Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Need A Surgeon General

Little did the NRA and its senators know that rejecting the Surgeon-General appointee would leave us leaderless in the fight against ebola. Sometimes there is a bigger picture than one's own hand-gun paranoia.

The Scablands

Ars Technica takes a look at what is a local landscape for me. It is truly unique on this planet.

Nuclear Power As Renewable Energy

This article makes a case for adding nuclear to the renewable energy list. The supply of fuel is limitless when one considers that scarcity will raise prices to the point that procurement technologies that are too expensive today become feasible at higher prices. That includes recycling and fast reactors for breeding fuel. The thorium cycle has yet to be exploited as well. Fully recycled fuel has no long-lived radioactive wastes. And nuclear power doesn't add to the CO2 problem.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Austerity Has Been a Big Disaster

Even more than we thought. And Krugman has big serious worries whether Europe can recover from its experiment with austerity.
It's all about the fiscal multiplier. Stimulus, you see, is measured by how much one dollar of government spending increases GDP. But in a normal economy, it doesn't. That's because the Federal Reserve has its inflation target that it's determined to hit (or at least not overshoot). Government spending, though, can flood the economy with money, raising prices in the process. So the Fed, in turn, would either raise rates to offset this spending it doesn't want, or wouldn't cut rates like it otherwise would have.

Either way, the Fed's actions would keep the economy from being any bigger with more government spending than it would be without it.

But this calculus changes when there's a recession, especially if interest rates are at zero. In that case, the Fed wouldn't want to neutralize stimulus spending. So GDP would grow at least as much as spending does - what economists call a multiplier of one - and maybe more since there could be spillover effects.

Think about it like this: spending money on roads and bridges might boost the economy more than just the money the government directly spends. That's because the newly-paid construction workers will go out and spend their money too - and so on, and so forth. Indeed, even the oh-so-orthodox International Monetary Fund estimates that the fiscal multiplier might be as high as 1.7 right now.

Production-Ready Aeromobil Flying Car To Debut

This video shows the aeromobil on the road and taking off into the air. Has the flying car finally arrived?

Fusion On the Cheap

The dynomak from University of Washington students could be a challenger to the big money designs. It's spherical in design and the magnetic containment field is produced by the current in the plasma.

An Advance in Carbon Capture

Liquid capture is energy-efficient but not that efficient at capturing CO2. Solids can capture CO2 efficiently but it takes lots of energy to move the CO2 out of the capture material. A slurry combination may be both cost-effective and energy-efficient.

More on Cold Fusion

This merits watching. Even if it isn't what it looks like, it could open the door on some very interesting physics. If it is what it looks like, it could revolutionize the world of power production and thereby just about everything else in the economy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

History Is Important

I've been really enjoying Ken Burns' series on Roosevelt.  Being a baby boomer, I don't have as much appreciation as I should of how much he changed this country and our philosophy of government for the better. If you can catch it, watch it.

Hospitals Benefit Under Obamacare

Despite all the hand-wringing, hospitals are seeing a boost to their bottom lines because more people are insured now. Many of the costs that just had to be written off now get remunerated. Duh.

Main Source of Fracking Gas Leaks Discovered

It isn't the materials that are injected into deep geologic strutures. It's leakage from faulty well casings. This makes perfect sense.  For all the touted technology excellence you would think the industry would pay more attention to the concrete.

Obscure Power of Small Donations

This piece by Usha Rodrigues in Slate shows how, with our convoluted tax code, even small donation can be corrupting for Congress.  In the JOBS act, there was a special provision inserted that only benefited a single corporate interest. And, strangely enough, the principals of the corporation made modest donations to the congress critters that engineered the changes.  These principals had never donated to congressional campaigns before. Quid meet Quo.  The overall impact was so small that it went by completely under the corruption-detection radar. But it was corruption nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sweden: Where School Vouchers Failed.

