Saturday, December 28, 2013

We Should All Go Nuclear

According to Greenpeace, strangely enough, fossil energy is much more dangerous that nuclear even when you look at the accidents.  Remember, 20,000 people died at Fukushima just because they lived too close to the coastline.
Which leaves us with the truth about the relative dangers of these forms of energy generation. As The Lancet has reported, nuclear generation kills far fewer people than the other major forms (and yes, this is true of hydro, solar and wind power as well). And even when nuclear suffers a terrible disaster like either Chernobyl or Fukushima, we find that the number of deaths is far lower than just the regular annual toll from coal burning in one country alone, those 1,600 a year just in the UK.

GOP says Obamacare will cancel 80-100 million insurance plans

Not so much.  I call this truly creative prevarication.

Big Governments and Happier People

Dylan Mathews interviews Benjamin Radcliffe about his book, "The Political Economy of Human Happiness." The key to happiness is what he calls "decommodification." If you live an upper-middle class life, you have the opportunity to make choices about what you do in life. If you are further down the economic ladder, happiness depends more about what happens to you from external circumstances. Things like government assistance, strong labor unions, and a strong safety net give the lower classes access to the self-determination similar to what the rich enjoy. Pure capitalism isn't a good policy.
"Now, to be sure, the market economy absolutely contributes to human well-being in other ways — no one can deny that — but we have a macro- vs. micro-problem. At the macro level, capitalism works well. I would agree with Brooks that the market society is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. But at the micro level it depends at the very core of its logic, as even Adam Smith was at pains to point out, on the idea of using other people (employees) as a means to making profits for oneself. The people we hire to do work are just mere commodities in the profit-loss calculations, no more worthy of special concern than barrels of oil or bushels of grain. The last chapter of my book discusses these moral tensions that capitalism creates. My conclusion is that the social safety net, labor market regulations and labor unions all limit the degree to which people become mere commodities, and thus are more likely to lead fulfilling lives."
 For the sake of basic humanity, capitalism needs to be well-regulated.

Utah Is on Track to End Homelessness by 2015 With One Simple Idea

The solution to homelessness is surprisingly simple: just give people a home!
The state is giving away apartments, no strings attached. In 2005, Utah calculated the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670, while the cost of providing an apartment and social worker would be $11,000. Each participant works with a caseworker to become self-sufficient, but if they fail, they still get to keep their apartment.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Utah Same-Sex Couples Getting Marriage Licenses

Utah state constitution amendment ruled unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued a 53-page ruling saying the constitutional amendment Utah voters approved in 2004 violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.
This is huge!  All other DOMA-style amendments and laws across the nation are toast.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Obamacare horror stories? Not so much

It seems that some of the most noted Obamacare horror stories are not so horrible after all.  But will facts triumph over fear?  Only the Shadow knows.

The Future of Obamacare

All the right-wing handwringing notwithstanding, the big insurers are confident the ACA will endure.  They've committed $500 million in advertising to bring in new Obamacare subscribers.

A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

It's geeky, I know. But, Quantum Physics may undergoe a remake.  A new theory can replace a 9-page formula with a simple geometric model.

Pope Francis Supports Breastfeeding Enough To Know It Needs To Happen In Public

In an interview, Pope Francis made a point about hunger, for anyone, anytime.
At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat!

How to Create New Jobs

Just raise the minimum wage.   A $10.10 minimum wage would create 85,000 new jobs.  For reference, it takes a wage of $10.20 for an individual to meet the most basic of needs in the American county with the smallest cost of living.

Under the Sea

Sometimes we can be oblivious to that which is just below the surface if we only think in 2 dimensions.  And the ocean is much more than just the surface.  Ta-dump, ta-dump, ta-dump.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mathematics and Human Struggles

Here's some more along the Hari Seldon line.  A mathematical formula can be used to describe how humans escalate their behaviors.  It applies to many things from crying babies to cyber attacks to civil unrest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Job Creator Myth

Income inequality is the real problem. The richest folks are so rich that their action hurt rather than help the economics for the rest of us.
Remember: the rich do not create jobs. The goal of a corporation is to create as few jobs as possible. More jobs means more overhead; more overhead means less profit. The only reason for a business to create jobs is if employing more people can generate more business to create more profit. And that can only happen if there are paying customers out there.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

This Quote Explains It

From Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs,
"This country does a great job of creating wealth, but not a great [job] of distributing it.”
Duh!  Now that we have that figured out, what should be done about it?

Pregnant Woman Suffers

Don't expect good reproductive health care at a Catholic hospital.  When it comes to reproduction, religious dogma is more important than endangering a mother's life.  For their behavior in this regard, the church is getting sued.

Hints of cold dark matter

A new analysis of an old experiment points toward detection of dark matter on a table top.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Vermeer’s Secret Tool

I wonder how much the value of his painting will decline because he used an optical tool to create his paintings.  Using his camera obscura, he could paint subtleties that the human eye doesn't even see.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

California Gets It Right

Is Obamacare a doomed failure? Not even close. Krugman points to a revealing example.
At a time like this, you really want a controlled experiment. What would happen if we unveiled a program that looked like Obamacare, in a place that looked like America, but with competent project management that produced a working website?
California shows the way. It's huge. It doesn't have any special advantages when it comes to providing health care. It's booking 10,000 enrollments per day. Young people are enrolling.  California isn't the only state that is doing well. So are Kentucky, Connecticut, and New York.

Monday, November 25, 2013

No Life, No Continents

Using simulations, researchers have shown that without the weathering of rock that is done by living things, Earth would not have continents.  Instead, it would be a water world with only a few volcanic peaks piercing the surface.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Case for Higher Government Spending

These are the reasons the deficit scolds are so wrong, wrong, and wrong.

