Martin's Opinions

Truth, Justice, and the American way. TRUTH: Helping to correct people's misconceptions about history, science, and the state of the world. JUSTICE: Meant in the biblical sense. Fair treatment of other people, rational laws, and assisting the disadvantaged. THE AMERICAN WAY: A classless society where everybody has an opportunity to meet their potential and for economic advancement, regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Fairness Doctrine

It is better for almost everybody when society provides a way for the poor to advance based on ability and hard work. 
That is both the American way and the Christian way. Many people are confused about Jesus' teachings: "Fairness" was mistranslated as "charity."

Fairness is the underlying concept of progressivism. The very rich and their stooges (like the libertarian and Tea Party caucuses) are regressionists. All that is necessary to counter this is a public relations campaign about the advantage of fairness.

Without preventive health care for all residents, epidemics spread. Without proper public health education, people avoid vaccinating their children. Preventive health care includes visiting a doctor regularly. Saving money by skipping preventive health care can cost ten times as much later. Paying for health care for the public is a great investment of public funds

Part of preventive health care is proper nutrition. This requires education of both children and adults about healthy eating, including how to make healthy meals and healthy snacks. and what foods are toxic if consumed regularly. It also means providing foods that contribute to a healthy diet. The equivalent of a prenatal vitamin and mineral capsule should be provided as 1/2 capsule twice per day.

Good, simple, nutritional advice is to include fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and fat in every meal or snack. Eat about equal Calories from protein, carbohydrates and fat. Three grams of fiber should be included per two hundred Calories (for example, 25 grams for a 1600 Calorie diet). Plenty of non-caffeinated, alcohol-free, and low sugar liquids are important, usually 2 quarts per day.

Food baskets for the poor are an example of what not to provide: The food baskets provided to poor people contain mostly unhealthy foods. They contain protein foods such as non-fat powdered milk and Velveeta (cheese mixed with whole milk), but about 1/4 of adults are lactose intolerant - substituting 1% fat powdered Lactaid milk would be far better. Cheese should be fully ripened. Jars of sweetened juice cocktail contain too much sugar, reduced vitamins compared to fruit, and no fiber. Gelatin powder containing freeze-dried fruit and sliced almonds make a healthy snack. High salt items like saltines and canned soup are contraindicated for the general public. Lightly salted (1 mg of sodium per Calorie) bean soup with a vegetable smoothie instead of broth makes an excellent meal. For single retired people, single serving packaging should be provided (15 fl oz cans are generally a useless size). All foods should only require mixing with water and microwave heating after pouring onto a plate or into a bowl. Baking mix, fresh or liquid eggs, peanut butter, ramen, and canned vegetables should all be avoided.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Improving prediction of tropical storms and hurricanes

Unfortunately, the paths of cyclones are not predictable enough yet to pin down exactly where a storm will travel. Cyclone paths respond to temperature, pressure, and flow variations at the ocean surface, and the entire column of air up to a level higher than the clouds generated by the cyclone.

Our best knowledge of actual conditions is at sea level. Satellites report temperature, flow, and the sea level. Satellites can provide some mid-atmosphere data by cloud-top temperature and cloud movement, but it is difficult to determine temperatures and motion of clear air. Aircraft only measure a small part of the atmosphere. Upper atmosphere data samples can be hundreds of kilometers apart outside of aviation lanes.

One proposed solution is to place anchored smart buoys in a grid throughout the oceans, using GPS satellites to create a tomographic picture of the atmosphere (like a CAT scan). Covering the oceans with 300 km squares would require almost 3000 buoys (additional buoys would be placed strategically). The Doppler effect of the earth's atmosphere would create tiny changes in the calculated 4-dimensional location reported from the satellite data. By using at least 5 satellites at a time, each buoy could compute both the radio wave absorption and the Doppler effect along the path through the atmosphere of radio signals from each of the satellites. As the satellites move, the radio signal from each satellite forms a slice through the atmosphere every 30 minutes. Using more satellites would create a more dense mesh of slices.

