Monday, April 30, 2012

Paul Krugman's Way to Pay for Government Stimulus: "Death Panels & Sales Taxes"

I was watching the Charlie Rose interview with Nobel Prize winner and Princeton professor Paul Krugman. It's amazing to see how out of touch Krugman is with the real world. Well, I should say...Krugman is out of touch with those people who don't want to see their hard earned money get wasted on Bridges to Nowhere.

If Paul Krugman were a dictator, he would run up government debt, print money and spend it on (paraphrasing) "almost anything, preferable something useful."
This is what's so wrong with Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman. They simply have no understanding of the term "rate of return on work invested." They only way to grow the economy is for people to grow their own income through investments. No one person can save the economy. We each need to invest in projects with high rates of return on investment. That's the only way for an economy to grow. We don't need 'smart' people like Paul Krugman or Ben Bernanke to print money and just to waste it on, perhaps well meaning projects, but ultimately projects that they themselves aren't willing to spend their money on.

Keynesians like Krugman, instead, want to waste money on stuff like "Cash for Clunkers," >99 weeks of unemployment payments, state stimulus packages (which they make it sound like it will go for hiring more teachers and police officers, but just as often goes to building bullet trains, wasteful solar panel rebates, and policy papers.)

But here's what really got me agitated!  When Charlie Rose pressed Krugman on how he would pay for his wasteful government stimulus spending, Krugman replied, "Death panels and sales taxes."   (His words exactly, not mine. Krugman repeated this multiple times for emphasis. And this is not the first time he's used this language.) Death panels really means reducing health care spending and sales taxes is self-explanatory. I don't even know how to respond to these comments from Krugman. I hope most people are smart enough to understand that there will be long-term pain if we try to stimulate the economy again by printing money and wastefully spending it, or by borrowing the money from China and wastefully spending it.

So, let me repeat just for emphasis.  Paul Krugman thinks that the road to economic recovery is through government spending.
I think that the road to economic recovery is to invest your money in projects with as high of  rate of return investment that you can achieve for the given level of risk that you are willing to accept.

So, here's what I'm going to do to help grow the economy. I'm going to work over-time so that I can earn more money and also invest more money in stock market index funds or power plant bonds. I suggest that you do the same or something similar. I know it sounds trite, but the only way to get the economy going full speed is if we all invest our time, money, work and energy wisely.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Using coal to help increase food production: Add coal to your compost pile

Given the extremely low price of natural gas due to drilling shale gas and the possibility of future regulations on GHG emissions from large power plants, the future of coal is looking pretty bleak right now. Of course, the future of coal will depend a lot on whether natural gas prices increase and the economics of building coal power plants with CO2 capture&sequestration technology.  In a previous post, I mentioned that converting coal into hydrogen and natural gas (and sequestering the by-product -->CO2) can be economically viable if natural gas prices increase above ~$6/mscf ($6/GJ) and if CO2 prices are above ~$20/ton CO2. However, in a future post, I'm going to discuss why the price of natural gas is unlikely to go above $6/mscf in the US in next decade unless we immediately start building a large number of LNG export terminals and convert a significant fraction of our transportation fleet to CNG/LPG.

Yet coal's best days may still be ahead of it.
Coal has all of the elements to make something that's even more valuable right now than electricity, and that's food. Like gasoline prices, food prices are soaring ever higher. So,I've been thinking about other uses for the abundant coal resources in the US, and the best use of coal that I could think of was to use low-rank coals as fertilizer for growing crops. In some ways, this is not a new idea. For example, in China, there are coal gasification plants that are converting coal into chemicals. One of the chemicals made at these plants is ammonia, the starting point for nitrogen fertilizers. But what I'm suggesting in this post is that we use low-grade coal in the same way people use waste food and newspapers in compost piles to make fertilizer.

Whether you can add low-grade coal directly to the compost pile in your backyard is still an open question, but there's been decades of research on using bacteria and yeast to turn low grade coals (lignite and some sub-bituminous coals) into humic acid like chemicals that can be used to help grow crops.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Notes on Howard Bloom's "The Lucifer Principle": Further thoughts on gene vs. meme replication

In a recent post, I discussed the current debate regarding theories of gene vs. meme vs. group replication. This debate is growing, as evidenced by E.O. Wilson's most recent book The Social Conquest of Earth, in which he resurrects the theory of group selection. (Though, he does so in a pretty unconvincing way. Harold Bloom did a lot better job in his book "The Lucifer Principle," but even in this book, which is the focus on this post, there are more questions raised than answers found.)