A Campaign of a Different Color

What happens when a New Age spiritual guru becomes a congressional candidate?  You get refreshing rhetoric like this:
“The first place democracy is broken isn’t in Washington. The first place democracy is broken is in our hearts and minds,” Williamson said. “There needs to be an intervention of sorts and it’s the American people who have to do it.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Republicans and health care exchanges

Despite all the whining, Republicans especially need the exchanges to work.  All their alternative proposals depend on the same idea.  We should also look at the weaknesses in the exchanges as a fundamental weakness in the Republican approaches.  Private insurance is at the core of their plans.  But do we really want to go there?  Take a look at the experience of Oregon:
 Nothing about the law's difficult debut in Oregon or elsewhere has undermined its huge expansion of Medicaid or Medicare; indeed, the argument for a broader single-payer health-care system is very much intact. Instead, the elements of Obamacare that are failing are precisely those market-based initiatives that Republicans most want to work.

No Joy In Saying I Told You So

Single-payer advocates decry the ACA implementation as well as critics on the right.
"We may have an 'I-told-you-so' moment, but it's hard to get any pleasure out of it knowing how many people are actually going to get hurt," said Stephanie Woolhandler, a New York-based doctor who co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program, a group that pushes for universal health care. "You had a bad system, and you're putting a patch on it using the same flawed insurance companies that got us here in the first place," she said.

What's Up With The U.S. Health Care System?

This one chart shows how bad it is.  We spend tons of money but life expectancy isn't all that remarkable.  Are American patients different than those in other countries?  Are we exceptional because we lead in the expensive development of new medical technologies?  Or are we just wasteful in the way we spend money on health care?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Winning the Obamacare Thanksgiving Debate

Here's everything you need.

Point: Obamacare forced people to lose insurance plans.

Counterpoints:  People were already having policies cancelled before the ACA.  Get sick and you're out.
                        The plans that are no longer allowed are substandard plans.  Only fools would want them.
                        The solution to plans being cancelled should have been a public option.  But Congress didn't want that.

Point: Premiums are increasing.

Counterpoints: And premiums weren't increasing before the ACA?  What planet have you been on?
                       Cheaper, better plans are available now.
                       Better plans cost more than bad plans.  Bad plans are now illegal.
                       Younger people who have insurance through their employers have always carried the burden for the older people.  No one complained about that.  So stop complaining about the ACA.
                       The dreaded public option would help with this, too.

Point: Individual mandate is unconstitutional.

Counterpoints: This was a Republican idea from day one.  Take your complaints to them.
                       Supreme Court has upheld the law.
                       We were already paying for the uninsured through the back door with sky-rocketing premiums. The mandate is a cheaper way.
                       There is a better way than a mandate.  It's called single-payer.  (like Medicare)

Point: The bad website startup will be fatal to Obamacare.

Counterpoints: Take this complaint to the Republican governors who fought the ACA instead of getting their state ready to implement it.  In some forward-looking states, health care enrollment is working just fine.
                       Red states have been lousy at educating their people how to become enrolled.
                       During the Romneycare rollout, the younger people waited until the last minute to enroll.  We can't expect it to be much different at the national level.

Point: Obamacare is killing jobs.

Counterpoints: The Bureau of Labor Statistics sees no evidence that the ACA has any effect on part-time workers who are seeking full-time jobs.
                       The ACA pays for itself and cuts the federal budget in the process.  You don't like that?
                     
Final Zingers: People are going to needlessly die in states with GOP governors who refuse the Medicaid expansion.  The ACA isn't the best way to provide health care.  It would be better to remove the costly middlemen and have Medicare for all.  Medicare has a 60 percent approval rating.


Will 2-D tin be the next super material?

With all the marvels made available by molecular thin sheets of carbon, stanene (2-D) tin, may be the next greatest thing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The nuke that might have been

World War II stimulated the discovery of nuclear energy.  The Cold War gave us more nuclear weapons than we could ever use.  It also gave a direction to the design of nuclear power plants that has been problematic ever since.  Where would we be if we hadn't been swayed by the likes of Admiral Rickover?
The liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee during the late 1960s, ran successfully for five years before being axed by the Nixon administration. The reason for its cancellation: it produced too little plutonium for making nuclear weapons. Today, that would be seen as a distinct advantage. Without the Cold War, the thorium reactor might well have been the power plant of choice for utilities everywhere.

Frescoes In Catacombs Show Early Women Priests

Real history is never quite what some wish it to be.  We now have evidence that the Early Christian church had women priests.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wind Turbines Kill Bats

Not all renewable energy sources are safe. Especially if you are a bat. Bats fill an important ecological role.  It isn't a good thing that we are killing them by the thousands.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tasmanian Tigers

Reports of their demise may have been premature.

Smart Wheel By FlyKly

This looks like a truly remarkable invention.  It's a bicycle wheel that can easily electrify most any bicycle.  If the price is right, I really want one.

Elizabeth Warren

Everyone is talking about this analysis.  Personally, I like Warren more than Clinton.  Mostly because both the Clintons have always been my second choice.

Environmentalist Failure

The criticisms of Pandora's Promise fall flat.  In the heat to criticize all things nuclear, some environmental advocates expose some weak thinking.  In my opinion, they could and should do a better job.  Poor arguments make them to easy to dismiss when the world truly needs to heed the environmental message.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

What Chocolate Can Do For You

MMMM...chocolate!  And so good for you, too!

Being Mormon And Supporting LGBT Rights

Harry Reid says the Church is changing.  He advised against supporting Prop 8.  His niece is a lesbian and he thinks she shouldn't have to be worried about being fired simply because of that.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Finding Bomb and Drug Factories

Sewer sensors have been tested that can be used to locate sources of criminal activities.  Perhaps all the bad guys will move to the country.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Origin of Life

A new proposition for the origin of life comes from a Texas Tech paleontologist.  It ties together other partial theories into a consistent whole.

