Did You Know?

June 2016

ABOUT TIME ZONES

Consider the world to be sliced into 24 wedge shaped sections, and you will have created 24 individual time zones circumventing the earth. This concept was largely developed in England as an aid to navigation, especially in their quest to establish the exact location of  Longitude meridians. It became the world's standard in 1884 when Greenwich Mean Time was designated as the zero hour for the entire globe. The French, as usual, disagreed and set up their own Paris standard time which they did not abandon till 1911.

Time zone boundaries, when crossing oceans, generally are straight lines running from pole to pole. On land nationalistic or topographic consideration frequently distort time zone boundaries, although (with a few exceptions) the east/west limits usually attempt to incorporate a one hour time period. For political reasons some countries have shifted their time zone boundaries by half an hour. Venezuela has done so for no discernible reason.

During earlier ages the time of the day was established by following the sun as it transverses the sky, and calling it noontime when it peaked. With the development of water-clocks, and later pendulum clocks, time in hours could be established both day and night. Note: early pendulum clocks had no minute hand.

When every town within the same political entity sets local time according its relative position vis-a-vis the sun, it can result in appreciable time variations among population center. That was not a problem in an age when transportation and communication distances were measured in days. However it changed with the advent of railroads and telegraphy during the early-mid 19th century. Railroad management insisted on a uniform Standard Time within each time zone to permit publication of a uniform train schedule across its entire system. In the US and in Canada this was achieved in 1883.

Random facts: Portugal, which like other countries had been in the European time zone, recently moved back one hour to align itself with England (Spain decided to stay put); two years ago Russia increased the number of its time zones from 7 to 9; China, roughly the same size and shape as the US, functions (with difficulty) within a single time zone. And then there is the island nation of Kiribati, plunked in mid Pacific, which straddled the international dateline. To correct this anomaly they unilaterally inserted a kink in the line and thereby put the entire nation into the same time zone. This assured that phone calls made from one side of the country didn't arrive the previous day on  the other side.

Otto Frank



December 2015

THE CAPABILITIES OF THE HUMAN BODY

Our perception of your interest in the human body prompted us to undertake a detailed research of this subject in the world’s literature.  We trust the following report meets your requirements.

Your heart beats more than 100,000 times each day, and in so doing pumps about 7571 liters of blood through its chambers. Red blood cells which deliver oxygen to all organs and are a major constituent of blood, makes the circuit through the body in less than a minute. Each blood cell lives for about 40 days before being replaced by a younger version of itself .

A typical pair of fully expanded adult lungs can hold around 6 liters of air. Under quiescent condition the actual volume for each breath may be considerably smaller than that. The total number of breath will be in the range of around 17,000 each day.

It has been estimated that circa 50,000 thoughts pass through your brain every day. That amounts to about 40 or so thoughts every minute. Such brains must belong to very thoughtful people.

To insure the proper digestion of food, a strong acid (HCl) is produced in the stomach which, among other things, can dissolve most metals. To prevent its self-digestion the stomach  lining produces an alkaline substance which neutralizes the acid – and  thereby permits us to keep on eating. 

To keep your eyes clean and moist, each eye blinks involuntarily about 27,000 times a day, some blinks lasting as little time as one hundredth of a second. Since 90% of the information you process is visual, keeping your eyes clean and unscratched is crucial.

The body sheds more than one million skin cells every day. These are replaced on an ongoing basis to prevent your neighbors from seeing your interior organs. In fact, your skin is also an organ, actually the largest one in your body, with an average surface area of two square meters.

  The average adult with a full head of hair possesses about 100,000 of them, each of them growing at a rate of half a millimeter each day. Thus, if all of this grows were concentrated in one hair it would grow 50 meters every 24 hours.

It has been observed that the average woman speaks about 5,000 words a day, while men seem to get by with about 2,000. But these same studies also show that both sexes use only 500 to 700 of these words to provide useful information. HUH?

