Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Seattle Fault runs East-West straight through the city of Seattle (naturally). In the last 3500 years, there have been 7 earthquakes of more than magnitude 7, and the last occurred about 1100 years ago. So if you do the math, it appears that it is about 400 years overdue.

Here is a satellite image of Seattle:

Since the fault goes under the ocean, if an Earthquake occurs, it will generate a local Tsunami.
Some scientists made a simulation of the Tsunami after such an earthquake at:
The simulation:

Here is the simulated Tsunami at it's widest ( the largest area is about 3miles wide, and 2-2.5 miles long)

It helps to overlay the two.

Here is an overlay with a map of Seattle:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh, allow me to both address the complexity of labeling & do some major name calling! (This post may be subtitled, “How to Have Fun with a Thesaurus”, with a smattering of gratuitous jargon)

We're all familiar with the usual political spectrum, from Looney Left through Rabid Right (with lots of intermediate positions along which we pigeonhole others).

Perhaps it may be more significant to categorize people as lumpers vs splitters.

Extreme lumpers group everybody into 2 camps: essentially us vs. them. At worse, Lumpers demonize everyone who disagrees with them, excuse those who agree, focus on their personal injustices (no matter how trivial), and turn a blind eye to those of others. Since reality is too complex to neatly fit into 2 pigeonholes, Lumpers tend to redefine reality to fit their categories, emphasizing facts that fit while trivializing inconvenient ones that don't. Depending on political proclivities, lumpers lump everybody into 2 camps: either Looney Left vs the Rational Right, or EnLightened Left vs Rabid Right.

On the other hand, Splitters not only see both sides of an issue, they also see many more. This has 2 down sides. First, they annoy the heck out of lumpers: while lumpers are busily pounding square pegs into round holes, they will be thoroughly annoyed by the splitter sorting out the round, square, triangular, and pentagonal pegs by symmetry, material, usage, color, luster, durability, ductility, friability, flammability, flexibility, and functionality. Second is “paralysis by analysis”: in the process of fully understanding all possible positions, they may not act when needed.

Everybody changes their minds over time. Thinking people naturally do so after pondering new information, while non-thinkers do so after having their ears tickled by something new. When Splitters change their mind over time, they rarely change their fundamental positions, and then only gradually after many incremental shifts. When Lumpers change their mind, they either redefine the their groups (for small changes), or they switch groups entirely (for large shifts). For instance, Bjorn Lomberg, the climate skeptic, claims to have once been a strident environmentalist (a la greenpeace), and since gone to the opposite extreme. Having read one of his books, it would seem that he went from a shallow understanding of the issues and a pro-environmental extreme, to a shallow understanding of the issues with an anti-environmental extreme.

A related description (as applied to pundits & experts) is hedgehogs versus foxes: hedgehogs take a position and stick to it, while foxes ‘hedge their bets’ by considering all of the contingencies. One famous hedgehog was Winston Churchill, who illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the hedgehog approach: he was spectacularly right about Hitler, long before Hitler came to power, but was equally wrong about Ghandi (whom he regarded as another Hitler). While Hedgehogs are often praised for taking courageous stands on fundamental issues, all too often they merely draw on their expertise for evidence that supports their pre-determined conclusion, and ignore any contrary evidence. On the other hand, Foxes tend to be disparaged for waffling on issues when they have merely considered the complexities of the issues.

Personally, I don't go by the 2 team model of politics (Republican vs. Democrat, or, tongue in cheek, Repulsican vs Demoncrat). After all, "All politics is local", and what we call the Republican and Democrat parties are more coalitions tied by tradition and affiliation than monoliths. [WARNING: math joke ahead] So, as a true mathematician, instead of a political spectrum, I think in terms of a multidimensional Banach Space with the following basic eigen-axes.

Everybody recognizes the familiar spectrum from Looney Left through Rabid Right, plus some intermediate positions. Lumpers tend to regard intermediate positions as being confused or evil (e.g., the disparaging acronym, “RINOs”=’Republicans In Name Only’). Splitters tend to regard intermediate positions as being insufficient.

