cars accountable for killing cyclists and pedestrians would be like Epstein going to jail decades ago for harming children, yet instead he was seen free and partying freely with the White House Occupant.

The bottom line is that the safety of roads is about political power. That is why putting on helmets is the wrong answer. When cycling below 12 mph, which is the vast majority of commuter cyclists, the right answer is to place responsibility of safety upon those operating heavily armored machinery.

In a world where others may be harmed by their actions, machine operators must be accountable. If you think this is foreshadowing the problem of holding drone owners responsible for killing people, you are right.

Bay Area Bicycle Law points out that from 2013 to 2017 3,958 Cyclists have died across the U.S. for an average of 792 each year. 98% (777 of the 792) were in accidents with motor vehicles and 83% of cyclists had helmets on when they were murdered.

Let me say that again, 98% were in accidents with motor vehicles and a whopping 83% died with helmets on. Do you see the problem?

California, with far less density than NYC or Holland, repeatedly has opposed helmet laws and for the right reasons (same as in Holland).

Peter Jacobsen, a Sacramento-based public health consultant, believes helmet laws may make streets less safe for cyclists. Australia and New Zealand recently introduced compulsory helmet laws, and bike use fell by 33 percent, he said. Numerous reports have found that cycling conditions improve with more riders on streets. By reducing the number of cyclists through helmet laws, conditions actually get more dangerous.

He also said studies have shown that motorists drive closer to cyclists with helmets on, and that helmets only reduce minor injuries, not fatalities. “Bike helmets are padding; they’re not armor,” he said.

Cars are armor. If cyclists put on armor, they’d be a car.

Not only do helmet laws decrease cycling by a significant amount, they do not show any real decrease in the death rate. In other words, data repeatedly shows how helmets impede cycling and thus make it less safe for the vast majority of cyclists.

Exceptions do exist and are important: habitually unsteady high-risk riders such as children and racers. These exceptions are easily handled, however, such as requiring helmets to compete in a race where contestants will gladly abide for the chance of winning.

The right formula is encourage more cyclists operating at speeds averaging below 12 mph in physically separated lanes, with NO adult requirement for helmets, and strict accountability for those who operate heavy (i.e. dangerous) machinery in the midst. Protecting the vulnerable shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out for our streets.

The fact that Holland has effectively already done it (as well as Denmark, Sweden, etc.) means America is running out of excuses to justify murderous drivers, as “A view from the cycle path” has illustrated quite simply:

“The absolute number of child fatalities dropped by 98% over a period of time when the population size and the proportion of trips made by bicycle both rose significantly.”

The answer to the problem of cars killing cyclists is directly related to how the American political system allows care and consideration for vulnerable populations at risk of being harmed due to a weapon authorization for individuals.

We need to be intelligent enough to start the move away from these American headlines:

Which means sites like Twitter need to recognize the harm from its role in peddling active calls to use cars to murder non-whites, and how this propaganda relates to “Republicans want to legalize running over pedestrians“:

…state Rep. Keith Kempenich, perversely suggested that shielding drivers who kill protesters was a necessary anti-terrorism measure.

All that being said, there recently have been at least two notable exceptions to the sad state of weaponized roadways in America:

  1. White supremacist use of car as weapon. Found guilty of first-degree murder
  2. Driver charged with intent to kill. 5 cyclists dead

Tesla Threat to Public Safety

WalMart is suing Tesla for negligence, saying Elon Musk’s rush to market is failing industry standards of safety

…as of November 2018, fires broke out at no fewer than seven of the stores, forcing the disconnection of all the solar panel systems for the safety of the public…[because installed] haphazardly and as quickly as possible in order to turn a profit

Has Tesla released a transparency report on the total number of unexplained fires it’s caused? There are so many.

Even more concerning is how very little tangible response has come from the manufacturer, despite being cited as significantly worse than other manufacturers. For example:

Spontaneous combustion without warning:

…around 8:15 pm on Sunday night, the Tesla Model S is seen emitting smoke before suddenly bursting into flames. Further video shows the resulting charred wreckage, including that of two other nearby cars.

Once you realize the likelihood of a fire is unpredictable and could be increasing dramatically without explanation, the severity of these fires is also a major concern.

The fires seem to re-ignite unpredictably, are extremely toxic and, because of those two attributes, require expensive special training and equipment funded by tax-payers:

“With a gasoline fire, they know if they get enough water on it, it’ll go out,” [Peter Sunderland, a professor of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland] said. “But with a deep-seated fire, it’s hard to spray the water deep enough into the battery to stop the fire.”