The liver is a busy organ; It’s like factory that manufactures cholesterol, vitamin D and blood plasma.  Further, it identifies the nutrients your body needs and stores them for future use. In addition it filters 1.43 liters of blood every minute, and produces the bile that helps to break down the food that is been ingested.

About 1.5 liters of saliva are produces by the glands in your mouth, its addition being the first critical step in the digestive process which altogether takes about 55 hours.. Also, without saliva your mouth would dry up and be overrun with bacteria.

The average male testicles produce circa 10 million sperm cells every day. Those not expelled eventually break down and are reabsorbed by the body. Note that this provides for a ratio of 300 million male produced sperm cells to one female created egg. Any comments?

The 1 million tiny filters that make up human kidneys process 1.3 liters of blood per hour. In doing so, they filter and remove waste products from the blood stream and expel them in about 1.4 liters of urine every day.

Your body cells are constantly regenerating themselves. This means that you will have a complete set of nails every 6 to 10 month, new bones every 10 years, and a new heart every 20 years. Unfortunately, as we grow older, some of the replacement cells may be of a degraded form and thus will not perform as well as previous, similar cells. It’s called aging.  

 

Otto Frank



October 2015

ALL THE FACTS ABOUT FLATULENCE

Gas is produced by bacteria in your intestines at the rate of about 500 to 1500 milliliters per day and is expelled in 10 to 20 bursts* – as measured in controlled studies conducted at the Mayo Clinic. The bacteria that live in your colon are nourished by the carbohydrates that are being digested in the large intestine via a fermentation process. The gas thus produced is roughly equivalent to the amount released from a one liter soda bottle.

Nearly all of the gas* generated by this process is odorless, with almost 99% (by volume} consisting of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Also included in the gaseous discharge* is some air that that has been swallowed while eating, and from drinking carbonated beverages. Research has found that the smell is solely due to the 1% of compounds that contain sulfur, largely hydrogen sulfite.

The bacteria in the large intestine need sulfur to produce sulfurous gases. The principal foods with complex carbs which also contain sulfur are such common items as beans, onions, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and dairy products. Basically your gaseous discharge* is the result of a healthy, complex ecosystem in your intestines. Scientists are still studying our digestive system since there is yet a lot to be learned. However, what is known is that the same bacteria that produce gas also generate vitamins and fatty acids that keep the colon lining in good shape and bolster the immune system.

The question, often asked in jest, is whether the discharging gas* can be set on fire. Since it contains a large fraction of methane and hydrogen the short answer is yes, during its brief exiting time. A more reasoned answer is: don’t try it, especially if you are endowed with an excess of highly flammable body hair.

One cannot, over the long run, prevent intestinal gas* from leaving the body. You may be able to temporarily suppress it, but the physics of flatulence require that any intestinal gas bubble* has to exit eventually, and there is only one way out.

*fart

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Every bad smell that fights the ventilating fan thinks it is Don Quixote ….. Stanislaw Lec  

Otto Frank



July 2015

RELIGION AND PROCREATION

A recent survey released by the Pew Research Center provides an overview of the distribution of religions in the United States, plus the birthrates associated with the various (religious and non-religious) groups.

Let’s look at some numbers dealing with religious affiliation in the US for 2014:

Evangelical Protestants
25.4%
Unaffiliated (Nones) *
22.8%
Catholics
20.8%
Mainline Protestants
14.7%
Other Christian sects
10.4%
Non-Christians **
5.9%
*Atheists, Agnostics, “Nothing in Particular”
** Includes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other religious affiliates.

Below are recent fertility rates in the United States in terms of babies per lifetime:
Mormons 3.4
Black Protestants2.5
Evangelical Protestants2.3
Catholics2.3
Jews2.0
Mainline Protestants1.9
Atheists 1.6
Agnostics1.3

In order to maintain a steady population requires fertile couples to produce 2.16 live babies. However, the actual rate has dropped below 2.0 in many European countries, in Japan and in China. It is of interest to note that according to the latest census figures there has actually been, in contrast the most other ”Western” countries, a slight increase in the US population. However, it must be noted that this increase is attributed to the recent influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal.

