Friday, December 20, 2013

Life and Science

They go together so well because one shows just how amazing the other is.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Transit Woes

I lived in Chicago for a couple years and I thought the Chicago Card used for transit was fucking brilliant.  It was my model for how transit should be done.  I mentioned it to friends and family, I probably mentioned it on this mess of a blog a time or two.  It worked well, it was inexpensive to catch rides, encouraging more ridership, and it just made sense.  Apparently, that is no more.  And why this change from a good, functioning, efficient system:
...under the old system, rich investors didn’t get a piece of the action. Under this one, they most decidedly do.
Ah, yes: privatization makes things better dontcha know?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Waiting for a "Let Them Eat Cake" Response...

I think one of the things that a national income could very conceivably do is increase (not decrease) wages for lots of folks.  Think about the protesting fast food workers.  Now imagine that they all got $15k/year national income (roughly the equivalent of $7.50/hr).  On the one hand, it may seem like they would be fairly happy with only $5/hr for working, but that isn't quite right.  We have placed a value on non-working life of $7.50/hr, and have given those people the opportunity to reject working for wages that are insufficient.  Many people, could now afford to look into better opportunities, including going into business for themselves.  The pool of individuals willing to work for the current $8/hr mentioned may actually go down, while the number of customers, and the need to fill slots goes up.  This would mean that McDonald's would need to pay higher salaries in order to fill enough spaces to deal with their business.

Starting to Dread the Race for Guv

I'm at the point that I really hope Allyson Schwartz looses in the primary.  No Democrat should be able to vote to cut Social Security and ever again hope to win a primary election.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Asked and Answered...Well, Kinda

Also, preemptively.  So I admitted some confusion regarding people (anyone, really) purchasing luxury goods.  I still think that it is a broadly stupid thing to do--even for wealthy people--but there is a logic presented in this piece to poor people buying expensive [designer] goods that makes sense.  I don't really like that it makes sense.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Not Buy the Teams?

I read things like this--and I've heard/read about this issue many times over the past decade or so--and to the extent that major league teams are good for a city, the city should own them.  Having wealthy, capricious owners who can hold cities hostage is bad on so many levels.  Think about it this way: would you pay $100M to help a business out without getting some stake in that business, or at least a whole lot of guarantees that you'd be paid back?  That is exactly what is happening with these teams.

It seems to me that that would be a lot easier to sell to taxpayers/citizens: "We're going to spend $600 M to own the Orioles" instead of "We're paying $600 M to the Orioles' organization in return for which they may not leave the city for now."  Then make a handful of the trades/drafts/deals up for a vote, and if it ends up not working out, no problem: they can always sell the team down the road!

Note: I actually do see lots of problems with this proposal, and don't think it would fly for reasons beyond even those, but I don't know why I haven't heard [anything] like it.

Food for Thought

Ever accidentally swallow a bit of seawater?
Now some people would probably look at that and think "cool" or "sure, what'd you think was there?" but then there are those who try and sanitize everything they can.  I envision them either fainting or throwing up a little at the thought of downing that tiny menagerie...and I laugh.

The world is full of life, most of which we are not even a little bit aware of.  An entire world in a drop of seawater.  Also, I now wonder about seasalt: do they filter the water before drying?  If so, how fine?  Do the diatoms get 'bout copepods?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Student Loans

I still think the Federal Reserve should use its awesome power to buy up all the student loan debt and make it go *poof*.  More money for mostly younger people who will tend to spend it, or maybe take the chance to strike out on their own.  Right now, it may mean extra presents for the holidays.


That's what a person is who takes a sledgehammer to homeless people's personal possessions.  Also, too: criminal.  He should be arrested.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ok, I Don't Get It

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the minimum guaranteed income, but I don't get Tyler Cowen's "problems" at all.  All of them stem from:
Must a guaranteed income truly be unconditional?  Might there be circumstances when we would want to pay some individuals more than others?
and my answers are simple: "yes" and "no".  My understanding is that the minimum income is just paid out to everyone [who files a tax return].  So everyone gets, say $1000/month check to do with as they please, and that doesn't go down if they happen to work so work = more money!  Depending on the level it was set at it may be able to replace food stamps and/or cash welfare and/or housing assistance but there is no good reason to drop medicare/medicaid/social security, as those are highly efficient, targeted programs that both do good and are very popular.

(Yes, I suspect that "getting Republicans to go along with this" would probably mean cutting or eliminating those programs, but that certainly shouldn't be considered a problem with min income itself, rather a politics problem.)

I would think a bigger issue is that it would likely push up inflation at the bottom end of things (particularly low end rents and eating out would be likely to go up), though that means an even greater incentive to work for low income individuals.  In the middle it would serve as extra savings or allow a bit of extra extravagance, and at the top it would be pretty much useless, particularly as it would be way more than offset with the higher taxes required to afford it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Luxury Goods

I don't really get pretty much any luxury goods.  I'm willing to spend more on a good quality suitcase, and whenever I get around to updating/renovating my kitchen I will likely buy a refrigerator that is both of good quality and that looks good. Still, there's a world of difference between a high quality carry-on suitcase and this or even this.  (Also, while I'll admit to having spent way too much going out to dinner on occasion, it was nothing like these burgers.)

I do understand paying more for quality and style, and I understand paying for something a bit different/unique, but with the variety of options out there I don't understand anyone spending outrageous sums of money for, really, anything (worst: people who spend tons to get the exact same stuff as other rich people...what a weird mindset).

I suppose that this is the reason I drive a 10 year old compact station wagon (albeit a kinda sporty one: Mazda5), and why I got a house that is less than 1500 sq ft.  I could be given millions of dollars and I still wouldn't see much need to get a new car or a new house (though, yes, I would renovate, but I'm planning on doing that anyway).

So a $6000 smart phone?  Sure, why not?  I'm not their target any more than I am Bentley's.  While I may think it a pretty stupid thing to do, the people who would buy that, buy plenty of other things I consider very stupid...and someone needs to take their money away from them since the government won't.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


I have actually wanted to get some stock for some time, but I really, really can't figure out it's price point so I haven't (current P/E is 1200!).  It is a scary company in a lot of ways but there are not many things that I don't look there first when I want to buy, and in most cases: that's where I do buy.  I really like that they exist, but they are a danger to lots of businesses in ways Apple and maybe even Google never will be.

The Mind Boggles

I know Richard Cohen is a pretty crappy person overall and should not be allowed to communicate his drivel to the masses, but, really?  He really didn't know that slavery was actually quite terrible?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Debt Itself Isn't an Evil

I think a lot of the austerity push is done by people who see debt and deficits as evils in and of themselves, so wile it's nice to see papers that point out how bad austerity is, I doubt they will be considered compelling to the people who push for austerity.

My confusion is really with the bizarre notion of debt as bad being held so broadly by people in finance who pretty much require debt to survive (where do you think bank profits [traditionally] come from?).  So many of these people actually believe in debt as a beneficial force in economies...just not from governments.  But that is the worst part of it.  If you had $1M and you wanted to loan that to someone to be paid back with interest you have a lot of options: banks, businesses, individuals, and governments.  Only one of those has a near zero probability of collapse: any of the first 3 could declare bankruptcy and you'd be out some or all of your investment.  The government...not so much, and frankly, if it does (particularly if it is your own/the US) then you probably have more to worry about than loss of your money, like reavers.  (Yes, a Firefly reference.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Great Movie With One Flaw

Spoiler alert (not immediate, but ahead)...

Being a science nerd, I had to go see Gravity (IMAX 3D), and did.  Overall it was beautiful, tense, and really just excellent (Sandra Bullock's odd behavior/acting notwithstanding--I'm not sure how much was her fault and how much was the writer/director struggling to add human tension).

