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!