Slate reported that the firefighters who attempted to put out the 2013 Model S car fire in Seattle had trouble and “ended up using a circular saw to cut a hole that would allow them to pour water directly on the battery.”

In a fiery Tesla crash into a barrier in Austria, the car kept reigniting, forcing firefighters to battle the flames for hours. The car had to be put into quarantine for 48 hours to remove the chances of reignition, Jalopnik reported.

What’s more, lithium-ion fires can release high levels of “toxic gases” such as carbon monoxide, soot, hydrogen fluoride, and particulates of oxides of nickel; aluminum; lithium; copper; and cobalt, according to a Tesla Model X emergency response guide. As a result, firefighters need to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus and should use hoses that spray fog and special ventilation fans that push air out at a high velocity to protect bystanders downwind of the fire, according to the guide.

There are dozens of stories of Tesla fires not only being far less predictable, more expensive and more toxic than other products, they seem to not have any cohesive story yet of what to expect in the future.

In several cases the fires were extinguished at first encounter. Then had to be extinguished again on the tow truck. Then had to be extinguished again in the junk yard. That’s a multiplier effect for several reasons, not least of all because fires on tow trucks and in junk yards are not supposed to happen.

Initially Tesla’s CEO tried use social media to claim his products “500% less likely” to catch fire. This almost immediately was disproved (not to mention ridiculed by many for using math incorrectly)

Tesla, without a question, has a way higher incidence of fire deaths than other cars.

Then the car manufacturer tried to pivot to an argument that their fire death statistics aren’t being separated from collisions, where occupants would have died anyway. This again ignores the fact that their fires are different in ways that increase the likelihood of fatalities, not only for occupants but also those responding to help.

Tesla’s CEO should not be allowed to misrepresent harm likelihood and severity of his products when clearly there is ample and growing data on sub-standard engineering practices and threat to society. WalMart is picking up a hot topic, to be sure.

The CEO’s “safer than what you can buy from others” false claim even seems to be turned into a joke by him in 2018, as you can see in his attempts at humor when promoting sales of a flamethrower:

A Boring Company spokesperson said its flamethrower is ‘safer than what you can buy right now off-the-shelf on Amazon to destroy weeds’.

If Tesla wanted to extol virtues of battery technology, it would be that the carbon footprint producing them is zeroed out in just a few years and they emit zero harms when operating normally. That would be a viable defense, while they work to improve engineering to reduce fire likelihood and severity.

However, instead we see a company try dismissive fallacies (false equivalence in fires) and make claims their products give better odds of survival than other manufacturers.

The data doesn’t support Tesla in this comparison, since likelihood and severity of their fires already appear to be higher and trending worse with minimal explanation and no recall.

Tesla had at least quadruple (5 observed fire deaths vs. 1.19 expected) the fire-related mortality of the average car from 2016 through 1Q 2019

In fact, arson soon could be added to increasing probability of Tesla fires as owners realize what spontaneous fire in an unexpected location can mean (e.g. parking garage near structural integrity of a building). Imagine investigators trying to ascertain whether a Tesla exploding within a building was predictable with intent or just another “safer that what you can buy from others” incident.

The infamously glib and unapologetic “everything’s better with fire” social media presence of their CEO suggests WalMart’s lawsuit declaring his product line to be a public safety hazard…may document how failures in engineering duty-to-care may even come from the top.

“Parked Teslas Keep Catching on Fire Randomly, And There’s No Recall In Sight” –TheDrive

Why E-Scooters Are Big Polluters

A new scientific paper makes a number of recommendations that are so obviously good, it makes it seem the E-Scooter industry has put little to no thought into environmental harms.

We illustrate the potential to reduce life cycle global warming impacts through improved scooter collection and charging approaches, including the use of fuel-efficient vehicles for collection (yielding 177 g CO2-eq/passenger-mile), limiting scooter collection to those with a low battery state of charge (164 g CO2-eq/passenger-mile)

Turns out burning oil to shuffle empty yet charged scooters around is…wait for it…generating pollution. Science.

The study also points out short lifecycles of the scooters due to lack of resilience (against intentional or accidental harms) is another factor. The conclusion is pretty clear:

Claims of environmental benefits from their use should be met with skepticism…

In other words, ride a bicycle.

Epstein’s Counterfeit Austrian Passport

There is some excellent reporting from the Daily Beast, as they lay out the details of a police search:

…U.S. attorney’s office said that the travel document “contains numerous ingress and egress stamps, including stamps that reflect use of the passport to enter France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.”