One of the findings in the Pew Report is that even with their very low reproduction rates, the number of declared atheists and agnostics has increased markedly (from 4.0% to 7.1%) during the past seven years. This anomaly can been explained by the fact that non-believers are not born, but made when they are adults. Also, about 18% of American adults who were raised in a religious family now profess to be unaffiliated. This compares to only 4% who have moved in the opposite direction.

Without comment, let me offer the following tabulation assembled by Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University professor. It deals with the average number of sexual partners members of the specified generations had during their lifetime. It started low with the Depression generation, peaked with the Baby Boomers, and is dropping with the Millennials who are just now are coming to the forefront.

Average number of sexual partners
Greatest (Depression) generation3
Silent (WW II) generation5
Baby Boomers11
Generation X10
Millennials8

Aren’t you glad you asked?

Otto Frank



April 2015

GENDER AND ETHNICITY IN BUSINESS AND POLITICS

Snap Test: In what country(s) are the odds over 50% that your boss is a woman?
Answer: Jamaica, Columbia and Saint Lucia.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) solely these three countries appear to be (somewhat) exemplary in that respect. Jamaica is tops with almost 60% of all managers being women. In Columbia and Saint Lucia it’s about 53%. Going down the list we next have the Philippines, Panama and Belarus at about 47%. In the US female bosses make up about 43% of all managers; and it’s 36% in Canada and 34% in the UK. Not too surprisingly, the bottom 10 countries are clustered in or around the Middle East and North Africa. Last in line is Algeria where the percentage of female bosses is 2.1%.

While there has been a steady increase of female managers since 2000, there is still quite a ways to go before true gender equality can be achieved. On a world-wide basis only a little over 5% of top managers in large corporations are female: “The larger the corporation, the less likely the head will be a woman”. The situation is equally skewed when looking at corporate board membership. At an average, less than 30% of board seats are held by women. In the US the percentage is below 20. The highest ratio is found in Norway where the percentage of women board members is above 30.

Looking at political leadership, and including both women and non-whites in the analysis, we have (as reported in the Washington Post) on the national level the following congressional composition: the House is 80.6% male, in the Senate it’s 80%. The House is 79.8% White, 10.1% Black, 7.8% Hispanic, and 2.3% Asian. In the Senate the equivalent percentages are: 94, 2, 3, and 1. These figures reflect the make-up of the most recently elected congress.

Data developed by the Pew Research Center indicated that Congress over the past few decades has become less Protestant, but is still largely Christian. After the last election it actually became a little more Christion since there are now five fewer Jewish members, one less Buddhist, and one less unaffiliated member. Those without religious affiliation are the most underrepresented with only a 0.02% membership in Congress representing 20% of the public.

Fun facts: The current presidency is 100% Black. The next presidency may be 100% female. The Supremes are 66.67% Catholic and 33.33% Jewish.

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Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult. Charlotte Whitton  


February 2015

RENT A NEW YORK APPARTMENT FOR $500,000 PER MONTH *

The priciest apartment in New York was rented for the entire month of December 2014 for half a million Dollars. The apartment encompasses the entire 39th floor of the Pierre, a luxury hotel overlooking Central Park on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. From that location, at that height, the apartment with its 360 degree venue provides a view of the upper bay toward the south, the George Washington Bridge plus the reservoir in the west, and the better part of Brooklyn facing east. 

The 4786 square feet of apartment space features six bedrooms, six-and-a-half bathrooms, an ultra-modern kitchen and a generous living area. Further amenities include a chauffeur driven Jaguar at beck and call.  Additional guest suites in the hotel are available for $150,000 a month; with one of them having been added to the December lease of the 39th floor.

Now, who can afford a rental of such magnitude; who could be so rich that they can’t find enough other goodies to spend their money on? The leasing agency has not disclosed the tenants name or citizenship, but has stated that great interest for this property was expressed from parties in European, the British Commonwealth, the Middle East and Russia. Right now the betting is on Russia, where the concentration of wealth has become extreme with only 111 people owning about 20 percent of that country’s capital.  

