Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Devil is in the Numbers

Sheer's link to the Atlantic Magazine contained this interesting tidbit:

The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

It reminds me of an old WWII joke:

A General at the Imperial Military Staff HQ in Tokyo would go to a Chinese barber every Wednesday for a shave and a haircut. Once the General was seated in the chair, the Chinese barber would ask, "How goes the war, Honorable General?" The General would respond with statistics from the China Front, for which he was responsible. Something like, "The War goes well. Last week - 15,000 Chinese soldiers killed, 1,000 Japanese killed." or "30,000 Chinese soldiers killed, only 700 Japanese killed." The barber would answer, "Very good. Very Good." (OK, back before PC, it was said as "Velly Good".)

This went on week after week. The Japanese General was rather surprised that a Chinese person would find such tilted odds "Very Good". So the next time the General gets his hair cut, he answers, "200,000 Chinese soldiers killed, only 200 Japanese killed", to see how the barber would react to his false, but staggering odds. As always, the barber answers, "Very good. Very good."

So the General asks, "Chung How, you are Chinese. Every week I report 15 to 1 or higher losses for the Chinese. Today, I reported 1,000 to 1 losses for the Chinese. Yet, you always answer, 'Very good. Very good.' How can such lopsided odds be very good to a Chinese person?"

The barber smiled and simply said, "Yes, Honorable General, the odds are tilted, but soon there will be no more Japanese soldiers!"

If one American middle class worker is sacrificed by American profit maximizing businesses to raise 4 Chinese and Asian workers out of proverty, pretty soon there will be no more American middle class workers!


  1. Indeed, Irony is a strange thing, and it has mant variations.

    This is the self-delusional type, although I am sure the actual deluders know the score.

    Like the constant "Government spending is out of control", "American families have to balance their checkbooks every month, so the Government needs to do that too."

    ( Go here for the link. )

    “If you look at these cuts, it is not just the amount of the dollars that is a concern, but also the arbitrary way the cuts are done,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), whose district includes huge military installations in Hampton Roads. “The worst thing you can do is reach up and pull a figure and say you are going to cut without any strategic review.”


    Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who was elected in 2009 — just one year after Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson to win in Virginia — has called continued federal deficits “unsustainable” and “immoral.”

    Still, McDonnell has urged that federal budget cuts not touch “core” functions such as defense and national security, said Jeff Caldwell, his press secretary.

    As if Education, Health & Environment, Infrastructure, Sound Immigration policies are not "Core Functions". In fact, I would say these things are more "core" than defense and national security, as we can see from the activity in Egypt.

    So also, irony easily morphs into hypocrisy and self-service.


  2. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a fella back in Washington DC as a history grad student at Georgetown University way back in 1980. Somehow, the conversation came to South Africa, and this student of the Walsh school of foreign service (SFS), boldly and baldly stated that we should support the ANC to the hilt to the point of supporting the liquidation of the white South African population ("they don't belong there anyway"). I got quite agitated and declared that that would be "genocide" which didn't phase his pompous white yankee azz a bit . . .

    The more things change, the more they stay the same . . .

  3. The thing is, the U.S. works quite well as an open oligarchy. It did from about 1870 to 1910, and then as a more nuanced oligarchy until the populist Thirties. And the real magic of the American Revolution is that it was ALWAYS about making sure the Right People were in charge. This wasn't some damn France or Russia where the smelly proles got in there and mucked things up.

    The only downside of that is for the non-oligarchs. Well, sorts. Because the REAL long-term downside is if the proles finally go all Soviet or Parisian on you and your head ends up on a pike. But most people who haven't been pimpslapped by life are optimists; they won't understand until the ragged mass comes through the doors that they don't have cake to eat.

    And to be honest, seydlitz, given the history of the U.S. I'd tend to give him at least credit for honesty. His white yankee ancestors did a pretty good job genociding the original inhabitants of the country they now controlled. Why not go all Roman on some foreign yobbos? We like to take up the mantle of "decency", but the bottom line between out-groups is that there IS no social contract. Savagery towards your own is criminal - savagery towards the "other" is just what the other gets for being put in that position.

