Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Pent Up Demand Around Here

The Economist writes Consumer spending: No pent up demand around here "While consumers are spending, as shown in the chart above, there has been no sign of pent up demand. Real consumer spending on goods fell off its pre-2008 trend line during the recession and has since resumed its former pace with no indications that a surge in spending to make up for lost time is imminent."

Consumer 1

How Credit Card Companies Want To Debit You

The Guardian explains How credit card companies want to debit you "If Visa and MasterCard succeed in overturning regulation of debit card charges, the prospects for financial reform are bleak."

Basically because of their duopoly the fees are high (1-2% of transactions) and costing retailers $12 billion a year. Dodd-Frank instructed the FRB to regulate them and determined a fee of 10-12 cents per transaction. The banks are fighting.

I don't like the government setting prices, but then there is this duopoly. I remember in the 70s when AmEx was charging fees that retailers found too high and many stopped accepting the card. I'm not sure why MasterCard and Visa aren't competing against each other on this.

Crazy Indiana Prosecution of a Pregnant Woman

The ALCU writes Pregnant Women Need Support, Not Prison.

"Yesterday, the ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Marion County Superior Court in Indiana to dismiss the prosecution of Ms. Bei Bei Shuai. The facts of this case are heartbreaking. On December 23, 2010, Shuai, a 34-year-old pregnant woman who was suffering from a major depressive disorder, attempted to take her own life. Friends found her in time and persuaded her to get help. Six days later, Shuai underwent cesarean surgery and delivered a premature newborn girl who, tragically, died four days later. On March 14, 2011, Shuai was arrested, jailed, and charged with murder and attempted feticide."

"The state is misconstruing the criminal laws in this case in such a way that any pregnant woman could be prosecuted for doing (or attempting) anything that may put her health at risk, regardless of the outcome of her pregnancy."

The Trouble With Dental Insurance

A dentist explains in The Huffington Post, The Trouble With Dental Insurance.

Matt Weiner Closes Deal For ‘Mad Men’

After writing about Mad Men yesterday it's great to see it's all resolved. DONE: Matt Weiner Closes Deal For ‘Mad Men’, Series Renewed For 2 More Seasons. Weiner is in, the cast stays, the 2 minutes were worked out and Weiner has full control over the product placement. Sounds good, when I can see the new episodes?

A Chance That Movies Will Get Better?

JoBlo writes Source Code is the best reviewed studio movie of the year so far and why that's great news.

"SOURCE CODE is based off a 2007 spec script by Ben Ripley that landed itself on the Black List as one of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. It's rare enough that a spec script for a big-budget action film gets picked up and actually produced by a major studio and for that alone we should be excited. But Summit Pictures is actually seeing a major return on their investment with the news that original genre content is well-received by US audiences and critics. And this is really exciting.

We often bitch about the glut of sequels and reboots and adaptations yet we wind up paying our money to see all these movies. With SOURCE CODE, we have a talented director bringing us original genre content; somewhat reminiscent of what Christopher Nolan did with INCEPTION. (And if you think that SOURCE CODE is an aberration, look at the film directly underneath it on Rotten Tomatoes: RANGO. Another original story told by a talented director.) As these films succeed and films like RED RIDING HOOD, I AM NUMBER FOUR and TRON: LEGACY stumble, hopefully more studios will take chances on original content and the balance will start to shift."

Whistle-Blowing Witch Grounded by TSA

MSNBC reports Whistle-blowing witch grounded by TSA "Wiccan is fired after complaint about casting spells — and after she complained about lax security at the airport".

This is really just ridiculous. The TSA has employees that believe in witchcraft (aka magic)? And I don't mean the Wiccan, she knows better. And if this is how they treat each other how do they treat the passengers? Though my favorite line in the article is the last quote "Now, see, as a Wiccan, I don't believe in coincidences."

I'm just amazed that with all the concern of TSA agents harassing Muslims that they would have all gone through some (effective) religious sensitivity training and clearly this group in Albany hadn't.

Paul Allen Has Bad Things to Say About Bill Gates

The Independent writes about Paul Allen's new memoir, Gates is a ruthless schemer, says his Microsoft co-founder. "Mr Allen's forthcoming book reveals a deep-seated bitterness at the heart of the famous relationship that created the most successful software company the world has ever seen. In Idea Man: A Memoir, Allen also claims that Gates never gave him enough credit for his contribution to Microsoft's earliest development, nor a big enough share of the company. In effect, Mr Allen is accusing his friend of bullying him out of shares that would have been worth billions of dollars."

We Can't Predict Earthquakes

Scientific American has a guest blog post by Dr. Christie Rowe, Earthquake triggering, and why we don't know where the next big one will strike. It's mostly calling bullshit on a Newsweek article.

"The Newsweek article argues that the relatively small but very damaging Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake of February 22, 2011, the very large Chilean earthquake of Feburary 27, 2010 and the recent great earthquake in Japan constitute 'triggering events' around the Pacific Plate, stating, 'That leaves just one corner unaffected—the northeast. And the fault line in the northeast of the Pacific Plate is the San Andreas Fault, underpinning the city of San Francisco.' After this geographical error, Mr. Winchester states that the stresses around the San Andreas have built to 'barely tolerable levels' and that a triggering event is required to set off a great quake.

Mr. Winchester, a well-known author of several popular science books on geological topics, is much better versed in the history of geological events, and much of the science around them, than most people. However, his piece in Newsweek contains wrong information, baseless predictions and an ominous tone that is more fear-mongering than warning."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Issa's Earmarks Benefit His Property

Think Progress writes about Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa Secured Nearly $1 Million In Earmarks Potentially Benefiting Real Estate That He Owns. "Around the same time Issa made the Vista Medical Center purchase, the congressman began requesting millions of dollars worth of earmarks to widen and improve the highway adjacent to the building. In 2008, he requested $2 million to expand West Vista Way, the road in front of his ‘long-term investment,’ but only received $245,000 from the government. The next year, Issa made another earmark request for improving the West Vista Way highway next to his building. He earmarked another $570,000, bringing his total to $815,000, to add parking lots, widen the road, add bus stops, improve the sewer system, and other utility work."

"Issa has said that an “earmark is tantamount to a bribe.” While Issa has handed out earmarks to his campaign donors in the past, in this case, he appears to be helping himself."

But of course the real problem is funding NPR.

Mad Men

It's been quite the past couple of days for AMC's Mad Men. First The Daily reported, “Mad Men” Canceled?.

Cablevision is planning on spinning off Rainbow Media Holdings in an IPO. RMH includes AMC, IFC, Sundance and others. The execs would make a fortune. But they want RMH to be profitable so they want some changes at Mad Men (their most successful show).

"The execs are said to be demanding that [show creator Matthew] Weiner cut three minutes from every episode so they can sell six more 30-second advertisements, and they are demanding the elimination of two characters."

The NY Times had more. AMC officially renewed the show for a fifth season but it won't air until 2012. They are still working on contracts and Weiner's contract expired at the end of the last season. "In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Weiner confirmed AMC had proposed cuts to the cast and a two-minute cut to the length of each episode. The cuts would, he said, fundamentally make “Mad Men” a “different show.”"

"The person said that, two weeks ago, AMC made a three-season contract offer to Mr. Weiner that would be worth about $30 million. That would make him an exceptionally highly paid producer. But for now, he has not accepted the offer."

Here's my take. It's not worth doing the show without Weiner. I would rather it lose 2 minutes an episode than any characters. Sure the stars would stay but the others in the firm add a lot to the show.

First Image from Mercury Orbit

Messenger is the first space craft to orbit Mercury. Here is the the First Image Ever Obtained from Mercury Orbit. "The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy. The smaller crater Matabei with its unusual dark rays is visible to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of this image is near Mercury's south pole and includes a region of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft."


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

States Broke? Maybe They Cut Taxes Too Much

McClatchy writes States broke? Maybe they cut taxes too much. "The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio's economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state's $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.

