Total Pageviews

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Every so often I get inexcusably pedantic.  Today, I will attempt to show you why we should not worry about our high debt and argue that we need to get rid of all Tea Party types so that we can increase our taxes.  No, this is not sarcasm...I'm serious.

Republicans, especially the Tea Party, are focused on cutting your taxes.  When President Barack Obama began his presidency in January of 2009, the nation and world were on the brink of another great depression.  In their wisdom, the White House and Congress decided to increase our national debt instead of taxing us to pay for the bailouts.  First, I'm not concerned about this scary national debt.  Read my Huffington Post article on this subject.

I am, though, concerned about the taxes we pay, for like Warren Buffett, I don't think we are paying enough.  DO YOU REALIZE AMERICANS ARE PAYING AT THE LOWEST RATE (AS A % OF OUR GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT) SINCE 1951?

Here are some facts about the taxes you pay:

Facts at a Glance
  • By the end of 2011, the federal government is projected to receive in revenues $2.3 trillion, or 15.3 percent of the economy– well below the historical average of 18 percent of GDP.
  • 1913 – First year the United States government collected federal income taxes (from all eligible citizens earning $3,000 or higher annually)
  • $1.3 trillion – Cost of tax expenditures in the United States in 2011.
  • 18 percent of Americans will not owe payroll or income taxes this year
  • The average American taxpayer pays 18 percent of income in federal taxes

Historically, the taxes we now pay, as a % of GDP, are the lowest in 60 years:
That uptick you see from 2013 into the future is only if those Bush tax cuts of 2003 and 2005 expire.  The yellow line represents why we are in greater debt.  We are outlaying a lot, but that was to save the world (and our) economy.

Further, compared to major economies, Americans pay a lot less in taxes:

One disquieting development, though, is the income share of the top 1%:

Note that the last time this figure neared 25% was just before the stock market crash of 1929.  The rich might have too much money and are taking high risks.

So what is the simple solution?  As long as we can keep interest rates low, don't fret the debt problem.  The Chinese, or anyone, can't just take their money out, for they are investing in America for periods up to ten years.  When the interest rate does go up, we use the low percentage loan we are paying them (around 3%) and become a lending nation.  Let the Bush tax cuts expire in 2013 and reduce the debt over time.  America is in great shape!

The Dow Jones Industrials slipped 21 to 12,633, while world markets were mostly up.    Gold increased $4/toz to $1736, while the WTI crude is at $98/barrel and Brent Spot at $111/barrel.

I had dinner on my roof with this sunset:


Monday, January 30, 2012


Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zukerberg (Facebook), Lawrence Ellison (Oracle), Michael Dell (Dell), Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (UK, Virgin), Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway), Roman Abramowicz (Russia billionaire) and Ted Turner (CNN) never graduated from college.  I don't know what this means, but I looked down this list, and could not find a female.  Maybe they all have college degrees.

More so, for those who did graduate, real wages have DROPPED around 10% over the past decade.  Let me repeat this, for it is hard to believe:  a college graduate today will have an earning power 10% less than someone who graduated ten years ago.  So why bother with college?

Well, for one, you would be much, much, much better off than if you dropped out of high school!  Average annual income:

  High school dropout     $19,540
  High school diploma     $27,380
  College graduate          $46,930

Let's say you worked 50 years.  A high school dropout would earn less than a million dollars, while a college graduate more than $2 million, a difference of $1.4 million.  Just think what your life would be with a better spouse, nicer home, more interesting vacations, larger high definition TV set, a car to suit your personality, a relatively stable job and higher respect in your neighborhood and family.  Mind you, a simple degree is not enough, you need to apply yourself, too.

But even more convincing, consider the following unemployment rates:

  High school dropout        15.4%
  High school diploma       10.0%
  College graduate              4.4%

So if you're young and restless and want to waste your life in poverty, most probably high unemployment prospects and low wages, don't blame teachers, your parents and friends.  Only you can determine the fate of the rest of your life.  If you believe in an afterlife, what if your family and church are wrong.  Perhaps this could be your last chance.

Last year Time asked, is college worth it?  Well, 86% said yes.  The report indicated that something close to 60% of 25-34 year olds from South Korea, Canada and Japan completed some postsecondary eduction, while this figure for the U.S. is towards 40%. 