We add Centrist Center to describe those that that could be described as doggedly centrist in rejecting both extremes & reaching a somewhat principled position in the middle. Not to be confused with the Muddled Middle, who pretty much adopt the last opinion that tickles their ears, with little regard to an overarching philosophy to organize their thoughts.

I also add to these 2 the Competent Kernel: these are the folks who actually know their stuff and know what they don’t know. These are not to be confused with those folks who assume they know their stuff, or the ones who know what they know, but don’t seem clueless about what they don’t know. As Socrates & Plato put it, 90% of smart is knowing where you are stupid.

One of my favorite education jokes, that I stopped telling for fear of offending: You go to college. When you realize that you don’t know squat, they give you a BS degree. When you realize your classmates don’t know squat, they give you a Master’s degree. When you realize your professors don’t know squat, they give you a Ph.D. Now, anyone with a successful education will appreciate the point that the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. The cruel aspect of the joke is, what about those people who never realize how little they know? (Are they awarded an Associates degree? Do they go into right wing talk radio?) Besides which, there are many educated folks—more so amongst the Batchelors & Masters—who have treated college as training, not as education, and do not quite realize how little they know. (Those who vehemently take the positions of their gurus, without realizing how little their gurus know, fall within the joke).

The axis of “Zealous Zenith” to “Nilistic Nadir” naturally follows from the above discussion. Lets face it, zealots are zealots no matter where in the belief spectrum (er, hyper-space). Some zealots may radically change their positions, but they are still zealots. We are all familiar with various forms of religious zealots. One peculiar form of zealot is secularists who are tolerant of anything, except what they perceive as intolerant. Those of the “Nilistic Nadir” are not only not driven by an overarching ideology, but they are extreme in perceiving life as empty & meaningless. So while Jerry Falwell may exemplify the Zealous Zenith on the radio spectrum, Howard Stern illustrates the Nilistic Nadir (at least, that’s my impression—I heard a little of each, but not much to contradict this characterization).

What started this all is the realization that many contrary opinions fell in the same places along the Looney Left-Rabid Right spectrum. What distinguished them was the axis from Fertile Front to Regressive Rear. The Fertile Front (FF) are those in society who tend to be early adapter & tinkers, while the Regressive Rear (RR) tends to avoid change at all cost. FFrs buy a new technology right on the cusp of its introduction, while the RR’s right on the cusp of it’s replacement. It should be noted that the Regressive end is not all bad, nor the Front end all good: FFrs embraced BetaMax VCRs & Ford Edsels in their time. While the RR’s are on the trailing edge of technology, it is also well tested and proven technology. The FF’s are on the leading edge of technology, which is also refered to as the bleeding edge.

Perhaps the distinctions between Left & Right, Front & Back can be best illustrated in the reactions in addressing climate change issues. The Loony Left Regressive Rear quadrent would have society return to a more agrarian & simple lifestyle, the Regressive Rear would step up fossil fuel consumption.

Finally, there needs to be an axis for Anarchist vs Fascists, in the sense that a right wind anarchist is a libertarian, and a left wing anarchist, is, well, an anarchist, and left wing fascist is basically an old style communist, while a right wing fascist is, well, a fascist.

So I also add:
Rebel Rim vs Fascist Hub. In the extreme, the Rebel Rim includes "Rebel without a clue", who Automatically fight against authority--any authority. Conversely, the Fascist Hub are those who instinctively follow authority, surrendering freedoms and insisting that others do likewise.

This might be a more fundamental axis than the others: for instance, a statistical analyses of supreme court decisions showed the 9 justices tended to cast their votes according to 2 main decision axes: the familiar Left vs. Right, and Federalization/Centralization vs. Decentralization. The latter axis is merely a segment of the spectrum from Rebel Rim to Fascist Hub.

NB: Rebellion may or may not be driven by principle. E.g. A rebel set in a leadership role may become an autocrat, since when constrained under someone else’s authority, rebelliousness is a way to gain and assert power. I tend to think that the nature of Rebel in power beyond a tendancy to undermine any authority besideds there own will be determined by other axes: Eg., the degree to which they seize power for themselves for their own benefit is a function of Selfishness.

