Monday, March 30, 2009

Bye bye Rick Waggoner

Glenn Beck was all upset about dumping the GM president, Mr. Waggoner. Unconstitutional, power grab, socialism, exceeding the authority of the office, and more.
I don't buy that. Obama merely said that he wasn't going to pump any more taxpayer money into GM unless there was new management. Waggoner took the hint. He is no loss. He has been running GM since 2000. During Waggoner's time at the helm, GM's stock has dropped to worthless, market share has dropped, and they have lost money every year since 2004. Waggoner is not a car guy, he could not tell a good car from a bad one. Not like old Lee Iacocca who invented the Mustang, the K-car and the minivan. Which is why GM has few to no good cars to sell. He hasn't been able to get GM's lenders to take a haircut, and hasn't been able to get UAW to concede enough to bring GM's costs in line with Toyota's. Who needs a car company president who knows little about cars, can't negotiate with the union, can't get his quality control up, lets the corporate bureaucracy run amuck, and is ineffective dealing with lenders?
GM's board has been totally ineffective for decades, if Obama didn't give Waggoner the heave ho, who would?

Can electricity be transmitted from Iowa to New England?

The windmill enthusiasts have been talking about America, the Saudi of wind power. Install windmills in the breezy midwest and transmit the juice to the coasts. That's quite a haul. The old rule of thumb was electric power transmission worked for 400 miles, losses become excessive for anything more. From the midwest to the coasts is a helova lot more than 400 miles.
Question, has the state of the art improved enough to ignore the 400 mile rule of thumb?
Losses in wire are equal to current squared times resistance of the line. Power transmitted is volts times amps, and so power is transmitted at the highest possible voltage, to reduce the current. Since the losses are caused by current, the lower current means lower losses.
Wire is aluminum, cause it is much lighter weight and lower cost than copper. Some fiddling with Excel gives the resistance of 400 miles of American Wire Gauge 0000 aluminum wire (0.43 inch diameter), the largest size in the wire table, as 170 ohms.
Consider transmitting 1000 megawatts (output of just ONE nuclear plant) over 400 miles. Use the highest voltage you dare, 750000 volts. That requires a current of 1333 amps.
Not good. Of the 1000 megawatts put into the line, fully 300 megawatts, 30% is lost as heat. That's gonna run up the cost of power. And we have only gone 400 miles.
Use thicker wire you say? Lets try that. Double the wire diameter, which increases the cross section, (and reduces the resistance) by four times. That helps some. At 400 miles the loss drops to 7.5% (tolerable) but it's still 30% at 1600 miles, the distance from Iowa to New England.
So, before signing on to a glorious green future based on mid west windmills, the T. Boone Pickens solution, better get some quotations on transmission lines, and line losses.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hedging, a value destroying strategy

Wall St is in love with "hedges". As in hedging your bets. At Vegas, the hedger at roulette bets half his money on black, the other half on red. Spin the wheel, and doesn't matter which color comes up. You win one, you loose one, and you don't loose all your money. Of course you don't win much, but it's "safe".
On Wall St, they like to speak of credit default swaps, and puts and shorts and such as "legitimate hedges" as opposed to outright gambling. Clever brokers invent complex plays which preserve value no matter which way the market moves. They buy credit default swaps on shaky bond issues. The small cost of buying the swap guarantees the bond buyer against loss, if the bond defaults, the credit default swap pays off and makes the bond buyer whole.
This isn't what the market is supposed to do. The market is supposed to route investment money into winning enterprises and shut off credit to loosing ones. Economic growth, and jobs come from funding winners, not pouring money into losers. The bond buyers should be buying bonds from companies that will make enough money to pay off the bond. But with a hedge, a credit default swap, the buyer can buy high yielding bonds issued by losers and buy a credit default swap to cover the risk of the bond defaulting, which it is likely to do as soon as the loser loses big enough.
This is diverting valuable investment capital into losers. Is there any rational reason left to permit the sale and purchase of credit default swaps?

What good is a ten year budget forcast?

I notice the Obamanauts have suddenly started talking about the ten year budget, and crowing about the wonderful deficit reductions to come ten years from now. Does any one really believe that predictions for ten years from now mean anything? Or is the ten year talk merely a way to obscure how bad the numbers for this year are? Like predicting the budget deficit in ten years will be less than next year and claiming that is a "reduction".
Honesty requires us to talk about this year's budget, not the imaginary future budget.

Tim Geithner, Master of evasion

Geithner was on the Stephanopolis talk show this morning. He talked and talked but didn't say much. He only mentioned a number once (he thinks he has $130 billion of TARP money left to spend). The rest was the vague motherhood and apple pie stuff that doesn't tell us taxpayers what Treasury is going to do to fix Great Depression II. He didn't offer any real reasons for pouring money down the AIG rathole. He appears to think bank failures are bad, and even the most brain dead zombie bank should be given more taxpayer bailout to continue operations. He still believes in the extremely rosy Obama predictions of 4% economic growth in a year. He made no mention of anti trust action to break up or prevent the formation of banks too large to fail. He hopes the toxic asset program will work, even after the mau-mauing of AIG. Lots of hope and change, not much concrete planning.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Words of the Weasel Part 10

"Invest". Used by democrats when they mean "spend".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Laser hits 100Kw mark.

