Crazy cheap solar power plant

“World’s Largest Solar Power Plant Switched On” (Forbes):

The $870 million project was the result of a competitive tender process that will see electricity from the site sold to the Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC) for around 2.4 cents per kWh, a record at the time of the auction and a record for any completed solar project. It was built by the Indian firm Sterling & Wilson with nearly 3000 people working on site during the peak of activity.

Can this be right? These profit-driven folks can recover their $870 million by selling power at 2.4 cents/kWh? That’s more or less free (the average cost in the U.S. to consumers is about 13 cents/kWh, which of course includes distribution).

Most parts of the U.S. are not as sunny as the UAE, but some parts are. Could we build a monster plant like this in Arizona or Nevada and run the power back to the cloudy East Coast? A friend who used to run a mutual fund that invested in this area said, “It would be a no-brainer economically to run a DC high voltage line from wind farms in Oklahoma to New York City. You could shut down every fossil fuel power plant in New York. But the U.S. power grid is fragmented and the people who stand to benefit from that have enough politicians in their pockets to keep it fragmented. So you’ll never see that power line built.”

Vaguely related: This investor considers Jeff Immelt to be the most incompetent executive in recent American business history. “GE actually made windmills so they knew that the price was going to drop below that of coal-fired power plants,” he said. “Yet still, GE bought Alstom, which has been disastrous. Even if the market for fossil fuel plants had held up, GE was locking itself into French labor, which any rational businessperson would seek to avoid. It is fair to say that the folks at Alstom were a lot smarter than anyone at GE.”

For the rest of the world, where they aren’t as plagued by cronyism in power transmission as we are, will it be time to go nuts with electricity (cars, planes, heat pumps, etc.)?

Also, does this mean we don’t have to worry about about climate change and CO2? Who is going to bother burning fossil fuels for any reason if they can get electricity for 2.4 cents/kWh plus reasonable transmission fees? (Aviation? Just turn the electricity into hydrogen and then run your electric motors off a fuel cell!) We were terrified in the 1970s about burying ourselves in nuclear waste. Then it turned out that we couldn’t operate nuclear plants economically, so the amount of waste generated was much smaller than anticipated (we just burned natural gas and dumped out CO2 instead!).

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Why didn’t Jeffrey Epstein move?

My Facebook feed is lit up with posts regarding Jeffrey Epstein. Example:

My current guess: Trump’s tweet was his standard distraction from something awful by starting something even more awful. He may not even have meant to do it by being an obvious racist: just to whip up some boilerplate outrage that his base would love and that journalists would eat up. The question: distraction from what? My guess: Jeffrey Epstein.

One practical question: Why did Mr. Epstein spend any time in New York, Florida, or the U.S. after his 2005-2008 encounters with the criminal justice system?

Wikipedia shows that the age of consent in New York is 17 and in Florida is 18. What is illegal “sex with a child” in these states, however, might be legal (albeit sleazy) in adjacent states such as New Jersey (16) and Georgia (16).

Once he read the news about prominent men (e.g., Bill Cosby) prosecuted and/or convicted for decades-old offenses, why didn’t Epstein get in his Gulfstream and buy into citizenship in a European country that won’t extradite its citizens? France (age of consent: 15) or Germany (age of consent: 14; legal prostitution)?


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Socialism begins at home: Bernie Sanders staff demands $15/hour

Article from Newsweek:

Campaign workers for Bernie Sanders have taken aim at one of the senator’s key policies in his 2020 presidential run — raising the federal minimum wage. According to The Washington Post, some members of Sanders’ campaign team have been lobbying to raise their wages so that they make the $15 hourly rate that the Vermont senator has frequently called for both on the campaign trail and in Washington D.C.


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Transactional sex around Lake Malawi

As someone who shares a home with African cichlids, I clicked on a headline from NPR: “The Dark Secret Of Lake Malawi”. The story, however, turned out not to be about future aquarium pets:

“Sex for fish.”

That unlikely phrase is used in some lakefront communities in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world where men catch the fish and women sell the catch to local customers.

Or if the supply of fish is low because of overfishing, several women may vie for a fisherman’s catch — and transactional sex may be used as a bargaining point.

The writer does not seem to have researched the question of whether commercial sex is more common around this lake compared to other parts of the same countries.


