Saturday, November 29, 2014


It is widely believed that government cannot solve problems, because most of the time government is the problem.  Often the government idea of a solution to one perceived problem is to create a new situation with problems of its own that aggravate the existing situation, and superimpose a bureaucracy to perpetuate the new status quo.   If they can't get us to do the politically correct thing by persuasion or force, then the next level is to make the efficient, but politically incorrect, inefficient by any means possible, and the politically correct, but inefficient superficially efficient, no matter what the cost.  
This isn’t about robbery upon the highway, this is about stealing our highways right out from under our tires.  A small, but politically correct, group is appropriating about twenty five per cent of our highway surface for their exclusive use.  They use politically correct irrelevant arguments and factual distortions to justify the theft.  Naturally, since their grab helps government restrict the rights of other citizens, they have the full support of government at every level.  On the other hand, more likely they are the unwitting tool, merely helping government do what it does, make life complicated, and inefficient.
Now I probably would not notice if their activities made things better, but that is not what is happening.  Entire lanes of busy roads are being set aside for the exclusive use of a small self declared elite who feel that their politically correct purpose supersedes the one for which the roads were built.  They get away with this by declaring that their way is the wave of the future.  They insist that their way will reduce traffic congestion, save energy, reduce pollution, save lives, and make the world safe for non-alcoholic beer.  Exactly how reducing the number of lanes available to traffic will accomplish any of these things takes a leap of logic that transcends even faith.  Faith, you will remember, is belief in something you know is not true.
Strangely, the beneficiaries of this “improvement” are notoriously the worst traffic violation offenders.  Traffic signals and stop signs are beneath them. Lane controls are irrelevant, as are all regulatory signs, markings and islands.  The distinction between street and sidewalk is merely an inconvenience because of curbs.  These Kamikazes can be seen running against the flow of traffic, or with it, above, or more often way below the speed limit, whatever suits them.  When below the speed limit, they prefer to travel three or four abreast so they can communicate with and be admired by one another.  The traffic jam behind them is irrelevant.  “No one has a right to go faster than us.”  They will get so close to your car that your mirrors can’t reveal them, and then sue you if they get hurt.  Even where they have commandeered highway lanes, they may use them or not, depending on what is more expedient.  Private property means nothing to them. A short cut is a short cut.
These charioteers will pay $400 for a part that weighs a gram less than the $10 one it replaces, yet prefer brakes that will not skid a wheel unless the road is lubricated.
When it gets dark, these erstwhile pilots really come into their own.  No sissy lights or reflectors for these guys.  ‘We don't got to show you no stinkin’ reflectors.”  If you can’t see black spandex in the dark, it’s your problem, and your insurance company’s, not theirs.    The latest lighting fad is a little red strobe light that, if it happens to be pointing right at you, is as blinding as a candle. More often, it’s safety pinned to a backpack, pointing at airplanes.  They have the same contempt for signaling that they have for lights. Where these guys are and what they are going to do next is none of your business, until after you’re sued.
Interestingly, these activists tend to be philosophically like the environmentalists who proclaimed 20 years ago we would all have to wear gas masks to go outside in 1995, and that we would run out of fossil fuels completely by 2,000.  Remember, “Better active today than radioactive tomorrow?”  I would suspect that they are the environmentalists of the seventies, except the way they operate, they would not have lasted that long.
If you think I'm exaggerating, go look for a place to park.  What used to be the shoulder or parking lane has become the “bike lane”, though one seldom sees a bike actually in it.  The bikes are everywhere else.  If they are in the bike lane, they will leave it impulsively and ride anywhere that’s expedient.