    "Vae victus", as the Roman writer Livy had one of his sock-puppets say - "Woe to the vanquished".

    ISTM that the U.S. public has a fairly clear-cut choice; accept the entire notion that the world really IS flat and that the goal for a non-elite American is to race a Bangladeshi, Mexican, or Chinese to the bottom of the wage heap just to HAVE a job...or to fight. The people who are insulated from this by wealth don't care; they can retreat into their gated safety as the elites of Rio, Moscow, Mexico City, Beijing, and Delhi do.

    I am confident that within fifty years the mass of the disenfranchised, permanent underclass Americans will make a mockery of the remaining notions of the Constitution...

  4. And I should add that even if the mass of this country DOES choose to fight I'm not sure it will help. I really do worry about the way we've let things go since the twenty years after WW2. Our physical plant is a fucking mess, with electrical transmission facilities, roads, bridges, and underground utilities dangerously overage.

    Manufacturing is going the way agriculture went 100 years ago; losing jobs. It takes, what, 1 farmer to feed several thousand people today? I can't imagine manufacturing going anywhere but that the engine driving U.S. employment is going to get inevitably smaller.

    And we've set up our nation physically about as badly as possible for what's gonna happen when the decline in petroleum supply finally kicks in in 50-200 years or so. We've done nothing to look past the cheap-petroleum era, and our entire country is set up so that you HAVE to have aircraft, trains, and trucks to move the food to the market and automobiles to get the food to the kitchen. Portland - once one of the most fertile farming centers in the country - could not feed itself if it was required to rely on local tilth...unless about 2/3rd of the population obligingly died.

    The only upside may be that the cost of transportation may drive a stake in globalization, so the remaining people will have to reinvent local economies. Not really much of an "upside".

    Tomorrow someone invents "Mr. Fusion" and invalidates all this, of course. But the problem I see is that I don't see the "precursors", as steam provided the base technology for the internal combustion engine. The ICE seems to me to be an end-stage technology. If there IS going to be a future portable motive technology I can't see it.

  5. Chief:

    It takes, what, 1 farmer to feed several thousand people today?

    One Kansas farmer feeds ~150 - 200 people and YOU!, so say the roadside signs scattered about the countryside here-abouts.

    It depends upon what the farmer produces, livestock or grain, but that's what the KS farm orgs. say.

    I've worked in many different areas in my short career, outside of teaching, and one thing that is common among all of them is that "if it isn't broke, don't fix it". Squeeze every ounce of profit out of the operation, spend as little as possilbe on preventative maintenance, and presto!! you get that oil rig tragedy in the gulf last year.

    Road got too many potholes to ignore? Bitch about it, raise the sales tax so the local yokels don't pay for all of their corner of the world. Them county commissioners spending your hard-earned tax money recklessly? Get yourself elected on a tax and spending cut platform, which equals more potholes, which then raises taxes, and the cycle completes.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Those folk in Virginia don't see that Federal money pouring into their state as "welfare", because as the fellow says, it's national security.

    But it is welfare, federal "make-work" jobs, to run our war machine. Here in Kansas, Boeing is making noises about closing up shop because the failure of the ironically named "super committee" will come crashing down on our war budget. There's a lot of pissing of pants in Wichita right now. And if Ft. Riley is shut up, Bob Dole's pet, that area will dry up, including Topeka.

    The Irony of my comment above is all the hollering about wild out of control federal spending is coming from those areas that get the major part of that federal OOC spending. The way I see it, our economy is set up for war, but we really don't have that, and IRONICALLY, we don't want to pay for that.

    Michael Moore, in "Bowling for Columbine", hit that sucker right on the sweet spot. American workers making instruments of war, they got theirs, their good living, but any "meta" thinking about what actually is going on is of no concern.

    Of course, any spending on infrastructure, people, stimulus, is federal "make work", welfare for people who are too lazy to take a bath and get a job.

    My pessimism is the doubt that we can break free of stupidity on taxes, breaking out of ignorance in general, and breaking up the Great Military-Industrial Complex.

