Positive Sum Transactions

A goofy text-book diagram prompted a great comment on reddit today that I thought was worth sharing – Summary is that economic freedom maximizes choice and wealth, but stated much more eloquently:

The deeper underlying point is that when people engage in voluntary exchanges, the transaction is positive sum.

Note that most people—including a huge number, if not the majority of people on Reddit—don’t actually know this. They believe that trade is a zero sum game: i.e., in order for one to gain, another must lose. That is why many people believe that getting rich is ipso facto objectionable because it means taking more of the pie or the total amount of money for yourself. Gaining wealth is to the detriment of others, because less is left over for everyone else.

On the contrary, the point of recognizing exchanges as being value creating (positive sum) is that when people voluntarily trade, you actually grow the size of the pie, because you are producing value on both sides.

There are a ton of other political philosophical implications here, too. I won’t go into them in depth, but this motivated a lot of the philosophical underpinnings of the world we have today. The original defences of classical liberalism were all based on this proto-utilitarian observation: that free exchange, free trade and voluntarism (as opposed to coerced or forced exchanges, as governments impose) actually maximize people’s preferences, value, and thus wealth and well-being. (Source: Redditor LeeHyori)

The image for this post is the one that prompted the above comment and reddit thread. You can find it on Imgur, and here is the complete Reddit thread: “What a $250 textbook can teach you.

It Came From Kijiji: 2002 Honda Insight Hybrid, the Cheap, Reliable 70+ MPG Hybrid

So – I watch Kijiji for interesting cars. I’m a total junkie for oddball vehicles, particularly Japanese ones from the nineties. Lots of kids of my cohort had a red Testarossa on their bedroom wall, I had a Nissan 300ZX TT. To give you some more context, after an extensive search, I just bought my perfect vehicle: a 2005 Toyota Echo RS 4-door Hatchback. Suffice it to say, my automotive tastes are eclectic, and Kijiji is a great place in which to indulge them.

Today, I’d like to draw your attention to a 2002 Honda Insight for sale in Victoria, BC. Not a recent Prius-wannabe Insight, but an original ur-Hybrid super-high tech hypermiler’s wet-dream crazy Insight from 2002. These cars are the “original” North American hybrid – aluminum everything, oddball aerodynamics, a 1.0 liter engine backed by electrics, it had all the ingredients of a sales flop and cult favorite. This one looks pretty minty – Victoria is pretty easy on cars. Check it out:

2002 Honda Insight from Victoria BCSource: Kijiji

Did I mention its one weird looking car? Weird, but charming in a very Honda way. And, you get to drive raw technology. Truth be told, I would have written it off as curiosity, were it not for a recent article that I read on my automotive blog of choice, Jalopnik:

How To Own The Cheapest And Most Reliable 70+ MPG Hybrid Ever Made

What if I told you that you could have more than 70 miles per gallon and a manual transmission in a car that looks brand new, with unwavering, rock-solid reliability? (Source: Jalopnik: How To Own The Cheapest And Most Reliable 70+ MPG Hybrid Ever Made)

Yeah – that makes a pretty compelling case for buying one of these cheap, investing a bit in the battery, and then reaping the rewards. And for $4,200, and seemingly well maintained, this one seems to fit the bill – if I hadn’t bought my Echo, I would be looking hard at this. Here’s a screenshot of the listing as it will inevitably disappear from the Kijiji. Till it goes, here’s the link to the listing itself. Someone buy this thing!

2002 Honda Insight on Kijiji

Then again, gas prices have cratered, so maybe we should all do our part for Alberta and buy Challenger Hellcats instead:

Dodge Challenger Hellcat Burnout

Source: YouTube

 

 

 

Mertvaya Ruka – the Soviet “Dead Hand” Doomsday Machine

A robotic finger, forged in cold war Soviet furnaces, hovers over the button that can launch the Soviet nuclear arsenal at the West. It is designed for vengeance: if the leadership is all dead and Moscow a glass parking lot, Dead Hand will take their revenge and launch everything.  Dead Hand first came online in 1985 – but may function to this day.

