Saturday, November 26, 2011

Do-It-Yourself Global Warming Simulation

   I thought of a new way to visualize the ravages of global warming.  According to the best models put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average global temperature will increase by about 2 degrees Celsius by the the year 2100.  How will that feel to your ancestors?

    One way to simulate that would be to compare the climate that you experience now, with one that is further south.  Referring to the map of the US, The farther north you are, the colder the average temperature is, so that in the northern US some parts have an average January temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas down in Florida, some 1000 miles to the south, the average temperature may be some  60 degrees F.  The difference is 40 degrees F or some 22 degrees C.  In rough terms, if you drive south 50 miles it is going to be about a degree warmer.  You need only drive about 100 miles south and you will experience the difference in climate.  

     For example, if you live in Indianapolis Indiana, you can drive down to Louisville, which is five degrees warmer (F) on the average.  That will allow you to internalize what Global Warming is really going to mean to your descendants. 


    Now, of course I am not being quite fair.  In addition to the average temperature, climatologists are now saying that the real problem is going to be something called "climate change."   This is only now starting to even be defined.  But basically they are saying that the weather is going to be more variable, and that there may be more hurricanes, tornados and other events.  As a scientist, I look forward to seeing numerical predictions before further commenting. 
    But I have a feeling that humanity will survive this, or at least I'm less concerned about surviving global warming than surviving extreme politicians.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is Iran Building Nuclear Weapons?


Iranian Worker at a Nuclear Facility.

   The US is rapidly moving towards sanctions against Iran, a rogue nation state that the US suspects of developing nuclear weapons.  The Village Elliot does not think too much of the Iranian government, which is run by a fanatical religious council with an outrageous nutcase occupying the Presidency.   There is nothing about the Iranian government that would make us comfortable about their peaceful intentions.

     However, the US doesn't always get its facts straight.       Some 10 years ago, there was a national debate as to whether Saddam Hussein was building nuclear ICBM's to threaten the United States, or possibly some kind of nerve gas weapons.  Almost everyone, from the man in the street to Hillary Clinton to President Bush, believed that in fact Saddam was probably seeking to build nuclear weapons.  UN Inspector Hans Blix was widely believed to be a dupe of Saddam, for he failed to agree with our "irrefutable proof" that Saddam was going nuclear, or if not, was certainly going to build nerve gas weapons.  
     The problem we had then is that we believed in the "James Bond style bad guy," in which a superweapon could be built by a very small group of people. 
    In reality, a nuclear weapons system requires the cooperation of a significant military organization that needs to be trained in how to use the weapon in combat.  The weapons system needs to be built by a major billion-dollar organization with dedicated facilities for operation and testing of the weapons system.  To use an analogy, you couldn't build a secret jet fighter without a major facility and organization to build the fighters, and then you need an Air Force to fly them.  Similarly, there needs to be a weapons system and trained military personnel that know how to use the weapon, or otherwise it is not real. We never had that kind of information about Iraq.
    In Iran, we have hard evidence that the Iranians don't much care for compliance with Western demands for accountability.  That in itself doesn't mean they are really developing a nuclear weapon.  In fact every time Ahmadinejad talks about nuclear activities, the price of oil goes up by $5 per barrel.  So the Iranians are basically rewarded for being a destabilizing influence.
    The Obama administration, aided and abetted by Secretary of State Clinton, believes in an activist policy in Muslim countries, in which we support opposition movements within countries such as Fghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya and now Iran.  We have embraced the notion that the US needs to get involved in tribal politics in these countries.  But before we accept the new gospel of interventionism, I want to know what evidence they have that there is a nuclear weapons effort in Iran. Do we know where the centrifuge facilities are, and where the nuclear weapons will be assembled and tested, and what military organizations are being trained to use nuclear weapons?
    Iran is not a military threat to us at this point.  They have one giant oil refinery there, and we could take it out if we got sufficiently pissed off.  The main reason for not doing that is we wouldn't want to take the time and expense to rebuild the durn thing.  But I think some quiet diplomacy might help the Iranians to realize how much of their country will remain standing should they elect to proceed to the point of testing a nuclear weapon.  
   All this business about economic sanctions, etc., is kind of lame.  My view is that the oil they produce will be sold somewhere, and if America doesn't buy Iranian oil, they really won't care that much.  In fact the likely outcome is that a boycott would cause the price of crude oil to soar, and Iran should profit nicely from that, to the tune of billions of Americn dollars.  Ahmadinejad will probably send Hillary and Barack a very nice thank you letter. 
   In the meantime, the Obama administration continues to scoff at the need to produce our own oil.  The more we decrease our  own capabilities to produce oil, the better we feel about not contributing to global warming.  We are very comfortable about being dependent on foreign oil, and in fact we are taking direct actions to increase imports and to decrease American jobs.  The hope is that soon all sorts of wonderful "green jobs" will automatically kick in.  Unfortunately, the Village Elliot believes that plan is just as nutty as Ahmadinejad.
    Our lack of willingness to produce our own energy is going to cost us dearly.  But the most substantial problem is that we are too dumb to outwit Ahmadinejad, and the net result of our boycott plan is that we are going to pay more for imported oil, and make the Iranians richer.  


Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State Has Gone Mad

       Where have you gone, Penn State?  
     I  have a lot of friends at Penn State, after working for years with them in research and development projects involviing energy and materials.  Up until a few years ago we had a consortium with several universities and companies that was centered at Penn State. I can tell you that all of us looked up to Penn State in engineering as well as football. 
      When it came to football, we all loved Joe Paterno, too.  Joe was able to run what we considered to be the best football program, with the most distinuished alumni and an incredible graduation rate.  At my university, we sometimes have a reputation for being rowdy, and our student athletes do not always graduate to be brain surgeons, although some do.  But Paterno was the master at graduating distinguished scholar athletes, and he also produced incredible football teams.  Yeah, when WVU is not on the TV, we'd be happy to turn on the Penn State game and root for Joe's team.  We looked up to Joe and his fans.  They were the ones who did things the right way.  
     Now, however, Penn State is having riots as they attempt to come to terms with the notion of playing football without their great coach.  That's not what Joe taught, is it?  
     Many people feel the need to defend their accused assistant coach, who allegedly committed anal intercourse with a ten year old boy. The message is that persons of authority in the football program should have some form of immunity, and are entitled to have anal intercourse with boys.  Even the University president pledged "unconditional support" for Athetic Director Tim Curley and administrator Gary Shultz, who are accused of illegally protecting Assistant Coach Sandusky and multiple allegations of child rape.  This is madness. 
       Some have threatened to kill the young man who informed former Coach Paterno of the alleged rape by Assistant Coach Sandusky.  This also is madness.
           There have been riots to support the moral Coach and so much threat of violence that the pep rally for Saturday's game was cancelled.  Fans of Penn States opponent have been advised not to wear their school colors for fear of violence from Penn State fans.  This is not school spirit.  This too is madness.
         Major segments of the university community have been swept into some kind of frenzy, which somehow went from the highest standards of ethics, academic achievement and power football to now standing for child rape, coverups and violence.  This is pathetic and it very wrong.  It is very, very far from the path that they were on.
        Morality and ethics have been totally lost.  It's not just the leader, but the everyday person that has somehow been swept up in a horribly warped mentality.
       Come back to us, Penn State.  I want the Penn State that we all looked up to, not this cesspool.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

How Smart is a Super-Lean Federal Tax Structure?

   It is Republican silly season, in which Republican presidential contenders seek to establish their appeal as economic conservatives.  In particular, contenders such as Rick Perry and Herman Cain are seeking to re-invent methods and are falling over themselves trying to advocate a lower tax base than the others. 

     The basic model is assumes that the private sector is much more efficient than the government sector, so taking money out of the private sector (i.e., via taxation) weakens the economy and stunts economic growth.  Hence, to make the economy grow again, you need to decrease taxes, especially on corporations and rich people in order to allow them maximum ability to lead the economy forward (how am I doing so far, Rush?). 
     However, any model is only good as its ability to explain the data.  If the low tax model is correct, we would expect to be able to go back in the historical records and show that the US has had good growth in times with low taxation, and poor growth when the taxation was high.  Similarly, if we look at the records of other countries, we could expact that foreign countries with low taxation should be prospering, while countries with high taxation should be stagnant. 

     So here are some real countries from among the G-20 nattions (names to be revealed later).  GDP is the gross domestic product per capita, or the amount of bucks that the average person has, including government services.  The personal income tax rate is the average percentage that a person has to pay in income taxes.  The Deficit is the percentage of the countries GDP that is borrowed, or surplus if the goverment takes in more than it spends.

Country A:  GDP per capita:  $84,000  Total tax rate:  38%  Growth: 1%   Deficit/surplus:  11% SURPLUS

Country B:  GDP per capita:  $47,000  Total tax rate:  15%  Growth: 1.5%  Deficit: 10% DEFICIT

Country C:  GDP per capita:  $4500   Total tax rate:  32% Growth: 10%  Deficit:  2% DEFICIT

Country D:  GDP per capita:  $49,000  Total Tax rate: 48%  Growth:  5.5%  Deficit: 1% SURPLUS 

Now of course there are a large number of countries, and one can't make a generalization based on four countries and I invite others to do an expanded study including more countries.  Nevertheless the basic economic model should have something to do with the data.

Each of these countries looks like it has something going for it.  Country A has the highest GDP per capita, despite a high tax structure.  It also has a surplus, as the budget is balanced.  Look at it this way, after a family of four pays its tax of $108,000, then they still have $328,000 left to spend on whatever they want.  And possibly they actually get something for their tax dollars, like public transportation, medical care and that sort of thing.  That doesn't sound so bad does it?