'At least half of our current budget problem is a direct result of the tax changes we made in 2005. A lot of people don't want to hear that, but that's the reality. Much of our pain is self-inflicted,' said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal government-research group in Cleveland.

Schiller's lament is by no means unique. Across the country, taxpayers jarred by cuts to government jobs and services are reassessing the risks and costs of a variety of tax reductions, exemptions and credits, and the ideology that drives them. States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn't worked."

Remember that deficit that ballooned under Reagan? Yeah, that's the point, that supply-side economics doesn't work. Sure you can argue that when they cut taxes they failed to cut spending an equal amount and that's why there's a deficit. But that's not what the right argued for. They said that if you cut taxes you increase revenue because the economy is supposed to grow with lower taxes so the new lower rates make up for the missing taxes. But time and time again, that doesn't happen. Now the libertarians are using the large deficits to say we can't afford the government and must cut the services. And yet, there was a federal surplus not too long ago, how did that happen again?

Trump's "Birth Certificate" Not Official

I really just have derision for birthers. Donald Trump I just ignore. I'll admit to enjoying the first couple of seasons of The Apprentice, but now it's just become a circus of D list celebrities. Trump claims to love the best of everything and now he has Gary Busey on his show.

So now Trump is officially a birther. I find this is just completely hilarious:

Trump's "Birth Certificate" Not Official "The 'birth certificate' Donald Trump released earlier today to show how easy it was to produce 'is not an official New York City birth certificate, but rather a document generated by Jamaica Hospital, where Trump's mother Mary reportedly gave birth in June 1946,' the Smoking Gun reports.

'Official birth certificates are issued (and maintained) by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Vital Records.'

Ben Smith: 'Trump's mother, it should be noted, was born in Scotland, which is not part of the United States. His plane is registered in the Bahamas, also a foreign country. This fact pattern -- along with the wave of new questions surrounding what he claims is a birth certificate -- raises serious questions about his eligibility to serve as President of the United States.'"

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Koch Brothers

I haven't mentioned the Koch brothers very often. I've seen them mentioned a lot but I didn't know much about them. The neoconservative Weekly Standard has a long article on them, The Paranoid Style in Liberal Politics.

I learned a lot of history about them that I didn't quite expect. They did inherit their father's business but they worked hard and expanded it greatly. They benefited from not starting from scratch, but seem to have mostly earned their keep. They've donated to a lot of different things but have certainly gotten involved in politics. They aren't really conservatives but are libertarians. I didn't realize in 1980 that David ran for vice president on the libertarian ticket and got 1% of the vote. Their father's company was mostly oil but they expanded it to many industries. They had some regulatory issues but seem to have cleaned up their act considerably (though this isn't a part of the article I have a lot of faith in, an award from Bush's EPA doesn't hold much weight with me). For an article that started out pretty reasonable there were a few things that I thought went off the rails, mostly these two paragraphs:

"Charles and David sensed that Bush’s failure would drive Americans into the arms of Barack Obama. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis of September 2008 made a toxic brew, and Americans turned to the young Democratic senator who promised hope and change. Change is what they got. Ask Charles Koch what he thinks about Obama and he looks like he’s just bit into a lemon. “He’s a dedicated egalitarian,” Charles said. “I’m not saying he’s a Marxist, but he’s internalized some Marxist models—that is, that business tends to be successful by exploiting its customers and workers.”

David agreed. “He’s the most radical president we’ve ever had as a nation,” he said, “and has done more damage to the free enterprise system and long-term prosperity than any president we’ve ever had.” David suggested the president’s radicalism was tied to his upbringing. “His father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya,” he said. “Obama didn’t really interact with his father face-to-face very much, but was apparently from what I read a great admirer of his father’s points of view. So he had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve.”"

As FireDogLake points out, "Teddy Roosevelt sued monopolies, busted up trusts and seized millions of acres of land for the US government. FDR imposed unprecedented regulations on Wall Street, levied heavy taxes on the rich and created Social Security. Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls, put the final nail in the coffin of the gold standard and established the EPA. Obama, on the other hand, continued the Bush TARP program, cut taxes and rescued the auto industry, resulting in record corporate profits. Marxist tyranny!"

Glenn Greenwald, after saying they were just a part of the oligarchy problem have, wrote in Billionaire self-pity and the Koch brothers that those few paragraphs showed "how delusional and extreme the Koch Brothers are". He then goes through it almost phrase by phrase. Still he says "There's no question in my mind that the unrestrained power over the political process and both political parties enjoyed by oligarchs is the single greatest political problem the country faces -- the overarching problem -- but in the scheme of corporate and oligarchical dominance, the Koch Brothers are a small part of that dynamic. Nor do I believe that they're motivated in their political activism by personal profit: for people with a net worth of $20 billion, there are vastly more efficient ways to convert one's wealth into greater wealth than spending money to influence public policy; I think they're True Believers."

An Economist blogger has a different perspective. W.W. has worked in libertarian think tanks including those funded by the Kochs for many years and says "The most interesting thing about the Kochs is not that they have spent so much of their fortunes on politics, because they haven't. What's interesting is that they seem to have spent their money so much more efficiently and effectively than most rich people interested in politics manage to do."

"Of the money the Kochs have spent on politics, broadly construed, the portion directed to campaigns really is negligible. Most of their money and attention has gone to ideological institution-building, and this form of spending has not been a traditional target of progressive regulatory zeal." He (I assume W. W. is a he) goes on to wonder about articles about rich people pushing liberal agendas. I don't know what he reads but even I seem to come across a lot of stuff about George Soros and the liberal controlled media.

Another thing in the Weekly Standard article that struck me was this: "The Kochs’ chief heresy, according to Mayer, was their dismissive attitude toward global warming alarmism. Charles and David were deemed “anti-science.” The brothers—both of whom held master’s degrees from MIT and ran successful companies that refined oil, produced chemicals, and manufactured polymers—scoffed at the accusation. “These people aren’t interested in science,” Charles said. “Science isn’t about consensus. Science is about skepticism, about challenging the status quo.” The Kochs believed the cost of a carbon-free economy would be too high. “There’s a direct correlation between the energy use of a country and its standard of living,” David said. “If your energy use is massively reduced, it’s going to damage your standard of living.” The available data didn’t justify the cost. “With the uncertainty and the politicization of the science so far,” Charles said, “to go spend trillions of dollars a year changing the whole world economy to satisfy something this uncertain, because you have some religious zealots like Al Gore going around preaching this—it doesn’t make sense.”"

Science is about being skeptical but it's also about repeating experiments and building a body of knowledge by consensus. People don't accept global warming theories because Al Gore told them to, people, accept it because science has accepted it. There are still many things to be understood but there's a vast body of evidence to show that the climate is warming and man is responsible and the IPCC reported that.

The Power of Ruins

I thought this post by The Smart Set was an interesting way of thinking about nuclear power plant design, The Power of Ruins. "'Will it make a beautiful ruin?' That was the question Basil Spence asked about the nuclear power station he was designing in Trawsfynydd, Wales. This was back in the 1960s, but it was forward looking. Spence, an architect (he designed the famous Coventry Cathedral in England), was aware of one simple fact: Nuclear power plants are functional for a relatively short period of time before they are put out of commission and replaced by newer, safer designs and technology. The abandoned plant is filled with radioactivity that makes it unusable for anything for a long time. A cathedral is designed with the idea that it should stand, and function, for a very long time — perhaps beyond time. A nuclear power plant is designed with the knowledge that it must become a ruin, and rather quickly. It is born to die, and then to sit as a corpse, a testimony to the strange and unsettling function it once had."

Keeping SSDs in TRIM: doing the math

Keeping SSDs in TRIM: doing the math is a nice explanation of some needs that SSDs have over hard drives to keep them working as fast as possible. Other OSs seem to have TRIM support and OS X is apparently getting it in Lion.