GPS satellites only send information (they only receive information from command centers for station-keeping). All of the GPS receivers calculate the distance to a satellite by using the time the radio signal takes to reach the receiver. By using 4 satellites the location of a GPS receiver can be computed in three dimensions. Aircraft and ships on the open ocean are in "line of sight" to at least 7 GPS satellites. When somebody says they are using GPS to locate an item such as a mobile phone or car, they are sending the item a command to report its location (as measured by GPS), the GPS system itself does not respond to those requests.

The problem with this proposal is the expense of the buoys, their deployment, anchoring, and maintenance. Paying for and deploying buoys in the open ocean would have to be a multi-national effort and would have to be approved by the UN. The US GPS system is the most extensive but other nations have deployed similar systems. The satellite systems are all primarily intended for military use and the most precise information is encrypted. Another problem is that the buoys could also interfere with ships and the local habitat.

The buoys would obtain their power from solar cells and/or wave motion. The batteries would require replacement about every decade. They would also have reflectors to make to warn approaching ships at night. They would not be visible to submarines unless each buoy generates a periodic sonar chirp, which could interfere with sea life.

Because they use a solar panel, bird lime could cause a problem. By locating the antennas away from the solar panel and making the antennas bird perches, bird lime on the solar cells could be minimized. Wave motion generators would use the vertical motion of the buoy on the tether to generate electricity. The tether would need a Teflon-like coating to eliminate fouling by sea life.

The buoys would report their data using a Bluetooth-like system in cooperative mode. Cooperative mode means each buoy retransmits the data it receives from some of its neighbors. The data would eventually be received by land-based stations. Use of five-watt transmitters would limit interference with other radio frequency use.The antenna for communication between buoys would have to be high enough that waves and the earth's curvature will not block line-of-sight communication.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Economics in the Trump Administration

Assuming that Mr. Trump actually abrogates free trade agreements and the Paris Accords, while reducing taxes on the wealthy and reducing support for the indigent, I predict a recession combined with high inflation for the US in 2018. What are your thoughts?
Because the poor and lower middle class live paycheck to paycheck (no significant savings), they spend almost all of their money as soon as they receive it. This results in a multiplier effect, building the economy. Economists estimate that every dollar invested in the poor and middle class grows the economy by three dollars.
Because the rich hoard part of their income and spend part of it on imported luxury items, giving money to the rich (by tax cuts) supports the economy dollar for dollar (no multiplier). Historically, tax cuts during stable economic times lead to inflation and eventually to a recession.
The Paris Accords contain an anti-abrogation clause. That means any nation that pulls out of the treaty is subject to sanctions. These sanctions are likely to restrict both imports and exports. Sudden restriction on exports will lead to reduced sales for US firms and increased unemployment. Sudden restriction on imports will lead to temporary shortages and inflation. Sanctions can also be expected to lead to a weakened dollar, which leads to inflation.
Any sudden increases in tariffs will cause shortages and increased prices until US manufacturers can gear up to provide the desired products. For most companies, that process takes at least 6 months, longer with higher interest rates. Interest rates are already increasing in anticipation of such needs.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pet Peeves About Drivers

Many people get angry when others leave their turn signal on while driving. To me, that is a minor inconvenience. I strongly dislike the following drivers:

  1. Cowboys
    Cowboys are drivers (men or women) who frequently change lanes, in an attempt to get to their destination a little faster. Cowboys are greedy and responsible for most traffic slowdowns. A single lane on a highway or freeway can carry about 1000 cars per hour. However, frequent lane changes can slow traffic to half of the maximum speed. In fact, road engineers say that there is a golden range of traffic per lane, where traffic is too heavy to change lanes, so traffic actually moves faster.

    Cowboys rarely shorten their trip by more than a few seconds, while they tend to use much more fuel and increased wear on their brakes and tires.