To summarize:

The 2 clearest (to me) dimensions:

Loony left vs. Rabid Right
Fertile Front vs. Regressive Rear

Rebel Rim vs. Fascist Hub (with intermediate positions of Decentralization vs Centralization)

Various contenders for the up-down direction:
Altruistic above vs. Selfish substratum (or base below) vs Mercenary Middle
Zealous zenith vs. Nilistic nadir
Aloof above vs Diabolical down

And something for centrality/radiality:
Centrist Core vs muddled middle.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I am submitting this Letter to the Editor to our local paper:

‘We are going to build the exact same bridge, exactly as before.’, declared the governer of Washington after the 1940 Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse.

‘If you build the exact same bridge exactly as before, it will fall into the exact same river exactly as before.’, replied a noted engineer.

The current economic woes remind me of this story, as over recent decades our ruling ideologues have been busily rebuilding the bridges that led to the great depression.

Now, deregulation has been an enormous economic benefit when, for example, the government partially deregulated the airline industry (eg, stopped setting prices & routes)

Unfortunately, for many politicians, deregulation is a matter of ideology, not reality, and in their drive to “get government off peoples backs”, they started to dismantle the rules implemented after the last great depression to prevent another great depression.

While common sense has kept them from, say, deregulating airline safety (well, not much and not yet), they have certainly been gung-ho in otherwise throwing out the baby with the bath water.

For instance, Reagan railed against government oversight and is often credited with the 1990’s economic boom. Ironically, much of that economic growth is due to policies he opposed. For instance, the Clean air act in 2000 is estimated to have saved some $70 billion per year at a time, when the economy was growing at most $400 billion per year. (I noticed then that many quarterly economic reports credited “unexpected growth in productivity”, not tax cuts nor investments due to tax cuts. By reducing employee sickness and healthcare costs, the Clean Air act increased productivity.)

So what next? In the 1st presidential debate (before the recent economic woes), McCain repeatedly promised to bring prosperity by reducing pork-barrel spending, which is estimated to cost taxpayers some $80 billion per year. It should be noted (after the recent economic woes), McCain supported many of the policies that led to this crisis, the government bailout of $700 billion, and the even higher costs to the world economy. On the other hand, 2 years ago Obama was calling for action about the sub-prime mortgage market, while McCain was calling for less oversight.

It is noble for McCain & Palin to promise to learn from past mistakes, but for the most powerful job in the world, I want someone who shows some ability to anticipate future mistakes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The recent financial market collapse and the history leading up to it reminds me of the following story:

“After the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge [Nov 7, 1940], the governor of the state of Washington made an emotional speech in which he declared ‘We are going to build the exact same bridge, exactly as before.’ Upon hearing this, the noted engineer Von Karman sent a telegram to the governor stating ‘If you build the exact same bridge exactly as before, it will fall into the exact same river exactly as before.’” (www.math.ucsd.edu/~aterras/final.pdf)

So the parallels? Consider Ronald Reagan and his drive to deregulate the economy. For him, following the Austrian school of economic theory was a matter of ideology, not of reality. It fit his world view, so he embraced it. And it had a lot of benefits (for instance, it was ridiculous for the government to regulate what food the airlines served on flight). However, over the last 10 years, this ideological drive to deregulate led to the relaxing or eliminating financial regulations that were put into place after the great depression, to prevent another great depression.

So our ruling ideologues ignored the lessons of history and have been busily rebuilding the bridge that led to the great depression!