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Flight school lobbies should have a fleet position display

National Flight Centre in Dublin has an interesting functional decor item next to the front desk: two big flat-screen televisions showing the location of the flight school’s fleet (why two? a view of the traffic pattern and then a view of the region). ADS-B is not mandated in Ireland currently so they are doing this with portable GPS trackers that are in a key/notebook bag that students take out to the plane when renting. For a U.S. school in a transponder-required area, however, I think the same thing could be done with software pulling ADS-B data from public sources.

When customers and potential customers come in they can see all of the fun that is happening. For our school it would be planes out on Cape Cod, up in Maine, etc. (Would need to program the software to show the last received position so that the plane does not disappear from the Martha’s Vineyard airport once shut down.)

Readers: What’s the easiest way to build this using ADS-B data? What source?

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Offering U.S. citizenship to those who prove they cannot live without taxpayer assistance

I learned recently that transitioning from Green Card to U.S. citizenship requires paying a $725 fee. However, the fee can be waived if the new American can prove that this would be a hardship to pay, e.g., because the Green Card holder is receiving taxpayer-funded benefits, such as public housing, food stamps, etc. In other words, our government has an official policy of granting citizenship to working-age people who prove that they (a) receive means-tested benefits (“are on welfare”), and (b) can’t scratch up $725.

How does it work in practice? The case I learned about involves a family that won a Green Card via lottery five years ago. After arriving in the U.S., they were entitled to means-tested prices for essentials, i.e., taxpayer-funded housing, taxpayer-funded health care, taxpayer-funded food (SNAP or “food stamps”), etc. On realizing that there was no social stigma to being a divorced woman in the U.S., the wife divorced the husband, explaining that she had never wanted to be married, but had only done it because it was expected in her birth culture. Neither of the parents earned much money so there wasn’t significant divorce litigation. As children don’t yield significant cash compared to public assistance, she and the father were able to agree to a 50/50 schedule. The result for U.S. taxpayers was there were now two households eligible for government-provided housing, health insurance, food stamps, and smartphones. And soon those will be two citizen-led households…

[Note: the typical American newspaper would not describe someone living in a taxpayer funded house, receiving taxpayer-funded health insurance, eating taxpayer-funded food, and calling friends on a taxpayer-funded smartphone to be “on welfare” because the foregoing are all non-cash benefits.]

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Ireland and immigration

The same question of “How do you run a welfare state with open borders?” that Milton Friedman answered with “You can’t” remains a live one in Ireland: “The Irish are losing control of Ireland once again?” is a video that an Irish friend sent me. Gemma O’Doherty, towards the end, asks what the point was of fighting the British colonizers if Ireland ultimately will be primarily occupied by non-Irish. She also points out that one third of “social housing” in Ireland is currently occupied by non-Irish. (Not sure how this can be true since, as in America, there is a long waiting list for a free house (yet folks say that free housing is a basic human right! But if it is actually a right, why is there a waiting list? If it is not a right, why do some people get a free house?)).

Ireland is far more hostile to immigrants and asylum-seekers than the U.S. Voters eliminated birthright citizenship in 2004 with a constitutional amendment. Asylum-seekers are dumped into cramped apartments, forbidden to work, and forgotten about (except by Amnesty International, which criticizes Ireland for this). The Irish with whom I spoke thought this was brutal, but effective. “Nobody is coming here to claim asylum anymore.”

During a May/June trip to Ireland, employers and developers of rental property were the most positive regarding the merits of immigration, praising the work ethic of Eastern Europeans, for example, and noting which neighborhoods in Dublin were now primarily occupied by (rent-paying) Pakistanis.

Folks who were not able to make money as a result of immigration and population growth were less sanguine. They missed the cohesion of a society in which they could find common ground for a conversation with anyone anywhere in the country. A retired police officer sounded unhappy that pedestrian streets now had to be protected from vehicular mass murder, a requirement that he attributed to the decision to allow Muslims to emigrate to Ireland.

The places in Ireland where an immigrant might settle, i.e., the cities with jobs, are jam-packed already. Traffic in Dublin and on the surrounding highways slows to a crawl in mid-afternoon. Commuter trains are standing-room-only during weekday morning and evenings. There is no realistic Chinese-style plan to add a subway system. Here’s the situation close to 9:00 am on a weekday, when people should already be at work:

Housing is not affordable for median-income earners (see “Dublin’s Housing Crisis Reaches a Boiling Point”: “The city’s average rent as of March was up to €1,875 ($2,176) a month. This is a large amount for anyone on the Irish average monthly wage of €3,181 ($3,692) and completely impossible for anyone paid anything close to the minimum hourly wage of €9.25 ($10.74).”) As in the U.S., the government engages in every possible scheme to fight the result of Econ 101 supply and demand curves. Developers of new buildings have to give apartments to central planners for them to allocate. Housing bureaucrats conceive grand plans for “social housing,” never imagining that demand for guaranteed free housing could outstrip supply (as in the U.S., the best way to get hold of a “social housing” unit is to have a child and refrain from working).

