European Keynesians recommend Anti-Business Policies to spur New Economic Activity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2013

Week in Review

In the U.S. some state governments are lamenting the fuel efficiencies of today’s cars.  They don’t like them.  Because unlike the gas-guzzlers of yesteryear fuel efficient cars don’t burn a lot of fuel.  And you’re probably thinking isn’t that the point of making cars more fuel efficient?  So they burn less fuel?  So this is a good thing, yes?  Well, if you’re thinking like that you’re obviously a selfish person.  For these states have expensive union pay and benefit packages they must for their government workers.  And their retired government workers.

Cars that are buying less gas are paying less state fuel taxes.  Which is forcing these states to spend less on maintaining roads.  As there just isn’t enough cash left over after paying pensions and health care costs.  It’s getting so bad that states want to tax drivers by the mile they drive and not by the gallon of gas they buy.  So these selfish people driving fuel efficient cars will pay the same taxes those driving gas-guzzlers pay.  So whenever anyone talks about the economic benefits of new governmental regulations they’re probably not telling the whole story (see European Car-Efficiency Rule Would Cut Fuel Bill by 25% by Alex Morales posted 3/17/2013 on Bloomberg)

A European Union plan to tighten emissions standards on cars would cut auto-fuel costs by almost a quarter in 2030, according to a report e-mailed by a group promoting policies to reduce carbon emissions in the region.

Fuel bills would fall 57 billion euros ($75 billion) from a projected cost of 245 billion euros in 2030, said the European Climate Foundation, which contributed to the report prepared by Cambridge Econometrics and Ricardo-AEA. Producing fuel-efficient vehicles would add 22 billion euros of capital costs, it said.

“The effect of reduced spending on fuel more than outweighs the impact of increased spending on vehicle technology to reduce carbon emissions,” according to the e-mailed report. “Most of the money spent on fuel leaves the European economy, while most additional money spent on fuel-saving technology remains in Europe as revenues for the technology suppliers…”

Today’s report for The Hague-based foundation, examines the effects excluding taxes in 2030 of meeting the proposed car and van standards for 2020, plus improved efficiency of less than 1 percent a year for the following decade. The policy would add 356,000 jobs to the EU economy by 2030, even after accounting for lost posts in refining, according to the report’s authors.

Gas prices are higher in Europe because they tax their gas more.  Europe is in the midst of a sovereign debt crisis.  As excessive budget deficits raise borrowing costs.  So Europeans are not going to see any savings with these more fuel efficient cars.  For countries running chronic deficits are just not going to allow a major source of tax revenue wither away.

Only a Keynesian could put together such a report.  For Keynesians don’t know the first thing about business.  All they know is tax, borrow, print and spend.  The very things that got Europe into their sovereign debt crisis.  Spending money they don’t have.  No.  Increasing the cost of business does NOT help a business.  It forces them to make cuts elsewhere.  Directing capital to where the government wants it.  Not the market.  So while the government forces them to spend money on tightening emissions standards they will spend less money on adding things people want in their cars.  If you add a few thousand in new emission systems they may have to eliminate the music system or some other creature comfort.  Unless people can afford to spend a few thousand more on their cars.

They won’t be able to afford these higher priced cars.  So they, instead, will buy less expensive cars.  Either smaller cars.  Or foreign made cars.  Or they will just not buy a car at all.  Leaving them little more than toys for the rich.  Who can afford to pay no matter what the government decrees.  And any savings in fuel costs?  There will be none.  When the governments see all that loss tax revenue they’ll find something else to tax.  They’ll have to.  Because they’re all running chronic deficits.

This is yet another example of why we should never listen when a Keynesian is talking.  Or anyone that says higher taxes and more regulations will create economic activity.  For they are either completely ignorant of business and economics.  Or they’re just lying to help advance an anti-business government agenda.

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Fire, Oil Lamp, Candle, Wicks, Gas Lights, Incandescence, Incandescent Light Bulb, Fluorescence and Compact Fluorescent Lamp

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 20th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published March 28th, 2012)

A Lit Match heats the Fuel Absorbed into a Wick, Vaporizes it, Mixes it with Oxygen and Ignites It

Fire changed the world.  From when Homo erectus first captured it.  Around 600,000 BC.  In China.  They saw it.  Maybe following a lightning strike.  Seeing it around volcanic activity.  Perhaps a burning natural gas vent.  Whatever.  They saw fire.  Approached it.  And learned not to fear it.  How to add fuel to it.  To transfer it to another fuel source.  To carry it.  They couldn’t create fire.  But they could manage it.  And use it.  It was warm.  And bright.  So they brought it indoors.  To light up their caves.  Scare the predators out.  To use it to heat.  And to cook.  Taking a giant leap forward for mankind.

When man moved into man-made dwellings they brought fire with them.  At first a one-room structure with a fire in the center of it.  And a hole in the roof above it.  Where everyone gathered around to eat.  Stay warm.  Sleep.  Even to make babies.  As there wasn’t a lot of modesty back then.  Not that anyone complained much.  What was a little romance next to you when you were living in a room full of smoke, soot and ash?  Fireplaces and chimneys changed all that.  Back to back fireplaces could share a chimney.  Providing more heat and light.  Less smoke and ash.  And a little privacy.  Where the family could be in one room eating, staying warm, reading, playing games and sleeping.  While the grownups could make babies in the other room.