Wal-Mart and American jobs.

Wal-Mart says it wants to bring jobs back to the U.S. But they have said that before. Do they mean it this time? It's complex. Other countries are buying more locally.  And the cost of American is coming down to Chinese levels.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Science on Safety of GMO Foods

Finally, here's an attempt to round up what is known about GMO products and the human body.  The bottom line is that it is quite unlikely that they can harm us directly.  However, the interaction of GM crops and our environment could be a problem.

Mathematical Ecology

One of the few people who have applied the mathematics of complex systems to political instability, Peter Turchin, may have predicted our current predicament.  If we don't change our ways, things are going to get much worse before they get better.
Turchin has found what he believes to be historical cycles, two to three centuries long, of political instability and breakdown affecting states and empires from Rome to Russia. In a book he is finishing, he argues that similar cycles are evident in US history, and that they are playing out to this day. He admits that his theory, built on a model that combines social and economic data, must be tested against real events – but unlike most historical theories, it can be. Meanwhile, he says, it "predicts the long-term conditions that led to this shutdown".
Workers or employees make up the bulk of any society, with a minority of employers constituting the top few per cent of earners. By mathematically modelling historical data, Turchin finds that as population grows, workers start to outnumber available jobs, driving down wages. The wealthy elite then end up with an even greater share of the economic pie, and inequality soars. This is borne out in the US, for example, where average wages have stagnated since the 1970s although gross domestic product has steadily climbed.
...
In Turchin's theory, such political acrimony is paralleled by rising discontent among workers left with less and less, and increasing state bankruptcy as spending by the elite who control the government coffers spirals. Ultimately, the situation gets so bad that order cannot be maintained and the state collapses. A new cycle begins.
Hari Seldon is among us and Isaac Asimov laughs from his grave.

Launch Problems

It's important to keep things in perspective.  When Social Security, the safety net that we have come to know and love, was launched, thing's didn't go very smoothly then, either.  Imagine enrolling millions of people with nothing but paper and file cabinets.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Republican Delusion

Whenever a Republican opens his or her mouth to complain about the growing deficit, someone should just stuff a dirty sock in it.  Deficits have fallen over the last 4 years.  And with a bit of appropriate stimulus our economy could experience the kind of turnaround that could make them drop even faster.

The Ignored Health Care Subsidy

The right wrings its hands over the subsidies in the ACA but we all seem to completely ignore the truly massive subsidy that has been is place for decades.  Have you guessed what it is?  It's the employer-based health care tax deduction.

Early Humans Belonged To Same Species

Rather than a set of human species predating homo sapiens it looks like the various homo erectus branches were just normal variations within a single species.  It isn't a question of which species led to us but they are all us.

Denmark Is Considered The Happiest Country

Why might that be?  They have high taxes but they use them to take provide excellent education and take care of each other.  They have a strong sense of being this thing all together rather than just each person just getting as much for themselves.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

This is the Tea Party

This isn't just another pundit's opinion, this is real data.  And it isn't very flattering, nor is it indicative of the kind of people that would serve our country well.

When studied it is seen that the content in Tea Party websites dealing with conspiracies, socialism, and government as bad runs about 33% while similar content constitutes about 5% of the material on main stream conservative websites. About 71% of identified Tea Partiers believe that Obama will destroy the country while only 35% of all conservatives believe that.

They are incapable of compromising, despite their rhetoric.  When asked, they see any compromise as complete capitulation.  These are not reasonable people and the sooner they are driven from power, the better it will be for everyone.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

An Interesting Discovery

Here is a source of energy as well as a way to improve efficiency in current power plants that has just been discovered.
In a completely unexpected finding, MIT researchers have discovered that tiny water droplets that form on a superhydrophobic surface, and then "jump" away from that surface, carry an electric charge. The finding could lead to more efficient power plants and a new way of drawing power from the atmosphere, they say.

Wind Turbines Kill Humans

This Forbes article explores not only the human death toll from wind turbines, but also provides statistics for the human cost of our other energy sources.  How safe is safe?  There are risks that we accept everyday that are higher than the risks that publicly concern us.  We need to keep things in perspective and target the things that cause the most harm first.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Obamacare flowchart

Here's a link for reference.  Remember, only a fraction of us are actually significantly affected by Obamacare.

What's it all about?

Ezra Klein tells us:
This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That's it. That's why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt.

Monday, September 23, 2013

10 Myths About the Food Stamp Program

Here's some more statistics about the SNAP program: 10 Myths.  But I suppose if one actually knows recipients who are true serial welfare abusers, it makes perfect sense to support cuts in a program that feeds many who need it and even some who underserved by it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

About SNAP Judgments

Krugman analyzes SNAP growth. In 2007, it was no higher than in 1990.  There has been a big jump with the 2008 recession.  He also notes that AFDC has faded away and SNAP is picking up some of that demand as well.
The idea that food stamps represent a problem — not a small blessing that has made this ongoing economic disaster marginally less awful — represents an awesome combination of ignorance and cruelty.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fantasy Fiscal Policy

How much stimulus should have been done if our government had chosen to do the job correctly?
With the benefit of hindsight, we do know roughly how depressed the economy has been; we have reasonably good estimates of the effects of government spending; so we can put together an estimate of what would have happened if we had, in fact, pursued a policy of government spending sufficient to keep output at potential.
... it would have taken $1.76 trillion in spending over the past 4 1/2 years to close the output gap. Yes, I know, it would have been politically impossible — but we’re just doing the economics here.
Given that revenue from tax collections would be higher, that means this could have been accomplished with $0.76 trillion in government debt.  Stated in terms of GDP (which would be higher), our debt would be at 76 percent of GDP instead of the 72 percent it is now.  This isn't the makings of a fiscal crisis.