  2. Tailgaters
    When I am driving, some drivers are in a hurry and follow my car at 5 to 15 feet. Some drivers say that they are preventing another car from moving in front of them. Others are trying to force me to either move faster or change lanes. When we are traveling at the speed limit, the other driver is just being greedy and very dangerous.

    For normal drivers the time for the brain to recognize a change in the road ahead is over .4 seconds and it takes about 1/10 second for the response to move from the brain to the muscles. That means a driver who is concentrating intently on the road cannot respond faster than 1/2 second. This means the car will move over 7 1/3 feet per 10 miles per hour (48 feet at 65 miles per hour) before the driver can respond.

    If a car changes into the lane in front of your car, you need at least twice the minimum reaction distance. That is why the recommended following distance is 14 to 15 feet per 10 miles per hour (at least 91 feet at 65 miles per hour). Trying to block a driver from entering your lane is not only greedy, but it creates a hazardous condition if the other driver must change lanes to reach an exit or to move across to an HOV (carpool) lane.

    Tailgaters are responsible for most rear-end collisions.

  3. Drivers Who Do Not Know the Limits of Their Vehicle
    Most cars sold in the US come with tires rated for 80 miles per hour. Driving faster than that speed causes the tires to overheat and blowout. High-speed tires are available, but most drivers do not know they are necessary. The brakes, steering gear, and suspension of most cars is also limited to 80 miles per hour (even some cars with "Sports Packages"). No public roads in the US are designed for speeds over 80 miles per hour.

  4. Under-Designed Roadway
    Here in the Los Angeles area, streets are designed and built for automobiles and trucks below a certain weight. However, trash trucks often exceed that weight and break the pavement when they turn or accelerate. Fiber reinforced pavement is almost twice as strong as regular pavement (even stronger than pavement with rebar). The fiber is not expensive and has been available for decades. Yet cities don't use it.

  5. Speed Traps and Similar Restrictions
    A local example is that there are special roads for buses. Crossing the bus road is restricted for a much longer time than is necessary for the buses.

  6. School Zones
    In most urban areas, schools are completely surrounded by fences for security. The original purpose of school zones was to slow traffic enough to stop if a child runs into the street. That cannot happen with fenced schools. Slowing traffic when passing a school is no longer necessary. School crossing signs are still important.

  7. Parking Space Thieves
    Almost all city drivers are familiar with this. You are waiting for a space to open and signaling that you are going to enter the space, when suddenly another driver zips into the space. An even worse situation is when one is parallel parking and backing into a parking space when another car, dangerously, fills the space one is partially in.

  8. Street Cleaning Times
    Over the past 50 years, the average number of cars per household has increased from 1 to almost 2.5. This means that there is no available street parking in many neighborhoods. When one side of the street is closed for street cleaning, there is no legal place within several blocks to park one's car. Because street cleaners rarely start their runs on time, the street is unavailable at least four times the necessary time. Even worse is the street cleaning routes where the cleaner always comes after the allotted time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why Are People Acting so Crazy Lately?

