Monday, November 30, 2015

Climate change: Is this the last chance? Will we produce our way out of this with innovation?

The “best” news on the climate front as the summit begins in Paris (a “let’s make a deal” session) may be that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are teaming up to invest in “zero-carbon” technologies.  The Tech Crunch story is rather non-specific, link here.

The Wall Street Journal, in a story by Guatam Naik, reports that many scientists believe that the 2-degree Celsius limit is somewhat arbitrary and not supported by enough peer research, link here.

And Chris Mooney in the Washington Post writes that the 2 degree limit (the “magic number” from baseball parlance, relative to the pre-industrial world) may become attainable only with technology not yet invented, link here.   The old 1.5 seems unattainable.  The “new” technology probably means taking existing carbon out of the air. Mooney also discusses incompletely assessed issues with permafrost and even

But it could include improvements in auto technology, eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions with algae, as proposed by Param Jaggi (Nov. 24).

The accepted prediction for sea level rise is about 2.3 meters per degree Celsius, or about 7 feet for the 2-degree standard, Reuters story by Erik Kirschbaum. That’s enough to cause significant but probably manageable problems for buildings in coastal areas of major US cities (most of all Miami, as well as, for example, some of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn).  Virginia’s second tallest mountain would shrink from 4010 feet to only 4003.

How will this affect the way people live in future generations?  If you can really make a zero-emission car (whether by Jaggi’s idea or with all-electric, and a sufficient infrastructure of rapid charging stations – again more innovation), maybe not that much.  Solitary, feline lifestyles like mine (and value systems) though could well be challenged if we don’t.

But the biggest problems will be political and international:  around the world, many of the people living below 10 feet above sea level are poor, and are punished for the consumption of richer people in previous generations in other countries.  Imagine the ideological conflict that can result.

Another question is, if there were ever a major hit on the power grid (even from a solar storm as well as terrorism) what would the effect be from repairing the infrastructure?
NBC News has President Obama's speech, and the UN objected to its length, trying to cut him off. But the president continued like a chatterbox, link. He is not alone. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Albuquerque, homeless are hired as day laborers to clear litter

Albuquerque NM has tried a plan to “employ” the homeless as day laborers at $9 per hour cash, picking up trash on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  A van drives around the areas of the greatest panhandling and is able to fill it every day of the program, which started in September.

Albuquerque has about 1200 homeless.

This sounded like a city-funded program.  It’s pretty easy to imagine it as a philanthropy. But critics will say this is no substitute for real employment.
Aerial view of Albuquerque, Wikipedia attribution, by Joe Mabel, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike License.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Student loan debt is contributing to racial gaps in income and even wealth inequality

Can student debt forgiveness help reduce wage and wealth inequality, particularly with respect to race? Danielle Douglas-Gabrielle thinks so, as in this Washington Post article Wednesday, here.
I was lucky, that by spring 1966 my parents had bankrolled my undergraduate education at the George Washington University, when the highest tuition had been $850 a semester (and I lived at “home” after the William and Mary debacle).

The writer here suggests that policymakers reduce debt based on household income after graduation.
For all the criticism of Donald Trump, he actually paid the college tuition of one or more of his Apprentice contestants (such as Troy McClain).
Update: Nov. 28

This piece by Tim Wise of CNN "What Whites don't know about racism" seems relevant, link here.

Update: Nov. 30

Rob Wile of Fusion writes that white parents often help their kids with home downpayments (possibly illegally, under the table) where as in black families the kids help the parents, leading to more inequality, in connection with the student dent problem, story here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Meet another younger inventor, Param Jaggi, tackling emissions and climate change

I’ve written here about the accomplishments of the Andraka brothers (both Luke and Jack), and of Taylor Wilson.  Now, meet Texas-raised Param Jaggi (the name comes from India) who has invented a bio-reactor comprising plates of algae, that he says could clean up auto carbon dioxide emissions completely.  Similar technology could be used wherever fossil fuels are burned.

I can remember back in the late 1970s meeting a woman (indirectly through Dan Fry's "Understanding") whose whole traveling-show activist life was centered around opposing nuclear power.  I’ve always had a problem with activism centered on opposition to just one thing. Small nuclear fission plants might actually make the grid safer from terrorism.  But there is a considerable amount of innovation still around the idea of using fossil fuels (especially natural gas) in a cleaner fashion. Natural gas (all underground) provides the power for my own generator and a backup for emergencies.

