Thinking about Thorium

I'm not, as yet, prepared to do a back-flip on Nuclear power. However the proposals behind reactors powered by Thorium, rather than Uranium, are quite compelling. Here's a summary of the advantages:

  1. The radioactive waste created by Thorium reactors decays over a much shorter time period - 200 years as opposed to many thousands by "traditional" nuclear reactors.
  2. Nuclear waste from "traditional" reactors can be inserted into a Thorium reactor and turned into regular Thorium radioactive waste - this means that Thorium reactors can permanently remove the radioactive waste stored around the world from traditional nuclear reactors.
  3. Thorium can be used to create nuclear bombs (the US tested a Thorium bomb back in the 1950s) but it is much more difficult to achieve and cannot be stored for very long (unlike Plutonium bombs).
  4. A melt-down is impossible in a Thorium reactor.
  5. Thorium is more widely available than uranium.
  6. Thorium does not have to go through many secondary processes to use it in a reactor, making it cheaper to use.
I do, however, have some concerns:
  • Any nation with a Thorium reactor has the ability to create weaponized Thorium. While it is not as "good" as plutonium it nevertheless increases the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation. Having Thorium reactors in the US, UK, Europe, Canada and other nations might seem acceptable... but what about Thorium reactors in third world nations? Would we trust Zimbabwe or Saudi Arabia or North Korea with Thorium reactors?
  • If a Thorium reactor is destroyed with conventional explosives (by terrorists or by an air force), what will the result be? Will a Chernobyl like radioactive cloud be released?
  • if a nation has a Thorium reactor, will they also, by proxy, have the technology to create and weaponize Plutonium?
  • Can radioactive waste from a Thorium reactor be used in a "dirty bomb"?
While I like the potential behind Thorium reactors, the danger posed by the concerns I have just outlined make me wary. Unstable third-world nations need a safe and reliable source of non-carbon emitting electrical energy in order for them to progress without harming themselves or the rest of the world. Coal and Gas plants in third world nations are "safe" but produce carbon dioxide. If they were replaced by (for example) wind, solar or geothermal energy then electricity would be available that is both safe and good for the environment. But a dictator who has a Thorium reactor under his control is far more dangerous to his nation and its neighbours than a dictator with a bunch of wind turbines under his control.

Current Real Interest Rates

* Source: The Economist (2009-12-17)
** 3 month bonds
*** Source: The Economist (2009-11-05)
† Indicates what effect the change in real interest rates has had on the economy. Any movement ≤ ±0.1% is considered "stable"

Real Interest Rates measure saving vs spending conditions. The higher the rate, the more saving is encouraged; the lower the rate, the more spending is encouraged. Changes in real interest rates over time can indicate changes in economic conditions.


Since November, real monetary conditions have improved markedly in the United States, dropping from 4.85% to 1.79%. This improvement has come solely from an increase in inflation, rather than any decrease in rates, which have remained steady during this period. With conditions this positive, we can probably expect 2009 Q4 GDP to be around +3%. The decrease in real interest rates to such a low level indicates that inflation is finally on the rise, which means that the Federal Reserve is likely to push rates up in 2010, or else run negative real interest rates to try to boost the economy - a process which would end in disaster. The speed at which real interest rates have dropped in the US is an indicator of a dangerous inflationary environment in the near future.

According to this measurement, the US is already experiencing negative real interest rates (using the effective federal funds rate as a benchmark rather than 10 year bonds)

10 year Bond rates in Ireland have plummeted from 5.04% to 4.73% in one week, pushing real interest rates down from 11.64% (in November) to 10.43%. This is an indicator of the market's response to Ireland's horror budget cuts and the belief that Irish government bonds are not as risky as they once were. Nevertheless, deflation reigns supreme in Ireland and monetary conditions are still awful. Ireland will have to rely upon a recovery in Europe to boost demand for its goods which will, in turn, act to inflate prices (and thus lower real interest rates).

In response to its economic crisis, Iceland chose to inflate rather than protect their currency. The result has been high levels of inflation along with growing unemployment, though by deliberately debasing their currency they delayed the inevitable economic crash. Now that delay is over. With real interest rates near zero (but still negative), monetary conditions have tightened as interest rates finally begin to lower inflation. Iceland's economy is beginning to seriously contract as a result.

Monetary conditions in Japan have stagnated somewhat, leading to an increase in real interest rates since November. This has led to the BOJ keeping interest rates at a record low and the government promising $81 billion in stimulus. My solution would be for the BOJ to create lots of money by fiat and use it to pay off government debt, which would a) help fix deflation, and b) help reduce government debt. Japan needs to increase domestic consumption rather than rely upon exports to help fix their economy.

Euro Area monetary conditions have improved steadily since November, indicating an improving economy. In November, the Euro Area had better monetary conditions than the US, but the increase in US inflation has reversed this situation. Like the US, Euro Area inflation has increased, but not by as much. As real interest rates drop, the ECB will begin to increase rates.

Despite budget problems in Greece and Spain, real interest rates in these two Euro Area countries has improved.

Both Australia and New Zealand have had stable monetary environments since November, indicating a move towards a neutral monetary stance on behalf of their central banks.

OSO's Debt Watch

GDP = $14.2421 Trillion (2009 Q3 final estimate)
Public Debt = $7.73650677397140 Trillion (2009-12-23)
Debt/GDP ratio = 54.32%
Population = 308,253,999 (Resident Population + Armed Forces Overseas, 2009-11-01)
Public Debt / person = $25,097.83
Tax Receipts = $2.063901 Trillion (Year-to-date, Monthly Treasury Statement, 2009-12-10)
Debt/Receipt ratio* = 374.85%


2009 Q3 GDP updated (final estimate)

In October 2008, the Debt/GDP ratio was 43.43%
In October 2008, Public Debt / person was $20,264.04
In October 2008, the Debt/Receipt* ratio was 231.82%

* The Debt/Receipt ratio measures year-to-date government revenue as a percentage of current public debt. A good way to compare it would be to compare your current income to what you owe on your mortgage.


Climate change - a new religion?

There is a comments writer at the Newcastle Herald who sees proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) as being part of a "false religion" or "cult". My personal feelings have been the opposite - that those who deny AGW, the sceptics or the "denialists", are part of a "false religion". Given that a recent survey of the Hunter Valley shows that one-third of people are to be considered "climate sceptics", that's obviously a very large "cult".

Evangelical Christians (of which I am one) are also ever mindful of new religious movements that challenge the claims of Christ. The rise of Neopaganism and the simultaneous rise of environmentalism and Green politics has led to a sort of "guilt by association", whereby evangelicals see "Greenies" or "treehuggers" as being ultimately satanic in origin.

This is not to say that sceptics are Christian and AGW proponents are not (I am both an AGW proponent AND a Christian) but the way these two groups have described each other in negative religious terms is problematic yet also understandable.

And, yes, I have described sceptics in such terms as well. Moreover I think that it is a good way of describing them.