Anytime a municipality wants to prohibit parking without a good reason, they just call the location a “bike lane”.  The bike lane will mysteriously stop or start for no apparent reason, in mid-block or mid-intersection.  Other times bike lanes stop right at the edge of a busy intersection, or jump across lanes leading the rare conscientious rider into a trap, then abandoning him.  The few riders who do ride in the bike lane act as if there was a protective wall around them.   “You can’t hit me, nah nah, na nah nah, I’m in the bike lane”.   Come to think of it, they ride that way anywhere.  Totally oblivious to motor traffic they will weave across an on-ramp as though they were in a personal tunnel.  Let one of these self-righteous athletes crash into a car and guess who goes to a lawyer and a chiropractor, in that order.
Not that these enthusiasts are entirely to blame, the officials who consecrate “bike lanes” and the Federal Bozeaucrats that make them do it, encourage this form of Russian roulette.  Like a white line is going to keep the cars here and the bikes there.  Guess who loses no matter which one crosses the line, and whose insurance will go up.  Guess who earns a big fat contingency fee.  Hmmm, maybe it’s lawyers; excuse me, Consumer Attorneys, who are behind all this.
Let’s see how they will reduce traffic congestion, save energy, reduce pollution, save lives and make the world safe from low tar cigarettes.  Except for really short trips around the neighborhood a car is about 5 times as fast as a bike, so the bike will be in traffic 5 times as long, to make the same trip. (And exposed to five times as many accident opportunities.)   So even though they are not as wide, 100 bikes could take up as much length of road as 500 cars.  To eliminate this problem the Bozeaucrats demand that we create bike lanes.  If bikes stay in the bike lanes that are about half as wide as car lane and if the bike lane was being used to capacity, they argue, the bikes would take up hardly any space.  What’s wrong with this picture?  A lane can transmit up to 2,000 cars an hour.  Except for an organized event, have you ever seen 2,000 bikes pass a single point in one hour, one day, or even one week?  They want to take a lane that can convey 2,000 cars (about 3,000 commuters) an hour, and dedicate it to maybe 20-30 bike riders an hour. Of course if there were a bike lane, there would be more riders, maybe 100 per hour.  So there, take that, a bike lane could reduce car traffic up to 3%, while reducing the available road by 25% or so. 
Such a deal!
Safety?  According to the Department of Transportation statistics (guesses), bicycles accounted for 2% of highway fatalities last year, yet they have no idea how many miles are ridden.  Most agree bicycles are less than 1% of traffic.  I'll bet it isn’t even 1 tenth of a percent.  How many cars did you see on the highway today?  How many bicycles? How many bikes were going more than a mile?  The Feds admit that the average usage for all bicycles is less than 10 miles per month, and that 9% of bicyclists crash or fall each year.  That is one accident every 1200 miles!  Is this safe?  Can you imagine if someone got hurt in your car every month?  More contingency fees, higher insurance, maybe it’s a conspiracy.  Bicycle fatalities are kept in a separate database and can’t be correlated to other accidents.  Motorcycles, by the way, which are known to be 1% of vehicle registrations, represent 4% of fatalities
Fossil fuels and pollution:  Fifty billion bicycle miles instead of car miles, at 20 mpg would save two billion gallons of fuel.   They win that round.  Yeah, right.  If you consider what taking away 25% of the highway lanes does to congestion.  Remember a lane can handle up to 2,000 cars an hour. When the bikes take away a lane they force the same number of cars to use fewer lanes, so a road that could handle 8,000 cars an hour can only handle 6,000.  Where do the other 2,000 go, by bicycle?  Right again.  They’re sitting in traffic jams blocking the other 6,000 all with motors idling, burning fuel to stand still, and making more pollution.  Of those 2,000 drivers an hour we’re told should bike to work how many actually would, or could even if they wanted to?  What happens when it snows, or when the wind chill is 10 below?  Who is going to bike to work in Phoenix when its 120 degrees?  What about people who commute more than five miles, or have steep hills to climb?
O.K, bikes are easy to park.   And steal!