Param  now attends Vanderbilt University and is CEO of Ecoviate which also mentions a startup called Hatch Apps which facilitates the building of mobile apps.  It’s not clear to me if there is any connection with “Hatch” which provides engineering and construction management, here.  Probably not, but there seems to be some similarity of interests.

Uproxx has a story about Param’s invention here.

Picture: Nashville, my visit, May 2014. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Washington DC police chief Cathy Lanier appears to support legal gun ownership and self-defense in statement to Anderson Cooper

Washington PC police chief Cathy Lanier created a wave in the self-defense community when she told Anderson Cooper that people caught in active shooter situations should shoot back if armed.  The clip was repeated on 60 Minutes here. Cathy talked about the time it took police to arrive at Columbine in 1999 in Colorado, and said that police in Paris used an “old model” for intervening when they took 35 minutes to intervene in the Bataclan in Paris.

It isn’t hard to imagine that this could be taken as promotion of lawful gun ownership for self-defense by homeowners. But most of the issue would be that people are normally unarmed in public places, and not allowed to possess weapons.  Some libertarians and conservatives have been making this argument ever since the 2012 incident in Colorado with James Holmes.
It's logical to extend this discussion to the proposition that self and familial or community defense should be a moral responsibility (it is such in Switzerland).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Local governments encourage singles, same-sex couples to step up and adopt children and offer foster care.

Thursday afternoon, when I was in the Arlington County VA public library (where “It’s Free”), I noticed some pamphlets or leaflets encouraging ordinary citizens to adopt children and/or become foster parents.  The publications seemed to welcome singles and same-sex couples.

I can recall seeing similar adds at bus stops in Minneapolis back in 2003. At the same time, a very few states are resisting same-sex couples as parents as do some faith-based adoption agencies.

The tone of the pleas is that it is almost a moral responsibility to consider doing it if one is able.  But one could make similar arguments about personally welcoming political refugees.

Indeed, that could become a general expectation, particularly if one has “unearned” or inherited wealth.  The idea that everyone should grow up prepared to raise children is distinct from the idea of being responsible for the children you bring into the world with your own body, but the idea is common in most cultures, especially in poorer parts of the world.  But if the idea is accepted, it has a bearing on how we view marriage and other “family values”.  Eldercare and an aging population play into the debate. Family responsibility happens even if you never have a sex act capable of procreation.
Is age 72 too old?  I know of a man who recently married in the 60s and is helping raise the wife’s grandchild, possibly to become a baseball player.

My own take right now is that I could consider this if my writing and journalism paid its own way, and earned enough to support a family.  Yes, at some point I am interested in working with “establishment” media outlets (although that discussion belongs on another blog).  When my mother was alive, I was sometimes approached by people who thought I should give up my own voice, and make a real living pimping other people’s messages (even if that meant door-to-door).  No, that is not on the table.

Friday, November 20, 2015

China's cache of rare-earth metals could be its bargaining chip as the West goes green and gets away from fossil fuels

The green revolution in energy generation and especially electric power could be bounded by the availability of rare earth minerals, according to an op-ed by David S. Abraham in the New York Times Friday Nov. 20, p. A21, link here.

Wind turbines, air conditioners, computers, and many devices do depend on these elements, which are somewhat off by themselves on the Periodic Chart.

One problem is that right now China seems to control a disproportionate share of the natural resources and could exploit this fact for political advantage.  Another is that the minerals have to be mined (often with copper), whether underground or in open-pit mines, with labor issues as well as environmental. The recent film “The 33” comes to mind.

It would be interesting to see how this story fits with the work of Taylor Wilson on both fusion and fission (Nov. 7).  The story also adds some credibility that natural gas should be used as a "bridge fuel" in the green revolution.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

United HealthCare may leave ObamaCare exchanges

One of the nation’s largest private health insurers, United HealthCare, announced that it may leave the ObamaCare exchanges after 2016, because of poor financial results from Exchange business, apparently due to subtle anti-selection and serving sicker patients.  There is a story on “The Hill” today.