More on the GOP Plan to Raise Employment by Cutting Wages

Karl Smith followed up on the The GOP Plan to Raise Employment by Cutting Wages.

"We can imagine a human story to see how this works. The government fires a bunch of people. Many of them have a hard time finding work. However, one of them is a great statictian who the private sector would have loved to have, but she preferred the work she was doing at NOAA. Perhaps, the private sector could have lured her away with a multimillion dollar contract but it wasn’t willing to do that.

Now she is unemployed, needs to pay her mortgage and the private sector can snap her up at more or less market rate. This increases private sector employment, private sector productivity and private sector profits all in one swoop.

However, it does it both at the expense of this worker’s desired employment, the quality of the work done at NOAA and at the expense of other workers who are now on the unemployment line. The undertone in the commentary brushes aside but does not seem to deny these effects."

Still he points out that the report admits that Keynesian effects occur which he thinks is progress.

I still don't buy the analysis. There are people unemployed now, if the company wanted a statistician it could find one at a cheap rate. My experience as a manager was that we got "reqs" when the finances allowed and then we rushed to fill them before they were taken away because of budget reasons. There was an occasion when I knew of a very skilled person I wanted to hire but I couldn't find a way to do it because there was no money. I guess the argument is that while unemployment is high corporate profits are currently okay, so maybe companies do have money to hire good people, but I don't see it turning into reqs because they're waiting for government workers to become available cheap. They're not hiring because they are already at capacity because people aren't buying.

How to Spot A Liar

Messier Marathons

Fancy doing a Messier Marathon this Weekend? "Basically a Messier Marathon is an all night (Dusk til Dawn) observing session held around mid March/ early April every year, where an observer attempts to see all, or as many of the 110 Messier objects as listed by Charles Messier."

Sounds pretty cool (and tiring and cold) and this is a cool tool to help plan.

US Nuclear Plant Fire Risks

New York says Indian Point nuclear plant a fire risk: Scientific American. "The Indian Point nuclear power plant has more than 100 fire code violations that could make it difficult to shut down the nearly 40-year facility in an emergency, New York's attorney general said on Monday."

And here is a contender for dumbest response of the year: "A spokesman for Entergy said the number of fire code violations was about one-third the number cited by the state." They should probably lose their license on the sheer dumbness of their PR.

Meanwhile, there was a Small fire in protected area of Seabrook nuclear plant. "An alert at New Hampshire’s Seabrook Nuclear Plant just before noon Monday -- fire broke out in one of its building – sending Seabrook Station into emergency response mode." It was related to an elevator motor in a support building so not too big a deal.

Still though, it makes you question how just three days ago, the N.H. House kills nuke plant monitoring bill. "The New Hampshire House has killed a bill that would have required real-time radiological monitoring in the communities that surround the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant." I don't know if it's needed and the article talks a bit about the cost estimating it at $500,000 to setup and about $100,000 a year to run. If I'm reading the financials right, last year NextEra Energy made close to $2 billion in profit.

Entergy made $1.2 billion in profit last year, maybe they could invest in clearing up the fire hazards in their nuclear power plant. Doesn't that sound like a good idea?

Budget Negotiations

Ezra Klein describes it as A huge win for the Tea Party, a win for Republicans and a big loss for Democrats "We’re coming up fast on the deadline by which Congress needs to agree on government funding or the Feds has to turn the lights off. The negotiations remain fluid, but here’s what seems pretty clear: The House Republican leadership will win, the Tea Party will be disappointed and the Democrats will lose. But really, it’ll be the Tea Party that won, the House Republican leadership who learned a valuable lesson and the Democrats who lost."

Steve Benen says How Not To Negotiate, 101, "But putting aside whether this is likely to work, the lesson I'd like Democrats to take from this is simple: you're not good at negotiating. Republicans approved a ridiculous proposal, pushing the extreme in one direction, knowing that negotiations would ensue. One need not be a game theorist to know those talks would go better if Dems had pushed in the opposite direction."

And Krugman, The President is a Lousy Negotiator. "Maybe this is just political realism. But the way I see it, Obama adopted Republican framing of the budget debate — including the rhetoric about how families are tightening their belts so the government should too — as early as the 2010 State of the Union, back when Democrats had 59 Senate seats and control of the House. If that genuflection to the right was supposed to help Dems in the midterms, well, it didn’t; and it has meant that there is no effective counter-argument to the cut cut cut people."

Update: Digby outlines the history of the positions and her prediction before concluding "If this keeps going on this trajectory, when all is said and done you are probably going to be asked to clap very loudly for a deal that is essentially draconian cuts in government at the worst possible time in exchange for not cutting some programs you like. That's what constitutes a "victory" for a Democratic president and Senate these days. The good news is that Gloria Borger and Andrea Mitchell will say it's a brilliant example of bipartisan compromise and the president's approval ratings will undoubtedly improve for at least two weeks. So that's something."

dday added: "There’s no question that Republicans played the “Bad Cop, Insane Cop” game very expertly. But it was apparent from the moment that Democrats allowed the 2011 budget to be decided on the watch of the new Republican House that there would be a massive reduction like this. They failed to finish a 2011 budget resolution as part of the deal for extending the Bush tax cuts for two years. They failed to incorporate an increase in the debt limit into that as well. As a result, they forced themselves to negotiate with a bad hand. And they’re not the best negotiators in the first place."

President Obama’s Tax Proposals

Donald Marron explains President Obama’s Tax Proposals. "So there you have it. Depending on how you look at it, President Obama is proposing to cut taxes by $2.4 trillion over the next decade, raise them by $700 billion, or raise them by $2.0 trillion. It all depends on your benchmark."

Romanizing Gaddafi

Wikipedia provides this nice chart of spelling of Muammar Gaddafi's name< /a>.

Screen shot 2011 03 28 at 4 01 15 PM 1

World to End May 21, 2011

I was talking to a friend in Arizona this morning who told me of an RV she saw this weekend. It was shrink wrapped with a banner saying the end of the world is coming May 21, 2011! I knew about 2012 but how did I miss 2011?!? Even Time magazine talked about it.

So a little Googling and I found out that May 21st is Judgement Day but the world won't end until six months later on October 21.

Apparently the source of this (um nonsense) is 89 year old Harold Camping who owns a sizable non-commercial radio broadcast network called Family Radio.

Wikipedia says "Family Radio (aka Family Stations Inc.) began obtaining FM broadcasting licenses on commercial frequencies early in FM's history, and by 2006, was ranked 19th among top broadcast companies in number of radio stations owned. Currently, Family Radio's affiliates in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and San Francisco are on prime commercial frequencies and the licenses of these stations alone may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars if sold today." They apparently have stations in 37 states, but (thankfully) Massachusetts isn't one of them.

So back to the Rapture. This San Francisco Gate article Biblical scholar's date for rapture: May 21, 2011 explains how he came up with the date:

"The number 5, Camping concluded, equals "atonement." Ten is "completeness." Seventeen means "heaven." Camping patiently explained how he reached his conclusion for May 21, 2011. "Christ hung on the cross April 1, 33 A.D.," he began. "Now go to April 1 of 2011 A.D., and that's 1,978 years." Camping then multiplied 1,978 by 365.2422 days - the number of days in each solar year, not to be confused with a calendar year. Next, Camping noted that April 1 to May 21 encompasses 51 days. Add 51 to the sum of previous multiplication total, and it equals 722,500. Camping realized that (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500. Or put into words: (Atonement x Completeness x Heaven), squared. "Five times 10 times 17 is telling you a story," Camping said. "It's the story from the time Christ made payment for your sins until you're completely saved. "I tell ya, I just about fell off my chair when I realized that," Camping said."

That's amazing because so did I!

