Steam Locomotive

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 13th, 2013

Technology 101

The Steam Locomotive was one of the Few Technologies that wasn’t replaced by a Superior Technology 

Man first used stone tools about two and a half million years ago.  We first controlled fire for our use about a million years ago.  We first domesticated animals and began farming a little over 10,000 years ago.  The Egyptians were moving goods by boats some 5,000 years ago.  The Greeks and Romans first used the water wheel for power about 2,500 years ago. The Industrial Revolution began about 250 years ago.  James Watt improved the steam engine about 230 years ago.  England introduced the first steam locomotive into rail service about 210 years ago. 

In the first half of the 1800s the United States started building its railroads.  Helping the North to win the Civil War.  And completing the transcontinental railroad in 1869.  By 1890 there were about 130,000 miles of track crisscrossing the United States.  With the stream locomotives growing faster.  And more powerful.  These massive marvels of engineering helped the United States to become the number one economic power in the world.  As her vast resources and manufacturing centers were all connected by rail.  These powerful steam locomotives raced people across the continent.  And pulled ever longer—and heavier—freight trains.

We built bigger and bigger steam locomotives.  That had the power to pull freight across mountains.  To race across the Great Plains.  And into our cities.  With the chugging sound and the mournful steam whistle filling many a childhood memories.  But by the end of World War II the era of steam was over.  After little more than a century.  Barely a blip in the historical record.  Yet it advanced mankind in that century like few other technological advances.   Transforming the Industrial Revolution into the Second Industrial Revolution.  Or the Technological Revolution.  That gave us the steel that built America.  Electric Power.  Mass production.  And the production line.  None of which would have happened without the steam locomotive.  It was one of the few technologies that wasn’t replaced by a superior technology.  For the steam locomotive was more powerful than the diesel-electric that replaced it.  But the diesel-electric was far more cost-efficient than the steam locomotive. Even if you had to lash up 5 diesels to do the job of one steam locomotive.

The Hot Gases from the Firebox pass through the Boiler Tubes to Boil Water into Steam

The steam engine is an external combustion engine.  Unlike the internal combustion engine the burning of fuel did not move a piston.  Instead burning fuel produced steam.  And the expansion energy in steam moved the piston.  The steam locomotive is a large but compact boiler on wheels.  At one end is a firebox that typically burned wood, coal or oil.  At the other end is the smokebox.  Where the hot gases from the firebox ultimately vent out into the atmosphere through the smokestack.  In between the firebox and the smokebox are a bundle of long pipes.  Boiler tubes.  The longer the locomotive the longer the boiler tubes. 

To start a fire the fireman lights something to burn with a torch and places it on the grating in the firebox.  As this burns he may place some pieces of wood on it to build the fire bigger.  Once the fire is strong he will start shoveling in coal.  Slowly but surely the fire grows hotter.  The hot gases pass through the boiler tubes and into the smokebox.  And up the smoke stack.  Water surrounds the boiler tubes.  The hot gases in the boiler tubes heat the water around the tubes.  Boiling it into steam.  Slowly but surely the amount of water boiled into steam grows.  Increasing the steam pressure in the boiler.  At the top of the boiler over the boiler tubes is a steam dome.  A high point in the boiler where steam under pressure collects looking for a way out of the boiler.  Turned up into the steam dome is a pipe that runs down and splits into two.  Running to the valve chest above each steam cylinder.  Where the steam pushes a piston back and forth.  Which connects to the drive wheels via a connecting rod.

When the engineer moves the throttle level it operates a variable valve in the steam dome.  The more he opens this valve the more steam flows out of the boiler and into the valve chests.  And the greater the speed.  The valve in the valve chest moved back and forth.  When it moved to one side it opened a port into the piston cylinder behind the piston to push it one way.  Then the valve moved the other way.  Opening a port on the other side of the piston cylinder to allow steam to flow in front of the piston.  To push it back the other way.  As the steam expanded in the cylinder to push the piston the spent steam exhausted into the smoke stack and up into the atmosphere.  Creating a draft that helped pull the hot gases from the firebox through the boiler tubes, into the smokebox and out the smoke stack.  Creating the chugging sound from our childhood memories.

The Challenger and the Big Boy were the Superstars of Steam Locomotives

To keep the locomotive moving required two things.  A continuous supply of fuel and water.  Stored in the tender trailing the locomotive.  The fireman shoveled coal from the tender into the firebox.  What space the coal wasn’t occupying in the tender was filled with water.  The only limit on speed and power was the size of the boiler.  The bigger the firebox the hotter the fire.  And the hungrier it was for fuel.  The bigger locomotives required a mechanized coal feeder into the firebox as a person couldn’t shovel the coal fast enough.  Also, the bigger the engine the greater the weight.  The greater the weight the greater the wear and tear on the rail.  Like trucks on the highway railroads had a limit of weight per axel.  So as the engines got bigger the more wheels there were ahead of the drive wheels and trailing the drive wheels.  For example, the Hudson 4-6-4 had two axels (with four wheels) ahead of the drive wheels.  Three axles (with 6 wheels) connected to the pistons that powered the train.  And two axels (with four wheels) trailing the drive wheels to help support the weight of the firebox.

To achieve ever higher speeds and power over grades required ever larger boilers.  For higher speeds used a lot of steam.  Requiring a huge firebox to keep boiling water into steam to maintain those higher speeds.  But greater lengths and heavier boilers required more wheels.  And more wheels did not turn well in curves.  Leading to more wear and tear on the rails.  Enter the 4-6-6-4 Challenger.  The pinnacle of steam locomotive design.  To accommodate this behemoth on curves the designers reintroduced the articulating locomotive.  They split up the 12 drive wheels of the then most powerful locomotive in service into two sets of 6.  Each with their own set of pistons.  While the long boiler was a solid piece the frame underneath wasn’t.  It had a pivot point.  The first set of drive wheels and the four wheels in front of them were in front of this pivot.  And the second set of drive wheels and the trailing 4 wheels that carried the weight of the massive boiler on the Challenger were behind this pivot.  So instead of having one 4-6-6-4 struggling through curves there was one 4-6 trailing one 6-4.  Allowing it to negotiate curves easier and at greater speeds.

The Challenger was fast.  And powerful.  It could handle just about any track in America.  Except that over the Wasatch Range between Green River, Wyoming and Ogden, Utah.  Here even the Challenger couldn’t negotiate those grades on its own.  These trains required double-heading.  Two Challengers with two crews (unlike lashing up diesels today where one crew operates multiple units from one cab).  And helper locomotives.  This took a lot of time.  And cost a lot of money.  So to negotiate these steep grades Union Pacific built the 4-8-8-4 articulated Big Boy.  Basically the Challenger on steroids.  The Big Boy could pull anything anywhere.  The Challenger and the Big Boy were the superstars of steam locomotives.  But these massive boilers on wheels required an enormous amount of maintenance.  Which is why they lasted but 20 years in service.  Replaced by tiny little diesel-electric locomotives.  That revolutionized railroading.  Because they were so less costly to maintain and operate.  Even if you had to use 7 of them to do what one Big Boy could do.

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Family Farms, Big City Factories, Fertility Rates and Federal Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 9th, 2013

History 101

The Mechanization of the Farm began a Migration from the Country to the Cities

Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830ish) if you worked you most probably farmed.  For most everyone from the dawn of civilization on the Nile, the Euphrates & Tigris, the Indus and the Yangtze farmed.  To produce food for the civilization for the good times.  And food surpluses for the bad times.  For having enough to eat was never a sure thing.  And surviving the winter was a challenge.