Being a space/science movie, there were, of course several issues that really wouldn't have made it work--I like the Bad Astronomy Review which points the big ones out without bashing--but most of those are not really problems for me.  One was: the "Let It Go, Man" part of the review.  Things had been pretty good overall, but when they were both on a tether and Clooney had to let go because he was pulling away!  That doesn't happen they were both stopped and the tension on those ropes would have been zero.  It was a glaring flaw compared to the rest which you really have to know more about what's going on up there to notice.  (Yes, I know, you have to have some idea about how gravity/orbiting works to even know that but considering that other aspects were pretty good, that was just really not.)

All other errors are very much forgiven.  Go see.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fix The Debt Learns It Isn't Loved

(Well, aside from the idiot talking heads on my TV.)  I do like twitter on occasion.

Zombies are Political

Felix Salmon understands the situation.  I really wonder why our supposedly brilliant POTUS doesn't seem to.
The point here is that the zombie army, a/k/a the Tea Party, is a movement, not a person — and it’s an aggressively anti-logical movement, at that. You can’t negotiate with a zombie — and neither can you wheel out some kind of clever syllogism which will convince a group of revolutionary nihilists that it’s a bad idea to get into a fight if you’re reasonably convinced that you’re going to lose it. Spoiler alert: it turns out that Ed Norton was beating up himself, all along. When you’re Really Angry, sometimes losing a big fight against The Man is exactly what you feel like doing.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Congresswoman Schwartz

She used to be a pretty decent Democrat but now she's got her eyes on the PA governor's mansion and has moved into decidedly more "centrist" (i.e. pro-wall street and pro-military industrial complex) positioning.  I wrote saying that SS cuts should not be considered with respect to the current fiasco and her [form] response included:
...I believe that Congress has an obligation to ensure the long-term viability of the Social Security and Medicare programs so that future generations can enjoy the same stability that they have provided older Americans for generations. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Social Security and as a member of the Seniors Task Force, I have always been a champion for preserving Social Security and have fought tirelessly to strengthen and protect it. Social Security is the bedrock of retirement security for millions of Americans.  Congress has an obligation to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security so that future generations...[emphasis mine]
Making Social Security "long-term viable" and "strengthening and protecting" it are standard code phrases for cutting benefits.  No Democrat should ever use those lines, unless she immediately clarifies by stating: more revenues and no benefit cuts.  A good Democrat would state that benefits should be increased.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Not a Bad Idea

The Economist argues that Democrats should tell Republicans (and the public) what they really want.  Not sure that would really put things in perspective for most Republicans, but it may for lots of voters.  Obama's continued, repeated pre-compromising with himself is maybe the worst aspect of his presidency.  Evey bill has ended up the worse because of it.

Some Things Are Just Cool

You can see a video at the link.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

I Don't Think They Get It

Emily's list has a good goal, but they do stupid shit like this often enough that I just don't think they get it.  If you look at the overall picture, Carl Sciortino is probably the best candidate running in MA's 5th for women's issues (and, frankly, America), but he has a penis, so Emily's List is endorsing a conservative, anti-civil liberties woman instead.  Really, I understand that they are only going to put their money to support pro-choice women, but in a race where the nominally pro-choice woman is not the best candidate for women, they should just stay out.

Or maybe they think Michelle Bachman being in office is good for women just because she has a vagina?  I would love to see more women in office, but it is self-defeating to just look at gender and ignore the actual positions of the candidates.

Kinda Obvious, Really

I'll bet most rich people reading the article in the NY Times nod and think it doesn't apply to them, but rich people do care less.  I wonder, however, which way the cause and effect goes.  Is it that becoming rich induces people to care less or is it that people who care less are more likely to become rich?  I can see either, but the latter makes pretty good sense.  It is easier to become rich if you don't care about others.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


There really is no other word for congressional [Tea Party] Republicans right now:
At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.
Digby responded as politely as is humanly possible.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Brit Humor

I think this apology would be even better if delivered while being held out a window, upside-down, by Herr Schäuble.


Monday, September 16, 2013

The Euro

I do enjoy reading Krugman, and I understand his continued hammering on the Euro (note: NY Times article link), but it kind of seems like shouting at the wind.  No matter how bad an idea the single currency was, and no matter how imperfectly it was implemented, unwinding it seems nearly unthinkable.  There was a moment of opportunity to do so when interest rates were all over the map, but it has mostly passed (of course it is likely to come again), and it passed because no one in the Euro-zone wants to go back.  I would rather hear ways to make the Euro function, than continued harping on why it was such a bad idea/implementation. 

The US does [fairly] well with a single currency (yes, I know, we have a fiscal union as well) and our states have a fair amount of autonomy, so it seems like the Euro could be made to work without complete fiscal integration.  e.g. Implement some baseline values--min wage, max retirement age, min retirement income, min unemployment benefits--that the various nation-states would be able to go above and beyond if they wished.  All of this would be covered by a Euro-zone tax that would be a % of GDP, with the individual nations able to determine how to levy that tax on their citizens.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I read and enjoyed the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, which makes me want to read the Wheel of Time (I know, this is probably backwards for a lot of people, but meh).  I just saw that he has a new Mistborn novel.  Now I have to get up to date with A Song of Ice and Fire so I can read it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Priced Out of Housing

David Atkins is having a go at this debate, but generally, I think he comes up short.  He goes off this piece from realtors, and accurately points out that whatever housing recovery we are having makes the problem worse.  His conclusion:
Keep in mind that policymakers are as we speak attempting to inflate the value of real estate, even as current prices make the traditional American Dream an unrealistic fantasy for most young adults.

The economy is broken, and none of the asset inflaters in government are even aware enough of the basic problems to even attempt a fix.
is not very good though.  The fix for this problem actually is inflation--just general inflation, not housing only.  By holding house prices down, current owners are worse off.  By raising those prices in an environment where overall inflation is very low, prospective buyers are worse off.  The best situation is to have higher general inflation.  That means higher income for prospective buyers and declining value of debt in real terms for existing homeowners.

However, the federal reserve isn't actually willing to do what is necessary in this regard (despite the fact that they are the only entity with that ability), so we are left with next best options.  In this case, because real estate has been a major drag on the economy, there is some hope that inflating house prices would lead to broader economic recovery, which would produce the necessary wage growth.  I'm not actually optimistic because 1. housing seems to be at a good point now, and so further price inflation may be bad, and 2. the fed is likely to kill any recovery by raising interest rates once inflation goes a tad over 2%.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Minimum Wage vs. Minimum Guaranteed Income

I used to be very much on the side of raising the minimum wage to something "livable", at least $10 and maybe as much as $15/hr ($20k - $30k/year).  I still think we would be better off as a nation (and with many much better off than now) if we doubled it, but I am starting to come around to minimum guaranteed income (this has come up again regarding the civil rights movement, radical socialists that they were).

Minimum guaranteed income does a lot of lifting on a lot of issues--it would have to be set appropriately, but it could be used to eliminate most welfare programs, from cash payments to snap to housing (section 8), and would make useless some of our tax code complexity (we would need to seriously overhaul the tax code to do this anyway).  It also takes a lot of the perceived burden off employers, where we could let the free market reign: if people are willing to work for an extra $2.50/hr, then employers could pay that, but if, as I suspect, people who had more freedom to pick and chose, decided that their time and effort was worth more than it is when they have to take some job, any job, to survive, then employers would be forced by teh markets to pay higher salaries. 

People at the bottom of the income ladder would be far more free, and have greater opportunities.  At the top end: no bitching because they get that money too (well, less, all taxes would need to go up in this scenario).
On top of that, if you look to discussion about the hollowing out of the middle (automation now taking middle class jobs away) as a phenomenon that is likely to continue and expand, then this becomes the best solution.  Technology and enhanced productivity make us wealthier as a society, but the distribution becomes more unequal and the price to pay is that we must transfer some of those benefits down to the people who lost out because of them.  Having a minimum income does just that. 

As for the level...$16k is a fair starting point: it covers bare basics (well, not health care but so long as we're fixing things, we have single payer here) but there is still lots of incentive to work and pull that up.  Probably it would be something along the lines of [GDP/total population/x] where x is some age dependent scaling factor, maybe in the in the 3-5 range for 18+, and 10-20 for under 18 (money to parent/guardian). 