   There is the general opinion that whoever it was who rented the Pierre Hotel apartment grossly overpaid for the privilege. For comparison we have Robert De Niro renting an entire floor (6,000 square feet) in a tower at 15 Central Park West, also a prime address, for a piddling $125,000 a month. So by paying four times the price for an apartment only three quarters the size of De Niro’s, whoever you are, you got ripped off by your real estate agent.

*Data extracted from two Blogs published by the Washington Post.  

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Never try to keep up with your neighbors. Drag them down to your level. It’s cheaper.  ….. Adapted from Quentin Crisp  


December 2014

COLLEGE DEGREES MOST LIKELY TO RESULT IN UNDERDEPLOYMENT
Given the high cost of a college education, there have been extensive discussions in the press and by commentators regarding the value of a standard BA or BS degree. The question being: Is a potentially higher salary sufficient to compensate for the income lost during four college years plus the cost of attending college, financed either by loans or family?

A recent survey by the salary information firm “PayScale” indicated that of 68,000 working BA/BS graduates who were questioned, over 40% felt underemployed. The term “underemployed" being defined as (1) the pay scale of their position did not justify their education and (2) the job did not put their education and training to work as much as they felt it should. On the following table the range of dissatisfaction ranges for the left column from 62% (top) to 49% (bottom) and for the right column from 31% (bottom) to 23% (top).

Most Under-Employed Degree Holders
Least Under-Employed Degree Holders
Criminal justice
Civil & environmental engineering
Business administration
Aerospace engineering
Health care administration
Computer engineering
General studies
Chemical engineering
Sociology
Law (paralegal)
English language & literature
Physics
Graphic design
Mechanical engineering
Liberal arts
Electrical engineering
Education
Geology
Psychology
Mathematics

Not surprisingly, a bachelor degree in business, English, or psychology will not get you to a very high professional level or pay scale. Persons in these groups require an advanced degree, preferable a PhD, to achieve a reasonable degree of work satisfaction. On the other hand, professionals with engineering and scientific degrees feel among the least underemployed.

An interesting observation noted by PayScale was that the majority of those who considered themselves underemployed were in jobs largely filled by women. Conversely, the jobs in which workers considered themselves least underemployed were mostly held by men.

This writer, a former engineer, would like to offer a personal observation – admittedly based on very limited experience. I noted that during my working days the census in my field was distinctly male oriented, but that in recent years the male/female ratio of freshly hired engineers has been largely even.

Any comments?

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Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent ….. John Maynard Keynes


October 2014

CHOCOLATE AND THE COCOA MARKET

This is a warning to all Chocoholics (and you know who you are): your chocolate addiction will shortly drive you into bankruptcy and eventually into the poorhouse. The price of cocoa beans, the principal ingredients of chocolate, is on the rise and there is no hope for a reversal.

These are the threats to a balanced supply: a rapidly rising demand in Far Eastern countries, severe production problems due to hard to control diseases rampart in both Africa and South America, and frequent local political, social and labor issues. The last item is by far the biggest threat to a steady cocoa supply.

The biggest cocoa producing countries are The Ivory Coast (40% of the word’s production), Ghana and Indonesia (ca. 15% each), plus Nigeria and Brazil (ca. 5% each). The African product is likely to be the most vulnerable to any political disruptions.

The leading cocoa bean importing and processing nations are Holland, the United States and Germany. Consumption is led by Europe, North America, Japan and Singapore – with China moving up fast. The United States consumes about 13% of the word’s cocoa, Germany 9%, France and the UK about 7% each.

Points of interest: the Dutch invented cocoa bean grinding machinery and therefore were the first to produce solid chocolate bars; Daniel Peter, a Swiss candy maker, invented milk chocolate in 1866. Thanks Danny!