As we advanced so did our literacy.  After a hard day’s work we went inside.  After the sun set.  To read.  Write letters.  Do some paperwork for the business.  Write an opera.  Whatever.  Even during the summer time.  When it was warm.  And we didn’t have a large fire burning in the fireplace.  But we could still see to read and write.  Thanks to candles.  And oil lamps.  One using a liquid fuel.  One using a solid fuel.  But they both operate basically the same.  The wick draws liquid (or liquefied) fuel via capillary action.  Where a porous substance placed into contact with a liquid will absorb that liquid.  Like a paper towel or a sponge.  When you place a lit match into contact with the wick it heats the fuel absorbed into the wick and vaporizes it.  Mixing it with the oxygen in the air.  And ignites it.  Creating a flame.  The candle works the same way only starting with a solid fuel.  The match melts the top of this fuel and liquefies it.  Then it works the same way as an oil lamp.  With the heat of the flame melting the solid fuel to continue the process.

Placing a Mantle over a Flame created Light through Incandescence (when a Heated Object emits Visible Light)

Two popular oils were olive oil and whale oil.  Beeswax and tallow were common solid fuels.  Candles set the standard for noting lighting intensity.  One candle flame produced one candlepower.  Or ‘candela’ as we refer to it now.   (Which equals about 13 lumens – the amount of light emitted by a source).  If you placed multiple candles into a candelabrum you could increase the lighting intensity.  Three candles gave you 3 candela of light to read or write by.  A chandelier with numerous candles suspended from the ceiling could illuminate a room.  This artificial light shortened the nights.  And increased the working day.  In the 19th century John D. Rockefeller gave the world a new fuel for their oil lamps.  Kerosene.  Refined from petroleum oil.  And saved the whales.  By providing a more plentiful fuel.  At cheaper prices.

By shortening the nights we also made our streets safer.  Some cities passed laws for people living on streets to hang a lamp or two outside.  To light up the street.  Which did indeed help make the streets brighter.  And safer.  To improve on this street lighting idea required a new fuel.  Something in a gas form.  Something that you could pump into a piping system and route to the new street lamps.  A gas kept under a slight pressure so that it would flow up the lamp post.  Where you opened the gas spigot at night.  And lit the gas.  And the lamp glowed until you turned off the gas spigot in the morning.  Another advantage of gas lighting was it didn’t need wicks.  Just a nozzle for the gas to come out of where you could light it.  So there was no need to refuel or to replace the wicks.  Thus allowing them to stay lit for long periods with minimum maintenance.  We later put a mantle over the flame.  And used the flame to heat the mantle which then glowed bright white.  A mantle is like a little bag that fits over the flame made out of a heat resistant fabric.  Infused into the fabric are things that glow white when heated.  Rare-earth metallic salts.  Which change into solid oxides when heated to incandescence (when a heated object emits visible light).

One of the first gases we used was coal-gas.  Discovered in coal mines.  And then produced outside of a coal mine from mined coal.  It worked great.  But when it burned it emitted carbon.  Like all these open flames did.  Which is a bit of a drawback for indoor use.  Filling your house up with smoke.  And soot.  Not to mention that other thing.  Filling up your house with open flames.  Which can be very dangerous indoors.  So we enclosed some of these flames.  Placing them in a glass chimney.  Or glass boxes.  As in street lighting.  Enclosing the flame completely (but with enough venting to sustain the flame) to prevent the rain form putting it out.  This glass, though, blackened from all that carbon and soot.  Adding additional maintenance.  But at least they were safer.   And less of a fire hazard.  Well, at least less of one type of fire hazard.  From the flame.  But there was another hazard.  We were piping gas everywhere.  Outside.  Into buildings.  Even into our homes.  Where it wasn’t uncommon for this gas to go boom.  Particularly dangerous were theatres.  Where they turned on the gas.  And then went to each gas nozzle with an open fire on a stick to light them.  And if they didn’t move quickly enough the theatre filled with a lot of gas.  An enclosed space filled with a lot of gas with someone walking around with an open fire on a stick.  Never a good thing.

Fluorescent Lighting is the Lighting of Choice in Commercial, Professional and Institutional Buildings

Thomas Edison fixed all of these problems.  By finding another way to produce incandescence. By running an electrical current through a filament inside a sealed bulb.  The current heated the filament to incandescence.  Creating a lot of heat.  And some visible light.  First filaments were carbon based.  Then tungsten became the filament of choice.  Because they lasted longer.  At first the bulbs contained a vacuum.  But they found later that a noble gas prevented the blackening of the bulb.  The incandescent light bulb ended the era of gas lighting.  For it was safer.  Required less maintenance.  And was much easier to operate.  All you had to do was flick a switch.  As amazing as the incandescent light bulb was it had one big drawback.  Especially when we use a lot of them indoors.  That heat.  As the filament produced far more heat than light.  Which made hot buildings hotter.  And made air conditioners work harder getting that heat out of the building.  Enter the fluorescent lamp.