United HealthCare provides my own Supplementary Part B coverage for Medicare, and was my insurer for retiree health insurance from ING.  I found that the company always paid claims properly and I never had an issue at all.  Furthermore, with my one outpatient surgery in 2010, it appeared that the negotiated discount had a big effect on base price.  The company does seem to have an influence making health care cheaper for its largest corporate clients.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Obamacare premiums and tax penalties still shock many individuals, small businesses and some companies and co-ops fail

In today’s world, rants about Obamacare or, for that matter, gay marriage seem myopic and rather a product of a “chickenman in the sand”.  But Monday Tom Howell, Jr. had front page story in the Washington Times about the failure of health care co-ops, especially in New York, under the program, leaving policyholders to fend for themselves again with much more expensive policies, here.

Various conservative sites report families spending over half their income on premiums after older plans that didn’t meet the law were scrapped.

Obamacare is also forcing some Americans sometimes to return a premium subsidy, or an “Obamacare tax penalty”, as the normally CNN Money site explains here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pointing a laser at aircraft is a serious crime

Here’s an elementary safety post about laser pointers.

In New York, a man was arrested for pointing a high-powered green laser, illegal to own but acquired online, at several helicopters, including one for WNBC, New York City’s NBC-owned station.  WNBC story is here.

This is a federal offense that can result in 20 years in prison and a $250000 fine.  But the outcome could be a helicopter or plane crash, and permanent blinding of the pilot. No one was injured in this incident.

But incidents were reported in several other cities.  This story is developing in the media rapidly. USA Today reports a 17% increase in incidents nationwide despite tougher laws, story by Bart Jansen here.
There would be a question as to whether the little LED flashlights, which look good on train sets, could pose a problem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Should we abolish the Selective Service System? Could a draft ever happen again? What about citizen preparedness? National service?

When I was working on my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the mid 1990s, I did communicate with the Selective Service System.  I got a copy of my own records, which did have names and SSN’s of other people on it (I doubt they would share that today, given privacy concerns).  I recall having a dinner in Ohio on a weekend trip and taking out some material that had been sent to me on it.
People can still volunteer to serve on it, and I don’t think would.  But the better question is, if we aren’t going to have a draft again, why do we even keep it?  Should there be a bill to abolish it?

Would both parties support terminating it?  Could it come up in candidate debates? Abolishing the agency could save a little money, certainly appetizing to Republicans.
Registration is still required of males 18-25.  Compliance runs about 90%.  Failure to register can lead to loss of benefits in some situations, as in this Washington Post story by Tina Griego on Oct. 14, 2014, here.   Yesterday, on my LGBT blog, I discussed the issue with respect to transgender people.

The Supreme Court did uphold the constitutionality of the male-only draft registration requirement back in 1981, in a case called Roskter v Goldberg, link.  Given today’s interpretation of gender equality, I suspect that even a conservative court might rule differently if the case were reheard. In Israel, for example, women can be drafted.
Some people say, including those in the SSS agency, that maintaining contingent ability to draft helps provide a deterrent against enemy attack.  I doubt that this makes much sense today with non-state (or quasi-state) actors like Al Qaeda and ISIS.  But a related issue is citizen preparedness, which journalist Ted Koppel covers his recent book “Lights Out”, which I reviewed yesterday on my Book Review blog.

The draft encapsulated a lot of other moral issues during my own coming of age during the Vietnam years, precisely because some people could get out of it (with student deferments), or be sheltered from combat if they had a lot of education (as I was).  Political candidates today have to answer questions about draft avoidance, and are judged by the mores of the times in which they grew up.

 During World War I, people were (unconstitutionally) prosecuted for sedition for criticizing the draft. Right after 9/11, there were calls among some, such as Charles Moskos (who had authored “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” with Sam Nunn) to resume it.  And there was brief talk of resuming it in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

In the video above, Ron Paul talked about mandatory national service, the draft, and volunteerism in 2009.

Here is a typical website calling for abolition of Selective Service.  A good topic for Veterans Day?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Silly partisanship

After the maid service leaves (and doesn’t that prove I’m part of the spoiled, parasitic bourgeoisie rather than one of “the Proles”) and has sorted my unopened junk mail, I notice a few partisan mailings.