Gene replication is the easiest of the three theories to understand because it easy to visual what is replicating. A gene (in combination with other genes and in particular environments) is a code that programs its own self-replication. A meme is a little bit harder to understand because most of the time, it's not exactly clear what is replicating. It's not clear at all to me what is replicating when one says 'group replication' or 'group selection.' Evidence of altruistic behavior is not evidence of group selection, just as evidence of selfish behavior is not evidence against group selection.

Here's some examples of easy to understand non-genetic self-replicators:
1) Computer virus a program that encodes is own self-replication  (a quine)
2) Solar auxon a program that using solar energy to build new solar auxons and the factories that build the solar auxons.
3) A self-replicating sentence like the following from Douglas Hofstadter "If you copy me, I'll grant you three wishes"   or  "Say me or put a curse on you"

All of these are examples of indirect self-reference. The questions to ask oneself in order to distinguish between gene replication (and sexual selection), meme replication, and group replication are the following: what is physically self-replicating? Is there a code that can be used (perhaps in combination with other codes) to self-replicating the code(s)? What is the difference between information and a meme? Is a particular fashion statement a 'cultural meme' or is it just a part of genetic sexual selection (like a peacocks feathers)? We would never say that a peacock's feather is a meme, so why would we say that fashion is an example of a meme?  Does the gene, meme or group contain indirect self-reference as in the cases listed above?

I find the topic of gene vs. meme selection so interesting because I'm fascinated with the underlying mathematics/physics behind self-replication. For those of you interested in my thoughts on studying the mathematics behind self-replication, I suggest reading a post I wrote on the whether self-replication of agents or attractors can occur in systems of differential equations. In other words, can a set of differential equations be indirectly self-referential? In that post, I suggest (unproven) that self-replicating can only occur in systems far-from-equilibrium in which the underlying symmetries of the differential equations form a group in which the algebra of the group is complicated enough that Godel's Incompleteness Theorem applies...rather than his Completeness Theorem. In other words, when the algebra of the group of Lie symmetries is complicated enough that it becomes indirectly self-referential, then perhaps there can exist attractors in the system that can reference themselves and replicate themselves. Note that the algebra for the Lorenz (weather) system of differential equations is chaotic (i.e. has a strange attractor), but the algebra of the group of symmetry operations of the differential equations is not complicated enough for Godel's Incompleteness Theorem to apply. What we are still looking for are sets of differential equations even more complicated than Lorenz's weather system. Indirect self-reference is beyond mere chaos (i.e. fractal dimension attractors.) Strange attractors aren't self-referential, and they can't self-replicate.

I think that it's important to study the underlying mathematics of self-replication because it will be important to distinguish between those pieces of information/genetics/code that can self-replicate and those that can not. One reason that I'm so fascinated with the book "The Lucifer Principle" is that it is an attempt to understand the nature of gene and meme replication. If you are interested in learning more about the debate between gene selection, meme selection and group selection, I suggest the following texts. Though, it should be noted that each text will raise more questions than it will answer because this is an extremely complicated field of science that is still being actively debated.

Richard Dawkins "The Selfish Gene"
Susan Blackmore "The Meme Machine"
Harold Bloom "The Lucifer Principle"      (Note that Harold Bloom started out as a biology researcher, and then transitioned to being a record producer.) 

In order to read "The Lucifer Principle," one needs to keep an open, but skeptical mind about what he's saying. The goal of his book is to understand how groups form and why groups often attack other groups. He also asks the question: if by understanding history and biology, can we rise above our past history to become better people?
     But to rise above the past, we first have to understand the past.

With that having been said, I'm including the notes I took during the 2nd and 3rd times I read the book. The notes are still incomplete, but I hoping that others can use the notes why reading the book to help differentiate between those sections of the book which are scientifically sound from those sections that are just speculation. Bloom covers some major non-PC topics, and luckily he had the guts to deal with these non-PC topics because I don't think that we can develop improved philosophies of life if we don't have a clear understanding of our tendency to do extreme harm both to others and to ourselves.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How to populate the Moon & Mars quickly

"Failure to terraform Mars constitutes failure to live up to our human nature and a betrayal of our responsibility as members of the community of life itself." – Robert Zubrin, The Case for Mars

NASA is currently looking for input from the public on future space missions to Mars. So, since I firmly believe that we’ll eventually solve the problem of “energy production vs. the environment” here on Earth, I think that it’s important to focus ahead on where we can grow life in the future. It’s not enough for us to just grow life on Earth. We need to also grow life on other planets, and a good first step to growing life on planets is to start populating the Moon & Mars with self-replicating solar automatons. A self-replicating solar automaton (i.e. solar auxon) is a robot that converts solar energy into electricity and uses only electricity and the materials on the Moon or Mars to make copies of itself. It’s like a silicon-based version of photosynthetic bacteria.

