Oops – Spoiler Alert – Boardwalk Empire

Oops - Spoiler Alert - Boardwalk Empire

Tweeted out this photo of a charcoal drawing my son did for art class depicting the final moments of a beloved character from the 4th season finale of the enormously wonderful HBO show Boardwalk Empire. It was retweeted by @Boardwalk Empire and retweeted and favorited numerous times again by their followers.

But apparently people in Europe have not seen Season 4 yet so… yeah, feel bad about that. So if anybody wants to spoil season 4 of Downton Abbey for me, it’s only fair.

13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

To follow up on last night’s post about wind energy parity and Buffett’s big investment here’s Think Progress’s 13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs of 2013.

Wind, solar, ocean and batteries all made big advances in 2013. Looking forward to 2014. The marriage of SolarCity and Tesla alone is something to be excited about.

SolarCity and Tesla are teaming up to bring a combination of solar power and storage to commercial buildings in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The system is called DemandLogic, and it involves batteries produced by Tesla Motors — “about the size of a small refrigerator” — combined with a solar array and software that communicates with the wider grid, responding to changes in rates and electricity demand and balancing those with what the solar array and the battery can provide.

Buffett’s $1B Big Deal in Wind Energy

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To quote Joe Biden this is a “big f’n deal.” Prices of wind energy generation have come down so much in the last 4 years that it is now within 5.5% of coal, but without the sad externalities of coal that include acid rain and emphysema. Wind is now so close to a sure thing as an investment that Warren Buffett’s energy utility company is putting down a $1 billion investment in wind turbines for a project in Iowa.  

Wind is the cheapest source of power in Iowa, and the deal indicates that turbines are becoming profitable without subsidies, according to Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association trade group. That’s a boost for suppliers including Siemens, General Electric Co. (GE) and Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS), and a threat to coal miners such as Peabody Energy Corp.

“If Congress were to remove all the subsidies from every energy source, the wind industry can compete on its own,” Kiernan said at a press conference at a Siemens factory in Fort Madison, Iowa, yesterday, when the order was announced.

Every coal fired plant that is retired results in thousands of healthier lungs, hearts and lakes.

Elizabeth Warren Proposes Bill to Ban Credit Scores in Hiring Process

It’s not the big bill to fix the economy we need, but that wouldn’t have any chance of passage any old way. I hope this bill does. There’s a lot of unfairness in the job hunt process and it’s just getting worse and worse, but the use of someone’s credit score against a person looking for a job seems so egregiously unfair it should be addressed. Senator Elizabeth Warren (aka the Sexiest Woman Alive) gets it and is proposing legislation to keep credit scores out of the process.  

Sen. Warren, is doing the people’s business in a way that is getting under the skin of certain corporate a-hole types

Obviously, a whopping great infrastructure package is off the table. And that’s not Elizabeth Warren’s fault, of course. But that’s the point, isn’t it: Elizabeth Warren, the de facto leader of the new economic justice movement, is so stifled by our broken system (the vetocracy, to use Francis Fukuyama’s apt phrase) that this counts as a reform worth of a major media outreach.

We need 50 more of her ilk. Huzzah! Huzzah! Sadly, the rest of the bad lot (read: Republicans) have allowed our entire economic situation to go unremediated in any real way.

When the history books of the Great Recession are written, there will be chapters and chapters about how a sclerotic and dysfunctional system of governance allowed a short-term aggregate demand shock to rot into a serious structural problem. The question now is whether Congress will let the wounded country keep staggering forward, or keep making things worse until the system completely breaks down.

Interesting New Fronts in Union Success

The struggles to get fair wages and benefits to low wage workers at WalMart and fast food franchises have gotten most of the publicity lately. However, there are several interesting new avenues of union organizational success to point to that are quite encouraging because they involve younger workers that are very removed from the traditional idea of “union workers.”

This story from the Nation is about the dancers on Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience World Tour and their success in getting a union contract from the tour producers that protects the dancers while on tour.

There are some basic challenges to organizing dancers. They are a motley crew—some are classically trained, others learn on the street—and convincing professional dancers that they are all in the same field has been a challenge for the Dancer’s Alliance. They’re also young and driven, and not necessarily thinking about retirement, or even life after 30. “The average age of a dancer has to be early 20s, at that age you really feel invincible,” Wilson said. “It’s a passion so we don’t care if our knees hurt or our feet are bleeding.”

“We’re trying to get young people taking responsibility for being business professionals,” said Himes. “Helping artists step up and get respect for what they do.”

And then there’s the long struggle for graduate student teachers at NYU to get recognized as a union and their seemingly unlikely alliance with the United Auto Workers. 

The graduate assistants voted 620 to 10 to affiliate with the United Automobile Workers, a move that will make their group the only graduate assistants’ union recognized by a private university in the United States. Contract negotiations are expected to begin within weeks between the university and the new U.A.W. affiliate, which the union says will include 1,247 graduate assistants at New York University and the university’s Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn.

Both of these stories represent innovative approaches to getting young workers the protection of collective bargaining. These are success stories that you don’t often hear about in the media that spends so much time and space on “business” but hardly any on “labor”.

Peter O’Toole – The Greatest Film Actor of a Generation

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O’Toole died this weekend at 81 and it was too soon. 81 is not long enough, not today. And especially not long enough for a particularly gifted actor who received his 8th Academy Award nomination at the age of 73 (Venus). Sadly, the Academy took O’Toole for granted because they continued to nominate him for his electric performances but never gave him a statuette until he finally accepted an honorary Oscar. 

It would be a crying shame if more people did not remember Peter O’Toole because he was one of a kind. A presence on screen that was absolutely unique for his ability to light up the screen like the great movie stars, but deliver powerful nuanced performances that had you hang on every word like only the finest stage actors can. 

A snippet of his eclectic filmography is illustrative.

He was a virtual unknown when David Lean cast him as T.E. Lawrence in the classic “Lawrence of Arabia”. It was a gamble, but O’Toole delivered a performance up to the film’s epic power.

In 1965 he shared the screen with a demented Peter Sellers in “What’s New Pussycat” playing a comically obsessed lothario as written by Woody Allen in Allen’s first screenplay.

In 1972 he played an insane English royal who believes himself to be Jesus Christ in “The Ruling Class”

in 1968 at the age of 36 he played a 52 year old Henry II opposite Katherine Hepburn’s Eleanor of Aquitaine in “The Lion in Winter”

In 1982 he played an aging, alcoholic swashbuckling movie star scared to death to do a live TV performance in “My Favorite Year”

O’Toole did high drama, low comedy, romantic leads and character turns. And through it all his personality and intensity came through.He could go toe to toe in intensity with Katherine Hepburn or Richard Burton or trade bon mots in light comedy with the likes of Audrey Hepburn. Great films or bad films you watched O’Toole, whatever he did because he made it interesting, personal, vital and impossible to look away.

As Kenneth Turan wrote in his remembrance: 

In thinking back over O’Toole’s career, I kept coming back to a line from “My Favorite Year,” when the desperate Swann insists, “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star.” Peter O’Toole was magnificently both, and he proved it time and time again.