No matter what you order at a restaurant, what everybody else orders will look better.
Paulina Borsook


July 2014

THE HISTORY OF THE NEW JERSEY/NEW YORK BORDER*

If you look at a map showing the New York Harbor and the Hudson River you would think that the natural border between the two states facing each other would be a line in the middle the of waterway dividing them. Indeed, original historic documents describe the eastern boundary of New Jersey “as bounded by the main sea and Hudson River”. And based on that assumption, New Jersey claimed that its borders included all islands west of this mid-river dividing line. Not so, insisted New York. They stated that the meaning of the original documents was that New Jersey ended at the edge, not in the middle, of the Hudson River and continues in this fashion along the shoreline below that.

After a lengthy and contentious dispute the two states finally came to an agreement in 1833 which involved giving New York all land above the waterline up to the mainland, and New Jersey all land below the water line up to the river midpoint. Huh? This left New York with all harbor islands, including Staten Island, but permitted New Jersey to build docks which were supported on the river bottom below the waterline. And thus, what New Jersey got out of the deal was its own harbor facilities and with it a portion of the lucrative overseas trade passing through the greater New York harbor.

But this was not the end of the story. The surge of immigrants to the United States in the late 19th century which then largely passed through New York, forced the city to pick an enlarged site where new arrivals could be processed. Ellis Island, based on the 1833 agreement now under New York jurisdiction, was selected for this purpose. However, the Island was too small for its designated function and required landfill to accommodate the necessary buildings.

After the Second World War the island was no longer required for processing immigrants, and had now become a popular tourist attraction. “Wow, not so fast” said New Jersey dusting off the 1833 agreement, and accused New York of theft and trespassing on the portion of the island built on fill. In 1998 the US Supreme court agreed and today the official address is: Ellis Island, New York/New Jersey.

* Based on the book “How the States got Their Shapes” by Mark Stein

If the world were a logical place, men on horseback would ride side-saddle
Anon


April 2014

ANSWERS TO RANDOM QUESTIONS YOU DIDN'T ASK

Satisfaction of the Elderly

Since growing old is an irrevocable fate, you may well ask which are the best countries to have lived in before retiring? A recent study by the United Nations Populations Fund looking at the general welfare of people over 65 considered such items as physical safety, access to public transportation, health care, income security, educational opportunities, and acceptance by society as being the criteria for an “enabling environment”.

Surprisingly, they found the United States is a great place to be elderly although we generally underperform other developed nation in such areas as public health and income equality. The Scandinavian countries are tops in the UN survey, followed closely by Germany. But the US actually outperforms Iceland, Japan, Britain and much of Europe. Pakistan, Tanzania and Afghanistan are at the bottom of the list.

To nobody’s surprise rich countries, since they have more money to spend, are generally better for the elderly. Some, like New Zealand and Chile also rate high because of their strong social safety net and low income inequality. Surprisingly, Bolivia is also in this group because it provides universal healthcare for the elderly and supports a universal pension plan. On the other hand, Russia is rated very low for its inability to provide an enabling environment largely because of severe age discrimination that is encountered in that country.

Marriage vs. Education

With the ever increasing cost of a college education the question arises if a degree from an institution of higher learning can really be justified. There is a real concern whether the earning loss during an additional 4 to 6 years in school can make up for any difference in earnings over a lifetime. This probably is true for many of the English, psychology, art science and philosophy BAs which may be difficult for our economy to absorb. It is less of a concern for those graduating with science, financial, engineering, or medical practices degrees.

But no matter which degree, a recent survey published in Bloomberg Businessweek indicates that having a Bachelor Degree is great for staying married. They collected date from men and women born in the US between 1957 and 1964 and found that college graduates, being more mature and financially secure by the time they tie the knot are thus more likely to stay together than their none college educated peers. This is not surprising since they are better educated and were older when they married*; and therefore, less apt to argue over money – a leading predictor of divorce.

* The average age of US college educated couples at marriage is 28 years vs. 24 years for the less educated couples.