Country B has the largest deficit and the smallest tax burden, but also shows some moderate growth and a moderately high per capita GDP. 

Country C might be the least desirable to live in, based on per capita GDP.  However, the growth rate is the highest of the four countries.  Is this because of a super-low tax structure.  Not really.  The tax rate is a rather hefty 32%, which is a lot for people to pay, when they are below the poverty line. 

Country D also has a surplus, and a very high GDP per capita.  Their tax is an extremely high 48% which covers free medical care and all kinds of swell stuff. It's the second highest GDP of the four case studies.  This might be puzzling to the neoconservative economist who is convinced that high taxes destroy the GDP and growth. But it still looks rather livable for the average Joe.

OK, now are you ready to guess which country is which?  Country A, by far the richest country, is Norway.  Country B is the US.  Not a disaster area by any means, but clearly behind Norway.  Country C is China, which has the best growth but still has a very low GDP per capita.  Country D is Sweden, which has a higher GDP than the US and the highest tax.  They also have a balanced budget.  None of the data is remotely consistent with the current economic tripe being espoused by the Republican candidates.  The notion that low taxes creates jobs is just not true.  The US has the highest unemployment rate.  Individual taxes probably curbs the individual's spending power, but not the need for employment. 

What was so wrong with Bubbanomics?  In the 2000-2001 time frame,the US had a small surplus, plus a decent growth rate, and Federal spending in the range of 18% of GDP.  My view is that this formula was reached because of having a Republican House (led by Newt Gingrich) and a Democratic President (Bill Clinton).  Under this power-sharing arrangement, the government was able to avoid the excesses of either party and cut things down to the essentials.  

Money spent by the Federal government is not a complete waste.  I like having the strongest military in the world, and the Interstate Highway system is not so bad, and Social Security is a good thing.  I don't see how we can have these things without paying for them.
In order to win my vote next year the Republicans are going to have to show how they will move the economy back to the formula used by the Gingrich/Clinton compromises of the late 1990's.  Certainly the Conservatives are correct that the Government role in the economy has accelerated during the Bush and Obama administrations.  We need to go back and cut out the lower priorities in our budget.  But at the same time I don't think we need to embark on a dangerous experiment to attempt to minimize government taxation to a historic new low.  That is not going to improve economic growth or help unemployment, and in fact it is far more likely to have the opposite effect. 

1.  Taxation in Norway
2.  Taxation Doubles in China,
3..  Tax rates around the world,
4.  GDP per Capita,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cain Screws Up a Scandal

     Now it is Herman Cain's turn to apparently be an idiot and to try to lie his way out of an uncomfortable situation.  As a public service to lying politicians everywhere, I present to you a case study of someone who had a juicy sex scandal and lived to tell about it.  Grover Cleveland was running for election in 1884 when his Republican opponents found out that he may have fathered an illegitimate child.  
   The Wikipedia account is as follows:

.... Republicans discovered reports that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo, and chanted "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?".When confronted with the emerging scandal, Cleveland's instructions to his campaign staff were: "Tell the truth."  Cleveland admitted to paying child support in 1874 to Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who claimed he fathered her child named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Halpin was involved with several men at the time, including Cleveland's friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, for whom the child was also named. Cleveland did not know which man was the father, and is believed to have assumed responsibility because he was the only bachelor among them."

    Cleveland went on to win the Presidency in 1884  and won again in 1892.  And keep in mind that people of that era were not exactly permissive liberals in terms of their attitudes about fathering illegitimate children.   But the point is they forgave someone who told the truth about what he had done.  He did not blame the Republicans.  He did not issue a ringing denial of the charges only to have to issue a retraction later on. 

    Politicians, especially in today's era, must be crazy to begin with, or they would never, ever run for public office and endure the emnity that politics generates.  But hear this:  the American people are generally sympathetc concerning human failings.  But we can not stand a presidential candidate who lies in order to escape punishment, and we can not stand someone who blames someone else for what he has done.
    Don't even think about playing the Unfair Liberal Press card.  Why, if a liberal politician had done the same thing, hardly anyone would notice?  Just ask Bill Clinton about that one.   

   Similarly, don't even bother playing the race card (again, this is filed under C for Clinton).  

   It is incredible that now Rick Perry is being blamed for making the whole thing up.  FIrst of all, Perry isn't smart enough to have thought of it.  Second, does Cain really think that people are going to become indignant and turn against Perry based on Cain's say-so? "Why that rotten Perry!  How dare he make up lies about that upstanding moral Cain fellow? Harumph!"  No, I don't think that is going to happen. 

   The whole thing would likely blow over if the candidate would just do what Grover Cleveland did, and tell the truth.  Say, "I admit it.  I screwed up.  I'm going to try to do better in the future."  If a candidate would only do that, the American people would forgive.  

   But when you deny it, then change your story, then blame your political rival for making it up, then admit that it's kind of true...well, I just don't think that most Americans are going to buy into it.  We may not be very bright, but give us a little credit, okay Herman?