Choice oriented vouchers resulted in a steep decline in test scores in Sweden. The voucher system led to inflated grades with a faulty incentive system.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hope for U.S. Manufacturing

The wage freeze in the U.S. may finally begin to pay off. Global costs have risen to the point that American labor is more of a bargain. I only hope that there is a sufficient increase in American jobs that the domestic demand for goods and services goes up as well.  Then we may actually enter a virtuous cycle for continued economic growth.

What Pro-Life Looks Like in Actual Practice

Ireland is a clear example of a pro-life regime.  This is the world pro-life supporters want for our country. We know you for what you are, so stop pretending that you are civilized.

Rad Waste from Fracking

It seems that there are radioactive waste issues from hydraulic fracturing. Granted, the wastes are low-level but, as can be seen in the article, low-level wastes require special disposal processes.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Better than Graphene

Of all the things for which hemp is useful, this may be the most unexpected.  A challenge with electric transportation is rapid refueling.  A potential solution is super-capacitors instead of batteries.  It turns out that waste hemp fibers can be used to make a very efficient super-capacitor at a small fraction of the expense of that miracle material, graphene.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ontario’s wins the war on coal

The most industrialized province in Canada is able to shut down all its coal plants.  Here's how they did it.

Welfare Applicants, Less Than One Percent Use Drugs

This is a waste of public funds, not to mention an unnecessary burden placed on poor people.  And whose idea is it?  The conservatives, of course.  If you are poor, they are not your friends.  If you don't want your taxpayer dollars to be wasted, they are not your friends either.

Instability in Power Grid

The situation in Germany is a real world example of what happens when there is too much dependence on intermittent renewable energy with insufficient baseload power close at hand.  It's just isn't a nuisance but jobs and industries stand to suffer.

Inequality Not Natural or Healthy

It's not just lefty liberals that are saying this. S&P says that our level of inequality is neither natural nor healthy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Religious Exemption From Anti-Abortion Laws

We can thank a batch of Satanists for suit that uses the other edge of the Hobby Lobby sword to protect nonbelievers from oppression by muddleheaded Christians.  A classic example of what to expect when one allows religion to overstep into civil society.

Estakio Beltran in the TCH

Here's a link to the Estakio Beltran article in the Tri-City Herald.

Easy Cancer Screening

Imagine what it would be like if screening for all types of cancer could be done with a simple blood test.  Many, many more malignancies could be caught much earlier and ambiguous symptoms could more quickly be confirmed as cancerous or not.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Universal Basic Income.

Max Ehrenfreund has some well-thought words about guaranteed income.  The basic idea is that as income-indexed reduction in assistance actually acts as an unfair tax on the poor.  Since then, he has expanded on the theme in the Washington Post.  And David Atkins added more depth to his thoughts in the Washington Monthly.  In some form this should be appealing to both sides of the aisle because if it is done right a great big bit of government bureaucracy can be simplified while we significantly improve the lives of those at the bottom of the economic scale.  I've heard an interesting counter-argument that the misery of American poverty is a major deterrent to completely uncontrollable illegal immigration.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Artificial Intelligence and the Evolution of Musical Style

An artificial intelligence algorithm has shown that stylistic evolution can be tracked programmatically.  The routine correctly places various works of the Beatles into the proper time sequence just from an analysis of the musical structure.  We humans have a sense of that when comparing early and later works but this program can actually quantify it.

It would be interesting to see how it applies to other musical artists such as Bach or even Carl Orff.

A Guaranteed Income

Perhaps it's time to have the discussion about using a guaranteed income to eliminate poverty in America.  Just think of how many piece-meal social programs that could be replaced if we, as a nation, found a way to provide a basic livable income to our most disadvantaged citizens.  Dylan Matthews points out that such a thing is indeed affordable.  In all honesty, there are a vanishing small few of us who have not arrived at where we are without some sort of unearned assistance.  Warren Buffet speaks of it as the birth lottery.  My parents' generation benefited significantly from the post-WWII GI bill that enabled erstwhile rural farm boys to receive college educations.  That generation, in turn, was able to establish middle-class lives that made it possible for their children to have greater opportunities than they would have found on an Oklahoma farm.