Excuse the melodramatic intro – doomsday machines always bring it out in me. In all seriousness, Dead Hand – the Soviet Nuclear Doomsday Machine – is a real thing, that was designed to launch the Soviet nuclear arsenal if everyone that could do so had been killed (presumably by a US nuclear strike). On one hand, its a vengeance machine; on the other hand, its a further deterrent – i.e.: “whatever strike you launch, however thorough, we will strike back, and you will burn.” The status of Dead Hand today is – at best – ambiguous.

Soviet Dead Hand Machine

 

Source: Blastr

Dead Hand, or “Mertvaya Ruka” in Russian, was first reported in the west by the New York Times in 1993 – New York Times: Russia has ‘Doomsday’ Machine, US Expert Says.

Russia has a computerized system that can automatically fire its nuclear arsenal in wartime if military commanders are dead or unable to direct the battle… The Russians call it the “dead hand,” according to the expert. (Source: New York Times: Russia has ‘Doomsday’ Machine, US Expert Says.)

Robert Gates, who went on to become Secretary of Defence from 2006 – 2011, was at the time the Director of the CIA, and was quoted in the NYT story:

Robert M. Gates, Director of Central Intelligence, said the dead hand was conceivable in light of other recent surprises about Russia and its military machinery… Mr. Gates added that the United States should ask Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin if the system still exists, since if it does, “it’s terribly uncivilized.”  (Source: New York Times: Russia has ‘Doomsday’ Machine, US Expert Says.)

“Terribly uncivilized” – a kinder, gentler age indeed.

Wired Magazine bought Dead Hand back to the world’s attention in 2009, with an interview with a former Soviet colonel (Wired: Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine) that shed further light on the intent and operation of the system:

It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched…

… if the line to the General Staff went dead, then Perimeter would infer that apocalypse had arrived. It would immediately transfer launch authority to whoever was manning the system at that moment deep inside a protected bunker—bypassing layers and layers of normal command authority.

Once initiated, the counterattack would be controlled by so-called command missiles… these missiles would launch first and then radio down coded orders to whatever Soviet weapons had survived the first strike. Soaring over the smoldering, radioactive ruins of the motherland, and with all ground communications destroyed, the command missiles would lead the destruction of the US. (Source: Wired: Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine)

Soviet Dead Hand - 2

 

Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Russia/Sovwarhead.html

NPR got in on the action (NPR: ‘Dead Hand’ Re-Examines The Cold War Arms Race), with speculation in an October 2009 interview that the the Dead Hand was in fact alive and well:

GROSS: Are you saying this system is still plugged in?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Terry, we don’t really know if there’s still a switch in the Kremlin. But that aside, I think the command rockets, the bunker, the entire perimeter system is still there and waiting. And I think the command system part of it is still functioning. (Source: NPR: ‘Dead Hand’ Re-Examines The Cold War Arms Race)

Back in 2009, the thought of conflict with Russia seemed distant. This past year’s uprising and subsequent Russian incursion in the Ukraine, however, combined with new tension in Russia from the collapse of Russia’s oil-dependent economy, raises the specter of an unpredictable, desperate Russia, backed into a corner, and under the command of a single, volatile individual.

This tense situation lead Business Insider to posit that “Russia May Still Have An Automated Nuclear Launch System Aimed Across The Northern Hemisphere:”

“We’ve since asked the Russians if it’s still on,” Nichols writes at The National Interest, “and they’ve assured us, with complete confidence, that we should mind our own business.” (Source: Business Insider: Russia May Still Have An Automated Nuclear Launch System Aimed Across The Northern Hemisphere)

From the last line of the 2009 Wired Article:

It might not actually be a button, he then explains. It could now be some kind of a key or other secure form of switch. He’s not absolutely sure. After all, he says, Dead Hand is continuously being upgraded. (Source: Wired: Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine)

On that chilling note — goodnight!

 

 

 

 

Chevrolet Bolt to Try and Steal the Electric Crown from Tesla

Awesome! Great to see some spirited competition in the electric space, rock bottom gas prices be damned.