Of course there is nothing religious per se about Climatology and the whole Global Warming debate. The use of the word to describe either side of the debate is not meant to literally label such a belief "religious" (though there is a point at which actual religion sometimes ends up being discussed, ie many Christians oppose AGW on religious grounds). What it is meant to convey, along with word "cult" would be the following:
  1. A commitment to the truth of their belief.
  2. The desire to change the world based upon the natural outworking of the belief.
  3. A belief that is not rooted in reality.
So from the point-of-view of scepticism, AGW proponents 1) believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, 2) want to reduce carbon emissions on an international scale to prevent global warming, and 3) are doing so either because they are stupid (AGW is false), misled (belief that the IPCC and others are right when they're not) or because they have ulterior motives (money, prestige, conspiracy theories).

But now take the opposite viewpoint. From the point of view of AGW proponents, sceptics 1) do not believe that current warming has anything to do with human activity, 2) do not want to reduce carbon emissions because it is unnecessary, and 3) are doing so either because they are stupid (AGW is true), misled (by media, think tanks owned by sceptics) or because they have ulterior motives (funded by oil and mining companies).

Daniel Okrent, former public editor of the New York Times, created the following adage:
The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true.
According to Wikipedia, this adage refers "to the phenomenon of the press providing legitimacy to fringe or minority viewpoints in an effort to appear even-handed."

What we have in this debate are two mutually exclusive polar opposites: Those who believe in AGW and those who don't. Now the fact is that one of these groups MUST be wrong -  there is actually no room for a third alternative viewpoint. Either the world is heating up because of human activity or it is not.

If a person believes in something that they hold to be truth, and if that truth demands action, then they will act accordingly. Whether or not their position is true in an objective sense doesn't enter into the equation, which means that this basic behaviour is quite normal and quite human. For those who believe, they will do x. For those who do not believe, they will do y.

This means that each group will naturally see each other with incredulity. "How can these jokers believe in / not believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming!? They are so committed to their position! They are like a false religion, a cult!". That is a natural position to take.

In the end, it comes down to information analysis and self assessment. Can we trust those experts who form the scientific basis of our belief at this point? Have we been guilty of believing stupid stuff in the past? How much knowledge of the subject do we need before we must let the "experts" take over and speak for us?

And that is why I am an AGW proponent and not a sceptic. I believe that a consensus of climatologists on this subject is all the evidence I need, regardless of where these people get their funding or which country they're from. I think that it is likely that the vast majority of climatologists have approached this subject with diligence and have come to their conclusions based on evidence, and I find it much less likely that these Climatologists have conspired and colluded over time to falsify the data for their own twisted ends. Moreover I also believe that, just as Big Tobacco hired doctors and scientists to confuse the public about the health effects of smoking in order to promote their own interests, so too do I believe that oil companies and mining companies are hiring scientists to confuse the public in order to promote their own interests (ie profit).

Moreover, I also note that there has never been any mass collusion of scientists to promote lies in history, whereas there have been multiple instances throughout history of quashing scientific knowledge by groups that are threatened by it - Big Tobacco attacking those scientists who discovered the link between smoking and cancer; the church attacking Galileo for his scientific progress. Science has obviously been corrupted by political operatives (eg Nazi Germany) but, left to itself, it has yet to deliberately use its power to lie and mislead the public. I see no evidence of political influence upon the world's Climatologists.

And those are my reasons for being a proponent of AGW, and the reason why many sceptics would see me as part of the "climate change religion", and the reason why I see them as being deceived by a "religion of scientific denialism".

There can be no "balance" here, because something IS true.


Blowing my own trumpet

At some point in the future I aim to begin formal study of economics. I think I'm good at it. Moreover I think that I'm damn good at it.

Over the years I have occasionally interacted with "real economists", either through the post or in person. I have proposed some of my ideas, only to be dismissed. This obviously means that a) I am a crank, or b) They don't know how brilliant I am. Believe me, I have often pondered the fact that I am a crank.

It wasn't until I began being taken seriously at the Angry Bear blog that I got the "kudos" I think I needed. I made mistakes too, which is common amongst informed amateurs like myself. The problem, though, is that I am self taught and outside the mainstream.

So why bother?

The problem concerns my own self understanding. I see myself as a logical thinker, so I have to rely upon things like facts to inform my own view of myself. Once I tried to be a comedian at a friend's wedding and the experience taught me that I was not going to become a good comedian. That's fine.

Back in 1996 I began developing a zero unemployment idea. I have revised it and retitled it and added to it and subtracted from it, and it is viewable here. My basic idea was that the labour market functions as a market, and that raising the price of labour through legislative means (the minimum wage) will only result in unused labour and thus unemployment. Having a system whereby unemployment is eliminated and workers get a decent income requires a form of wage subsidy, whereby the government "tops up" the wages of workers who are hired in an economic environment in which business can pay as much as it wants to for labour costs. I thought that it was a brilliant idea - it was pro-free market in the sense that employers could pay employees as much or as little as they wanted, while at the same time being socialist in the way that the wage subsidy ensured that no worker would be forced into wage slavery. Of course the important thing to realise here is that the result would inevitably be higher taxes to pay for such a redistribution.

So I took this proposal to an economist at a nearby university. I spent a hour trying to make him understand but he was coming from a completely opposite perspective - he argued that legislating higher wages will result in better conditions and lower unemployment. The fact that he worked for a think tank committed to lowering unemployment was interesting too. After being poo-pooed by him you'd think that I had sense enough to see that I was a crank, but no. I was convinced by my own research and then sent off my work to a bunch of famous Australian economists. Only one replied. In that letter he basically told me that my idea seemed to be influenced by Milton Friedman's "Negative Income Tax". While there was no "my goodness you are brilliant" or "please give up insulting me and the study of economics" lines in the letter, it was nevertheless encouraging. Think about it - I had come up with an idea, all by myself, that the famous Milton Friedman had come up with!

This was obviously self-motivating. Someone could probably say "this guy has copied a bit of Milton Friedman's work", but the reason why it was self motivating was that I had never read anything by Friedman. I knew that while I had come up with the idea by myself, that there was always a possibility that someone had come up with it before me. That this famous Australian economist had said so confirmed it to me.

Early on this year I was shopping and discovered a book titled "Little Book of Big Ideas - Economics". It was a summary of the ideas of famous economists and those who had influenced economics. What was interesting was that it included the input of such ancient luminaries as Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and even the 14th century Muslim philosopher Ibn Khaldun. So I bought it.

And then I discovered the section on Edmund Phelps. The 2006 Economics Nobel Prize winner guy. Here is the relevant section that I will quote:
In Phelp's 1997 book "Rewarding Work", he proposes that government pay firms wage subsidies to promote employment and higher wages for workers. The idea is that some workers can only earn a low wage, if based solely on productivity, so the firm can only pay them a wage that is so high. Many of these workers may prefer not to work for such a low wage under these circumstances, and choose to receive government benefits. If government steps in and subsidises a higher wage, this can draw such workers into the labour market and out of the dole. Thus employment can increase and dependence on government handouts fall, with workers earning a wage that provides a higher standard of living even while firms only pay what makes economic sense to them. Phelps calculates the cost of such a plan and concludes that it is affordable, given the benefit of higher income and employment.
I was gobsmacked. Literally. So literally that a gob flew down and smacked me.