If phosphor absorbs invisible short-wave ultraviolet radiation it will fluoresce.  And emit long-wave visible light.  But not through incandescence.  But by luminescence.  Instead of using heat to produce light this process uses cooler electromagnetic radiation.  Which forms the basis of the fluorescent lamp.  A gas-discharge lamp.  The most common being the 4-foot tube you see in office buildings.  This tube has an electrode at each end.  Contains a noble gas (outer shell of valence electrons are full and not chemically reactive or electrically conductive) at a low pressure.  And a little bit of mercury.  When we turn on the lamp we create an electric field between the electrodes.  As it grows in intensity it eventually pulls electrons out of their valence shell ionizing the gas into an electrically conductive plasma.  This creates an arc between the electrodes.  This charged plasma field excites the mercury.  Which produces the invisible short-wave ultraviolet radiation that the phosphor absorbs.  Causing fluorescence.

One candle produces about 13 lumens of light.  Barely enough to read and write by.  Whereas a 100W incandescent light bulb produces about 1,600 lumens.  The equivalent of 123 candles.  In other words, one incandescent lamp produces the same amount of light as a 123-candle chandelier.  Without the smoke, soot or fire hazard.  And the compact fluorescent lamp improves on this.  For a 26W compact fluorescent lamp can produce the lumen output of a 100W incandescent light bulb.  A one-to-one tradeoff on lighting output.  At a quarter of the power consumption.  And producing less heat due to creating light from fluorescence instead of incandescence.  Making fluorescent lighting the lighting of choice in commercial, professional and institutional buildings.  And any other air conditioned space with large lighting loads.

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President Obama brings Down the Price of Gas by Destroying the Economy with his Economic Policies

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 2nd, 2012

Week in Review

Remember the movie Monty Python’s Life of Brian?  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.  The politics they lampoon of the Roman occupation?  Funny stuff.  Yes there’s a bit of nudity in it and some may find it a bit blasphemous.  So viewer discretion is recommended.  At the end as Brian was being mistakenly crucified the guy being crucified behind him to his right tried to cheer him up in song.  And told him to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  And the people sang.  From atop their crosses.  If these fictional people can see the bright side in their impending long-lasting deaths then we, too, should be able to see the bright side in the continuing bad economic news (see Gas prices are silver lining as economy weakens by Sandy Shore, The Associated Press, posted 6/1/2012 on Economy Watch).

There’s some good news behind the discouraging headlines on the economy: Gas is getting cheaper. At least two states had stations selling gas for $2.99 on Friday and it could fall below $3 in more areas over the weekend.

A plunge in oil prices has knocked more than 30 cents off the price of a gallon of gas in most parts of the U.S. since early April. The national average is now $3.61. Experts predict further decline in the next few weeks.

If Americans spend less filling their tanks, they’ll have more money for discretionary purchases. The downside? Lower oil and gas prices are symptoms of weakening economic conditions in the U.S. and around the globe.

On Friday, oil prices plunged nearly 4 percent as a bleak report on U.S. job growth heightened worries about a slowing global economy and waning oil demand. The unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent. Sobering economic news from China and Europe also contributed to the drop…

Phil Flynn, an analyst for The Price Futures Group, believes falling gas prices could give consumers a psychological boost. But that could evaporate if hiring doesn’t pick up and stock markets keep swooning.

“If you don’t have a job, it doesn’t matter if gasoline prices are $5 or $2 a gallon,” he said.

So President Obama may get his wish after all.  To have low gas prices while he runs for reelection.  And all he had to do to lower gas prices was to destroy the economy with bad economic policy.  Shut down the oil exploration business when oil was in high demand.  Stop the building of a pipeline that would have put hundreds of thousands of jobs into the economic pipeline.  Unleash a wave of new regulations that have stunned small business.  Especially Obamacare.  Leaving them afraid to hire anyone as they fear what the Obama administration will do next to them.  And President Obama’s open attacks on capitalism haven’t assuaged anyone’s fears in the business community that his next policies will only harm them more.  The president has wasted trillions of dollars in stimulus and green energy subsidies that resulted in no net new jobs but in the bankruptcy of the businesses they backed.  And massive new debt that we can’t afford.  The future is bleak indeed.  But gas prices are falling because of it.  So there’s one thing the president can run on.  Things could be worse.  Gas prices could be higher.

It’s the one message President Obama can tell the American people.  That we should, like Brian, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  No matter how bad the economic news continues to be.  Because he alone brought down the price of gas.  It’s just a pity so few have a job or feel secure enough in their job to enjoy these low prices.

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Gas Prices Stay High along the Environmentalist West Coast due to a Lack of Refinery Capacity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2012

Week in Review

Take a look at an electoral map.  Say from the 2008 national election.  What do you see?  Blue (i.e., Democrat) on the coasts.  Red (i.e., Republican) in the middle.  And blue in the union Midwest.  Okay, now what else do you associate with the blue on the coasts?  That’s where there are high concentrations of liberals.  (The blue in the Midwest is more organized labor than liberal).  And what is one of the biggest issues with liberals?  That’s right.  The environment.  (I’ll just assume you said the environment).  Especially in California.  Where they have tougher emission standards than the federal government has. 

They take their environmentalism serious on the coasts. So much so that they punish the use of fossil fuels through high taxes and excessive regulations.  It is for these reasons you don’t see them building many new refineries in these regions.  For there are few things they hate more than petroleum oil.  From drilling it out of the ground.  To transporting it.  To refining it.  Their basic attitude towards the oil industry is, “Sure, you’re welcomed to do business here.  But you will pay.  And pay.  And pay.”  So with that in mind here’s a little story about high gas prices on the West Coast (see Unlike the East, gas prices stay stubbornly high out West by William M. Welch posted 5/18/2012 on USA Today).