It also threw me that he believes the creation happened in 11,013BC. I thought creationists thought world was only 6,000 years old! Fortunately again wikipedia can set me straight. "In 1970, Camping published The Biblical Calendar of History (later greatly expanded in Adam When?) in which he dated the Creation of the world to the year 11,013 BC and the Flood to 4990 BC. This was in contrast to Bishop James Ussher's famous chronology, which placed creation at 4004 BC and the Flood at 2348 BC. Camping argued that Ussher's dates "agree neither with the Biblical nor the secular evidence" and thus Ussher's methodology was flawed."

Family Radio apparently has more on the rapture computation but I couldn't really begin to make it through it. It's titled ANOTHER INFALLIBLE PROOF and that's a good thing, because Camping previously said the Rapture was going to happen on Sept. 6, 1994. Was that his previous infallible proof? I wonder what he did on September 7th?

So conveniently May 21st this year is a Saturday (and the day of the Preakness Stakes). I'm predicting a big end of the world party on Friday, probably lasting on into Saturday and followed by an even bigger party on Sunday.

Valles Marineris

You have to like yesterday's Astronomy Picture of the Day - Valles Marineris: The Grand Canyon of Mars. "The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends over 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. By comparison, the Earth's Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA is 800 kilometers long, 30 kilometers across, and 1.8 kilometers deep. The origin of the Valles Marineris remains unknown, although a leading hypothesis holds that it started as a crack billions of years ago as the planet cooled. Several geologic processes have been identified in the canyon. The above mosaic was created from over 100 images of Mars taken by Viking Orbiters in the 1970s."

Marsglobe viking 1552 1

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tsunami Footage

The most-viewed video clip on YouTube Japan today is a clip that shows how the March 11th tsunami engulfed and destroyed the city of Kesennuma in a few short minutes:


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Countries Officially Not Using the Metric System

On a lighter note, these are the countries officially not using the metric system:

Maps of Countries Not Using the Metric System

More Economic Differences

Ezra Klein had a few good posts (as usual). Saying it’s structural is not the same as saying it’s not our problem "One point Christina Romer makes that I think more people should take to heart is that the fight on jobs isn’t between people who think the problem is lack of demand and people who think the problem is lack of skills. It’s between people who think we should do more to boost employment and people who don’t."

"If you believe skills are the problem, there’s lots you can do about that. You can try to train people, you can invest in education, you can help people move from places where their skills aren’t valued to places where their skills are valued. What you wouldn’t do is sharply cut Pell grants and career counseling centers. Nothing about the skills-based explanation encourages inaction. But there are a lot of people who prefer inaction and conscript the skills-based explanation to justify it. Telling the two groups apart is important."

He went on The Kudlow Report and wonders Is disagreement really so hard to explain? "You can disagree with Mundaca’s take, but you don’t need to ask Dr. Strange to summon a demon in order to interpret it. Bloomberg Business Week — not exactly a publication known for its aggressively anti-business leanings — ran a cover story this week making almost exactly the same argument. In that cover story, a dozen respected tax economists provided support for the position. But that’s not how Kudlow saw it. “I believe they want to punish international business,” he said. A few minutes later: “I’m suspecting that Team Obama just doesn’t want to help the foreign earnings of companies.” And then: “I think they do have an ideological bias against business.”"

"Somehow, people find it preferable to think the president of the United States a socialist, Marxist or Kenyan anti-colonialist than a guy who agrees with Mitt Romney’s 2005 health-care opinions rather than Mitt Romney’s 2011 health-care opinions. I won’t even get into Glenn Beck’s take on the administration’s motivations, as even on the Internet, I don’t have the space. But you end up with these winding, esoteric theories to explain perfectly common policy preferences and political decisions. It’s really weird."

It's also really frustrating. It's why the right has driven me so far away from them. You try to talk about improving health care in the country and you get "death panels" from their VP nominee and echoed by everyone else. How about this, G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether, can't we agree that is wrong?

But no we have to go through dances like this.

Remember a few weeks ago when Boehner said "Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs and if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it." Well the 200,000 number was wrong but there's more to the "so be it".

On March 15th, Speaker Boehner Urges Obama Economic Team to Review New JEC Study Showing Spending Cuts Support Job Growth. Here's the pdf, it's 20 pages.

I read the whole thing and it refers to various economic papers by people I haven't heard of it. There are three pages of footnotes. Still it was easy to get the gist. It claims to be arguing against a Keynesian view in favor of a neo-classical view in that "spending reductions trump tax increases" and that "Consequently, fiscal consolidation programs that reduce government spending decrease short-term uncertainty about taxes and diminish the specter of large tax increases in the future fro both household and businesses." Of course, a Keynesian stimulus would increase the debt and make things worse.

It gives some examples of what to cut:

"1. Decreasing the number and compensation of government workers. Generally, government workers are well-educated and have significant skills. A smaller government workforce increases the available supple of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs.
2. Eliminating agencies and programs.
3. Eliminating transfer payments to firms. Generally, government provides transfer payments to firms to entice them to engage in otherwise unprofitable and unproductive activities. If eliminating transfer payments causes firms to cease these activities, there are immediate gains in efficiency. For example, the United States could increase efficiency by eliminating subsidies for Amtrak or ethanol.
4. Reforming and reducing transfer payments to households. Reforming major programs of transfer payments to households, such as government pension and health insurance benefits for the elderly, to make them sustainably solvent in the long term increases the credibility of fiscal consolidation plans. Even if current beneficiaries are exempt from any change, the reforms are phased in slowly, and any short-term spending reductions are very small, the credibility of fiscal consolidation plans will be enhanced. Moreover, reforming government pension and health insurance benefits for the elderly in the future will induce younger works to increase their current saving, to work more, and retire later, thus boosting real GDP growth."

Seriously, that's what it says. We should layoff government workers because that will add more people looking for jobs in the private sector which will lower labor costs. So not only will more be unemployed but those that are employed will be paid less. The idea is that businesses will use the savings to hire more workers. Does that at all sound likely? Back to the real problem, there is no demand because 9+% of the population is unemployed and those that are employed have watched their home prices collapse which means their second mortgages are a real problem, so they aren't spending.

And the second item is still amazingly vague as to which agencies and programs to cut.

And third, notice their suggestion for eliminating subsidies to industries are Amtrak and ethanol. I'm fine with cutting ethanol and would add other corn and soybean farmers, but what about the billions we subsidize the oil industry, with the most profitable companies around? Or remember GE that we just talked about? How about hedge fund managers who pay capital gains taxes for their income?

And the last, that's all double speak for cutting medicare and social security. Because the real problem is that people have to save more and work longer. I liked Reich's solution to social security, raise the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax from $106,800 to $180,000 to balance out the income inequality of the last 30 years.

I said there were a lot of papers referenced that I didn't know and didn't look up. Fortunately others did. Klein wrote:

"But to give the GOP’s report a bit more credit, its argument is that in the mid-1990s, a number of small, European nations (and Canada) sharply cut government spending and saw rapid economic growth afterwards. The problem, as the International Monetary Fund details in this review (pdf) of the austerity measures attempted by developed nations, is that these countries understood that cutting government spending would kill demand, and so they compensated with policies that would keep demand strong. Those policies were 1) really aggressive efforts on the part of the central bank, 2) devaluing their currencies, and 3) living in the mid-1990s, when the global economy had one of its best-ever decades. Republicans oppose policies that would lead to #1 and #2, and 2011 is a very different moment, in terms of global demand, than 1994." He goes on to give the report a little credence but admits that's not clear.

Krugman is harsher.

"So, for this to work you first have to have a downward-sloping demand for labor as a function of the nominal wage rate. There’s no reason to believe that’s the case: in a liquidity trap, falling wages probably reduce the demand for labor, because they worsen the burden of debt. And even if you somehow bypass this objection, the argument is still nonsense: it says that by reducing demand, you cut the price, which increases demand, which means that you end up selling more than before. Um, no — that’s the kind of answer that, in Econ 101, has you suggesting that the student get special tutoring. Given all that, it’s hardly worth mentioning that they’re appealing to the thoroughly refuted doctrine of expansionary austerity."