Something is indeed wrong with 42 million Americans suffering from functional illiteracy and another 50 million not being to read past the 4th grade level.  Seventy percent of prisoners are illiterate, while 85% of juvenile offenders are marginally literate.  Forty three percent of these illiterates in society live in poverty.  Our government feeds 43 million on food stamps.

Do you want to be a statistic from the previous paragraph?  By my calculations, there was only a one chance in 10000000...there are 34 zeros...that you were even born a human being.  The fact that you are alive is a miracle.  What a waste to squander, possibly, your final opportunity.  President Obama wants you to stay in school until the age of 18.  Then, impress everyone, especially yourself, go on to vocational school or college.  More so, when you actually work for a living, make a positive difference for Planet Earth and Humanity.  Yes, this sounds like a high school commencement address, but you get the point.  I hope.

The Dow Jones Industrials fell 130, but recovered to lose only 7 to 12,654, with European markets especially down.  Gold decreased $9/toz to $1730, while the WTI and Brent are stable at $99 and $111/barrel, respectively.

Looks like Tropical Cyclone Iggy, now at 65 MPH, will weaken, and head for Geraldton, Australia.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


The world seems consumed about atomic weapons in Iraq and North Korea.  Sure, the implications are severe, but those threats are nothing compared to what happened 70 years ago.

When I first joined the University of Hawaii in 1972, one of professors in the Civil Engineering Department (which I later joined) was Rudolph Szilard.  There was some connection with Leo Szilard I never was able to figure out.  Rudolph emigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1949 and passed away two years ago in Colorado.

But to get to heart of the matter, the man who might have saved America and the Free World is Leo Szilard (right), who also came from Hungary, in 1938.  What a life.  He caught that dreaded Spanish Flu during World War I, so was in a hospital when his regiment was wiped out.  He invented the electron microscope, filed the patents for chain reaction (not much, and you need to tolerate VALPO, but the music is catchy), the linear accelerator and the cyclotron, and, with Albert Einstein (who was one of his professors), invented a refrigerator (actually got 45 patents, for Einstein once worked in a patent office, and their ideas were bought out by Electrolux of Switzerland).  Many of his closest colleagues won a Nobel Prize.  He never did.

Crossing a street in 1933 London, he suddenly conceived the wonders of chain reaction, and realized that the power could be limitless for humanity, but posed a monumental danger for the future of civilization.  Ernest Rutherford had already announced the possibility of creating more energy than from the supplied proton, but rejected the practicality of it.  The difference was that Szilard thought neutrons could sustain the reaction in a controlled manner using graphite without any boron contamination.

When Szilard accepted an appointment at Columbia University in 1938 he initiated some experiments with Italian emigrant Enrico Fermi (left) that could well have destroyed Manhattan.  When they later moved to the University of Chicago, they could have nuked Chicago.

Szilard knew that Hitler's Germany had begun a project to build an Atomic Bomb, but they could not get the graphite to work, so turned to heavy water, and therefore invaded Norway, which happened to have the world monopoly of these hydrogen isotopes.  You might have seen the movie, The Heroes of Telemark (Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris), where the Norwegian resistance prevented the Nazis from building this bomb.

Realizing that he who had the Atomic Bomb would control the world, and smart enough to understand that the President of the United States would not listen to him, he went to see Albert Einstein.  Many are familiar with Einstein's letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which spurred the Manhattan Project (cost around $29 billion in 2012 dollars).  Most don't know that there were three Einstein letters to FDR, all drafted by Szilard.

The third letter was sent after World War II in Europe was over, so the Hitler threat was gone.  Follow-up showed that Werner Heisenberg, who was in charge of that German project, and his team were not close to building that bomb, for his calculations were all wrong.  Not quite the lie of Bush's Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Iraq War, but fortunate, indeed, for the American leadership diddled around with mistrust and indecision for several years before getting their act together.  That third letter beseeched FDR not to drop the bomb on Japan, but to instead bring their representatives to Nevada to view the destructiveness of this device.  However, FDR died, Harry Truman took over, and there were doubts anyway that  Trinity (below, 0.16 seconds after explosion; click on You Tube recording) would even work.  When it did, Truman did not hesitate to end the war by using Little Boy (over Hiroshima) and Fat Man (over Nagasaki).