PERCENT MARRIAGES INTACT OVER TIME

Years after weddingCollege EducatedHigh school diploma No high school Diploma
295 90 87
588 7974
10796462
15746055

The word “politics” is derived from the word “poly” meaning “many”, and the word “ticks”, meaning “blood sucking parasites”. ….. Larry Hardiman


February 2014

CHINA IS EASING THE ONE-CHILD POLICY AMID AN ELDERLY BOOM

Originally China’s one-child policy was promulgated by the Communist party in 1979 to deal with the difficulty of feeding an ever expanding impoverished population. It was intended to keep family expenses down so parents could raise their standard of living. They also believed that economic development would be impeded within a perpetually impoverished nation. In order to overcome these stated problems a strict family-planning policy was imposed. But what had been overlooked was that even in 1979 the birth rate in most Chinese provinces was already quite low since most couples even then could not afford the burden of a second child.

The basic policy as originally put into effect limited most urban couples to one child, but allowed two children for rural families if their first-born had been a girl or if both parents were themselves an only child. Those who did not qualify for “special” exemption had to pay an exorbitant “social maintenance fee” to keep an “illegal” second child. Strict enforcement of such rules brought about a steep increase in abortions, 13 million in 2008 according to official sources. Because traditionally elderly Chinese parents expect help from their grown sons, this practice resulted that a disproportionate number of female fetuses were being aborted.

With such an artificially skewed gender ratio there were, in 2010, 51 million more men than women in China; this being the result of 120 boys being born for every 100 girls, the highest ratio in the world (see table below). It now became clear that at such a rate there will not be enough brides for as many as one-fifth of today’s boys, thereby heightening the risk of social tensions and the potential of political unrest. There was also the factor that high level political apparatchiks and wealthy citizens could buy their way around the official policy thereby contributing to tensions caused by rising political and financial inequality.

The forced reduction in birthrate coupled with a lengthening life expectancy has resulted in the rapidly aging of China’s population. While today 11% of China’s population is older than 65, the Percentage will rise to 31% in 2050 if the trend is not reversed. Chinese leadership became concerned that a shrinking younger labor pool could not continue to support a rapidly aging population, and that rethinking of the 35 year old one-child policy was required. Thus in 2013 a limited two-child policy was instituted. The new law stipulates that all families, including urban ones, will now be permitted to have two children as long as at least one parent is an only child.

In a related matter, Japan is another country that is experiencing a drastic fractional increase of their older generation. In 1982 the share of the population 65 and above was 9%, in 2012 it reached 24%. In that country the increase is due to a combination of a longer life expectancy (82 years – highest in the world) plus a falling birth rate, or as the Japanese media calls it: the “celibacy syndrome”. Last year the largest producer of diapers in Japan announced that in 2012 they shipped more adult diapers than they did for babies and toddlers.

                                      BOY/GIRL RATIO AT BIRTH IN SELECTED COUNTRIES

103/100 Saudi Arabia, South Africa
104/100 Argentina, Sri Lanka
105/100 Vietnam, US, UK, Turkey, Switzerland, Pakistan, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia,
Iceland, France, Finland, Egypt, Colombia, Canada, Brazil
106/100 Thailand, Sweden, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Poland, Philippines, New Zealand,
Netherlands, Malaysia, Japan, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Australia
107/100 Singapore, Ireland, Greece, Hong Kong
108/100 India
110/100 Korea
120/100 China
      Data assembled by Sam Ro, published by Slate Group, a division of the Washington Post

  Due to their longer life expectancy, the male/female ratio in the US switches in favor of women at about age 65. Beyond 100 years we are talking multiples.

 

The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity ….. Andre Gide


December 2013

NUCLEAR POWER IS DEAD. LONG LIVE NUCLEAR POWER

In 2008 Congress authorized 18 billion Dollars in Loan guarantees for nuclear plant construction. This resulted in utilities submitting 24 applications for new nuclear fission* power plants. Their rationale was that the price of coal and natural gas had risen drastically, plus they expected lawmakers to institute carbon cap and trade regulations. Four years later they had been proven wrong on both counts.

