Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Russia situation is another reason why it's better to curb fossil fuel consumption than just trying to curb US fossil fuel production

I often think that it's better to curb fossil fuel demand than restrict fossil fuel production in our attempts to stop climate change. Rather than stopping wells or a pipeline, try and reduce traffic.

Now that Russia is misbehaving, much of the west's oil consumption is still dependent on Russia. Maybe we should ramp up our oil and gas production. If we had extra, we could sell it to Europe. That ramp up in production wouldn't necessarily mean more worldwide carbon emissions if it met far less oil production in Russia.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

As interest rates rise, could the federal government "lock in" low interest on it's 30 trillion dollars of past debt?

Interest rates need to rise to cool the inflating asset and housing markets. Problem is, it could make the 30 trillion dollar federal debt more expensive to maintain. The government might need to cut back on needed services as it's interest bill on the debt goes up.

Maybe they should allow the government to "lock in" it's low interest rates on past debt the way a lot of homeowners are allowed to do. If interest rates were low, when the debt was incurred, that rate can be "locked in" permanently. Use new money from Federal Reserve to allow the government to lock in low interest on, at least, past debt.

Is the Consumer Price Index a truly accurate measure of inflation?

I have often thought that the inflation rate; specifically the Consumer Price Index, has been under estimated for several decades. Now, I hear some economists in the media saying the same thing.

Official inflation indexes have not adequately factored in the cost of housing in the overall mix. If housing were weighted more accurately, inflation would have been higher over the last 30, or so, years.

I would think the inflation, that we have now, is not as shocking as some folks think since, in a way, it's nothing new.

How data is figured depends, a lot, on who's doing the figuring. For instance; if the standard household was a large family who had already paid off most of their mortgage, the price of groceries would weigh higher. More mouths to feed and the house already almost fully purchased.

On the other hand, a single person just starting out buying a house today, or renting an apartment, would encounter a totally different situation. Grocery prices might not be that big a deal compared to rising rent. The nature of inflation largely depends on what type of household is being considered.

Falsely low inflation rate, over the past 25, or so years, has allowed mostly Republican administrations to get by with big federal deficits

Over the past 25, or so years, it seems like the official Consumer Price Index has underestimated the cost of housing in the overall mix of inflation.

This falsely low inflation figure allowed more reckless spending, over those years. Large Republican based tax cuts, increases in military spending and the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of this during Republican administrations; such as George Bush II and Donald Trump. Since inflation wasn't, supposedly, a problem the tax cuts and spending could go on without media noticing the consequences. High government debt less consequential, due to expanded money supply.

The consequences were things like housing costs going up, not noticed in the official numbers. Former presidents, especially Republicans, got off easy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

It wasn't that long ago there were uprisings in Belarus & Kazakhstan. Now silenced. Maybe that's why Russia feels threatened by Ukraine?

Not that long before the current Russia / Ukraine crisis, there was lots of news; especially on BBC, about human rights protests in Belarus. Belarus's dictator is friendly with Russia's Putin, but people were rising up for weeks. Then it seems like that uprising was crushed and has dropped out of the news.

A similar uprising was put down in Kazakhstan. Both former Soviet Republics. It's said that Putin fears encroachment of the west and restive populations in areas that were given up by the Russians when the Soviet Union dissolved.

What can we do about this? I don't know.

It seems like sending US troops to eastern NATO countries doesn't really help Ukraine since they say they will not enter Ukraine. They are just there to protect former eastern block countries that are now part of NATO; like Poland. They are there to protect the former Soviet Republics that, unlike Ukraine, are in NATO as well; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

I doubt Russia would be a threat to those places, at least in the short run. If Russia does invade Ukraine, it will have a lot on the plate. A lot to digest so I doubt it would turn to other places; such as Estonia, for quite some time. Troops may not be the best answer as troops tend to respond to short term things.

As for arming Ukraine, itself, that might be an okay strategy, but it did kind of backfire on the US, over the long run; in Afghanistan. When we backed Afghanistan's militias, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was said to push the Soviets out, but later some of those militias turned against us contributing to the 911 attacks.

Economic sanctions are discussed as well, but could be hard to make stick with Europe still quite dependent on oil and natural gas from Russia.

Meanwhile both US and Russian scientists are still cooperating on the International Space Station and in various other research projects including vessels at sea. I note that scientists often cooperate when politicians can't.

I don't have a clear answer, but these are things to think about.

Monday, February 14, 2022

The universe may have not started from something small; like an atom. Maybe it started from something bigger?

As I was riding around town, I came up with an idea about the big bang. Yes, the big bang that is said to have created the universe; no less.

