Tag Archives: Current Affairs

Old Are Lazy, But Fit

Many are concerned about how rich nation workers can pay for the rising costs of public pensions and other elderly benefits.  A graph from the latest Science clarifies.  While the ratio of folks over 65 to younger adults (OADR) will almost double in 45 years, the ratio of disabled to healthy adults (ADDR) will hardly change at all.  The ratio of folks with fifteen years left to live to younger adults will increase ~42%.


  • OADR, … people aged 65 or older, divided by … people of working age, 15 or 20 to 64. …
  • POADR, … people in age groups with life expectancies of 15 or fewer years, divided … people at least 20 years old in age groups with life expectancies greater than 15 years. …
  • ADDR, … adults at least 20 years old with disabilities, divided by … adults at least 20 years without them. (more)

There is no basic economic problem; we have plenty of capable workers. We instead have a political problem – old folks feeling entitled to more leisure at the expense of their juniors.  So just how much will rich nations be willing to tax their workers to pay for “promises” their elderly made to themselves long ago?

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Imperialist US?

Recent US war history in a nutshell: Responding to an ’01 terror attack on NYC by activists from Saudi Arabia, funded by Pakistan, and trained in Afghanistan, the US in ’03 attacked Iraq, supposedly because they had “weapons of mass destruction,” never found. US denied it wanted control of the strategic resource-rich Persian Gulf, saying it remains there to “nation-build.”  In ’07 US geologists reported Afghanistan has $1 trillion in mineral wealth, and then in ’09 the US more than doubled its Afghanistan troops, supposedly to fight terrorists and “nation-build.”  It now denies it wanted the minerals:

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Monday that the $1 trillion figure didn’t surface until recently because a military task force working on the issue had been focused on Iraq. … It wasn’t until late last year that the task force got around to looking at a 2007 study by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s when the group estimated the minerals’ value, Lapan said. The New York Times first reported the $1 trillion figure on Sunday night.

Many are suspicious of US motives in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An ’04 world survey:

Majorities in all four Muslim nations surveyed doubt the sincerity of the war on terrorism. Instead, most say it is an effort to control Mideast oil and to dominate the world. … There is broad agreement in nearly all of the countries surveyed – the U.S. being a notable exception – that the war in Iraq hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism. … Solid majorities in France and Germany believe the U.S. is conducting the war on terrorism in order to control Mideast oil and dominate the world. … Large majorities in almost every country surveyed think that American and British leaders lied when they claimed, prior to the Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.

Today in Afghanistan:

The Pentagon’s announcement that Afghanistan possesses $1 trillion worth of unexploited minerals will have the unintended consequence of confirming one of the most deeply entrenched conspiracy theories among Afghans.  Many Afghans I have spoken with believe firmly that America wants to permanently occupy the country in order to take Afghan land and resources. Even educated Afghans friends who generally support a temporary US presence have told me the same. I had to laugh when one suggested that Americans would want to move to Afghanistan to snatch up Afghan land for homes. … For many Afghans, it makes no sense that the US cannot wrap up the Taliban – so an imperialist land grab becomes a plausible explanation.

Historians agree that once upon a time colonial powers, including the US, did invade nations to try to gain their natural resources. (Not clear they benefited overall though.)  The world is now asked to believe that the US has lost this inclination and ability – gosh, the US folks who chose to attack Afghanistan didn’t even know it was a gold mine, honest.  Nor did Iraq’s oil influence invading it.  So why didn’t the US invade lots of other nations similarly plagued by terrorists, or nations like Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan that threaten nuclear instability?  It’s just random, the world is asked to believe.

I can see why the world is skeptical here. Now I can also understand the position that the US is no longer organized or capable enough to purposely target and gain advantage from invading resource-rich nations.  What I can’t understand is how folks who believe this can simultaneously believe the US is organized and capable enough to “build nations,” a task where we’ve seen little success lately, and a task made even harder by widespread suspicion of US motives. Really, that’s your story?!

Added 17June:  Some question the trillion dollar figure.

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Nuke That Oil Well

Back on May 4:

As BP prepares to lower a four-story, 70-ton dome over the oil gusher under the Gulf of Mexico, the Russians — the world’s biggest oil producers — have some advice for their American counterparts: nuke it. Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground. …

The Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities. The first happened in Uzbekistan, on September 30, 1966 with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals.

These kinds of surgical strikes to shut off underground leaks, however, were carried out only five times, with the last one occuring in 1979. And there was only one misfire, near Kharkov, Ukraine, where a nuclear blast was unable to stanch a gas leak. Happily, with a track record like that, “the chances of failure in the Gulf of Mexico are 20%,” KP writes. “The Americans could certainly risk it.”