This was, of course, what I needed to continue. My idea, my "Zero Unemployment Economic System" that I had been developing since 1996, had been formulated independently by an important economist (and eventual Nobel prize winner) at around the same time, and published.

Nevertheless someone might argue that I had merely "stolen" Phelps' ideas somehow. I suppose that is a possibility - but for myself I know that my idea was my own, which is why it motivates me. If I can come up with an economic system similar to that of a Nobel Laureate in economics, and do so completely independently of him and independent of any formal economic training, then, logically, I must have some level of brilliance.

What interests me, of course, is that none of the economists I interacted with were able to see that my proposal was similar to that of Edward Phelps proposal in "Rewarding Work". What also interests me is that I was part of a small band of professional and amateur economists who foresaw the economic disaster that we are currently in. But, then again, I do see myself as a bit of a Cassandra - fated to know "the future" but not have the ability to convince anyone of it.

About 5-6 years ago I formulated another idea - whereby a government can eliminate taxation altogether, create its funds by fiat and keep the resulting inflation controlled by adjusting the money supply. I dismissed it as too strange even for myself, but I kept coming back to it. Once I began to understand how the reserve requirement affects the money supply, I realised that this idea might work. I call it my Zero Tax Economic System. I still think it will work, and I also unaware of anyone else who has proposed it. Why continue to think it might work? Apart from being convinced by my own argument, I do have the Edward Phelps link - if I can independently come up with something that an Economics Nobel Laureate can come up with, then maybe I am worth listening to.

And that's why I have decided to blow my own trumpet.

Current Real Interest Rates

* Source: The Economist (2009-12-10)
** 3 month bonds
*** Source: The Economist (2009-11-05)
† Indicates what effect the change in real interest rates has had on the economy. Any movement ≤ ±0.1% is considered "stable"
†† Newly added to list

Real Interest Rates measure saving vs spending conditions. The higher the rate, the more saving is encouraged; the lower the rate, the more spending is encouraged. Changes in real interest rates over time can indicate changes in economic conditions.


The Limits of Climate Scepticism

Occasionally The Economist gets it right:
I woke up the other morning to find that I would have to confront yet another headache-inducing attempt to phase-shift my perception of reality, and that this would require wading into historical accounts of the collection and homogenisation of temperature data. On December 8th, a climate-change sceptic named Willis Eschenbach posted what he called the "smoking gun" of climate change data manipulation: a series of graphs of the uandjusted historical record of the temperature-monitoring site at the airport in Darwin, Australia, plotted against the same data as adjusted for various error factors ("homogenised") by the Global Historical Climate Network, or GHCN. Mr Eschenbach claimed the adjustment was so arbitrary, it had to be evidence of intentional manipulation.
(and then, after a lengthy piece exploring the evidence and dismissing Eschenbach's claims)
So, after hours of research, I can dismiss Mr Eschenbach. But what am I supposed to do the next time I wake up and someone whose name I don't know has produced another plausible-seeming account of bias in the climate-change science? Am I supposed to invest another couple of hours in it? Do I have to waste the time of the readers of this blog with yet another long post on the subject? Why? Why do these people keep bugging us like this? Does the spirit of scientific scepticism really require that I remain forever open-minded to denialist humbug until it's shown to be wrong? At what point am I allowed to simply say, look, I've seen these kind of claims before, they always turns out to be wrong, and it's not worth my time to look into it?

Well, here's my solution to this problem: this is why we have peer review. Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand. So for the time being, my response to any and all further "smoking gun" claims begins with: show me the peer-reviewed journal article demonstrating the error here. Otherwise, you're a crank and this is not a story.
I couldn't have written it better myself. It's a pity that The Economist doesn't have the same sort of attitude towards Peak Oil.


OSO's Debt Watch

GDP = $14.2663 Trillion (2009 Q3 second estimate)
Public Debt = $7.71003731876699 Trillion (2009-12-02)
Debt/GDP ratio = 54.04%
Population = 308,253,999 (Resident Population + Armed Forces Overseas, 2009-11-01)
Public Debt / person = $25,011.96
Tax Receipts = $2.063901 Trillion (Year-to-date, Monthly Treasury Statement, 2009-12-10)
Debt/Receipt ratio* = 373.57%


Tax Receipts updated for December 2009

In October 2008, the Debt/GDP ratio was 43.43%
In October 2008, Public Debt / person was $20,264.04
In October 2008, the Debt/Receipt* ratio was 231.82%

* The Debt/Receipt ratio measures year-to-date government revenue as a percentage of current public debt. A good way to compare it would be to compare your current income to what you owe on your mortgage.


More on Evangelicals and Global Warming

A comment I made here:

I suppose my point is about urgency and common sense. If a man is tied to rail tracks and a train is approaching, do you a) untie him or b) preach the gospel to him? Obviously you would do the first, then hopefully the second.

Global Warming has come about because of sin. Mankind has not looked after the earth that God left him to be steward over. Ultimately the answer to this sin is the preaching of the gospel, but there does need to be some "untying from the railway tracks" as well.

Sadly, many evangelical Christians have been convinced of the sceptic argument - a far greater proportion than the rest of society (probably due to their links with conservative politics). They have essentially "backed the wrong horse" to use a racing metaphor. They are tightening the ropes of the man on the railway tracks while preaching the gospel to him. Not a good situation to be in.

When environmental disaster strikes, and millions do die, will unbelievers see evangelical Christians as rescuers from the disaster or enablers of the disaster?

Wisdom - The Brian Jonestown Massacre


OSO's Debt Watch

GDP = $14.2663 Trillion (2009 Q3 second estimate)
Public Debt = $7.70691351169373 Trillion (2009-12-02)
Debt/GDP ratio = 54.02%
Population = 308,253,999 (Resident Population + Armed Forces Overseas, 2009-11-01)
Public Debt / person = $25,001.83
Tax Receipts = $2.075095 Trillion (Year-to-date, Monthly Treasury Statement, 2009-11-12)
Debt/Receipt ratio* = 371.40%


Population figures updated for November 2009

In October 2008, the Debt/GDP ratio was 43.43%
In October 2008, Public Debt / person was $20,264.04
In October 2008, the Debt/Receipt* ratio was 231.82%

* The Debt/Receipt ratio measures year-to-date government revenue as a percentage of current public debt. A good way to compare it would be to compare your current income to what you owe on your mortgage.

EDIT: Made some changes to Monthly treasury Statement. 2009-12-05 04-30-00 Z

A Savings Glut? More like a global imbalance.

(This is in response to an article in The Guardian).

 In order to argue that a "savings glut" exists, we must assume that a considerable amount of people all over the world have been busy not spending and not borrowing. This finds its expression in the current account status of particular economies - China, Japan and other nations have huge current account surpluses as the people in those nations save and produce rather than borrow and consume.

But economics is always a matter of balance. The international "savings glut" must be balanced by a commensurate "borrowing glut" elsewhere, where people and businesses are borrowing and consuming rather than saving and producing. Again this can be found in the current account - nations with current account deficits are nations who are borrowing and consuming too much.