Northrup Grumman's Joint High Power Solid State Laser demo hit 105.5 Kw using seven slab laser amplifier chains to produce a single beam. In tests the laser operated at full power for 5 minutes. It's electrically powered and has a 20% conversion efficiency. That means it needs 500Kw of electricity input to make 100Kw of laser beam. Although 500Kw sounds like a lot, especially for a truck borne system, such a generator could be driven by a 700 hp diesel engine.
By the way, has anyone else noticed that every DoD project is named "Joint" this or that. Joint Strike Fighter, Joint Combat Pistol, Joint Belt Buckle, etc. Can interservice rivalry still live?

A picture is worth 1000 words. Graphic Deficits

Good post here with scary graphs of the Obama deficit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I heard Obama saying things that ain't so

This evening Obama said the deficit he inherited from Bust was 3 trillion dollars. No so, Bush was running about a half a trillion. Then he said his budget cut the deficit in half. Not so, his budget deficit is going to be 2-3 trillion a year, which is 4 to 6 times the Bush deficits.
Then he said the solution to Great Depression II was education, health care and green energy. Not so. The US has college graduates driving taxi cabs, and the best (and most expensive) health care in the world. US energy needs call for more nuclear power plants, off shore drilling, shale oil development, not windmills and solar cells.

The electric grid, need for smartness thereof

Wired Magazine is pushing for spending money on the national electric grid. They claim the existing grid (transmission line network) is worn out, old fashioned, and hindering the progress toward a green future. Clearly more porkulus money is required to bring the system up to modern greenie standards.
They go on to rave about clever electronic boxes that monitor this and that and allow consumers to see how much juice they are using.
Actually, the transmission grid is there to keep customers lights on if/when a generator fails. The generators are connected together by transmission lines, and if one fails, power from neighboring generators flows into the affected area to keep the lights on. With a few exceptions, like the great blackout of 1965, the grid works well. The grid only needs capacity to flow enough power to support one or two downed generator plants, say 1 or 2 gigawatts.
The grid does not have capacity to route 100 gigawatts from the midwest to the east coast. Line losses grow the farther the electricity travels, and 400 miles is about as far as is practical. Losses are set by basic physics and no amount of R&D is going to lower the resistivity of aluminum or raise the voltage at which air breaks down and permits a lightening bolt to leap from wire to ground. 400 miles is enough to bring power from Niagara to New York City or from Quebec Hydro to New England. It ain't enough to ship Iowa windmill power to Boston. No amount of porkulus money will make transmission lines work over that distance.

George Soros gets it (WSJ Op-ed)

Soros at least understands the dangers of "credit default swaps" otherwise known as bond insurance. He is in favor of limiting sale of credit default swaps to holders of the bonds to be insured. He claims that bears drive down the value of company bonds, and hence their credit rating, but taking out credit default swaps against their bonds. As more and more credit default swaps are bought, the price goes up, and the market takes the rise in price as a sign of financial weakness.
The trouble is, buying credit default swaps costs little but can pay off big, where as selling them makes little money but carries humungous risks. The $170 billion bailout to AIG has gone to pay of the credit default swaps that defaulted. $170 billion is enough money to choke a hog.
According to Soros, the big Wall St disasters, Lehman, Bear Stearns, AIG, were caused by bear raids, groups of traders deliberately driving down their stock prices. I don't buy that, I figure the Wall St disasters occurred when investors wised up to the fact that the emperor had no clothes. After making huge loans on real estate that defaulted, the market decided that the dear departed firms were broke.

We Need Honest Accounting (WSJ op-ed)

The author, James Chanos, argues for retaining "mark-to-market" accounting rules. Bank folk have been whining that mark-to-market has ruined them, after they mark their dodgy assets down to market, they find they no longer have the legally required reserves on hand. Chanos says that carrying worthless assets at the purchase price is a way of hiding losses from stupid investments. He favors relaxing the reserve requirement rather than hiding losses.
The reason we require banks to have reserves is so they can pay out withdrawals AFTER a big loan goes bad. If the bank cannot honor a withdrawal, it's toast right then and there. To this end, the reserves have to be liquid, preferable cash. Really solid things like US treasuries might be OK, but unsalable mortgage backed securities are not OK.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Toxic Assets push Dow up 500 points