What early civilizations needed were a lot of people to work the land.  For large-scale farming could produce large harvests.  Enough to feed everyone during the good times.  During the winters.  And even the occasional drought.  But it could be a risky game to play.  Because a lot of people to work the land also meant a lot of mouths to feed.  Which meant everyone worked the fields.  Men.  Women.  And children.  Anyone who ate worked.  As they did on the family farm.  Which is why they had large families.  For the more children they had the more land they could work.  Allowing them to eat during the good times.  During the winters.  The occasional drought.  While having large food surpluses to sell.  Allowing them to build wealth.  Just like the landowners in the Old World.  The aristocracy.  Only instead of peasants working the land it was family.

But with the Industrial Revolution came change.  The steam engine mechanized farming.  Allowing fewer people to produce more.  Also, steam power allowed factories away from rivers.  As they no longer needed moving water to turn a waterwheel.  So factories filled our cities.  Creating a lot of jobs.  This and the mechanization of the farm requiring fewer hands to work the land began a migration.  Of people from the country.  To the cities.

The Migration from the Family Farm to the Big City got People used to Bigger Government and Taxes

The world modernized in the 1800s.  Food was never more plentiful.  Allowing more people to leave the farm.  And think about other things.  Like electrical engineering.  Nikola Tesla gave us AC electric power.  And the AC electric motor.  Changing manufacturing forever.  Those little spinning machines filled our factories.  And operated the machines in those factories.  Everything we ever made we made better and more efficiently thanks to the electric motor.  Allowing us to manufacture more than ever.  And manufacture more complex things.  Factories grew.  With many levels of manufacturing contained within.  Packing more people than ever in these factories.

The common perception of this industrial world is of sweatshops.  Child labor.  Soot and smoke casting a pall over overcrowded cities.  Where people packed into overcrowded housing.  Thanks to that migration from the family farm to the big city factories.  Which changed things.  Instead of people raising a large family on a large farm where there was plenty of room and plenty of food to eat these families were living in cramped apartments in the crowded city.  And they had to pay for the food they ate.  And the more mouths they had to feed the more money it took.  This was a big change.  Whereas on the farm a large family meant more food.  And more wealth.  In the city, though, more children meant less food for everyone else to eat.  And more poverty.

The growth of cities also caused another change.  When people lived on scattered farms they didn’t need any government services.  But in the crowded cities they did.  Homes had utilities.  And sanitation.  Cities also had streets.  Which the city needed to maintain.  Eventually there was street lighting.  And traffic signals.  Police departments.  Fire departments.  Schools.  And teachers.  All of these things cost money.  And we paid for them with taxes.  Getting people used to bigger government.  And bigger taxes.  Then the progressives entered government at the federal level.  Who wanted government to do at the federal level what it did at the local level.  Be mother to the people.  Instead of just doing those things the Constitution said it should do.

A Falling Fertility Rate forced the Government to go into ‘World War’ Debt just to pay for Social Security and Medicare

The fertility rate (the number of children a woman has during her child-bearing days) fell all during the 1800s.  As large families went from being wealth producers on the farm to poverty inducers in the cities.  While federal debt from the American Revolutionary War fell during the early 1800s.  The debt fell because there wasn’t a lot of federal spending.  So it wasn’t hard to retire that debt.  But that federal restraint didn’t last.  There was a spike in federal debt (as a percent of GDP) following American Civil War (1861-1865) as they had to borrow heavily to pay for that war.  But after the war the debt level did not fall back to pre-war levels.  A trend that would continue.  As we can see here.

Fertilty Rate versus Debt as Percent of GDP

There was another spike in federal debt following World War I (1917-1918).  But the debt level never fell back to pre-war levels.  Then the Great Depression and the New Deal (1930s) began another spike in Federal debt.  That World War II took to record highs.  And once again after the war the federal debt did not fall back to pre-war levels.  Then came President Reagan.  Who had the guts to call communism what it was.  A failed economic system that oppressed its people and was the greatest killer of the 20th century.  To push the Soviet Union into the ‘ash heap of history’ Reagan forced them to spend more than they could afford.  By ramping up defense spending to a level the Soviets couldn’t match.  Which ultimately won the Cold War (1947-1991, with Reagan delivering the knockout blow during his presidency (1981-1989) ).  But federal debt levels, once again, did not fall back to pre-war levels.  In fact, despite the peace dividend President Clinton inherited he still raised federal spending.  Just at a reduced rate than it was during the Cold War.  President Bush gave us Medicare Part D (drugs for seniors).  Then came 9/11.  And the War on Terror.  Then President Obama.  Who despite ending the Iraq War had the greatest budget deficits of any president.  As he spent more than any other president.  As he tried to transform the country into a European social democracy.  Sending out debt soaring to new heights.

FDR gave us Social Security in 1935.  At the tail-end of a long decline in the fertility rate.  Promising great benefits to future retirees.  Which LBJ added to during the Sixties with his Great Society.  During the post-war baby boom.  Perhaps assuming that increasing fertility rate would provide a lot of new taxpayers in the future when the weight of all these new government programs (FDR’s and LBJ’s) would be felt.  But then two things happened that they didn’t quite plan on.  The birth control pill and abortion created a baby bust following the baby boom.  Worse, thanks to modern medicine people were living longer into retirement.  Consuming more Social Security and Medicare benefits than anyone had ever imagined.  And just when the full force of those baby boomers was going to hit there were going to be fewer taxpayers around to pay for it.  Thanks to that baby bust.  More retirees paid for by fewer taxpayers.  A recipe for disaster.  Which is why debt soared towards World War II highs following the Cold War.  Even though there was no world war.  Because the cost of all those government benefits far exceeded the tax revenue.  Forcing the government to go into ‘world war’ debt just to pay for Social Security.  Medicare.  And everything else the federal government was providing so they could play mother to the American people.

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Medieval Barbers, Supplemental Insurance, the Baylor Plan and Blue Cross Blue Shield

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 28th, 2013

History 101

Barbers once Dressed our Wounds and Bled us when we were Sick

Awhile back one of our most beloved public figures suffered a serious accident.  The injuries required significant rehabilitation.  So he missed a lot of work.  People worried how he was going to pay his bills if he couldn’t work.  Groceries.  Rent.  Child care.  Etc.  Health insurance would pay his medical bills.  But what about that lost income?  What would replace that to allow his life to go on as before during his convalescence?  Thankfully he had Aflac supplemental insurance.  Which would pay his bills until his wings and beak healed.  Allowing the Aflac duck to continue on with his life.  Until he was able to return to work.

For a small insurance premium anyone can buy supplemental insurance.  This will allow them to pay their bills should there be an interruption in their earnings due to an illness or accident.  The Aflac duck probably did not pay for this coverage.  One of the perks of being the face of the company.  And the Aflac duck is fictional.  And fictional entities don’t have bills to worry about during any interruption in their fictional earnings.  But the duck is cute.  And it illustrates what the first health insurance policies actually did.  Replaced lost income.

Health insurance hasn’t been around for long.  For costly hospital stays haven’t been around for long.  Once upon a time you visited the local barber to have a wound dressed after an accident.  Or for a bloodletting when you were sick.  And if you had a toothache.  So he could yank your tooth out of your mouth.  As well as give you a shave and a haircut.  Things that weren’t really that costly.  But if you were a black smith with a lame hand you could go for awhile without being able to earn any income.  And this is what the first use of health insurance did for us.  Like that Aflac duck.  It paid our bills until we were ready and able to return to work.