Makes sense to me. Seems a low risk of fire or of a radioactivity release of comparable harm to the oil pollution. The Christian Science Monitor agreed May 13. On May 24 it looked like we might see reason:

President Obama has stepped in and has sent a team of nuclear experts to contain the spill. The man in charge to contain the spill is Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary and also the one who helped develop the first hydrogen bomb in the 50s. The five member multidisciplinary team are a creative lot involved in the first hydrogen bomb, finding ways to mine in Mars and ways to position biomedical needles. The team will work along with BP’s scientist to find a solution. Meeting at BP’s crisis centre in Houston, Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward said after the meeting, ‘lots of nuclear physicists and all sorts of people coming up with some quite good ideas actually.’

Alas, Today’s Post:

The failure of traditional well-killing methods may also heighten the pressure on authorities to try unconventional approaches. Simmons, for example, suggests a military takeover of the whole operation, and possibly even an attempt to seal the well with an explosive device.

Allen, the national incident commander, dismissed the idea. “My view is since we don’t know the condition of that well bore or the casings, I would be cautious about putting any kind of kinetic energy on that well head,” Allen said, “because what you may do is create open communication between the reservoir and the sea floor.”

Seems caution isn’t working so well now.  [Added: And it is hard to believe the well bore or casings matter much – it is the kinds of rock/mud/etc. near the hole that matter.]  Alas, also seems Obama has decided the nuke option is politically unpalatable.   Sure BP deserves blame for the spill itself, but doesn’t anti-nuke political correctness deserve lots of blame for our reluctance to stop the spill?


One prominent energy expert known for predicting the oil price spike of 2008 says sending a small nuclear bomb down the leaking well is “probably the only thing we can do” to stop the leak. Matt Simmons, founder of energy investment bank Simmons & Company, also says that there is evidence of a second oil leak about five to seven miles from the initial leak that BP has focused on fixing. That second leak, he says, is so large that the initial one is “minor” in comparison.

Obama seems to have avoided getting involved in fixing this spill, for fear of being tarred with its failures.  May 28:

Obama … said that his administration is doing all it can, but that, when it comes to plugging the leak, “the federal government does not possess superior technology to BP.”

But I’ll bet BP doesn’t have nukes. If nukes are the answer, then leaving the fix to BP has definitely made things worse.

Added 31May:

The Russian television channel RT described how Soviet authorities used underground nuclear explosions to seal off leaking gas pipes. The idea is that the explosion shears the leak closed for good. “That’s not something we’re considering. It would be far too risky,” said BP’s MacEwen. (more)

They don’t explain what risk they have in mind.

Added 3June:  Yesterday National Review had an article favoring the nuke option. The NYT had article “Nuclear Option on Gulf Oil Spill? No Way, U.S. Says.”

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New Paleolithic Mating

Two women on modern mating.  Lori Gottlieb:

A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for the Atlantic titled “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in which I said that having found myself still single at 40 … had I known when I was younger what would make me happy when it came to marriage and family, I would have made very different choices in my dating life. … The majority of single women who responded to a survey I sent out said that getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a mate would be “settling.” The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be “a catch.” …

Many single women — mostly those in their 20s — went wild with rage and disdain for my confession: … I’d happily take the 80 percent, if only it was as available to me as it had been when I was 30. …  Suddenly I was “ageist,” “sexist” and “anti-feminist.” … I’ll admit, just a few years earlier, I might have been one of the women bashing this Lori Gottlieb chick for saying the unthinkable. I, too, felt that women should “have it all” (whatever unrealistic ideal I took that to be) and that anyone who suggested otherwise was out of touch, offensive or just plain off her rocker. Compromise? No way. That would mean not being true to myself.  A lot of women my age and younger grew up thinking this way. … We’re supposed to have high standards, and if a guy doesn’t meet them, we should be gloriously fulfilled on our own. … According to some readers, I was an affront to the entire women’s movement … I remember watching a group of young women on the “Today” show discussing my article and the fact that they’d rather be single than with Mr. Good Enough. …

It’s probably no accident that once women adopted this “I don’t need a man” attitude, many were left without men. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of never-married women ages 25 to 44 more than doubled between 1970 and 2006. …  Another woman proudly said she could easily get her sexual needs taken care of without marriage. So what? … 4 percent of women said what they wanted most from marriage was sex, while 75 percent said it was companionship.

Charlotte Allen:

The very day, March 17, 2005, that Scott Peterson—sentenced to death in California for killing his wife and unborn son and throwing their remains into San Francisco Bay—took up residence on San Quentin’s death row, he received three-dozen phone calls from smitten women, including an 18-year-old who wanted to become his second wife. According to an April story in People, Peterson is still being flooded with letters from female admirers almost five years later, many of the mash notes containing checks to pay for his commissary charges. That’s par for the course on death row, where the rule is: The more notorious the killer, the more fan mail and marriage proposals. The most fan-mail-saturated killer in San Quentin is Richard Allen Davis, who in 1993 kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas at knifepoint from her home in Petaluma, Calif., killed her, and buried her in a shallow grave. … Continue reading "New Paleolithic Mating" »

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Dreamtime Drama

After a record two feet of snow this weekend, my area (DC) has another 5-9 inches coming tomorrow.  My street hasn’t been plowed, and likely won’t be until next week.  So this might seem one of those “stories to tell your grandkids.”  Except, well, we have water, power, heat, tv, internet, plenty of food, and no more than the usual work to do.  Not exactly a disaster story for the ages.