The Occupy movement, Anonymous, the surprising rise of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the Black Lives Matter movement, people moving from the US to Canada, open weapon carry, and the Stand Your Ground movement. These all are the result of people being frightened by the concentration of wealth and power in this country
Symbols of the concentration of wealth are the ability of the guilty to buy their way out of trouble, and the violence caused by the corporate-backed “War on Drugs”.
Relative to inflation wages for non-management workers have declined by over 50% since the late 1970's. This drop in real income has caused widespread employee resentment. Middle-class poverty makes people attempt to do something — anything — even if it isn’t directly related to the problem. The Trump campaign twists this resentment by blaming the poor instead of those who really bear the responsibility.
History is a great teacher, and it has taught us that since the beginning of the industrial revolution, ordinary people will revolt during economic downturns when wealth is over-concentrated. Because of the 170 billion dollars the Bush administration borrowed to finance its wars, we can expect a deep recession in 2023 or 2024 (when the loans start to come due). If things do not change by then, prepare for widespread riots and secessionist movements. 
The demonstrations in the past 8 years will continue to grow in intensity, as long as corporation-centric government stays in power. In response the government will escalate its martial law tactics. The divide between the people and the police will widen and more people will die. 
The US must take control of wealth. Inter-generational gift and inheritance taxes must increase to over 50%. Requiring companies to pay living wages is no longer a luxury. Removing the Social Security Premium Cap and using the money to pay for public health care is a necessary step (it would cut the cost of US health care by 50%). Paid maternity leave, long-term unemployment benefits, fixing the Capital Gains income tax loophole, raising the federal income tax exemptions to at least the poverty level, and reevaluation of prison sentences for all non-violent offenders are all necessary steps.
The US must regulate companies to assure that they respect their employees and their communities. Company planning must be for the long-term, not the next 3 months. The Limited Liability enjoyed by corporations should be in return for civic responsibility.
All government employees must adhere to the conflict of interest regulations. When Congress passed the conflict of interest regulations, they only applied to the executive branch. Applying the same regulations to the legislative branch would help reduce the corruption and bribery of Representatives and Senators by private interests.
The US citizenry wants transparency in government. Private companies are required to allow stockholders to attend board meetings (except under very limited situations) and the financial records of every publicly held corporation are available for audit. The same should be true for every department in the government. National security will not suffer if all documents are declassified after 25 years.
Those of you who are interested in how our economy got so bad should read the most recent books by Robert Reich (ex. Presidential Public Policy Advisor).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Gig Economy - New Contracting Companies Cheat Workers

The Gig Economy is just a modern term for farming out work to independent contractors. The Internet has made hiring and coordination of contractors easier, but many new companies do not pay the contractors the extra 30% to 200% that is due to independent contractors (the 30% barely covers costs ordinarily paid by employers, and the 200% is because the work is not full time). They often place illegal restrictions on their contractors (for example, US tax law prohibits exclusive contracts for independent contractors). Also, these companies usually ignore local taxation and regulations.

AirBnB is an excellent idea, it allows micro-hotels with wonderful sites, decor, or services, but they should be paying Hotel taxes and they do not. Since the company does not pay the taxes, the independent contractors who lease their property are responsible. They are also responsible for cleaning, repairs, breakage, and liability insurance (if they can get it). Since those leasing their property do not know about the legal requirements, they are not paying fees and taxes and rarely carry required insurance. Some cities are trying to legislate away AirBnB.

Lyft and Uber are usually much cheaper than Taxi Cabs. Not because these companies have found some more efficient way to operate, but because they don’t pay their drivers enough as independent contractors and they don’t pay taxes and fees.

Almost every Lyft or Uber driver working in an urban area is violating state and local Livery laws (Livery a generic term for Taxis or Limousines). Most cities require Livery drivers to pay special fees, and many require a “Shield” for taxis to restrict the number of taxis on the road at any one time. For example, in Manhattan, the city does not sell many new shields, but (for a fee) allows transferring shields to other vehicles or owners) – obtaining a shield can cost over $20,000.

Livery drivers are often required to have a Livery (or Limousine) driver’s license (or license endorsement). This license requires extra tests and an annual renewal fee. It usually calls for an annual health exam. These requirements are similar to those for interstate truckers.

Lyft and Uber drivers also drive their own cars and pay for their fuel, repairs, and signage. Many do not make a living wage, even if they work over 40 hours per week. Except for the reduced prices, the advantages of Lyft and Uber are being phased into legitimate Livery services.

Many firms offering services that do not require on-site employee presence outsource work to the lowest bidder (internationally) and so profit on lower wages and taxes in developing nations. For example, it is one thing for a US company to subcontract with a Canadian firm, Canadian workers are treated at least as well as US workers. It is true that subcontracting with a Canadian company takes advantage of the weakness of the Canadian dollar (years ago, retailers in Toronto called it a discount for using US dollars), but it also helps bolster the Canadian dollar and the Canadian economy.