Early Health Insurance didn’t pay for Hospital Stays or Medical Procedures but replaced Lost Income

Early hospitals bore little resemblance to what we have today.  In fact, most people preferred to stay out of them.  Choosing to recuperate at home.  The American Civil War killed over 600,000 Americans.  More than half of those were from disease.  Those wounded in battle feared the hospital.  Where you went to die.  Often by infection as surgeons went from one amputation to another without changing their bloody aprons or washing their hands.  This was in the 1860s.  Which isn’t that long ago.  There are people alive today whose grandfathers were born during the American Civil War.  Who were born into a world where surgeons still did not know that they should wash their hands before sticking them into someone’s body.

Medical care may not have been that good in the 1860s but we already had health insurance.  Introduced around 1850.  Thanks to the rise in rail and river transportation.  Which in their early days weren’t all that safe.  Hurting a great many people.  Brakemen fell off of moving cars.  And lost hands coupling cars together.  While steam boilers had a tendency to explode.  In fact, the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history happened when a steam boiler exploded in the bowels of the S.S. Sultana in 1865 on the Mississippi River.  The American Civil War had just ended.  And the Sultana was carrying emaciated and frail Union POWs home after their release from Confederate prison camps.  Happy to be free.  And anxious to go home.  How sad that after all they had gone through that they would die not on the battlefield.  But on the voyage home.  The explosion killed 1600-2000.  A greater death toll than when the Titanic sank.

As the Industrial Revolution modernized the United States people got hurt in the machines of the Industrial Revolution.  Like brakemen losing hands.  And people getting hurt in boiler explosions.  Causing people to miss work as they healed.  Where they were unable to earn a living to support their families.  This is what our early health insurance did.  It didn’t pay for hospital stays or medical procedures.  You paid for that.  The health insurance replaced your lost income until you were able to return to work.

The Baylor Plan was a Prepaid Health Care Plan that gave School Teachers 21 Days of Hospital Services

But health care soon rose above the level of medieval barbers/surgeons yanking out our teeth.  And draining blood from sick people.  By the early 1900s medical skills and knowledge greatly improved.  We learned the importance of washing our hands before putting them into someone’s body by the late 1800s.  Making hospitals no longer the infectious deathtraps they once were.  We started taking x-rays.  Monitoring blood pressure.  Used newly developed medicines.  Medical training improved.  We developed standardized treatments for disease.  And procedures for emergency medical care.  People stopped fearing hospitals and stopped trying to avoid them.  They now sought them out when they were afraid of dying.  Not seeing them as houses of death.

All of this reduced supply as it took more training and equipment and licensing to become a doctor or to open a hospital.  And increased demand as people wanted to get better from what ailed them.  Low supply and high demand made health care, of course, expensive.  People were enjoying getting better.  But they sometimes had trouble paying their bills.  Something Dr. Justin Ford Kimball noticed.  School teachers having trouble paying their hospital bills.  So he developed the Baylor plan in 1929.  At the Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas.  Participating teachers paid 50 cents a month.  In exchange they received up to 21 days of hospital services per year.  This brought in a steady stream of income to the hospital throughout the year.  And provided piece of mind for the teachers knowing that for a small manageable fee (i.e., a premium) they could go to a hospital when they needed to.

The Baylor plan was successful.  Other hospitals followed suit.  Health insurance spread.  Hospitals gained a steady source of income.  And people insured themselves from large financial losses by paying a little every month so they wouldn’t have to pay a large hospital bill at one time.  The system worked well.  For everyone using a given hospital didn’t get sick or injured and consume health care services at one time.  While the small premium everyone paid could pay for the few who did.  Hospitals then worked together to produce health insurance plans that could be used at more than one hospital.  In 1939 the American Hospital Association set the standard for these plans.  Plans that met the standard were called Blue Cross plans.  These separate plans merged in 1960 and became Blue Cross.  Physicians and surgeons also sold prepaid plans.  These plans merged into Blue Shield in 1946.  And in 1982 Blue Cross and Blue Shield merged into what it is today.  Blue Cross Blue Shield.  One of the largest providers of health insurance today.

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Food Surplus, Artisan, Guilds, Industrial Revolution, Mechanized Looms and Luddites

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2013

History 101

As the Middle Class grew Artisans joined Guilds to Restrict Entry into their Trade

For most of our existence on this planet we were hunters and gatherers.  Like the animals in the wild.  Dependent on our environment for our food.  Which was often scarce.  Leaving our distant relatives with a chronic gnawing hunger in their bellies.  Sometimes the environment provided so little food that there wasn’t enough for everyone.  So a great many went hungry.  And a great many eventually died from that hunger.  Such was life for hunters and gatherers dependent on their environment for food.  Then we started thinking.  And figured out how to farm.

As farmers we took control of our environment.  Instead of eating only what the environment gave us we grew what we needed.  And grew even more to have a food surplus.  To get us through times when the environment did not provide a good growing season.  Having control over our food turned that chronic gnawing hunger into a rare and infrequent occurrence.  Which established us at the top of the food chain.  And made us master of the planet.  Where we shaped it to serve our needs.  Instead of living at its mercy.

With a stable food supply we were able to do something else.  Something other than grow food.  We could build things.  And an artisan class grew.  Potters.  Shoemakers.  Blacksmiths.  As time passed the artisan class grew.  Creating a middle class.  Markets where people met to trade their goods grew into cities.  The economy grew more complex.  The cities grew more crowded.  And the artisans became protective of their trades.  Joining guilds that restricted entry into their trade.  By maintaining a maximum number of artisans in each trade.  For though there was more food than ever the fear of hunger never went away.

In Medieval Europe Cloth Production was Second only to Food Production

Artisans joined guilds for one reason.  So they wouldn’t starve to death.  Basically.  By restricting entry into their trade they limited competition.  This allowed them to charge higher prices for their goods or services.  And that healthy income allowed them to buy all the food they desired.  Whereas if other artisans were allowed to set up shop in town they could offer their goods or services for less.  Forcing other artisans to lower their prices.  Which is good for the masses.  Allowing them to pay less for the artisans’ goods or services.  Helping them to push off hunger themselves.  But not good for the limited few who saw their wages fall with more artisans entering their trade.  Hence the guilds.

But artisans had more to fear than just people trying to take food off of their tables.  There was something else that was a far greater risk.  Technology.  Which led to increases in productivity.  That is, producing more with fewer people.  Replacing some highly-skilled artisans with lower-skilled and lower-paid people operating machines.  And without a job it was difficult to put food on the table.  With the specter of hunger haunting them some artisans did something about that new technology putting them out of a job.  They fought back against the machines.

Besides food there was another basic necessity the people needed.  Especially in England.  Where it got pretty cold during the winter.  To live in the northern climes you needed to wear clothes.  Or die of exposure.  In Medieval Europe food production was the number one occupation.  The number two occupation was cloth production.  To make the clothing people needed to wear to keep from dying of exposure.  Highly skilled weavers filled factories as they manually worked their looms.  Making the cloth that others would turn into clothing.

The most Infamous Neo-Luddite was the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski

Their meager production rate kept clothing prices high.  Then came the Industrial Revolution.  First they mechanized spinning.  Creating more thread than a weaver could ever use.  Then they mechanized weaving.  Turning that thread into cloth at an incredible rate.  Turning cloth-making from a skilled trade into an automated process.  Producing more with fewer people.  Lowering the price of clothing.  And reducing the need for skilled artisans.  Making the people happy.  For they could buy more clothing.  And still be able to afford enough food to ward off that gnawing hunger.  Everyone was happy except, of course, those artisans put out of a job thanks to those new machines.