I think the most accurate representation of the problem is The Onion's.  I've no confidence that us going in (not matter how far) will do anything but make matters worse.  The world is a very complex place, and sometimes we just can't fix things.  Still, not trying seems just as bad.  In a better alternate universe we could get a coalition together to go in, arrest Bashar, have an actual trial with evidence and find out "what really happened". 

In our existing world the options seem to be: kill people and blow things up or let Bashar (and/or his loyalists) kill other people and blow other things either case rebel forces will kill people and blow things up, though I suppose we could help them do that more effectively as well.

I Get Calls

I have contributed to various [progressive] campaigns in the past, and so that puts me on some list that leads to me getting harassed (often at work by people who force me to hang up on them if I want to get off the line) by groups and campaigns looking for money.  I get that, and that's fine.  My problem is with their pitch.  It is almost always about how bad the Republicans are or some horrible thing that some person or group within the GOP is trying to do.

I understand why that works for many people, but I've been around (and paying attention) long enough to know that it's kind of a bait and switch: they are so horrible, that our less horrible behavior seems acceptable by comparison.  If they called up and told me about great things that [Democrats] will do then I may give them some time (and money) to do those things.  So long as the only thing they claim to stand for is anti-GOP extremism, then they can go take a flying leap. 

Some Reps and Senators (Alan Greyson is an excellent example) are doing good things and "fighting the good fight" but too many others--up to and including Obama--just pay lip service to those good things while fighting for things that Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex want.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Things That Aren't the Same

People who don't like Obama care are not the same as people who want the GOP to defund it.  That should be obvious, and it should be pointed out far more often (pretty much any time any GOPer uses the poor polling of Obamacare to justify their ongoing attempt to kill it).

Take, for instance, me.  I don't like Obamacare: it's the right wing version of universal coverage and serves as a give away to insurance industry and the broader health care industry.  I would love to see single payer (Medicare for everyone) funded directly through broad base tax increase (combination of raising the medicare tax rate, applying it to all income--including cap gains--and eliminating the tax breaks for employer provided health care).  Still, Obamacare is better than what we had, and so I'm pretty strongly opposed to any effort to repeal it that doesn't replace it with something better (since it is the best idea for universal coverage the GOP has ever had, they aren't likely to have that "something better" but if ever they manage, then that'd be ok).

MLK Jr: NOT a Conservative

This has really been ongoing for sometime, and it is more than just MLK, but Republicans like taking popular figures and trying to own them.  Martin Luther King Jr. was a radical socialist liberal, the points below come from the rude pundit and are things we should all remember...

1. Martin Luther King was against prayer in school and thought that Christianity meant that you had to help the poor.

2. Martin Luther King thought America's use of military power was immoral and that protesters loved their country.

3. This is not to mention that Martin Luther King thought that money spent on useless wars would be better spent on anti-poverty programs.

4. Unlike today's Democrats, Martin Luther King believed that radical activism, even at the risk of arrest, was more important than moderation and compromise. Principle over popularity.

5. Martin Luther King believed that a janitor was as important as a doctor and that the government had the duty to ensure that the janitor was taken care of as well as the doctor was, including a guaranteed wage, health care, and more.

6. Martin Luther King believed that the rich needed to pay their fair share to help lift people out of poverty. They should, you know, spread the wealth, especially through taxation.

7. And, after a change of heart, Martin Luther King did not believe in owning a gun.
As dingby said (re: Jim DeMint's tweet):
If that's the platform of Jim DeMint's Republican Party, where do I sign up? If it isn't, then Jim DeMint should probably keep his mouth shut.

American "Justice"

For sale to the highest bidder.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Yes, Pathetic Is Correct

I think this goes into the category of "The Obama administration can be as horrible as they like, so long as they are 'Better than Republicans', and they'll get a pass."
...not only has Obama appointed fewer women than Clinton did two decades ago, he has no excuse for not appointing a lot more...It has been obvious for some time that this administration is only tepidly interested in advancing women's equality, at least to the extent that it might cost them something to do it. The president only wants to work closely with people with whom he feels "comfortable" (whatever that means) and very few women seem to fit that bill for some reason. Odd.
This is an issue that is actually very surprising to me. There really is no excuse for any Democrat to not be very good on women's issues, but this administration just isn't.  They can say that they are better than Republicans, but so could Henry VIII--talk about a low hurdle to clear, it's like stepping over a piece of string.  And the thing is, there is really no downside to being very good on women's issues: more than 50% of this country (and of registered voters) is female.  There are lots of competent and capable women (at the cabinet level that is in no small part due to Clinton).  Obama has just done a really shitty job.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Future of Computers

I think I'm still at the same place I was a few years back when the iPad first came out.  Basically tablets (I am partial to Android and so probably Samsung's entry) are excellent for sofa/commute browsing (reading and simple gaming too), they are very good for some task computing: recipes, portable showrooms--very good when a designer is at your house and wants to show you images--and they are fine for simple messaging/communications, particularly as voice to text has gotten better.  They suck for long form writing--whether blog posts or business email, or any other longer writing--and are crap for any gaming that wants to be immersive. 

That means that they are probably good for about 90% of what people use computers for at home, and maybe 20% of work use.  Not being able to do that last 10% at home, however, means that real, full on computers are still (to the extent that they are at all) necessary.  Massive storage on the cheap, CD/DVD/BluRay players and writers, better graphics and keyboard mouse inputs are all still important. 

Now, that said, things are changing rapidly and I don't think it will be very long before tablets are the home computers.  HDMI connectivity to a television, USB or wireless connection to a network attached storage, and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse cover most of the difference between how people use computers and what you can do on a tablet.  Pretty much the only things that are still missing are the raw power you can get in a desktop (or even a laptop), but most people don't need it.

Throw in a PS3 and you've covered most gamers, and there are only a handful of processor intensive tasks remaining for the computer (graphics, CAD, serious audio/video editing).

Still, those add on options that convert a tablet to a near-computer aren't exactly cheap, and it is still much cheaper to buy a low end desktop or netbook to get that functionality.  That will change, however, and I think it isn't too far off that all computers will be tablets, with enhanced functionality via home network plus some accessories. 

The form factor is still a question, and using a phone size makes much more sense to me than even a 7" tablet...but that is contingent on combining it with something like Google Glass for certain functions (reading) so that is further off than the tablet+ as computer.

New Fed Chair

The debate is a little odd to me.  Picking Summers over Yellen seems monumentally pig-headed.  Still, for David Atkins to be this upset seems odd to me.  At some level, there just isn't likely to be any difference in desired monetary policy between them.  Style, yes, history, yes, qualifications, yes and all those things favor Yellen (which is why Summers is a stupid pick), but both are supporters of quantitative easing, and neither sees inflation as a problem (right now).  Summers may be a bit more likely to see asset bubbles as forming (now, not in the past) and Yellen has indicated in the past that she may be happier with a lower inflation target.  Both of those things are bad, and would imply too early cutoff of QE.

In the end, David's piece is just weird.  For all the reasons he gives for being disappointed in Obama about this pick could equally apply to Yellen.  If he really wants a different (more progressive) attitude at the fed than Summers would bring, then he should be talking up someone other than Yellen (maybe Christy Romer--though she's probably not very differnt from Yellen on monitary policy either--maybe one of the even more dovish Fed board members).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Doing It Wrong

Interesting bit on extremist parties getting stronger (in Europe but really here too) due in large part to really wrong "center" party policies, particularly austerity.  One odd thing about it is that right wing extremist parties seem to benefit more than left wing, and that seems worth exploring.  I can think of a few possible explanations but really no idea as to their veracity...

1.  People have more real experience with Communism than with Fascism and so are more likely to push right than left when the center is so horrible. 

2.  The right is more aligned with "self" and the left with "government" and the perception here is that "government" is failing so obviously trending the other way makes sense (I would argue this is ironic in that "government" is failing by being made smaller and less effective, which is exactly what most right side parties want). 