The long awaited "toxic asset relief" program was rolled out today. Timothy Geithner had a long and exceedingly vague op ed in the Wall St Journal. The Dow is up 500 points at closing, so the market likes the idea. Or perhaps the shares of Citibank (one of the 30 Dow industrials) got a big boost. So on the surface the plan is working, at least for now.
Geithner's WSJ piece was remarkably vague as to who would put up how much money. Listening to Fox and WLTN I get the impression that us taxpayers are putting up the bulk of the money, with just a thin 6% cover layer of private money and 94% taxpayer money.
There is a lot of happy talk about how these toxic assets aren't really so bad and investors who buy them now will profit in the future.
There is some question in my mind as to why we taxpayers should be shelling out to prop up a handful of Wall St banks who threw vast amount of cash down sewers and now find them selves short. The vast majority of real banks, the ones located out in the real world rather than Wall St, don't have toxic asset problems. There are about half a dozen big banks that got stuck on stupid and lost all their money on the housing bubble. There is no reason to believe that these banks would be smart enough to make loans that grow the economy, so why keep them alive. Close them up, pay of the depositors and move on. They have proved their unfitness to survive.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Paying bills by Internet

So far, I haven't done the electronic bill pay thing, not trusting the security of the internet, Windows, and clueless IT departments at my vendors.
But my bank is driving me toward it. First they gave up on returning canceled checks some years ago. Now they are giving up on furnishing a facsimile of the check. My last statement just has DDA Check number so and so and an amount. Unless I am supermeticulus at filling out the check book, when I write the check, balancing the check book is a totally lost effort. So much for "progress" by "financial service companies" aka banks.

Friday, March 20, 2009

So what's wrong with cramdown?

The banks are against it, naturally. The way things work now, bankruptcy court has full power to tell creditors how much they are going to recover, if anything, and in general divvy up the bankrupt's assets among his creditors. Typically the holders of credit cards and car loans take a haircut, the bankrupt gets to keep enough of his salary to buy groceries and everyone goes away mad, except the bank. Home mortgages are exempt, the bankruptcy court cannot write them down ("cramdown"). The banks get a bigger slice of the bankrupt's assets than the other creditors.
The banks like it this way, and claim that mortgage rates are lower because the mortgage is more secure, so they can offer a better rate, and are more likely to do a mortgage than they would be if bankruptcy could lower the value of said mortgage.
Of course, as we struggle with Great Depression II, that was caused by absolutely reckless mortgage lending by the banks, we might have been better off if the banks had been less eager to do sub prime, alt A, and liars loans.
In the real world, banks shouldn't be granting mortgages to people likely to declare bankruptcy. Plus the mortgage rate is whatever Fannie, Freddie, or the Fed are willing to lend at.
Maybe cramdown would improve mortgage lending standards, something sorely needed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Anger Management

The country has a lot of anger, building up higher and higher, and just waiting for a target to land on. Obama can sense this, and he is trying to discharge the lightening bolt by offering up sacrificial lambs (aka scapegoats). First he tried to incinerate Rush Limbaugh and now he is trying to draw the lightening down to strike AIG. Trouble is, after you call out a lynch mob, you gotta have a real lynching, leaving bodies swinging from lampposts. Otherwise you just look wimpy.
I think AIG is going to skate out of this more or less intact. Ed Liddy, the cleanup guy, came across well on TV. He claimed he was stuck with the bonuses by previous management. He had run the offending bonuses by the Feds and gotten something between a "do your own thing" and an OK. Treasury and the Fed have not contradicted Liddy, so he is creditable. Liddy made a fair business case for what he called "retention bonuses". I'm not fully on board with Liddy about that, but he did make a case. So far, Treasury says they are going to deduct the $160 million worth of bonuses from the next $30 billion bailout payment. That's 0.5% and won't make that much difference in the larger scheme of things. It is a far cry from bodies hanging from lampposts.
Obama made this media theater. He could have told Liddy "cancel those bonuses" and made it stick. He didn't. He wanted a circus and he got one. Doesn't look like he is going get real blood out of AIG. He might get a "tax all bonuses away" law thru Congress, but that won't satisfy the voters like throwing some Wall St stock brokers/gamblers into jail would.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Grilling AIG

Congress had the president of AIG before a committee to grill him about the AIG bonuses. Liddy, the AIG president, is a new broom brought in to clean house after AIG started taking federal bailouts. He had retired from running AllState, and was brought in to run AIG. Liddy is working for $1 a year.
Liddy explained that the bonus's were a done deal before he got there. The bonuses were to retain some key individuals who were unwinding AIG's stupendous portfolio of credit default swaps and other dodgy paper. Liddy stated that they had reduced AIG's exposure by $1 trillion, and had another $1.6 trillion to go.
Liddy came off pretty well. He sounded sincere and serious and wasn't evasive.