    As the Roman Republic ( um "vae victis", btw ) could not survive Imperial Conquests and War-Lords running amok, so I fear and doubt too how our Constitutional gov't can handle our current challenges.

    It's obvious to me, Congress cannot handle our finances rationally.


  6. A little research for those interested:

    Rei foedissimae per se adiecta indignitas est: pondera ab Gallis allata iniqua et tribuno recusante additus ab insolente Gallo ponderi gladius, auditaque intoleranda Romanis vox, "VAE VICTIS!".

    "An idignity was added to the very foul ( "foul" because the Romans were ransoming their once fair city, now besmirched, from the uncouth barbarian horde, who were quite civilized actually, which we do know from archeological finds ) matter: inaccurate weights were brought by the Gaulsand when the Roman tribune objected, a sword was added to the weight by the insolent ( just love that adjective! ) Gaul --Brennus -- and an utterance heard and humiliating to the Romanis, "Woe to the Conquered" ( or "Losers, Weepers"! )

    My off-the-cuff translation, humbly offered.

    IMHO, it's this "who knows if it's entirely true" point in history that set the Roman nation on the path to Empire.

    Carry on.


  7. Okay, this is really odd. Here I am, the dyed-in-the-wool pessimist in the group, cheering you guys up AGAIN!

    While I firmly agree with you all about the short-term (barring a miracle), the long-term looks pretty bright to me, in a broken glass sort of way.

    (1 of 2)

    The Chief has kindly listed the most obvious transgressions, so let's address them.

    "Our physical plant is a fucking mess, with electrical transmission facilities, roads, bridges, and underground utilities dangerously overage."

    Yep, true on all counts. The company I work for does all kinds of testing and we've been saying this for decades. And things are starting to get fixed. Mostly this is happening at the state and local level rather than the federal level, the absolute worst issues are being addressed, at least in the states where my company has a presence. I can't say that this will continue or be sufficient, but at least it is a start.

    "Manufacturing is going the way agriculture went 100 years ago; losing jobs."

    True again, up to a point. As the Chinese middle class expands the Chinese labor costs rise along with transportation, material, and environmental costs. I work in the computer field and we are already beginning to see some jobs flowing back from India and China because the combination of increasing overseas costs and reduced local US costs (pay cuts, ouch!) combined with the efficiency of "buying local" make programmers in the US more attractive than their overseas counterparts. I have heard this is true in manufacturing as well but can't confirm it.

  8. (2 of 2)

    "And we've set up our nation physically about as badly as possible for what's gonna happen when the decline in petroleum supply finally kicks in in 50-200 years or so."

    You're 3 for 3 in the short-run, Chief, but 0 for 3 in the long run. There isn't a single replacement currently available for petroleum right now. But we've FINALLY become aware of the problem and are beginning to do intelligent things about it. Fortunately, as you point out, we've got time and as long as we don't waste it we're in good shape.

    Right now my employer is making excellent money on wind-turbines and a pilot plant that is just going into production to make oil out of wastewater and algae. Solar is finally coming down in price, still isn't affordable but isn't hideous any longer and long term trends look good. Battery technology (driven by tablets and smart phones) is improving by leaps and bounds so we can more easily store energy once it has been generated. Finally the Polywell Fusion project is going well and is going to start building their pilot plant in April. The only concern I've got there is that DARPA will sink their claws in and get the technology declared a military secret but Fabius Maximus tells me that he's heard rumors that the energy output isn't fantastic (and he'd know if anybody does) so I'm still pretty hopeful.

    "The ICE seems to me to be an end-stage technology. If there IS going to be a future portable motive technology I can't see it."

    I can only give you partial credit for this one, Chief. It turns out that you can get an extra 10 MPG or so at freeway speed if you put an extra gear in the transmission. This is how the auto industry in meeting their new CAFE goals. I'm one of the first beneficiaries, picking up a van that get 30-35 MPG while carrying a full load. That was a LOT of fun because my old van got somewhere around 20-25 under the same conditions.