2.5  Corollary to the second point: the right is generally associated with tax cutting, and the more dysfunctional government is [perceived as being] the less people will see paying taxes as benefiting them more than keeping that money themselves.

3. Right wing parties tend to identify "others" to cast blame on for the poor fortunes of the "right types" of people.  Mostly this tends to immigrant groups and typically ones that look different than the native peoples--Arab, Persian, Indian (Muslim) in Europe, African (yes still), Mexican and other Hispanics in the US.  Note: it is very much not the same to blame a political party as it is to blame a race or ethnic group of people.  So, no, Democrats blaming Republicans or the Tea Party is not equivalent...calling yourself a Tea Partier is self-identification with a set of beliefs and values, being Mexican is not.

In this country there is the added problem that while the extremist right has pretty much taken over the Republican party, the extremist left is homeless (hell, the only slightly left of center is homeless here since the Democratic party mainstream, starting with Clinton and on through Obama has become a center-right party). 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Last week was Shark Week on Discovery.  In honor, the best video I took while shark diving in Gansbaai:

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Governor Yells at People

Notwithstanding Gov. Christie's brief stints into non-crazy-and-almost-non-asshole-like behavior, anyone who lives in NJ, and is a Democrat but who votes for Chris Christie, is about as dumb as they come.  I have more respect for people who voted for Bush than for those morons.

At one level I do kind of like Christie, and I find him entertaining though sometimes just mean.  Still, just because I wouldn't vote for him for anything, doesn't mean I don't understand why Republicans and even independents would vote for him, but Democrats?

Policy aside, I do prefer good governance (which Republicans used to be capable of), which in some places would mean GOP in charge, but Christie only manages it when it would end his career to do otherwise (i.e. Sandy). 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ugh, 2014 Politics

After the last few elections, I've a feeling lots of people are going to tune next year's midterms out completely.  Those that faithfully vote will continue to (so Republicans will likely do better), but I can't imagine anyone is particularly excited about the prospect.  So I barely skimmed Charlie Cook's piece, but this is kind of key to Democrat frustration:
Add to that growing concern over the Affordable Care Act, with only a third of Americans telling pollsters that it will help the nation’s health care situation, and less than a quarter who believe that it will help their own family’s health care. 
It was a crappy, Republican health care plan.  Republicans should be happy about it, but since it was passed by the socialist Kenyan Muslim, fat fucking chance.  Democrats have tried to be happy about it, but when the only possible liberal/Democratic aspect was killed by the douche from MA it became pretty hard to be honestly enthusiastic.  If they had kept the public option, or just allowed anyone to buy into Medicare on the exchanges, then there would have both excited Democrats and would have been something to point out to all the other constituents who pretty much won't have anything change.

As for the ineffective leadership stuff: maybe, but I think the root of that problem was Obama was not the right person for this job.  He would have been at home in the 80's and maybe the 90's, but all the grand bargain, compromise bullshit just doesn't work with today's Republicans.  On top of that, the creeping Bush-era government surveillance system and perpetual war on terror don't give anyone other than Dick Cheney warm fuzzies.  So it isn't just that Obama is an ineffective leader--there may not have been any way to be otherwise with the Senate rules what they are--it is that the things he actually does are very much at odds with the way that he has been perceived on them and even the way that he talks about them. 

NJ Senate Race

Booker is probably going to win, and if you are a big fan of Wall Street and big bankers and high finance then you should be very excited.  If, on the other hand, you prefer people to money, then that should be very depressing.  There is a much better candidate in the race (a rocket scientist at that), who would better represent the people of NJ, and who would actually represent a change for the better in the Senate.  Rush Holt for NJ Senate.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Student Loan Rates: Meh.

Lots of noise about the Senate bill passing (Bipartisan! Helping Students!), but it just mostly is not helpful.  There are two somewhat separate student loan problems: current and future.  The current problem is with people who have [recently] graduated into a crap economy with a mortgage worth of debt to pay off.  These people, who might be helped somewhat with lower interest rates, are not addressed, because--unlike pretty much every other type of debt on the planet--YOU CAN'T REFINANCE STUDENT LOANS.  People "lucky" enough to have 2, 3, 4% interest: good for you.  Those who have 5, 6, 7% interest: tough shit.

The other problem is the level of the debt (not the interest on it), and low interest rates, if they do anything, will make that worse.  If you make the price of money much lower for a specific activity (going to college in this case) then people will over-consume that good, and so the price of college will rise faster than it would otherwise.  So lowering student loan rates going forward may actually lead to higher debt levels for future students while doing nothing for current graduates with lots of outstanding debt.

We need low cost or free college education available to everyone, and we need to address the outstanding debt of [recent] graduates.  All this fucking around about the student loan rates is more distraction than help.  Yes, it may help quite a few current students, but at the expense of future students, and to the detriment of our nation, if education is in fact a driver for economic growth.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Randian Destroys Business...

Bloomberg has an amusing read on the clusterfuck that is Lampert's management of Sears (well, amusing provided you don't work for Sears/Kmart in which case it is probably horribly depressing).  I do want to make a quick note about this lunatic in charge.  When he responded thus:
“Decentralized systems and structures work better than centralized ones because they produce better information over time,” Lampert writes. “The downside is that, to some, it appears messier than centralized systems.”
He wasn't entirely wrong.  I don't know about better, but decentralized systems certainly produce easier to extract information over time.  One of the problems of centralized systems is that there are lots of feedback systems that are very difficult to accurately measure/discern.  But that difficulty doesn't make the centralized system worse (or, technically, better) it just makes it harder to break down and quantify. 

In the case of Sears, if appliances bring people into the store, but they can get better margins on baby products, then it may be a good idea for those two to team up: offer a special on washing machines (new baby: more laundry) to get people in the door and position the sale item very close to the baby merchandise.  In Lampert world, however, you can't do this because appliances would see a drop in profitability while baby-whatever sees the gain, so next time around baby people get more money/space in the catalog/whatever, and appliances gets less, but because it is appliances that brings more people in the doors, the switch means fewer people come in and lower revenue all around.

Of course, Lampert is a Randian, and those people are largely out of their minds, but putting one of their true believers in charge of a company is mystifying.  Most of our corporate overlords spout that crap but don't really believe it...or so I'd always assumed. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

On Hunting Black Children

I'm pretty disgusted that I live in a country where a man with a gun can hunt and kill a black child armed with candy and suffer no consequences.  It's just horrifying.

What's The Matter With Not-Kansas?

I read the book (What's the Matter with Kansas), and thought it was pretty spot on.  I also see something very similar happening in the Democratic party right now.  Very depressing. 

Nuclear Power Goes "Oops!"

While I generally think that nuclear power has the potential to be an excellent, carbon-free energy source, there are some pretty not-minor problems with it as it exists today.  Problems that are probably made worse when you build them in earthquake prone regions, and then try and hide how bad the problem is.  Maybe we will all find out how bad the radiation really is when all the dead fish/whales/other sea critters wash up on the US west coast beaches.

Friday, July 12, 2013

In Defense Of College (Partial, Short)

Specifically, in response to the rather stupid opinion reflected by the "employers" in this article.  When a person gets a college education, it must have rather limited real world use.  That's the nature of it.  It is the responsibility of the companies and businesses hiring to instruct their new hires on the application of their knowledge to their new position.  The university system isn't meant to be job training for Boeing, it's meant to be education, that allows for people to more easily move into certain fields.

That said, early on it sounds like the article is complaining that colleges are not doing that job well, but even that is somewhat misleading.  If you require people to have a college degree and more and more people get one because of that basic requirement, then you are naturally pushing down the educational value of said college degree.  People who would have gotten training (votec/practitioner/whatever) are now getting degrees, because of that requirement.  Moreover, by seeing this as a job requirement rather than an education, students and faculty alike are apt to downplay the education aspect.