Mexican firms usually treat employees badly. Subcontractors should pay much higher than customary local wages. Mexico has almost no environmental regulation, no universal health care, low wages, and high unemployment. Subcontracting to Mexican companies helps to boost the Mexican economy and reduce unemployment, but it is unethical to take advantage of the situation.

Contracting corporations are not new, especially for specialty services. They are a way for people with unique skills to find employment as independent contractors. The contracting firms take a percentage (25-50%) of the amount charged to the client and pay the rest to the contractor. The contractor is paid approximately twice the wage of a full-time job. Real specialists with advanced degrees can demand over $2000 per day for occasional work. The contracting firms usually offer services like health insurance and liability insurance (for additional fees).

Nurse registries and cleaning companies operate on a similar basis. An RN working for a registry can control days and hours worked, and registry nurses are paid considerably more than an RN employed by a hospital.

Some references:
Alternet: 10 Takeaways About the Gig Economy That Has Pushed Europe to Say No to These Predatory Capitalists (very liberal)
CNET Uber vs Lyft: 9 things to consider before your first ride Including the “What are the safety concerns?” section and below in the article. (Tech-enthusiasts, mildly conservative, supporters of big business)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Balanced Look at Recent US Presidents - part 1

I got the idea for this blog entry while watching the independent film "Hating Obama".

44. President Barack Obama (Barack Hussein Obama II)
Moderate Democrat

  • The least effective president since Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.
  • Did not achieve enough during his first two years. The best presidents submit bills to accomplish their most important goals during their first four to six months in office. Historically, the opposition party usually gains seats in the house and senate during midterm elections, so the beginning of a presidency is the time to push legislation.
  • Could not find ways to push compromise legislation through congress and the senate. Presidents like Reagan are beloved because they used the "Bully Pulpit" of the presidency to rouse ordinary people and force legislation through.
  • Did not manage to get judges and cabinet members approved in the senate in a reasonable time (30 days maximum for a cabinet member, 60 days maximum for a supreme court justice).
  • Did not reverse his predecessor's mistakes quickly enough. Even the changes that allowed the "Great Recession" (the depression of 2008) have not all been addressed.
  • Racism became more public and louder than it had been since the 1970's.
  • Will leave office with a ruthless invasion in Iraq and Syria (the Kaliphate, also known as DEASH, ISIL, ISIS, or the Islamic Nation).
  •  A concerted lobbying campaign to block all nominees and legislation by the Republican Party leadership, funded by huge political contributions.
  • Traditionally, after the election and 100 days after the oath of office, there is a honeymoon period between the new president and the opposition, so that both parties can learn more about the new president. President Obama suffered severe criticism and even investigations regarding his constitutional qualification to be president during this period. In the past, all such personal attacks stopped on election day.
    • People argue whether this is because of racial prejudice, the more aggressive corporate driven news media, his policies, extortion of legislators, or the fact that President Obama was the first president in 24 years who was not a conservative.
  • Twice during his presidency, the congress did not pass budget legislation soon enough to keep the government funded and operating.
  • Inherited major wars in Asia Minor. A guerrilla force replaced the regular armies after the US withdrew.
  • Although the Democratic party controlled the House of Representatives during his first half term, the Democratic majority in the Senate was not large enough for cloture (closing debate and filibusters on a bill) which requires 60 votes. The modern senate rule allowing a filibuster to continue, even when the person is not in the senate chamber makes infinite filibusters possible. The old rule required that a filibustering senator continually speak while the senate was in session.
  • Took office with the worst US economy since the 1930's and brought the economy back to stability, if not health.
  • Pushed through halfhearted national health care laws that allowed most of the middle class who could not obtain health insurance to obtain such insurance.
  • Increased the minimum wage.
  • Withdrew the US from the wars in Persia (Iraq and Afghanistan),
  • Fought for sexual equality (gender and sexual orientation), especially in the military.
  • Began reducing the US reliance on fossil fuels, especially foreign fossil fuels.
  • Increased the US military use of technology to replace soldiers on the ground.
  • Decreased the US military's use of mercenaries.
43: President George W Bush (George Walker Bush) Highly Conservative Republican
  • Abused executive power hundreds of times.
  • Was personal friends with the Saudi Arabian royal family, who fund terrorism (and one of whom led a terrorist organization).
  • The worst foreign invasion since World War II occurred on September 11, 2001 in his first year as president. The invasion was funded by Saudi Arabia and the soldiers were trained in Afghanistan and the US.
  • Lied to Congress about the origins of the attack.
  • Embroiled the US in a hopeless war against religious backed revolutionaries in Afghanistan.
  • Lied to Congress about the existence of nuclear weapons in Iraq, embroiling the US in a war that toppled a corrupt regime, but left the country in chaos that the US could not control.
  • Increased the US military reliance on for-profit corporations and mercenaries.
  • Increased the US reliance on imported fossil fuels.
  • Authored and or signed bills to cut necessary support for the poor, military veterans, and other social programs.
  • More than tripled the US government debt by funding foreign US military fighting and peacekeeping outside the official US budget. Lied to congress about actual costs. 
  • Forced service extension of soldiers beyond their contracted service.
  • Authored legislation and regulations that cut severely into individual rights (4th through 6th amendments).
  • Pushed surprise "corporate gift" legislation through congress when less than half of the legislature was in town.
  • Responsible for most of the government errors that led to the Great Recession (Depression of 2008).
    • Suppressed responsible government oversight of corporations. Building on presidential failures since 1981.
    • Encouraged "sub-prime" lending to allow the poor to buy homes that they could not afford.
    • Blocked Justice Department attempts to prosecute irresponsible corporate management.
  • The "No Child Left Behind" program was supposed to improve public education and reduce drop-out rates. It had the opposite effect.
  • Because Bush appointed unqualified cronies to head some departments, emergency response after Hurricane Katrina was delayed and inappropriate. The Mississippi delta region is still recovering. The problems were made much worse because necessary domestic infrastructure improvements (such as reinforcing levees) were skipped (most of the Army Corps of Engineers was in Iraq and Afghanistan).
  • Unexpected terrorist style military attacks.
  • The Great Recession
  •  Better integration of government data collection between agencies.
42: President Bill Clinton  (William Jefferson Clinton) Conservative Democrat

