An update for a neglected blog

About a year and a half ago my sister-in-law said something about how I should write something new for my blog, as the last post was (then) months old.

Lots of ideas for posts have crossed my mind, and while I've started a few, I never finished any of them. I have been researching and thinking, and working on my other websites and businesses, but has been neglected.


Job Projects for those who have nothing else to do

I spent a few minutes in a local supermarket yesterday, and noticed a man in the cafe who was making himself busy by pushing in chairs, and straightening tables and napkin holders.

He had a bit of a "homeless" look to him. A cart full of stuff confirmed my impression.

Everyone else in the cafe was sitting in a chair doing whatever they were doing - eating, drinking, checking email, etc.

I thought about telling this man that his constant laps around the room were making him stand out. If he'd just sit still and read his book for a bit, he could enjoy the air conditioning, and wouldn't draw nearly as much attention to himself.

Today, outside the same store, I noticed this homeless man again near the bottle & can recycling center.  A few minutes later he was back 'at work', picking up trash and pushing in chairs.

It occurred to me that the worst part of being unemployed, homeless and living on the street would definitely be the boredom.

One of the problems with the market economy is that a certain percentage of the population is basically unemployable, for a variety of reasons. Mental illness, health problems top the list, and others just never learned a skill that's marketable.

Make-work projects are those from which little value is created. The classic example of a make-work job program is paying one person to dig a ditch, and paying a second person to fill it in.

To me, a 'job project' is something that puts people to work doing things that ought to be done anyway. There are always weeds that need to be pulled, public structures that need a fresh coat of paint, graffiti vandalism painted over, etc.  I imagine a program where the crew chief would take whoever shows up and put them to work doing whatever needs to be done.

There could be big jobs projects too. The maintenance and building of bridges and other forms of infrastructure is one possibility. The American Society of Civil Engineers grades the United State's infrastructure at a D- (just above failing).

On the other hand, direct government employment may be the only solution to some of our most serious long-term unemployment problems: structural unemployment.

... People who cannot find jobs because they lack relevant skills of any kind best fit the definition of "structural unemployment." It seems pretty clear that neither policies that change job search behavior nor policies that expand spending in general are very suited to this group. (emphasis added)

Paying for it all...

Many people's first objection is probably about the cost: "Who's going to pay for this?",

As I alluded to in my recent letter to the editor, the government's most important job is managing the money supply.

While there is a case to be made that the government can't be trusted with something this important, practical experience shows that private banks have failed to facilitate an equitable distribution of money in the economy.

If the government were to create more of the money supply, this could be spent directly into circulation. Right now, the only fraction of the money supply that it creates are coins, which are purchased by the federal reserve at face value and distributed to the banking system.

Imagine having the money to do a task properly...

A few months back I saw a crew of two men spraying something into the blackberry bushes that grow between the creek and the trail. I said that I'd just moved to Oregon, and asked what they were spraying for. I learned that  Blackberries are considered noxious weeds in Oregon, and that the city has to spray to keep the vines from completely overgrowing the trail.

After two weeks there was a band of defoliated blackberry vines about 3 feet thick. 20 feet of blackberries with green leaves were behind this band.

Instead of having the city pay to spray a large amount of herbicide on these bushes, why not have work crews completely clear blackberries out of the entire 20-mile trail? This is much more expensive than two guys with a herbicide sprayer, but the job would be done right.

The war against blackberries can probably never be won, but at least this section of trail would be blackberry free for a while.

Perhaps blackberry trimming isn't the greatest example of what could be done but for lack of funds.

Many existing jobs are actually make-work

The number of people incarcerated for victimless crimes has exploded in recent decades. While it's important to be able to segregate problematic members of a society, a large percentage of the prison population are more political prisoners than genuine potential hazards. The largest portion of these "political prisoners" were put there by the so-called "war on drugs".

Prison is extraordinarily expensive, much more so than any job project I can think of. The cost of a jail bed averages out to about $62/night. Eight hours of work at $7.25/hour (current minimum wage) is $58.

Much more value is created by putting someone to work than locking them up.

Rather than locking someone up for petty offenses (of which many are economically driven), society would turn a lose-lose situation into a win-win.

Education is another example of a sort of make-work program. While education itself is very important, the government currently spends $billions more educating children than it needs to.

Young people are currently subjected to entirely too much schooling. Accelerated learning methods allow just about anyone to make exponentially more years of progress in a single year than in the present system. See my recent post about the fellow who was trying to get a young man to care about school.

Putting people to work

An estimated 14-million people are currently unemployed, and millions more are working less than they'd like. The government needs to step to the plate, and provide  money to put people to work.

Some final thoughts from someone with more certifications in Economics than I:

... Nothing could be more foolish right now than policies that reduce government spending or increase taxes. We have nearly 14 million unemployed people in the United States, a number that undoubtedly underestimates the true magnitude of the problem since it ignores discouraged workers and the underemployed. Despite this, Messrs. Obama, Ryan, and Geithner tell us that we need to make sacrifices. Seriously? The American people already have, and what they are asking us to do will simply make it worse. ...

Why You Should Learn to Love the Deficit: Federal Budget Fallacies


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Fixing the Government’s Finances

I used to write a lot of letters-to-the-editor. It was mostly an exercise in futility - it's been about 8 years since I sent the first one, and still nothing changes.

