atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#2261: "Smoot-Hawley, you f-ing morons...?"

The latest issues of Model Railroader and Trains arrived today. The first damn article I read in Trains is about a recent uptick in steel-related loads, and what I said in response to that article became the title for today's post.

"Steel Traffic: Back From The Dead", the headline of the "News and Photos" section proudly proclaims.

Steel haulage via railroads is at something like 73% of capacity, 'way up from its nadir in 2008 of around 40%. The railroad executives who are quoted in the article lay that increase at the feet of government spending, though they don't say it that way: government auto industry bailouts, they say, and infrastructure improvements are two of the three things driving the upswing in steel traffic. "Rising consumer demand" is the third, but the largest consumer use of steel is, generally, automobiles...and the upswing in automobile sales is mostly because rental companies are replacing their fleets as they age.

I had to read between the lines to figure that out, though. Trains is normally pretty good about keeping obvious politics out of their writing, but I've been a subscriber for three years or so now, and I estimate their editorial slant to be somewhere in the middle of the Democrat side of the political spectrum.

Another quote cites the energy industry as a reason for the uptick, but how much of that is the result of government stimulus spending? "Wind turbines" is one of three things mentioned as reasons for the uptick in this sector, the other two being pipelines and drilling equipment.

Yeah, "drilling equipment"--with a moratorium on all offshore drilling until when?--so much for that.

But what got me to come here and post about all this was what I read further down:
However, the industry is closely watching what's happening in China. It worries the Chinese steel industry is benefitting from government subsidies, and the fact that the Chinese government has artificially kept its currency value low, whcih makes Chinese products cheaper.

"We are hoping for some tariffs to respond to the lower artificial level of China's currency," [Nancy Gravatt, vice president of the American Iron and Steel Institute] says. "We forecast around 23 million tons of imports. China's government owns the majority of steel producers in that country, and most economists think they undervalue their currency by about 40 percent."

There is legislation in the U.S. Congress proposing a tariff on imports. "Also, countries such as India, Brazil, and China don't have the same emissions regulations, which helps keep their costs down. Here in America, we produce steel cleanly," Gravatt says.
Emphasis mine.

Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930.

The Republicans did it once; now the Democrats want to try it. *sigh*

* * *

Oil should cost about $10 per barrel. This makes sense to me; with the big Brazil find last year (or the year before?) and with the other finds expanding supply, the high price of oil has to be due to other factors skewing the price upward.

Look: it costs about $15 per barrel to extract oil from the ground. Everyone who produces crude oil wants to maximize their profit; they do this by limiting the amount they produce. The entire point behind OPEC is to keep oil prices high, by limiting supply.

Meanwhile, the oil futures market also benefits from fluctuations in oil prices. Futures are a bet; one guy bets oil will rise in price and another guy bets it'll drop in price. If prices rise, #1 makes money and #2 loses money. If prices fall, #1 loses money and #2 makes money.

If everyone thinks oil will rise in price, though, it magically rises even though the supply remains constant. That's what happened in 2008; China's rising demand for petroleum made prices go up, which triggered an artificial inflation of oil futures prices. As soon as the recession hit, prices dropped precipitously.

(That rise in oil prices in 2008 are what started the economic downturn, IMHO. But that's a rant for another time.)

It's a shame we can't get back to simple supply-and-demand for such a necessary commodity. *sigh*

* * *

Steam locomotives are classified by how their wheels are arranged. The common steam locomotive you see in Westerns is the 4-4-0 "American"; it has a leading truck with 4 wheels, four driving wheels, and no trailing truck. A small switch engine would have no leading truck, four driving wheels, and no trailing truck, making it an 0-4-0. Get it? This is known as Whyte Notation.

There were some monster steam locomotives towards the end of the steam era which had two sets of driving wheels; the "Big Boy" configuration is 4-8-8-4: two sets of eight drivers in the middle. Each set of drivers was a complete steam engine; some were set up such that one engine used the exhaust steam from the first one, getting more expansion (and thus more work) from a given volume of steam.

(Note: saying "steam engine" to describe the entire works is incorrect. The "engine" is just the steam cylinders, side rods, and wheels connected to them. The whole thing--boiler and all--is a "locomotive".)

So they don't have to recite strings of numbers to identify locomotive types, people involved in railroading came up with names for each type. (See above, "4-4-0 'American'".) Most of the names have interesting origins, and I'm not really too "up" on what they all are much less where they all came from; but reading railroading magazines you'll read about "Mallets", "Moguls", "Mikados", "Gobernadors"...and "Berkshires".

The latter is my favorite, solely because I like the sound of it. It's arranged 2-8-4.