ZEV zero emission vehicles

The tree huggers, politically correct bureaucrats and politicians want the industry to offer us “zero emission” cars, at gunpoint if necessary.  This is one of those save-the-world proposals that does not have a snowball’s chance of succeeding.
First, electricity is not free, you have to make it, and that means fossil fuels, because those same tree huggers already stopped us from building safe, clean, fission power plants.  Instead they have us chase such chimera as hydrogen, solar power (economical only for isolated locations), and fusion (unproven except for nanoseconds), but I digress.  Every highway vehicle not tethered to a fixed route must carry it’s own energy supply.  We operate in an oxygen atmosphere therefore the vehicle need not carry its oxidizer, only the fuel.  This is fortunate, because the typical reaction involves 16 pounds of oxidizer for every pound of fuel!  Excuse me, 16 politically correct grams of oxidizer for every politically correct gram of fuel.  A  zero emission vehicles (ZEV) unfortunately, must carry not only the equivalent of 100 pounds of fuel to make a reasonable trip, but also the 1600 pounds of oxidizer (or other reagent) to react with the fuel, which they then can convert to 1700 pounds of reaction product to carry back to the recharging station.
Now, modern engines are about 25% efficient (35% if they are diesel).  The zero emission vehicle since it needs to carry 17 times as much propellant, (fuel plus oxidizer) must be at least 17 times as efficient to compete.  Let’s see, 17 times 25% is 425%.  That is to say for every kilowatt-hour used to charge the battery the motor must be able to do over 4 kilo-watt hours of work.  Am I missing something here?  No, I'm not.
I was explaining this to an electrical engineer.  He stopped me, momentarily, with “I’m not convinced the same limitations apply.”  He was sort of right.  In practice, ZEV is even less practical.  It takes a thousand pound battery pack to store as much energy as four pounds of gasoline, and it has to carry those 1,000 pounds all the time. (Not yet 17:1, but so far only 200:1)
 For the ZEV to hope to compete, it must have a propulsion system that can put out four times as much energy as what we put in.  If we could do that, it could charge its own batteries and would never have to recharge, perpetual motion.  Not only that, but we could use that technology to build power plants that put out four times more power than the fuel they use.  We could then cascade these, each one driving one four times as big and we could power North America with a single candle.  Better yet we could just tap a candle’s worth off anywhere in the system to power it.  Wow!  I hope you see I’m being facetious.
Meanwhile back here on planet Earth, the best fossil fuel power plant is about 42% efficient, so to get that one kilowatt we had to burn the equivalent of 2.3 kilowatts of fuel.  Even if the ZEV were perfect, 100% efficient that kilowatt-hour of stored energy would weigh 17 times as much as a kilowatt-hour of stored fuel.  So it could compete with engines that were 6% efficient.  Look out James Watt, the original one, 1736-1819, steam engine, teakettle, you know.
It would obviously be more productive to look for a way to take the reaction products out of the air, than to attempt to carry them around and reprocess them.  We could have huge un-power plants that take carbon dioxide out of the air.  Plants that absorb carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into something useful, like, umm... wood.
“Hydrogen,” I hear you crying, “hydrogen is the fuel of the future.  Fuel cells can turn hydrogen directly into electricity and the byproduct is pure water.  Hydrogen is the answer, not batteries, not only that, but hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, we’ll never run out.” 

Here’s a buck, go buy me some.  Sure it’s abundant, but it’s all being used.  Most of it is busy being water.  The rest is tied up in organic compounds, such as, uh, oil.  Just like electricity, before you can buy hydrogen someone has to make it and making hydrogen requires … electricity.  Yes, hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and it is every bit as promising today as it was 30 years ago.     


When I wrote this, about 15 years ago I made a mistake. I do not feel too bad, because over 100,000 people have seen it and nobody corrected me.
The air fuel ratio is 16:1, but the air is only 20% oxygen, so the oxydizer to fuel ratio is more like 3.2:1
 A  zero emission vehicles (ZEV) unfortunately, must carry not only the equivalent of 100 pounds of fuel to make a reasonable trip, but also the 300 pounds of oxidizer (or other reagent) to react with the fuel, which they then can convert to 400 pounds of reaction product to carry back to the recharging station.
Now, modern engines are about 25% efficient (35% if they are diesel).  The zero emission vehicle since it needs to carry 4 times as much propellant, (fuel plus oxidizer) must be at least 5 times as efficient to compete.  Let’s see, 4 times 25% is 100%.  That is to say for every kilowatt-hour used to charge the battery the motor must be able to do over 1 kilo-watt hours of work.   Since nothing is 100% efficient this still explains why the best electric cars have half the range of the average conventional car. Limited, but practical for many applications, like Honolulu.  And maybe some day just as good.

Campaign finance and prohibition

We learn from history that men (well politicians) never learn from history. Prohibition was a miserable failure, so we repealed the 19th amendment, but continued the war on drugs. We can pass laws limiting campaign financing, but it is naïve to think that will make it go away. Like any other popular activity outlawed, it will find ways to go underground, out of sight, totally unregulated and dominated by organized crime.

I cannot think of a prohibition that accomplished its goal, can you?