    Also, have you been following the story of the Toyota Prius (just keeps getting better), the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, and the Tesla Model "S?" All of these look pretty good as long as electricity is relatively cheap.

    The only really dark spots I see on the horizon are:
    1) the increasingly awful financial mess in the US and especially in Europe
    2) the continuing self-government issues that Fabius Maximus calls the "death of the constitution."

    So let's enjoy the holidays, fret about the real dangers, and let the rest of the issues take care of themselves.

  9. While I tend to agree, Pluto, that some of these problems are being addressed incrementally, I still don't see the silver cloud outside the dark lining.

    On the infrastructure question, let's look at my own Multnomah County. Right now we have two major bridge replacement projects; one south of Portland (Sellwood Bridge) the other north (I-5 replacement or "Columbia River Crossing", CRC).

    The County is still millions short for the Sellwood project. Even though Clackamas County residents make up something like 60-70 percent of the traffic over the thing, every time the issue comes up for a vote the ClackCo voters flush it. The federal highway funds are gone, and the local funding isn't there. The project as of now is inching forward, but it's definitely on life support.

    The CRC is even worse, with millions of sunk costs and nothing to show for it. Plus the transportation analysis shows that the downtown bottleneck will continue to cause the traffic problems the CRC was sold as alleviating.

    Electric grid? Not even happening. And the underground situation is worse, and even though the local geotechs and state survey geologists have been running around with their hair on fire about the vulnerability of those lifelines every since Loma Prieta nothing has happened because of the expense and public indifference.

    So, yeah, the tumors are getting band-aids.

    But that's all for now.

  10. And what good are manufacturing jobs here if the pay scale is based on Guangzhou? You can't make an actual middle-class living in Knoxville on the wage they pay in Dhaka.

    And, again, I think the problem is bigger than outsourcing; it's that the trend in mature industrial technologies has been away from well-paying labor as is the case in farming. The agricultural sector has shed all the jobs it can, and that is about 99% of the actual jobs. The likelihood is that the ability of an American to make middle-class status for semiskilled labor is going or gone. I'm not saying that's bad OR good in the Big Picture...but for the people who used to be the mainstay of the U.S. labor force, it IS bad.

    And so long as transportation costs are relatively cheap, I can't see any really significant relocation of most of the jobs back to this country. An American making a decent wage is just ALWAYS going to be more expensive than a Pakistani or a Chinese until those nations achieve our level of economic development.

    And - though it's not really critical to our society immediately - the other thing to think about is the mess we contribute to in China and India by making them the low-payed labor force for our WalMarts and Targets.

  11. And the big thing I think you're trying to gild is the ICE problem.

    Getting 10% more mileage isn't going to help if fuel costs go up 400-500%. The current electric cars are extremely limited in range and face the same problems that our deteriorating electric grid forces on our electrical infrastructure in general. And much - right now, most - of our electricity is still fossil-fuel generated.

    How do you get Chilean lettuce to San Francisco if bunker fuel is $500/ton instead of $100? How do you get Michigan iron ore to Pittsburgh smelters if railroad diesel is $12.00/gallon rather then $5.00?

    I still think that this is a huge prospective landmine, but that we're not bothering to find another route because we don't see it yet. And remember how long it took ICE technology to mature, and that was with steam as a 150-year precursor. If we're goingto have to find something genuinely post-petroleum to power our vehicles we're running short on time, IMO.

    As far as the real potential for a continued descent into Depression that the financial mess in the northern hemisphere presents, well, yes, you're right. I'd argue more for that as a "problem that needs to be addressed" except for the problem there is less structural (and thus less unavoidable) than it is a question of politics.

    We could deal with this problem - at least better than we have - but who choose not to.

    And self-government?

    So far as I can see I'm not sure if MORE self-government would help. Things like the initiative process in California have gone a long way towards souring me on the wisdom of We the People.

    For our own safety I'd love to see more liberty and less oligarchy. But I think that a huge part of this is economic; make more people more self-sufficient (more stable, better-paying jobs) and they might get more frustrated with the loss of liberties. And make them angrier about how the loss of liberties has helped enable the oligarchs to shike them out of living wages and decent futures? Same-same.

