Thursday, March 19, 2020

Items from Ron while I was away

Don’t Sweat the Crash in Oil Prices
Excerpt: Beyond the most obvious benefit to consumers in the form of lower gasoline and motor oil prices – crude oil prices make up more than 70 percent of the price of gasoline per gallon – oil is obviously a major factor in industrial production. Critical products made from it number in the thousands and include jet fuel, kerosene, diesel, heating oil, waxes, plastics, asphalt, dyes, grease, solvents, inks, and innumerable others. [Oil is one of the key “basic” needs of the modern world. It can be argued that cutting off the oil supply to Germany during WWII was a major factor in winning the war. That it should be suddenly significantly cheaper will be a blessing for most, though not all. Any energy-related investments will likely be temporarily on the losing end of the bargain; unfortunately, that will include most mutual funds. Ron P.]

As Bipartisan Support for Nuclear Energy Grows
Excerpt: Any serious conversation about the future of America’s energy production must include nuclear energy, which accounts for 20 percent of all American energy production and 55 percent of American carbon-free-energy production. Unlike wind and solar, nuclear energy can be reliably supplied on demand, not just when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining. Nuclear-energy plants also have the advantage of using less land space than solar and wind farms. [While the headline may be an exaggeration, nuclear power is the safest, most reliable no carbon emissions option there is aside from hydro. France gets almost all their electricity from nuclear power plants, the US figures are above, and neither country has ever lost a life because of a nuclear accident (my brother, David, now 61, was one of the soldiers delivering and installing protective insulation during the accident). Newer, even more reliable molten-salt designs from MIT and others would prevent any “melt-down” or “China Syndrome” from occurring; in case of a leak, they simply stop reacting. Even the Fukushima Daichi disaster has lost only one life, so far, nine years ago tomorrow, 11 Mar 2011. Ron P.]

Farm fire caused by pedometer-eating pigs
Excerpt: Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames that had spread to four pig pens without any injuries reported to humans or animals. An investigation of the blaze found a pedometer that had been attached to a pig to prove that it is free range had been eaten by other pigs. The firefighters said the pieces passed through the animals' digestive systems and when they came out the other side, copper from the batteries reacted with the animal waste and caused a fire to ignite. [Well, no, uh, uh, comment. Ron P.]

The Demos' 2020 Economic Doom Platform — WuFlu Apocalypse
Excerpt: Do you know somebody who suffers from ABM (Acute Bunker Mentality)? The onset symptoms of ABM occur when mass-media echo chambers foment unwarranted public hysteria by promoting an apocalyptic scenario, especially if that scenario is bolstered by conspiracy theories and an election-year political agenda. Those afflicted with ABM are sure that this is "THE BIG ONE" and consequently spend most of their waking hours obsessed with the next report about the end of the world. The only cure for ABM sufferers is an eventual realization that the world did not end, at which point they come up for some fresh air and begin preparing for the next apocalyptic scenario. [This is a very good editorial from Mark Alexander at The Patriot Post. Ron P.]

Wuhan Virus Exposes The Danger of Reliance Upon China
Excerpt: What has been the most galling and dangerous weakness to be exposed—but also the most correctable one—is the realization of how dependent the United States is upon China for lifesaving drugs, for hazmat suits, and for N95 masks. For all sorts of critical products, we don’t and currently can’t make them ourselves. Ninety-seven percent of antibiotics used in the United States are made in China, 80 percent of the chemical components necessary for the drugs that we do make here come from China. Within one year, nearly the entire production of N95 masks went from “Made in USA” to “Made in China.” The U.S. Strategic Stockpile currently holds just 12 million N95 masks, a small fraction of the 3.5 billion the DHS estimates we would need in the event of a pandemic. This is insane and it must change. Outsourcing manufacturing to China has done incalculable damage to the United States. It’s impoverished countless towns and many millions of people. It’s shrunk the American middle class and made it more precarious. And that’s led to all kinds of social and political distress from skyrocketing opiate addiction and deaths to an embrace of radical politics. [This ought to be a very sobering assessment. I added emphasis. Ron P.]

Engineers crack 58-year-old enigma, make quantum breakthrough
Excerpt: "This discovery means that we now have a pathway to build quantum computers using single-atom spins without the need for any oscillating magnetic field for their operation," said Andrea Morello, UNSW's scientia professor of quantum engineering, in a statement. "Moreover, we can use these nuclei as exquisitely precise sensors of electric and magnetic fields, or to answer fundamental questions in quantum science." Quantum computing, which lets computers manipulate information in extremely sophisticated ways, aims to provide more powerful computing than current supercomputers. The research is described in a paper in the journal Nature. The discovery was made by accident, according to the University of New South Wales, which explains that the researchers were originally attempting to perform magnetic resonance on a single atom of the chemical element antimony.  "However, once we started the experiment, we realized that something was wrong. The nucleus behaved very strangely, refusing to respond at certain frequencies, but showing a strong response at others," said Dr. Vincent Mourik, also a lead author on the paper, in a statement. [I took a brief look at the article in Nature magazine. Trying to read it was humbling. I doubt I understood more than 5% of it. They might as well have said “It was magic.” I wouldn’t have believed it, but at least it would make sense to me. Depending on how quickly they can figure out a way to exploit this, it could be HUGE or just an interesting side show. Or, it might be on the local store’s shelf in three years. Time will tell. Ron P.]

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