“We are seeing a tale of two coasts,” says Michael Green, spokesman for AAA, which monitors pump prices. “On the West Coast, gas prices are rising steadily, while on the East Coast they are steadily decreasing.”

Oil analysts blame a refinery slowdown in western states for sending retail prices in the opposite direction of wholesale costs.

In California and Oregon, the average price of regular gas has increased 20 cents a gallon so far in May, AAA reports. Average pump prices were down 19 cents in Florida and 18 cents in Virginia…

Tupper Hull, spokesman for Western States Petroleum Association, blamed unexpected maintenance and other problems at refineries…

“Our concern is a lack of competition at the refinery level in California,” says Charles Langley, gasoline analyst at Utility Consumers’ Action Network in San Diego. “We’re not saying there’s a conspiracy. It’s just that with this few competitors, it’s very easy to game prices by turning off capacity.”

Bob van der Valk, petroleum analyst in Terry, Mont., said gasoline inventories are at a 20-year low in California for May. Supplies will return to normal, he said, but perhaps not in time for upcoming holiday travel.

The high prices on the West Coast are of their own making.  Prices have fallen on the southern half of the East Coast.  Because they aren’t as blue as they used to be.  They love their environment there.  Which is why they live there.  But they know they need petroleum oil and gasoline to live.  And they know that there is a direct correlation between anti-oil policies and the price at the pump.  Something they apparently don’t know on the West Coast.  For they hate oil.  Don’t want anything to do with oil in their state.  And yet almost everyone drives a car in California. 

If they want lower gas prices they have to make it easier to do petroleum business there.  That means they need to make it easier to refine gasoline in California.  Which means backing off on the taxes.  And the excessive environmental regulations.  They can do that.  Bring the price at the pump down.  And still have a beautiful environment.  Like they do on the southern half of the East Coast.

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Rising Supply and Falling Demand (i.e., Recessions) can lower Oil Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 13th, 2012

Week in Review

There is less bad news for gas prices.  Rising crude oil supply and falling demand will provide a little price relief at the pump.  ‘Little’ being the operative word here (see Oil price tumbles as global supplies flourish by Garry White, and Emma Rowley posted 5/13/2012 on The Telegraph).

Opec supply has risen to about 31.62m barrels per day (bpd), as the Libyan oil industry started to recover. Saudi Arabia has also been ramping up production by than 56,500 bpd to 9.9m. Oil inventories in the US have also been rising. Supply is no longer such a large concern.

As well as worries about contagion from another eurozone crisis, data from China have also been weak, implying that demand could fall.

Chinese industrial production is the weakest it has been in three years. Industrial production rose by 9.3pc in April, the lowest level since May 2009, while retail sales surprised the market by slowing to a 14.1pc rise. This is the lowest level in 14 months…

“Crude oil prices have remained weak after last week’s sharp falls, largely due to concerns over the US economy and the escalating problems in Europe,” Mr Jessop said.

Well, imaging that.  You can lower the price of crude oil by increasing supply.  And crashing your economy.  For that’s another big part of the fall in prices.  Lower demand.  Because the economies in China, Europe and the United States ain’t looking so good.  So President Obama may get his wish come the 2012 election this November.  Lower gas prices.  And if the economy keeps tanking he’ll have even better prices at the pump.  Of course that will probably come with an up-tick in the unemployment rate.   But he can massage that away by just not counting the people who’ve given up looking for full-time work and those working part-time because they can’t find full-time work.  The U-3 unemployment rate.  Which looks a whole lot better than the U-6 rate that counts all those other people.  And has been stuck in double digits throughout his presidency.

Of course he could do something else to bring down those gas prices.  He could drill more.  Increase supply more.  Then build refineries and pipelines to move that oil around.  Creating jobs AND lowering the price of gasoline.  A win-win if ever there was one.  And it would move both the U-3 and the U-6 unemployment rates down towards full employment.  But he won’t do that.  Because the Left hates oil.  So we’ll have to hear how great the economic recovery is.  When it isn’t.  At least until November.

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The Chinese fail Even Greater than the Americans in their Ambitious Electric Car Sales Program

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 6th, 2012

Week in Review

Well, it appears the Chinese can do something wrong.  Guess that’s what they get for trying to follow American policy (see Not yet posted 5/5/2012 on The Economist).

THE main road at the headquarters of BYD, a Chinese car and battery firm in Shenzhen, seems to go on for ever. It winds from gleaming offices past enormous factories and dormitories to a renewable-energy plant and test track. Visitors can take the E6, the firm’s new electric car, for a drive—but try to accelerate and the engineers get nervous. Like the firm, the car is sluggish…

Three years ago, the Chinese government unveiled policies to propel sales of all-electric vehicles (ie, ones that can’t use petrol at all) to 500,000 by 2015 and 5m by 2020. But barely 8,000 electric cars were sold last year, almost all going to government fleets.