It is unclear what it would mean to apply a fashionable American politician’s open borders policy to Ireland. The country is home to roughly 5 million people. If 1 out of every 1,000 people currently living somewhere else decided that it would be nice to move to Ireland, that would be 7.6 million immigrants (from a baseline of 7.6 billion) and the country would no longer be “Irish”.

The debate is pretty much the same as in the U.S., but with all of the numbers scaled down. People who want to exclude 98 percent of would-be migrants claim the moral high ground by contrast with those who want to exclude 99 percent. Nobody who expresses love and concern for migrants actually wants to allow everyone in, much less shelter any of them in his or her own home. The country’s welfare state offers citizens the ability to refrain from work for an entire lifetime and, indeed, for multiple generations. People don’t want immigrants to come in and use the system as designed, but they have signed high-toned international agreements promising not to discriminate when ladling out the welfare.


  • “Migration in Ireland a huge issue but what we need’s a solution” (IrishCentral), concluding with “As the taoiseach said, the ultimate answer lies in improving the countries migrants are coming from, whether that’s in Africa or South America.” (i.e., Ireland now has to figure out how to make Africa and South America prosperous on a per-capita basis!)
  • “Huge scale of immigration is making our housing crisis worse” (Irish Independent)
  • “In Ireland, Bid to Restore Birthright Citizenship Gains Ground” (nytimes): “The government’s opposition is based on the special relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland, said a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Equality, which has responsibility for immigration matters. Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, its people are legally entitled to both British and Irish citizenship. The Irish government fears that people living illegally in Britain could move to Northern Ireland, give birth to a child there and obtain Irish citizenship for their child after living there for three years. The parents could then use the child’s citizenship to obtain residency anywhere in Ireland or the United Kingdom which, though separate countries, confer extensive mutual residency and travel rights on each other’s citizens.”
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Paternal leave increases income inequality?

Back in June, the NYT suggested that moms will be better off if taxpayers and childless workers suck it up to give more paid time off for “fathers”: “Sweden Finds a Simple Way to Improve New Mothers’ Health. It Involves Fathers.”

(Why the headline cisgender-normative assumption (during Pride Month!) that if the first parent of a child is a “mother” then the second parent will be a “father”?)

But which moms?

The study was done in Sweden (by the same author who found that court-ordered child support payments for the mother reduced fathers’ voluntary contributions to the child (monetary and time-invested) in roughly equal measures, thus leaving children no better off financially (and worse off from a personal contact point of view); the NYT did not consider this previous study to be newsworthy). Compared to any other country, the U.S. has a much higher percentage of children who grow up without a father, so maybe it is worth asking “For those children who actually do have a father, what is our best guess regarding the family income level?”

Asians have a low divorce rate and a higher-than-average income, so “Asian and high income household” would be one guess for characteristics of “kid with father”. On the other hand, Asians are not yet a large percentage of the U.S. population. So “White and higher-than-average income” is an even better guess.

Thus, the NYT proposed extra benefit targeted at women who happen to live with the father of their children turns out to be a benefit primarily for richer whiter women. Thus the newspaper that regularly decries income inequality ends up promoting a policy to increase inequality!

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New York helicopter crash: why not robot intelligence?

Last month, New Yorkers were stunned when a helicopter crashed into a building on a miserable cloudy day. The NTSB report describes the machine as an Agusta A109E, the “Power” edition of the twin-engine helicopter that came standard with an autopilot.

Thus we have a machine with autopilot servos that can manipulate cyclic and collective. The machine came with a glass cockpit so it also should have at least two digital attitude sources (whether the helicopter is pitched up, banked left, etc.). Finally, it almost surely had a GPS receiver and a digital terrain database, which would have included the obstacles of Manhattan.

Media coverage centered on the pilot’s lack of an instrument rating (example: CNN). (In fact, being capable of instrument flight does not help that much unless one is actually planning an IFR flight from airport to airport with established procedures for departure and approach/landing.)

Nobody seems to have asked “If it had autopilot servos, attitude sources, and a GPS, why couldn’t a $10 million helicopter fly itself through the low clouds, away from the buildings, and to the destination? A DJI drone would have been able to do that.”

We expect so much of our phones and so little from our aircraft!

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