Britain was at War with Napoleon’s France in 1811.  During war the home economy typically suffers.  And machines replacing people didn’t help.  Highly skilled weavers either lost their jobs.  Or had to take steep pay cuts to compete with other unskilled laborers working the new mechanized looms.  Lower incomes made it difficult to buy food when prices were rising.  As they typically do during war.  Pushing some people to the breaking point.  And some people rebelled against the machines.  Smashing them.  And burning them.  These people were Luddites.  Their rebellion against technology was so great that at times more British Red Coats were in England putting down their rebellion than were fighting Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

But in the end the Luddites loss their struggle.  By 1817 the British had put down the rebellion.  And the Industrial Revolution carried on.  Making life better for the masses.  The modern economy flooding us with new must-have products at reasonable prices.  And creating scores of new jobs the Luddites never could have imagined.  Still, their anti-technology philosophy lives on.  Perhaps the most infamous neo-Luddite being Theodore Kaczynski.  The Unabomber.  Who fought against technology by planting or mailing bombs.  Killing three.  And hurting 23 others.  Who they finally found holed up in a primitive cabin in the Montana wilderness.  Where he rejected all technology.  Living without any of the creature comforts technology gives us.  Like electricity, fresh water or personal hygiene.  Being a Luddite to the extreme.

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Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Agrarian Past, Industrial Revolution, Federalists, Republicans, Reynolds Affair and Philip Freneau

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 20th, 2012

Politics 101

Jefferson could not Turn a Profit on his Plantation and was Forever in Debt Leading to a Lifelong Disdain for Merchants and Bankers

At the time of the Founding America was (and would be for a long time) an agrarian nation.  A country of farmers.  Big and small.  Rich plantations.  And lots of hard-working family farms that were far from being rich.  Yeomen famers.  Who, to borrow a phrase from Oliver Wendell Douglas, “got their hands dirty!”  For those of you too young to recognize this line it’s from the 1960s classic sitcom Green Acres.  Where Douglas was a rich New York City (NYC) attorney who moved out of NYC to Hooterville to be a farmer.  Who he called the backbone of America.  Much like Thomas Jefferson.

Douglas and Jefferson shared a lot in common.  Both were lawyers.  Both were part of high society.  And both could make a good speech (or put something great in writing).  Douglas lived on Park Avenue in NYC.  And he and his wife travelled in the top social circles.  Just like Jefferson.  They both enjoyed the best of the best.  But neither were very good farmers.  The Douglas farm was a disaster despite his best efforts.  While Jefferson could not turn a profit on his plantation.  And was forever in debt.  Leading to a lifelong disdain for merchants and bankers.  Especially merchant bankers.

Alexander Hamilton was born on the British Isle of Nevis.  And raised in St. Croix.  Hamilton was a bastard child.  Illegitimate.  A stigma that spurred him to do everything aggressively in his life to show he was not a second-class person.  He worked at an early age.  In commerce.  And he was very good.  A natural.  Very smart.  And brave.  A veteran of two American wars.  He loved America.  But having been born and raised outside of the country he had no allegiance to any state.  Put it all together and it made Hamilton a nationalist.

Jefferson wanted to hold on to the Agrarian Past while Hamilton wanted to bring on the Industrial Revolution

Hamilton was just as much a Patriot as the other Founding Fathers.  Perhaps more so as he actually served in the Continental Army.  And while serving he saw how poor military power and poor financial power made a country dangerously weak.  The Americans almost lost their Revolution because of a weak nation that could not provide for her army.  So he wanted to make America strong.  And united.  The key in Hamilton’s eyes to making America a powerful nation (like Great Britain) that could stand up against any enemy was a strong union.  And in the Washington administration he advanced policies towards that end.  Ironically, policies that would do more to drive the nation apart.

So Hamilton (Secretary of Treasury) and Jefferson (Secretary of State) could not be more different.  And as they started to push their agendas in the Washington administration they grew to hate each other.  For their visions for America couldn’t be more different.  Despite both being ardent Patriots.  Jefferson wanted to hold on to the agrarian past.  While Hamilton wanted to bring on the Industrial Revolution.  Jefferson believed in the landed aristocracy built upon virtue and talent.  Not the aristocracy money could buy you.  Or birth or a title like in a monarchy.  Which Jefferson believed Hamilton was trying to turn America into.  As did all the farmers throughout the South and in the West.  Who all hated bankers and merchants.  Those people who made money off of other people’s labors.  Investors and speculators.  While speculation in land, on the other hand, was perfectly acceptable as it was what the southern gentry did to acquire their wealth.

And so began the political parties.  The Federalists were for a strong national government that Hamilton tried to make as strong as possible.  And the anti-Federalists.  Who already felt that the national government had grown too strong.  Or as they would become under Jefferson’s leadership, the Republicans (which were NOT the forbears of the current Republican Party).  In general, southern planters.  While Hamilton led the Federalists.  In general, northern businessmen.  The game of politics was born.  And it got dirty pretty quickly.  Thanks to each party’s friends in the media.  The newspapers of the day.  Which were pretty much political arms of these parties.

The Newspapers launched Vitriol at each Other including a Lot of Lies, Slander and Libel

The Treasury Department was the largest government department.  It was huge.  With a huge budget.  Whereas the State Department was basically Jefferson and a few clerks.  Hamilton no doubt felt he was the most important man in America next to the president.  And Jefferson was sure that Hamilton was using his position to steal money from the treasury.  So sure that Jefferson and his Republicans launched Congressional investigations that turned up nothing.  Convincing Jefferson that Hamilton was a better thief than even he had imagined.  Jefferson still pressed and had a colleague introduce multiple resolutions in Congress against Hamilton hoping to get Hamilton thrown from office on a House vote.  The House voted down all resolutions.

James Reynolds was a con man who made his money by defrauding veterans.  And other criminal pursuits.  Tired of the scale of these scores he came to Philadelphia to make some bigger money.  By using his wife, Maria, to seduce and have an affair with Alexander Hamilton.  So he could blackmail him.  Which she did.  Then he did.  When Reynolds’ criminal past caught up with him and sent him to jail he talked about the affair.  Which was more than just an affair.  He told some Republicans that he and Hamilton were using treasury funds to fund speculation for personal gain.  Jefferson and the Republicans were overjoyed.  Sure that they at last had a way to get rid of Hamilton. When confronted in his home to answer these charges he fessed up and told the truth.  Which included no speculation with treasury funds.  While all the money paid to Reynolds came from his own pocket.  All treasury funds were present and accounted for.  Politicians being the gentlemen they were then were satisfied and promised to never speak of Hamilton’s marital indiscretions.

So the political battle between Hamilton and Jefferson would carry on in the press.  Hamilton contributed most of his writings to the Gazette of the United States which wrote positively about Federalist policies.  And enjoyed a national circulation.  So Jefferson countered that by setting up a Republican national paper.  The National Gazette.  Who James Madison helped kick off by convincing Philip Freneau to come to Philadelphia to edit the paper.  Which he did.  And Jefferson helped him with his finances by hiring him into the State Department.  Putting him on the payroll to attack Washington’s treasury secretary while he was the sitting Secretary of State.  Trying to undermine the very administration he belonged to.  And the war between the two men escalated.  The papers launched vitriol at each other.  Including a lot of lies, slander and libel.  Enlisting other papers to join in the journalistic malfeasance.  People who talk about negative political campaigns today have no idea how ugly it was back then.  There was no interest in reaching across the aisle.  They just wanted to destroy the opposition so they could advance their policies.   Much like it is today.  Only without it being about principle.  But advancing the privileged government class.  That other aristocracy that Jefferson hated.