But Republicans and Democrats are really pushy in the alarmist and hysterical designs of their junk mail, most of all for candidates.  I guess I touched on this Nov. 2, and on my main “BillBoushka” blog Oct. 26. Yes, partisanship gets in the way of solving problems for a “common good” even though both parties (including socially conservative Republicans like Santorum) like to talk about the moral commons.

Ben Carson’s mailer is really silly.  “May I please have your support today in my campaign to become President of the United State.  I need it, I really do.”

The GOP candidate list is so silly and extreme that I wonder if I could run and get the nomination.   Maybe Log Cabin Republicans was on to something.  Let’s drop the partisanship and solve problems, like maintaining infrastructure, preventing a possible meltdown of the power grid (previous post), and actually making sure that everyone has reasonable access to health insurance.  Oh, some of that sounds Democratic.

I have been asked before, why don’t I run for office, at least locally, so I could really do something rather than blog and report (and journal);  why don’t I host a campaign fund raiser in my home?
And I’m asked why I won’t scream in demonstrations for the oppressed, as if I were above the indignity of behaving that way, of surrounding my individuality to the group.

This post, with its lead picture, might have become an “illegal indirect campaign contribution” had the naysayers (cutting McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform) had their day back in late 2005.  Fortunately, the FEC just let it pass, despite the courts.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Taylor Wilson, 21, proposes a clean energy plan, and it might really work; the importance of "Ayn Rand's prodigies"

The “science fair” (so to speak) work on clean energy by Taylor Wilson, now 21, and building a company in Reno, NV, is quite stunning.  Here is “Taylor’s Nuke Site”, link.

Here is an NBC News summary  from one year, with Brian Williams (yes, that’s ironic).

Taylor, born and originally raised in Arkansas, built a nuclear fusion (note the word – eventually he made a “star”) in his garage at age 14.  But now he proposed technology to make small, locally managed fission (an “older” concept) nuclear power reactors with innovative and surprisingly simple safety features, Ted Talk here (from 2013).  His idea would certainly add on to the "Pickens Plan" to use natural gas.  It also might help "decentralize" existing power grid segments and make them less susceptible to cascading damage from cyberattacks (as Ted Koppel discusses in his book "Lights Out").   His writing and vocal style of speaking is very articulate and straightforward (his speech voice sounds just like that of composer-pianist Timo Andres – and music, math and science  -- and even chess -- so often go together at the genetic level).  The best recent article may be in the Guardian, here. Thomas Clynes has a book about him "The Boy Who Played with Fusion."

He also has proposed or develop innovations to making anti-cancer isotopes more cheaply (hint, recall Jack Andraka’s new test), and cheaper and simpler ways to check incoming cargo for nuclear material, seriously being reviewed for implementation by Homeland Security.

I’ll mention that there’s a new story about Andraka (now a “freshman” at Stanford) in the Wall Street Journal, here.  
I have reason to recall my own high school science fair projects.  In 10th Grade (1959) there was aodel of the human digestive tract.  In 12th, I proposed chemical experiments replacing carbon with silicon.  I built something in the workshop that worked minimally but I didn’t get far with it.  But at the “Science Honor Society Initiation” in my own basement December 9, 1960, another student spoke about “lysing leucocytes” and gave a talk that, in retrospect, was prescient to what would happen with AIDS and HIV 25 years later (when I would be living in Dallas).

It’s extremely rare for science fair work to rise to this level of commercial success.  I can wonder why I didn’t do as well, and say it’s statistical, or earlier technology, but I also lacked facility in working with my hands – a matter of “proper habits” as my moralistic father used to say.  I’ll come back to this later.

Popular Science reports that Wilson has even possessed yellowcake (story), the subject of Afred Hitchcock's "Notorious" (Movies blog Dec. 20, 2009).  Does the ability to possess a radioactive substance create an implicit security threat (if stolen by an intruder)?

It’s reported that Wilson was invited to “skip college” to start his companies.  Of course. we recall that Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook.

Anyway, Wilson’s work sounds really important – clean energy – right after Obama scratches the Keystone.  In fact, let’s not forget that Jack Andraka’s older brother, Luke (now at Virginia Tech) did important work on Acid Mine Damage (write-up )  The media attention to his younger brother Jack, and to Taylor, have obscured the importance of his work. Luke’s project would build on the mountaintop removal issue that I’ve covered here.  "Cool Hand" Luke's Facebook page actually has a picture of him standing in a coal mine tunnel with hard hat.