David Atkins adds his analysis of why it makes more sense in light of the fact that increases in productivity have lined the pockets of the wealthy while wages for our workes continue to stagnate.

What would a good guaranteed income system look like?  What is working or not working in other countries?  How do we give people the help they can use without providing incentives for perpetual dependency?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Budget and Debt Crisis - Imaginary

When your local Republican congressional candidates get in a lather about our federal budget and debt, rest assurred that it's only a figment of their imaginations.  The CBO reports that the ratio of debt to GDP will be flat for the next decade.

Dangerous Thing, Religion

A study found that children with religious upbringings have more difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Missing disasters

The ACA can be improved, there's no argument about that. But perhaps we shouldn't be listening to the critics who predicted disasters that didn't happen.  The people in our country deserve better thinkers than that.

Full Disclosure

Not big news here, but a clarification that if a company chooses to offer sub-standard health care benefits to its female employees, it must say so up front.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Voter Integrity? Right..

The "uniformity" argument doesn't make sense when the demand on polling places is not uniform.  The new laws make it harder for city dwellers than suburbanites.  The "voter fraud" so frequently cited simply doesn't exist.  What does exist is a clear pattern.  It's Republicans that are pushing these measures.  And the measures have the effect of disenfranchising voting groups that tend to vote for Democrats.  Republicans are clearly using their positions of power to maintain that power even if it means subverting the expression of popular will.  They are exhibiting a genuine disrespect for democracy and an embrace of moneyed imperialism.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Voter fraud is mostly a myth

Seven papers, 4 government inquiries, 2 news investigations and a court ruling have established it.  So don't talk about excessive government spending unless you are willing to stop wasting money on this rabbit chase.  What the studies show is that the fight against voter fraud is nothing more than suppression of the voting rights of poor people.  What a country!

Moderate voters are a myth

Our public debates can't make much progress until we realize moderate voters don't exist.  The apparent moderation we see in surveys is a fluke of statistics.  Typically someone identified as moderate actually has some radical views in some area or another.  Sometimes the views are political opposites such as simultaneously pro-life and anti-gun.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Piketty Protégé’s Theory on Tax Havens

In the wake of Piketty talking about the evils and persistence of inequality, we now have Gabriel Zucman talking about the harm done by the large-scale tax evasion practiced by the moneyd classes.
Because large-scale tax evasion skews key economics statistics, it hampers officials’ ability to manage the economy or make policy, Mr. Zucman says. It erodes respect for the law, preventing the government from carrying out one of its essential tasks. And it discourages job creation, since it rewards people and corporations for keeping money overseas, instead of investing it domestically.

Downdraft Tower

The persistent knock against wind power is that it is intermittent.  Here is a design that can
deliver power 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  Now we're talking!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Anti-microbial coatings

How nice would it be to have surfaces that not only killed germs, but could kill them for years.  These materials even prevent bio-films from forming that could harbor bacterial colonies.

Monday, June 02, 2014

New App

Are you stuck on the horns of a moral dillemma?  Yup, there's an app for that.

Acoustic Tractor Beam

An acoustic tractor beam sure beats chewing gum on a coat hanger to retrieve my lost guitar pick from behind the drier.

Direct Conversion of Biomass to Fuel

Renewable technology marches on.   This technique uses engineered microbes. 
"Now, without any pretreatment, we can simply take switchgrass, grind it up, add a low-cost, minimal salts medium and get ethanol out the other end," Westpheling said. "This is the first step toward an industrial process that is economically feasible."

Hydrogen Into Liquid Fuel

A technique for storing hydrogen in a liquid form has been developed that uses atmospheric CO2.  It's a catalytic process that combines hydrogen and CO2 into formic acid.  Then another catalytic process releases the hydrogen for use in combustion. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Copy and Delete Text in Images

This new Google Chrome extension called Naphtha, really works.  I think it's pretty cool.

Nuclear Startups

While the government has dropped its fee to power plants for disposal of spent fuel and the fuel continues to pile up, same new nuclear startups are working to generate more power from the spent fuel stockpiles.  The technique is to dissolve the fuel into a molten salt and completely burn the fissile material in it (something that can't be done with fuel in a solid form).  Molten salt reactors were successful experimentally back in the 50's but have yet to be built commercially.