The passport—which was Austrian but listed a Saudi Arabia address—was found in a locked safe…

A few notable points here:

  • Locked safe contents
  • False identity
  • France, Spain, UK and Saudi Arabia in 1980s

The locked safe is notable because the false identity passport was very old, yet never had been destroyed. Why keep an old document locked in a safe unless it still serves some purpose? Let’s look at what it may prove for those gaining access.

This triad of European countries with Saudi Arabia immediately should be recognized as an arms trade group.

It was less than a year ago this was discussed in the news:

UK, France and Spain to maintain arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The word “maintain” is a big clue. We are talking here about passport stamps from the 1980s, when those arms sales initiated.

An older news story from the 1990s thus becomes more relevant to perhaps explain why this passport still was locked in a safe.

…Mark Thatcher, 41, helped broker a British arms deal to Saudi Arabia worth a reported $35 billion in the mid-1980s.

According to a long report in the London Sunday Times, middlemen in the arms deal–which involved aircraft, warships and ammunition–received about $360 million for their services.

Both the Sunday Times and the Independent on Sunday said Mark Thatcher earned a $19-million commission for helping secure the deal.

Whenever arms trade, or similar black market dealings, come to light there usually are signs of an effort to make large payments untraceable. The Daily Beast offers exactly these details from the police search.

Also found in the safe was $70,000 in cash and 48 small diamonds that prosecutors contend are often kept on hand by someone who needs to make a quick getaway.

I understand why prosecutors right now are saying diamonds are evidence of quick getaway plans. They have a job to do and they probably are right about flight risk.

Yet quick getaway plans don’t match up with a long-expired counterfeit passport, which is why I am reminded here of a similar story from Frontline in 2002 of arms payable in diamonds

U.N. arms expert Johan Peleman…got a lucky break. Peleman learned of a cocaine bust in Milan, where Italian police discovered four prostitutes in a hotel room with a Ukrainian businessman named Leonid Minin. The police also discovered more than $35,000 in cash, a half-million dollars in diamonds, and more than 1,500 documents detailing a tangled web of business dealings in oil, diamonds, timber and gun shipments to Africa.

A police search based on drugs and prostitution uncovers cash, diamonds and…arms deals.

What may come to pass is the current investigation into Epstein’s history of sex crimes also may now implicate him in serving Israel funneling European arms to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan Administration.

When Reagan came to power he wanted to undo humanitarian embargo policies that Carter had enacted, avoid Congressional worry about oil embargo/power, and return to the prior era of executive-privilege like Nixon/Kissenger secret arms deals.

The explosive growth of major cash sales of weapons to Third World nations—especially those in the oil-rich, but politically volatile Middle East and Persian Gulf region—stimulated a growing congressional desire to be better informed, and consulted with, on such sales that had serious potential consquences for American national interests.

New Yorker Cartoon, 31 May 1974

More to the point, Nixon had spent the early 1970s secretly building up Iran’s military capabilities and Reagan wanted to spend the mid-1980s using executive power to expand Iraq’s military capabilities in a war with Iran.

Here’s “National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 99, signed on July 12, 1983″, which clearly explains everything in Reagan’s mind.

1985 seems to be the crucial turning point in strategy, as Reagan normalized relations with Iraq he also backtracked on direct arms sales to the Saudis (claiming personal responsibility while also saying he didn’t know what was going on).

You can see the result of that shift was arms deal numbers jumped for France, UK and Spain:

That’s a graph I made from the SIPRI database of 1980s arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Who brokered them?

The answer in part might be a guy who founded his own financial firm in 1982. His peculiar Austrian passport with a fake name, a Saudi address and stamps from France, UK and Spain now just needs to be held up to a 1980s calendar of major arms deals:

Maybe the target of this current investigation also will be linked directly with infamously unpopular American-made secretive arms deals to both Iran and Iraq to manipulate and destabilize them (see also: Iran-Contra Scandal of 1986).

The Shadow World and BAE Files have a Compendium at Tufts that summarize the significance of this passport to already documented history:

An investigation by the UK government’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) uncovered ‘commission payments, or bribes, totaling as much as GBP 6 billion paid by BAE Systems to members of the Saudi royal family and others.

[…]

The [1985] Al Yamamah deal resulted from the reluctance of the U.S. Congress in the early 1980s to allow sales of major combat aircraft to Saudi Arabia, fearing they may be used against Israel.