    I guess the bottom line is that I think ALL of these are things that an engaged citizenry should be asking about and concerned about. But instead if anything I see the opposite.

    As Andy would say - that's not sustainable.

  12. Enjoyed. Like Pluto says, always refreshing to find a thread where a nihilist feels obligated to point out the sunny parts.

    "How do you get Chilean lettuce to San Francisco if bunker fuel is $500/ton instead of $100?"

    My corner farmer's market. Don't need to get my grass-fed beef from Paraguay anymore, local ranchers are providing an option now.

    A lot of retirees are going to get screwed in CA in the long run, but CA at least has the brain power to figure out a way around this. Kansas has got nothing once their farm/MIC welfare state dries up. Let them eat cake.

  13. Private automobiles are dead men walking for several reasons. World oil production has plateaued and, while there may be oil into the next century, it will be too expensive to burn for ground transportation. World oil production has already plateaued.
    And as FD Chief points out, the infrastructure does not support a massive shift to electric cars. Battery claims notwithstanding, modern electric cars have no better range than they did in 1910. As for alternative motor fuels, the best hope seems to be fuel cells, of which some 5000 are currently installed in fork-lift trucks. But nobody knows where we would get hydrogen enough to fuel the world’s fleet of autos, currently estimated to total one million.

  14. "So, yeah, the tumors are getting band-aids."

    I have to agree with your assessment of how your region is handling the situation. So what are you going to do about it?

    The weather is frightful around here but at least the local governments still retain some level of sanity.

    "Getting 10% more mileage isn't going to help if fuel costs go up 400-500%"

    Agreed, but it is a good intermediate step that should help us hold down those higher fuel costs until we come up with something better.

    srv's response matches mine on your questions about lettuce and other goods. Increased transport costs are going to trigger a whole lot of different economic choices at some point in the future. There are too many decision points for me to comment at this time.

    "And what good are manufacturing jobs here if the pay scale is based on Guangzhou?"

    They don't have to exactly match the Chinese pay scale. Every step in a logistics chain adds cost and uncertainty to the delivery of the goods. US manufacturers are tremendously more attractive to US companies and consumers because they've got a shorter logistics chain and because they have become very efficient enterprises these days in order to survive.

    Podunk Paul - "Battery claims notwithstanding, modern electric cars have no better range than they did in 1910."

    Partly true. The Tesla Model S claims a 350 mile range on a single charge while carrying 5 passengers. I've seen some pretty impressive numbers from some pretty reputable engineering companies but nothing very good yet for a mass-produced vehicle.

    "As for alternative motor fuels, the best hope seems to be fuel cells"

    I'm not real happy with hydrogen. Very tricky stuff to keep contained and very nasty if it gets out, remember the Hindenburg and the Challenger.

    Another item is that Polywell fusion offers the opportunity to utilize very local power plants with very little pollution (if any) and no radiation.

    Here's a link to a paper that explains the theory and scientific progress so far:

  15. On a far nuttier note, take a look at the latest FM article and weep.

  16. Distance to commute is a critical factor with electric cars. To commute successfully in an electric, you must either live within 1/2 the range of the battery or have a charging station available at work. Recharging takes too much time to just "stop and fill up" enroute.

    I am trying to imagine the recharging facilities an employer with 500 commuting electric car drivers would have to provide. The standard is about 13 Amps at 240V. x 500 = 6,500 ampere service? Just for the parking lot?

  17. I don't think the employer would have to provide any facilities for recharging. Even today's commuter electric vehicles get 60-75 miles on a single charge and the vast majority of employees live within 30 miles of their employer so the bulk of employees could charge at home at night.

    That said, there will be special cases where some employees need a gasoline vehicle and I can't imagine anybody being willing to go on a long car trip with an electric vehicle until the battery range is predictably higher than 500 miles between recharges.