To argue that the world is suffering from a "savings glut" is to place the blame on one part of the world over another. America has been part of a "borrowing glut" and needs to take responsibility for its part in the world economic crisis.

The reality is that the entire world has been suffering from an economic imbalance. You can't call it either a "savings glut" or a "borrowing glut". China and Japan saved too much, America and Britain borrowed to much, China and Japan produced too much, America and Britain consumed too much.

The ideal situation is for economies to balance themselves out and aim for a equal amount of borrowing and saving, and an equal amount of producing and consuming. This finds expression in a balanced current account, whereby the current account is neither in deficit or surplus over the long term.

Of course there is the idea that some nations should go through a savings phase or a borrowing phase. The problem is that with national currencies, such necessary phases lead to currency speculations and eventual imbalances. Just as it was right for the market to invest heavily in tech stocks back in the mid 1990s, so was it wrong for the market to over-invest in such stocks by the late 1990s. The same goes for currencies.

It is here that the advantage of a shared currency zone comes about. The European Union's current account has been very low since the introduction of the Eurozone in 1999. The Eurozone's current account was last recorded at -0.9% of GDP, which is very low compared to the -6% run by the US over the years and the +6% run by China over the same period. Yet within the Eurozone we see a number of nations running very different current accounts, with Germany and the Netherlands running large current account surpluses and Spain and Greece running large deficits. Yet because these countries are part of one currency zone, such differences do not result in currency speculation.

For nations with their own sovereign currency, the best solution would be for politicians and central bankers to realign their current accounts through fiscal and monetary means. This means that the US needs to reign in its current account deficit. It also means that Japan and China need to reduce their current account surpluses.

Remember - in economics, balance is the key. To argue that a current account deficit is bad and that a current account surplus is good is a return to bad old days of mercantilism. The fact is that both are bad, and that the closer the current account is to zero, the better the economy will be.

In the current situation, nations with large current account surpluses (such as Japan, China, Sweden, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand) need to revalue their currencies (sell off US dollars and buy their own currencies), lower their interest rates and set up fiscal stimuli. By doing this, these producer nations will begin to consume more and save less. At the same time, nations with large current account deficits (USA, Britain, Australia) should encourage savings by increasing interest rates. While this will depress domestic demand in these countries, economic growth will be focused more on the external demand driven by the stimuli enacted in the first group of countries.

As it stands now, unfortunately, the imbalances remain. The US, Britain and Australia have enacted stimuli while nations with large current account surpluses have protected their industrial base by keeping their currencies low. It's simply more of the same and does nothing at all to solve the problem except in the short term.


Cure for Twilight

This is the only Edward T-shirt you'll need. And it's real.


In Ireland, bacon comes from dogs and in Australia, sultanas come from Kangaroos.

From WW2 Canadian photos.


Not Sceptics: Conspiracy Theorists

Just found this over at Dave's site about the CRU Hack:
I’ve been watching the ‘controversy’ develop over the last week or so, and I have to say, it’s pretty dispiriting. Not because a global leftist conspiracy as been unearthed, but because of the renewed enthusiasm of the sceptics to shoot first, and ask questions later. It’s saddening to see how little hey understand, and how little they want to understand.

There’s a couple of posts here that look at a couple of the accusations: http://allegationaudit.blogspot.com

There’s a couple of reasonable posts here:
- Scientific American: Climate change cover-up? You better believe it
- OpenDemocracy: The real scandal in the hacked climate change e-mails controversy

Personally, I think I’m going to stop referring to the sceptics as sceptics, but rather conspiracy theorists. There’s nothing sceptical about the sceptics (and that’s nothing new) - but the wild political conspiracies people are so quick to believe in, and anything that looks vaguely like evidence for the conspiracy instantly becomes not just a smoking gun, but ‘the mushroom cloud’.

These are clearly irony-deficient people. They claim AGW is a religion for true believes, yet they believe in crazy, global conspiracies on scant evidence. There’s still no scientific counter to AGW, there’s not even a desire to understand the issue, or examine the new ‘controversy’ in any depth.

But then again, these are the people that gave us Iraq’s WMDs, so I guess a desire for understanding is not a high priority.
(emphasis mine)
Original Link.

OSO's Debt Watch

GDP = $14.2663 Trillion (2009 Q3 second estimate)
Public Debt = $7.61135586846705 Trillion (2009-11-24)
Debt/GDP ratio = 53.35%
Population = 308,013,326 (Resident Population + Armed Forces Overseas, 2009-10-01)
Public Debt / person = $24,711.13
Tax Receipts = $2.104614 Trillion (Year-to-date, Monthly Treasury Statement, 2009-10-01)
Debt/Receipt ratio* = 361.65%

In October 2008, the Debt/GDP ratio was 43.43%
In October 2008, Public Debt / person was $20,264.04
In October 2008, the Debt/Receipt* ratio was 231.82%

* The Debt/Receipt ratio measures year-to-date government revenue as a percentage of current public debt. A good way to compare it would be to compare your current income to what you owe on your mortgage.


I'm not alone on Government debt

James Hamilton, Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego, and a contributor to Econbrowser, says this about Paul Krugman's sanguine attitude towards government debt:
Normally, you'd think that putting off repaying a debt does not make it any smaller. The federal government can (with my wallet) pay the trillion today, or it can wait 10 years to pay one trillion plus 10 years' interest, or wait 20 years to pay one trillion plus 20 years' interest. The present value of the service cost on one trillion dollars in debt is exactly one trillion dollars today, no matter how long you put off paying. My comments on how much a trillion really is are perfectly appropriate for discussion of any repayment timetable.

Perhaps Paul is suggesting that there may be a potential free lunch available from postponing payment in this case, arising from the fact that the economy's growth rate has historically exceeded the government's cost of borrowing. If I put off paying another year, with interest the amount I owe grows 2% in real terms, but my income grows 3%, so things get easier the longer I put it off.

Let me go on the record as favoring the consumption of truly free lunches. If everything the government buys really is free, then by all means, let's have them buy more, and more, and more, and rather than double my taxes, let's cut taxes all the way to zero. Unfortunately, I expect that Paul would agree with me that in fact there is a limit to just how much we can count on supersizing this particular happy meal.
That last point is one of my arguments - if there is a limit to cutting taxes then logically there is a limit to how much debt the government can take upon itself.

I asked a friend the other day to compare his mortgage to his annual income, which he figured out to be 580%. For smaller economic entities like households and businesses, such a huge debt/income ratio is expected and normal. Nevertheless the bigger an economic entity is, the more risky such debt/income ratios become since its collapse would have a huge secondary impact.

The US Government's debt/income ratio is currently 362.64%. That's too large in my opinion.