We seem to want colleges to be this amazing thing (and considering the price, they sure as shit should be!) but college isn't really meant to be amazing in the way that people think of it.  Education is supposed to be a base of knowledge.  How large and well founded that base is makes a difference, so college is better than high school.  By the same token however, what goes on top of that base is not necessarily reflective of it.  Someone may have a good base, but be unable to build.  Someone else may have a base that seems good but is completely displaced from where they go.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not Gonna Happen but...

If I ever run for political office I would most likely do so on the Atrios platform...though probably with moar science!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Dunkin Donuts' New Breakfast Sandwich

Oh, it comes on a glazed donut.  Best review is definitely this one.  Weirdest is at Women's Health, where the Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, while described as one of the worst in America, actually seems better than almost all their "healthier" selections.

Monday, July 01, 2013

U.S. Beer Market

It is still astounding to me that, even with the rise of small breweries and brewpubs/brewery restaurants, that Inbev and Miller-Coors have 80% of the beer market in this country.  More astounding, still to me, is that if you look at all the independent brewers (which includes Samuel Adams), their entire market share is 6%!  That number is more astounding by the fact that prices for those beers are higher (sometimes much higher). 

On the one hand, I don't know why anyone buys Budweiser or Miller Lite at just about any level.  Really, it's kind of creepy, and pretty much reinforces that I will continue to not buy those beers for reasons that go beyond: "They suck."

Voyager is Pretty Awesome

It is, in my opinion, the coolest thing we have done with space exploration.  The idea of this craft we built drifting, functional, in space for decades is the stuff of science fiction.  Also it is maybe exiting the solar system for real this time.

Another Sunny Day Out West

Just don't call it global warming.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Weird Marriage and Taxes Thing

Good rulings by SCOTUS on gay marriage bills brings up tax issues again.  I understand the desire to modify taxes based on single/married mostly for political purposes, but in the end I really don't think it makes sense.

We should have only one category--the equivalent of single--and everyone would file.  So if a married couple only has one working person, the other person could file a return with zero income.  Yes, this would mean that a rich couple with one person pulling in a couple million $ could have the other spouse collecting a few thousand in tax rebates, and they may pay less than now, but that couple would be paying more than a couple with both people working and each bringing in half (same total income).  So long as the change is paired with rate increases I have no problem with this.  (Note: as an alternative wealthy couples could probably reduce tax burden by having the working spouse "pay" the non-working spouse some fraction of their income.)

Sometimes it Hurts to Read XKCD


Animal Farm

Generally taught as an anti-Communism book.  Orwell didn't necessarily see it as that simple:
...I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job.
I'm not sure it doesn't even apply more broadly (i.e. to non-violent revolution).  I can see definite parallels to Obama's presidency, where he came in on Hope and Change and lots of people supported him as a major turning away from past policy and once he got into office he broadly adopted that past policy that many (most) of his supporters had been railing against.  More, when he did that, rather than immediately decry the behavior, most people just accepted it, and him. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013


It's mostly, probably good that younger people are increasingly eschewing credit cards, and I'm actually glad that the article didn't make these next points.

Credit cards are a tool, and a very useful one: having a couple/few, but not using them or paying them off every month increases your credit rating.  They are helpful if you are tight for cash or have an emergency.  They are generally more secure than debit cards...a big deal if you do lots of travel or online shopping.  And, for "responsible" users, you should recoup some bonus (cash back being my preference) that is not available from debit cards.

Now, if having credit cards changes how much you spend, then it is probably a better idea to go without (or to have them for credit purposes/emergencies but keep them locked up day to day), but if you are going to buy something anyway, doing it with a credit card that provides some reward is the better way to go.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Don't Really Believe Greg Mankiw is Stupid

But his "Defending the One Percent" makes me seriously question that belief.  It has some pretty glaring shortcomings and reads more like something I would expect of a new graduate student in political science than a Harvard professor of economics.

The problem isn't that he has written anything in particular that is wrong, but that the whole thing is not even wrong.  It's mostly arguing against a series of straw men. There isn't a single argument he puts forward that can't be demolished with 5 seconds of actual thought.  It's like Newt Gingrich wrote it: it sounds smart to stupid people, but any actual smart person would consider it a joke.

He seems to go back and forth between economic and moral notions of what is and what should be that leaves a confused mess.  In the end his "just desserts" theory sounds like a moral judgement and is couched in such terms, but the moral is: every one gets their marginal economic contribution, and that's just a load of crap.

I haven't the inclination to do a complete tear down on it but there are two things that pretty much kill off whatever he is saying:

1. People who think that current trends and levels of inequality are bad are not, as far as I have seen, arguing that we should do away with inequality entirely.  We will and should always have a 1% (and a 0.01%), it isn't their existence, but rather the yawning gap separating them from the rest of us that is the problem, and that Mankiw never addresses.

2. The marginal utility of $1 vs. the marginal economic contribution is a serious discussion which Mankiw just ignores, though he states conclusions as though it was obvious (basically how would his "just desserts" get applied in reality?).

Further to point 2.  Say someone creates something that provides $10 of good to everyone on the planet.  This person has certainly created something of immense value, but how do you reward that justly?  Mankiw's "just deserts" theory would imply something close to $70 billion, but there is approximately zero effective difference between giving that person $1 billion and the total $70 billion.  Really, there probably isn't a difference down to below $100 million.  So at what point is that person no longer benefiting justly, and just hurting the broader economy by depriving others of capital?

More importantly, how do you deal with things provided by workers in non-profits and government agencies?  Scientists and researchers create things that have immense value to our lives and societies, but are almost never compensated at anything approaching their contributions.  I don't care how much of an ass you are, you can't tell me that Steve Jobs gave more to humanity (morally or economically) than Jonas Salk.  Further, there is a serious question as to who did "create" the things that make people wealthy.  iPods are great, but there is a shit-ton of prior research and development that were required before that last step was taken, Steve didn't do all that, but he (well, Apple) got to reap the rewards anyway without haveing to go back and pay for the prior research.

Maybe Mankiw is stupid.

Update: Lots of others hammering on the idiocy.  Here is one with lots of other details, and here is one that does a much more thorough job than I do on the "just desserts" moral economics issue.

Damned Liberals

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

But Teh Markets!!!

I actually do like free markets, but some people's obsession over them is kind of creepy.  Not all markets can be free without government intervention.  That shouldn't be a controversial statement.

Monday, June 17, 2013

One Wouldn't Think It Hard To Measure

Color me Rad "5k" run was this past weekend in Philly.  It was fun, but it was short...very short...maybe 2.5 miles instead of 3.1 short.  I realize that it was a fun, untimed run, but is it really that hard to lay out a course that clocks in at (close to) 5k?  It can be done fast and free online, at places like this or someone could have walked it with a decent gps device.  As easy as it is to do this, and as much as it said "5k" throughout, that the race was about a full kilometer short was just...weird. 

Distinction WIth Difference

Chris Satullo was talking on NPR this morning about not seeing why people are "ok" with Google and Verizon, et. al. having access to our private info and using it/selling it to companies to advertise to us, but are upset about the government having access to the same info. 

Now, he often takes a position that I disagree with, but in this case demonstrates a lack of awareness that is astounding.  I could rant on this for a while but there are two key issues that make a huge fucking difference:

1. The info that the private companies have is incomplete.  Google and Apple and Microsoft and Amex and Verizon...all have bits of data, and, yes, there is some sharing/selling, but only the government can really get a complete picture of a person through this aggregation of data.  Google can't get a warrant to force AmEx to give them data on sales made offline that they couldn't get access to otherwise.  The government can, so a much more complete invasion of privacy is involved.

2. More importantly: Verizon can't arrest you, detain you, put you on trial, or assassinate you (if you happen to be in, say, Yemen) least not yet. 

There is more, and more nuance but those two differences between the government having access to your private data and an internet company having access are very important and should have been very apparent to Chris Satullo before he went off on his daily rant.