In that last link Krugman back in October referred to the IMF report that refutes one of the main studies in the GOP report. The authors respond here. But in the end, all they are trying to argue is that "that spending cuts are better than tax increases to reduce a budget deficit." I'm willing to accept that.

In fact I'm pretty sure that when Obama got into office he said he'd cut taxes on all but the richest 1% and even then all they want to do is let the Bush tax cuts expire back to their levels in the 90s. It's very clear Democrats are not saying lets raise taxes so this is all a strawman. Both sides want to cut spending. One wants to cut PBS, Amtrak, education, and even though they won't say it, social security and medicare. The left would like to cut defense spending, lower health costs, and end giveaways to big corporations. Now if only we could convince our elected officials to do that.

But the elected GOP just want to cut spending. They think austerity is the way to cure the economy. They cite this study with it's examples of European economies in the 90s that Klein mentioned above. They didn't cite Japan which is what we're most like. And they didn't cite current European austerity measures, which aren't working. "Since [June 2009], the interest rate on Irish debt has doubled; Ireland’s unemployment rate now stands at 13.5 percent...British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result."

In fact unemployment is our problem. It's not just that workers are lazy it's that there aren't enough jobs. I'm remember a statistic that there were 3 unemployed people for every job opening. That's not quite right and I can't find it. I can find this which says the unemployment rate is about 9% while the Job opening rate is about 2%.


But no, the GOP wants to make more unemployed people now because that will help in the future. Sigh.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mount Everest: Then and Now

Last July I posted about this in Then and Now: The Retreating Glaciers. I guess The Atlantic just found out about it, as they have Mount Everest: Then and Now with a sliding flash image instead of a video. Still pretty bad.

America’s Rebranding In One Graph

Ezra Klein wrote America’s rebranding in one graph. "just released the latest data from their polling project that ‘asks respondents in more than 100 countries each year whether they approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States and the same question about the leadership of six other major countries.’ The improvement in global attitudes toward the United States since Obama’s election has been nothing short of remarkable:"


Portugal's i Named World’s Best-Designed Newspaper

The Society for News Design writes SND32: “i” of Portugal named World’s Best-Designed "In its 32nd annual The Best of Newspaper Design Creative Competition, the Society for News Design has named Portugal’s i newspaper, a daily that launched in 2009, the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Disproving Conservative Economic Myths

I keep reading the same things over and over again about the economy. As near as I can tell Krugman and company have been right in the predictions and the conservatives have been pushing for exactly the opposite in their policy and the Democrats cave. Here are few recent posts on this topic as usual, I think it's worth following the links to the original stories.

Robert Reich wrote The Republican's Big Lies About Jobs (And Why Obama Must Repudiate Them). Cutting taxes on the rich doesn't in fact creates jobs. Cutting corporate income taxes also doesn't creates jobs. and cuts in wages and benefits means people spend less so jobs are not created. Obama needs to start combatting the lies.

Kevin Drum wrote Chart of the Day: Why the Stimulus Didn't Work. It wasn't just that the recession was worst than thought or that the stimulus was too small, it was also that states are cutting back their spending to below 2008 levels at the same time. "They have data for all but six states, and on average for 2012, 'those 44 states plan to spend 9.4 percent less than their states spent before the recession, adjusted for inflation.' That's not just less than last year, it's less than 2008. That wiped out nearly the entire effect of the federal stimulus package."

John Berry wrote in The Fiscal Times about the Many Holes in GOP Mantra that Stimulus ‘Failed’. "It’s likely that in the run-up to the 2012 election, we will be treated to the Republican mantra that the federal government is broke and that President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package “failed.” By any fair measure, both of those assertions are nonsense."

As just one example: "Meanwhile, Boehner and others, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican presidential aspirant, are trying to turn the reality of the stimulus on its head: More government spending destroys jobs and slashing spending creates them, they claim. "In the last two years, the federal government spent $7 trillion and our economy lost several million jobs,” Barbour told the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce last week. “I guess we ought to be glad they didn’t spend $12 trillion. We might have lost 12 million jobs.”" He then points out the hypocrisy, "For instance, in an effort to save 800 jobs at a plant in his Ohio district, Boehner fought hard last month to continue funding for an alternative engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter plane."

Mark Thoma argues The Unemployment Problem is Mainly Cyclical, Not Structural. "As noted above, cyclical and structural unemployment can be hard to sort out. One way around this is to find a group of workers who should do well if the problem is structural, and see how they are faring. This Economic Letter by Bart Hobijn, Colin Gardiner, and Theodore Wiles of the SF Fed attempts to do just that. It answers the cyclical versus structural unemployment question by looking at a segment of the population that ought to be doing relatively well if the problem is structural, recent college graduates, and finds that "structural factors are of minor importance for current unemployment""

Krugman followed up, Work of Depressions Watch. "The right question to ask, with regard to all such arguments, is, where are the scarcities? If we have the wrong kind of workers, then the right kind of workers must be in high demand, and either be in short supply or have rapidly rising wages. So where are these people? If the problem is lack of skill, then highly skilled workers — such as recent college graduates — should be doing well. If the problem is too many carpenters in Nevada, then non-carpenters somewhere else must be doing well. Who? Where? Well, if there are such people, they’re doing a very good job of hiding. This is a demand-side slump; the evidence is grossly inconsistent with any other story."

Niklas Blanchard doesn't disagree with the demand-side explanation but does point out a few labor market inefficiencies in Hiding from Paul Krugman is Easy.

Alan Greenspan wrote a paper (pdf) saying "I judge that a minimum of half the post-crisis shortfall in capital investment, and possibly as much as three quarters, can be explained by the shock of vastly greater government-created uncertainties embedded in the competitive, regulatory and financial environments faced by businesses since the collapse of Lehman Brothers."

Krugman was busy and just attacked his tone, "He’s no longer the Man Who Knows; he’s the man who presided over an economy careening to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — and who saw no evil, heard no evil, refused to do anything about subprime, insisted that derivatives made the financial system more stable, denied not only that there was a national housing bubble but that such a bubble was even possible. If he wants to redeem himself through hard and serious reflection about how he got it so wrong, fine — and I’d be interested in listening. If he thinks he can still lecture us from his pedestal of wisdom, he’s wasting our time."

Brad DeLong takes up the task. "If businesses are unwilling to invest in illiquid capital out of the fear that government action will impair the value of their investments, businesses must also fear that government action will impair the value of their existing illiquid investments." And the stock market surge suggests they don't. A better explanation is that demand is low so there's no need to invest in capacity. "And, indeed, if you ask people running businesses what is their single most important problem, they say that it is not (as they sometimes say it is) taxes; they say that it is not (as they said it was at the start of 2000) the cost and quality of labor; it is not (as they said it was in 2004) the availability and cost of insurance; it is not (as they briefly said it was at the start of 1993) government requirements. What do they say their biggest problem is? Poor sales."

Even I can find flaws in Greenspan's statements. He says, "Before the bail out of Bear Stearns, and later General Motors and Chrysler, the notion that large iconic American corporations would not be allowed to fail was embodied in nobody’s risk management template. Few envisioned a major corporation (aside from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) being ‘too big to fail’." I can name a lot of bailouts, here are a few since 1970.

Entertainment by Blogging Economists

It started with this post by The Tax FoundationNo Country Leans on Upper-Income Households as Much as U.S..

Conservative Harvard economist Greg Mankiw link to it in a short post titled What nation has the most progressive tax system?.

Mankiw then updates with: "This brief post--really just a link to another blog--proved more controversial than I expected. Matthew Yglesias accuses me of irresponsibly misleading America's youth. Scott Sumner responds to Yglesias, pointing out "if you are going to argue that people who make mistakes should be ostracized, it’s best not to make a serious mistake in your attack.""