Nazism and book burning

One way to check on the various beliefs of German Nazism is to look at the books they banned and/or burned. Thanks to someone at Reddit, a link has been provided to a site which translates the original German book-banning guidelines into English. What we find is interesting:
  1. "The literature of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism." Well I guess that pretty much confirms the idea that Nazism and Communism are NOT the same thing.
  2. "Pacifist literature", which means that anyone morally against war cannot be described as a Nazi.
  3. "Literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes", so anyone slightly interested in, say, progressive policies cannot be described as a Nazi.
  4. " Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism", which means that Nazis were not Darwinists or Evolutionists when it came to Eugenics, and which pretty much proves that Darwinists are not Nazis.
  5. "All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk." which means that atheism was certainly not a Nazi ideal and that atheism is not associated with Nazism (BTW, Hitler was not an atheist).
So what can we conclude?
  • Nazis hated Marxism and Communism.
  • Nazis hated Pacifism.
  • Nazis hated Democracy and progressive politics.
  • Nazis hated Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory.
  • Nazis hated Atheists.
Jonah Goldberg and Ben Stein need to check their sources.

Why invest in America?

This graphic is from the recent Economist magazine and can be found at this link:

It seems rather clear that overseas sharemarkets are performing better than the DJIA and S&P500 - even when you take out the falling dollar they are better.

Update on the CRU hack

I just discovered that the hack and the emails did not originate from the Hadley Climate Research Unit but from the University of East Anglia. Obviously some emails from CRU ended up being shown (since CRU and UEA would communicate with one another) but the hack and the data should be read in this particular light. No one is going to get a complete picture of how an organisation works by looking at emails from another organisation, so any evidence needs to be incontrovertible and clear, which it apparently is not.

Realclimate says:
As many of you will be aware, a large number of emails from the University of East Anglia webmail server were hacked recently (Despite some confusion generated by Anthony Watts, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Hadley Centre which is a completely separate institution).
In regards to actual quotes being used, Realclimate says:
No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.
Of course, committed climate change denialists would begin reading that sentence before their eyes glazed over, and then respond to it by saying:
  • You're just trying to explain it away!
  • But the email says...
When in reality they are saying
  • I have no idea what that explanation means, so I'll just keep saying it's wrong because it's easier than trying to understand sciencey stuff.
  • How come a heavy metal band has a guy playing a keytar?


Current Real Interest Rates

AGW and the Cru Hack

AGW and the Cru hack sounds like a really bad band, hence the picture. Actually it's got nothing to do with music, so sorry for misleading you!

AGW is, of course, "Anthropogenic Global Warming". CRU is short for "Climatic Research Unit", specifically the one at the University of East Anglia. And "hack", in this case, means "to devise or modify (a computer program), usually skillfully".

What it all adds up to is that hackers have broken into the CRU server, stolen a whole heap of information - specifically climate data and staff emails - and then sent copies of the 61mb file all over the internet for people to see. The BBC is reporting it here.

Although the hackers themselves have broken dozens of laws and making private emails is, shall we put it, unethical, the security breach may help to provide vital information for those interested in Global Warming - both the advocates (like myself) and the sceptics. What it will show is the pure, unadulterated and honest opinions of those who work for an organisation that promotes one side of climate science thinking. It is a snapshot - warts and all - of what goes on in a scientific community that believes current global warming is caused by human activity.

Of course there will be plenty of dross. The emails will contain derisive opinions of Manchester United fans, discussions about what sort of Indian restaurant in Norwich provides the best Korma, the Heydon bed and breakfast booking for two research students conducting a secret affair and whether or not "New Moon" will be a good film. But what it will also provide (hopefully) is evidence as to whether data is ignored or manipulated or not, and whether there is some sort of shadowy conspiracy going on.

RealClimate, the blog I go to on a daily basis to read about Climate Science, has this to say about the CRU hack:
Since emails are normally intended to be private, people writing them are, shall we say, somewhat freer in expressing themselves than they would in a public statement. For instance, we are sure it comes as no shock to know that many scientists do not hold Steve McIntyre in high regard. Nor that a large group of them thought that the Soon and Baliunas (2003), Douglass et al (2008) or McClean et al (2009) papers were not very good (to say the least) and should not have been published. These sentiments have been made abundantly clear in the literature (though possibly less bluntly).

More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.

Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.

It’s obvious that the noise-generating components of the blogosphere will generate a lot of noise about this. but it’s important to remember that science doesn’t work because people are polite at all times. Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him. Science works because different groups go about trying to find the best approximations of the truth, and are generally very competitive about that. That the same scientists can still all agree on the wording of an IPCC chapter for instance is thus even more remarkable.
Linus' Law states "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow", which in the context of software development means that open source coding is superior to closed source because its very openness and transparency ensures quality. While the CRU hack was certainly an invasion of privacy, it does allow us to view the "bugs" in this scientific community and determine whether or not their work is flawed. I await the results, and am reasonably confident that it will only bolster the case for those who believe in AGW.

If it doesn't, I'll start listening to Alestorm.

EDIT: 160mb of data. Sorry. Link also to The Guardian.


OSO's Debt Watch

GDP = $14.3015 Trillion (2009 Q3 advance figures)
Public Debt = $7.63227364191639 Trillion (2009-11-18)
Debt/GDP ratio = 53.37%
Population = 308,013,326 (Resident Population + Armed Forces Overseas, 2009-10-01)
Public Debt / person = $24,779.04
Tax Receipts = 2.104614 Trillion (Year-to-date, Monthly Treasury Statement, 2009-10-01)
Debt/Receipt ratio* = 362.64%

In October 2008, the Debt/GDP ratio was 43.43%
In October 2008, Public Debt / person was $20,264.04
In October 2008, the Debt/Receipt* ratio was 231.82%

* The Debt/Receipt ratio measures year-to-date government revenue as a percentage of current public debt. A good way to compare it would be to compare your current income to what you owe on your mortgage.


Adelaide has been hot these last 12 months

Why government deficits are a problem

I feel rather alone in the economics world at the moment, especially after reading this:
Think of an economy this way: the people in any economy buy goods and services from one another and from the outside. In any given time period, one person, one company or one group/sector might use credit in order to buy more goods and services than it makes in income. It’s like spending future income by using credit. This puts that individual, company or group/sector in deficit i.e. they have spent more money than they have earned. Now obviously, if one sector is in deficit in a given period (i.e. they have spent more capital than they have earned), then the other sectors are in net surplus (i.e. they have received more cash than they have earned).

Let’s give these groups/sectors of the economy names: the private sector, the public sector and the foreign sector. Giving the groups names makes it plain that if the public sector is in deficit, the combined foreign and private sectors must be in surplus. Simply put, if you look at all of the households and businesses that make up the private sector and aggregate them together, you can determine if the private sector has a net surplus or a net deficit in any individual time period. And if the private sector has a net surplus, the combined foreign sector and public sector must have a deficit for that time period. The sector financial balances move in concert.

What this means for today is that a government which reduces its deficit in a given time period is forcing an equal reduction in surplus in the private and foreign sectors. So that means, in aggregate, the private sector and the foreign sector will reduce the surplus cash it is taking in over what it spends.
I see this viewpoint as being very blinkered. I mean, if the recession is destroying the ability of the non government sector to save, and if the government runs deficits such saving increases, then what is the point of even having taxes? I mean, why not simply remove taxes completely and have the government simply borrow what it needs and run massive, massive deficits all the time? And if people are worried that the government can't pay the money back, why not simply borrow more money to pay off increasing debt levels?