As a result of the recent shale oil and gas boom, in conjunction with a reduction of overall energy consumption, it has become impossible for nuclear generating plants using current technology to remain competitive with low cost hydrocarbon fueled and government subsidized “green” energy projects. Nuclear plants need to sell their power at c. 12c/kwhr while gas fueled plants are profitable at 5 to 9 c/kwhr. Also, Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster plus a number of recent minor US reactor mishaps have not helped the nuclear cause either. Only four of the projected 24 reactors are moving forward, and these only because state sanctioned rate increases are essentially subsidizing their construction.

But don’t despair, the concept of commercially viable fusion reactors is slowly making a comeback. Full court press research is progressing at two major US research centers: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore. It is their goal to harness the sun’s power – fusion of atomic hydrogen to form helium atoms – to produce safe**, clean and abundant energy for generating electricity.

The promise of fusion power has been with us for more than 60 years, but two major problems, plasma containment and the development of suitable material for the containment shell, have held back commercialization. Both of these problems seemed to be close to a solution. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see footings for the first fusion power plant installed in our lifetime.

*Splitting fissionable molecules e.g. Uranium 235.
**Fusion reactions produce only minimal gamma (X-ray) radiation.

Otto Frank



September 2013

ABOUT THE TRILLION DOLLAR PLATNIUM COIN

During the 2012 debt ceiling crisis a proposal was floated, with only half tongue in cheek, suggesting that instead of getting congressional approval to issue more bonds the Treasury should simply strike a platinum ONE TRILLIION DOLLAR coin. The idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. According to the 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law the Secretary of the Treasury may mint and issue platinum coins in such quantity and of such variety as the Secretary determines to be appropriate”.

The intent of this sentence, which had been tacked onto the above law, was to help coin collectors who could not afford the c. $2,000 per ounce platinum coin to buy coins of smaller denominations for their collections. Thus the law accidentally gave the Treasury the flexibility to mint coins of unlimited value which, of course, had never been the original intention.

While the concept had a number of notable adherents, most people in government - Congress and the Treasury included - considered issuing a trillion dollar coin nothing more than a power grab by the Administration. The White House concurred and ruled out any such approach as way of circumventing the mandated debt ceiling.

But the concept of striking a trillion dollar coin may not be so far off the wall after all. It is no less crazy than Congress forcing the country onto potential default every year. When the Treasury is selling bonds to cover our current deficit spending it is basically a bookkeeping trick that permits printing currency and paying interest for the national debt. So, why not mint a platinum coin that will achieve the same purpose, and thereby save paying interest on bonds.

Or imagine purchasing the mountain of Chinese electronic goods arriving at US ports every day with a coin that has a picture of the American eagle plus a date on one side, and the words “One Trillion Dollars – In God we Trust” on the other.


June 2013

THE CHINESE ARE COMING

While we are concerned with the huge trade imbalance between the US and China, there has been one bright spot where the flow of money has turned markedly in our favor. Since 2008 the tourism balance of trade has been positive, reaching $4.4 billion in 2011. Since China loosened travel restrictions on its citizens five years ago and the U.S. government speeded up visa applications, the flow of Chinese tourists to the United States has increased drastically, reaching 1.1 million in 2011, up 40% from 2010. The U.S. Commerce Department expects this number to double by 2016.

Most Chinese visitors come assembled in tour groups. Their most popular destination is New York which drew nearly 40% of all Chinese visitors. Los Angeles is a close second. National parks also rate high, the visitors’ comments being that they are “so very natural” as compared to “too commercial “when comparing them to their parks at home.

What the tourist industry in this country has yet to learn is how to provide consistent service to Asian visitors. Large hotels, luxury shops, and well established tourist attractions have learned to be “China ready”. This is not necessarily the case in the heart land where Asian groups are frequently poorly received at sightseeing spots and restaurants. A recent effort has been initiated by the Obama administration to correct these types of problems. The goal is to establish a national marketing campaign which will coordinate a public-private partnership to make traveling in the U.S. more enjoyable for visitors from the Far East.