The chief snags are cost and convenience. Despite lavish subsidies—in Shenzhen, consumers were offered 120,000 yuan per vehicle—electric cars still cost more than the petrol-powered sort.  The lack of recharging stations also hurts. Hardly 16,000 were installed last year, a tenth of the official target.

So the Chinese sold barely 8,000 electric cars last year.  So to meet their target of selling 500,000 units by 2015 all they have to do is to increase sales by, let’s see…  You divide the difference of 500,000 and 8,000 by 8,000…  Multiply that by 100…   Which comes to…let’s see…6,150%.  Wow.  Even for the Chinese and their explosive economic growth that will be a tough number to reach.  And by tough I mean, of course, impossible. 

So it’s not just the Americans.  The Chinese don’t want these all-electric cars either.  Probably because like the Americans they don’t want to sweat bullets wondering whether they have enough charge to make it home.  Deciding whether to see by turning on the headlights or keeping the lights off to save charge.  Deciding whether to stay warm by using the heat or to shiver with the heat off to save charge.  Or simply saying, “The hell with this.  I’m buying a gas-powered car and not worrying about getting home.  I’m going to see where I’m going.  And I’m going to stay toasty warm while getting there.  If I run low on gas so what?  I’ll just pull into a gas station and top off my tank.  And get back on my drive home in 5 minutes or so.”  That’s why no one is buying these all-electric cars.  Because a gas-power car won’t give you ulcers worrying whether or not you will make it home before the charge runs out.

The all-electric car is purely a government phenomenon.  It can only exist with excessive government subsidies.  And only in government fleets where the commute is short.  And they will have a gas-powered bus to pick up people stranded when their car runs out of charge.  And a gas-powered tow truck to bring the all-electric car back to the garage for 8 hours or so of recharging.

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Electric Car Sales and Range are Still Anemic but their Prices are Not

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2012

Week in Review

Electric cars are the technology of tomorrow.  The savior of the planet.  Especially the all-electric ones.  For they don’t pollute when they drive.  Of course, they pollute more when they charge thanks to those fossil fuel-fired electrical power plants.  But they’re here.  And we’re saved.  Thanks to the new electric cars sweeping the nation.  Here’s a look at 7 of those cars (see 7 electric cars for the future by Anne VanderMey posted 4/2/2012 on CNN Money).

Expensive cars.  And some pretty sad stats.  Number sold.  For all two cars.  And those range numbers.  The Nissan Leaf delivers a whopping 73 miles on a single charge.  Which is about an hour’s drive on a freeway.  Maybe.  Without headlights, heat or air conditioning no doubt.  Or a loud sound system.  Not very useful.  Or enjoyable.  Unless you like freezing or sweating (depending on the time of year) while driving blind in the dark with nothing to listen to but the sound of your battery draining.  And the kicker is you just can’t pull off the freeway and top off your battery.  Depending on the voltage of the charging system you could be stopped from 20 minutes to an hour.  Even overnight.  No wonder no one is buying these cars.

Now contrast that with the Chevy Impala.  A full-size four-door sedan with a V-6 engine that burns gasoline at a rate of about 30 miles per gallon.  With the 17 gallon tank that gives a range of about 510 miles on a full tank.  Or about 7 hours of driving on the freeway.  And And when you run low on gas all you have to do is pull off the road and top off the tank at a conveniently located gas station.  Which shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes if you pay at the pump.  And then you have another 510 miles to go.  With, I might add, headlights, heat, air conditioning and a kick-ass sound system.

Which kind of makes the choice between all-electric and gasoline-power easy.  Which is why they sell about 18,000 Impalas.  Each month.  And you can get a pretty nice one for under $30,000 that can seat six.  And a huge trunk.  A car just made for cruising down the highway with the family.  Going where the road takes you.  And bringing home a lot of souvenirs.  Something you just can’t do in your all-electric car.

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Fire, Oil Lamp, Candle, Wicks, Gas Lights, Incandescence, Incandescent Light Bulb, Fluorescence and Compact Fluorescent Lamp

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 28th, 2012

Technology 101

A Lit Match heats the Fuel Absorbed into a Wick, Vaporizes it, Mixes it with Oxygen and Ignites It 

Fire changed the world.  From when Homo erectus first captured it.  Around 600,000 BC.  In China.  They saw it.  Maybe following a lightning strike.  Seeing it around volcanic activity.  Perhaps a burning natural gas vent.  Whatever.  They saw fire.  Approached it.  And learned not to fear it.  How to add fuel to it.  To transfer it to another fuel source.  To carry it.  They couldn’t create fire.  But they could manage it.  And use it.  It was warm.  And bright.  So they brought it indoors.  To light up their caves.  Scare the predators out.  To use it to heat.  And to cook.  Taking a giant leap forward for mankind.

When man moved into man-made dwellings they brought fire with them.  At first a one-room structure with a fire in the center of it.  And a hole in the roof above it.  Where everyone gathered around to eat.  Stay warm.  Sleep.  Even to make babies.  As there wasn’t a lot of modesty back then.  Not that anyone complained much.  What was a little romance next to you when you were living in a room full of smoke, soot and ash?  Fireplaces and chimneys changed all that.  Back to back fireplaces could share a chimney.  Providing more heat and light.  Less smoke and ash.  And a little privacy.  Where the family could be in one room eating, staying warm, reading, playing games and sleeping.  While the grownups could make babies in the other room.