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Coal Mines, Steam Engine, Electric Motor, Coal-Fired Power Plants, Water Pumps, Ventilation Fans, Strip Mining, Draglines and Coal Washing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 12th, 2012

Technology 101

The Steam Engine pumped Water from Mines allowing them to go Deeper as they followed Veins of Coal

Petroleum is the lifeblood of advanced economies.  It propels our airplanes, ships, trains, trucks, ambulances, air ambulances, fire trucks, cars, etc.  It moves everything.  Our sick and injured.  Our families.  Our food.  Our goods.  The raw materials that build the world we live in.  You would not recognize the world if we removed petroleum from it.  There would be no aviation.  No emergency vehicles that could respond in minutes.  No family car.  But we could still have ships and trains.  Because before petroleum there was coal.

Before the Industrial Revolution we used animals to move people and things.  We were using fuels for other things.  But not to move people and goods.  Until there was a problem getting that fuel.  The British were mining coal near the coast.  But there was a problem.  As the coal veins they mined moved under the sea they filled with water.  Limiting how far they could follow those veins.  They had a pump.  Driven by a crude steam engine.  But it just didn’t do the job very well.  Until a man came along and improved it.  James Watt.  Who improved that crude steam engine.  And changed the world.

The steam engine pumped water from coal mines allowing them to go deeper as they followed veins of coal.  But the steam engine had other uses.  They could power a drive shaft in a factory.  Allowing us to build factories anywhere.  Not just by moving water that drove a waterwheel.  And using a steam engine to move a train allowed us to connect these factories with other factories.  And to the stores in the cites that bought the things they built.  Steam-powered tractors replaced the horse and plow on the farm.  While steam locomotives brought coal from distant coal mines to our homes we burned for heat.  Coal was everywhere.  We had a coal-based economy.  And a coal-based life.  The more we used the more we had to mine.  Thanks to the coal-fired steam engine we could mine a lot of it.  And did.  It powered the Industrial Revolution.  And powers our modern economy today.  Because coal even powers the engines that replaced the steam engines in our factories.

The two largest Electrical Loads in a Coal Mine are the Water Pumps and the Ventilation Fans

We’ve replaced the steam engines in our factories with the electric motor.  Instead of having a main drive shaft through the factory and a system of belts and pulleys we put an electric motor at each workstation.  And connected it to the electric grid.  Greatly increasing our productivity.  And the electric power to drive these electric motors came predominantly from coal-fired power plants.  Coal has never been more important in the modern economy.  It provides about half of all electric power.  Followed by natural gas and nuclear power at about 20% each (though natural gas is on the rise).  Hydroelectric dams provide less than 10% of our electric power.  And everything else provides less than 5%.

Just as the steam engine made mining more efficient so did electric power.  Mines can go deeper because electric pumps can more efficiently pump water out of the mines.  And large fans can circulate the air underground so miners can breathe.  As well as disperse any buildups of methane gas or coal dust.  Before they can explode.  Which is one of the hazards of mining a flammable and, at times, explosive material.  The hazard is so real that you will not find ventilation fans inside the mine.  You’ll find water pumps deep in the mines.  But not the ventilation fans.  Because if there is a fire or an explosion underground they’ll need to protect those fans from damage so they will still be able to ventilate the mine.  For if the mine fills with smoke surviving a fire or an explosion will matter little if you cannot breathe.

The two largest electrical loads in a coal mine are the water pumps and the ventilation fans.  Mines consume enormous amounts of electric power.  And most of it goes to fighting the water seepage that will fill up a mine if not pumped out.  And making the mines habitable.  Electric power also runs the hoists that haul the coal to the surface.  Transports miners to and from the mines.  And runs the mining equipment in a confined space without any hazardous fumes.  As critical as this electric power is to survive working in such an unfriendly environment more times than not the power they use comes from a coal-fired power plant.  A plant they feed with the very coal they mine.  Because it’s dependable.  That electric power will always be there.

Coal will always let you Charge your Electric Car Overnight and Surf the Web in the Morning

But we just don’t mine coal underground.  We also dig it up from the surface.  With strip mining.  Most of the coal we use today comes from great strip mines out West.  Where they use mammoth machines called draglines to scrape away soil to get to the coal.  And then they scrape out the coal.  These machines are as big as ships and actually have crew quarters inside them.  They even name them like ships.  They operate kind of like a fishing rod with a few minor differences.  Instead of a rod there is a boom.  Instead of nylon fishing line there is a steel cable up to two inches in diameter.  And instead of a hook there is a bucket big enough to hold a 2-car garage.  The operator ‘throws’ the bucket out by running it out along the boom.  Then drops it in the dirt.  Then drags the bucket back.  The massive scale of the dragline requires an enormous amount of power.  And the power of choice?  Electric power.  Often produced by the very coal they mine.  Some of these machines have electric cables even bigger around than the cables that drag their buckets.  At voltages of 10,000 to 25,000 volts.  Drawing up to 2,000 amps.

These draglines can mine a lot of coal.  But it’s a lower-quality coal than some of our eastern coal.  Which has a higher energy content.  But eastern coal also has a higher sulfur content.  Which requires more costs to make it burn cleaner.  In fact, before any coal ships today we wash it to remove slate as well as other waste rock from the coal.  And it is in this waste rock where we find much of the sulfur.  So the washing makes the coal burn cleaner.  As well as raise the energy content for a given quantity of coal by removing the waste that doesn’t burn.  There are a few ways they do this.  But they all involve water.  Therefore, at the end of the process they have to dry the coal by spinning it in a large cylindrical centrifuge.  So a lot happens to coal between digging it out of the ground and loading it on a unit train (a train carrying only one type of cargo) bound to some power plant.  And chances are that it will go to a power plant.  For our coal-fired power plants buy about 80% or so of all coal mined.  So if you see a coal train it is probably en route to a coal-fired power plant.

Coal created the modern world.  And it powers it to this day.  From the first steam engines that dewatered mines to the coal-fired power plants that power the massive server farms that hold the content of the World Wide Web.  Yes, coal even powers the Internet.  As well as our electric cars.  For only coal will be able to meet the electric demand when everyone starts plugging their car into the electric grid overnight.  Because solar power doesn’t work at night.  And wind power is even less reliable.  For if it’s a still night you’ll have no charge to drive to work in the morning.  But if you plugged into coal you’ll always be able to charge your electric car overnight.  And surf the web in the morning.

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Marx, Engels, Communist Manifesto, Capitalists, Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Private Property, Soviet Union, Iron Curtain and East Berlin

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 1st, 2012

History 101

Nationalism, Socialism and Communism forced a more Fair, Just and Equitable Society onto the People

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848.  Launching a war against capitalism.  And private property.  Intellectuals and those in academia loved this stuff.  And labor leaders.  Because it was a path to power.  Especially for those who could not create wealth.  Unlike the great wealth producers.  Like the industrialists.  The entrepreneurs.  Small business owners.  The productive middle class.  That is, the capitalists.  Who work hard and achieve success.  By using their talent and ability to create wealth.  Moving up the economic ladder.  Creating income inequality.  The ultimate sin of capitalism.  According to Marx and Engels.  Intellectuals.  Academia.  And labor leaders.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels single out the accumulation of private property as the source of all our problems.  The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, have an insatiable appetite for private property.  They just can’t get enough of it.  And therefore oppress their workers, the proletariat, to maximize their property.  By paying them less and less to maximize their profits.  So they can use those profits to buy more and more property.  Which keeps the proletariat in perpetual and abject poverty.  And concentrates all the wealth into the few hands of the bourgeoisie.  And the only way to correct this great inequity was through a worker’s revolution.  Where the proletariat rises up and takes the private property of the bourgeoisie and gives it to the state.  So it belongs to everyone.  Especially to those who did not create it.  A very popular idea among those mired in perpetual and abject poverty.  Who are easily swayed to support this more fair, just and equitable distribution of other people’s wealth.