Colt New Agent .45 ACP pistol

Cute looking little automatic pocket pistol, the kind small enough to tuck into a sock. Nicely made, beautifully finished, beautifully photographed for the magazine article. Styled just like the real thing, the .45 Government Model automatic pistol. Except it is much shorter, lower, and lighter.
It's still chambered for .45. "At the range, several shooters noted that the New Agent was an effective pistol with some difficulty associated with the sharp recoil."
Translation, it kicks like a mule. I can believe that, the regular, heavy, .45 auto kicks hard, and the muzzle blast is startlingly loud. A handgun shorter and lighter, firing that cartridge, is going to kick so hard as to be next to useless.
But it's handsome.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama on the budget

Obama was on TV a few minutes ago urging passage of his next budget. He talked for 15 minutes without uttering a single number. He did use a couple of percentages, like "I will reduce the deficit 50%" when the deficit last year was $1/2 a trillion and the Obama deficit will be $1.5 trillion. But he didn't tell us how big the budget was, where the money was going, and any reasons for spending the money. He was eloquent without informing. Four square for motherhood and apple pie.

Mini Spooky with Windows

US Special Operations Command is agitating to replace the AC-130 gunships with something new. Granted the AC-130 has been around since Viet Nam. but it still works well. The proposed replacement would be the smaller twin engined C-27 light cargo plane, just coming into service.
Not too sure about that. The first gunships were C-47's about the same size as the C-27 and the program moved up to the C-130 to gain the size needed for bigger guns, lots of ammunition, and a larger crew. The C-130, large as it is, can operate out of short dirt runways, which is as difficult as it gets.
USAF Lt Col Brenda Cartier was quoted in Aviation Week saying she hopes to upgrade the old fire control computers on the AC-130 to a Windows-based System. Arrgh. What has happened to the Air Force? Everyone knows Windows is too crash prone and virus vulnerable to be used for anything serious.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bonuses for Boneheads

AIG is still stuck on stupid. They are paying out $160 million in bonuses, after accepting $140 billion in taxpayer bailout. Geithner claims to have jawboned AIG management about it and AIG said they were contractually obligated to pay the bonuses. The proper response should have been "Pay bonuses after loosing $140 billion dollars and that's the last bailout you are ever going to get."

2300 Jet liners parked 'cause of Great Depression II

Aviation Week has a graph of grounded (parked and retired) airliners going back to 1989. Pretty steady rise from 400 in 1989 to 2300 today. The post 9/11 peak was only 2100. Two questions. What can you do with elderly airliners? How can Boeing's backlog of almost 900 orders for the 787 hold up with 2500 old but flyable planes sitting in the Arizona desert for cheap?

Is Osama still alive?

These folk think he is dead. They claim voice print analysis and comparison of the last dozen Osama tapes doesn't match earlier recordings which are known for sure to be from Osama. They claim CIA is getting it wrong. CIA has repeated helped bin Ladin by authenticating "his" audio tapes. CIA should NEVER comment upon the authenticity of anything from bin Ladin. The CIA seal of good housekeeping should never be given to enemy propaganda. Let the enemy do the work of selling their propaganda, don't do their work for them.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Plastic in the hot section

According to Aviation Week, General Electric and Rolls Royce are going to make the third stage low pressure turbine vanes from a composite material on the F135 engine for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Revolutionary. The hot section of jet engines runs so hot that up til now only exotic nickel super alloys could take the heat. The improvements in engine specific fuel consumption since the 1940's all come from better alloys that allow engines to run hotter with out melting the turbine. Now we have a composite that can take the heat.
Composites started with fiberglass (still used to make boats and Corvettes) and moved up to carbon fiber composites used for the fuselage of the newest Boeing 787 airliner (so new it hasn't made it's maiden flight yet). Composites offer far greater strength to weight ratios than metals. This composite is made from silicon carbide fibers with a ceramic binder. The final trick appears to be infiltrating the material with molten silicon to fill any voids. The high temperature composite can reduce the weight engines (the weightiest part of aircraft) giving better fuel consumption and longer range.
Hot section service is the most demanding application. A composite tough enough for the hot section is tough enough for plenty more applications.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Toxic Assets

Newsie after newsie tells me that the US banking system would be OK if only those toxic assets would some how go away. Presumably they are talking about those securities backed by mortgages that are now in foreclosure, the underwater mortgages that will likely default in a few weeks, and the bond insurance ("credit default swaps") issued on the bonds of Lehman, Bear Stearns and other losers.
"Somehow go away" means Uncle Sam takes this dodgy paper and gives the banks some amount of cash for the privilege.
Why do the banks care so much? Probably 'cause of the "credit default swaps". These are legally enforceable contracts. In the event of some company (Citi? GE? GM? Plenty-of-Others) goes bankrupt, the proud owner of the "credit default swap" has to pay off the bond holder, the full face value of the defaulted bond. These deals looked really good a couple of years ago when the banks were stuck on stupid, and they look like instant bankruptcy bombs now. Some big outfit is going to go broke, and when that happens the "credit default swaps" will take down the holders. Where as if the banks could get good old Uncle Sam to take these things they are home free. When the big bankruptcy happens Uncle has the money to pay them off, or Uncle has good lawyers to weasel out of them, or Uncle runs the courts in which the creditors have to sue. One way or another, Uncle, using our tax money, can cope, whereas the tottering banks cannot. This is why bank stocks have dropped into in dollar a share (next thing to worthless) area.
Question for Obama. Is Uncle gonna take this loss, or is it cheaper to let the stupider banks take the fall?