Businesses can close, individuals can go bankrupt, but governments cannot be allowed to fail. If a government reaches a fiscal crisis it must transfer its problems to individuals and businesses via taxation or inflation. The alternative - letting a government collapse - will result in everything collapsing. If government can survive, then new businesses can eventually form to employ individuals. Without government, such a recovery would be impossible (unless you think anarchy is a good thing).

No business runs itself completely on debt. Acme Widget Corporation can't borrow $1 billion per year to produce widgets that it provides for free for anyone who wants one. In such a scenario, AWC will no longer be able to procure funds and the company will collapse. When it comes to government, you can't just keep borrowing money and running deficits all the time. And although government is "safe" from a financial perspective, any deficits the government run ends up having the negative effects being transferred to the economy. These negative effects are:

1. Internal: Reduced levels of government spending in order to pay back debt.

Let's assume a government runs a fixed deficit year after year and also a fixed amount of spending year after year. This government, spending $10 billion per year and borrowing $1 billion per year, may look reasonably stable in its expenses. The actual numbers themselves don't change much.

This, however, hides what actually occurs. With increased levels of debt comes an increasing amounts of debt servicing, which - if spending is kept fixed - means that the government spends less on important things (defence, law enforcement, education, health, etc) and more on debt servicing. As I pointed out back in 2008, Italy has gotten itself into so much government debt that more than 41% of government spending is directed towards debt servicing. From an accounting point of view, things are balanced... but the reality is less money going to where it is needed.

In short, what occurs when governments run big deficits is more money going towards investors and less money going towards the people. Social problems caused by a poorer population then begin to eat into GDP.

2. External: A devaluation in currency.

Because the national government is linked to the national currency, any increasing risk of government debt default results in scaring international investors. This then results in the international market repricing that nation's currency accordingly - not only does the price of borrowing increase (interest rates) but so too does the value of the currency drop. Inflation hits the nation, along with increased import prices and a drop in real wages.

An inability to control fiscal deficits was one reason why so many Latin American economies had currency devaluations during the 1970s and 1980s. This is why controlling deficits was part of the Washington Consensus.
Now while I'm not a Keynesian per se, I do agree with the idea that governments should run fiscal deficits during recessions to increase aggregate demand. However, I also believe that governments should run fiscal surpluses during periods of growth. You can't be a Keynesian during a recession and then expect to become a Reaganite during a growth period.

Some people have likened the idea of cutting deficits during a recession to be as short-sighted as Hoover back during the depression. But the United States in 2009 is much different to the United States under Hoover in 1930. It's true that Hoover shouldn't have been afraid of government debt and should've embraced deficits. but the level of public debt in the US in 1930 was minuscule in proportion to the economy. By contrast, Obama in 2009 is embracing big deficits, but the sheer amount of money already borrowed since 1981 has placed the US government into a very poor fiscal position. That is why I believe current US government deficit spending is unsustainable.


Catastrophic Fire Warning for South Australia

A heatwave has been hitting South Australia hard since the beginning of November. I'll let the stats tell you:

Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Link.

For American readers who read things in Farenheit, you might like to convert the figures here. Basically the mean low and high temperatures this month have ranged from 17.5°C (63.5°F) to 32.1°C (89.8°F). As you can see, temperatures passed 37°C (98.6°F) six times this month. Whew! And now there's this:
The weather bureau has issued Australia's first "catastrophic" bushfire danger rating for two parts of northern South Australia tomorrow.
The Country Fire Service (CFS) says any fires in the North West Pastoral and Flinders districts will be uncontrollable and there is a very high likelihood that people in their path will die.
The weather bureau says there will be a combination of extremely high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity in the two districts.
It is the first time the rating has been used in Australia since a new national warning system was introduced after Victoria's deadly Black Saturday bushfires in February.
The Country Fire Service's Euan Ferguson says even the most prepared residents should leave their homes by the morning.
"It really will depend on the onset of those very strong wind conditions," he said.
"I would say that at the very latest by 10:00 tomorrow morning they should be in their safer place."
Wendy Shirley of the CFS Volunteers Association estimates that about two-thirds of those in bushfire-prone areas have not heard warnings or do not think it affects them.
"It's those two thirds of people that are not only putting their own, their families' lives and their neighbours' lives at risk, but also the lives of our volunteer firefighters," she said.
The Adelaide Forecast doesn't look good:
  • Wednesday. Min 20°C (68°F) Max 39°C (102.2°F)
  • Thursday. Min 25°C (77°F) Max 41°C (105.8°F)
After that things should cool down for a few days. Adelaide is not, of course, the target of the fire warning but areas to the north. I visited South Australia back in November 1999 and to the Flinders districts mentioned in the warning and, while it can get quite hot and dry, it was certainly not a desert. There'll be plenty of trees and scrub - and properties - that might get consumed if any fire breaks out. Dust storms are also likely.

Need I remind people that it is not summer yet down under?

Mount Remarkable National Park. Will this be gone in a few days?


(I just found this funny. I'm not making any hints about my personal life!)


Experimenting with grain cooking

As a result of my creation of that rice and lentil dish a while back, I've been doing some more thinking and research, and this morning I made a rice and lentil porridge:

  • 50ml White Rice (I used Basmati)
  • 50ml Red Lentils
  • 400ml Water
  • 1 teaspoon powdered chicken stock (or 1 chicken stock cube)
  1. Place ingredients in saucepan.
  2. Heat to boiling point.
  3. Reduce heat to low, place lid on saucepan.
  4. Simmer for 25 minutes.
  5. Serve.
  • Serves one adult - adjust servings to fit the amount of people being cooked for (double for two people, triple for three people, etc)
  • Powdered beef stock can be substituted for the chicken stock in the ingredients.
  • Powdered vegetable stock can be substituted for the chicken stock in the ingredients, making it a truly vegetarian dish.
  • I measured the rice and lentils by using a shot glass of each.

What I ended up with was a nice, tasty, savoury porridge. The lentils had disintegrated while the rice was engorged with water. While it was different in taste and consistency to regular porridge (what Americans call "oatmeal") the same proportion of dry ingredients to liquid is used, namely 4 parts liquid for every dry ingredient. For Oatmeal it is generally 4 parts water to one part oats.

Of course I have added lentils to the mix, and lentils pretty much act the same way as a grain when cooking. Lentils, however, are high in protein and when added to rice provide the body with a complete set of proteins that are missing if a person eats only staple food.

As I pointed out, though, what has interested me is the proportions. In my last rice/lentil post I gave instructions for a 2:1 liquid:dry ingredient ratio, and this was great for creating a fluffy rice and lentil dish. Today's recipe, however, doubles the amount of liquid (and that's the only real difference), which means that it produced a porridge consistency. As I did more research I discovered gruel, which seems to have an even greater proportion of liquid. Congee, a tasty Chinese gruel, appears to have an 8:1 liquid:dry ingredient ratio. I'll try to make that at some point, probably with short grain rice.

What I'm also going to experiment with is the use of other grains. If I replace the rice/oats with millet, barley, sorghum, maize or wheat, will I end up with the same sort of result (though different in taste and consistency)? Moreover, will the liquid:dry ingredient proportions remain the same?