These progressive views enthralled Europe.  Especially after the Industrial Revolution created some appalling conditions for workers.  And they took this opportunity to put them into practice.  It was the 19th century that gave us the ‘fair’ political systems of nationalism, socialism and communism.  That began the process of transferring wealth from the capitalists to the anti-capitalists.  Precipitating the economic decline of Europe.  Making America the new economic superpower.  Which still maintained the principles of free market capitalism throughout the 19th century.  Until the anti-capitalistic teachings of Marx and Engels took hold in the progressive government of Woodward Wilson.  Bringing back the federal income tax Abraham Lincoln used to pay for the Civil War.  But unlike Lincoln Wilson had no intention of repealing it.  The federal income tax was here to stay.  As progressives began building that more fair, just and equitable society.

The Soviet Union Depended on the West for Food because their Forced Collectivized Farms couldn’t Feed their People

But the equitable movement in America was not as intense as it was in Europe.  Or Russia.  Which was taking the teachings of Marx and Engels to their logical end.  They had a worker’s revolution.  They became communist.  And forced that more fair, just and equitable society on their people.  Whether they wanted it or not.  And those who objected they systematically killed.  Or exiled to a Siberian gulag.  For Joseph Stalin’s rise to power was brutal.  As was the Soviet Union.  Even making a deal with Adolf Hitler to split Poland after the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland that launched World War II.  Then Hitler double-crossed their Soviet ally and attacked the Soviet Union.  And the Nazis nearly overran them.  The Nazis were in Leningrad (present day St. Petersburg).  At the gates of Moscow.  And in Stalin’s city.  Stalingrad.  The Soviets were unable to resist the Nazi onslaught.  The only thing that saved them was material aid from the capitalist West.  The Soviet T-34 tank (the best in the war).  And, of course, the millions of Soviet people the Soviet generals could throw into the Nazi killing machine to wear the Nazis down.

No one suffered like the Soviet people did during World War II.  The US and the UK each lost about a half million people.  A terrible loss.  The Soviets, though, lost about 25 million people.  A number that just numbs the mind.  This was the second Russian invasion that had brought an enemy to the gates of Moscow.  The first were the French a century earlier under Napoleon.  There wasn’t going to be a third.  Wherever their armies were at the end of World War II they pretty much stayed.  Turning Eastern Europe into a communist bloc.  And to make the Soviet Union a mightier nation they embarked on a rapid industrialization program.  To make it a modern power like those great nations in the West.  But unlike them they were going to do it the ‘smart’ way.  With their command economy.  Where their brilliant state planners would marshal their resources and do what the free market economies did in the west.  Only instead of taking about a century their Industrial Revolution would take only 5 years.

With no industrialists, entrepreneurs, small business owners or a middle class it fell upon the state planners to industrialize the Soviet Union.  As well as feed the Soviet people.  Well, they industrialized the Soviet Union.  But never brought it up to par with the industrialized West.  Worse, they couldn’t feed their people.  Despite having some of the most fertile farmland in all of Europe in the Ukraine.  The Soviet Union depended on the West for food.  Because their forced collectivized farms didn’t work like Marx and Engels said they would.  And they didn’t work in China, either.  Where another brutal communist dictator, Mao Zedong, killed tens of millions of his people by starving them to death.  By forcing a more fair, just and equitable society onto the Chinese.

Time Froze behind the Iron Curtain and People Lived pretty much Forever in the 1940s

At the end of World War II, like at the end of World War I, no one wanted to think about war anymore.  Winston Churchill, though, did.  For he saw what the Soviet Union was doing.  And saw the spread of their communism as a threat to Western Civilization.  He gave a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946.  And said, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.”  There was now an Eastern Europe.  An East Germany.  And an East Berlin.  All behind the Iron Curtain.  All in the Soviet sphere.  All communist.  Where they all suffered under a more fair, just and equitable society.  Whether they wanted it or not.  And they clearly did not.  For the Soviets had to build a wall in Berlin to prevent those in East Berlin from escaping to West Berlin.

The intellectuals, academia and labor leaders loved Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union.  They thought communism was the enlightened future.  Probably because they didn’t have to live in it.  But what is surprising is that a lot of college students have this affection with communism.  To this day they still wear t-shirts emblazed with the beret-wearing Che Guevara.   Who helped Fidel Castro bring that more fair, just and equitable society to the Cubans.  Who have been trying to escape it ever since by practically swimming to Florida and free market capitalism.  But the college students and their professors still yearn for a Soviet-style economy in the United States.  And condemn capitalism as they sit in coffee bars sipping their lattes.  Enjoying social media on their smartphones.  Wearing the latest fashions.  Enjoying the latest movies.  The newest music.  And dream of that more just society.  Where they redistribute wealth fairly and equitably.  And the rich pay their fair share.  Just like in East Berlin.  Where life was fair.  But it was nowhere as enjoyable as in the unfair West.

Time froze behind the Iron Curtain.  When West Berlin enjoyed the best Western Civilization had to offer in music, fashion, food, entertainment, etc., East Berlin didn’t.  For they were frozen in the 1940s.  Western music was decadent.  So instead of rock and pop music you listened to classical music.  Instead of the latest Hollywood movies you went to the ballet.  You didn’t watch Western television.  Read Western books.  Or newspapers.  No.  You only saw things approved by state censors.  And that were patriotic.  Why?  To prevent their people from seeing how much better life was on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  Where they enjoyed the latest and the best of everything.  Whereas inside the Iron Curtain you went to the black market for any real luxuries.  Like a pair of blue jeans.  Which they didn’t sell in East Berlin.  Because they were decadent.  Why, they wouldn’t even sell a t-shirt with a communist icon on it.  Because you just didn’t wear something like that in the 1940s.  But college kids will attack capitalism.  And support the fairness of socialism and communism.  Even though the things they enjoy come from free market capitalism.  And are simply not available in the communist command economy.  Because the accumulation of private property is the greatest sin of capitalism.  And not allowed under communism.

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Greece, Rome, Western Civilization, Alexandria, Londinium, Enlightenment, Adam Smith, Free Market Capitalism and Gender Equality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 17th, 2012

History 101

Greece gave Western Civilization Math, Science, Engineering and Philosophy

History has been a political struggle over power.  Kings and emperors and priests and nobles had it.  While other kings and emperors and priests and nobles wanted it.  They fought wars.  They oppressed their people.  They’ve committed acts of genocide on their enemies.  And on their people.  To get that power.  To keep that power.  And that’s the way it was for a long time.  The ruling class at the top battling it out.  While the people suffer abject poverty, famine and genocide at the bottom.  Until something came along to change that.  An advanced civilization.  That could produce a food surplus.  Freeing up people to become artisans.  Specialists.  Who could invent and make things.  To make life better.  Especially for a large group of people called the middle class.