  • Lied to congress about his sexual relations with federal employees. Was indited by the House of Representatives, but the Senate never took up the Impeachment debate. A special prosecutor was appointed. President Clinton pled no contest on the charge of lying to congress in return for probation plus temporary disbarment. The constitution prohibits criminal charges against a sitting president (except by the impeachment process), so the official date of the plea was the day after he left office. This was not his first womanizing scandal.
  • Set up a task force to define comprehensive health care and implement a "Health Care for All" program. The task force was led by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The bill failed to obtain any traction in Congress.
  • Repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. This act prohibited banks (insured by the FDIC) from merging with corporations that made risky investments. This eventually led to the Great Recession (the Depression of 2008).
  • Signed the NAFTA treaty and pushed it through the senate. This treaty was the template for future trade agreements. This treaty eliminated almost all tariffs between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.. The result was corporations moving manufacturing and engineering jobs out of the US. Job export has led to widespread unemployment and underemployment in the US.
  • Entered office during a recession.
  • The laws implementing the illogical economic theories of President Ronald Reagan.
  • The longest era of  peacetime economic expansion in US history.
  • Restructuring the federal government to eliminate waste and moving people where they were needed (a special project of V.P. Gore). 
  • Negotiated a federal budget with annual surpluses each of his last three years.
  • Welfare reform that provided more support for people returning to work.

About Me

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Canoga Park, California, United States
Software Engineer with Ph.D. in Computer Science. I have a deep background in the sciences and in computer-human interaction. I was a college professor for 11 years, followed by over a decade of work in industry.