One he didn't like to was Karl Smith who just graphed the chart and found the US right on the end of the trend line.

But Mankiw's update includes a useful comment from Yglesias' blog from the author of the data in the table. "So while the US tax system is progressive and reduces inequality, the US welfare state is much less effective at reducing inequality. And because the US has a very unequal distribution of income from capital and a much wider wage distribution than many other OECD countries, it ends up as a relatively unequal country after taxes and benefits...So the implication is not that the USA either needs to increase or reduce the progressivity of the tax system. If you want to reduce inequality, you need to increase the level of taxes collected and spend it more effectively."

Analysing The Social Network

Jim Emerson writes about Fincher's directing of The Social Network in Let's get social: Networking frames. Interesting stuff.

Modernist Cuisine: The Wok Shot

Serious Eats has a photo from Modernist Cuisine: The Wok Shot.

"With stunning images like this, you'd think that computers and Photoshop played a huge role in the production of the artwork from Modernist Cuisine. You'd be wrong...So how did they get a shot of noodles being tossed in half a wok? Easy. 'We cut a wok in half and tossed noodles in it,' explains Nathan Myhrvold, the man behind the 2,400 page book. The result was many messes (they lined the photo studio with plastic), a couple of fires, a few burns, and the awesome shot you see above (click on it for a larger view).

Like many of the photos in the book, these types of shots explain how traditional cooking techniques work far better than almost any instructional tool I've seen."

Wok from Modernist Cuisine

Click through for a larger image and read the text. I had no idea that a wok steamed food while it was being tossed in the air.

Aurora Borealis Video

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Elizabeth Taylor, Lifelong Screen Star, Dies at 79

The primary author of this obituary has been dead for six years but
Elizabeth Taylor, Lifelong Screen Star, Dies at 79 is wonderful tribute.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Natural Disasters: Counting the Cost

The Economist created this chart, Natural disasters: Counting the cost.

20110326 WOC402 1

There was this proviso, "The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which caused some 250,000 deaths, does not feature on this chart. Economic losses there amounted to only $14 billion in today’s prices, partly because of low property and land values in the affected areas."

I'm surprised I haven't heard more comparisons to the 2004 tsunami or to the 2010 Haiti earthquake (92,000 - 316,000 deaths) which also didn't make this chart. I think it was after that quake I read some statistic about how poorer countries have much more deaths as a result of an equivalent disaster. I haven't seen much on how much area of Japan was affected but I did hear something like 400 miles of the coast was affected by the tsunami. At that scale, the fact that there were only 10-20,000 deaths is amazing.

Lots of Infographics

BibliOdyssey: Nuclear Reactor Cutaways :

4567459788 38c7f7d118

The New York Times had a food article with this infographic, A Century of Meat15food graphic popup 1

I just learned about travel site Hipmunk. They now have some slick maps. "Besides mapping out locations and allowing filtering on prices and amenities, you can also overlap heatmaps for food, tourism, shopping, nightlife, and “vice”. The map below is for Washington DC’s nightlife, and is pretty damn accurate."

Image56 1

I'm not sure how useful this is, but here's a visualization of Groupon deals. "Each box is a deal. I used height to represent number sold, and width to represent the price. Area is therefore gross revenue, and colour is city for the top 20 cities."


Paper Leaf created an Elements of Design Quick Reference SheetNewImage

The New York Times asks answers Are State and Local Government Employees Paid Too Much?

Chart Porn (where most of the above were posted) lists examples of The Wonderful Work of Karl Hartig. "Karl Hartig was creating beautiful complex data visualizations back when most of us “graphics experts” were still trying to figure out how to change colors in excel. Here is a selection of his work on population, electronics, energy, stocks, immigration, politics, and music."

The Movie Title Stills Collection (which is evidence that the internet is full) has a collection of Saul Bass Title Sequences.

Monday, March 21, 2011

And Remember, Wikipedia is Just the Starting Point

The Full Wiki: "We find similar sentences to those in Wikipedia, complete with their citations for you to paste into your essay. It's the easy way to branch off to find authoritative sources and relevant quotes to deepen your research."


Neal Stephenson's next book Reamde comes out September 13th. It's 960 pages, I think this time I'll get a digital version instead of the hardcover.

"The highly inventive, brilliant author of Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Anathem returns returns with his most accessible novel to date, a high-stakes thriller in which a wealthy tech entrepreneur gets caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

AT&T to Acquire T-Mobile

AT&T to Acquire T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom.

"AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA provides an optimal combination of network assets to add capacity sooner than any alternative, and it provides an opportunity to improve network quality in the near term for both companies' customers. In addition, it provides a fast, efficient and certain solution to the impending exhaustion of wireless spectrum in some markets, which limits both companies' ability to meet the ongoing explosive demand for mobile broadband.

With this transaction, AT&T commits to a significant expansion of robust 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) deployment to 95 percent of the U.S. population to reach an additional 46.5 million Americans beyond current plans -- including rural communities and small towns. This helps achieve the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and President Obama's goals to connect "every part of America to the digital age." T-Mobile USA does not have a clear path to delivering LTE."

In 2006, T-Mobile won the most licenses in the FCC's spectrum auction. From what I can tell (and I can't keep the various wireless technologies straight), this was used for 3G and can and will be used for the new LTE networks (which is really 3+G but is marketed as 4G).

So hopefully my iPhone coverage gets better. If so, then I think AT&T is doing a great job competing with Verizon. They got a lot of iPhone customers to renew 2 year contracts before the Verizon iPhone came out and with this acquisition are potentially leapfrogging them in 4G coverage before the 4G iPhones come out.

Japanese vs US Media Coverage

TPM writes Taking Stock "A TPM Reader and student of Japan takes a harsh look at US coverage of recent events ..."

"As a result, the Japanese news coverage has been largely calm, rational, informed, and critical. Some of this is naturally to avoid creating panic, but it has been able to do that because as a whole it has answered many of the questions people have and thus gained a certain level of trust. As a media scholar, I can pick this coverage apart for its problems, and of course point to information that is still not getting out there, but on the whole it is functioning as journalism should.

It also just looks good because there is something so ugly beside it: the non-Japanese coverage. That, I am afraid, has been full of factual errors and other problems. This has not been just Fox News, but also CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and even the New York Times to differing degrees. They get the reactors mixed up or report information that is simply wrong (e.g., writing that the TEPCO workers had fully abandoned the effort to control the plant because of radiation levels when TEPCO had only withdrawn some non-essential personnel). They are perpetually late, continuing to report things the Japanese media had shown to be wrong or different the day before. They are woefully selective, bringing out just the sensational elements ("toxic clouds" over Tokyo―when in fact radiation in Tokyo now is actually less than that in LA on some days). They are misleading (implying for instance that the dumping of water from the air was some last ditch effort to cool the core, when it was just an effort to replenish the water in the spent rod pools―which are now full in reactor 3 and back to normal temperature). Colleagues have noted problems with European coverage as well, but the difference between media can be obvious."

Japan Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents

Bloomberg reports Japan Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents. To me this is one of the scariest articles I've read. Same as the financial crisis, poor regulation and inspection is a significant factor. The whole article is worth a read, but here are some outtakes.

"The destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami comes less than four years after a 6.8 quake shut the world’s biggest atomic plant, also run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In 2002 and 2007, revelations the utility had faked repair records forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president, and a three-week shutdown of all 17 of its reactors."

"The cascade of events at Fukushima had been foretold in a report published in the U.S. two decades ago. The 1990 report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency responsible for safety at the country’s power plants, identified earthquake-induced diesel generator failure and power outage leading to failure of cooling systems as one of the “most likely causes” of nuclear accidents from an external event. While the report was cited in a 2004 statement by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, it seems adequate measures to address the risk were not taken by Tokyo Electric, said Jun Tateno, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and professor at Chuo University."

