Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein

Sunday, March 01, 2009

We Are All Regulators Now

Power to the people?

Instead of assigning oversight responsibility to a finite group of bureaucrats, we should enable every investor to act as a citizen-regulator. We should tap into the massive parallel processing power of people around the world by giving everyone the tools to track, analyze, and publicize financial machinations. The result would be a wave of decentralized innovation that can keep pace with Wall Street and allow the market to regulate itself—naturally punishing companies and investments that don’t measure up—more efficiently than the regulators ever could.

The revolution will be powered by data, which should be unshackled from the pages of regulatory filings and made more flexible and useful. We must require public companies and all financial firms to report more granular data online—and in real time, not just quarterly—uniformly tagged and exportable into any spreadsheet, database, widget, or Web page. The era of sunlight has to give way to the era of pixelization; only when we give everyone the tools to see each point of data will the picture become clear. Just as epidemiologists crunch massive data sets to predict disease outbreaks, so will investors parse the trove of publicly available financial information to foresee the next economic disasters and opportunities.

I think there might be some privacy concerns involved here, if the law defines a corporation as an individual. But this could be a useful way for investors to hold Wall Street accountable.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 03/01/09 at 05:15 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Good Pork Versus Bad Pork

Not even Libertarians are immune from wanting their share:

Rep. Ron Paul vehemently denounced the $410 billion catch-all spending bill approved last week by the House of Representatives.

But although the libertarian-leaning Republican from Lake Jackson cast a vote against the massive spending measure, his fingerprints were on some of the earmarks that helped inflate its cost.

Paul played a role in obtaining 22 earmarks worth $96.1 million, which led the Houston congressional delegation, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of more than 8,500 congressionally mandated projects inserted into the bill. His earmarks included repair projects to the Galveston Seawall damaged by Hurricane Ike and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Following Paul was Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who got earmarks worth $63.6 million. But it was a bipartisan spending spree. Just behind the GOP duo were Houston Democrats Al Green with $50.1 million in pet projects and Sheila Jackson Lee with $37.6 million.

Earmarks, said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, “allow lawmakers to have a say in how taxpayer dollars (are) spent.” His nine earmarks included $712,500 to mitigate airport noise at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“It is in the best interest of the taxpayers,” Poe said, “to have their member of Congress secure funding for local projects than to leave it up to unaccountable and un-elected bureaucrats in Washington.”

Culberson’s spokeswoman, Megan Mitchell, said his answer for requests is always no “unless the project is cost effective and serves a legitimate government purpose.”

Paul, Green and Jackson Lee did not respond to requests for comment.

So it could be argued that Paul’s earmarks were at least necessary in the aftermath of a natural disaster, in which case he could defend them. But I think it goes back to the problem of those governors who oppose any and all parts of the stimulus-they may be right in principle, but what if they actually need the money for something? It’s another reason why I think a targeted stimulus-with money meant only for certain necessary projects-would have been better. As it is, those states that do take the money get to pick and choose. Whether they choose wisely or not is another matter.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 03/01/09 at 05:05 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Seattle Smackdown

I’m sure you’ve seen it, but just in case:

What happens here is that the cop tells her to take off her shoes, she kicks them at him and then all hell breaks loose.

I have a tiny—a very tiny—sliver of sympathy here for the cop because there is no bigger smartass on Earth than a 15-year-old.  I don’t think anyone past the age of, say, 16, hasn’t entertained the idea of teaching one some manners.  But, Jesus Henry Christ.  I’d have slammed the door in her face or threatened charges or something.  Slamming a 15-year-old girl into the wall, then holding her down and punching her doesn’t quite meet the definition of professionalism.

If you read through the article, you’ll find this:

Schene had previously been in the news in 2006 after he fatally shot Pedro Jo, a mentally ill man, during a struggle after a traffic stop on Interstate 5. It was the second officer-involved shooting of his career.

An inquest jury ruled the shooting was justified. Jo viciously attacked Schene, trying to strangle him with his own radio cord.

Jo then ran back to his car and disobeyed Schene’s orders to stop. Schene said he saw Jo reach for something in the seat, so Schene fired 11 times after Jo ran back to his car.

Shortly after the shooting while on administrative leave, Schene was stopped for driving under the influence.

He had been drinking and taking prescription medication, according to court records. He received a deferred sentence and was placed on probation, records show.

Schene works in an urban precinct with higher rates of violent crime and gang activity than other precincts. Officers assigned there more often report having to use physical force in arrest situations, Laing said.

What were his superiors thinking?  You have a cop who has shown emotional instability and bad judgement with the DUI charge.  And you put him in one of the highest-stress positions imaginable?  It’s no surprise to me they’re being hit with multiple complaints.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 03/01/09 at 04:40 PM in Politics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Breeding The Future

Obama has effectively cancelled the Yucca Mountain facility.

Do you hear that cheering? Would you believe it’s coming all the way from Nevada? It started when they found out that President Obama’s first proposed federal budget all but kills the Yucca Mountain National Nuclear Waste Repository by cutting of its seemingly endless flow of money.

“The yucca Mountain program will be scaled back to those costs necessary to answer inquiries from the Nuclear regulatory Commission, while the Administration devises a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal,” wrote President Obama in the Department of Energy funding request section of his FY 2010 budget proposal.