From the Wall Street Journal:

General Motors Co. plans to launch a $30,000 electric vehicle called the Chevrolet Bolt that would be capable of driving 200 miles on a charge by 2017, according to people familiar with the strategy, a move to gain ground on Tesla Motors Inc. (Source: Wall Street Journal: GM Readies Electric Rival to Tesla)

From Jalopnik:

The all-electric Bolt will be positioned against Tesla, specifically their Model 3 entry-level luxury sedan, expected to be priced around $35,000.

But besides simply competing with a potent newcomer, as the Journal notes the Bolt represents an unusually big risk for the often-conservative GM. Demand has been weak for electric cars lately thanks to cheap gas, but the company also has to deal with regulations in Europe and Asia that penalize automakers for relying too much on trucks and SUVs — two GM traditional strong points. (Source: Jalopnik: The Chevrolet Bolt Will Be A 200-Mile Electric Tesla Fighter For $30,000)

 

Obama Proposes Free Community College

The White House announced today that it would share details of a plan tomorrow to cover three-quarters of the expense of up to two years of community college for “some” students that demonstrate good academic performance, and steady progress towards a degree. Read more at the New York Times: Obama Proposes Free College Education for Some Students.

States must choose to participate, and would be responsible for making up the remaining quarter of tuition. Its unclear what kind of support would be required from congress to make this happen.

Update: Here’s the page from White House proper: The White House Blog:  
The President Proposes to Make Community College Free for Responsible Students for 2 Years.

“What community colleges have to do: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that are either 1) academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities, or 2) occupational training programs with high graduation rates and lead to in-demand degrees and certificates. Community colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.” Source: The White House Blog:  The President Proposes to Make Community College Free for Responsible Students for 2 Years.

This reminds me of a post from a year or two ago, in which Oregon had proposed a free tuition scheme that relied on garnishing future earnings. See: “Oregon: Paying it Forward.” At that time, I was supportive of it, however much it might seem like backdoor taxation, or a loan in disguise; anything (rational) that lowers the barriers to education is (I believe) fundamentally in everyone’s best interests.

This proposal is different; it feels like a blunt force “throw money at the problem” response to issue that needs more attention paid to the social / political / cultural / financial forces that have created the need – given the state of the US budget, I have trouble accepting this proposal as rational.

Am I just being a contrarian here? It would certainly lower the barriers; what do you think?

From Reddit:

If this plan is implemented properly it will decrease the numbers of people going to 4 year schools causing tuition to drop tremendously. I like this idea. (Source)

A high school diploma or GED will be essentially worthless, and college will be attended by the vast majority. With the vast majority obtaining a college degree, students will be forced to go to post-secondary school to gain any sort of differentiation from their peers.

While a good idea, I fear this won’t bring forth much change, just an increase in taxes to cover the expanded schooling. (Source)

We need more details, but cool. Sounds like it could be a step in the right direction if done correctly. (Source)

He’s doing it now for political bullshit. If he was serious he should have done it 6 years ago. Now it doesn’t stand a chance getting passed. (Source)

Johnston Atoll: The US Navy’s Giant, Abandoned Artificial Island

Coordinates 16°45′N by 169°31′W are somewhere southwest of Hawaii, in the middle of the deep, empty Pacific. Drop those coordinates into Google Maps, and it looks like you’re nowhere – just blue. But zoom in, and in, and further yet – and from out of the blue emerges what looks like a giant aircraft carrier (or the Avenger’s Helicarrier at rest), but is in fact Johnston Atoll – a largely artificial island, built by the US Navy over 70 years – started in 1934 and abandoned in 2004.

Here it is – zoom on in:

 

Over the course of its life, Johnston Atoll was bird refuge, seaplane base, airbase supporting World War II, part of nuclear testing efforts, a coast guard base, and a chemical weapons storage base (Agent Orange).

The bad news is that the volume of profoundly dangerous activities that took place there have left it a dangerous place. In particular, failed nuclear rocket launches effectively dirty bombed the island:

“The subsequent nuclear weapon launch failures from Johnston Atoll caused serious contamination to the island and surrounding areas with weapons-grade Plutonium and Americium that remains an issue to this day… Large pieces of the plutonium contaminated missile including pieces of the warhead, booster rocket, engine, re-entry vehicle and missile parts fell back on Johnston Island. More wreckage along with plutonium contamination was found on nearby Sand Island.” (Source: Wikipedia)

You can read more about the painful legacy of these nuclear tests here: Jason Stevens – the Forgotten Island of Johnston Atoll.