Incidentally, Szilard conceived of a cobalt bomb that left nasty radioactive particles on the ground.  Note that Hiroshima and Nagasaki today are thriving cities.  Cobalt-60 has just the right potency and half-life (bit more than 5 years) to be ideal for eliminating life. (Do worry about this isotope from Fukushima.)  The C-Bomb is the true "Doomsday Bomb" because a sufficient number of these explosions could end life as we know it!  If Iran and North Korea were fashioning cobalt bombs, the situation would be very, very serious.  You've got to wonder if any cobalt bombs are in a country's stockpile.  One of these get stolen and you have a reason for another movie.  Hmm...

Einstein said "I made one great mistake...,"  and that was his role in the creation of the Atomic Bomb.  Szilard was even more remorseful, and completely changed his life, becoming a molecular biologist.

So is Szilard the Man Who Saved Humanity?  Well, probably not.  That's why the question mark in the title.  In fact, he could well have created a  monster, for our society was one button push away from a nuclear winter.  If Hitler was actually close to perfecting the first Atomic Bomb, then, perhaps, yes.  But the good guys won and the Cold War ended.  No Mutual Assured Destruction anymore as the U.S. and Russia are slowly, too slowly, beginning to reduce nuclear capacity.  Iran and North Korea are toast if they even attempt to use these weapons.  Yet, that Cobalt Bomb still worries me.


Saturday, January 28, 2012


The answer, of course, is yes.  But, will ocean thermal energy conversion ever become cost competitive to make a difference?  I'm hopeful, but not sure, especially as not one megawatt is currently being generated.  

My 30July2008 posting provided the history of OTEC.  A more complete treatment is provided by Luis Vega of the University of Hawaii.  You can actually buy a book Andrew Trenka and I wrote (left) for the United Nations, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1996.  I just noticed used copies are on sale for $25 at  However, the price is $500 at Barnes & Noble, and also from Alibris.

About 120 years ago, Jacques d'Arsonval first proposed tapping the temperature differential between the surface and deep ocean waters to produce electricity.  Nearly a century later I helped draft the first OTEC legislation when I worked for the U.S. Senate.  We indicated in the bill signed into law by President Jimmy Carter that there would be 10,000 MW of OTEC by 1999 (twenty years later).  Again, the total production rate today is zero.

However, I can report that there is today considerable activity and interest, with Lockheed Martin, Sea Solar Power, OTEC International (left, 100 MW OTEC for Honolulu?), Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation, Xenesys, and others progressing well.  A summit of interest was held at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority this past September, drawing the involvement of all the above companies.

But enough for the subject at large.  This posting has to do specifically with OTEC and global climate change remediation.  Clearly, if OTEC power becomes commercialized, this sustainable energy source will begin to replace hydrocarbon combustion, so that is a start.  Perhaps the carbon balance can be improved through the process of combining the deep ocean water nutrients (which includes carbon dioxide) to grow marine algae.  That is another plus.  Some day environmental credits can be earned.

Jim Baird has suggested a counter-current heat transfer mechanism, which he also calls the Global Warming Mitigation Method.  You can visit his site and communicate with him.

While I'm at this, let me introduce Dominic Michaelis' Energy Island:
While OTEC is part of this development, you will note that a range of solar and wind options is also involved.


Friday, January 27, 2012


I had two postings last year on Alzheimer's (Alois Alzheimer, left),  Part 1 and Part 2.  Basically, the question was:  Does seafood cause Alzheimer's?  The answer was not conclusive, but worrisome, especially as I live in Honolulu, surrounded by the largest ocean.  Coconut was offered as a possibly remedy.

Well, a new possible solution has been advanced by Seth Herzon (right) from Yale, whose team synthesized a compound called huperzine A, (above) naturally found in a moss from China, Huperzia serrata.  While we all have walked through Chinatown shops of weird potions, and this medicine has been known and used thousands of years for fever, swelling and blood disorders, a particular treatment has only gained credence for memory loss since 1996.  Essentially, the plant is ground and the active molecule is somehow extracted.  It seems to work.

All  the current medications for Alzheimer's barely check the degradation. Huperzine A actually stops the progression of the disease.

The significance of the Herzon solution is that a stable, reliable and economical source of huperzine can be synthesized in the laboratory with inexpensive chemicals.  Huperzia serrata (left) takes 20 years to grow, and the resultant potion costs $1,000/milligram.  Herzon indicated that his method might cost as low as 50 cents/mg, about the amount required by a patient/day.

However, the medical profession and the Alzheimer's Association do not recommend taking huperzine A.  Herzon himself indicated that much work remains to be done.  I'm not aware, though, of a more promising option today for this mentally debilitating ailment that does a lot more than incapacitate an individual.  The whole family is affected.