'Terminator' Polymer

A new plastic has been invented that can actually heal itself without any help from the outside.  Someday plastics parts will last for a long, long time.

Trayvon Martin's Prosecution Threw the Case

The evidence mounts that Zimmerman's prosecutors intentionally threw the case.  The medical examiner was prevented from testifying that Martin's wound entered his back so Zimmerman's version of the events isn't possibly true.

IRS Scandal Didn't Happen To The Tea Party

A careful analysis of events shows that the IRS scandal was invented by the Tea Party.  Many groups were targeted but it was the Tea Party groups that were planning it and expecting it with the outrage machine fired up and ready to go.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bill Watterson's "cartoonist's advice."

I have always loved the work of Bill Watterson.

A Price on Carbon

In one of those sneaky bureaucratic moves that could set a long-standing precedent, the government may have just put a price on atmospheric carbon.
Moniz, speaking at Columbia University’s new Center on Global Energy Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs, backed into the carbon price discussion. Moniz’ agency is working with OMB on “speeding appliance energy efficiency” and is preparing to issue a new rule on microwave ovens. Moniz noted almost in passing that the microwave rule will include the first “interagency panel price on carbon” of $36 a ton.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Devil Made Me Do It

Using knowledge about command and execution centers in the brain, researcher were able to establish a brain interface in which one person was able to make another person move his fingers.  The command was properly interpreted in one brain and then sent to another brain and successfully executed.  The future will be an interesting place.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ending the War On Drugs

Law-and-order hits a high-water mark.  Being too tough on small crimes can be really expensive and these days we simply can no longer afford it.  Especially when there are more effective ways to deal with the problem that are actually cheaper than incarceration.

A Drug Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Perhaps there is pharmaceutical cure for opiate addiction.
Several clinical trials have shown that low doses of ibogaine taken over the course of a few weeks can greatly reduce cravings for heroin and other drugs. There was extensive research on it in the 1990s, with good evidence of safety in animals and a handful of studies in humans. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse invested over $1 million, but then abandoned the project in 1995. A study had shown that at high doses, ibogaine caused some brain cell degeneration in rats. Lower doses similar to those used in human addiction trials showed no such effect, however.

Myth of the Private Sector

This idea that innovation flourishes in the private sector isn't so much.  True wealth-creating innovation comes from government investment in basic research.  Seventy-five percent of the new drugs come from government-funded research.  Perhaps we need a better mechanism by which the government well is reimbursed for the research that leads to great wealth in the private sector.

Welfare Myth

The Cato Institute has a study out that says it pays better to be on welfare than it does to work.  Here's why it is total bunk.  Very few qualify for all the programs.  Single folks don't get all that much.  And many programs have a sliding scale so working isn't excessively penalized.  Nonetheless, programs could be designed better to remove what poverty traps still remain.

Subsidize or Invest?

The argument is that subsidies aren't getting us there.  What we need is more investment in research so that green energies are cheaper and can out-compete fossil fuels.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nepotism, cronyism, and narcissism

Here's why I feel much better about picking on the rich than stomping on the poor.
Here’s what we know about the rich: They have a lot more money than everyone else, and they have more money than everyone else by a larger margin than they used to. Why is that? They like to tell themselves it’s because they are morally and intellectually superior, but there is not a whole lot of evidence to back that up. People usually end up rich because they were born or raised with certain environmental advantages. One of the biggest advantages you can be born with, these days, is rich parents. And one of the biggest advantages rich parents pass on to their offspring — let’s say the second-biggest, after “money” — is the sense of entitlement necessary for an entirely unaccomplished rich person to coast through life without constantly feeling crippling guilt.

Wedding Photographer Illegally Discriminated Against Gay Couple

Similar to the Arlene's Flowers case, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a wedding photographer could not refuse to provide services to a lesbian couple.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fraud in Government Programs

Everything you think you know about government fraud is wrong.  Stopping fraud isn't all that difficult.  Hiring more workers to make sure that aid is promptly distributed to those who need it and vigorously prosecuting those that misappropriate that aid is part of the solution.  A good read.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment Struck Down By Federal Judge

The establishment clause means that you can't single out Muslim religious laws for discrimination.  If you are going to rule out Muslim religious laws, you have to rule out the religious laws of all other religions as well.  Why do they insist on wasting everyone's time with this?  Because they just can't keep their bigotry under wraps anymore.  In the long run, that should be a good thing.  The bad guys have self-identified themselves for easy recognition.

Remember the Replicators?

Imagine major aircraft parts, like wings, assemble like chain mail from small interlocking components.  Manufacturing would resemble 3D printing.  The assembling parts could even shift their shape and retain their original strength.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Older Adults and Brain-fitness

It turns out that those brain training programs actually work.  Have you done your Lumosity training for today?

Minimum Wage Effect

If one really wants to bring the working poor above the poverty line, it would take a $10 minimum wage.  We can let the economists argue about whether that would be a good thing or not.

New gay-friendly youth center opens in Kennewick

The Vista Youth Center had to close its doors but a new LGBT-friendly organization has opened.  Check out the Quest Youth Center.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Knots don't always weaken a fiber

If it's a carbon fiber, knots can actually make it stronger.