Ironically, much of the economic growth since Reagan's time was due to things he fought against, not things he fought for. While listening to the news back then, I noticed that economic reports often included statements like "...higher than expected economic growth..." usually attributed to "...unexpected growth in productivity." Now, if this economic growth was due to government tax cuts, deregulation, etc, the growth would not be unexplained: the whole point of accounting is to track the flow of money, and the money from tax cuts could be traced through the economy to tangible benefits. NOW we know that environmental regulations like the clean air act were having a huge benefit to the economy: when the costs & benefits were actually studied (and not assumed) in the year 2000 alone, the clean air act was estimated to be saving the American some $71 billion per year in health care costs, lost productivity, etc. (at a cost of $19 billion). In a $10 trillion economy, that's about 0.7% at a time when the economy was growing 2.5-4% per year.

Clean air act cost-benefits:

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Latest study on Mercury. Bottom line is that when they looked, "....The main finding is that for every thousand pounds of environmentally released mercury, we saw a 17 percent increase in autism rates,"...

The story is at:

This also illustrates the blind spots of the left and the right.

On the Left, there's been a lot of claims being made about mercury in vaccines being linked to autism. (NB: last I know it is phased out of use in vaccines). These claims are contradicted by hard data: the best studies which control for many of the complexities haven't proven a link between vaccines & autism. Meanwhile, no one had looked at the connection between autism and biologically active mercury raining down from the sky.

On the right, data purportedly showing a lack of toxicity is being used to weaken environmental protections. For instance, mercury in tuna has been shown to be unrelated to human mercury pollution, and has not been shown to be very toxic (apparently this mercury has been curculating in the food chain for so long that it is locked up tightly in relatively stable organic compounds). Meanwhile: based on a reasonable interpretation of the scientific data, EPA originally proposed cutting power plant mercury emissions by 90% by 2007 or so. It then became clear that a couple of more years would be needed to work out the technology. At which point the Bush administration pushed through a plan to delay mercury controls by a decade and triple the allowable levels (i.e., only a 70% cut over 10 years, instead of a 90% cut within 2-5 years). Now, the Bush administration has gone a step further with a nominal 50% with exceptions.

While there's no doubt that mercury is toxic (a drop of methyl mercury is a slow & painful death sentance), the level of toxicity is very much related to the chemical compound containing mercury.

Therein lies the flaw with the both the Left and the Right: both assumed that ANY mercury was equally toxic. The Left extrapolated the data on highly toxic forms of mercury to the relatively benign form in vaccines. The Right extrapolated the data on low toxicity forms of mercury to the biologically active forms with which we pollute our air.

While it may or may not be confirmed the link between mercury pollution and autism, it is a matter of common sense to limit the most dangerous forms of mercury pollution. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has demonstrated a profound cluelessness in areas relating to science--inevitably, ideology trumps science.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

This Washington Post article caught my eye. Sounds like reality is starting to bite in Washington D.C.

Tax Cuts Lose Spot On GOP Agenda. By Jim VandeHei

Unfortunately, the party in power is more likely to punish the pragmatists & realists in their ranks for daring to question the dominant ideology, than to start acting out of enlightened self interest.

Fortunately, the balance of power is slim because the ideologues could not get into power without some realists & pragmatists. Indeed, it is a curse of a "bipartisan" system such as ours. The system tends to deteriorate to the basest political game: distribute the goodies--tax cuts & such--to the fewest people possible, while providing enough goodies & intimidation to the folks in the middle to keep enough of them voting often enough in favor of the ideologues.

Some comments on the article:

(1) Notice that one proposed solution is to raise middle class taxes by increasing the amount of income upon which you pay social security taxes. As it is now, you pay 6% and your employer pays 6% on the first $90,000 of your annual pay--effectively a 12% flat tax on anyone earning less than $90k per year. The proposal is to raise the limit to $140,000, effectively & exactly a middle class tax increase (up to $6,000), with no deductions to offset the pain.

(2) Notice that no one is talking about adjusting the federal tax code to keep middle class taxes flat.

(3) Notice that the first round of tax cuts predominantly went to the wealthiest tax payers. This was justified on the grounds that they pay the most taxes. (Never mind that they earn the most income too. What the heck is the problem with the folks who earn 63% of the income paying 73% of the taxes anyway?)