"Mitsuhiko Tanaka, 67, working as an engineer at Babcock Hitachi K.K., helped design and supervise the manufacture of a $250 million steel pressure vessel for Tokyo Electric in 1975. Today, that vessel holds the fuel rods in the core of the No. 4 reactor at Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi plant, hit by explosion and fire after the tsunami. Tanaka says the vessel was damaged in the production process. He says he knows because he orchestrated the cover-up. When he brought his accusations to the government more than a decade later, he was ignored, he says."

"“I saved the company billions of yen,” Tanaka said in an interview March 12, the day after the earthquake. Tanaka says he got a 3 million yen bonus ($38,000) from Hitachi and a plaque acknowledging his “extraordinary” effort in 1974. “At the time, I felt like a hero.” That changed with Chernobyl. Two years after the world’s worst nuclear accident, Tanaka went to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to report the cover-up he’d engineered more than a decade earlier. Hitachi denied his accusation and the government refused to investigate."

"Tokyo Electric in 2002 admitted it had falsified repair reports at nuclear plants for more than two decades. Chairman Hiroshi Araki and President Nobuyama Minami resigned to take responsibility for hundred of occasions on which the company had submitted false data to the regulator. Then in 2007, the utility said it hadn’t come entirely clean five years earlier. It had concealed at least six emergency stoppages at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station and a “critical” reaction at the plant’s No. 3 unit that lasted for seven hours."

"The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant was only designed to withstand a 5.7-meter tsunami, not the 7-meter wall of water generated by last week’s earthquake or the 6.4-meter tsunami that struck neighboring Miyagi prefecture after the Valdiva earthquake in 1960, Ito said. The dangers posed by a tsunami the size of the one generated by the 9.5-magnitude Valdiva temblor off Chile are described in a 2002 report by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, Ito said. “Tokyo Electric brought this upon itself,” said Ito, who now heads the National Center for the Citizens’ Movement Against the Nuclear Threat, based in Tokyo. “This accident unfolded as expected.”"

"Kansai Electric Power Co., the utility that provides Osaka with electricity, said it also faked nuclear safety records. Chubu Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. (9505) said the same."

"After Hokuriku Electric’s Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa prefecture was rocked by a 6.9 magnitude quake in March 2007, government scientists found it had been built near an earthquake fault that was more than twice as long as regulators deemed threatening. “Regulators just rubber-stamp the utilities’ reports,” Takashi Nakata, a former Hiroshima Institute of Technology seismologist and an anti-nuclear activist, said at the time."

"While Japan had never suffered a failure comparable to Chernobyl, the Fukushima disaster caps a decade of fatal accidents. Two workers at a fuel processing plant were killed by radiation exposure in 1999, when they used buckets, instead of the prescribed containers, to eye-ball a uranium mixture, triggering a chain-reaction that went unchecked for 20 hours."

"In 2004, an eruption of super-heated steam from a burst pipe at a reactor run by Kansai Electric killed five workers and scalded six others. A government investigation showed the burst pipe section had been omitted from safety checklists and had not been inspected for the 28 years the plant had been in operation."

And here's a significant point that will probably be lost in a lot of cable and network news reports. "Unlike France and the U.S., which have independent regulators, responsibility for keeping Japan’s reactors safe rests with the same body that oversees the effort to increase nuclear power generation: the Trade Ministry. Critics say that creates a conflict of interest that may hamper safety."

New England Gets Earthquakes Too

The Boston Globe writes Temblors shook Boston centuries before. It's the obligatory "New England gets earthquakes too" story. But the examples they choose to scare us are pretty lame:

"Tremors rumbled through Boston on a winter day in 1663, causing chimneys to tumble, a tavern wall to crack, and objects to fall off shelves."

“About 6 o’clock at night there happened an earthquake, wch shook mens houses and caused many to run out of their houses into the streets,’’ he wrote. “And ye tops of 2 or 3 chimnyes fell off.’’

"But they occur, and engineers and emergency planners thinking about quake risk frequently reference a 6.2-magnitude quake that struck Cape Ann in 1755 and toppled the weathervane on Faneuil Hall."

Not to tempt fate, but you're not going to scare me by telling me that 256 years ago an earthquake knocked the weathervane off Faneuil Hall.

They claim these were magnitude 6 or 7 and those are certainly serious. And I'm sure our building codes aren't as earthquake aware as California or Japan. The articles says the big dig takes them into account (though they couldn't even keep the roof from just falling down on its own) but cites the centuries old brick buildings in Boston as being at real risk and that makes sense. Though apparently 256 years ago a large brick building named Faneuil Hall survived a big earthquake with only minor damage.

Explaining the Japanese Nuclear Disaster

Plain English Nuclear writes Yet another Japan reactor post and it's a very good layman's term explanation of what's going on.

xkcd has put together a Radiation Chart to put things into perspective.

Radiation 1

World's Largest LEGO Great Ball Contraption at LW 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

What Happens When You Can’t Raise Taxes

Ezra Klein What happens when you can’t raise taxes "Andy Kroll fact-checks Gov. Haley Barbour’s claim that ‘we’ — meaning Mississippi under Barbour’s leadership — ‘dug out of a $720 million budget hole in two years without raising anybody’s taxes.’ As it turns out, Barbour raised all sorts of taxes during his time in office: He created an excise tax on cigarettes and then raised it, increased taxes on hospital beds and businesses that lay off workers, and tried and failed to pass a new tax on hospital revenue."

"Barbour, to keep people from noticing his tax hikes, ended up passing some fairly regressive, narrowly targeted, economically inefficient taxes. He still had to raise taxes, but he ended up doing a worse job of it."

Clayton Christensen’s Prescriptions For Health Care

I know of Clayton Christensen from his books The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution. I don't think I knew of his 2008 book The Innovator's Prescription or of his medical battles. Forbes has a long interview with him "In the latest issue of Forbes magazine we published an oral history of Clayton Christensen’s recent experiences battling three grave illnesses in a row." It's long but interesting, If you want the short version just read The Survivor Part 6 – Christensen’s Prescriptions For Health Care otherwise start at part one.

"The authors acknowledge that the fee-for-service reimbursement system, in which providers earn more by treating patients more aggressively, impedes the kind of disruptive innovation that would lead to better care at a lower cost. There are several systems we could adopt that would be better, but there isn’t a road map to get there. The business models of health are frozen in the hospital and the doctor’s office. The path to fixing the system is to disrupt those models. Here are some approaches:

Routinization. A hospital is really three business models under one roof, each of which manages a different type of medical practice. Intuitive medicine is the realm of highly trained specialists handling difficult diagnoses and treatment. Empirical medicine is the costly realm of chronic care and trial-and-error treatment. Precision medicine, the real goal for the system, is a case where diagnosis is known and so is the therapy. Then treatment can be routinized and moved off-site. Disruption will involve pushing more of medicine into the precision category, then automating that care to make it better and cheaper.

Consolidation. The best way to unleash disruption is if more health care providers combine, controlling hospitals, doctors and health insurance. Christensen makes an analogy to RCA in the 1950s. To get people to watch the first color programming on its NBC channel, RCA also had to manufacture color TV sets. A hospital loses money if it tells patients to go to an outside cheaper clinic. But if it owns the health plan and the clinic, disruptive ideas will flourish.

Precision. The kind of targeted therapies now used in cancer treatment, such as the drug Christensen received, will be applied more widely. Diseases will be subtyped more specifically and therapies tailored to work better. This will also save time and money as clinical drug trials become more focused. Specialty clinics will arise to implant devices more cheaply.

Do-it-yourself. Christensen predicts a rise in self-diagnosis and self-care, as tools that used to be stuck in the hospital reach patients and their families."