As we advanced so did our literacy.  After a hard day’s work we went inside.  After the sun set.  To read.  Write letters.  Do some paperwork for the business.  Write an opera.  Whatever.  Even during the summer time.  When it was warm.  And we didn’t have a large fire burning in the fireplace.  But we could still see to read and write.  Thanks to candles.  And oil lamps.  One using a liquid fuel.  One using a solid fuel.  But they both operate basically the same.  The wick draws liquid (or liquefied) fuel via capillary action.  Where a porous substance placed into contact with a liquid will absorb that liquid.  Like a paper towel or a sponge.  When you place a lit match into contact with the wick it heats the fuel absorbed into the wick and vaporizes it.  Mixing it with the oxygen in the air.  And ignites it.  Creating a flame.  The candle works the same way only starting with a solid fuel.  The match melts the top of this fuel and liquefies it.  Then it works the same way as an oil lamp.  With the heat of the flame melting the solid fuel to continue the process. 

Placing a Mantle over a Flame created Light through Incandescence (when a Heated Object emits Visible Light)

Two popular oils were olive oil and whale oil.  Beeswax and tallow were common solid fuels.  Candles set the standard for noting lighting intensity.  One candle flame produced one candlepower.  Or ‘candela’ as we refer to it now.   (Which equals about 13 lumens – the amount of light emitted by a source).  If you placed multiple candles into a candelabrum you could increase the lighting intensity.  Three candles gave you 3 candela of light to read or write by.  A chandelier with numerous candles suspended from the ceiling could illuminate a room.  This artificial light shortened the nights.  And increased the working day.  In the 19th century John D. Rockefeller gave the world a new fuel for their oil lamps.  Kerosene.  Refined from petroleum oil.  And saved the whales.  By providing a more plentiful fuel.  At cheaper prices.

By shortening the nights we also made our streets safer.  Some cities passed laws for people living on streets to hang a lamp or two outside.  To light up the street.  Which did indeed help make the streets brighter.  And safer.  To improve on this street lighting idea required a new fuel.  Something in a gas form.  Something that you could pump into a piping system and route to the new street lamps.  A gas kept under a slight pressure so that it would flow up the lamp post.  Where you opened the gas spigot at night.  And lit the gas.  And the lamp glowed until you turned off the gas spigot in the morning.  Another advantage of gas lighting was it didn’t need wicks.  Just a nozzle for the gas to come out of where you could light it.  So there was no need to refuel or to replace the wicks.  Thus allowing them to stay lit for long periods with minimum maintenance.  We later put a mantle over the flame.  And used the flame to heat the mantle which then glowed bright white.  A mantle is like a little bag that fits over the flame made out of a heat resistant fabric.  Infused into the fabric are things that glow white when heated.  Rare-earth metallic salts.  Which change into solid oxides when heated to incandescence (when a heated object emits visible light).

One of the first gases we used was coal-gas.  Discovered in coal mines.  And then produced outside of a coal mine from mined coal.  It worked great.  But when it burned it emitted carbon.  Like all these open flames did.  Which is a bit of a drawback for indoor use.  Filling your house up with smoke.  And soot.  Not to mention that other thing.  Filling up your house with open flames.  Which can be very dangerous indoors.  So we enclosed some of these flames.  Placing them in a glass chimney.  Or glass boxes.  As in street lighting.  Enclosing the flame completely (but with enough venting to sustain the flame) to prevent the rain form putting it out.  This glass, though, blackened from all that carbon and soot.  Adding additional maintenance.  But at least they were safer.   And less of a fire hazard.  Well, at least less of one type of fire hazard.  From the flame.  But there was another hazard.  We were piping gas everywhere.  Outside.  Into buildings.  Even into our homes.  Where it wasn’t uncommon for this gas to go boom.  Particularly dangerous were theatres.  Where they turned on the gas.  And then went to each gas nozzle with an open fire on a stick to light them.  And if they didn’t move quickly enough the theatre filled with a lot of gas.  An enclosed space filled with a lot of gas with someone walking around with an open fire on a stick.  Never a good thing.

Fluorescent Lighting is the Lighting of Choice in Commercial, Professional and Institutional Buildings 

Thomas Edison fixed all of these problems.  By finding another way to produce incandescence. By running an electrical current through a filament inside a sealed bulb.  The current heated the filament to incandescence.  Creating a lot of heat.  And some visible light.  First filaments were carbon based.  Then tungsten became the filament of choice.  Because they lasted longer.  At first the bulbs contained a vacuum.  But they found later that a noble gas prevented the blackening of the bulb.  The incandescent light bulb ended the era of gas lighting.  For it was safer.  Required less maintenance.  And was much easier to operate.  All you had to do was flick a switch.  As amazing as the incandescent light bulb was it had one big drawback.  Especially when we use a lot of them indoors.  That heat.  As the filament produced far more heat than light.  Which made hot buildings hotter.  And made air conditioners work harder getting that heat out of the building.  Enter the fluorescent lamp.

If phosphor absorbs invisible short-wave ultraviolet radiation it will fluoresce.  And emit long-wave visible light.  But not through incandescence.  But by luminescence.  Instead of using heat to produce light this process uses cooler electromagnetic radiation.  Which forms the basis of the fluorescent lamp.  A gas-discharge lamp.  The most common being the 4-foot tube you see in office buildings.  This tube has an electrode at each end.  Contains a noble gas (outer shell of valence electrons are full and not chemically reactive or electrically conductive) at a low pressure.  And a little bit of mercury.  When we turn on the lamp we create an electric field between the electrodes.  As it grows in intensity it eventually pulls electrons out of their valence shell ionizing the gas into an electrically conductive plasma.  This creates an arc between the electrodes.  This charged plasma field excites the mercury.  Which produces the invisible short-wave ultraviolet radiation that the phosphor absorbs.  Causing fluorescence.

One candle produces about 13 lumens of light.  Barely enough to read and write by.  Whereas a 100W incandescent light bulb produces about 1,600 lumens.  The equivalent of 123 candles.  In other words, one incandescent lamp produces the same amount of light as a 123-candle chandelier.  Without the smoke, soot or fire hazard.  And the compact fluorescent lamp improves on this.  For a 26W compact fluorescent lamp can produce the lumen output of a 100W incandescent light bulb.  A one-to-one tradeoff on lighting output.  At a quarter of the power consumption.  And producing less heat due to creating light from fluorescence instead of incandescence.  Making fluorescent lighting the lighting of choice in commercial, professional and institutional buildings.  And any other air conditioned space with large lighting loads. 

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High Gas Prices don’t Hurt as much because we have a Democrat President?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2012

Week in Review

Gas prices are getting to where they were under George W. Bush.  Or higher.  And the media, the political opposition and Hugo Chavez painted George W. Bush as the antichrist for those high prices.  Chavez literally (he said he smelled sulfur at the podium whenever he spoke after Bush).  Bush and Dick Cheney were co-antichrists as they purposely made gas expensive so they and their friends in Big Oil could profit from our misery at the gas pump.  But now it’s a different story (see Rising gas prices aren’t as bad as you think by Steve Hargreaves posted 3/21/2012 on CNN Money).

But despite rhetoric, high gas prices aren’t hurting as much as they used to.

Because, of course, the Democrats are in charge now.

This isn’t to say high gas prices don’t hurt — they do, especially for people living paycheck-to-paycheck or those that drive a lot.

But for the average American household, which has an income of over $62,000 a year, the increase in gas prices represents a relatively small portion of total spending.

Here’s where the Obama administration-friendly media is doing back-flips to report a recovering economy.  Though it’s a jobless recovery.  We’re putting people back to work without putting them back to work.  Somehow.  Because the official unemployment rate (U-3) is falling.  It fell below 9% in 2011.  And it’s still below 9%.  Recently tumbling all the way down to 8.3%.  But you can’t use the U-3 rate when you’re talking about average households earning $62,000 a year.  For no one earns $62,000 a year unless they’re working full-time.  So you have to look at the unemployment rate that counts all the people who can’t find a full-time job.  The U-6 unemployment rate.  Which currently stands at 14.9% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  A rate that is ABOVE the lowest unemployment rate during the Great Depression.  So, no, the average American household is not earning $62,000 at the moment.  Unless those working part-time jobs are working 2-3 part-time jobs to make up for the lost income of those who have simply given up looking for a full-time job because they can’t find one (people the U-3 rate excludes in its count of the unemployed).

“It seems like people are still getting out there and opening up their pocketbooks,” said Beth Ann Bovino, deputy chief economist at Standard and Poor’s.

Bovino thinks prices would have to reach between $4.50 and $5 a gallon to really see an impact in spending.

Part of the reason Americans are coping with higher gas prices is that oil makes up a smaller percentage of overall energy use, she said.

Oil made up 48% of the nation’s energy consumption in 1971, S&P noted in a recent report. Now, thanks to a shift to cheaper natural gas and coal, oil accounts for just 40%.

If gas prices were $4.50 and $5 a gallon while Bush was still in office there would be no calm rationale given.  The people would have gotten the pitchforks out.  Burned Bush and Chaney in effigy.  Ridiculed them on late-night comedy TV.  And in the mainstream media.  For not doing anything to lower prices.  And for purposely raising prices so they, Bush and Chaney, could reap profits along with their friends in Big Oil.  But President Obama gets a pass.  For with him the line is that there’s nothing the president can do about gasoline prices.

They go back to 1971 to find something positive to say.  That in about 40 years we reduced our consumption of oil from 48% to 40%.  But what was the change between 2008 and 2012?  Have we reduced our energy consumption so much that when it takes over $50 to fill the average American fuel tank that we can whistle a happy tune?  Because though these prices are high they are at least not $4.50 to $5.00 high?  And that we must be consuming less oil someplace else?  Funny, for that’s not what these high prices are saying.  They say we’re consuming so much oil that our demand is outpacing supply.  Which causes prices to rise.  Even the president has said we must break our addiction to foreign oil.  That is not a lessening demand no matter how you look at it.

The price of oil is rising because our demand for it is outpacing our supply of it.  Increasing the price at the pump.  Forcing us to cut back elsewhere to put more of our paycheck into the gas tank.  And unless you like giving up things in life you enjoy and would prefer to have but can’t because of the price at the pump then these high prices hurt.  They hurt the economy.  And the family budget.  And saying otherwise is insulting to those who are giving up the things they enjoy to put more of their paycheck into the gas tank.

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BP agrees to $7.8 Billion Deal for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Spill

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2012

Week in Review

It was the end of the world.  The apocalypse.  Brought on by Big Oil.  And our addiction to that silky rich and seductive crude oil.  A new Black Death.  Only blacker.  And stickier. 

We had finally done it to ourselves.  We ruined our pristine Gulf coast.  And the fragile ecosystem in the water.  And on the land.  But there is one small consolation.  BP is paying billions in a settlement.  Lucky for us that they were so profitable to be able to pay for both the regulatory and compliance costs of their industry.  And these big lawsuits.  So we win.  Until we pump gas, that is.  Where they will no doubt pass on the cost of this very large settlement (see ‘Deal reached’ over BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill posted 3/3/2012 on the BBC News US and Canada).

BP says it has reached a $7.8bn (£4.9bn) deal with the largest group of plaintiffs suing the company over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill.

It will benefit some 100,000 fishermen, local residents and clean-up workers whose livelihoods or health suffered…

The rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, killing 11 workers and leaking four million barrels of oil.

BP says it expects the money to come from a $20bn (£12.6bn) compensation fund it had previously set aside.

“From the beginning, BP stepped up to meet our obligations to the communities in the Gulf Coast region, and we’ve worked hard to deliver on that commitment for nearly two years,” BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said…

BP has so far paid out $7.5bn in clean-up costs and compensation.

US President Barack Obama called the spill “the worst environmental disaster the nation has ever faced”.

But was it the worst environmental disaster we ever faced?  If most evidence of that disaster can disappear in about a year’s time, perhaps.  But you’d think if it was the worst disaster of all time some of it would stick around a bit longer than that.  But it didn’t.  Which kind of lowers the bar for ‘worst of all time’ disasters, doesn’t it?  Here’s a follow-up published last April.  And it turns out that Deepwater Horizon was less worse than the Exxon Valdez disaster (see BP oil spill: Dramatic recovery of Gulf of Mexico one year on by Philip Sherwell posted 4/10/2011 on The Telegraph).

The Sunday Telegraph accompanied an assessment team scouring low-lying fingers of mud and marsh grasses along a 20 mile stretch of bayou where the river pours into the sea, the nearest point on land to the disaster site.

The phragamites reeds surveyed by the team leader Ivor van Heerden and scientists from the parish, state and federal governments took a direct hit last year.

But last week they found not even residual traces as the captain negotiated through the marshes on a flatbed airboat designed for swamps.

New shoots were bursting out of the reeds, wading birds were nesting, molluscs clung to the stems and the air was thick with greenflies.

And further along the Gulf coast, the white sand beaches of the panhandle that were soiled by tar balls last summer look back to their pristine best, packed in recent weeks by college students enjoying the raucous annual institution of spring break.
“The spill was a disaster, but it was not the catastrophe that many people were portraying,” said Mr van Heerden, a marine scientist who once headed the Louisiana coastal restoration programme for the state’s fragile eco-system of wetlands.

It was his intervention last July that first challenged the assumed wisdom in America that the spill was an apocalyptic environmental catastrophe.

“A lot of people, and that includes politicians and journalists, did not want to hear the message that it was really not that bad,” he said…

Swaths of the Gulf were closed to fishing and over the next six months, nearly 7,000 dead animals were collected from the area – mostly birds but also 700 sea turtles and 100 dolphins – although in many cases the cause of death has not been determined.

But volume can be a misleading measure of a spill’s impact. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez tanker lost just five per cent of the oil that escaped into Gulf last year, but damage to the Alaskan coastline, wildlife and environment was much more devastating.

“This was no Exxon Valdez, not even close,” said Ed Owens, a British marine geologist and oil spill veteran who developed the industry standard for clean-up and monitoring after he worked on the chaotic response to that disaster…

Although the longer-term damage inflicted on the wildlife, marshes and waters of the Gulf is still being assessed, the fishing grounds and oyster beds are open again.

But traditional fishing communities on the slivers of land that poke into the sea south of New Orleans are still reeling from the impact, economically and mentally.

At a roadside seafood stand that his mother opened 32 years ago, Sean Maise has discounted the juicy four-inch long jumbo shrimps in his iceboxes to $3.50 a pound in an effort to woo custom. “It’s bad, real bad,” he lamented…

“We have probably the most rigorous testing in the world here and there has not been a single case of contaminated seafood found since the spill,” he said. “Nobody’s got sick from eating Louisiana seafood, but still people are nervous.”

This doesn’t sound like the worst disaster of all time.  Unless you want to include the devastation of the oil industry, then, yes, it ranks pretty high on the ‘worse’ scale.  But if you’re talking about spring break beaches and delectable seafood, then no.  Even though the people are scared to eat it despite the testing proving that it’s perfectly safe to eat.  Within a year things got back to pretty much normal.  Which kind of makes a mockery of the label ‘worst environmental disaster the nation has ever faced.’  And the economic destruction of the Gulf oil industry.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion was s disaster.  It killed eleven oil workers.  And then destroyed the livelihood of all their coworkers.  And reduced the amount of US crude oil in the domestic pipeline.  Raising the price at the pump.  This is the disaster.  The beaches and water are fine.  Just ask the college students enjoying spring break on the beaches.  In the water.  And eating the seafood.

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