General reporting about the 1980s may call out a “reluctance of the U.S. Congress” to sell arms, and I often see talk about Thatcher’s “intent to create jobs” (lining the pockets of her own son) by selling arms into brutally repressive regimes. Andrew Feinstein even goes so far in his book “The Shadow World” to phrase the deals like this (p91):

Such were the benefits of Al Yamamah to Thatcher fils that some refer to the deal as ‘who’s ya mama’.

I have yet to find anyone discussing however whether Epstein was given an Austrian passport by the US or Israel to broker European arms into Saudi Arabia and thereby fuel Iraq in its war with Iran.

In other words, people talk about Epstein’s strange and shadowy accumulation of wealth in very similar terms to Thatcher, without any of the transparency. Maybe they should look into whether his counterfeit passport was within or near a nexus of arms payments between Reagan, Thatcher, Prince Bandar “Bush” bin Sultan, Saddam Hussein and Shimon Peres.

To help, I’ll give a couple examples of what money laundering and arms trade accountability has looked like for Mark Thatcher.

First, consider his conviction for laundering a diamond mines and oil coup d’etat led by an ex-SAS officer:

…son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pleaded guilty Thursday to unwittingly helping bankroll a botched coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea…[after] he paid $275,000 in two installments last year to charter an Alouette III helicopter to be used in the takeover attempt…

I say laundering because his “unwittingly” helpful role since has been proven to be formally approved as necessary by British Prime Minister Thatcher, his mother.

On his release from prison, [ex-SAS officer] Mann said he could never forgive Sir Mark, who he claimed was a key participant in the military adventure rather than a mere investor, for failing to come to his aid.

And second, given the above secretive laundering role, there’s a direct parallel to Epstein’s track record in “financial services” versus reality:

For years mystery has surrounded the way in which Mark Thatcher suddenly acquired great wealth in the 1980s, when his mother was in office. He repeatedly has refused to answer journalists’ questions about the subject but is reported to have told friends he made his fortune offering “financial services.

[…]

The Sunday Times said Thatcher was one of a group of people who helped broker the deal, and who received among them a $360 million commission from the Saudis. It said his share was $18 million.

[…]

The Sunday Times quoted Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi as saying that Mark Thatcher’s value to the Saudis during the negotiation was that he could go to his mother and get an answer to any question they raised.

That leaves quite a lot for Epstein. Given records saying the Saudis expected sexual favors as part of the bribery system (e.g. the UK inflated cost of its jets 30% before signing the deal), it’s not a stretch to see how human trafficking through private jets and private islands became Epstein’s 1980s self-enrichment plan, thanks to his special passport.

Now we just need the Daily Beast to give us some dates from his passport stamps and the name in the passport to see if the above international history analysis holds any water.

EV Charging Station Vulnerability

Anyone else read this article about the bug in a Schneider product?

At its worst, an attacker can force a plugged-in vehicle to stop charging

At its best, an attacker can give away power for free.

That’s basically it. A hardcoded password meant the power could be disabled, although really that means it could be enabled again too. Breaking news: a switch installed in public places could be switched without special switching authorization.

It’s kind of like those air pumps at gas stations that say you need to insert $0.25 when really you just have to push the button, or at least yell at the person in the station booth “hey I need some air here, enable the button so I can push it” and you get air for free.

Breaking news: I got some air for my tires without inserting a quarter. Someone call TechCrunch journalists.

Seriously though, it would be news if someone actually had to pay for a plugged-in tire to start filling.

If a gas station owner insists that you have to pay for air even after you’ve used the pump, stand your ground. If that doesn’t work, here’s the form to report the station to state officials.

That’s right, and speaking of denial of service…an attacker could even run off with a gasoline pump hose (they have safety release mechanisms) or an air hose. Such a brazen attack would leave cars that have tires and gas tanks without services when they pull into a station.

Fuel host disconnects do happen fairly often, by the way. So often there are even videos and lots of news stories about why and where it happens (protip: bad weather is correlated):

And yet TechCrunch wants us to be scared of EV cables being disconnected:

…unlock the cable during the charging by manipulating the socket locking hatch, meaning attackers could walk away with the cable.

Safety first, amiright? Design a breakaway and attackers can walk away with the cable…for safety.

Such a “vulnerability story” as this EV one by TechCrunch makes me imagine a world where the ranking of stories has a CVSS score attached…a world where “news” like this can theoretically never rise above stories with a severity actually worth thinking about.

An attacker could disable or enable a charging point, where charging status is something easily monitored and on a near-continuous basis. Did your car just stop charging? It’s something you and the provider ought to know in the regular course of using a power plug.

This ranks about as low as you can go in terms of security story value…yet a journalist dedicated a whole page to discuss how a public power-plug can be turned on and off without strong authentication.