(4) Some tax cuts went to the middle class, but the big middle class tax issue--the 900 lb gorilla-- was deferred until the second round because it affected too few tax payers yet. This looming disaster is the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which was originally intended to ensure that the wealthiest folks would pay some share of income taxes. (Unfortunately, it was not indexed to inflation, hence increasing numbers of middle class taxpayers are ensnared by it). The strategy was not to prevent the problem, but to exploit the problem after enough people were affected by the AMT that there would be widespread demand for fixing the AMT. The fix for the AMT could then be packaged with another round of goodies for the wealthiest taxpayers.

(5) Since the dominant federal expenditures are military & social security/medicare, the tax cuts demanded by the ideologues will disproportionately affect discretionary spending, such as education, enforcement, research, etc. All things that can be cut without any immediate impact on American lives; but where would we be now without government sponsored research into computers, medicine, etc over the last 50 years? (Sure, we would have eventually had the internet, but it still might be in the future). It is like a farmer hitting hard times and eating the seed they were saving for next year.

(6) Tax simplification is always a good idea, as long as it is fair. A "flat tax" of course sounds fair, until you realize most advocates are only talking about flattening the federal income tax, not flattening the total tax burden. It is the progressive structure of the federal taxes (i.e., higher tax rates on higher incomes) that helps to level out the total tax rate over all income levels. (NB: here in Pennsylvania--which has a state sales tax and a flat income tax--the lowest paid 20% of workers pay about 10% in state, local & property taxes, while the top 1% pay about 4%)

(7) User fees are also a good idea, as they provide a limited means to make the users of a service pay some of the greater costs of the service. As to be expected, they are opposed by many ideologues because they look like a tax. And unfortunately, the user fees that will benefit the economy the most are least likely to be implemented. For instance: air pollution kills 100,000's of Americans per year, sickens many times more, and weakens pretty much everyone. Clean air regulations from the 80's are estimated to save our economy some $100billion/yr in avoided costs, at a costs to polluters of $10billion/yr or so. (Note that the true benefits are much larger, because it is difficult to measure & assign a price to many benefits of clean air). In a rational system of government, every source of pollution would be "taxed" according to the most likely cost of the expected pollution. While resulting tax revenue would not directly go to the folks who pay the ultimate costs of pollution, it would be a powerfull incentive to the polluters to implement cleaner technology. The reduced pollution will result in reduced healthcare costs, better quality of life, and increased productivity. (And "increased productivity", not "decreased taxes" is probably the single most important growth factor in our economy over the last 30 years.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Boycotting the oil companies is pretty naive, since one has to buy it eventually anyway. A better far better idea (IMHO) is to fire the current crop of politicians whose endless myopia has contributed so heavily to the current mess.

Then again, even politicians & society had done a better job on energy issues, we'd probably be undergoing a price spike up to $1.50, and complaining just has hard......

I've been looking up information on gasoline prices. First point: after you adjust for inflation, todays gasoline prices are no big deal. The long term average since 1919 is about $2/gallon (adjusted for inflation). Here's an interesting graph (I hope this comes through!):

Another feature of gas prices is that the overall trend is downward (after adjusting for inflation), as production has become more efficient. Also, there is a trend upward since 1997.

What is not obvious here is that US production peaked around 1978 (if I remember right), resulting in increasing dependance on imported oil since then. With their increasing market power, OPEC muscled up oil prices in the 70's & 80',s resulting in the 1981 peak oil price (I sure remember paying $1.50 a gallon in '81--which is equivalent to nearly $3/gallon in today's dollars).

The other thing impacting the graph is the jump in automotive fuel efficiency that was legislated in the late 70's. Consequently, the average fuel efficiency of new cars peaked at 22.1mpg in 1987. As those fuel efficient cars replaced older, less efficient cars, demand for oil was greatly reduced. Improved efficiencies in supply contributed as well, but the bottom line is that without the fuel efficiency gains, our demand for oil would have been much higher, and (by the law of supply & demand), so would gasoline prices.

Obvious on the graph is an increasing trend in fuel price over the last few years. A big part of the problem there is that the fuel efficiency of new vehicles has fallen by 6% since 1987 (largely thanks to increased sales of light trucks & SUVs). Increasing demand = Increasing prices.