Nearly everything you might want to know about steam locomotives.

* * *

Steven Den Beste debates the desirability of thorium reactors. Specifically, he brings up an anti-proliferation argument: "burning" thorium makes U-233, which is usable in atomic bombs.

On the other hand, though, I don't know how much is known about the critical properties of U-233. Well, there's this stuff at Wikipedia, so I guess we know quite a bit about it.

The process which makes U-233 also makes U-232, which is pretty nasty. And the only way to get rid of the U-232 is to use isotope seperation; think "Oak Ridge, Tennesee"--that town exists primarily because that's where the government built a uranium refining facility during WW2. The only good way to do isotope seperation is to have a lot of machines working on doing it; that's why there's so much concern over how many centrifuges Iran has.

Look: the isotope of uranium we generally use for fissile applications--U-235--has a half-life of 704 million years. The longer an isotope's half-life is, the less intensely radioactive it is. U-238's half-life is about 4.5 billion years, which is why you could live next to a one-ton block of U-238 for the rest of your life and not significantly shorten your lifespan.

U-233's half-life is 160,000 years; U-232's is just 69 years. Yeah. Where the guys of the Manhattan Project could work with bomb-grade stuff in their shirtsleeves and then contract cancer 30-50 years later, trying to do that with U-233 would put you underground in a matter of months. You couldn't even use a glove box to work with it and expect to improve on that; you'd need inches of leaded glass between you and the stuff, and you'd be using robotic hands to do the assembly work.

In general I like what I hear about thorium reactors, but I have to wonder how necessary they actually are. We've been generating power for sixty years using uranium, and in that time there have been two significant failures, only one of which killed people. (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Yes there have been safety failures with nuclear power which killed people, but the deaths were confined to personnel who actually worked at the facility, and the fatalities were limited in number. Hell, according to the UN, Chernobyl only killed about sixty people.) We know just about everything there is to know about using uranium peacefully; the technology for dealing with it is pretty mature.

If we could just recycle our goddamned spent fuel....

* * *

Unless you are actually Santa Claus, never, never, ever try to use a chimney as a covert entrance to a house.

(Hint: you are not Santa Claus.)

* * *

This is a really good examination of how the media's liberal bias is destroying it.
The left's hijacking of American culture has turned institutions into rags and rubble, and it will only get worse. Because the left does not know when to stop. Does not understand that it should stop. That is why left wing revolutions that do succeed, eventually culminate in multiple levels of purges that exterminate many of the original revolutionaries, or send them off to fight and die somewhere else, turning them into convenient martyrs who look good on blood-red T-shirts.

* * *

Are humans naturally promiscuous? There's a lot of effort being expended in anthropology to demonstrate that we are, that the idea of monogamy runs completely counter to our biology. I think there's some ideology driving this, because liberals like there to be all kinds of sex all the time; they view it as the do-all-be-all of human existence. Ace's post is a pretty good refutation of the idea.

One of the most profound truths of Christianity--which I only recently learned--is that all of its rules have one basic function: make it easy for people to live together in harmony. One of the ways Christianity does this is by forcing us to repress and channel our animal instincts, to make it a sin to act like an animal.

There is a passage in the Bible--I can't remember where, or even the exact wording--where a prophet is told by God to lead a group to a river. Those who went down on their knees and lapped up water directly from the river, or who waded in and stuck in their heads to drink, were to be excluded from something; the men who used their hands to dip water from the river and bring it to their mouths were to continue on with the prophet. "What does God care how they drink? What if they're really thirsty?" I thought. And when I realized that suppression of the animal was one of the reasons for religion, this passage suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense to me. Besides being a relation of what a certain holy man said and did, it's also a metaphor: control your base impulses, act with decorum and dignity, don't be like a wild animal.

Absent civilization, humans are animals. Civilization is just a thin veneer over millions of years of primate evolution, and primates are animals. Without the rules of civilization, humans revert into savages pretty freaking quickly, and in fact we have crime because some people just don't want to obey the laws of society.

Whatever our instincts may demand of us, we are supposed to subordinate them to the rules of civilization not because society is mean and wants us to be unhappy, but because most of the time acting on our instincts will be detrimental for us and society at large.

Look: when you're out on a date with your girlfriend and some guy starts flirting with her, you might start to feel jealous, especially if she responds favorably to the attention; that's an instinct in operation: That male is trying to take my mate! Your instinctive reaction would then be to fight the guy. This is how it works in the animal world. Like all animal species, humans have a pecking order, and fighting is how conflicts are resolved. In the wild, the conflict normally only lasts until one or the other surrenders; status is adjusted and that's the end of it.