The Greeks and Romans took civilization to new heights.  When Edgar Allen Poe wrote To Helen (1845) he chose Greece and Rome to describe his most beautiful Helen.  Because Greece and Rome were that beautiful.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Western Civilization began in Greece.  Food surpluses freed the great thinkers.  Math, science, engineering and philosophy took roots in Athens and spread through the Greek world.  The Hellenistic civilization.  That Alexander the Great spread east all the way to Iran and the Indus Valley.  And south into Egypt.  Where he founded the great city of Alexandria.  Repository of some of the greatest Greek books of knowledge.  When Rome conquered Greece they spread that great Hellenistic civilization east to Spain.  North to France and Germany.  Even to England.  London itself was once a Roman city.  Londinium.  And everywhere the Romans went they brought with them Greek math, science, engineering and philosophy.  Building engineering marvels.  And creating a very high standard of living.

Where the Romans went they also built roads.  Primarily to move their legions throughout their empire.  But they also used them for trade.  Where they traded the goods made by that rising middle class of artisans.  Economic activity was bustling.  Until the government grew.  To pay for an ever larger government bureaucracy and military they started taxing that economic activity.  And regulating it.  Rather harshly.  Restricting freedoms.  Eventually tying farm workers to the land.  Even their children.  Turning that once bustling economy into feudalism.  Serfdom.  Until the growth of government expenditures made the Western Empire so weak that the Germanic barbarians sacked Rome.

Enlightened Thinking and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations helped make Great Britain the Leading European Power

While Europe went through the Dark Ages the Eastern Roman Empire continued on.  Centered on Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) on the Bosporus, she was smack-dab in the middle of the trade crossroads between Europe and Asia.  And continued to prosper economically.  Until the Arabs began attacking her.  And the Christian Crusaders.  Who came down to reclaim the holy land for the Catholic Church.  Where they fought Muslim Arabs.  As well as Orthodox Christians.  While in the area they visited the sights.  Including that great repository of books in Alexandria.  Which they packed up and brought back to Europe.  And changed the world.

As the Christian monks translated these books all of Europe read them.  Math, science, engineering and philosophy.  Kicking off the Enlightenment.  Advanced economies appeared in the Italian city-states as they controlled trade in the Mediterranean.  But with all that Greek knowledge Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands built bigger ships and learned to navigate across the oceans.  Moving the center of trade from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.  The Europeans established colonies in the Old World.  And the New World.  France and England soon followed.  Trade exploded.  And fortunes were made.  But something really special was happening in England. 

Thanks to all that enlightened thinking the English took the lead in Europe.  And the world.  Modern farming practices improved yields and created great food surpluses.  She had representative government in her Parliament.  The rule of law.  Banking institutions.  Joint-stock companies to raise large amounts of capital.  An insurance industry to manage the great risks of transoceanic trade.  And an economist up in Scotland who wrote a book about new ideas in economic thought.  Adam Smith.  Who wrote The Wealth of Nations.  Championing something he called the Invisible Hand in free market capitalism.  Taking away the economic decisions making from the kings and emperors and priests and nobles.  And giving it to the people.  Which Great Britain embraced.  Kicking off the Industrial Revolution.  Other European nations followed her lead.  As did one young upstart nation.  The United States.

Famine has been Rare in Western Civilization since the 18th Century

Western Civilization dominated the world in every measurable way.  Economic output.  Living standards.  Public health standards.  Gender equality.  You name it and the free market capitalism of Western Civilization made it better.  The general path of emigration of great minds traveled in one general direction.  From eastern/southern Europe to Germany, France and Great Britain.  Then on to the United States.  Or directly to the United States.  Where free market capitalism was the freest.  Making the Untied States the new world superpower.  Following the Industrial Revolution with even greater innovation.  Providing ever greater living standards.  And individual liberty.  For everyone.

The freedom in free market capitalism brought women into the workforce.  Take the automobile.  When Henry Ford first mass produced the car it was not people-friendly.  Men started our first cars by turning a hand crank.  Sometimes losing a finger or breaking a wrist in the process.  Once started he adjusted his goggles and gloves and took the wheel.  His face being the bug screen.  His muscles being his ‘powered’ steering.  Clutching through the gears.  Gearing down and stomping down on the breaks to stop.  It was man’s work driving our first cars.  Dirty, filthy man’s work.  The automatic starter, automatic transmission, power steering and breaks, though, changed all of that.  All American developments.  Allowing women in heels and a short dress to start and drive a car as well as any man without losing any of her dignity.  And she could sip a latte on her drive to work.  While listening to music.  And on those hot days she didn’t sweat through her clothes before getting to work.  Thanks to air conditioning.  Another American invention for the car.  And she’s able to enjoy this freedom because of some other inventions.  Two in particular that let her pursue a career.  And enjoy any activity whenever she chooses.  The birth control pill.  And the tampon.  Again, products of Western Civilization. 

Women in Western Civilization have it pretty good these days.  Where for the most part their standard of living has caught up to men.  There are some earning disparities.  But a lot of that is due to women leaving the workforce to raise children.  And then reentering at a later time.  Having to play catch-up with those who didn’t leave the workforce to raise a family.  Not too bad when you consider what women are going through where they don’t embrace free market capitalism.  For not only do they have none of these everyday comforts we take for granted but they often go without food.  Up until the 18th century famines were pretty common.  But with the advances we’ve made in farming and our other institutions we have that give us a modern and bustling economy (and our high living standards) there really haven’t been any famines in Western Civilization since the 18th century.  There may have been a few but they were very rare.  Unlike the famines in the 20th century that killed tens of millions in Russia, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.  But famine is not the only thing killing people in these countries.  They have also suffered the greatest acts of genocides.  As rival groups battle each other for political power.  With the innocent masses stuck in the crossfire.  Something a prosperous middle class has put an end to in Western Civilization.

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Australians raising electricity rates by 23 percent, Includes Carbon Tax to Save the Planet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2012

Week in Review

Utility prices are always a political hot potato.  No matter where you are.  Currently in Australia they’re talking about eliminating pricing measures in place that have been keeping rates below actual costs.  Doing so, though, will hit consumers with a huge increase in electricity rates which isn’t going to make anyone happy (see Power prices to rise more than 23 per cent by Daniel Mercer posted 4/5/2012 on The West Australian).

Electricity prices are likely to rise much further than the 23 per cent hike flagged by WA’s economic regulator after Premier Colin Barnett dismissed calls for cross-subsidies for country towns to be scrapped.

The Economic Regulation Authority released a long-awaited report yesterday into the tariffs of State-owned electricity retailer Synergy, showing households were still paying significantly less for power than it cost to provide.

According to the ERA, consumers would have to pay 23.1 per cent more power before prices reached “cost-reflective” levels, driving primarily by the need to remove the discount applying to prices and the incoming carbon tax.

What’s really interesting, of course, is that last bit about a carbon tax.  A 23.1 percent increase in utility rates won’t help any elected government at the next election.  So they’re going through political gymnastics about who not to anger.  Those receiving the subsidies.  Or those paying the subsidies.  And while they’re trying to keep the cost of electricity down so people can use it without going broke the federal government is implementing a carbon tax to make it more expensive so people do go broke if they use it.  To save the planet.

Mr Barnett said this morning that while no decision had yet been made about the size of forthcoming utility price hikes, his Government would not be responsible for the effect of the tax.

“We are doing all that we can to keep the increase in the price of electricity to a minimum and by that I mean something around or just above inflation,” he said.

“The carbon tax – that’s a Federal Government tax.

“And remember I don’t support the carbon tax, the Liberal Government does not support the carbon tax but the whole ideas of the carbon tax – Julia Gillard’s idea – is you raise the price of electricity so people use less of it.