It was the “new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal” part that made Nevadans and other Yucca Mountain opponents especially happy, because it served notice that Mr. Obama intended to follow through on his campaign promise to kill the controversial project, now two decades and billions of dollars in planning.

I have never understood the opposition to this. Yucca is extremely well-designed and safe.  The vehicles that will transport waste to Nevada are also extremely well-designed and safe.  If they were going to open a facility like that here in Pennsylvania, I’d be fine with it, as long as we got some cash from other states for handling their radioactive crud.  But people hear that magic word “nuclear” and completely lose their shit.  So much for a President who is guided by science and reason.

Whatever the drawbacks of Yucca Mountain, putting nuclear waste there is better than just stockpiling it at our nation’s nuclear plants, no?  What does Obama plan to do with our nuclear waste?  Wave his hands over and it and say, “Go and radiate no more.”?

Fortunately, science may, as usual be one step ahead, as Reason points out:

Well, there is already a strategy that will work, using fast breeder reactors to burn up waste and simultaneously produce more reactor fuel. At the nuclearinfo site, a group of Australian physicists explains:

Natural Uranium consists of 0.7% 235U and 99.3% 238U. All commercial Power reactors used in the world today utilize the 235U component in natural Uranium as the primary means of maintaining a chain reaction. The most troublesome component of nuclear waste are the tran-Uranic elements that occur when 238U captures a neutron and transmutes to 239Pu. Further neutron captures on this element lead to a buildup of long-lived transuranic nuclei. However 239Pu is also fertile and undergoes fission like 235U. Advanced reactor designs exploit this to convert the 238U to 239Pu. If the reactor avoids the slowing down, “thermalization” of neutrons, there are sufficient excess neutrons that it is possible to convert more 238U to 239Pu than 235U is consumed. These reactors use the unmoderated “fast” neutrons directly produced via the fission process.

Thus these reactors “breed” 239Pu from 238U and so produce more fuel than they consume. The use of fast-breeder technology makes it possible to increase the efficiency of Uranium use by over a factor of 50. It is then possible to exploit the vast quantities of depleted Uranium stockpiled around the world to generate electricity. In addition the excess neutrons can be used to transmute the long-lived transuranic waste from current Nuclear Power reactors to ever-heavier isotopes until they eventually fission. Thus these reactors can be used to “burn” the most troublesome component of nuclear waste.

There’s also reactors that breed thorium, thorium being far more plentiful than uranium.

Now a rational person reads the above and say, “Holy shit!  We can get rid of our nuclear waste and get lots of carbon-free energy!  And we don’t even have to string masses of electric lines across deserts!  Bring me a towel!” A radical green reads, sees all those numbers and elements and screams, “Ahhhh!  Mutants!”

Or something like that.

I also post this story to highlight one other aspect.  Our politicians are running around making vague promises about future technology in wind, solar and biofuel energy.  For all they know about the future, they might as well be promising us flying cars.  But here are the engineers with a great idea that the politicians haven’t even thought of.  Did you hear McCain or Obama talking about breeding in any context not involving abortion?  I mean, when you weren’t high?  didn’t think so.

This is why energy policy needs to be out of the hands of our government.  They can and should fund the bejeezus out of research—the more cutting edge the better (safe technology can get tons of conventional funding from industry).  I wouldn’t be totally surprised if some of these breakthroughs resulted from publicly-funded reseach.

But they can’t be picking and choosing, mandating and forbidding.  Let the marketplace—both economic and scientific—work its magic.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 03/01/09 at 08:27 AM in Science and Technology  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

The Rest Of The Story

One of the broadcasting giants has left us.

Paul Harvey, once known as the most listened to man in radio, has died at the age of 90 at a hospital near his winter home in Phoenix.

Harvey’s career in radio spanned more than 70 years, and his shows “News & Comment” and “Rest of the Story” made him a familiar voice in Americans’ homes across the country.

His death comes nine months after that of his wife, Lynne Cooper Harvey, whom he often called “Angel” on air, and who was also his business partner and the first producer ever inducted in the the Radio Hall of Fame.

“My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news,” Paul Harvey Jr. said. “So, in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents. And, today millions have lost a friend.”

From his humble beginnings as a teenager helping out cleaning up at a local radio station, Harvey went on to have his broadcasts carried by 1,350 commercial radio stations, as well as 400 stations of the Armed Forces Radio Service, and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.

“Paul Harvey was one of the most gifted and beloved broadcasters in our nation’s history,” said ABC Radio Networks President Jim Robinson in a statement released today. “As he delivered the news each day with his own unique style and commentary, his voice became a trusted friend in American households.

“Countless millions of listeners were both informed and entertained by his ‘News & Comment’ and ‘Rest of the Story’ features, Robinson said. “Even after the passing of his loving wife Angel in May 2008, Paul would not slip quietly into retirement as he continued to take the microphone and reach out to his audience. We will miss our dear friend tremendously and are grateful for the many years we were so fortunate to have known him. Our thoughts and prayers are now with his son Paul Jr. and the rest of the Harvey family.”

Chances are if you’re of a certain age you’ll most likely remember him as the guy your parents or grandparents listened to, who provided an audio counterpoint to Walter Cronkite’s more liberal politics. Regardless of whether you agreed with everything he said or not, he was always true to himself, never gimmicky, and told narratives in a way that most radio announcers no longer do. R.I.P.

Posted by West Virginia Rebel on 03/01/09 at 04:49 AM in Life & Culture  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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