Astronomers might dispute my intuitive hunch and they are free to respond, if any of them are reading this.

Most astronomers seem to think the universe started as an infinitely (or near infinitely) dense. tiny speck. All the universe crammed into a little speck that has since been expanding to the present universe.

I thought, maybe it wasn't just a speck. How about something larger that's still at the very start of space and time? Something larger that still popped into existence. Space still expanded and time started with the universe as lots of astronomers think, but the start was bigger than a speck.

It still came from "who knows," but at the start, it was just something larger than a tiny speck. This would eliminate the need to invoke infinity, or near infinite density; a troublesome concept.

Astronomers have, basically, had to patch up the concept of the universe starting as a speck. That patch is called "inflation theory." One of our most important forms of evidence, about the big bang, is the cosmic background radiation. Microwave radiation that permeates the universe. It's said to originate from the primordial fireball (for lack of a better term). Detecting that background radiation is like measuring the heat from that fireball when it was around 300,000 years after the very start. By then, the universe is said to be many lightyears across.

Astronomers scratch their heads wondering how that fireball, which by then was many lightyears across, could remain so consistent in character. It's nature, temperature and so forth is pretty consistent in every direction. This is measured by looking at the microwave background radiation across the entire sky.

I think our best satellite, that takes the temperature of this radiation, is the European Space Agency's Plank Satellite. It measures only very slight differences, across the sky, in the temperature of this radiation.

Such consistency, supposedly, cannot happen across many light years so that is one reason why they say that the very start had to be a smaller speck.

To solve this problem, they came up with "inflation theory." The universe started as a speck and then bounded out faster than the speed of light during an early period of inflation that may have only lasted mere seconds.

Yes, they say the universe, itself (space and time) can travel faster than light, but things inside the universe cannot travel faster than light. The universe, itself, can break it's own rules.

Well, I just got to thinking, maybe the universe started as a larger space. A giant neutron star, for instance. It didn't need to have inflation. It just popped into existence as a larger object that was still consistent in temperature. Consistant from some unknown reason still not explained. Rather than Inflation Theory, some other mechanism could have led to consistency of temperature across a larger object that was the start of the universe.

Who knows, I am sure astronomers would poke plenty of holes in my speculation, if any of them were reading this.

Now I am remembering that I may have seen this idea somewhere in the science media so it's not necessarily my idea.

Here is a similar idea I remember hearing for sure.

Maybe the center of a blackhole is not a singularity of infinite density. Some scientists have said that center was infinite density (a singularity) just because we know of no force strong enough to push back and counteract gravity in that situation. The math just goes toward infinity then.

On the other hand, I've heard some scientists say that maybe there is something that does provide the "pushback" preventing the blackhole from going all the way to a singularity.

A reason why they say this might be true is that something "pushed" the universe, itself, out to the original big bang to begin with. It pushed the universe out in spite of great density at that time. Maybe that same thing is providing the "push" to keep a blackhole in equilibrium. Maybe at the center of a blackhole, there is a sphere of some kind; like a slightly smaller version of a neutron star.

This, I didn't make up. I read, or heard, it somewhere.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

We may need non tangible concepts, like Karma, to motivate us toward better behavior. The tangible payoffs, we get, are not sufficient.

It seems obvious that fundamentalism and too much certainty, in religion, causes great social harm.

On the other hand, it does seem like some metaphysical ideas are needed for a more just society. A vague concept, like Karma, seems to provide more motivation for doing good. Without something like Karma, we are just relying on the feedback from a purely physical world for motivation. Just the payment, or "payback" from the material world isn't enough.

When I talk about Karma, I'm thinking about more universal concepts of morality that invoke metaphysical ideas, not necessarily just Karma itself. I'm mentioning Karma as just a metaphysical feedback system that's somewhat easy to understand.

Without some kind of metaphysical like concepts, the other feedback loops, that come from society and even nature, don't seem to be sufficient. We have the economy which doesn't always reward what is usually thought of as virtue. Often the economy rewards the opposite of virtue.

Another feedback loop is the idea of "what goes around, comes around." Being nice to others usually means they are nicer to you. Basically what we often call "The Golden Rule."

Another virtuous feedback loop is our own health. Healthy living usually enhances health, but that alone doesn't seem to be a powerful enough feedback loop. Not powerful enough, in most people, to overcome the allure of junk food or sedentary lifestyles.

Another non metaphysical feedback loop is the good feeling we get if we know we have helped another person. As for that good feeling, there is some recent science that leans toward explaining it in terms of mirror neurons.