Obamacare questions get answered

Americans for Prosperity spent $1 million to buy ads that raise some questions about Obamacare.  The implication is that the answers to the questions are ones you may not like.  However, just the opposite is true.  You will probably like these answers.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Republicans Pass Bloated Socialist Monstrosity

If there is any question about Republican hypocrisy, this act should remove all doubt. 
It’s no longer novel that conservative Republicans have positioned themselves to Obama’s left on domestic spending that benefits their own constituencies. We have seen three years of Republicans attacking Obama for robbing Grandma’s Medicare. But at least Medicare is a justifiable program. The existence of farm subsidies is insane, and the fact that a party that hates government so much it engages in a continuous guerilla war of shutdowns, manufactured currency crises, and outright sabotage can’t eliminate it may be the most telling indicator of the GOP’s venality. They only hate necessary government spending. Totally unjustifiable spending is fine with them.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Fukushima 2.25 -- The Humanitarian Crisis

Here's another article that compares the radiological damage of the Fukushima meltdown to the humanitarian damage done by the response to it.  The latter is far worse than the former.  The fear is causing more problems than anything having to do with the nuclear effects.  Fukushima is nowhere close to the scale for Chernobyl despite the many attempts to put them together.

That the region was rapidly evacuated and everyone told not to eat anything from that area (for two months as I-131 decayed away), was all that was needed to reduce any threat of thyroid effects and all other cancers from most of the affected areas. Japan did this. The Soviets did not.  That is why comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl fail. That plus Chernobyl released ten times as much radiation into the atmosphere and was a weapons reactor.

Getting the carbon out of emissions

Here's a new technique that provides a cheap and easy way to remove CO2 from industrial emissions.  Good news for fossil fuel plants and other generators of CO2.

Crabby Conservatism

There is a class of people who are quick to be critical of others.  Perhaps they have been targets of excessive criticism in te past and they live a life fraught with insecurities. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes out in supermarket checkout lines.  Yes, food stamp fraud exists.  But, typically, it occurs when a disreputable establishment exchanges an amount of cash for a higher amount of food stamps.  When you see a person paying with food stamps, you can be pretty sure that they are indeed poor and are doing the best they can.

From someone who has been there,
"When you get that money, you feel like you can breathe," she said. "I can understand why people would buy things that people think are outrageous. When it comes, you feel like I can buy whatever food I want right now. You never can buy whatever you want. My clothes are hand-me-down, furniture second-hand. The food is new and mine."

Yes We Can - Dispose Of Nuclear Waste

Beyond just a way to find an acceptable way of disposing of nuclear waste, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 lays out a new model of how to construct legislation on difficult issues.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Big, Not Cute

According to Bill Gates, real energy solutions need to be massive and industrial, not experimental and small-scale.  Most green energy advocates don't seem to have an appreciation of the scale of energy that is needed to run a developed country such as ours.  It's one thing to be able to power a few households, but it's another to power an aluminum smelter or a large server farm.

DOE loan guarantees fueled utility-scale renewables boom

Despite all the unwarranted publicity the Solyndra story evoked, loan guarantees generated a renewables boom.
Independent investigator Herb Allison, a former national finance chair for U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, found little to criticize in the "utility-linked" loan segment, which included 20 clean energy generation projects with $14 billion in total principal, compared to the eight "nonutility-linked" loans of $2 billion, which included solar manufacturers and automotive manufactures in a program established by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, under Bush. Allison also reviewed $7.3 billion in loans to Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

After Tesla Motors Inc. repaid its remaining balance of $465 million on its DOE loan with interest nine years early May 22, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the $34 billion portfolio has had losses of roughly 2%, none from the clean energy power plants.

U.S. Runs Out Of Nuclear Fuel From Russian Warheads

Now that the supply of down-blended weapons uranium has come to its end, what can we expect for the prospects of expanded mining operations.  With the growth of demand to come from the East (China), we shouldn't expect uranium prices to decline.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wish I could see this film

Pandora's Promise works to make the case for environmentally-conscious nuclear power.  But you have to go to a big city to see it.

The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis

Should anyone ever trust financial rating agencies in the future?  When ratings are up for sale, they have no value whatsoever.  Not to mention the danger that represents to the financial system.

The Study Austerity Merchants, And GOP Entitlement Foes Don’t Want You To See

What would it mean to current policy debates if health care spending growth permanently slows?  This could be huge! If health care spending is reined in, it has long term impacts on the economy as a whole.

Brain Stimulation Improves Mental Arithmetic

Researchers have found that transcranial random noise stimulation can improve the brain's ability to do the numbers in your head.  Where can I get me some of that?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Minimal Health Risk

Seafood contamination from the Fukushima accident is so low that it presents essentially no additional risk for consumers.  Detectable, yes.  But at levels that are less than the natural background and contamination from other sources.  Granted, it could have been worse.  But it bears repeating that living close to a Japanese coastline where tsunamis can kill you directly is much more dangerous than living next to a nuclear power plant.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

What Taxes Should Be

This is what economic research says about our taxes:
  • The top U.S. income tax rate is currently well below best estimates of the optimal rate for revenue maximization.
  • Recent research implies a revenue-maximizing top effective federal income tax rate of roughly 68.7 percent. This is nearly twice the top 35 percent effective marginal ordinary income tax rate that prevailed at the end of 2012, and 27.5 percentage points higher than the 41.2 percent rate in 2013.2 This would mean a top statutory income tax rate of 66.1 percent, 26.5 percentage points above the prevailing 39.6 percent top statutory rate.
  • Tax reform that broadens the tax base and minimizes tax avoidance opportunities actuallyincreases the revenue-maximizing top marginal tax rate. This means that base-broadening tax reform and higher marginal rates should be seen as complements, not substitutes.
  • Analyses of top tax rate changes since World War II show that higher rates have no statistically significant impact on factors driving economic growth—private saving, investment levels, labor participation rates, and labor productivity—nor on overall economic growth rates.
  • Both short-run demand-side and long-run supply-side growth effects stemming from top tax rate changes are extremely modest. Thus, related “dynamic” revenue “leakages” stemming from reduced economic activity following top rate increases are small as well. Indeed, the net revenue feedback of the 2001–2004 tax cuts was recently estimated at recouping just 1 percent of their scored cost.
  • Historically, decreases in top marginal tax rates have widened inequality of both pre- and post-tax income. This has been interpreted by some economists as marginal rate reductions providing a higher payoff to rent-seeking (i.e., using influence to “bargain” a higher share of income at the expense of other workers).
  • Today’s economic context of a depressed U.S. economy, political pressure to prematurely reduce near-term budget deficits, and ever-widening income inequality actually strengthens the case for raising top marginal tax rates. There remains substantial scope for further raising top rates toward the revenue-maximizing levels estimated by the best economic research.