Let me just end here by saying that this sort of food is exceptionally cheap to buy and cook. It is high in complex carbohydrate and protein, low in fat, and high in fibre.

Liquid:Dry Ingredient ratio

Steamed = 2:1
Porridge = 4:1
Gruel (Congee) = 8:1

Some good news for Europe

The Lisbon Treaty finally got ratified. It took its time. This should make EU-wide decision-making a lot easier, not to mention the potential for adding new members.

One nation which aspires to join is Moldova, a former Soviet republic (as opposed to an Eastern-bloc nation). Recent elections in the nation have placed a coalition government in place that call themselves the Alliance for European Integration.

2012 and the problem of taking real threats seriously

2012 is a new film about the end of the world starring John Cusack. It is directed by Ronald Emmerlich - the same guy who destroyed the world in Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. The choice of the title, the year 2012, is due mainly to the idea that the Mayan calender predicts that the end of the world will occur in 2012 (apparently, if read and interpreted in a certain way). No doubt the film will also highlight the 2012 phenomenon, which Wikipedia says is "a range of beliefs and proposals positing that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur in the year 2012."

So the idea is that you have 2012 the phenomenon, and you have 2012 the film, which is based very loosely upon that phenomenon.

Aang finally defeats the evil Fire Lord, but at what price to humanity?

Apparently the film has received all sorts of bad reviews. I think that's a good thing. I personally think that the entire 2012 phenomenon is going to be a load of rubbish and people will look back upon it in the same way as other apocalyptic scenarios that never happened (eg Comet Kohoutek; The Montanists and their New Jerusalem).

As a believer in Peak Oil and Global Warming, though, I do believe that the world is heading towards some sort of economic and social disaster that will take a long time to recover from. Annoyingly, apocalyptic films like 2012 end up misinforming people as to the nature of the problem and any potential solutions. When global warming and the whole "Greenhouse effect" was first touted as a serious problem back in the 1990s, Hollywood decided to use good science as the basis of a particular film, and in the process threw science out the window.

Not a denialist.

, from what I can gather, is just another Emmerlich destroy-the-world pic. Aliens did it in Independence Day, Godzilla did it in some film I can't remember the name of, and global warming did it in The Day After Tomorrow. 2012 just continues the theme, except it's based on wow weird Mayan prophecy (you know, the same people who didn't prophesy the Spanish conquest of South America).

For Hollywood, the premise can be weird, it can be spiritual, it can be scientific - what matters is what the result looks like on the big screen. So for the consumers what we have is a simple conclusion - the world can end through weird prophecy, through monsters, through global warming and through alien invasion. And all are fictional.

Just another bad Hollywood screenplay.

The reality is that both Global Warming and Peak Oil are threats to our world, but they are threats which are grounded in science, not fiction. Will there be some major threat to our world which appears in 2012? There might just be, but it won't be on the scale of 2012 the film. And even if nothing of consequence occurs in 2012 it may occur later. When it comes to being a futurist, the what is more important than the when - we don't exactly know when things will get worse, we just know that they will.

Societal collapse is the danger we face when we take into account the dangers posed by Global Warming and Peak Oil. History is replete with examples of societal collapse, from the Great Depression to the Black Plague.

I'm not dead yet!

What we have learned from societal collapses in the past is that it is never the "end of the world", and that some areas are worse hit than others. Some collapses are localised or regionalised. Other collapses are mild while some are severe and last centuries.

What we do know is this: Peak Oil advocates believe that the world's oil output will begin to steadily and irreversibly drop, forcing our society to find alternatives to motorised transport and suburban living, a process which will result in a lengthy period of economic stagnation. Global Warming advocates believe that mankind's pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution has led to a warming effect upon climate, and will eventually lead to rising sea levels. The climate change caused by this process will result in low-lying areas of the world being permanently inundated by seawater, as well as causing droughts in food producing areas as well as floods and increased threat of hurricanes and cyclones in tropical regions. This is enough to measure potential deaths in the millions. It will not be the "end of the world", but it will be the end for many.

To conclude, don't watch 2012. It's silly. Don't worry about Hollywood threats to the world - but do worry about threats that have a sound scientific basis.



"Our very way of life is under siege," said Mortensen, whose understanding of the Constitution derives not from a close reading of the document but from talk-show pundits, books by television personalities, and the limitless expanse of his own colorful imagination. "It's time for true Americans to stand up and protect the values that make us who we are."

According to Mortensen—an otherwise mild-mannered husband, father, and small-business owner—the most serious threat to his fanciful version of the 222-year-old Constitution is the attempt by far-left "traitors" to strip it of its religious foundation.

"Right there in the preamble, the authors make their priorities clear: 'one nation under God,'" said Mortensen, attributing to the Constitution a line from the Pledge of Allegiance, which itself did not include any reference to a deity until 1954. "Well, there's a reason they put that right at the top."

"Men like Madison and Jefferson were moved by the ideals of Christianity, and wanted the United States to reflect those values as a Christian nation," continued Mortensen, referring to the "Father of the Constitution," James Madison, considered by many historians to be an atheist, and Thomas Jefferson, an Enlightenment-era thinker who rejected the divinity of Christ and was in France at the time the document was written. "The words on the page speak for themselves."

According to sources who have read the nation's charter, the U.S. Constitution and its 27 amendments do not contain the word "God" or "Christ."

Mortensen said his admiration for the loose assemblage of vague half-notions he calls the Constitution has only grown over time. He believes that each detail he has pulled from thin air—from prohibitions on sodomy and flag-burning, to mandatory crackdowns on immigrants, to the right of citizens not to have their hard-earned income confiscated in the form of taxes—has contributed to making it the best framework for governance "since the Ten Commandments."

Full factual report here.

Photograph: The U.S.S. U.S. Constitution.

American Physical Society rejects Global Warming denialism

The American Physical Society, one of the largest and oldest scientific societies in the world, has an "official statement" regarding Global Warming. Here it is:
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.

The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.

Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Naturally the "denialists" (those who actively promote the view that global warming is either not occurring or is not man-made) have had an issue with the APS statement, so a number of APS members put a petition through to the APS council. The idea was to change the "official statement" (which I quoted above) to the following:
Greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, accompany human industrial and agricultural activity. While substantial concern has been expressed that emissions may cause significant climate change, measured or reconstructed temperature records indicate that 20th 21st century changes are neither exceptional nor persistent, and the historical and geological records show many periods warmer than today. In addition, there is an extensive scientific literature that examines beneficial effects of increased levels of carbon dioxide for both plants and animals.

Studies of a variety of natural processes, including ocean cycles and solar variability, indicate that they can account for variations in the Earth’s climate on the time scale of decades and centuries. Current climate models appear insufficiently reliable to properly account for natural and anthropogenic contributions to past climate change, much less project future climate.