I figure that with our 2 drivers and 3 cars, fuel efficiency standards save us at least $2000 to $4000 per year (it's hard to say, because it's hard to know how much fuel prices would be without the standards). The savings are both direct & indirect: direct saving is through buying less fuel, indirect saving is through lower prices for fuel due to the lower demand. Not to mention lower prices for heating oil, and the prices of things transported using oil.

With 90 million American households, the automotive fuel efficiency standards easily save the American economy more than $200 billion per year (that would be about 2% of GDP). (This also partially explains the booming economy in the 90's)

So, instead of boycotting oil companies, a far better idea would be to fire the current crop of politicians who have been stonewalling any increases (or reforms) of fuel efficiency standards. Congress, in their infinitesimal wisdom, has even forbid the energy department from studying the problem of improving (or reforming) automotive fuel efficiency standards.

The National Academy's of Sciences recently published a report (I have a draft copy) on automotive fuel efficiency standards. Current standards save about 2.8 million barrels of oil per day, and with current technology, fuel efficiency can be increased by about 30-40%.

What does this mean? Well, the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve might yield about 1 million barrels of oil per day, or about 5% of US energy needs. (Or ZERO. The amount of oil in ANWR is somewhat a moot point, because it has to come through the trans-Alaska pipeline, which limits capacity to about 1 million barrels/day. The pipeline is also an 800 mile long terrorist target, and if Saudi Arabia ever falls to the fundamentalists.......). Since US cars & trucks burn about 8 million barrels/day, every 12.5% increase in fuel efficiency is worth about one ANWR.

My congressman thinks the presidents plan to save "6 billion gallons of gas over the next 5 years" is great. I think he takes his electorate for fools, since no one uses such large numbers of such small units unless they are trying to deceive. Translated, it comes down to an average of about 10 gallons per year per vehicle, and is less than a 1% increase in fuel efficiency.

Here's a Washington Post editorial on the gasoline prices which expresses some of my views (namely, that the lust for low fuel prices has been pretty darn foolish).


And another:


These are editorials, and hence are more opinion than journalism. But they seem to cover the bases.

Here's an another excellent article on energy issues. It's a bit old, but still timely. The author's contention is that energy efficiency would play a major role in shifting US energy use. As a statistician, nothing impresses me like accurate predictions, and the 1st graph is particularly impressive since it shows the accuracy of predictions the author made in 1976.


At any rate, I'm already boycotting Exxon oil because of their stance on climate change. They are trying the same strategy that the tobacco companies did about 20 years ago, by attacking the science and the scientists. It's crazy when you think about it.

And I'm expecting oil prices to drop some after awhile, but to show a long term increase. Existing cheap oil reserves are being depleted, and potential future oil reserves are either high cost or high risk (like Saudi Arabia & Azerbajan (sic)).

such are my thoughts & rantings.... I'll post this on my weblog for posterity.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2004 1:21 PM
Subject: FW: try anything

>Subject: FW: try anything
>Okay everyone, I don't know if this is just a sneaky ploy from one of their
>competitors or if this is real. All I know is I drive an SUV and I'm in the
>market for an economy car because gas is killin' me. I am willing to try
>anything that might work


> I hear we are going to hit close to $3.00 a gallon by the summer.

> Want gasoline prices to come down? We need to take some intelligent,
> united action. Phillip Hollsworth, offered this good idea: This makes
> MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain day" campaign that
>was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that
>because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing
>to buy gas.

>It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them.
> BUT, whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can
>really work. Please read it and joi! n with us!

> By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super

>Me too! It is currently $1.97 for regular unleaded in my town.

> Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to
> think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 - $1.75, we need
> to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the
> marketplace....not sellers With the price of gasoline going up more each
> day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to
>see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by
>not purchasing their gas! And we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves.


> Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas. But, we
>CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price

> Here's the idea: For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY
> gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and
> MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce
> their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have
> to follow suit. But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions
> of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers.