Fukushima Seafood is Safe to Eat Again after Nuclear Accident Following 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

The March 11, 2011 earthquake did not hurt the nuclear reactors at Fukushima.  And that quake was so violent that it moved the earth on its axis.  But it didn’t damage those reactors.  It was the tsunami it threw up that did.  Flooding the electrical switchgear that powered the cooling pumps.  As well as the backup generators.  It was one of those failures that was so remote that the engineers never conceived of it.  And when it happened it caused the greatest nuclear power accident since the Chernobyl meltdown.  The fallout from this rare accident shut down the nuclear power industry in Japan.  And other parts of the world.  People trembled as they awaited the nuclear apocalypse.  But it wasn’t as bad as some feared (see Fukushima seafood on the market by AP, The West Australian, posted 6/26/2012 on Yahoo! News).

The first catch of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima coast since last year’s nuclear disaster is being sold after passing radiation tests.

The Fukushima Prefectural (state) fishing co-operative said only octopus and a marine snail known as whelk were going on sale Monday…

The association said the amount of radioactive cesium was so low it was not detectable.

Octopus and whelk were chosen for the first test shipment because they measured low in radiation. Flounder, sea bass and other fish from Fukushima cannot be sold yet because of radiation contamination.

Not bad for the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.  And as the hot summer approaches they’re starting up some of their reactors to meet the electrical demand.  This doesn’t mean that Fukushima is not without problems.  But life goes on.  Even after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

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The NHS provides a Glimpse into Obamacare with a Hospital Ward closing due to a Staff Shortage

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

After the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was Constitutional people have been wondering how that will affect their health care.  Well, thanks to the British National Health Service (NHS) we can look into the future to see what awaits us under Obamacare (see St John’s Hospital children’s ward closed for three weeks posted 6/27/2012 on BBC News Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland).

A West Lothian hospital has said it will not admit patients to its children’s ward for three weeks during the summer because of a staff shortage…

Trainee paediatric doctors were removed from the hospital in April, reducing doctors available for out-of-hours cover…

The health board said it was not possible to secure enough staff for the three-week period…

Former consultant at St John’s, and Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Richard Simpson said: “This is not the fault of hard working staff. The SNP is creating an environment in the health service that risks these practices becoming more likely by imposing deep cuts to staffing levels, resulting in staffing levels on the ground being thin…”

The RCN’s Theresa Fyffe said: “Decisions like this indicate how the NHS workforce is stretched to breaking point, which is bad news for families and children in West Lothian, as well as our members, many of whom are already worried about the future of the children’s ward.”

Staffing shortage?  Stretched to the breaking point?  Will this happen here?  Well, considering that the US has about five times the population of the UK, yes.  Doctors who are already fighting the government for Medicare reimbursements that are already below their costs have indicated that they will just stop seeing Medicare patients.  And the doctors who can are thinking about retiring.  Because they spend more of their time being bureaucrats than doctors.  And it’s only going to get worse under Obamacare.  For that bill was 2,000+ pages long.  And the law will only be bigger.

Fewer doctors to see more patients?  Can you say staffing shortage?  Stretched to the breaking point?

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Congress keeping Student Loans Cheap for the Youth Vote while Increasing the Cost of Tuition

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

It’s an election year.  And both the Republicans and the Democrats are trying to garner the youth vote.  By making it easy for them to accumulate a massive student loan debt for what may prove to be a worthless degree in today’s economy.  Because of the highest unemployment since the Great Depression.  If you compare the U-6 unemployment rates.  Which is currently still north of 14%.  So it’s hard for new college graduates to find a job.  Especially for those with degrees in the liberal arts and the social sciences.  Which just aren’t in high demand in a high-tech economy.  But cheap student loans translate into happy students.  Later they’ll be disgruntled college graduates.  But the politicians don’t care about that.  Because at the time of the election they’ll be happy and grateful students looking to thank someone with their vote (see How Cheap Federal Loans May Harm Students by Rick Newman posted 6/25/2012 on US News).

The cost of a college education has been rising by about 9 percent per year over the last decade, more than three times the overall rate of inflation…For many families, education inflation is more onerous than the skyrocketing cost of healthcare, since you can’t buy insurance that pays for college.

Several factors are pushing tuition costs up, including cutbacks in state funding and an increasing number of students competing for university spots. But another pernicious cause may be a sharp increase in financial aid available to students, especially federally subsidized grants and loans…

That’s a huge commitment to college education, and a seemingly smart way for Washington to prioritize spending. Yet many experts say that all that aid artificially increases demand for a college education and the money available to pay for it, which pushes prices up. There was a disturbing parallel in the housing market a few years ago, when interest rates kept artificially low by the Federal Reserve, along with lax lending standards, generated a flood of money available for mortgages. That helped push home values far above healthy levels, creating the housing bubble that began to burst in 2006, triggering a brutal recession.

Employment at colleges and universities, meanwhile, has increased consistently over the last decade, in sharp contrast to the cutbacks that have occurred throughout the private sector and in state and local government. That suggests that there’s little cost pressure forcing universities to become more efficient, as many companies have been forced to do.

No one ever talks about the education bubble.  But after the subprime mortgage crisis we had a Congressional investigation and passed new regulations (Dodd-Frank).  And to address the high cost of health care we’ve attacked doctors, hospitals, private health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  Even passed Obamacare (by saying the tax wasn’t a tax).  Yet educational costs are rising higher than even health care (at least from a parent’s perspective) and there’s no Congressional inquiry to find out why.  There are no administrators called before Congress to explain their excessive spending or the exploding costs of tuition that pays for that spending.  Or why they are even hiring more people while the private sector gets by with fewer people.  No.  Higher education gets a pass.  Why?

Because our colleges and universities teach our young students the most important thing in life.  To vote Democrat.  That’s why higher education gets a pass.  The Democrats always do well with the young and the college educated.  Especially those in the liberal arts and the social sciences.  Those courses without a lot of math.  Leaving the students a lot of time to have the time of their lives.  And to participate in the political activities of their leftist professors.  Those professors in the liberal arts and social sciences.

Still, the Republicans hope by making this a bipartisan action that they will deny some of these student voters from the Democrat column come election day.  Showing they can pander just as well as the Democrats.

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The Lack of Aviation Accidents is making it Difficult to make Extremely Safe Flying any Safer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  Or more automated.  There have been so few accidents in the last decade that it’s getting harder to make safety improvements.  Because through much of the history of flying safety improvements followed the accidents (see Airline Crash Deaths Too Few to Make New Safety Rules Pay by Andrew Zajac posted 6/25/2012 on Bloomberg).

More than a decade has passed since the last major-airline accident on U.S. soil. That’s great news for aviation companies and their passengers — and a complication for rule makers trying to improve flight safety.

The benefits of aviation rules are calculated primarily on how many deaths they may prevent, so the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new requirements.

“If anyone wants to advance safety through regulation, it can’t be done without further loss of life,” said William Voss, chief executive officer of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has made flying safer.  By combing through airplane accidents to find out what went wrong.  Sadly, it took loss of life to advance safety.  Because a plane that didn’t have an accident was safe.  And didn’t need any safety advancements.

A cost-benefit analysis is at the heart of a dispute between the FAA and unions representing pilots of cargo carriers such as FedEx Corp. (FDX) and United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) over the scope of the new regulations, which take effect in January 2014.

The rules will limit the hours pilots fly, taking into account the time of day they work as well as the number of takeoffs and landings. First proposed by the FAA for both passenger and cargo pilots, the rules were trimmed to exempt freight carriers following review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs…

Regulators concluded that the benefit of improving pilot safety at freight airlines wasn’t worth the expense. Because costs of crashes are based primarily on the value of lost lives and freight airlines don’t carry passengers, losses are inherently smaller in cargo accidents under the formula…

Freight carriers object to the new fatigue rules because the costs are at least 10 times the benefits based on FAA data, according to Stephen Alterman, president of the Washington-based Cargo Airline Association. Cargo-airline pilots fly an average of 30 hours a month, compared with 50 hours a month for passenger-airline pilots, he said.

Passenger airline pilots fly more because passenger aircraft fly more.  A commuter route may make 3-4 round-trips in one day.  The freight aircraft (such as FedEx and UPS) typically fly overnight.  Trucks make their deliveries to the airports at the end of the day.  The planes fly through the night so trucks at the destination city can deliver those packages the following morning.

Automatic flight controls have made flying safer.  But they have also contributed to pilot fatigue.  As being a pilot is more about monitoring systems than manually flying a plane.  Which gets boring.  There was a recent incident where both pilots nodded off for a few minutes and overflew their destination.  There was another incident where the pilots were getting conflicting warnings (an over-speed warning and a stall warning at the same time due to a plugged airspeed sensor) causing great confusion.  They focused their attention on the automatic flight systems a little too long and stalled the aircraft.  These are good pilots.  Highly skilled.  But sitting still and monitoring flight systems without having to do any flying can dull the reflexes.  Not much.  But enough.

These incidents are the exception to the rule.  The rule being that flying has never been safer.  And there is no other form of transportation as safe as flying.

The risk of a fatal accident in commercial aviation has been reduced to 1 out of 49 million flights over the past five years, from 1 in 1.7 million flights from 1975 to 1989, according to NTSB records. That’s a 96 percent decrease in risk…

Safety has improved since the late 1990s as the airline industry and regulators learned to analyze massive quantities of data for anomalies and voluntarily made changes to head off potential problems, according to Thomas Hendricks, Airlines for America’s senior vice president for operations and safety.

“We go out and proactively address an issue prior to waiting for an incident to occur,” Hendricks said in an interview. “The information technology revolution has made this possible.”

Airlines cannot get people to fly their planes if they have a reputation for being unsafe.  That’s why airlines are analyzing data and voluntarily making changes if it will make them safer.  For having a reputation that your planes don’t fall out of the sky is a good thing.  Making new regulations almost moot.  Except, perhaps, in one area.  Letting pilots fly again.  They want to.  They can fly extremely well.  And should.  For the best way of bringing an aircraft in trouble safely back down is having a highly skilled pilot at the flight controls.  Which we have.  But we’re just not letting them fly much these days.

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The NLRB nay not allow Boeing to build a plant in the Nonunion South but Airbus Can

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Airbus is opening an assembly plant in the U.S.  Why?  Because they can make planes cheaper in America than they can in Europe (see Reports: Airbus to open plant in Alabama by Nancy Trejos posted 6/28/2012 on USA Today).

In taking the plunge into the United States, Airbus is betting that American airlines, many of which have large fleets of aging jets, will be enticed to consider an A320 that was “made in America” over Boeing’s competing 737. By assembling the planes with nonunion American workers, and in using dollars, Airbus also stands to reduce production costs.

It’s the high wages and benefits of European unions.  The high taxes that fund their social democracies.  And the depreciated dollar.  Add them all up and what you get is an economic advantage building airplanes in the nonunion south.

Boeing wanted to build a plant in the south to manufacture their new Dreamliner.  But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) told Boeing they couldn’t.  They said they had to build those planes with union labor.  Lucky for Airbus that they have the freedom to build in the nonunion south.  Where they will build planes cheaper than Boeing can. 

Pity Boeing didn’t have that same freedom in this country.     

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Texas turns to Gas-Fired Power Plants to meet Peak Electric Demand their Wind Power cannot Meet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Texas has more wind-generated electricity than any other state in the country.  According to the American Wind Energy Association’s U.S. Wind Industry Fourth Quarter 2011 Market Report Texas has a total installed nameplate capacity of 10,377 Mega Watts (MW).  Meaning these wind turbines can produce 10, 377 MW under ideal wind conditions.  But as wind conditions are rarely ideal these Texas wind farms will struggle to produce half of that nameplate capacity.

Wind power has a capacity factor of about 20-40%.  Wind turbines will only produce electricity for a range of winds.  They have to spin fast enough to produce electric power at 60 cycles per second so they can connect this power to the electric grid.  But not so fast that they could damage the turbines.  For that range of winds variable pitch blades on the ‘propeller’ adjust their angle of attack to produce 60 cycles per second in that wind range.  The ‘propellers’ won’t spin that fast.  But a gear box will gear up that constant rotational motion to spin an electric generator (or alternator) at 60 cycles per second.  Thus creating electric power that we can connect to the grid.

So, of that 10,377 Mega Watts Texas nameplate capacity it will provide at most 4,151 MW (40% capacity factor) of power to add to the electric grid.  Which explains why the state with the greatest amount of wind-generated electric power is turning to coal and natural gas to meet peak electric loads (see Texas prepares for soaring power demand, urges conservation by Eileen O’Grady and Scott DiSavino posted 6/25/2012 on Reuters).

Power demand reached 65,047 megawatts in the hour between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. CDT (2200 GMT), surpassing the June record of 63,102 MW set last year, according to preliminary grid data…

ERCOT [Electric Reliability Council of Texas] said demand may top 66,000 MW on Tuesday. The state’s all-time peak use of 68,379 MW was set in August of last summer during a protracted heat wave and drought…

ERCOT warned that rolling outages could occur this summer given the state’s limited amount of surplus generation…

Several idled power plants have been returned to service to bolster the summer supply after a new coal-fired plant expected to be operational was delayed.

NRG Energy (NRG.N), the state’s second-largest power company, has more generation available this summer than last, after restarting a half dozen older, natural gas-fired units totaling 1,100 MW that were previously in mothball status.

The one thing conspicuous by its absence in the entire Reuter’s article is the mention of all that wind power in Texas.

Texas is the number one wind-power state.  Still, the useable power from all those windmills (about 4,000 turbines in total) is only 6.38% of that peak demand.  Some 4,000 wind turbines to produce about 4,151 MW.  The same amount of electric power some 23 older, moth-balled, gas-fired power plants can produce.  Which is probably why they’re talking about rolling outages.  Because they’ve been building wind farms instead of useful power generation plants.  Fueled by natural gas.  And coal. 

Incidentally the capacity factor for a coal-fired plant is about 90%.  Where the only thing limiting its output is maintenance or low demand.  A nuclear power plant can have a capacity factor exceeding 100%.  For these reasons coal and nuclear power provide a large percentage of reliable power.  During peak demands natural gas-fired ‘peaker plants’ come on line quickly to provide for the extra demand when people come home from work and turn up their air conditioners.  While wind and sun add into the mix as more a novelty than a reliable power source.  With the capacity factor of solar power coming in on average around 12-15%.  In the south they may attain as high a capacity factor as 20%.  Like wind.  Making both of these a poor choice to provide additional power during peak demand.  Which is why Texas is firing up gas-fired ‘peaker plants’ to meet that peak demand.  Because they can.  While they have no way to make the wind blow or the sun shine on demand.

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FT124: “Liberals use the courts to give them what the people won’t.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Magna Carta led to Constitutional Monarchy and Representative Government

Medieval kings liked doing as they pleased.  From living well.  To expanding their kingdoms by force.  Or trying to.  As kingdoms got larger, though, this was more difficult to do.  Because the larger the kingdom got the more food they had to produce.  And kings didn’t feed their kingdoms from their castle vegetable gardens.  They needed the wealthy and powerful landowners.  Who owned the land.  Grew the food.  And provided the kingdom’s wealth.

These landowners made land valuable.  By growing food on it.  As famine was no stranger during the Middle Ages there was nothing more important than growing food.  Those who did became wealthy.  And their estates became mini kingdoms.  With lots of peasants working the fields.  And lots of soldiers to defend their land.  And to fight for their king in times of war.  Kings needed to maintain good relationships with these wealthy landowners.  To keep them supporting their kingdoms.  And to prevent any one of them from rising up and challenging the king for his throne.

King John of England was hurting his relationships with the wealthy landowners.  He fought a lot of expensive wars across the English Channel in France.  Which required high taxes on the English landowners.  The barons.  Worse, King John lost a lot of his battles in France.  Losing the barons some of their Normandy lands.  So the barons were becoming a little disgruntled with their king.  And they rebelled.  Eventually forcing the king to place his Great Seal on Magna Carta.  Limiting his powers.  It didn’t change things much at the time.  But it would lead to constitutional monarchy.  And representative government.

The Patriots of 1776 were none too keen on Creating a New Central Power

Kings don’t like limits on their power.  King John would go on to renounce Magna Carta.  And got the Pope’s approval to not honor the promises he made with the barons.  But these barons sowed the seeds of representative government in England.  And the Western World.  Greatly influencing the Founding Fathers in America.  Whose Constitution placed great limits on the government’s power.

The Americans were having some problems with their Articles of Confederation.  The sovereign states were taking care of themselves.  Sometimes at the expense of the other states.  Or the new nation.  And the new nation wasn’t making much progress in the international community.  A bit of a laughing stock to other nations.  Who were all sure it was only a matter of time before the American colonies would be British again.  For once the war was over there was little united about the states anymore.  So James Madison urged a meeting of the several states to revise the Articles of Confederation.  To help make a more perfect union.  And to move the new nation forward.  They met in Philadelphia in 1787.  And caused a firestorm.  For they didn’t revise the Articles.  They threw them away.  And wrote a brand new Constitution.

This inflamed a lot of the Patriots of 1776.  Who had voted to sever the bonds from a distant central power about a decade earlier.  And they were none too keen on creating a new central power to replace the one they just banished.  It took awhile but with the presence of George Washington and some words from Benjamin Franklin, two of the most trusted and experienced Americans who sacrificed a lot in securing their independence, they completed their task.  It wasn’t a perfect document.  But it was the best they were ever going to produce considering the sectional differences in the country.  And they sent it to the states for ratification.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay helped to secure ratification by writing a series of articles that we know today as the Federalist Papers.  Some of the finest Constitutional scholarship ever written.

As Few as Five People in Black Robes can Fundamentally Change the Nation

Key to the Constitution was the separation of powers that restricted the power of the new federal government that no one trusted.  There was a legislature to write law.  An executive branch to enforce law.  And a judicial branch to interpret law.  To make sure that the other two branches did not violate the Constitution.  Such a system would have really crimped King John’s style.  For the law was above all the people.  Including the executive.  He could only do the things the laws allowed him to do.  And the things the laws allowed him to do he could only do if the legislature agreed to pay for them.  It was a system of checks and balances that helped the nation to grow while maintaining personal liberty.

King John would have been particularly irked by the legislature.  Made up by representatives of the people.  Who enacted legislation that was in the best interest of the people.  Not him.  Fast forward to modern times and you find history littered with people who wanted to expand their power only to have that representative body of the people foil them.  Ruling elites.  Modern aristocrats.  Those who feel an entitlement due to a superior education.  A superior bloodline.  Or simply like-minded people who would rather have the days of unlimited power like they had in Medieval Europe.  Before the barons had to muck up the works with Magna Carta.

Over time they learned how to bring back some of the old ways.  The easiest way was just to get people to vote for them.  And they did this by giving them a lot of free stuff.  But there were some things that they just couldn’t bribe out of the people.  So they turned to the courts.  And did a little legislating with activist judges.  Sometimes bringing a suit all the way to the Supreme Court to create a law where there was no law.  Abortion is now legal even though there was never any federal legislation addressing it.  While there was plenty of state legislation forbidding it.  Until seven men in black robes overruled the will of the people in those states.

The Supreme Court is powerful.  For as few as five people in black robes can fundamentally change the nation.  Which is why presidential elections are so important.  Because presidents nominate judges to the Supreme Court.  And those on the Left depend on the timely deaths and/or retirements of Supreme Court judges so they can nominate activist judges.  To get a majority on the high court to rule in their favor on bad law.  Such as Obamacare.  An unpopular law.  A law the majority of the people want repealed.  A law that became law only with subterfuge (the mandate is not a tax).  A law that clearly violated the Constitution (forcing people to buy something).  Yet five people in black robes just fundamentally changed the nation by voting that Obamacare was Constitutional (the mandate is a tax).  Which just goes to show you that where there is a will there is a way.  A way to rule like a king.  Against the will of the people.

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George Washington , Clinton, Cornwallis, Lord George Germain, Comte de Rochambeau, Comte de Grasse, Yorktown and Treaty of Paris

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 28th, 2012

Politics 101

British Sea Power allowed the British to Remain in a Hostile Land for the Eight Years of the Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War began in April of 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  For years following these battles George Washington yearned to meet the British in a grand battle and defeat them.  What he got instead was a lot of smaller battles that sent him in retreat.  For despite fighting on the far side of an ocean the British had a large professional army.  A vast merchant marine to supply them whatever they needed.  And the world’s preeminent navy.  The Royal Navy.

That sea power allowed the British to remain in a hostile land for the following 7 years.  Allowed them to remain in New York.  Allowed them to take the war to the South unopposed.  It allowed them to move armies.  And supply armies.  As well as control the world’s sea lanes to maintain their commerce.  The Royal Navy tipped the balance of power well to the side of the British.  And perhaps it was their undoing as well.  Trusting that their naval superiority would always be there.

British generals Clinton (superior in rank and resting comfortably in New York) and Cornwallis (junior in rank and chasing American armies in the South) did not see eye to eye.  Their boss, Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American Department, didn’t help matters.  It was his job to suppress the American rebellion.  But he didn’t understand the country.  Or the people.  Thinking of America in European terms.  He thought the Americans were no match for a professional European army assembled on the field of battle.  And he was right.  But the Americans didn’t fight the war like Europeans.  Which proved to be a great disadvantage for the British.

With the French Fleet heading to Chesapeake Bay Washington Scrapped his Plan to Attack New York

General Burgoyne had a grand strategy to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.  A three-pronged attack that required General Howe (who preceded Clinton) coming up from New York.  Germain approved the plan.  And two of the three prongs proceeded accordingly.  East through the Mohawk Valley.  And south down the upper Hudson valley.  Howe was to come up the Lower Hudson valley and meet the other two prongs around Albany.  But Germain did not order Howe to do so.  So Howe didn’t.  Executing his own plans in Pennsylvania.  Which led to Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga (1777).  And the entry of France into the War (on the condition that the Americans would not make a separate peace with the British).  The Spanish later (allied to the French).  The Dutch, too.  And an armed neutrality of the other powers who did not want to partake in the war and would not submit to the advances of the Royal Navy on the high seas.  Making it difficult to blockade arms and supplies from reaching the Americans.

The first Franco-American actions proved disappointing.  In fact a lot of public sentiment turned against the French.  Especially after they abandoned an offensive action in Rhode Island.  Leaving the Americans to retreat again.  Then Cornwallis moved north.  Toward Virginia.  And there was another window for French cooperation after some action in the West Indies.  And there was a French Army in Newport, Rhode Island, commanded by Comte de Rochambeau, a veteran of the Seven Years’ War.  So he knew a thing or two about fighting the British.  These forces arrived after Clinton pulled his forces out and returned them to New York.  Which is where Washington wanted to attack with this Franco-American force.

Washington and Rochambeau drew up some plans.  The French fleet coming from the West Indies commanded by Comte de Grasse was to support the attack.  However, this was the battle Clinton was waiting for.  And he was ready for it.  Washington tested the New York defenses and found them formidable.  And there was a British fleet in New York Harbor.  Then he got a letter from De Grasse.  Rochambeau had left him some freedom in his orders.  Instead of going to New York he was heading to the Chesapeake Bay.  Where Cornwallis’ army was.  It wasn’t New York but it was still a British army.  And he would have a large French fleet in support.  Washington soon scrapped his New York plans.  And looked to Virginia instead.   

Cornwallis and Burgoyne lost their Armies because the British never Coordinated their Forces in a Unified Plan

Quickly and quietly the Franco-American force moved from around New York towards Virginia.  They were across the Delaware River before Clinton knew where they were going.  Or what they planned to do.  They kept Admiral Graves in the dark as well.  Who kept his British fleet around New York.  Waiting to support the army when the Americans and French launched their attack on New York.  By the time they figured out what Washington and the Franco-America force were up to it was too late.  The French fleet beat them to the Chesapeake Bay.  The superior French fleet repelled the smaller British fleet which returned to New York.  Leaving Cornwallis on his own.  As he faced an enemy that outnumbered him more than two to one.  A force that numbered 5,700 professional Continentals and 7,000 professional French troops.  As well as 3,100 militia.

Cornwallis was entrenched in Yorktown.  With Banastre Tarleton (of Waxhaw Massacre fame) across the York River in Gloucester.  As Cornwallis looked out at the gathering force against him laying siege to his army he saw the French on his right.  And the Americans on his left.  Their trenches slowly moving closer to his.  Across the York the French were closing in on Tarleton.  Soon the American artillery was within effective range.  And George Washington lit the first fuse.  It was over in less than a month.  And included a bayonet charge led by America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Recognizing the seriousness of Cornwallis’ position Clinton sent a fleet to help lift the siege.  But by the time it arrived Cornwallis had already surrendered.

Cornwallis lost his army for the same reason Burgoyne lost his army at Saratoga.  Lord Germain.  Who failed to coordinate his generals in the American Department.  While the Americans did.  For most of the war the British had the superior army and the superior navy.  Yet they could not win.  Because these superior forces were never coordinated together in a unified plan.  Opposition in Parliament forced Germain out of office after the fall of Yorktown.  And called for the resignation of the Prime Minister.  Lord North.  Which he gave.  A first for a British Prime Minister.  The new government would end the war with the Americans with the Treaty of Paris (1783).  Where the Americans did very well.  And conducted separate peace treaties with the Spanish and the Dutch.  As well as the French.  Which the French were not pleased with.  And they did not do as well as the Americans in the peace.  Worse, they would find themselves in their own revolution within a decade.  The American Revolution being a major cause of the French Revolution.  By saddling France with an enormous war debt.  And filling their people with the spirit of liberty.

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Windmills, Rotational Energy, Wing, Lift, Rotary Wing, Angle of Attack, Variable-Pitch Propellers, Drag, AC Power and Wind Turbine

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 27th, 2012

Technology 101

When an Aircraft Rotates for Takeoff it increases the Angle of Attack of the Wing to Create more Lift

Early windmills turned when the wind pushed a sail or vane.  Thereby converting wind energy into rotational energy.  Mechanical linkages and shafts transferred this rotational motion to power a mill.  Or pump water.  As well as an assortment of other tasks.  Whatever the task it was important to regulate the speed at which the shaft rotated.  Which meant turning the windmill into the wind.  And adjusting the amount of sail catching the wind.  Much like on a sailing ship.  At first by shutting the windmill down and manually adjusting the sails.  Then later automating this process while the windmill was turning.  If the winds were too strong they’d lock the windmill to prevent it from turning.  To prevent damaging the windmill.

They regulated the speed to protect the equipment attached to the windmill, too.  To prevent a mill stone from spinning too fast.  Risking damage to it.  And harm to the people working with the equipment.  Or to protect a water pump form pumping too fast.  Even the small farm windmills had over-speed protection.   These sat atop a well.  The windmill drove a small piston to pump the water up the well shaft.  To prevent this windmill from flying apart in high winds over-speed features either furled the blades or rotated the windmill parallel to the wind.  Shutting the pump down.

But wind just doesn’t push.  It can also lift.  A lateen (triangular) sail on a sailing vessel is similar to an aircraft wing.  The leading edge of the sail splits the wind apart.  Part of it fills the sail and pushes it.  Bowing it out into a curved surface.  The wind passing on the other side of the sail travels across this curved surface and creates lift.  Similar to how a wing operates during takeoff on a large aircraft.  With the trailing edge flaps extended it creates a large curve in the wing.  When the aircraft rotates (increasing the angle of attack of the wing) to take off wind passing under the wing pushes it up.  And the wind travelling over the wing pulls it up.  These lift forces are so strong that planes carry their fuel in the wings and mount engines on the wing to keep the wings from bending up too much from these forces of lift.

A Pilot will Feather the Propeller on a Failed Engine in Flight to Minimize Drag 

When an aircraft carrier launches its aircraft it turns into the wind.  To maximize the wind speed travelling across the wings of the aircraft.  For the faster the wind moves across the wing the great lift it creates.  Commercial airports don’t have the luxury of turning into the wind.  So they lay their runways out to correspond to the prevailing wind directions.  As weather systems move through the region they often reverse the direction of the wind.  When they do planes take off in the other direction.  If the winds are somewhere in between these two extremes some airports have another set of runways called ‘crosswind’ runways.  Or trust in the highly skilled pilots flying out of their airports to adjust the control surfaces on their planes quickly and delicately to correct for less than optimal winds.

