The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Photo ... Weather ...

Old Man Winter finally got around to us here in metro New Jersey. Took him long enough! Because of the big El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean, we’ve had a relatively mild and dry winter. We reached the 3rd week of January without any snow on the ground. But that’s all changed this weekend, as a big nasty nor’easter came rolling up the coast and dumped over a foot of snow on us. Right at the mid-point of winter too (Jan 23-24 is the “meteorological middle” of winter, when the temperature trend tips ever so slightly away from getting colder and starts the long path to spring, getting slightly warmer every day — on average, anyway). The snow and wind decided to decorate my kitchen window, just to remind me that this winter still has plenty of life left in it. But then again, the advance forecast for next weekend is sunny and in the mid-40s. It’s all just part of the ups and downs of the weather, and of life.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Science ...

Ever since June, 2013 I’ve been discussing a possible new kind of fundamental particle that helps make to make up the universe, something that physicists call the “axion”. In a way, I am trying to anticipate the next big break-through in particle physics, something that you could perhaps look at as the next “Higgs particle” in terms of its impact on science and cosmology — and public understanding of all that stuff.

As you recall, the Higgs boson became a ’cause celebre’ in science a few years ago after the Large Hadron Collider in Europe had finally assembled conclusive proof that the little things actually exist. Many scientists had suspected that Higgs actually existed for many years before they were finally discovered (especially by the scientist who the particle was named after, i.e. Peter Higgs). The function by which they are most widely remembered by the public is the capacity to give certain kinds of particle the quality of having mass, i.e. that which causes them to accelerate gradually and resist sudden impulse when subjected to a mechanical force. Mass also allows a particle to be greatly influenced by gravity (although any particle with some sort of energy, be it mass or non-mass energy, will be affected by gravity). But they solve other problems too involving  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ...

Oil prices are currently hitting historic lows; hard to believe that they were above $100 per barrel not so long ago. Now they are struggling to stay at $30. As late as December, 2011, I said in one of my posts that “unfortunately, oil production doesn’t seem to be growing at all anymore”, and I anticipated that oil prices would remain high. I now need to eat my words.

So what’s going on? Oil production definitely has gotten a boost from new technologies that because usable over the past few years, e.g. fracking and super-deep sea drilling. On the demand side, most analysts cite the economic problems in China, i.e. its serious contraction of growth over the past 3 or 4 years. At the same time, the rest of the world in general isn’t doing so well either; world economic growth is expected to remain less than 3% per year. And then add in all of the energy conservation and alternative energy efforts that were started back when oil was above $100 per barrel. Overall world demand for oil is still rising, but not as fast as before, and less than many people had anticipated.

The classic economics 101 explanation for the oil situation is that there is an oversupply in the market, which has allowed oil users to bid down their purchase price. Under that textbook scenario, the producers will soon stop producing and offering so much oil to users, and the users will then have to start bidding more to get what they need. I.e., prices will rise once again, back to the lowest marginal cost of producing a new barrel of oil under present conditions (which is certainly above $30 at current usage levels, although that cost is much lower than it once was due to technology innovations such as fracking).

That’s the theory. But what appears to really be happening is  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:00 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Nature ... Photo ... Weather ...

On the weather front, it’s an El Nino winter. Up here in eastern New Jersey, we’re definitely feeling it. Which is nice for us (not so nice in other places of the world, where needed rainfall is lacking or too much rain comes down), because the warm air coming up from the Pacific equatorial region (where El Nino mainly does its thing) has delayed the onset of cold and snow. The past two winters here were quite cold and snowy, and the temporary reprieve (only temporary, as we will soon get some true cold spells and a handful of snow storms) is definitely appreciated. By me, anyway; there are some “snow people” who have been upset about this, such as “Weather Willy” (who keeps a very good weather blog, despite his bias towards wintery weather).

Aside from a handful of upset winter-weather fans, the El Nino has also caused some consternation in the natural world. We had a relatively cool and normal November, so the 50 and 60 degree temps in mid-December confused a lot of trees and plants. Just a few blocks from my house are these fruit trees, which took the bait. These photos were taken last Saturday, the day after New Years Day. A few days later it was down in the teens and twenties, and the little taste of “way too early spring” was over.

We might still get a handful of temperate afternoons with temps in the lower 40s, but for the most part, the party is over. It’s time to get on with winter.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:58 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, January 4, 2016
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Damon Linker recently wrote a great article about the whole Trump phenomenon, an article that is both reassuring and scary. Linker repeats the growing wisdom that Trump’s support comes mainly from the down and out working-class white population. As I noted in my previous post on Trump (Time to Take the Donald Seriously?), a growing number of writers are taking the time to think this whole Trump thing through, given that it doesn’t seem to be fading quite as quickly as was expected. As Linker points out, there is a growing consensus that non-professional / non-college whites are the intended target of Trump’s message, and that they have been buying it in bulk.

So, it turns out that Trump is indeed a “populist”, a politician who speaks directly to the problems of an unhappy population and promises direct relief for each malady. But here’s the rub — if Trump’s working class whites only wanted better economic circumstances, Bernie Sanders should be their man. Sanders is making all sorts of promises (which I doubt that he could actually keep)(not in the long run anyway) to improve the lot of those who have been excluded from the dynamic growth of the American economy over the past decade or two. Sanders is willing to address the travesty of an America growing richer and richer and yet sharing its riches with fewer and fewer each year, promising to us whatever means seem necessary. Mostly those means would be a highly interventionist, quasi-socialist government.

Personally, I don’t think that a socialist political economy would be good for us in the long run. But certainly in the short run, a Sanders administration would manage to take from the rich and give to the not-so-rich. You would think that might be attractive to non-professional whites struggling to get by on  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:57 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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