The constant talk from the mainstream media about the "debt ceiling" is rather irritating, and this letter sorta flowed out of my fingertips. The Arizona Republic saved it most of a week to put in their Sunday paper.

One of my signatures for message boards is "learn the rules so that you know how to break them properly". This means that we must understand the systems that we interact with to maximize our personal freedom.

The present debt ceiling uproar is a completely contrived crisis. Most of the members of congress are completely clueless about what they're arguing about.

This was my effort to help people "learn the rules" about finances:

GOP, Dems don't understand banking

Can we please get past all the hot air about the government's finances?

Everyone is talking as if the logic applied to household and corporate finances applies to the government.

The formula for household fiscal solvency is "spend less money than you make."

The government gets different rules because it's the one that's supposed to make the money that households spend.

(continued inside)


The opposite of genius

Haven't posted anything in almost a year. I get a lot of inspiration for blog posts, but haven't actually taken the time to flesh many of them out. Sorry about that. 🙂

I was at a local cafe this morning with my laptop. A 60-something year old man sat down at a nearby table with a pair of teenagers - a 15 or 16 young man, and a 2-3 year older young woman. The young man had red hair. I couldn't help but overhear the lecture.

It wasn't a stern lecture - the gentleman just wanted to share some helpful advice about doing well at school. Take notes, review notes, ask questions.

This is a great strategy, if you care about the subject. But it's exceedingly difficult to care too much in a standardized school environment. Even if the 'kid' tried to implement the advice, I'd be stunned if the effort continued past the first week of school.

That's how it always was for me, anyways: "this year I'll have good habits", but it'd never last. I spent 16.5 years getting formally educated. Most of that time was spent coasting, doing the bare minimum for most of the classes I took...

Anyone can learn just about anything, if they care about the topic. There's a quote about how it only takes is an hour of concentrated study a day to become an expert on just about any topic in a year.

If I'd been the one offering a possibly troubled young man advice, I would have started by asking what he's interested in. What's exciting, what does he look forward to?

At least that way the money spent on coffee wouldn't be wasted.

Since 'Teslabox' is about the structure of genius, I figured maybe I should blog about it.

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Cleaning Up the Gulf of Mexico

In June I formulated a plan to help clean BP's oil from the Gulf of Mexico. To Save the Gulf, Send The Enterprise calls for using the U.S. Navy's portable nuclear reactors to power air pumps for oxygenating ocean waters in the Gulf. Bacteria already present in the ocean use oxygen to consume whatever oil they encounter.

A lot of people really liked the idea. One commenter suggested that instead of blowing bubbles into the depths of the ocean, warm surface water could be oxygenated and pumped instead. Pumping air below a couple hundred feet would have required much more energy than pumping water.

When the oil volcano was gushing, the bubblers would have been concentrated in rings around the wellhead. BP's well has now been capped, but there are still plumes of oil that need attention.

Mother nature will slowly take care of this task, but it will happen faster if the Navy is put on task. The fleet's submarines are each powered by a portable nuclear reactor, and the Navy certainly has a few spare reactors sitting around.

Once most of the oil has been consumed, the pumps can be used to treat the 'dead zone' that appears at the mouth of the Mississippi river every summer:

Summer rains wash nutrients, dissolved organic matter and sediment out of the mouths of rivers, into the sea, sparking large phytoplankton blooms. ...

Enhanced phytoplankton blooms can create dead zones. Dead zones are areas of water so devoid of oxygen that sea life cannot live there. If phytoplankton productivity is enhanced by fertilizers or other nutrients, more organic matter is produced at the surface of the ocean. The organic matter sinks to the bottom, where bacteria break it down and release carbon dioxide. Bacteria thrive off excessive organic matter and absorb oxygen, the same oxygen that fish, crabs and other sea creatures rely on for life.

-Mississippi Dead Zone (emphasis added)

So what if it's expensive? Wealth is created when people work to solve problems, doing research, building supplies and equipment. Wealth is squandered when people sit around unemployed.

This proposal is by no means complete, and a lot of research still needs to be done on how to best clean up the gulf. But we can start building and deploying compressors and pumps to treat the water today. Scientists and engineers will figure out the best ways use the equipment.

This project is more than a cleanup - it's an investment in our future.

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Some thoughts on insomnia

There's a story up on slashdot about heavy sleepers. At one time I had trouble with sleeping, so I  posted a comment about how I enhanced my ability to fall asleep at night:

My memories of going to sleep as a child are of tossing and turning every night in bed.

My parents bought my brother a waterbed when he outgrew his twin bed. I thought I'd fall asleep quicker in a waterbed than my old mattress, so I pestered my parents endlessly until they relented and bought me a waterbed too. It didn't help.

I learned about self-hypnosis, lucid dreaming, and "mental imagery" when I was 17 years old. One style of self-hypnosis calls for relaxing the physical body, then relaxing the mind. I was fascinated by the prospects of "internal senses".


Welcome to

I originally purchased some 7 years ago, when I was about to lose my longstanding email address. I didn't put up a homepage until January 2009. After a year and a half of hand-coded webpages, I finally decided to switch to WordPress, a modern Content management system [CMS].

WordPress does all the work, and I just make some content. Should have done this years ago. 🙂


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