Today’s science (and Internet) prodigies seem to come right out of Ayn Rand’s novels (if not clandestine “aliens” like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent).  But they do raise a lot of questions for the rest of us, about interdependence, inequality, and resilience.  More about that to come.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Obama buries Keystone XL Pipeline in perpetuity; wireless technology may extend range of all-electric cars

President Obama has rejected a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, bluntly citing climate change, as in this Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, link here.

But on Vox, Brad Plummer explains “Obama just killed it” but the action was years in the making.  Whether it really would have increased greenhouse gases sounds a bit controversial.  Obama’s comments refer to the State Department’s review process.

I can remember, at movie festival QA’s (like Movies, March 29, 2014) stories about people getting arrested in demonstrations over one narrow issue, stopping a pipeline.  Am I “better” than letting that happen to me?
Conservatives properly point out that the US still imports 25% of its oil.

Rather than stopping something, let's report another story of a positive development, the possibility of wireless charging from highways to extend the range of all-electric cars, here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Chemistry class safety standards could interfere with college prep

A recent accident in a chemistry class at a Fairfax County high school (Woodson) has led to a policy banning all “open flame” lab experiments, as reported in the Washington Post Metro Section here today

Small open flame experiments have been common to demonstrate how chemicals can change the color of flame.  Teachers have shown what happens when sodium contacts water.

Critics are saying that students need experience with these kinds of situations as proper college prep.  This news story got some circulation on Twitter today.

Indeed, when I was a freshman in college (which restarted at GWU in the spring of 1962) I had placed into second year chemistry (Qual) but didn’t have the comfort with lab experiments.  At one time in my youth, I didn’t even like to light matches.  As I recall, Quant was actually easier (there were titrations) but organic chemistry was a bear, with the preps.  I’ll go into this in more detail on my Wordpress “dadtnotes” blog soon, because now my experience back in 1963 seems relevant.
(See also a note here on Oct. 29.)

Monday, November 02, 2015

GOP candidates (even Carson) pander to constituents' prejudices and fears, and sacrifice intellectual honesty, as well as sound policy proposa;

Nicholas Kristof, well known for humanitarian efforts and his book and PBS series “A Path Appears” (TV blog Sept. 8, 2015) has an op-ed in the Review of the Sunday New York Times, Oct. 1 about Dr. Ben Carson, “Inspiring, but not for president”, link here.  Kristof says he has “kooky ideas for the nation” and is na├»ve about how stressing moral character of individuals would really solve big policy problems.  Kristof, for all his support of personal faith-based volunteerism here and overseas (as in his films), particularly in the areas of support for very young children, recognizes that some issues really are matters of policy.

Again, social conservatism is based on the idea that the “natural family” (as Carlson and Mero put it, Book revews, Sept. 18, 2009) is the right place for people to learn personal altruism and the satisfaction of meeting needs.  The whole process where “women tame men” in marriage (and raising kids) is supposed to lead eventually to reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged here and at home (now consider the refugees). In practice it often doesn’t turn out that way.

Indeed, a lot of people see “taking care of your own first” as an intrinsic moral value.  This gets elaborated in the gun debate (and Carson has made some disturbing comments on how people should react to the presence of rampage shooters), but also in the survivalist world which views the ability to defend oneself (with weapons) and one’s family as a moral requirement.  Indeed, that gets into the background of my own thinking when I read reports about how vulnerable our technologically dependent civilization could be to terrorist indignation (as with my reviews on books on EMP and solar storms, and the book “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel, which I am reading now – see my main blog Oct. 27).  Note the Raytheon signs in the DC Metro.

Conservative candidates seem prone to bow to constituent pressure to recognize fear, and religious sacred cows.  They feel compelled to question “evolution” and whether it should be taught in science in schools – when it is science fact.  (There is nothing logically inconsistent between evolution and original intelligent creation of the Universe.)  They feel compelled to pander to fears on immigration, where arguably we all may find we have moral duties.  The recent handling of the debates by CNBC, will silly questions on areas like fantasy football, didn't help.