Friday, March 13, 2009

How to actually stimulate the economy

As opposed to just wasting taxpayers money. The economy is sliding down the chute because of a lack of demand. Nobody is buying anything, and so the producers, transporters, and support industries are out of work. The lack of demand is due to petrified consumers. 70% of US GNP was consumer spending, clothes, cars, consumer electronics, appliances, houses, and luxury goods. Great depression II has frightened the consumers with loss of their jobs, destruction of their stock market holdings and wiping out of the value of their homes. Being rational, consumers are saving money for the rainy day they see coming. They aren't going to buy anything except groceries until they feel safe (or at least safer). Giving them handouts (like Bush did last year) or tax breaks, or more unemployment benefits, or medicaid, or student loans isn't going to make the consumer spend. The consumers are battening down the hatches and getting ready for Armageddon. Nor are they going to borrow any money, once having made the decision not to buy, obviously they don't need the loans. It's the fear of unemployment, not lack of consumer credit, that's killing demand.
To stimulate this desperate economy, we need to give money to institutions that will turn around and spend the money on something else. For instance, let's buy some tankers for the Air Force. Uncle gives Boeing money for the plane. Boeing has to spend the money on parts to make the plane. For instance half the cost of an aircraft is in the engines. So a billion goes to Boeing, Boeing sends half a billion to Pratt & Whitney, plus a lot more to all the other parts suppliers. The money is multiplied by about 1.75 as the prime contractor pays the first level sub contractor who pays the third level sub contractors. This is real stimulation. The companies HAVE to spend the government money, they have no choice.
So, stimulus happens when Uncle buys goods and services. And buys them this year, not five years from now. And this is the problem with the porkulus bill. Of the $787 billion, only 11% is spent this year, and only a quarter of it is buying goods and services. The vast majority goes for unemployment compensation, medicaid, student loans, hiring government workers, and other unproductive uses. The democrats used the fear of great depression II to fund all their favorite give aways for the next five years, rather than stimulate the economy.
What Obama ought to do is repeal the porkulus bill and do another one spending the money on planes for the Air Force, rockets for NASA, off shore oil exploration, high speed rights of way for Amtrak, nuclear power plants, ships for the Navy, airports for the airlines, and tanks for the Army. Then spend more on research into fusion power, genetic engineered bacteria that turn garbage into gasoline or crops that grow in dry sand, cellulosic ethanol, and a cure for cancer. Even if the research doesn't pay off for many years, the researchers will spend most of the money on equipment.
Right now we are in a tight corner. $750 billion for TARP and $787 billion for the ineffective porkulus has expended the credit of the US government. We can't raise much more by selling T-bills. We shot our wad, and wasted it.

Budget Booze

Here is my list of good booze cheap. Not that I have anything against the Jack Daniels and Johnny Walkers of the world, but these brands taste good to me and cost less. I buy by the 1/2 gallon (actually 1.75 liters these days) so the prices are the 1/2 gallon prices at the NH state liquor store. All the whiskeys are good with club soda or just over ice.

Old Crow Bourbon. Smooth, flavorful, $13
Evan Williams bourbon About the same but $17
Ballentines Scotch Nice scotch tang, smooth $20
Clan MacGregor Scotch Surprizingly good. Blended & bottled in Scotland $13
Canadian Hunter A good Canadian whiskey. Canadian omits the sweetness of corn and the tang of Scotch, leaving a good smooth drink $11
Booth's Gin. 90 proof so it has a little more kick than Gordon's $13

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adobe Reader vulnerable to malware

A posting on Slashdot alerted me to a vulnerability in Adobe Reader of the ultra bad sort, the sort that allows hackers to take over your computer. There is a patch from Adobe. If you have Adobe Reader 9, you can load the patch from within Adobe. Just open Adobe Reader, click on Help and then click on "Update" and the patch will download and install.
The Slashdot posting implied that patches only exist for Adobe Reader 9, and earlier versions are vulnerable and unpatchable. If you are running earlier Adobe Readers, it might be a good time to upgrade. The program is a free download.
Most computers have Adobe Reader on them, it's free and it's a standard. If you web surf, you will click on a .pdf file sooner or later and that will start Adobe Reader, so this one ought to be fixed even if you don't use Adobe. After applying the patch, my Adobe Reader now shows version 9.1.0 in the Help About box.