Helicopters don’t have this problem.  They can take off facing in any direction.  Because that big propeller on top is a rotary wing.  Or rotor.  A fixed wing airplane needs forward velocity to move air over their wings to create lift.  A helicopter moves air over its rotary wing by spinning it through the air.  To create lift the pilot tilts the rotor blades to change their angle of attack.  And tilts the whole rotor in the direction of travel.  The helicopter’s engine runs at a constant RPM.  To increase lift the angle of attack is increased.  This also creates drag that increases the load on the engine, slowing it down.  So the pilot increases the throttle of the engine to return the rotor to that constant RPM.

Propeller-powered airplanes also have variable-pitch propellers.  To create the maximum possible lift at the lowest amount of drag.  So it’s not just engine speed determining aircraft speed.  When running up the engines while on the ground the pilot will feather the propellers.  So that the blade pitch is parallel to the airflow and moves no air.  This allows the engines to be run up to a high RPM without producing a strong blast of air behind it.  A pilot will also feather the prop on a failed engine in flight to minimize drag.  Allowing a single-engine plane to glide and a multiple engine plane to continue under the power of the remaining engines.  A pilot can even reverse the pitch of the propeller blades to reverse the direction of airflow through the propeller.  Helping planes to come to a stop on short runways.

By varying the Blade Pitch for Different Wind Speeds Wind Turbines can Maintain a Constant RPM

Thomas Edison developed DC electrical power.  George Westinghouse developed AC electrical power.  And these two went to war to prove the superiority of their system.  The War of the Currents.  Westinghouse won.  Because AC is economically superior.  One power plant can power a very large geographic area.  Because alternating current (AC) works with transformers.  Which stepped up voltages for long-distance power transmission.  And then stepped them back down to the voltages we use.  Power equals voltage times current.  Increasing the voltages allows lower currents.  Which allows thinner wires.  And fewer generating plants.  Which saves money.  Hence the economic superiority of AC power.

Alternating current works with transformers because the current alternates directions 60 times a second (or 60 cycles or hertz).  Every time the currents reverse an electrical field collapses in one set of windings of a transformer, inducing a voltage in another set of windings.  A generator (or, alternator) creates this alternating current by converting rotational energy into electrical energy.  Which brings us back to windmills.  A source of rotational energy.  Which we can also use to generate electrical energy.  But unlike windmills of old, today’s windmills, or wind turbines, turn from lift.   The wind doesn’t push the blades.  The wind passes over them producing lift.  Like on a wing.  Pulling them into rotation.

The typical wind turbine design is a three-bladed propeller attached to a nacelle sitting on top of a tall pylon.  The nacelle is about as large as a big garden shed or a small garage.  Inside the nacelle are the alternator and a gearbox.  And various control equipment.  Like windmills of old wind turbines still have to face into the wind.  We could do this easily and automatically by placing the propeller on the downwind side of the nacelle.  Making it a weathervane as well.  But doing this would put the pylon between the wind and the blades.  The pylon would block the wind causing uneven loading on the propeller producing vibrations and reducing the service life.  So they mount the propeller on the upwind side.  And use a complex control system to turn the wind turbine into the wind.

When it comes to electrical generation a constant rotation is critical.  How does this happen when the wind doesn’t blow at a constant speed?  With variable-pitched blades on the propeller.  By varying the blade pitch for different wind speeds they can maintain a constant number of revolutions per minute (RPM).  For a limited range of wind conditions, that is.  If the wind isn’t fast enough to produce 60 hertz they shut down the wind turbine.  They also shut them down in high winds to prevent damaging the wind turbine.  They can do this by feathering the blades.  Turning the propeller blades parallel to the wind.  Or with a mechanical brake.  The actual rotation of the propeller is not 60 cycles per second.  But it will be constant.  And the gearbox will gear it up to turn the alternator at 60 cycles per second.  Allowing them to attach the power they produce to the electric grid.

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Goldsmiths, Specie, Bank Notes, Bank Reserves, Spanish Dollar, Continentals, Bank of the United States and the Panic of 1819

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 26th, 2012

History 101

When Spain came to the New World they Brought Home a lot of Gold and Silver and Turned it into Coin

Our first banks were goldsmiths’ vaults.  They locked up people’s gold or other valuable metals (i.e., specie) in their vaults and issued these ‘depositors’ receipts for their specie.  When a depositor presented their receipt to the goldsmith he redeemed it for the amount of specie noted on the receipt.  These notes were as good as specie.  And a lot easier to carry around.  So these depositors used these notes as currency.  People accepted them in payment.  Because they could take them to the goldsmith and redeem them for the amount of specie noted on the receipt.

The amount of specie these first bankers kept in their vaults equaled the value of these outstanding notes.  Meaning their bank reserves were 100%.   If every depositor redeemed their notes at the same time there was no problem.  Because all specie that was ever deposited was still in the vault.  So there was no danger of any ‘bank runs’ or liquidity crises.

When Spain came to the New World they brought home a lot of gold and silver.  And turned it into coin.  Or specie.  The Spanish dollar entered the American colonies from trade with the West Indies.  As the British didn’t allow their colonies to coin any money of their own the Spanish dollar became the dominate money in circulation in commerce and trade in the cities.  (Which is why the American currency unit is the dollar).  While being largely commodity money in the rural parts of the country.  Tobacco in Virginia, rice in the south, etc.  Paper money didn’t enter into the picture until Massachusetts funded some military expeditions to Quebec.  Normally the soldiers in this expedition took a portion of the spoils they brought back for payment.  But when the French repulsed them and they came back empty handed the government printed paper money backed by no specie.  For there was nothing more dangerous than disgruntled and unpaid soldiers.  The idea was to redeem them with future taxation.  But they never did. 

Thomas Jefferson believed that the Combination of Money and Politics was the Source of all Evil in Government 

During the American Revolutionary War the Americans were starving for specie.  They were getting some from the French but it was never enough.  So they turned to printing paper money.  Backed by no specie.  They printed so much that it became worthless.  The more they printed the more they devalued it.  And the fewer people would take it in payment.  Anyone paying in these paper Continentals just saw higher and higher prices (while people paying in specie saw lower prices).  Until some just refused to accept them.  Giving rise to the expression “not worth a Continental.”  And when they did the army had to take what they needed from the people.  Basically giving them an IOU and telling the people good luck in redeeming them.

Skip ahead to the War of 1812 and the Americans had the same problem.  They needed money.  So they turned to the printing presses.  With the aid of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  America’s second central bank.  Just as politically contentious as the First Bank of the United States.  America’s first central bank.  The BUS was not quite like those early bankers.  The goldsmiths.  Whose deposits were backed by a 100% specie reserve.  The BUS specie reserve was closer to 10%.  Which proved to be a problem because their bank notes were redeemable for specie.  Which people did.  And because they did and the BUS was losing so much of its specie the government legislated the suspension of the redemption of bank notes for specie.  Which just ignited inflation.  With the BUS.  And the state banks.  Who were no longer bound by the requirement to redeem bank notes for specie either.  Enter America’s first economic boom created by monetary policy.  A huge credit expansion that created a frenzy of borrowing.  And speculation.

When more dollars are put into circulation without a corresponding amount of specie backing them this only depreciated the dollar.  Making them worth less, requiring more of them to buy the same stuff they did before the massive inflation.  This is why prices rise with inflation.  And they rose a lot from 1815 to 1818.  Real estate prices went up.  Fueling that speculation.  Allowing the rich to get richer by buying land that soared in value.  While ordinary people saw the value of their currency decline making their lives more difficult.  Thanks to those higher prices.  The government spent a lot of this new money on infrastructure.  And there was a lot of fraud.  The very reason that Thomas Jefferson opposed Alexander Hamilton’s first Bank of the United States.  The combination of money and politics was the source of all evil in government.  And fraud.  According to Jefferson, at least.  Everyone was borrowing.  Everyone was spending.  Which left the banks exposed to a lot of speculative loans.  While putting so much money into circulation that they could never redeem their notes for specie.  Not that they were doing that anyway.  Bank finances were growing so bad that the banks were in danger of failing.

Most Bad Recessions are caused by Easy Credit by a Central Bank trying to Stimulate Economic Activity 

By 1818 things were worrying the government.  And the BUS.  Inflation was out of control.  The credit expansion was creating asset bubbles.  And fraud.  It was a house of cards that was close to collapsing.  So the BUS took action.  And reversed their ruinous policies.  They contracted monetary policy.  Stopped the easy credit.  And pulled a lot of those paper dollars out of circulation.  It was the responsible thing to do to save the bank.  But because they did it after so much inflation that drove prices into the stratosphere the correction was painful.  As those prices had a long way to fall.

The Panic of 1819 was the first bust of America’s first boom-bust cycle.  The first depression brought on by the easy credit of a central bank.  When the money supply contracted interest rates rose.  A lot of those speculative loans became unserviceable.  With no easy credit available anymore the loan defaults began.  And the bank failures followed.  Money and credit of the BUS contracted by about 50%.  Businesses couldn’t borrow to meet their cash needs and went bankrupt.  A lot of them.  And those inflated real estate prices fell back to earth.  As prices fell everywhere from their artificial heights.

It was America’s first depression.  But it wouldn’t be the last.  Thanks to central banking.  And boom-bust cycles.  We stopped calling these central banking train wrecks depressions after the Great Depression.  After that we just called them recessions.  And real bad recessions.  Most of them caused by the same thing.  Easy credit by a central bank to stimulate economic activity.  Causing an asset bubble.  That eventually pops causing a painful correction.  The most recent being the Great Recession.  Caused by the popping of a great real estate bubble caused by the central bank’s artificially low interest rates.  That gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  Which gave us the greatest recession since the Great Depression.  Just another in a long line of ‘real bad’ recessions since the advent of central banking.

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