The Dow Jones Industrials fell 74 to 12,660, with world markets also almost all down.  Gold jumped $18/toz to $1739, while oil remained relatively steady, the WTI Cushing Spot at $100/barrel and the Brent Spot at $111/barrel.

Tropical Cyclone Iggy will make a right turn south southwest and skirt the coastline of northwest Australia with hurricane force winds:


Thursday, January 26, 2012


What are the prospects of biofuels from algae?  My posting of 5November2009 provided a wide range of possibilities, from $1/gallon to more than $10/gallon.  The most credible was $4/gallon (or $168/barrel...which means oil would need to cost much more than $200/barrel to be commercially competitive).

Microalgae (above, upper half) are today the focus of algae research for biofuels, but all these efforts occur on land, are energy intensive, could consume precious water, and are under the watchful eye of various environmental groups.  Someday, ocean bioengineers will be able to grow microorganism in the open ocean, but I personally can't imagine how.

What remain, then, as the only algae option for the ocean are macroalgae (kelp, etc.), a subject which has been researched for more than half a century, most notably by Howard Wilcox.  While Wilcox focused on methane as the end product, John Forster is taking a slightly higher value pathway for food and feed.

However, getting to the reason for the above title, a relatively recent potential of macroalgae for energy was in 2008 reported by a group from the Netherlands (Ecofys), and here is a quote from Environmental Research Web:

Earlier studies have indicated that large-scale use of seaweed as an energy source could in theory supply the world's needs several times over 

ERW went on to say:

Natural seaweed species grow very fast – 10 times faster than normal plants – and are full of sugars, but it has been very difficult to make ethanol by conventional fermentation


The new microbe research, published today in the leading journal Science, represents a "critical" technological breakthrough, but the challenge of making the approach commercially viable remains.

This so-called leap of progress is a genetically modified solution, which will immediately draw certain concerns.  But already 40 different farm commodities are totally approved for the marketplace, and you regularly eat GM corn.  At least you won't be drinking this liquid, although ethanol is the biofuel of choice for marine biomass.  But it is not the macroalgae that is being modified, it will be E. coli to more effectively ferment the fiber.

There are other developments.  While I have a sinking feeling that the moisture content of any marine biomass will be too high to gasify, below is a process from Cornish Seaweed Resources:

According to Daniel Trunfio of Bio Architecture Lab, 3% of the world's coastal waters can grow 40% of the fuel burned by U.S. vehicles.  But that earlier Dutch study indicated that the open ocean can be used to provide several times the current world usage of energy.  It also indicated that most of the ocean is a nutrient desert, so the efficiency will be meager.  I won't explain that ocean nutrient map to the left, but you can click on that portal to better understand it.  But, yes, the open ocean, especially in much of the band around the equator (like Hawaii), is a "desert."

On the other hand...

...shown here is the open ocean as the greatest source of productivity.  So what is what?  Well, there is a lot of ocean, but, save for where there is natural upwelling, the surface lacks nutrients.

This is where ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) with the prospects of utilizing the deep cold water can be the future of food and energy:

Thus, the Blue Revolution and nutrient-rich effluents from the OTEC process (the rendering to the right is from Lockheed Martin), for you get free fertilizer and irrigation (after all, you are in water), and on free real estate (at this time no one will charge you for using the seas outside the Exclusive Economic Zone, which is most of the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, where there should be dampened environmental noise).  The marine biomass can be processed on grazing platforms into the appropriate biofuel (could well be ethanol, although higher order hydrocarbons and methanol might also be of interest), and conveniently sent to markets, for ocean shipping is about the cheapest mode of product delivery (you don't need to build roads, etc).  There will also be a range of other products, including biopharmaceuticals, green chemicals, hydrogen, ammonia, fertilizer (especially phosphates for terrestrial farming), seafood, air conditioning, and so on.

So is this a significant breakthrough?  Well, that genetically modified bit of news is at least an advancement.  There is much work to be done to compete with some of the other options:  low efficiency terrestrial biomass, peaking oil, coal and tar sands.

The Dow Jones Industrials fell 22 to 12,735, but major world markets were all up.  Gold increased $12/toz to $1721, while the WTI oil is at $100/barrel and the Brent Spot is at $110/barrel.