Depressing Read

A pretty compelling case.  It's hard for lots of [liberals] to imagine something this well organized over this time frame, but Republican [elite] have demonstrated a remarkable ability to do this very thing.  (Now, it may be unraveling on them in some ways, as, thanks to the Tea Party, the crazies are taking over the asylum, but still...)

So I don't know how much of this is coordinated and how much of it is coincidence, but I'm a fair bit younger than the writer, and I noticed a difference in university education between when I started undergrad and when I finished graduate school.

Chemistry isn't necessarily the best position to see the whole problem (because research brings in lots of money and prestige to universities, professors there are not quite as hard hit as in other areas of study) so steps 1 and 3 are the ones I've most noticed.

Step 4 is almost a consequence of #s 1 and 3, though that doesn't make it less insidious, just something that maybe needn't be addressed independently.  I think if the first 3 things are fixed then this goes away (I also think that fixing 1 and 3 will fix 2 as well, but that's somewhat less certain).

The fifth step is one that I really want to address: "Destroy the Students."

Again, a lot of this is related to the earlier issues: if professors are poorly paid, then the education they provide will suffer as a consequence, and with all the money being pulled from state/federal budgets, and the administration and coaches needing their money, it has to come from somewhere, hence: lower quality education that costs more. 

That said, I think she misses one thing, though it is hinted at in the propaganda section: reinforcement.  In talking about the need or value of getting a degree, we are not actually at the point, that it isn't "worth it" and the reason is that companies doing hiring prefer college educated employees.  There is preferential hiring of people with degrees over those without even when the job requirements hardly necessitate that level of education.  This reinforcement of the need for a college degree by various corporations and businesses means that the current level of debt being assumed is, in reality, "worth it." 

Overall, I think that if steps 1 and 3 are remedied then the rest would follow, but it will take a lot of work.  It took 40+ years to undermine higher education.  Fixing it will take an equal effort.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

New Gaming Consoles!

Whether it's the Xbox or the PlayStation I really don't know what you are getting for the new systems. I mean, yes, Xbox is trying to bring all entertainment to one box, and that may be something, but mostly it's a convenience, and maybe worth waiting if you don't currently have a console, but hardly a reason for me to upgrade.  The PS3 already has a blu-ray player and much greater capabilities than most games were able to realize.  I don't see any reason to get a new console until they are being used to create more immersive gaming experiences.

The Kinect, Wii and Move were all steps toward that, but all imperfect and/or incomplete.  When the Wii came out it was exciting, but very quickly the limits became obvious.  The Kinect and Move were like two halves of a complete setup, both obviously limited by lacking what the other could do (I think the PS Move had the most potential).  Really, though, the biggest problem was a lack of compelling games that prevented any of the systems from being fully realized.  They were all mostly novelties.  Sorcery on the PS3 came pretty close, and the Move shooters were probably ok (though FPS hasn't been my game of choice since Doom 2).

I would love to see something like the Kinect's general motion/voice capture combined with a deluxe version of the Wii balance board (larger for one, so that you could move around a bit and walk/jog in place) and the Move controller combination.  That seems like it would be a great platform for lots of games.  Since all of those things are already on one system or another, it seems like the current consoles could already do what is necessary.  Maybe not, maybe some additional tweaking would be necessary to bring that all together so that it could be incorporated into games (and making games for these systems may actually be the limiting problem).

Something more dramatically different would be moving off screen to video glasses to get even closer to virtual reality.  Google glasses actually seems like it could be more of a breakthrough gaming platform than the next crop of consoles.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Studen Loan Interest Rates

There has been a lot of writing lately about the student loan rates about to double, and how bad that is for future grads (it is a non-issue for people already out of school, since their rates are already locked in).  As much as the interest rate is a bit of a help the problem, however, is not the rate going up, but that the debt level is increasing so fast.

There are two different problems that student loans create: one is the immediate payment of a large balance means money out of pocket right when recent grads are starting new jobs and would, if debt free, be spending lots of money for new "grown-up" things, like housing and furniture.  The other is the long time payoff which means recent grads are not going to have their full income for 10+ years (and it is nearly impossible to forgive any of it). 

Lowering the interest rate kind of helps with both things as it means your payment is lower and/or your payoff term is shorter.  But lower interest rates also, according to economic theories, lead to larger loan balances, and so in the end would likely change nothing.

Three constraints would help alleviate loan debt: a cap on the percent of total income paid (say 10%), plus a cap on the total time to payoff that wasn't so long as to seem daunting: I like 5 years, but would settle for 10 with complete forgiveness of the balance remaining at that point.  The third constraint is for private loans only: they are treated like credit card debt for most legal purposes. 

Interest rates for private loans would skyrocket past credit card rates, and they would quickly become almost non-existent.  Interest rates would almost be irrelevant, as most recent grads paying at the 10% level for the time limit most often would not pay off their loans entirely. 

Pay for it by eliminating the student loan interest rate deduction (well, at least for everyone who could be expected to benefit from the program), as well as the deduction that parents get for contributing to education savings plans (which, I believe, are just another give away to well off families). 

Really, I think college should be free for anyone who wants to attend.

As for the other problem of student loan debt outstanding among current graduates?  The ability to refinance those at lower rates would be a real boon, and would make a larger difference.  It isn't ideal (some form of forgiveness or flat payments would be) but it really would help in a way that it doesn't for future grads.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Odd Buisness

During the Broad Street Run there were cameras set up in a few locations taking pictures.  Now those pictures are available for purchase.  The absolute lowest price option available is $14 for a single 5x7 print.  They charge $16 for a .jpg copy (of a single image) and $70 for a USB drive with copies of all the images that are tagged with your bib number (~20 images for me, though I'm not in all of them). 

I'm not sure what the idea here is, because I can't even begin to imagine paying any of those prices.  The only option that I would even begin to consider is the .jpg copy of one of the images (pick the best) which I could email to friends/family and post online, but the dollar value for that to me is approaching zero, and at most a couple bucks.  I know there are lots of things like this where you get a small fraction that will buy something for sentimental reasons, but it seems like they are leaving a huge market of people like me untapped.  I would bet that nearly every one of the 40k people in the race would like to have an .jpg for the same reason as me, and at some price that would become tempting for a large number, but I can't believe that it $16 is even close to the right price to capture it (maybe $2-$5).

They've already taken the pictures and processed them to the extent that I can see my images.  The marginal cost to provide me a .jpg is near zero (well, it's really whatever their overhead on payment processing is, which is probably the problem). 

...This is the second email they have sent me, which kind of implies that they didn't get enough takers the first time around and they are looking to interest a few more people, but it's the same crappy deal.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Bike Share = Nazi/Stalin/Islamist/Totalitarian/...

The extremely hyperbolic (yes, it needs the extra adverb here) reaction by select [conservatives] to the bike share program is beyond weird.  It is very Onion-esqe, well, if the Onion started publishing really unbelievable pieces it would be.  I think this take is as good an explanation as any.

Oh, and the Front Page article referenced there is beyond hilarious, and for a change I was pretty happy to read the internet comments which were overwhelmingly insulting toward the writer.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Liberals Get Less From Politics

I'm sure it mostly amounts to naval gazing, but it makes lots of sense that liberals would be tuning out of politics.  2012 brought major victory at the polls, but gerrymandering kept the US House in control of Republicans despite a couple million more votes for Democrats, the filibuster prevents the US Senate from functioning properly, and our most liberal prezidnt evah spends more effort on going after whistle blowers, drone bombing social outing in Afghanistan, and trying to destroy the welfare of future elderly by cutting the safety net in the name of deficit reduction brought about by wars and tax cuts for the rich than he does on issues and efforts that would actually improve the lives of Americans.

So, yea, from a liberal perspective it's pretty fucking obvious that politics aren't worth the effort.  The US population overwhelmingly prefers liberal policies, and sizable majorities are at least sensible enough to recognize that popular policies are less likely with Republicans in charge, but the engaged liberal is starting to recognize, that conservative policy is what we get no matter who is in charge.  That is disheartening, depressing, and distressing.