As reported by one traveling agency dealing exclusively with Chinese tourists: “Deserts in this country are too sweet, but the restrooms are beautiful. They are very clean and they have flush sensors”.

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The fundamental trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell

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Otto Frank



March 2013

LIFE EXPECTANCY

Contrary to popular opinion we are not number one in effective health care. Although the per capita cost of medical expenditure in the United States is almost double that of other “Western” countries, we rate significantly below all of them in terms of life expectancy. According to reports from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, the US is at the very bottom of the 17 countries that were surveyed.

A 2010 TIME magazine article provides the following life expectancy tabulation:

TOPyears
BOTTOMyears
Japan82.1
Angola38.2
Singapore 82.0
Afghanistan 44.4
Australia81.6
Nigeria46.9
Canada81.2
S. Africa49.0
France81.0
Congo54.4
Sweden80.9
Haiti60.8
Israel80.7
Yemen63.0
Italy80.2
Pakistan65.3
Germany79.3

Russia66.0
United Kingdom79.0
India66.1
USA78.1
Bolivia66.9

Preliminary studies seem to indicate possible causes for our poor showing: High obesity rates, the greatest percentage of diabetes, high rate of vehicular fatalities, highest death rate from firearms. Also, ZIP codes seem to make a big difference. Living in the Far-West, the Mid-West or the North-East, will vastly increase longevity; on the other hand, residing in the Deep South (excluding Virginia and Florida) or in the Rust Belt states reduces life expectancy to about 74 years.

Of the top causes of death in the United States, accidents and homicides reign supreme to age 44. After that heart decease and cancer take over as the primary killers, with strokes moving up fast. No surprise there.

FYI: Life Expectancy is defined as the number of years hence at which half of a population of humans born in the same year will still be alive.

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Otto Frank


February 2013

THE INTERNET UNDER ATTACK

First of all, let us define the term Internet:

It is a complex combination of networks which connects millions of computers together globally, whereby any computer can communicate with any other computer as long as they are both connected to the Internet. More than 100 countries are linked to permit the exchange of data, news and opinions. The Internet is not (currently) centrally controlled, but by design it is operated entirely decentralized. Each user can choose which Internet services to use and which local services to make available to the global community*. No entity actually owns the Internet, and no organization controls it in its entirety. Remarkably, this anarchy by design has so far worked exceedingly well.

The Internet has become the dominant communications medium of our time; one that has been used to expose the truth around the world. For millions of people it has become a means to speak freely, to innovate and to shake up existing concepts.

The existing rules governing the internet under U.N. auspices date back to 1988, a much simpler era in the history of telecommunications. Now, with the gigantic increase in messaging and the resulting complexity, many U.N. member states want greater control of the Web and develop their own internet domains rather than utilize the existing U.S. based system.

The goal of nations like Russia, China, Middle Eastern and African countries was for the U.N. to sanction censorship, and in the case of the smaller countries to generate tax revenues by licensing incoming entertainment programs. This clashed with defender nations (the US being in the forefront) which want to maintain the Net’s neutrality.

At an international conference that took place in Dubai last December an attempt was made to update a global telecommunications treaty under the auspices of a U.N. agency, The International Telecommunication Union (ITU). After ten days of discussions the meeting ended with disagreements about ITU regulations of the internet and censorship of the web. A non-binding resolution permitting local control was passed, but since the treaty was not signed by many member countries it is not expected that this will have any short term effects on a prior WCIT (World Conference on International Telecommunication) agreement.

On the long run; however, we can be sure that the Dubai conference was not the end of various nations attempting to both define and control the internet. There are just too many countries, all wanting to dominate the internet (at least within their own borders). There will be more conferences in exotic locations, and in the end those nations vying for increased control will have their way.

*Note: A clarification of a frequent misconception is in order: The term Word-Wide-Web (www) is not synonymous with the ‘Internet’. The “Web” is a way of accessing information that is built on top of the Internet and is just one of the many functions (i.e. Facebook, search engines are others) the internet serves.

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Otto Frank