The New Hampshire Advantage

For those not in the know, that's a Republican slogan up here. Was watching NECN last night and they reported that NH has the lowest unemployment rate in New England, by a good deal. NH is 5.1% unemployment, as opposed to Rhode Island at 10 and a skosh percent.
Back when I was going to school the economists said 6% was the "normal" "frictional" unemployment rate. So by the old standard, NH isn't feeling Great Depression II at all, yet. Standards have changed a bit since then, but still, NH is doing better than the competition. Let's hear it for no state income tax and no state sales tax. Let's hope we can keep it that way despite the best efforts of the democrats down in Concord.
I used to worry about the strength of the NH economy. Too much dependence upon tourism and not enough manufacturing. Jobs so scarce that teenagers moved out of state to find work. Hmm, maybe it ain't as bad as I used to think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weather, changeable

Had one heluva storm last night. Wind howled around the house and we got 2-3 inches of new snow. In the morning the wind was hurling ice chips at the windows with attention getting bangs. By 10 AM the power went out.
I decided I might as well call PSNH to report the outage. Picked up the new Fairpoint telephone book. Looked under "P" for PSNH. Nothing. Looked in the yellow pages under "Electric", zilch. Finally dug out the old Verizon phone book. There it was, right under "P" with a 1/3 column display ad highlighted in yellow. So much for improved service from Fairpoint...
The robo phone at PSNH predicted the power would be back within two hours, and sure enough, the lights came back on right on schedule.

Franconia Town Meeting

It ran long, long , long. Started at 7PM and we didn't get out til 11. Those cheapy folding chairs get hard and uncomfy after four hours. It was packed, Town Hall upstairs filled up, and the overflow was routed downstairs and could only hear from the loudspeakers. Someone from the building dept had posted a sign explaining that 114 people were the maximum safe for the upstairs. Next year they plan to move town meeting to the school gym.
Rich Mcleod was re-elected and John Lachapelle was elected to fill the remainder of Carl Belz's term. Carl's health has gone downhill and he had to resign before his term expired. Carleen Quinn is the third member of the board of selectmen.
There was an hour or more of discussion of the Franconia water project. An effort to place the entire cost of the project on the users water bills was defeated. About a quarter of the cost will go on the real estate tax, meaning that the large proportion of the town that is on wells will contribute to the water project. The final written vote was overwhelmingly in favor. The project will break ground this summer.
Next big discussion item was the emergency service. Right now the volunteer life squad ($50K plus $150K new truck last year) handles the 911 calls. Apparently they missed a call or two last year. There was a motion from the floor to let a $10K contract to Ross Ambulance for coverage. After a lot of discussion the motion was defeated, but I daresay the Life Squad is going to feel the pressure for the rest of the year.
It was 10PM when the budget (Article 3) passed, and we still had 20 more articles to go. Looking grim. Fortunately the rest of the articles were un controversial and we sailed thru them with little discussion. We appropriated $24K to pay off legal fees from the Christopher King suit, $94K for a new truck. I resisted the impulse to ask what the mileage on the old truck (a 2004 Ford) was. We voted to give a tax
break to solar electric/hot water systems, but voted against giving the same tax break to wood fired furnaces. Something like 20 out of 23 warrant articles were approved. Lesson learned, if the selectmen will put it on a warrant article it will most likely get approved at town meeting.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Intelligence Sharing, Not.

From today's Wall St Journal, we have "Group Finds Intelligence Gap Persists". The bipartisan Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age says "Today we are still vulnerable to attack because- as on 9/11- we are still not able to connect the dots."
Not surprising. Intelligence agencies fear that intelligence sharing leads to leaks to the press which can reveal the names of agents, getting them killed, or let the enemy know his codes have been cracked, leading him to change the codes. You'd have to be really stupid to share anything with CIA, since everything CIA knows goes right to the New York Times. Any rational intelligence agency is going to resist exposing its secrets to other agencies for fear the other agency will blow the secret. There is a saying "Three people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead."
It's unrealistic to expect professional intelligence agencies to share anything with anyone. They have learned you keep secrets by not telling them, to anyone.
For more intelligence sharing, you have to do what the Russians did, put all intelligence gathering into the same organization, KGB. That works, but it's scary. We divvy up intelligence work between CIA, FBI, NSA, Defense Dept, State Dept, and God knows who else, to keep the intelligence agencies small and weak, so they can't take over the country.
Best we can hope for, given the fragmentation of US intelligence system, is to get them to share lists of bad guys. Failure to do this was a big part of 9/11. State dept passport and visa people will let most applicants into the country unless the other intelligence agencies give them lists of bad guys to keep out.

Who will watch the Watchman?