There remain two cyclones in the Indian Ocean, with Funso at 130 MPH, but threatening no one, and Iggy, heading for northwest Australia:


Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The biggest solar storm in six years just reached Planet Earth. Watch a clip of the resultant Aurora Borealis (photo above by Maurice Nicholson, Shetland) from an AP posting.  However, the article itself was not scientifically correct.

These Northern Lights (photo to the left from the Canadian Tourism Commission) are not caused by solar flares, where the X- and UV-rays reach our planet in 8 minutes.  Something called a coronal mass ejection (CME), a burst of solar wind, does, and it takes a little more than four days to reach us, but this time could be significantly reduced under certain circumstances.   Solar wind is a stream of plasma (charged particles).  Thus, if you keep up with solar storms and such, you would have enough time to get to personally see this phenomenon.  Go to the NASA Space Weather Prediction Center to track our Sun activity.  These colorful lights can occur at any time of the year, and are dependent on the severity of the CME.  The effect is maximized by the lack of a shining moon and absence of clouds, for these plasmas collide with our atmosphere from 350 to 50 miles up.

Yes, there, too, are Southern Lights.  In fact, they occur at the same time (left, from The Moyne Gazette) in the latitudes indicated to the right.  

Where can you go to see these dancing lights?  Alaska, Canada, Iceland (photo above), Scotland and Scandinavia are easily accessible, but if you have a quick Antarctic connection, there, too.  The southern edges of New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Chile are also possible.  Amazingly enough this recent atmospheric wonder was actually seen as far south as Mississippi!  The photo on the left was taken by Jeremy Myers in Tennessee.  

Colors?  Oxygen atoms provide red and green, while Nitrogen molecules give off blue and violet.  Oxygen molecules also participate.  Red is the rarest of these hues, which makes me turn skeptical about that photo above, for the photographer said he took it when he came home from work.  Was this a sunset?

There is a movie entitled Aurora Borealis, starring Joshua Jackson, Donald Sutherland and Juliette Lewis.  The audience gave it a 40% approval rating in Rotten Tomatoes.

The Dow Jones Industrials rose 83 to 12,759, with world markets also mostly up.  Gold jumped $43/toz to $1710, while the WTI Cushing is at $99/barrel and Dated Brent Spot at $110/barrel.

There are now two storms in the Indian Ocean.  The one I mentioned a few days ago, Tropical Cyclone Funso, has strengtthened to 140 MPH, but continues to churn south between Africa and Madagascar into cooler waters, and should dissipate before making any landfall.

A new cyclone should gain hurricane strength in a few days and possibly strike the northwest portion of Australia


COUNTRY #200: Benin

I've reached what I thought was an impossible milestone (however, the GOOGLE universe has 246 entities, including Antarctica).  Welcome country #200:


«  Previous Country | Next Country  »   Back to Flag Counter Overview
Present day Benin was the site of Dahomey, a prominent West African kingdom that rose in the 15th century. The territory became a French Colony in 1872 and achieved independence on 1 August 1960, as the Republic of Benin. A succession of military governments ended in 1972 with the rise to power of Mathieu KEREKOU and the establishment of a government based on Marxist-Leninist principles. A move to representative government began in 1989. Two years later, free elections ushered in former Prime Minister Nicephore SOGLO as president, marking the first successful transfer of power in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. KEREKOU was returned to power by elections held in 1996 and 2001, though some irregularities were alleged. KEREKOU stepped down at the end of his second term in 2006 and was succeeded by Thomas YAYI Boni, a political outsider and independent. YAYI has attempted to stem corruption and has strongly promoted accelerating Benin's economic growth.

Map data ©2012 MapLink, Tele Atlas - Terms of Use

Bet you thought Benin was somewhere near Russia.  

President Boni Yayi had a financial scandal, in the form of a Ponzi scheme. Big deal, he got re-elected last year, but disputedly so.  So what else is new?  Well, the Catholic Church also has to contend with a scandal, drawing a visit from Pope Benedict XVI.  Even the University of Benin has a sex scandal.

Click to see the top ten reasons for visiting Benin.  The Voodoo Festival seems particularly interesting, although you will need to wait until next January, for you just missed it.  Here is a clip. This is an approved religion (Christianity is the most prevalent) in Benin, and 60% of the population are followers, sort of like in Japan where both Buddhism and Shinto are practiced by a good number.

Apparently, she is available for a date...if you actually believe in the Great African Dating Boom.  However, the State Department warns not to walk on the beach at any time, and assorted other alerts.