Be An Infrastructure Hawk

The deficit hawks say that we steal from our children by spending money that they must repay.  We also steal from them when we fail to fix things that are broken today that will need to be fixed later if we don't.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Marriage Equality in Minnesota Is Sweet

Meg Riley is a warm, delightful person with whom we have had the privilege to share in the past.  Here she gives a nice list of what marriage equality means to Minnesotans.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled

In a long piece, Paul Krugman summarizes the play-by-play of how the austerity arguments have all fallen apart.  It's sad that they provided political cover for those who seek to dismantle our social safety nets so they could hold on to their excessive wealth.  This era can't come to a close quickly enough if we want to save middle-class America.

Intestinal Bacterium Curbs Obesity

Wouldn't it be nice if just injesting a pill of bacteria could reduce gut inflammation and improve our health?

Physical Strength and Political motivations

In a study that makes some evolutionary sense, it's been shown that males with greater upper-body strength tend to hold political views that oppose the redistribution of wealth.  In other words, "I'm big and strong and I'm going to keep what's mine!"

Bottom Line

A comparison of the cost-overrun plagued Finnish nuclear plant and Germany's solar effort shows that even expensive nuclear power is cheaper than solar.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Abenomics is Working

Japan's economic reform may seem remote from everyday concerns in the United States, but it has important lessons for us. Japan fell into the trap of prolonged high unemployment and zero interest rates long before the United States did. It's in many ways fitting that they now seem to be leading the path forward to recovery. 

Top Ten Republican Myths on Libya

Mideast expert, Juan Cole does a nice take-down of the Republican talking points about Benghazi.  Not only are they wrong, their blathering about it is harming US security and diplomacy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Moral Equivalent of Space Aliens

With the double shock of the tsunami and being overtaken by China, Japan has found it's space alien invasion equivalent. In response, it is pursuing aggressive financial stimulation.  For more details and insights, see the Huffington/Abe interview.  Once again, Krugman's vindication is about to be played out by Japan.

If only the U.S. economy could get a similar shock.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Another Hit against Abstinence-only Sex Education

Elizabeth Smart talks about how her abstinence-only sex education made her a more compliant victim.  Once she was raped, she believed that she was "damaged goods" and that no one in the outside world would ever want her.

Immigration and Taxpayers

Immigration reform would add millions of taxpayers to the rolls.  How can that be a bad thing?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Chutzpah Caucus

Paul Krugman debunks the conventional wisdom that stimulus programs are dangerous because they create government spending that doesn't end.  The real fiscal fire-bombers have been the Republicans who have historically expanded the deficit when times have been good.
The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won't do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they're talking about? Why, themselves.
To me, it sounds like a fiscal version of the classic definition of chutzpah - namely, killing your parents, then demanding sympathy because you're an orphan. Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve

Friday, May 03, 2013

No FEC Oversight

What can you say about campaign finance reform when even the laws we have on the books now are not enforced.  Before we penalize undocumented immigrants for ignoring our laws, let's penalize our own home-grown scofflaws.

Not Enough Inflation

Reviewing for those who don't get it yet, Paul Krugman explains why a small bit of inflation is good for economic growth.  Inflation is so low now that we should be able to boost the economy by pushing it up and thereby stimulate enough growth to get unemployment down.

Robotic Insects Make First Controlled Flight

More than just making tiny, insect-sized robots fly, this is an example of how basic research on concepts with no clear economic justification can result in new techniques that turn out to have broad application.  On their way to making these things, researchers developed many new fabrication and control techniques.

Evolution of Complex Organs

The creationists lose again.  Some 3-D simulations show how more complex structures can arise from natural selection.

Reversing Antibiotic Resistance in Superbugs

Just when it begins to look like microbes can out-adapt the antibiotics, a protein complex found in breast milk is shown to deactivate the resistance they have to penicillin and methicillin.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Inflation Nation Not

FRED reports that inflation remains dead.  And that, ladies and germs, is the problem.  Without a bit of healthy inflation, our economic recovery will remain anemic.

Green Nuclear Power Technology

Professor Peter McIntyre has devised a technique for efficiently burning the transuranics and making good use of the usable uranium. He uses a special strong-focusing cyclotron to generate an intense proton beam to drive noncritical fission in a molten salt in which they are dissolved.  Perhaps something to consider.  It gets rid of the long-lived radioactive wastes for good.  It doesn't just bury them

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ed DeMarco Out...Finally

Mel Watt will replace Ed DeMarco.  DeMarco has single-handedly held back the economic recovery with his housing policies.  He should have gone years ago.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gaming for Java

Some programmers have developed a video game that teaches players how to program in JAVA.  Interesting idea.  Maybe we can do the same for all kinds of skills.

Hewitt Staffer's Lame Defense

In an attempt to defend Mike Hewitt's support of a bill to legalize discrimination, his staffer says that if a gay person in rural Washington can't get food at the only store for miles around, he should just grow his own food.  These guys wouldn't look so stupid if they didn't keep supporting stupid laws.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cool...no Hot, gadget

With this thing you can charge your iPhone from a campfire.

Nuclear Waste

A recent paper calls for using thorium to consume nuclear wastes.  A facility rated to handle construct MOX fuel could probably handle the fabrication of thorium/actinide fuel for a conventional reactor.  This could be a Yucca Mountain alternative as will as get thorium into the current nuclear economy.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stimulus: The way forward.

Matthew Yglesias gives his recommendations for permanent monetary policy changes to stave off future recessions like the current one.
1. We should aim for a long-term inflation rate of four or even five percent so that the Federal Reserve is much less likely to hit the "zero bound" and lose confidence in its own ability to shape the economy-wide demand picture.
2. We should make specific statutory provision for Fed injection of "helicopter money" into the economy. The metaphysics of fiscal vs monetary policy are less important than the fact that the Fed has the right institutional setup to conduct a joint fiscal-monetary action when needed. A Fed that can order money-financed payroll tax cuts that have zero impact on the deficit is never going to "run out of ammunition" in the war on demand shortfalls. 
3. We should beef up automatic stabilizers in the budget by creating some kind of national rainy day fund that automatically releases unrestricted funds to state governments in times of recession. Some elected officials will use the money to avoid pro-cyclical service cuts and furloughs, while others will use it to finance tax cuts and we'll just live with disagreement about the best way to proceed.

Implementing the Affordable Care Act

Ian Morrison has a thoughtful article or best-case and worst-case scenarios on the full implementation of the ACA.


Cleaning Radioactive Material from Water

Graphene oxide has been proven to be effective at cleaning up radioactivity in water.

Chipotle Cancels Sponsorship of Utah Boy Scouts Event

Chipotle walks the walk by withdrawing their support for a Boy Scouts event because the Scouts actively discriminate on sexual preference.

Solar plus natural gas

Our local national lab, PNNL, has developed a process that uses solar power to boost the efficiency of burning natural gas.  The gas is first passed through a catalytic process that converts it to a more energy dense form.  When burned, you get more BTU's per cubic foot.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Housing up but no jobs

Here's why.  It's called labor hoarding.  Construction companies didn't lay off as many people as they could have because they didn't want to lose the skilled help.

Underage Drinkers Don't Deserve Medical Help

Our own Colonel Klink is more concerned with punishing underage drinkers than helping them avoid poisoning themselves to death.  Nice priorities, Brad.  Very impressive.

Grow Your Own Plastic

Fungi may replace plastics someday.  It can be molded into many shapes and is biodegradable.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Left Wing Budget

The Congressional Progressive Caucus released a genuine budget from a liberal point of view.
It restores Clinton-era marginal income tax rates starting at the $250,000 threshold. It establishes new income tax brackets—45 percent at $1 million, 46 percent at $10 million, 47 percent at $20 million, 48 percent at $100 million, and 49 percent at $1 billion. Capital gains and dividends will be taxed as ordinary income. The deductibility of all itemized deductions will be capped at the 28 percent rate. The estate tax will have a $2.5 million exemption and then a series of progressive marginal rates from 55 to 65 percent. The mortgage-interest tax deduction for second homes is eliminated. There's a financial transactions tax. A couple of corporate income tax deductions are eliminated. There's a kind of too-big-too-fail tax on banks more than $50 billion in assets. There's a $25 per-ton carbon tax.
This should be Obama's starting point.

Clogged Arteries Are Not New

Studies of mummies have shown that neolithic humans suffered from clogged arteries as they aged just like modern humans do.  That means I can put away that cave man diet book now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Income Tax Doesn't Hurt States

A recent report show that states without a personal income tax grew slower than those with one.  Another conservative canard bites the dust.

Pure Elegance

Newton could accurately calculate the orbits of two bodies around each other, but when a third body was tossed in, mathematical solutions were really, really hard to find.  About the only solution that could be calculated is if the three bodies orbited in a circle.  Finally, some enterprising researchers have come up with sets and sets of possible solutions.  When you solve a problem that has been around for hundreds of years, are you in the running for the Nobel?

Electricity From Salt Water

It's long been known that electricity can be produced from the salinity gradient between bodies of salt water and fresh water. A new material can achieve an increase in efficiency that is 1,000 time higher.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down

From Mother Jones, here are 10 myths that gun proponents use and how they are wrong, dead wrong.  Key points:

1. The government can't take away your guns.  Civilians have the Feds and cops outgunned by 79 to 1.  They simply don't have enough firepower to do that.
2. People with guns tend to kill more people with those guns.  States with the highest gun ownership also have the highest gun murder rates.
3. People with guns are more likely to be belligerent than those without them.  In Texas, those with conceald-carry permits were 4.8 times more likely to be sentenced for threatening with a firearm.
4. The number of mass shootings that have been stopped by an armed civilian in the last 30 years....zero.
5. For every time a gun is used for self-defense in a home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents using guns.
6. Guns don't make you safer. Nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than in trying to stop a crime. 
7. Guns don't make women safer. A woman in a high gun ownership state is 4.9 times more likely to murdered by a gun than a woman in a low gun ownership state.  An abused woman is 7 times more likely to be killed if the abuser has access to a gun.
8. Video games don't cause gun violence.  Japan has a higher video game spending per capita than the US.  Gun homicides in 2008 was 11, in the US 11,030.
9. Fewer people are buying guns but those that do buy more. 
10. Current gun laws are not enough.  Forty percent of prison inmates who used guns got them from private sellers who were not required to do a background check.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Scary Debt Simply Does Not Exist

It's just figment of a conservative imagination.  But, more to the point, it's just a tool to gain political power.  If were more expedient to spend money without putting it into the budget, they would do that too.  Oh yeah, Bush did.

Coal Without Emissions?

A potential breakthrough in chemical combustion technology is a wet process by which heat can be extracted from coal without greenhouse gas emissions.  This could prove interesting.

Bye-bye Giant Chain Stores?

Has the era of the giant chain store reached its peak?  Can we revitalize a decentralized marketing model in time to save us?

Redistricting didn’t do it


In a previous post, Gerrymandering and the House, it was hypothesized that despite the fact that the popular vote ran the other way, Republicans won the House because of redistricting.  A sharper analysis shows that the power of incumbency had more to do with it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today's cool new thing

From 3D-printing to 3D doodling.  Here's a pen that "writes" in three dimensions.  The extruded plastic cools instantly.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A neural basis for benefits of meditation

By examining brain function during meditation it's been discovered that how it helps the brain filter out the sensation of chronic pain.

Missed Opportunity

Israel's success during the recession could have been ours if so many of our political leaders had been able to dial down the crazy a little bit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ignorance

Why is it that the Republicans depend on ignorance?  And it's not only in keeping others unaware of the facts but themselves as well. And how can this possibly contribute to effective governing?  Not much, really.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Radiation Is Not A Big Deal

The UNSCEAR report says that the Linear-No-Threshold assumption about radiation effects doesn't stand up.  Notably, it also points out that there are no deaths attributable to the Fukushima power plant meltdown. Nada.  Not one.

High CEO Pay Relies On 'Self-Serving Myth'

Hello Board Members, your CEO's threat to leave if you don't pay him an outrageous salary is a bluff.  But as long as you buy it, he's going to keep bluffing.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Meanwhile, in West Texas

West of Midland and north of Monahans is a wind farm that has one of the world's largest batteries. It can store 36 megawatts of power and deliver it to the grid in 15 minutes.  Not surprisingly, the community is known as Notrees.

Coal doesn't mean jobs

Contrary to industry claims, coal terminals don't create that many jobs.  They are highly automated and don't need that many workers.  What they do generate is big profits for coal companies and railroads.  For me, this is a valid rationale to tax them heavily if they are built.  The money would then go into such worthy things as education and infrastructure.  In the Northwest, education once benefited from the robust timber industry. Today, we struggle to find the needed funding.

Producing Hydrogen on Demand

Researchers have come up with a form of silicon that generates hydrogen by just adding water. The silicon is consumed in the process, so it's more like a battery.  But it could be used as a portable hydrogen supply if water is available.

Some Immigration Facts

Here is what economists know about immigration:
1. Immigrants benefit.
2. The economy benefits
3. Innovation is increased
4. Native-born workers benefit
5.Low-skilled workers don't see much change

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gerrymandering and The House

Now even the Republicans admit it.  Aggressive gerrymandering gave them the majority in the House of Representatives.  So when will they acknowledge that their policies were repudiated by the majority of voters?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Shrinking Deficit in Charts

There is no reason for Democrats to cave to Republican debt ceiling threats.  When they clamor for deficit reduction, they should be told that it's already been done.
The Center for American Progress calculates that President Obama and Congress have successfully enacted $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction since the beginning of fiscal year 2011, which began in September 2010. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Deficit Is 'Mostly Solved'

Contrary to the hand wringer, our deficit problem is mostly solved.   It becomes more clear every day that despite being used as justification to dismantle social programs, the long-term deficit continues to recede as a real problem.

Japan embraces stimulus

In a big way.  Just as Japan has been a poster child for how NOT to handle a liquidity trap in the past, it may now become a poster child for how to do it right.

Replacing the mouse

At the CES, there was exhibited a new gestural interface that, someday, may make the venerable mouse quaint and obsolete.  It tracks the motion of your fingers very precisely.

America's Real Criminal Element

Studies show that cleaning up lead may be the most effective crime-fighting strategy.

Klippert proposes arming teachers

Once again, our locally elected village idiot signs on to yet another terrible idea.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Social Security Is Irrelevant to the Deficit

Since Social Security is funded by its own taxes and has its own trust fund, making cuts to it does nothing for the federal deficit.  So let's just not go there.

Retract the study

The key study on cancer and GM crops has been shown to be seriously flawed.  But the debate on the subject is so furious that logic and science fall victim to other agendas.

Why Republicans Can’t Propose Spending Cuts

This sums it up nicely.
Reporters are presenting this as a kind of negotiating problem, based on each side’s desire for the other to stick its neck out first. But it actually reflects a much more fundamental problem than that. Republicans think government spending is huge, but they can’t really identify ways they want to solve that problem, because government spending is not really huge. That is to say, on top of an ideological gulf between the two parties, we have an epistemological gulf. The Republican understanding of government spending is based on hazy, abstract notions that don’t match reality and can’t be translated into a workable program.

Seeing through walls inexpensively

Engineers have made low-cost terahertz chips. With these, it's possible to have smartphone sized devices that can construct images of objects through several types of materials.  The technology has implications in law enforcement, homeland security, and even medicine.

Was life inevitable?

Probably.

In mapping the chemical pathways to life's emergence, the researchers touch on a more existential question: How likely was it for life to have developed at all? Extraordinarily so, says Braakman. "Metabolism appears to be an 'attractor state' within organic chemistry, where it was likely to be selected regardless of earlier stages of chemical evolution" in the chaotic, high-energy conditions of prebiotic Earth, he says.
Can it happen elsewhere? Possibly, even probably, he says. Rocky planets usually have cores chemically similar to ours, so if a planet is volcanically (and perhaps tectonically) active and has an ocean, it will probably have hydrothermal vents that spew chemicals, creating the potential conditions for life, Braakman says. In fact, the physics of star and planet formation make the chances of such conditions pretty reasonable.
We should expect to find life in lots of places.

IMF faces reality

IMF's chief economist admits that austerity demands were a bad idea.