“So the whole purpose of a carbon tax is to raise electricity prices.

“I don’t support that, I think it’s a flawed and failed policy.”

While the local government is trying to save the people by making electricity more affordable the federal government is saying screw the people.  We need to save the planet.  Which is rather silly.  For the planet is far cleaner than it was during the Industrial Revolution.  And here we all are a century or so later.  Alive and well from the affects of the Industrial Revolution.  When smoke, soot and ash covered our cities from coal-burning steam engines powering our factories.  When some people were so filthy that they coughed soot and ash.  They may have died young.  But the planet that bore them is alive and well.  So I think it’s time to stop with some of the silliness.  And allow people to live on this planet.  Especially now that it is cleaner than ever. 

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Trade, Steam Power, Reciprocating Steam Engine, Railroading, Janney Coupler and Westinghouse Air Brake

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 25th, 2012

Technology 101

Early Cities emerged on Rivers and Coastal Water Regions because that’s where the Trade Was

The key to wealth and a higher standard of living has been and remains trade.  The division of labor has created a complex and rich economy.  So that today we can have many things in our lives.  Things that we don’t understand how they work.  And could never make ourselves.  But because of a job skill we can trade our talent for a paycheck.  And then trade that money for all those wonderful things in our economy.

Getting to market to trade for those things, though, hasn’t always been easy.  Traders helped here.  By first using animals to carry large amounts of goods.  Such as on the Silk Road from China.  And as the Romans moved on their extensive road network.  But you could carry more goods by water.  Rivers and coastal waterways providing routes for heavy transport carriers.  Using oar and sail power.  With advancements in navigation larger ships traveled the oceans.  Packing large holds full of goods.  Making these shippers very wealthy.  Because they could transport much more than any land-based transportation system.  Not to mention the fact that they could ‘bridge’ the oceans to the New World.

This is why early cities emerged on rivers and coastal water regions.  Because that’s where the trade was.  The Italian city-states and their ports dominated Mediterranean trade until the maritime superpowers of Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, Great Britain and France put them out of business.  Their competition for trade and colonies brought European technology to the New World.  Including a new technology that allowed civilization to move inland.  The steam engine.

Railroading transformed the Industrial Economy

Boiling water creates steam.  When this steam is contained it can do work.  Because water boiling into steam expands.  Producing pressure.  Which can push a piston.  When steam condenses back into water it contracts.  Producing a vacuum.   Which can pull a piston.  As the first useable steam engine did.  The Newcomen engine.  First used in 1712.  Which filled a cylinder with steam.  Then injected cold water in the cylinder to condense the steam back into water.  Creating a vacuum that pulled a piston down.  Miners used this engine to pump water out of their mines.  But it wasn’t very efficient.  Because the cooled cylinder that had just condensed the steam after the power stroke cooled the steam entering the cylinder for the next power stroke.

James Watt improved on this design in 1775.  By condensing the steam back into water in a condenser.  Not in the steam cylinder.  Greatly improving the efficiency of the engine.  And he made other improvements.  Including a design where a piston could move in both directions.  Under pressure.  Leading to a reciprocating engine.  And one that could be attached to a wheel.  Launching the Industrial Revolution.  By being able to put a factory pretty much anywhere.  Retiring the waterwheel and the windmill from the industrial economy.

The Industrial Revolution exploded economic activity.  Making goods at such a rate that the cost per unit plummeted.  Requiring new means of transportation to feed these industries.  And to ship the massive amount of goods they produced to market.  At first the U.S. built some canals to interconnect rivers.  But the steam engine allowed a new type of transportation.  Railroading.  Which transformed the industrial economy.  Where we shipped more and more goods by rail.  On longer and longer trains.  Which made railroading a more and more dangerous occupation.  Especially for those who coupled those trains together.  And for those who stopped them.  Two of the most dangerous jobs in the railroad industry.  And two jobs that fell to the same person.  The brakeman.

The Janney Coupler and the Westinghouse Air Brake made Railroading Safer and more Profitable

The earliest trains had an engine and a car or two.  So there wasn’t much coupling or decoupling.  And speed and weight were such that the engineer could stop the train from the engine.  But that all changed as we coupled more cars together.  In the U.S., we first connected cars together with the link-and-pin coupler.  Where something like an eyebolt slipped into a hollow tube with a hole in it.  As the engineer backed the train up a man stood between the cars being coupled and dropped a pin in the hole in the hollow tube through the eyebolt.  Dangerous work.  As cars smashed into each other a lot of brakemen still had body parts in between.  Losing fingers.  Hands.  Some even lost their life.

Perhaps even more dangerous was stopping a train.  As trains grew longer the locomotive couldn’t stop the train alone.  Brakemen had to apply the brakes evenly on every car in the train.  By moving from car to car.  On the top of a moving train.  Jumping the gap between cars.  With nothing to hold on to but the wheel they turned to apply the brakes.  A lot of men fell to their deaths.  And if one did you couldn’t grieve long.  For someone else had to stop that train.  Before it became a runaway and derailed.  Potentially killing everyone on that train.

As engines became more powerful trains grew even longer.  Resulting in more injuries and deaths.  Two inventions changed that.  The Janney coupler invented in 1873.  And the Westinghouse Air Brake invented in 1872.  Both made mandatory in 1893 by the Railroad Safety Appliance Act.  The Janney coupler is what you see on U.S. trains today.  It’s an automatic coupler that doesn’t require anyone to stand in between two cars they’re coupling together.  You just backed one car into another.  Upon impact, the couplers latch together.  They are released by a lifting a handle accessible from the side of the train.

The Westinghouse Air Brake consisted of an air line running the length of the train.  Metal tubes under cars.  And those thick hoses between cars.  The train line.  A steam-powered air compressor kept this line under pressure.  Which, in turn, maintained pressure in air tanks on each car.  To apply the brakes from the locomotive cab the engineer released pressure from this line.  The lower pressure in the train line opened a valve in the rail car air tanks, allowing air to fill a brake piston cylinder.  The piston moved linkages that engaged the brake shoes on the wheels.  With braking done by lowering air pressure it’s a failsafe system.  For example, if a coupler fails and some cars separate this will break the train line.  The train line will lose all pressure.  And the brakes will automatically engage, powered by the air tanks on each car.

Railroads without Anything to Transport Produce no Revenue

Because of the reciprocating steam engine, the Janney coupler and the Westinghouse Air Brake trains were able to get longer and faster.  Carrying great loads great distances in a shorter time.  This was the era of railroading where fortunes were made.  However, those fortunes came at a staggering cost.  For laying track cost a fortune.  Surveying, land, right-of-ways, grading, road ballast, ties, rail, bridges and tunnels weren’t cheap.  They required immense financing.  But if the line turned out to be profitable with a lot of shippers on that line to keep those rails polished, the investment paid off.  And fortunes were made.  But if the shippers didn’t appear and those rails got rusty because little revenue traveled them, fortunes were lost.  With losses so great they caused banks to fail.

The Panic of 1893 was caused in part by such speculation in railroads.  They borrowed great funds to build railroad lines that could never pay for themselves.  Without the revenue there was no way to repay these loans.  And fortunes were lost.  The fallout reverberated through the U.S. banking system.  Throwing the nation into the worst depression until the Great Depression.  Thanks to great technology.  That some thought was an automatic ticket to great wealth.  Only to learn later that even great technology cannot change the laws of economics.  Specifically, railroads without anything to transport produce no revenue.

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