Only In Japan

Yes, We're In A Liquidity Trap

Krugman explains, Yes, We're In A Liquidity Trap "Some comments on various blog posts ask what evidence we have that liquidity trap economics is any different from normal economics. Um, the answer is staring us in the face: the failure of interest rates to rise despite very large budget deficits." It's short a worth a read. There's more in his column, The Forgotten Millions.

Brad DeLong follows up to questions about his posts about interest rates.

Krugman and DeLong have been right in their predictions for the last two years, I don't understand why people aren't listening to them. I'm no expert, but I find their explanations understandable and compelling.

Utah Becomes First State To Designate Official Gun

Utah Becomes First State To Designate Official Gun "This week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed legislation making the Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol Utah's official state gun -- and making his state the first to designate a state firearm."

"Utah-born John Moses Browning designed the pistol, which state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) says has been used in every war since WWI. (Wimmer was the bill's chief sponsor.)"

2012 Predictions

Ezra Klein wrote Democrats likelier to retake House in 2012 than hold Senate. "I was tooling around InTrade last night and noticed that the betting markets are giving Democrats much better odds of retaking the House of Representatives in 2012 than of holding the Senate. As they see it, there’s about a 60 percent chance that Barack Obama will be reelected as president, a 40 percent chance that Democrats will win the 20-some seats they need to retake the House and only a 25 percent chance that they’ll win enough elections to retain control of the Senate."

He got a followup letter on it. "First, if the Republicans win the White House in 2012 (unlikely but possible), I think we’d all agree that the House and the Senate will go to the GOP as well. The real question is, what happens if Obama wins reelection. In that case, Joe Biden is the 51st vote, which means the GOP needs to pick up 4 seats." It goes on to evaluate various state races and concludes it's about 50/50.

Critical State of Top Wages at Publicly Financed Hospitals

The New York Times wrote Critical State of Top Wages at Publicly Financed Hospitals "At Bronx-Lebanon, a hospital that exists only by the grace and taxed fortunes of the people of New York State, the chief executive was paid $4.8 million in 2007 and $3.6 million in 2008, records show. At NewYork-Presbyterian, a hospital system that receives nearly half a billion dollars annually in public money, the chief executive was paid $9.8 million in 2007 and $2.8 million in 2008."

While this sounds bad, I suspect it's a small percentage of our overall healthcare spending. I'm not saying this shouldn't be fixed, but I'd be surprised if it's a huge expense. Just like tort reform.

How to Save Social Security in One Easy Step

Ezra Klein wrote How to lift the debt ceiling and save Social Security in one easy step. "The only fix that garnered majority support was lifting the payroll-tax cap so that all income, rather than just the first $107,000, got taxed. That’s a reform, I’m confident to say, that the Senate’s liberals would have less trouble swallowing, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, it would wipe out virtually all of Social Security’s shortfall."

Sounds good to me.

Understanding Japan's nuclear crisis

Understanding Japan's nuclear crisis by ars technica is not surprisingly the best thing I've read on the crisis.

Chris Rock

This Esquire Interview with Chris Rock was surprisingly very interesting.

Notes Plus

I've been looking for a good note taking app on the iPad. There are a lot of choices and no clear winner. Some emphasis hand written notes and others typed ones. Most allow a combination of both with embedded images, links, drawings, audio recordings, etc. The Best Note Taking App for iPad! is a pretty good summary of most of the major players.

One of the better ones is Notes Plus and it's on sale for a $1 today. I've picked it up and and will play with it, but if you're in the market, today is the day to try this.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan Crisis - Chart Porn

Here's a collection of infographics on the Japan Crisis: Japan Crisis - Chart PornTsunami Wave Progression is a video model of the wave as it moves across the Pacific.

Thanks for the various explanations of how the tsunami wave works. I get it now. The most useful came in email and reminded me of the basics of pressure waves. The water wave doesn't move 500 miles an hour. Instead the force of the quake pushed the water molecules together. So one collides into the next and into the next etc. So an individual molecule doesn't move far but the the force propagates at 500 miles an hour. That speed is in fact the speed of sound which is defined as how fast the pressure wave moves through a medium.

History of Science Fiction

Ward Shelley made this infographic. "History of Science Fiction is a graphic chronology that maps the literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. The movement of years is from left to right, tracing the figure of a tentacled beast, derived from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Martians. Science Fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source of not only SciFi, but crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors. Film and television are covered as well."

The New York Times Starts Charging

The New York Times is starting to charge for digital access on March 28 (they're using Canada to beta test). Here are the rates and an faq. I'm fine with them wanting to charge customers to use the product they produce. And they seem to be considering the web in that access to articles from search engines will work and visitors can read 20 articles a calendar month for free (I assume they'll track ip addresses). Links from search and social sites count towards your 20 but even after that you'll be able to follow links from those sites. Visitors also get "unrestricted access to browse the home page, section fronts, blog fronts and classifieds."

The part I don't get is the pricing. $3.75 a week to access the web site and use a smart phone app. But if you have a tablet and want to use their app instead (which is fantastic on the iPad) that's $5 a week. And if you want access from a browser, phone and tablet, that's $8.75 a week.

It's the same digital content. It cost the same to write and it's the same bandwidth costs for them to send over their pipes. Why differentiate this way? Let me either pay for your content or not. I know, an economist will tell me the price is based on what people are willing to pay and by tiering prices you can get more from those wiling to pay more while still getting some from those willing to pay less. And if you have more than one device, you're probably willing to pay more and that tablet probably cost more than your smartphone so tablet owners are probably willing to pay more for the news. And yeah, I did say the iPad reader was fantastic.

It still seems like gouging.

Update: According to this, they'll be using Apple's in app subscription service so 30% goes to Apple. Maybe that's why tablet's pay more? Though it should be the same 30% for phone.

Update: I wasn't sure what the cover price was. I last remembered it as 35 cents wondered if it was up to a dollar yet. I see it's actually $2 for mon-sat and $6 for sunday. So yeah, $5 a week is a deal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan Imagery

The Big Picture has run several posts on Japan. I've linked to some of these before, but here they all are in one place:

Massive earthquake hits JapanJapan: earthquake aftermath.
Japan: Vast devastationJapan: New fears as the tragedy deepens

The Atlantic In Focus with Alan Taylor (who I think founded The Big Picture) has four collections as well:

Earthquake in JapanJapan Earthquake AftermathJapan Earthquake: Rescue, Recovery, and Reaction1923 Kanto Earthquake: Echoes from Japan's Past

Google's Picasa has assembled before and after satellite photos. ABC News from Australia has Aerial photos taken over Japan. "Hover over each satellite photo to view the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami." They might be the same as in the Picasa album, I'm not sure, but they're presented better.

Finally, I really like this poster:

I helpjapan5

DeLong Comments

Brad DeLong in Department of "Huh?!" points out some issues with the European Central Banks statements. "He thinks inflation is likely to fall back below 2% in 2011, and yet he is calling for interest rate increases now?"

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) doesn't think Peter Diamond should be on the Fed Board of Governors because "In short, Dr. Diamond is an old-fashioned, big government Keynesian." Shelby lists other reasons in his statement, but that seems to be the main point. Diamond is of course a Nobel Prize winning MIT economist.

Even Greg Mankiw supports Diamond. "I am personally saddened by this decision, for Peter is a very smart guy and a highly accomplished economist, as well as a former teacher of mine. There is no doubt in my mind that Peter was fully deserving of the Nobel Prize. But I have to admit that, given Senator Shelby's political preferences regarding economic policy, his reasons for blocking the nomination to the Federal Reserve Board are not wholly unreasonable."

DeLong called this statement Really Bizarre: "I can't think of very many people who would add more to the Fed's discussions of regulatory affairs or monetary policy than Peter Diamond. Put me down as saying that Shelby is being wholly unreasonable--unless, that is, Greg Mankiw is saying that Shelby's political preferences regarding economic policy are for ineffective and counterproductive regulation and for a failure to maintain price stability and full employment?"