But humans make tools, and our tools enable us to kill before a surrender signal can be recognized. Also, the addition of sentience has changed the dynamics of how we respond to surrender signals. When two dogs are fighting, the instant one of them surrenders the other dog will stop fighting seriously; it might harass the other dog a bit just to make his higher status stick, but usually the stronger animal will not fight much past a surrender and kill the weaker animal. Humans, though, we can just ignore the surrender signal and go for the kill.

(Dogs can, of course, be trained to go for the kill past a surrender. But it's not how they behave in the wild; it takes human meddling for that.)

But human society can't work if people are always killing other people over mating rights and what-the-hell-ever. That's why murder is illegal; long experience has demonstrated that society works better if people are not allowed to kill each other indiscriminately. The same thing goes for other actions which are proscribed both by law and religion: theft, dishonesty, rape, and so on.

In fact, that's the entire reason for the existence of morality. It's not just against the rules to commit murder; it's wrong. It's not wrong because someone thought we should all be denied the pleasure of killing our enemies; it's wrong because it's bad for society. There have been societies where murder was acceptable, and those societies did not work.

"Dueling"? Look at any society with a dueling custom, and observe how strict the usages for a duel are. Notice also that the duel could usually be avoided simply by either party giving ground and relinquishing "status"--honor or what-have-you--and did not have to be fought if either party decided that he had to be alive to worry about having a diminished reputation. A public apology might place a pox on your escutcheon, but if the matter simply wasn't worth dying for, you didn't have to fight...and you could stay alive to repair the blemish at another time. Both parties had to agree to the duel, and either one could bow out and take the hit to his honor at any time prior to the commencement of the duel. A duel isn't really "murder" in the sense I'm talking about here.

(Interestingly enough, though, a duel is exactly the kind of mechanism I'm talking about for adjusting status. It's highly formalized, though, precisely because society places a premium on human life, and frowns on indiscriminate killing.)

Thanks to the sexual revolution, a lot of the morality around sex has changed drastically; a lot of it has simply been jettisoned. I still don't think that was such a good idea.

* * *

More deficit spending is on the way! Obama always doubles down on socialism.

* * *

This is hilarious: Unions hire people to protest for them, and pay them minimum wage. Got to love that--the union goons make 400 times what they're paying their nonunion protestors!

Liberals are hypocrites. I can't help saying it; it's the truth.

* * *

Federal government says immigrants no longer have to show a green card to get a job. Isn't that what this new lawsuit is saying? That the feds don't want anyone to have to show that they're legally eligible to work?

What's the freakin' point of even having a bureaucracy to regulate this stuff if we're not going to bother enforcing it?

I can't remember: does INS actually prosecute employers who hire illegals? Back when I was an on-site computer tech, we briefly had a Polish guy working for us. He was pretty good with the machinery, but one day he was no longer working there because the boss learned he was an illegal--the guy had come to the US on a tourist visa and stayed past its expiration--and didn't want to risk a visit from INS.

Look: you can be in the US legally and still not be eligible for employment. There are several kinds of visas--tourist visa, H1-B "guest worker" visa, immigrant visa, etc--and not all of them allow you to hold a job while in the United States. The guy named in this article could easily have a driver's license and social security card and still not be eligible to work here; presenting his green card would be irrefutable evidence that he is, which is probably why the college in question wanted to see it before it would hire him.

Our government sucks. Can we blow it up and replace it with something that actually follows the Constitution and makes sense?

* * *

Something useful from Arse Technica, for a change: fixing your own game consoles.

* * *

Nerd Jokes.

Favorite: "Schrodinger's cat walks into a bar and doesn't."


But this one is pretty good: "Why do computer geeks get Halloween confused with Christmas: because Oct 31 = Dec 25."

This also made me laugh: "Selenium walks into a bar. It has an atomic weight of 78.96 and is rarely found in its elemental state in nature." It's an anti-joke.

* * *

It led me to this, Dan Brown's worst 20 sentences.

And I was aghast at number 14: "14. Angels and Demons, chapter 100:"

How the hell do you get 100 chapters in a book that's smaller than an encylopedia?


Oh, wait: "Dan Brown". NVM.

* * *

You think "grammar nazi" is a joke? Government regulation has officially gotten out of hand. Jesus.

* * *

So it's Tuesday night. Whee!

Tomorrow I'm running errands and hitting the grocery store for our weekly victuals.

Forecast for tomorrow says "rain". I hope so; we need it. I've been putting off cutting the grass because it's simply not growing all that much, but it's starting to look ragged enough that I really ought to cut it. Well, it's been hot, and I'm a weenie. What can I do?

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