The APS supports an objective scientific effort to understand the effects of all processes – natural and human --on the Earth’s climate and the biosphere’s response to climate change, and promotes technological options for meeting challenges of future climate changes, regardless of cause.
The APS responded thus:
The Council of the American Physical Society has overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to replace the Society’s 2007 Statement on Climate Change with a version that raised doubts about global warming. The Council’s vote came after it received a report from a committee of eminent scientists who reviewed the existing statement in response to a petition submitted by a group of APS members.
What is interesting about the APS response are the final two sentences:
As a membership organization of more than 47,000 physicists, APS adheres to rigorous scientific standards in developing its statements. The Society is always open to review of its statements when significant numbers of its members request it to do so.
So how many APS members backed the denialist proposal? It seems that the number was around 160, which is a very small number when compared to the 46,840 members who didn't sign it. If denialists are to succeed in swaying scientific opinion, they need to get more scientists on their side. A proposal backed by 0.34% of APS members is hardly enough to matter. Moreover it seems to suggest that a consensus of scientific opinion exists within the APS that the current official statement is correct.

It is true that over 31,000 American scientists have signed a denialist petition, but since there are 2,157,300 scientists in the US (at least in 2001), that's still barely more than 1.4%. If a controversy did exist, you'd expect there to be more scientists up in arms about global warming. A good rule of thumb would be 20% - if 20% of scientists disagree with anthropogenic global warming then you could argue that a controversy does exist. I look forward to denialists getting 400,000 more signatures.

Posted this at Reddit

Here: Someone was complaining (rightly) about Krugman's latest column.

There's something to be said for the axiom that any problems caused by cheap money in an economy cannot be solved by cheap money in an economy.

I have no problems with Keynesian stimuli - I just think it should be sustainable.

Here in Australia, our government completely paid off public debt, so when the time came to spend up big to kick start the economy, it was sustainable.

In the US, however, big spending stimulus occurred when public debt was already at absurdly high levels. In effect the government had been "stimulating" the economy for most of Reagan and most of Bush 1 and Bush 2. At some point the "chickens have to come home to roost" and the debt must be paid off by running fiscal surpluses (which occurred under Clinton's second term but was nowhere near enough). The longer you leave paying debt off, the harder it will be to do and the more negative effect it will have upon America.

BTW This is not like Hoover and the great depression. Keynes rightly argued that governments should run fiscal surpluses during a depression. Hoover tried to limit government spending because running large deficits was not really a policy that had been tried before. There was certainly no huge debt already there preventing Hoover from doing it.

Fast forward to Obama and the general consensus amongst more left-leaning economists like Krugman is that the stimulus was justified and it worked. I disagree, mainly because of the fact that the US has accrued too much debt already. Had Bush 2 continued Clinton's surpluses it is likely that the federal government's fiscal position would be such that Obama's big spending would be sustainable and would not come back to "haunt" America. But since the debt was already too big, the only option is austerity (the government paying off debt during a recession).


Current Real Interest Rates

OSO's Debt Watch

GDP = $14.3015 Trillion (2009 Q3 advance figures)
Public Debt = $7.58837393303829 Trillion (2009-11-10)
Debt/GDP ratio = 53.06%
Population = 308,013,326 (Resident Population + Armed Forces Overseas, 2009-10-01)
Public Debt / person = $24,636.51
Tax Receipts = 2.104614 Trillion (Year-to-date, Monthly Treasury Statement, 2009-10-01)
Debt/Receipt ratio = 360.56%

Note: In October 2008, the Debt/GDP ratio was 43.43%

I have begun to include the "debt/receipt ratio". The idea is that you measure annual income against debt in the same way as you would compare a company's level of net debt compared to their income. This will be measured as year-to-date tax receipts compared to the current level of public debt. By way of comparison, here are the results from 12 months ago:

Tax Receipts on 2008-10-01: $2.523858 Trillion (also see here)
Public Debt on 2008-10-01: $5.85079125496739 Trillion
The Debt/Receipt ratio on 2008-10-01 was 231.82%


Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures is a supergroup. Over the least few months the internet has been raving about this band and their upcoming new album, which is due very soon.

The band, knowing just how to appeal to the world's internet citizens, has uploaded their entire album onto Youtube so anyone can hear it for free. Will this hurt their CD sales? I very much doubt it.

The three people who make up the supergroup are a who's who of musical talent. In the picture you see here on the page (better version here) you can see the three members. The guy at the top is Dave Grohl and he is the drummer. He is playing a guitar in the picture because he is a multi-instrumentalist. Grohl is known for being the drummer for Nirvana and the guitarist / lead vocalist for the Foo Fighters. The ordinary looking bloke in the middle is Josh Homme, the guitarist for the band and also a multi-instrumentalist. Homme is known as the guitarist for Kyuss (one of my favourite bands) and for Queens of the Stone Age (who Grohl used to drum for once), and as the drummer for The Eagles of Death Metal (which is neither a death metal band nor an Eagles-sounding band).

But it is the third person in the picture who is the real star - John Paul Jones, the former bass player for Led Zeppelin. Jones is 63 frigging years old but still rocks like a youth. By comparison, Grohl is 40 and Homme is 36, so Jones is almost as old as the other two guys put together. To put it in even more perspective, when Homme was born, Stairway to Heaven had been out nearly two years. Jones, in other words, is old enough to be Grohl's and Homme's father. I've seen live footage of Them Crooked Vultures of the band in action (see here) and Jones looks like he is enjoying himself greatly.

Anyway, I haven't been this excited by a new band since, um, the last time I was.

John Paul Jones here. Josh Who? Josh from? Josh from where? The Queen of what?

Windy weekend in Spain delivers record amount of renewable energy to grid

Da Guardian:
Wind energy provided more than half of Spain's total electricity needs for several hours over the weekend as the country set a new national record for wind-generated power.

With high winds gusting across much of the country, Spain's huge network of windfarms jointly poured the equivalent of 11 nuclear power stations' worth of electricity into the national grid.

At one stage on Sunday morning, the country's wind farms were able to cover 53% of total electricity demand – a new record in a country that boasts the world's third largest array of wind turbines, after the United States and Germany.

For more than five hours on Sunday morning output from wind power was providing more than half of the electricity being used. At their peak, wind farms were generating 11.5 gigawatts, or two-thirds of their theoretical maximum capacity of almost 18GW.

The new record, which beat a 44 % level set earlier last week, came as strong winds battered the Iberian peninsula.

The massive output of wind turbines meant the Spanish grid had more electricity than was needed over the weekend. In previous years similar weather has forced windfarms to turn turbines off but now the spare electricity is exported or used by hydroelectric plants to pump water back into their dams — effectively storing the electricity for future use.
That last sentence is important - energy was stored. Although wind and solar energy is dependent upon atmospheric conditions, if enough electricity is generated then excess power can be stored. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is a mature technology that has been used all over the world for decades but is dependent upon good locations for a hydroelectric dam. Other energy storage solutions include Flywheel energy storage, (in which excess energy is turned into mechanical energy which then drives a generator when energy is needed) Hydrogen storage (in which excess energy is used to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis, which is then turned back into electricity via a fuel cell) and Thermal Energy Storage (in which molten salt is heated directly by the sun and the heat used to drive a steam turbine during both day time and night time). None of these solutions prevents a loss of energy, but neither does the pumped-storage hydroelectricity that we have used for decades.

The more renewable energy a grid takes on, the greater will be the need to develop energy storage for the grid.