  18. I posted this earlier under the wrong comments section. Sorry about that.

    “The 15 HP Babcock Electric Roadster (1911) had a range of 100 miles when driven at 17 mph (27 km/h). Its top speed was 30 mph or 48 km/h (source). The Bailey Electric Roaster, built in the same year and having a similar top speed, had a range of up to 118 miles (190 kms) on a single charge when driven at a speed of 20 mph (32 km/h).”
    These cars had appeal to upper-class ladies (including Mrs. Ford) because of their silence, smooth power delivery, and the absence of a starter crank and gearbox. If the evening when the shopping and social obligations were met, the cars were parked in garages, where they were recharged, the batteries tested, and made ready for the next day’s excursions. Their husbands drove gasoline-powered vehicles, which were faster and had, even in those days, what amounted to infinite range.
    If the past is any guide, electric cars will be confined to a similar nitch. They will not be a replacement for the automobiles that we know.

  19. Podunk Paul -"They will not be a replacement for the automobiles that we know."

    You're right in a lot of ways but you have an inherent assumption that gas prices will not be a major factor in choosing vehicles. I suspect that $6.00/gallon gas will have quite an impact.

  20. Chief:

    "How do you get Chilean lettuce to San Francisco if bunker fuel is $500/ton instead of $100?"

    I don't know, maybe they will have to rely on product from Salinas (Lettuce capital of the USA), only fifty miles south. The reason you get foreign veggies vice US is because the stores save pennies on the dollar. If transportation costs from foreign countries go up, that shite will come to a screeching halt.

    Lookee Here

  21. Personally, I'd say the challenge is to get to a format where you can use a filling station system. When using solid batteries, this might look similar to the following: Have a STANDARDIZED format for batteries. Once they run low, hit a station, switch out the low-powered batteries for loaded ones and off you go. Meanwhile, the other ones are loaded at the station and an RFID chip is recording that they went through another cycle. Once they are too old to bother, the filling station sends them in for recycling and gets factory new ones in return to keep up the supply.

    Other example would use fuel cells using liquid fuel such as direct methanol fuel cells - you'd simply switch from gasoline to methanol. They'd need to get more efficient, though, and of course a reasonable system to produce methanol needs to be put into place that is not itself taxing to the environment AND to keep it climate-neutral captures CO2 from the atmosphere.

    One comment for Pluto - the Hindenburg and the challenger are not very good examples for the dangers of hydrogen. In the case of the Hindenburg, it now seems the shell of the ship contributed quite a bit to the problem. And in the case of the Challenger, the problem was several boosters next to each other, containing BOTH sources of oxygen AND fuel. There are already cars being powered by liquified gas. If the tank leaks, it might lead to a flame coming out of the tank, burning off the gas as it escapes the tank. It's not the gas in itself that's dangerous - without oxygen, nothing happens, and as such, nothing can happen inside the tank. Then you need a source of ignition - and even then you don't necessarily have more than a fire at the point of air contact. It's only when certain percentages of gas/air mixtures occur in an enclosed space that things go boom.

    But anyway, as I pointed out, there are ways to work around this problem altogether by using direct methanol fuel cells.

  22. Whatever the future brings, if the US moves toward electric vehicles, significant new infrastructure will be required to support them. Based on the US track record in maintaining infrastructure, it could get very "interesting".

  23. fasteddiez: Frustrating thing is, tho, that people settled here in the Willamette Valley because of the damn fine farmland. We SUPPLIED food for the Gold Rush in California because we didn't have to irrigate the hell out of our crops as they do in...the Salinas Valley.

    But now we're paving over that farmland like it's a free resource.


    And I dunno about the e-cars, guys. Unless there's some sort of significant improvement in batteries over the next 100 years (and we haven't seen much in the LAST 100 years, so I'm not holding my breath...) the problems of size, endurance, and the toxicity of the disposal make them a less-than-ideal solution.

    But I think the thing I'm trying to get at here is the magnitude of the problem, not the overall solvability of it. Anything can be engineered around if you're willing to throw massive amounts of money at it. But the shorter the lead time and the more difficult and complex the solution the harder the fix and the more disruption that is going to come with it.

    In a healthy polity I'd argue that we have a good chance of emerging from that sort of shock with an intact republic. But as we are now..?

