Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toxic Tony or Toxic Townie

I am back from a business trip to Basel Switzerland. Unlike Alfalfa I flew in a commercial jet and I did not buy carbon offsets as I generally live my life in a green way. While in Switzerland I did keep up with the news on the Bayou Polluter and was saddened to see that the underwater robot had a mishap with the top hat and that for some hours the well was hatless and the blowout was in its full fury. The video of the full fury of the blowout is like a horror film and the main actor and super villain is Toxic Tony. BP may have removed Toxic Tony as their face of the disaster and he may never be seen again but like the shower scene from Psycho, him saying during an interview “I want my life back” is indelibly marked in my brain.

I know many of my readers wish I could drop the BP disaster and move on, but the disaster is only in its beginning stages and will haunt us like the film Psycho for years to come. It was reassuring to witness the many bicycles and filled trams that are used by folks in Basel to get around. Also there is a ferry that crosses the Rhine by using only the flowing force of the river. This ferry has been in operation for over five hundred years and it crosses the river by being tethered to an elevated guide wire above the river. The boat has a rudder system that creates a vector force that is perpendicular to the river and the pulleys on the guide wire simply let the boat slide across the river. The tethering to the guide wire also prevents the boat from drifting down the river. A bunch of high school kids were on the ferry with me and had folded paper boats that they let drift from the ferry as we crossed the Rhine. I estimated that the flow of the river was about 8 feet per second or about 5 miles per hour. The river was about 200 feet wide and the trip across took about two minutes. Hence using the vectoring effect of the rudder system we were able to use the 8 feet per second current to gain a velocity of about 1.5 feet per second in a perpendicular direction. This ferry ride that cost one Franc sixty cents was really priceless in how it opened my mind to how ingenious humans are and how five hundred years ago folks used the force of rivers for transport as well as mechanical power for such activities as milling grain.

Many of the private cars in Basel are small and many are diesel. Yet many of the vehicles only had a driver and no passengers. The freeways leading into the city have long traffic jams. Universally people are willing to inhale the exhaust fumes of others to “enjoy” the freedom and flexibility of motoring in their own vehicle. In this way we are all Toxic Townies. We live in cities and towns that offer public transport and bicycle lanes yet we fire up the internal combustion engines to provide us the assurance of a convenient ride home.

Next week Tesla will have its IPO and sell stock to some folks who believe this company’s business plan. The Wall Street bankers and the Sand Hill Road VCs are rubbing their hands taking in the money of thermodynamically impaired investors. In fairly short order Tesla will waste this money as well as the half billion dollars from the US government and the traffic jam on the 880 freeway past the old Toyota plant in Fremont California that Tesla will take over will still be bumper to bumper. The average Joe and the average Jane don’t really care about oil blowouts and global warming, they just want to get where they are going and naively believe Tesla or Obama will answer the call of the concrete jungle by producing an all electric car that is affordable. The politicians just worry about the upcoming November elections and the half billion won’t be gone by then. Toxic Tony does not need to worry he can sail a boat and spend the rest of his life in the lap of luxury getting his life back. The zombies stuck in traffic are just too lost to know how their lives are wasting away. I will write blogs that a few will read and once in a while I will take a ride on a river propelled ferry and wish for all of humankind to wake up from their toxic nightmare.


  1. I wouldn't judge the solo drivers in CH too harshly - when it comes to using railways for transportation, the CH is among the greenest. The Swiss log in more railway kilometres per person than an country in the world and rail travey accounts for 15% of all their travel kilometres (higher than any country save Japan). And yes, the US ranks at the bottom of both those lists...

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