Yes, there are said to be special neurons that bring us empathy. They tend to react to feelings we see in other people. Mirror neurons may have evolved to enhance our survival as they help us function as a social species.

Still, even with our mirror neurons and all the other material feedback loops such as economics, it seems like all of this isn't enough.

I'd think we need yet another "bank account" like concept. A concept such as Karma or other metaphysical ideas to push us over the top toward a more virtuous society.

Karma, or something like the Golden Rule, can provide payback in a secret way. It doesn't even have to wait till an afterlife, it can pay us back in this life. Clean up some litter and good fortune may come your way. It's kind of a loose promise.

In our material society, we have invented various versions of Karma that are more defined. For instance credit scores. There are various theoretical "bank accounts," we create, to try and incentivize useful behavior. Prison can do that as a disincentive for bad behavior.

In China, I hear they are developing a very elaborate system of crediting social good. Beyond just one's financial credit score, everything is watched. Help someone across the street or clean up the park and one gets brownie points. Buck the established system and one gets demerits.

China may be turning into the ultimate "surveillance state."

Personally, I would prefer a less artificial surveillance state, like a vague concept of Karma. If the universe is watching us, it's probably a bit less rigid than the feeling that the government is watching.

It isn't even known, for sure, that the universe is watching, so that may be what gives the concept of Karma more wiggle room.

As for mirror neurons, it reminds me of hearing about "field effect transistors" during my childhood. I often thought of neurons as the "transistors" of our brains.

Back during high school, I got a fancy radio that had a few "field effect" transistors among it's many transistors. That was something quite special, but I never quite figured out what made them so special. My thought, back then, was that field effect transistors helped with sensitivity to faint radio signals.

Might be related. Our empathy and sensitivity; the result of mirror neurons?

It does, though, seem like just these material things don't quite give us enough push toward a more virtuous society. Metephysical concepts; especially from liberal, open minded religions, seem to be important motivations for a virtuous society.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Long term memory: more robust in old age than short term, yet evolution has had more time to perfect short term.

I've noticed lots of deer like to hang out in a vacant lot below my window. Simple pleasures; like apples on the ground from an abandoned apple tree.

It's a private lot, still vacant in Bellingham's hot market. Must be a story there, but I don't know that story.

My mind (thinking of big, distance issues like that instead of just apples) wonders how boring it might be to be a deer. Boring, compared to being a human.

Just finding enough to eat might be enough, but not for us. One wonders, what do deer think about all day?

Then I remember that most animals don't really have long term memory; so at least I hear. Maybe some, like elephants, do, but that's another story.

Long term memory gives us more ability to contemplate complex and distant subjects; like economics. Other animals seem more in the moment; like "Mindfulness," I guess.

I've never been that much a fan of mindfulness. To me, it seems like day to day things are not that interesting, compared to the larger issues.

Then I got to thinking about this. As humans age, it is said that short term memory is usually the first to go. Long term memory lasts longer.

Nature has a lot more practice with short term memory in so many species and not as much practice with long term memory, but seems like the long term memory is more lasting in us.

Interesting difference.

For some reason, it seems like nature has figured out how to make long term memory more robust, in us, than short term memory. In just about all other animals, it seems the opposite.

Hurray for our long term memory and big thoughts. In us, at least, it is the most robust part of our memory. No wonder a lot of older people like to tell lots of stories.

Then we also have the ability to write things down, but even without that, our long term memory seems to work better than our short term memory as time goes on.

One possible sidebar to mindfulness could also be accepting one's life as it is. I don't even know if that is a tenant of mindfulness, or not, but it works for me.

Accepting life as it comes is something I strive for. I don't always feel it, but I do strive for that. Accepting life as it is makes us less demanding for something more, I guess.

We often compare ourselves to others, or to perceived messages in society about better careers, relationships, financial status and so forth.

Accepting life may make us less ambitious and less troublesome, but it's easier, at least.

For the most part, it seems to make us happier. I think it's all part of the balance.

Again, aside from accepting life for what it is, I am intrigued by the bias our human memory system seems to give to big ideas, or at least to long term memories.

It's interesting that nature has figured out how to make that work in us, while long term memory seems to be rare among species. Nature hasn't had that much evolutionary practice in making long term memory work, but in us, it's the most robust part of memory; from what I understand.

With short term memory, a memory doesn't have to last as long as with long term memory. It just has to last long enough to get the job done; like after opening the cupboard door, remembering which item to grab.

As we age, even that gets less functional, so I hear, but the long term memories, like from our childhoods, remain accessible. That seems like a unique thing, given the amount of time nature has had, in other species, to practice getting short term memory to work.