WSU Students Win International Hydrogen Competition

Kudos to  the winners of the annual Hydrogen Student Design Contest.
The WSU team's fueling station design was safe and reliable while also lowering building costs of current stations by 75 percent.
Conducting an economic analysis, the students determined that filling a hydrogen fuel tank to go 300 miles would cost about $48, which is comparable to regular gasoline. They developed a business plan in which a portable hydrogen fuel station could work in conjunction with existing gas stations in a way that would benefit both entities.
"The design the students developed looks to be completely implementable right now,'' said Jake Leachman, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and an advisor on the project. "We want to build one, and we should. The business model/idea is innovative and could lead to a startup company.''
I'm happy to say that my son, Austin Miller, was on that team handling the economics and public policy issues.  Way to go!

Crowdfunding Safe Fusion Power?

An alternative nuclear fusion process is proposed by LPP Fusion that doesn't need the astronomic investments required by such this as the ITER.  Developers think they can have a 5 MW reactor by the end of the decade for a mere half million dollars. It would produce electrical power for about 0.06 cents per kWh. Rather than fight plasma instability, it capitalizes on it.  By fusing carbon and boron, ionized helium ions are produced without any radiated neutrons. The other isotopic products have a half-life of only 20 minutes which means the apparatus can be brought back to background levels in about 9 hours.  Since the output is charged particles, electricity can directly generated.  It could be a game-changer.

New Porous Silicon

From Penn State we have this: a method of producing porous silicon with much more surface area than the standard method.  It can be used to catalyze the production of hydrogen from water with only sunlight as the energy input. That would be interesting to see at an industrial scale.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Single Mother, Child Poverty Myth

It's often said that the high child poverty figures in the U.S. are due to the high numbers of single mothers.  This analysis shoots that hypothesis full of holes.  Other countries with similar rates of single mothers have much lower rates of children in poverty.  That's mainly because they do something about it with better welfare programs.
...high child poverty in the US is not caused by some overwhelming crush of single mother parenting. The lowest of the low-poverty countries manage to get along in the world with similar levels of single mother parenting just fine. Morever, relatively high child poverty rates are the rule in every single family type in the US, not just some single mother phenomenon. We plunge more than 1 in 5 of our nation's children into poverty because we choose to. It would be easy to dramatically cut that figure, but we'd rather not.

Salvation Gets Cheap

Advances in renewable energy have made a carbon-free energy regime financially achievable.  So it's time for those on the right who believe in the power of the market to surmount all obstacles (except environmental restrictions) and those on the left who believe that reduced economies are the price we must pay for a livable environment to just give it up.  We CAN have a better environment without sacrificing economic growth.

Ginseng and Influenza

Ginseng has shown anti-viral effects against influenza A and other viral infections of lung tissue.  It's another case of folk medicine proving itself in the laboratory.

A Breakthrough?

A human-made compound in animal tests has been shown to reverse the process of artherosclerosis.
Specifically, the experiments showed that treatment with D-PDMP led to:
  • a drop in the animals' levels of so-called bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein, LDL; 
  • a drop in oxidized LDL, a particularly virulent form of fat that forms when LDL encounters free radicals. Oxidized LDL easily sticks to the walls of blood vessels, where it ignites inflammation, damaging the vessel walls and promoting the growth of fatty plaque; 
  • a surge in good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein, HDL, known to counteract the effects of LDL by mopping it up; and 
  • a significant drop in triglycerides, another type of plaque-building fat.

  • The treatment also prevented fatty plaque and calcium deposits from building up inside the animals' vessels. These effects were observed in animals on a daily D-PDMP treatment even though they ate a diet made up of 20 percent triglycerides -- the human equivalent of eating a greasy burger for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, the researchers say, D-PDMP appears to precision-target the worst byproducts of aberrant cell growth signaling, such as oxidized LDL and the activity of certain chemicals that fuel vessel inflammation, without altering cell growth itself.
    This all sounds like great stuff.  Furthermore, the compound has been well-tested in animals and hasn't produced any side effects even at 10 times the effective dose.

    Piketty

    I'm sure this is a far too serious book for me to wade through, so I leave the heavy lifting to others who have the smarts and the inclination to do so.  However, I think it may become a landmark publication in the world of macro-economics.  It appears to be well researched and well thought out.  It supports the idea that a natural outcome of unfettered capitalism isn't a utopia but rather the banana-republic oligarchy toward which the U.S. is headed if not already arrived.  A possible prescription to keep that from happening could be a tax on wealth to balance out the rich-get-richer-just-because-they-are-rich trend.  It also clearly demonstrates the need for strong inheritance taxes and capital-gains taxes.  Concentration of wealth in the hands of the rentiers instead of the laborers distorts democracy.

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Natural Experiment with Unemployment Benefits

    The results are in.  By cutting off unemployment benefits we got to see if that incentivised the long-term unemployed to find more jobs.  It didn't.  It just managed to create more misery for no good reason.  On the other hand, the loss of that money going into the hands of spenders has further reduced the demand that is needed to really bring an expansion of job opportunities.

    The Sociopathic One Percent

    When Tim Draper did his polling on turning California into 6 new states, he was surprised at how poorly it was supported by the wealthier regions of the state.  Under his plan, the wealthier areas would no longer have to supported the more disadvantaged areas of the state.
    It's always a big shock to selfish rich people that most other well-to-do people aren't as selfish as they are. It's important to remember that many of the very wealthy are like Warren Buffett, people who vote primarily for Democrats and aren't afraid to pay a little more in taxes to have a fruitful, stable and fairer society. It's not even the 1% that are ruining things for the rest of us; it's a very sociopathic, very energetic fraction of that 1%. And they're really shocked when other people don't behave as asininely as they do.

    Oligarchy is US

    When put the numbers to it, it turns out that the US is, in fact, an oligarchy.
     "Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
    So, who is surprised at that finding?

    Carbon and Taxes

    In November, the Obama administration set the social cost of carbon dioxide at $37 per ton.  Many argue that that figure is too low. 

    The recent IPCC report estimates that it would take $0.15/kg of CO2 to solve the climate change problem.  If I do my math right, that works out to be a little less that $150/ per ton.

    The British Columbia carbon tax experiment at a rate of $30 per ton has proven to be a success.  Carbon emissions are down without any severe economic impacts despite the poor economy.  Note that there are special provisions in the BC law that mitigate the economic impact on low income households.

    That puts a framework around it.  We can start moving the right direction with a $30/ton figure.  But to really solve the problem we need to get closer to the $150/ton level.  With the higher taxes, there should be sufficient economic incentive for carbon sequestration efforts to begin to pay off.

    The Citizens Climate Lobby has produced legislation that starts with a $20/ton tax with an annual increase in the rate.  Unlike the BC law, only 60% of the proceeds are returned to the taxpayers with 25% going into the general fund and 10-15% going towards green energy subsidies.

    Personally, I think there is little need for any of this money to go into the general fund.  That is better addressed by income tax reform.  Nor, do I see a need for channeling any of the money into green energy subsidies.  The tax itself should be sufficient incentive for green energy development.

    Update:
    I went looking for oppositional articles to the BC carbon tax and found none.  Actually, many who opposed the tax have come to love it.  Because of the kickback to taxpayers, any repeal of the tax would have to be defended as a net tax increase--not a very popular idea.

    Furthermore, a carbon tax is much easier to administer than a cap-and-trade regime.  A carbon tax can be revenue-neutral way to modify economic behavior and perhaps even create a few new jobs as markets shift away from carbon emissions.

    Surviving a Nuclear Bomb: Update

    Some of us can still remember the days of backyard bomb shelters that eventually evolved into teeange makeout pads.  Just to keep current, here's today's best guide to surviving a nuclear explosion.  Best option is to be somewhere else.  It all gets worse from there.