Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sagging Economy - Excuse to leave Afghanistan?

Sagging Economy–Excuse to leave Afghanistan?

Charles Jordan

Pres. Obama didn’t state any numbers for the games in budget dollars from his change troop withdrawal schedule, but many analysts and politicos point to money as one of the motivating influences for accelerating the drawdown timetable. (see front page New York Times June 22, 2011). The number of personnel in the armed forces per se will not be reduced, but the munitions used, the planes, helicopters, and Humvees trashed, new weapons purchased, and the transport of large numbers of people hin and yon, among others, will not have to be funded. But, “Where does the government buy these things?” You ask.

Well, I imagine that most of these purchases will be from US companies who produce most of the munitions and weapons on the world market. So what’s the diff.? If there’s no war, the money spent will be somewhat less, but, just like stopping infrastructure spending, the negative economic impact on our military/industrial complex will be substantial and not readily made up by increases in business by other companies. Military spending used to be our industrial policy and was extremely useful in generating the good life in the US for our glory years now rapidly receding into the distance. Of course, in those days we didn’t have trillions of dollars of debt generated in large part by Wall Street criminals.

Our glorified economists are in consensus about how to revive our moribund economy, but are similarly agreed that none of today’s tricks worked for FDR’s terrible depression. What did work? World War II. What worked for Louis XIV when the the nobles were after his neck for building Versailles? Burning down all the castles on the Rhine. What worked for Hitler when people’s paychecks were worth 50% less by the time they were issued ? World War II until they lost (However, Germany’s economy is doing alright today.).

It is so disheartening to hear Pres. Obama saying that we will just ask our innovators to build us a new economy out of thin air. I wish it didn’t sound like a Wall Street game, making an economy with wishes and manipulation. Granted, our innovators are pretty good at building businesses, but normally in spite of government rather than because of it, and new products and markets are fiendishly difficult to foresee and require a dollop of good luck and extraordinary timing to be successful. Success cannot be legislated. However, a good war generates targets for products and markets for the products once they exist. And the carryover of military computers and jet planes into the apres-bellum economy looks pretty good, too.

Today’s gurus are looking to energy independence as such an industrial-policy war. The product targets are windmills, better solar converters, fuel cells, etc., but the market for the power is the normal population and they have options. Hydrocarbons are just fine, thank you, and they’re cheaper and simpler. The motivation to use more expensive power for the unclear goal of energy independence is not as obvious as protecting your homeland from attack by a foreign power. Notice how developing economies like China and Spain are attacking and leading the alternative energy market because the US companies are too smart to put a lot of money into a marginal business area.

So bemoaning the loss of life, loss of money, and loss of prestige is to be compared to taking the bull by the horns and trying to impose a system of stable peace throughout the world through force, perhaps modeled on the 200 years of Pax Romana, or the hundred years of Pax Britannica. I think the economic consequences and the relatively minor loss of life in a world of 7 billion people leans toward Louis XIV’s solution. “ Apres moi, les deluges”.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Although we crust-dwellers walk on nice cool ground, underneath our feet the Earth is a pretty hot place. Enough heat emanates from the planet's interior to make 200 cups of piping hot coffee per hour for each of Earth's 6.2 billion inhabitants, says Chris Marone, Penn State professor of geosciences. At the very center, it is believed temperatures exceed 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the surface of the sun.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Truisms in Question

What goes around, comes around, but not soon enough. If there is no effect, can there be a cause? You can't be green without CO2. Down deep in my atoms, I believe in nuclear power. You don't have to be Beethoven to curse today's politicians. It's hard to see the forest for the trees, and myopia is a deadly disease. A doctor who hates science is like a day without sunshine. The status quo is death. Radiation is the splash of creation. The taste of greed is bitter or bilious. Grieg should be spelled with a B. Grief should be spelled like Bank. Greed should just be banned. Green should be (re)defined. Should'a ought'a not B.
Help is on the way, but it seems to have taken a wrong turn. "Heaven helps those who help themselves." To what, all the goodies? Give the middle class a helping hand. Help, I need somebody! Those Wall Street bonuses are generous helpings. The wheel that squeaks gets the grease. The lobbyists that squeak get the help.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Germany's Nuclear Plans

This is my first attempt at blogging. I am dismayed at Germany's politically motivated decision to shut down all its nuclear power plants. I am a elementary particle physicist who did research in Germany for five years a long time ago. My forefathers were partially German and my father was born in Central Texas in a town called Fredericksburg where the paper was printed in Gothic style letters and many people spoke German. It is hard for most people to appreciate the change in German mentality caused by the second world war. There is a powerful feeling of mistrust of self, particularly as regards controversial social change. It is hard for today's German to support an exposed position of their government in military matters and, in this case, in an area closely associated with military weapons.

The Fukushima Daiichi powerplant breakdown has killed no one and is not clear that it has harmed anyone. The presence of multiple core meltdowns in a populated area is both unproductive and inconvenient, but that is a commercial problem, not one of health. Low-level radiation has little or no connection to cancer, regardless of the inaccurate portrayals of Hiroshima, 3 mile Island, and Chernobyl as health disasters, not including the effects of the actual bomb explosion in Hiroshima.

All things considered, nuclear power is preferred over all others from various points of view. The first is the availability of fuel. There is enough uranium in sea water to power the world for about 50,000 years. Second is the lack of pollution during normal operation and the ease of clean up in the case of an accident. Third is the uniform availability of the fuel which deemphasizes the importance of small countries like Saudi Arabia from a global security perspective.

I can only assume that Angela Merkel who is a nuclear physicist herself is acceding to the demands of the German environmentalists and Green party in order to expose their naivete' before the rest of the nuclear fuel economies of the world. Every source of power generates its own risk. But we have to be clear headed when we evaluate the amount of risk, which means not reading a newspaper or magazine written by an uneducated journalist trying to sell papers. The risk involved with nuclear reactors is very small, when seen from a global perspective. The waste problem is another red herring generated by peoples fear of nuclear weapons and the medias misunderstanding of nuclear waste material. “The solution to pollution is dilution.”

Radioactive material comes from the earth and it can be put back in the earth without problem. Of course, there are scientific considerations as to how to do that, but it's not a political question. The problem is much simpler than how to dispose on the material from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Radioactive materials and radioactivity are natural, and all the mishaps at nuclear plants pale in consideration with the natural background radiation due to cosmic rays from the cosmos. Please keep your eyes on the real risk of radiation. How many people have actually died? How many cases of cancer are directly tied to radiation? On the other hand, how many people die in gasoline fires? Relieve yourselves of nuclear anxiety. Inform yourselves by talking to a scientist. But don't listen to groups of scientists who gather for political purposes. The science is clear, you don't have to form a group to understand it.

I hope that the future includes further sources of nuclear energy involving the fusion as well as fission, but for now nuclear reactors, continuously upgraded, offer the best solution to our energy problems.