Well, I did last night. The film opened at the Jax Jr over the weekend, so the real fans had already seen it. For Monday night, there was still a good crowd, mostly teenagers. As a registered member of the old fogy club, I haven't read the comic book upon which the flick was directly based. It's a superhero comic set in an alternate United States in the year 1986. The Cold War is still on. Nixon won a third term. The twin towers are still standing. The characters are all superheros, some active, some retired. For reasons of copyright none of them bear names like Batman or Superman, but you kinda catch on. I mean who else could a guy who wears a black costume and a hood with ears be? The settings are all gritty, rainy, New York urban, bad side of town. Frank Miller's "Sin City" sets the tone. Grimy interiors with old fashioned appliances. Neato old cars, gadgets, guns, and hairstyles, something of a nostalgia trip for us old fogies, I wondered how the teenagers were relating to all the old fashioned stuff.
For characters we have Dr. Manhatten, tall, glows blue, disdains clothing, full frontal nudity with anatomic correctness. Can teleport, swell up to become 50 feet tall, levitate heavy machinery, most powerful. Rorschach, a tough as nails city detective type, snap brim hat, leather trench coat, and a curious white mask covering eyes, nose, mouth and all with black rorschach patterns that crawl across it. Rorschach doesn't do Miranda warnings, and his interrogation methods would make Osama bin Laden sing like a canary. There is the Batman stand in, and a really cute lady superhero with a slick costume. And Comedian, wears body armor, carries a pump action 12 gauge, mustache, and really crude manners.
The movie is all confrontations, verbal, or violent, or sexual. Nobody likes anybody else much, even after intense sexual relations. All characters have character flaws on display, front and center. The overall plot is indescribable.
While the superheroes are confronting each other, there are period piece clips, Kennedy's fatal motorcade in Dallas, Richard Nixon, complete with ski jump nose, setting up nuclear war with the Soviets in a warroom right out of Dr. Strangelove. Another amusing shot of "The McLaughlin Group". I'll never be able to take them seriously again.
It runs forever, 160 minutes. The scenes are so intense you keep watching, but when the movie finally ends, it's not clear what has happened or who has won or lost. It is unclear which superhero is the protagonist and which is the bad guy. It's like the first Indiana Jones movie, non stop action, even if it doesn't make much sense. Only the action is faster and more violent.
According to my internet review sources, it raked in $50 million over the weekend.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Industrial Policy

I just heard a clueless newsie on Fox calling for "an industrial policy from Washington" to create a US based renewable energy industry. Arrgh.
Industries are not created by "industrial policy" Industries spring up to serve customer needs when ever the customer has money to pay for it. We will get a renewable energy industry as soon as anyone can make money selling renewable energy. Right now electricity from renewable sources costs 10 times what electricity from conventional sources does. Plus wind and solar electricity goes off when the wind stops blowing or the sun sets. Which makes such electricity both expensive and undependable. Who will buy that?
No amount of industrial policy can create an industry to loose money.

Breakup on the Gale River

Yesterday the ice broke up on the Gale River. You can see open water, flowing and foaming thru town. It warmed up and rained the night before which lowered the snow level a bunch. Yesterday got up to 46 F and sunny. Roads dried off and it got warm enough to sit on the porch. Plus the sun didn't set til 7 PM. Almost seemed like spring.
Didn't last. It's snowing right now with two inches down.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cap & Trade equals carbon tax

The fair and straight forward way to encourage fuel conservation (aka reduced carbon emissions) is a fuel tax. Why the mysterious "cap & trade" in place of something straight forward? Simple. Cap & trade lays the fuel tax on industry, where as a fuel tax (a carbon tax) hits everyone, and the voters have made it clear they are dead set against fuel taxes. Cap & Trade is a concealed tax, only industry had to pay it, and industry doesn't have the vote. So industry cannot squawk, it has to shut up and pay up.
Cap & Trade, has industries purchase emission permits for so much per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. Oh by the way, carbon emitted cannot be measured, it has to be estimated. Needless to say the guys doing the estimates have quite a bit of leeway and for suitable encouragement (campaign contributions or bribes) can reduce the estimate (and the need for expensive emission permits) by 50% or more. Or these same guys can punish the industry by raising the estimates by a lot, should they feel mean that day. Failure to receive a payout will bring out the blue meanies in most guys.
Then there is the "trade" part. Markets and brokers and futures for emission permits will spring up, giving employment to laid off wall streeters. Should an industry stupidly buy more emissions permits than it needs, it can sell them to others. Or perhaps worthy third world planters of trees and reforestation projects can print and sell emissions permits. Plant a thousand trees and print an emission permit for 1000 tons of CO2 per year. Sell it for what ever the market will bear. And maybe they can get away with just printing the certificates, and hope no one comes out and actually counts the trees. Coal smoke emitted in the first world is compensated by new trees planted in the third world. I can't wait. Extra air pollution in the first world (where I happen to live) is all OK just so long trees get planted in the third world.
Obama is budgeting for a couple hundred billion extra federal income from "Cap & Trade". I need to budget for more expensive electricity, gasoline and furnace oil.
Global warming is such a threat that more snow is forecast tonight.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Health Care Pt II

According to several sources, 20% of the nation's health care costs are incurred in the last year of the patient's life. Clearly this is ineffective medical treatment ‘cause the patient dies. Sometime or other, we are all going to die. If we are lucky, we die peacefully and suddenly in bed, at home. Most people aren't so lucky. They get sick before they die. Naturally friends and family take the sick loved one to the hospital. Since the elderly patient has medicare, the doctors do every sort of expensive test and procedure, because they can bill for it. It doesn't really matter whether all this care cures the patient or not, because it's all paid for.