To make a copy of itself, a solar auxon has to make solar cells as well as computer hardware that controls its movements. Luckily, both solars cells and computer chips can be made from silicon, an abundant element on both the Moon and Mars. The goal of this post is to discuss the steps required to start populating life on other planets or on the Moon. I’ll first quickly list the steps required to populate Mars, and then go into more details through the rest of the post on how to populate Mars or the Moon.

Step#1:  Lower the cost of accessing space through the use of a multi-stage aero-rocket propulsion system.
Step#2:  Send over materials to initiate the growth of self-replicating solar auxons, and then let the solar robots start reproducing.
Step#3: Send over a working lab to generate CFCs and other greenhouse gases from materials on the surface of Mars. The lab will require electricity generated by the solar auxons.
Step#4: Emit the newly formed greenhouse gases so that the temperature on Mars increases. As the temperature increases, CO2 will sublime from the polar caps, adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Step#5: Start transporting photosynthetic bacteria from the Earth to Mars once the temperature near the equator increases above the melting point of water. The bacteria will convert CO2 and H2O into more bacteria and oxygen.
Step#6: Introduce more complex life forms to Mars as the oxygen level increases in the atmosphere and as an ozone layer forms.
Step#7: Wait for photosynthetic life forms to create enough of an atmosphere such humans can live on Mars without fear of a rip in space-suit, i.e. you’d wear a thin space suit, but you could survive for an hour until you go back to camp to get a new space suit if there was a problem with the suit.

 It would take hundreds of years to develop a full atmosphere, so this is why we need to start working on this problem now. Before discussing the steps involved in growing life on other planets, I’ll first discuss how we lower the cost of accessing space.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Right to Reproduce = A Basic Human Right

I read an article by BBC news this week about the forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan, and I wanted to raise awareness about this horrible large-scale crime by the government of Uzbekistan. There is a petition on the web to raise awareness of this problem.
Normally, I'm not a big fan of petitions, but in this case, a petition signed by thousands or millions of people might actually help because, according to the BBC news article, the government of Uzbekistan cares about its appearance on the global stage. 

The freedom for a woman to reproduce of her own choosing is a basic human right. No government has the right to sterilize a man or a woman (except maybe in the case of extreme sex crimes.)

Unfortunately, Uzbekistan is not the only place on the globe right now that has taken away this most basic of human rights (the right to reproduce of one's own volition.) China took away this basic human right when it instituted the One Child policy back in the 1979. This policy is still in effect in many parts of China.

China's One Child policy is sick, inhumane and just stupid. Most woman want to reproduce, and because of the law, some woman travel to other countries to give birth. Unfortunately, some woman were 'coerced' into being sterilized after the first child, and there have also been cases of forced abortion.
There is now a gender-based birth rate disparity in China. The ratio of men to women being born is now ~117:100. And what's eventually going to happen is that China will develop an aging population, similar to countries like Japan.

Instead of taking away a person's basic human right to procreate, why doesn't China just invest more money into developing technology to farm in areas that are considered non-farmland right now. If China's concern is not having enough food, then they should be focused on making more food rather than keeping people from having babies. There are large stretches of land in China on the northern border with China that are completely desert. China needs to figure out how to grow food in the desert...perhaps they have to pipe in desalinized water from the ocean to operate algae farms.

This would be infinitely better than forcing woman to only have one child, forcing abortions and forcing sterilization. And once you develop the technology to grow food in the desert, then you can export the technology to places like Uzbekistan so that the government of Uzbekistan doesn't need to worry about a growing population and can stop sterilizing women against their will.

We need to figure out how to increase the global birth rate in a way that doesn't lead to mass starvation. The solution to this problem most likely rests on figuring out ways to farm in a desert or farm algae off the surface of the ocean.