  24. Shifting to electric may work for commuting, but there is still the issue of longer rides for a variety of reasons (over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go), which would make many reliant on a second vehicle with greater range. In short, a "culture shift" would be in order.

    Since the US has not had any real form of "National Transportation Policy" since Ike founded the Interstate And Defense Highway System in 1956, I'm not sure how such a culture shift might take place. Rapid transit is not high on the agenda due to cost. The airline industry is purely market based, selling a commodity - cheap seats. Bob Crandall, retired CEO of AMR Corp, once correctly pointed out that the airlines were not part of the national transportation infrastructure since deregulation. They just participate in it. Any efforts towards non-petrol fueled vehicles is basically in a vacuum and out of context with any coherent plan. We just haven't a clue as how to prepare for the future, and I'm not convinced we want to.

  25. Al - What about hybrids? Also any words of wisdom from your bride on American Airlines bankruptcy?

    Cjief - You are right that paving over good farmland for strip malls or suburban cracker boxes is killing us. There are a few hold out communities that use zoning to maintain farmland, but the gelt of the real estate barons is trying to change that. Amish and Mennonites and such are one of the few ways that farms (and small farms at that) are being saved in some places. Some old friends have just had to sell their farm in upstate NY in the finger lakes region. Sadly their kids Were not interested and would have sold it to the highest bidder. But our friends took a slightly lower price and sold to a Mennonite family (cash on the barrelhead BTW for the entire price). They are happy that the place will remain a farm. I note that there are a lot of small farms here in Washington being sold to Mennonites also. I can't say that I believe in that lifestyle, but God bless em, maybe it will save American agriculture.

    Clausewitz - They are already doing 'E-car-battery-change-out-stations' in I believe Europe and perhaps Israel.

  26. Up here we have a law that says that land with the best soil may not be taken out of production. This is a fine law.

    However, there was an area that our city wanted to take over, but the man running the soil survey pointed out that the rich black topsoil was a good 12 feet thick and blocked the annexation.

    Perhaps by co-incidence, a month later he then announced early retirement and his successor realized that the soil wasn't quite so good after all. The successor therefore downgraded the soil rating. A few months later, the land was sprouting houses.

  27. Mike

    The bride remains proud to have retire from AA's management team.

    From a purely clinical standpoint, it appears AA chose to file now, while they still have significant cash assets, to have a bit more control over the reorganization process. They need to get labor costs competitive with all the other airlines that have cuts costs via Chap 11, and negotiations ain't gonna do that, especially their pilots, who are thehoghest paid in the industry, even after previous "concessions"

    Also, from my perspective, it is advantageous to get a reorg out of the way before they begin receiving a whole new fleet of fuel efficient aircraft that they have on order. A delayed Chap 11 could result in the court cancelling that, leaving them with the oldest fleet in the business.

    So, without any inside info, it appears to be a timing issue. Do the inevitable under your own terms. They could emerge in a very profitable state.

    We will just have to see. The bride retired in 1996, and few of her crowd is still there, so she can only comment as an outsider skilled in the industry. AA publicly said over the last 10 years that a Chap 11 was a "last choice", even though it was the norm in the industry.