To curb this waste, doctors should not be paid if the patient dies during treatment or before release from the hospital. In fact, if the patient dies within 30 days following treatment, the doctor shouldn't get paid, because the treatment was obviously ineffective. This scheme won't solve all problems, but it's better than what we have now. It also gives doctors an incentive to keep patients alive so that their bills do get paid.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where are the GM suits?

The AP reports that GM's AUDITORS are expressing doubts about GM's survival. Auditors? Plain old bean counters? Where is senior management on this? They are supposed to be running the company which requires them to understand how much money they are making or losing, and where sales are going. Sounds like GM's suits are so clueless that the bean counters have a better idea of where the company is going than the suits do.
Bailout money is wasted unless every single clueless suit is fired.

Health Care Pt I

America spends too much on health care. We devote 16 % of GNP to medical services while our Japanese and European competitors spend only half that amount. Cost of American automobiles is inflated by $1000 a car to pay for autoworkers health care. This is just one reason the Detroit carmakers are taking Federal bailout money. We cannot afford any more health care costs and we certainly cannot afford extra taxes to fund more health care.

Of the staggering sums poured into medical care, fully one quarter goes into administration (paper shuffling) according to C. Everett Koop, ex U.S. Surgeon General. The insurance companies and medic(care/aid) try to discourage claims by demanding lots of paperwork from doctors. They hire lots of clerks to review this paperwork and reject as much as possible. The doctors and hospitals buy computers and hire specialists to fill out the paperwork so they can get paid. Each insurance company strives to make it's claim forms harder to accomplish to reduce it's payout. There ought to be a single nationwide ONE PAGE claim form, acceptable to all insurance companies AND the US government. It should be simple enough for a doctor's personal computer to fill out and file over the internet. Companies should be required to pay within 45 days from submission of claim form unless they file fraud charges against the doctor in court, or, the patient dies. Federal legislation or regulation can accomplish this much.

Levine vs Wyeth, The Supremes raise Medical Costs

Levine suffered a terrible injury, resulting in amputation of her arm, after administration of a drug by an approved-on-the-label but risky manner that went wrong. She sued Wyeth, the drug maker, for the label wording that approved the riskier manner of application. The label language was approved by the FDA, and in reality, nobody EVER changes FDA approved label language for fear of never ending million dollar lawsuits. Levine won in state court, Wyeth appealed to the Supreme Court, and lost. They are liable, for millions in damages.
The Wyeth lawyers argued the case on "preemption", the doctrine that federal (in this case FDA) law and regulations override state law, and thus Wyeth cannot be sued in state court.
In actual fact, Wyeth manufactured the drug in accordance with all FDA regulations. Any ordinary person knows the ultra cautious FDA won't approve anything with any real risk attached. By complying with the onerous FDA approval, inspection, and labeling requirements, Wyeth did everything an ordinary person would expect a company to do. Didn't do them any good, they have to pay off, big time.
This case will encourage more suits by tort lawyers against doctors, hospitals and drug companies. This kind of jackpot justice is one reason why US health care costs twice as much as health care in every other first world country.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Patent Reform

There is a patent reform bill before Congress. Reform is needed because the patent system now discourages new product development. It's common wisdom in the field that what ever it is, you will be sued by patent trolls, as soon as it makes any money. Research In Motion (RIM), the blackberry people, had to pay $600 million to a patent troll last year.
The reform is 68 pages long, written in old high lawyerese, meaning that only experienced patent lawyers can tell what it means. The bill's sponsors include Sen Charles Schumer and Patrick Leahy, neither of whom is confidence inspiring.
One needed reform is to disallow patents upon "business methods", which currently covers trivia like one click or two clicks to place something into your internet shopping basket. Another is to outlaw patents upon software. Software used to be considered a branch of mathematics, and mathematics was never patentable, it was considered natural law. Another needed reform is a cheap and simple process for throwing out patents that are prior art or obvious to anyone skilled in the art. The patents in the $600 million RIM case were all prior art or obvious. Plus they were software patents.
The normal way out of depressions, like the one we are in now, is thru technological invention. New desirable products (telephone, electric light, automobiles, radio, record players, TV, personal computers, cell phones, Ipods) come on the market and people start spending money on them. The current patent system discourages technological innovation by loosing patent trolls upon the innovators.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cyber Security

According to MSNBC the plans for the airframe and avionics package of Marine One were found on the Internet at an IP address in Iran. The finder points a finger at a defense contractor who allowed a file sharing program to be installed on the machine holding the sensitive Marine One files.
Wow. First of all, it's a breach of security to connect computers with classified or sensitive information to the internet at all. It's a breach of security to have classified on computers that are not in a locked secured area. And it's a super breach of security to have a peer-to-peer file sharing program on any computer. Three strikes and you're out.
If this checks out, that contractor ought to have their security clearances revoked for cause.
And we would all be more secure if we didn't run Windows.