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Second Ammentment

Probably the two most emotional issues in America are abortion and the second amendment. Let’s set aside abortion for now because it is an emotional, religious and ethical issue.
I have had different attitudes about the second amendment, but the first time I rode across the American West I realized how individual firearms ownership made America virtually invasion proof so I became a believer. It is claimed that after Pearl Harbor Admiral Yamamoto said “I would never invade North America; there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”
Both sides of the gun ownership issue make claims. More guns more violence, or less. The second amendment implies individual ownership, or not.
So I did my own research. The correlation between tough or lenient gun laws is weak. You can find data that supports either point of view. What did they mean when they wrote the Second Amendment? The answer is in the Federalist Papers. There is nothing in there about hunting or sport shooting. It is about defense against tyranny from within or without. Now I hear the anti-gunners saying things like the people in those days did not have military weapons. No, their rifles were considerably more effective than the muskets the Armies issued. Membership in the militia required gun ownership, not the other way around. Irregulars with small arms have held off, and even defeated mighty armies. The mujahedeen kicked the mighty Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan.
Guns do facilitate violence, but so do fists, knives, pitchforks, cars, explosives, and accelerants, e.g. gasoline. The unarmed part of the world is experiencing an increase in suicide bombing. Violence is cultural. Unarmed Britain and Japan are peaceful because that’s the kind of obedient people they are. Switzerland is heavily armed, but peaceful. Every adult male there is required to maintain an assault rifle and ammunition. America was founded on violence: The French and Indian War, the Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, etc. Many early “settlers” were convicts given a choice between America and the gallows. For 200 years the troublemakers from all over the world emigrated. Going to America looking for a home where they could escape the shackles and limitations of “civilization”.
Most of the violence in America today is related to the War-On-Drugs. Think about it, what does WAR mean, it means killing people to impose your will on their survivors. Take away the war, take away the violence; simple as that! Take away the drugs, good luck with that one. Prohibition was a dismal failure.  We learn from history the government never learns from history. The war on drugs has had no perceivable reduction in drug use. Forbidden fruit is especially attractive to teenagers. Take away the guns, how? There are more than 300 million, most of them unregistered and easy to conceal. There are many countries where guns are illegal. The level of violence has no correlation with the laws. And like whiskey and drugs, those who cannot buy them, or steal them will figure out how to make their own. In Afghanistan village blacksmiths were making fully functional copies of Lee-Enfield army rifles and AK47’s!
If you examine the war on drugs objectively, as Judge Gray has:

Or Ethan Nadelman:
You can only conclude that the War-On-Drugs is a bigger mistake than Prohibition and wonder about the sanity (Or Motives) of its proponents.
Perhaps: (Previous post Nov 7)
I now see the error of my ways.  I thought of the war on drugs as pointless and ineffective. I now see it as perfect for what it is intended to do. Look what would happen if we ended the war. 
We have built the world’s largest prison system; we have to keep it and all the people and contractors it employs busy.  What would we do with all those people warehoused in prison?  Would they join the ranks of the unemployed, or become just be petty criminals?  In addition to prisons we have courts, judges and their other employees that depend on the jobs it creates.
 Without low level drug users to plea bargain prosecutors would have to work much harder to maintain their important win/lose ratio.  Thousands of defense lawyers depend on the drug trials for easily earned income with no remorse for failure 
Police at every level from local departments to FBI have become dependent on the opportunities it provides, advancement, excitement, publicity, overtime, free drugs, bigger budgets and the assets that civil forfeiture provides: cars, boats, aircraft, electronics, weapons, and cash. 
The small arms industry depends on equipment, gun and ammunition sales to police and organized crime to stay in business and employ thousands of people.
The economies of several countries, and counties in the US, are dependent on the high prices they get for crops that produce an illegal product. What will they do when cocaine and marijuana bring the same price as oregano and tobacco?  Legal drugs would deprive independent vendors of a major source of tax free income.
All the hoopla about illegal drugs distracts people from the tobacco and alcohol industries, and the pervasive and harmful effects of their products. Constant news coverage of the War pushes news about the harmful effects of alcohol and tobacco off the front page.  Celebrity scandals about illegal drug usage are almost as interesting as sex.  Rehab is so much more newsworthy when it is paralleled with a threat of jail time. 
Pharmaceutical companies can justify the high prices of their mass produced product on the comparably high price of street drugs.  How could oxycodone compete with legal codeine or even safer, more effective marijuana?  Hundreds of chemists, now busy designing drugs (prescription and illegal) around the controlled substances act would be redundant. 
The drug test industry employs thousands.  Employers need a simple reason to reject minority applicants "You failed the drug test".  Since marijuana usage is somewhere between 50 and 80% and can be detected for months, this is almost always credible, and impossible to rebut, although meaningless. 
Political contributions from all those with vested interest in the drug war would stop, then what would all the campaign service providers do without the Mothers-milk of politics?  War of any kind provides speech material for polidioticians, “We need to work harder, we're seeing the light the end of the tunnel, can't stop now.”  Gets more votes than, “300 million Americans are quietly behaving themselves.” 
In fewer words, the war on drugs has so thoroughly pervaded our culture that we, or at least our ruling class, can't live without it any more than they could live without their own hypocrisy. It is a small part of the basis of popular politics: keep the public alarmed with an endless series of boogie-men preferably imaginary, or manufactured as necessary to the needs, of the reelection cycle.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gasoline and Politics

Right before an election, gasoline prices come down.  I suspect the oil companies figure that happy Democrats won't vote, so more pro-oil-Republicans will win.  High gas prices make people mad, and angry Democrats are more likely to vote.  Lenin had it half right Gasoline is the opiate of the masses.