In the wake of a sizable electoral victory we have seen liberal policies lose out repeatedly: the tax cuts were all going to expire, and instead we got most of them continued, other than the top tier only...oh, and the payroll tax cut that was a much bigger increase for most people; the sequester kicked in, and as it gets worse and effects more people we hear less about it; the gun control legislation that everyone was so sure was going to pass this time...didn't pass; the president's very disturbing war on whistle blowers has been ratcheted up, as has the horribly immoral drone bombing of any male of at least 16 years over there.

People want medicare for all, and more generous social security, and less remote controlled murder and punishment for crooked banks and banksters, and help with student loans and home debt, and for the love of god, sensible energy policy.  We get none of that.  Ever.  Rich people still pay next to nothing in taxes, and the gap widens and families go hungry.  So, yea, for a liberal, tuning out politics is a healthier alternative.

Friday, May 24, 2013

It May Not Technically Be Too Late, But...

In reality, there is little chance that we will undertake what is necessary to stave off all but perhaps the absolute worst that global warming is likely to bring.

My biggest frustration is the astounding mistrust of science that has been engendered by pro-corporate (fossil fuels companies) shills, primarily among the right wing(nuts).  A somewhat close second is the fact that, even excepting global warming as a real and present threat, most of the things that we should be doing for that, we should be doing anyway!

Fossil fuels are problematic above and beyond carbon emissions: they are limited in quantity (no matter what "peak oil" is we will at some point be past it), they are not equitably dispersed on the globe, they require extraction which has anywhere from mild to severe consequences (coal mines catching fire/exploding, flammable drinking water, mountains of coke from tar sands, mountain top removal, poisoning drinking water, oil spills...), and they contribute to pollution above and beyond CO2.  Any one of these things should be reason enough to try and reduce consumption of fossil fuels and to push hard to develop and put in place alternatives.  But it is the first reason that makes sense no matter your opinion on the environment or geopolitical problems.

Because there is a finite quantity (well, the replacement rate is << the consumption rate) we should be doing all we can to make sure we are not dependent on these fuels. No rational, thoughtful person looking at the energy situation would do what we are doing.

It seems to me that much of the right wing push back against doing anything succeeds in large part because "environmentalist" has become a tainted word for them, and "things environmentalists want" are inherently considered bad, or frivolous, or otherwise unnecessary.  Sometimes it is all and good to state right and wrong, but this debate is more emotional than rational (indeed, the rational part of the debate is almost exclusively concerned with the best way to convince people of the facts, and how to fix the problem). 

I Like Greek Yogurt

Seems there's a dark side though...

From reading through it looks like there is a good chance of a solution, though it may be we should go back to the non-Greek stuff.  As much as I like the strained yogurts the non-strained are better for some things (like mixed with granola and fruit). 

I also found the comment section amusing--it is an instant jump into "we [you] should all be vegan".  I know I've said before: there are some virtues to vegetarian diet, certainly there is a lot of virtue on reducing the amount of meat most [Americans] eat, but vegan diets are mostly silly.  Also, there is some virtue to limited meat consumption, though it is kind of hard to get at.

In the grand scheme of things, people wanting to have the lowest impact on the planet would eat some cow/sheep/goat meat and milk, and even pigs can be a conscientious choice, though probably not even in this country (at least not commercially).  These are animals that convert stuff we can't digest (grasses, waste) to stuff we can (meat, milk).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fuck You, Apple

Apple is really just the worst offender on this crap.  And they want a repatriation tax discount/holiday so that their behavior will go almost completely unpunished.  What we should do is state that US companies holding money overseas pay a 5% surtax on any profits not repatriated within 1 year, and no discounts for bringing it back.  Make it more expensive for them to keep their profits sheltered abroad.  Now this may mean more cooking the books to hide money, but at some point that becomes illegal and even if it isn't it would hurt share prices.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Go Sign It

Counter the austerian nut-jobs, and sign onto this petition for Congress to cosponsor a bill to strengthen Social Security.  I like it.  My favorite part is this:
• Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: Social Security is not in crisis, but does face a long-term deficit. To help extend the life of the trust fund the Act phases out the current taxable cap of $113,700 so that payroll taxes apply fairly to every dollar of wages.
It would be nice if they also severely restricted or eliminated the tax breaks for 401k's and to a lesser extent IRA's, and used that to make SS even more generous, but that's asking for the stars when you're offered the moon.

Hmm...Not Sure One Exists

David Atkins writes some good stuff over on Digby's blog, but this post  A complete counter would be necessarily very long, and so what follows is somewhat disjointed and skips across several arguments/points without joining them coherently (not actually sure that's possible, as much better philosophers than I have tried and failed)...

The very first "and most important" philosophical principle made is just wrong.  We don't have a "principle of universality of morals".  It would be really nice to think that, I guess, and he certainly points out a few moral choices that people in general and liberals in particular would certainly agree to, but part of the problem of moral issues is that they are not universal.

The second anyone starts off by arguing for something on a moral ground he is in trouble.  Morals are not universal.  Just because we nearly universally believe that slavery is wrong today, doesn't mean that position is really a universal moral.  It could just be that rational arguments that justify slavery are non-existent. 

Lots of people think that abortion is immoral, even plenty of "liberals" who still believe it should be very legal and available.  It is one of the major problems in the abortion debate, particularly regarding why the pro-choice side of things has a harder time gaining traction and sustaining pressure compared to the anti-abortion side (they are most definitely NOT pro-life). 

Yes, I do recognize that at some level there is some moral/emotional framework underlying even rational ideas, and revealing that and trying to make a rational point absent it is troublesome...heck it got Socrates all and dead.  And we can assume, as our moral framework, the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution respects that moral framework, and builds a system of government and law on top of it.  That moral basis has some pretty broad acceptance, even outside the United States, but it isn't universal.  It is very much our moral basis. 

The second point has to do with weak nation states, particularly in the face of some global issues, and again, particularly climate change.  This is an odd point, in that actually tends to run counter to the first argument.

I actually agree that global warming is one of those problems that we should but are unlikely to really do anything about.  But part of the problem is that any interventionist push to solve this would necessarily trample on individuals' rights in such a way that the "universal moralist" from earlier would oppose.  (China's Three Gorges Dam was good for reducing carbon, but it displaced lots of people, forcibly, and potentially created other environmental issues.)  There is a reason that problems like these are difficult to solve, and while some idealists my imagine that the world can be just and good and fair, and that fighting global warming is a struggle of decent people against mindless corporations or something, it isn't that way.  If you want to push to fight global warming, lots of people will suffer.  If you don't, more people are likely to suffer, but you can't tell me that there is some way to universally weight the suffering of one group against another, pick one and say "for the greater good" without turning yourself into Grindelwald

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Science Quiz!

Since it's cheating to read the article first, I'm linking directly to the quiz.  Thirteen questions and any scientist worth their degree should get them all correct (excepting accidental clicks), and I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to note that in the actual national poll 7% overall notched 100%, also the ones that were most missed are not terribly distressing.  It was also nice to see that education improved the responses to every question (except maybe one, but that had a very high correct response rate). 

There were a couple questions that the responses to them implied better understanding than the public debate in those areas would imply exists, but I kind of wonder if the wording were a little different if the responses would have been worse.

I Like This Judge

Plan B delayed access pending appeal denied...

(Was going to quote but now can't read article that I was just friggin' reading...not so fond of WaPost's paywal.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pedestrians vs. Cars

When a pedestrian behaves badly the worst that happens to a driver is they are inconvenienced.  When a driver behaves badly people die.  As such, yes, we should have more cops on foot actually enforcing laws regarding drivers yielding for pedestrians. 

As an aside the first comment I read was from someone who clearly doesn't understand what a "yield" is:
Maryland, drivers are required to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, not just yield.
Um...yield for pedestrians actually means "stop for pedestrians" but also that a stop is not necessary if there are no pedestrians. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Inflation vs. Investments

As I was reading through this critique of Feldstein, I was once again struck by how clueless the "inflation is coming" nuts are.  It's not just that they are supposedly smart but keep being very wrong.  It is incongruous wrongness.