This is of course one of the prices we pay for being dreamtime richies – stories about our suffering just aren’t going to elicit much sympathy from our distant descendants.  We can hardly get worked up about them ourselves.  The far future may, however, be fascinated to gawk at our freaky facades, ginormous growth, strange scenarios, and bizarre beliefs.  We are history’s circus; which circus wonder are you?

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Uppity China

He started it!  I was just minding my own business when out of the blue he looked at me funny.  So I had to clock him. (bullies everywhere)

A month ago I reported:

I hear a lot of China bashing these days.  To check, I surveyed the last ten China new articles in the Post and NYT. … Yup, top US newspapers are in full fledged China bashing mode.

Today’s top article at WashingtonPost.com is “China’s strident tone raises concerns”:

China’s indignant reaction to the announcement of U.S. plans to sell weapons to Taiwan appears to be in keeping with a new triumphalist attitude from Beijing that is worrying governments and analysts across the globe.  From the Copenhagen climate change conference to Internet freedom to China’s border with India, China observers have noticed a tough tone emanating from its government. …

“The Chinese find with startling speed that people have come to view them as a major global player. And that has fed a sense of confidence.”  Lieberthal said another factor in China’s new tone is a sense that after two centuries of exploitation by the West, China is resuming its role as one of the great nations of the world.

This new posture has befuddled Western officials and analysts. … Analysts say a combination of hubris and insecurity appears to be driving China’s mood. … What happens next will be crucial. China quietly sanctioned several U.S. companies for participating in such weapons sales in the past. However, it would mark a major change if China makes the list public.

So Western analysts are befuddled that China is surprising uppity – analyst explanations and remedies center on Chinese psychology and actions; surely nothing the West has done could be part of the explanation.  “We were just standing here minding our own business when they just went all crazy …”

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Food Not Med

Listening to the radio this morning to reporters visiting the epicenter of the Haitian quake, I heard locals complaining that no one had come to help them.  Locals said they need food, water, and shelter; when rains come they will get cold.  The reporters, however, seemed obsessed with noting that locals need medicine.  They also focused on local efforts to dig out and bury their dead.

Given their desperate need for food, water, and shelter, it seems unlikely to me that medicine is such a priority.  Furthermore, experts say, dead bodies are just not a problem:

Corpses do not represent a public health threat. When death is due to the initial impact of the event and not because of disease, dead bodies have not been associated with outbreaks.

I’m not sure to what extent we are seeing a bias in Haitians, in the reporters, or in their US audience.  But surely epicenter Haitians have more important worries than medicine and dead bodies.

Added:  The contrast between the oh so visible US concern and US planes flying around Haiti with loudspeakers warning locals not to try to boat it to the US is quite striking.  Clearly at some level US folks realize they could help Haitians most by letting them immigrate.  If we (thought we) cared less and were instead eager to gain migrant farm workers and household servants, we might end up helping Haitians more.

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So Much Good News

In the US, Med Reform seems dead and the Supreme Court upholds free speech big-time.  World wide, the modal (log) income, i.e., the most common income level world-wide, has increased by a factor of ten in just 40 years!

worldincome2aworldincome2bHT Rob Wiblin.

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Celebrating Compromise

Crapgame:  Then make a DEAL!
Big Joe:  What kind of deal?
Crapgame:  A DEAL, deal! Maybe the guy’s a Republican. “Business is business,” right?   [Famous scene from 1970 movie Kelly’s Heroes]

Invictus is a decent movie – at 80 years old Clint Eastwood is still in top form.  More interesting is that Invictus, like Kelly’s Heroes, is a rare movie celebrating compromise, the key virtue of “dealism,” or economic efficiency.

The movie shows Nelson Mandela, new black leader of previously white-run South Africa, trying to unite suspicious whites with blacks eager for revenge.  Of course Mandela achieves this not by touting the advantages of peace and prosperity, but via pride in beating a common enemy: the South African rugby team wins the world cup.  The title of the movie comes from a poem that inspired Mandella in prison, a poem all about defiance, self-respect, and not a whiff of compromise.

All of which shows just how hard it is to inspire passion for compromise; sadly, no one goes to the barricades for efficiency.  The best this movie can offer is that peace and compromise can help you crush your enemies into smoldering ruins.  Whee.

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This Isn’t News

To those with a good basic econ education, it isn’t news that the world economy continues to grow.  Nevertheless, it is worth remembering and repeating from time to time.  Tyler Cowen:

It may not feel that way right now, but the last 10 years may go down in world history as a big success. … Steady economic growth is an underreported news story — and to our own detriment. As human beings, we are prone to focus on very dramatic, visible events, such as confrontations with political enemies or the personal qualities of leaders, whether good or bad. We turn information about politics and economics into stories of good guys versus bad guys and identify progress with the triumph of the good guys. In the process, it’s easy to neglect the underlying forces that improve life in small, hard-to-observe ways, culminating in important changes.

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