  28. Well, over here in Europe, high-speed rail has managed to squeeze out flights out of the equation on some connections. E.g. there are no flights from Hamburg to Berlin anymore, since taking into account check-in and security time, the train will get you there just as fast - and straight into the middle of things with a direct subway connection, wheras Tegel only has a bus - and this won't get any better when Tegel is closed and air traffic will all go to Schoenefeld, which is further outside Berlin. It will have commuter rail, but it will take a while to reach the center.
    As a matter of fact, you can book a "flight" in a train - the Cologne-Frankfurt connection can be booked on a flight ticket, being counted as a flight from the smaller Cologne airport to the hub at Frankfurt. At least on the continent, high speed rail is expanding more and more, even crossing borders - a TGV line connecting the French mediterranean coast with Barcelona is just being completed. Now Britain on the other hand is still fast asleep when it comes to high speed rail - possible also a byproduct of their privatizing the rail and the track systems. Building high speed lines requires quite some advance funding and it's unlikely that these funds can be recuperated through later earnings - meaning HSR works best integrated into a public transport policy in which the infrastructure is at least partially paid by the public hand as a consequence of policy of getting people off the road and off the plane. Carving a straight line through the landscape is no easy task and can easily get you into quite some discussion with the local public - and the number of tunnels or torn-up hills doesn't make it cheap either. Which is one reason why people initially put high hopes into the Transrapid maglev technology. Unfortunately, it failed not the least thanks to the all too common "not in my backyard" attitude - another reason was that given how long it officially was in experimental state, the French in the meantime managed to push their TGV to similar speeds with sheer brute force. Doesn't change the fact that the maglev can hug the terrain much more comfortably, but the stilts it was put on for security reasons were found even less pleasing to the eye than a carved-up mountain and in the end it had the image of being overengineered and too expensive... It didn't help that after the initial talks about a long-distance line failed, further suggestions were more in the direction of a commuter rail or an airport shuttle, at which it would never have been able to play out its advantages. A deadly accident on the test track then did it in completely in the public eye, even though it wasn't due to the technology but sheer incompetence of some of the personnel. Now the only one with a working line is China ...and they're likely to buy the whole project as Siemens is losing interest in it fast.

    In any case, there are very useful technologies, but they can never be implemented without a will to act. Any eyisting network, road, train or air, has grown over decades or even centuries. If you want to provide an alternative within years, it's not going to come cheaply. Most importantly, when it comes to trains, the key problem in the US is that the power transmission system is a disaster as it is, so it would not just be an issue of transportation infrastructure but one of power infrastructure as well. The power network has been neglected for ages, and without tackling it forcefully, I frankly think the US has a bottleneck in more than just transportation technology.

    @Mike: Do you know where in Europe? All I've seen myself has been "Plug, wait then ride".

  29. Clausewitz - Not sure - Denmark maybe? and Israel. Still experimental at this stage I believe.

  30. claus: -Building high speed lines requires quite some advance funding and it's unlikely that these funds can be recuperated through later earnings - meaning HSR works best integrated into a public transport policy in which the infrastructure is at least partially paid by the public hand as a consequence of policy of getting people off the road and off the plane.

    The operative term here is simply "Public transport policy". Doesn't matter what the policy exactly proposes to do. It's simply the will (wisdom?) to do something (anything?) coherent that is important.

  31. Claus - here is a link re: changing stations. Gives a slide show and data on each slide. It is from MIT's technology magazine. They are still experimental so I may have spoken too soon. It is a Palo Alto based outfit in partner ship with an Israeli company, and yes they are in Denmark and Israel, with future plans for Hawaii. But if you read the comments on this link it looks like there are some in Japan also, perhaps a different outfit. The $10M start-up costs per station (if the commenter's estimates are correct) may make this extremely hard to do. Which is why I think hybrids may be the answer for the near future.

  32. Ooooppps!

  33. According to the Volts wiki page:

    "research showed that in the U.S. 78 percent of daily commuters travel 40 miles or less."

    I'm pretty sure that's round-trip, because older articles say it's 19 miles, or 26 minutes each way.

    Urban owners will give up at least one of their big cars, maybe an electric commuter car and a family hybrid is the model of the future.

    There are several 100+ mile all-electric cars in the next generation:

  34. FDChief: I am confident that within fifty years the mass of the disenfranchised, permanent underclass Americans will make a mockery of the remaining notions of the Constitution... "

    No, it's the elites, who find laws confining - except for those they can use against the rest of us. And, of course, the elite MSM, who seem to be happily shredding our rights, except for censorship - again, applied to them; applied to the internet, they'll go along.

  35. From the NY Times this past week - the " its impartial majesty that forbids rich and poor alike to steal bread and sleep under bridges" edition:

    "Senate Republican leaders would go after “millionaires and billionaires,” not by raising their taxes but by making them ineligible for unemployment compensation and food stamps and increasing their Medicare premiums"

    I tell ya' - you couldn't MAKE this stuff up...