Just to note: if inflation is coming, then there isn't reason to fear what you think is a bubble (asset prices, stocks) other than, perhaps, bonds.  The reasoning is pretty simple: if we are about to have 10% inflation then expected price increases and cash flows will all be expected to go up pretty quickly.  This more than justifies higher prices today than you would expect otherwise.  If, on the other hand you think that things are very overvalued, then you are implicitly arguing that there is not going to be inflation (or, for that matter, much growth) over the coming few-several years. 

[Federal government] bonds are kind of a weird one, in that, while a high price may come down, the only way to lose value is to inflation.  This means that in order to justify any attempt to short them you have to have expectations of some serious inflation around the corner, but if that would really be the case, you should see many other asset classes as being at least as good if not better, and without the problematic shorting issues.

Also, too: hedge funds are really crappy places to put your money.  

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Not Sure Things Are Getting Better for the Womenfolk

There's the Plan B fiasco, wherein our "most liberal president evah" has overruled science (love this Regan appointed judge's diatribe, but it isn't enough).

North Carolina trying to make sure that girls who get STDs don't get any treatment for them.

And we have slut-shaming going viral at high schools.


Really, this response is all you need read, but the original article is just...Wow.  It's like reading an Onion piece.  McDonald's pays most of their employees minimum wage and little to no benefits.  Of course they have shitty service.  Thankfully, the commenters at the article are, with one exception, completely on target.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


I really, really hoped we had learned something from Iraq, but I fear it may have been the wrong lessons.  We should stay the hell out of Syria.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Genetically Modified Organisms

I'm pretty sure that the GMO dividing line is a wider gap than the one separating sides on gun regulation.  It is simply astounding to me how visceral and emotional people get about genetically modified foods.

I'm a scientist, and have no fundamental objection to GMOs.  Theoretically they could be used to minimize the environmental impact of farming, while also reducing hunger.  What's not to like?  ...Well, plenty, but almost all of it has to do with the fact that genetic modifications are being researched on a "for profit" rather than a "for public good" basis.

I was excited, therefore to see this Nature special on GM Crops, and encourage anyone who has not to read through.  There isn't as much info in there as I would have liked, but it is very readable for non-scientists. 

Broad Streeted

I made it through all 10 miles.

Seeing as how we hadn't exactly trained for this, I was figuring something in the 2 hr 15 min range would be about right (had been hoping for under 2 hrs) and running a little over half (maybe as many as 7 miles).  Chip time was 1:59:48 (and that included a port-a-poty break at ~5.5 miles) and managed to run for a bit over 9 miles of the total, so I'll call it a qualified win.  Win because of doing better than expected, qualified because I am still in pain today.

The Broad Street Run is a big enough local thing that I'm glad I did it once.  Pretty sure I don't care much if I ever do it again, but that doesn't mean I won't.  In the meantime, this:

Friday, May 03, 2013

Euro Board Games

It's good that they are getting more popular, makes availability (and prices) better.  I mostly have to avoid because of the time suck, but it's always fun to check out new games.  For people new to the genre or curious, a good place to start is Settlers of Catan.  Not my favorite--though it is up there--but a good mechanic, not terribly hard on new players, and lots of customizability even with the base game.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Natural Gas Fueled Vehichles

Ok, I'll go out on a limb and say that these will NEVER catch on.  I'm not sure you could try and come up with a more monumentally stupid idea, and I am mystified every time I see an ostensibly knowledgeable person bring it up.

There are lots of reasons LNG vehicles are never gonna be a player, but the big two are infrastructure and competitive technologies.  It would require massive infrastructure changes to make LNG vehicles sensible for most people, and when looking at that vs. competitive technologies, the benefits are approaching zero.

Gas fueled cars and gas/diesel hybrids go further, cost less and require zero change to existing infrastructure.

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars have somewhat less range, but the cost advantage comes sooner and the infrastructure is in place for most people (long-haul options like quick charge stations, battery swapping would help with getting more of these on the road, but really are not necessary).

Even if you are an efficiency/emissions nut LNG is just a really piss-poor alternative.  It retains the inefficient internal combustion engine (but with slightly higher efficiency!).  There is no conservation mechanism when coasting/breaking...

In fact the most infuriating thing about that article is the notion that municipal vehicles like buses and trash trucks were the hope for LNG!!!  Those are the types of vehicles for which electric makes the most sense.  They start and stop a combustion engine is ever going to hold a candle to an electric motor with regenerative breaking.  Hell, use a big batch of supercaps and you can make these about as efficient as my little 2003 Mazda!

LNG is a colossal waste of time, money and energy.  Granted, it is largely pushed by people in the natural gas industry and so I can't really fault old T-Boone, but when it gets passed on by people that should know better it is very frustrating.

Nuclear Break-In

I'm not sure if I heard this story and forgot, or if it never registered, or if I never actually heard it, but it is fascinating

We have a highly dysfunctional relationship with nuclear technology.  It is a potential savior for low to no carbon energy production, but it is wildly dangerous in numerous ways, and so is very, very expensive.  If we could really explore the potential here it could mean a dramatic change in energy production, but so long as the products can be made into the most destructive weapons around, it seems unlikely.

I personally think the radiation/storage issue would likely be solvable with better/more reactors that can make use of the current waste.  Realize that the waste is often more radioactive than the initial fuel, which means more energy could certainly be harnessed from it, but iirc the types of reactors that could make use of the spent nuclear fuel are currently illegal under international treaties.

A 1 megaton blast releases enough energy (4.2 PJ) to power 100k US households for a year.  How many of these are sitting in that bunker in Oak Ridge slowly decaying away?  How much extra energy are we using to contain/guard them?

I know lots of people are very strongly opposed to nuclear power, but the materials are there.

Atomic Movie!

Pretty fun stuff they do there:

Science is cool!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

House is to Savings...

Buying a house is like keeping cash in a savings account.

Renting is like paying to keep it in a safety deposit box.

...Buying gold is like living in a van down by the river.  (You may make out quite well, but you're still crazy.)

Adding to MMM

A couple things to add to the MMM post:

1) Given complete ability to chose your own spending level, how much you spend per year is inversely proportional to how much you value money.  There are some one-off things that MMM comments on (if you really like bicycling, and that saves you money on gas then that is not a value of money trade off), but someone who spends ~$25k/year for their family actually places a pretty large value on money.  He would rather put forth effort to cook, clean, repair things than pay others to do the same, so he values money more than his time and effort to do those things...Yes, he may also enjoy those things, and that does get back to the not-exactly aspect, but essentially, and somewhat counter-intuitively, money has higher value to savers than to spenders. 

(Note: we may not value other persons' lives the same, but everyone pretty much places the exact same value on their own life, so if you chose to spend $80k/year on your living, then it isn't because you value your life more, but because you value money less...well, and you have it, this analogy requires a person be able to set their spending more or less without constraint.)

2) Living debt free is all and good, but it shouldn't be an end to itself.  At one level MMM clearly understands this (he had a mortgage when he bought his first house), but it isn't clear from the conversation that he really buys it.  Sometimes you are better off taking on debt to buy a large thing now rather than wait until you can pay cash.  Houses are an obvious thing here, and for most people cars are as well.  It does go beyond that, however...

If you have money tied up in investments paying 7%, and you want to buy something that would require dipping into those investments, but you can get a loan that charges 5%, then you will be better off, in the end, getting the loan, and keeping your investments in tact.  There are other reasons that go beyond total dollars.  If you want to renovate your house, you could save up and pay cash, but that may take years, and how much would you value the years of enjoyment of the renovated house vs. the interest you would pay to get a loan to cover it?  What if an emergency taps you out for the month, but something you need/want badly is on sale/about to be gone?  It could well be worthwhile to you to buy it on credit and pay it off in a month or two (or, really, even a year).

Debt--like alcohol, cheese, and bacon--is a really good thing that only becomes bad when it is indulged in too much.