That’s not to say that everything was doom and gloom on the atoll – for the better part of 70 years, the atoll had a population of several hundred people. It had apartments, roads, beaches, amenities and nicely landscaped grounds:

Johnston Atoll - Grounds

 

Johnston Atoll - Grounds 2

Source: Mark in the Pacific: Aloha from Johnston Atoll

2003 – 2004 saw the destruction of many of the buildings and the abandonment of Johnston Atoll by the Navy. Custodianship was turned over to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and by 2005, most of the structures had been removed.

Today, its largely off limits, though it has served as a rescue base for maritime rescues, and occasionally gets visited by travelling sailors – see Renova’s Adventures: Layover at Johnston Atoll – and the NOAA.

Johnston Atoll - Grounds 3

Source: NOAA: Visit to Johnston Atoll

Lead Image Source: Google Maps

Russia’s Ruined Navy – Explore the Half-Sunken Wrecks in Google Maps – Updated & Expanded!

Note: One of the enduring popular stories on this blog is the original “Russia’s Ruined Navy – Explore the Half-Sunken Wrecks in Google Maps.” Unfortunately, Google went and moved the planet, or something – seriously, every embedded map basically switched to showing some random chunk of tundra or open ocean instead of the rusting hulks I’d painstaking tracked down. Anyway, the original post now points here, and below you’ll find revised and updated Google Maps imagery of the Murmansk area, as well as photos where available, of the haunting rusting hulks that litter the area.

From the original post:

“The backstory is simply that when the USSR fell apart, much of its vaunted military machine was sold, scuttled, mothballed, or otherwise abandoned, as military budgets and control shriveled away.”

And, check out “Murmansk Military Objects” on English Russia for more.

One other thing to note: Since the last time I did a detailed look around the area, it looks like has been cleaned up, or is underway – definitely a good thing. That being said, there’s still lots of very interesting stuff littering the area.

So – onto the exploration. Each of the pictures below is a screenshot from Google Maps, if you click the picture, it will take you to the map itself. I ended up doing this because Google Maps Embeds now apparently don’t work particularly well – I couldn’t get them to link to specific locations consistently, and of course, all of the embeds from the original got broken by Google too, so that doesn’t speak well for their long-term longevity.

Here we go! Number one – its huge, and there’s an on-the-ground picture that accompanies it!

Murmansk Deserted Warships Map 1

Source: Google Maps

And – check it out – here’s  a photo from ground level of the beast itself, from Panaramio user Forsail:

Murmansk Warship 1 - Photo

Here’s another one:

Murmansk Deserted Warships Map 2

Source: Google Maps

And another – well on its way down. Hello there!

Murmansk Deserted Warships Map 3

Source: Google Maps

Here’s some in some strikingly blue, clear water a little further north. Looks like a submarine in there too…

Murmansk Deserted Warships Map 4

Source: Google Maps

This last one is interesting – last time I found this in Satellite view, it was a perfect white research vessel, lying on its side. Now it appears to be in the process of being scrapped, or has just disintegrated a lot over the last 3 years.

Murmansk Deserted Warships Map 5

Source: Google Maps

There’s some great photography out there too, of things that I wasn’t able to find in Google Maps anymore – perhaps these have been cleaned up, or claimed for scrap value? Or maybe they’re just under ice – some of the GMaps imagery is now winter season, or under cloud. Anyway – check this out – click the photo for more:

Sunken Submarines 1

Source: Urban Ghosts Media – Forgotten Soviet Submarine Graveyard on the Kola Peninsula

 

Moscow’s Empty City – Potemkin Wall Street

For those who are fans of abandoned spaces (like myself), the City of Moscow, modeled after the City of London, is a new opportunity to feast on abandoned spaces, or rather empty ones – a place needs to have been inhabited and the deserted to be abandoned, and very few people have lived or worked in Moscow City.

Per Louise in your Pocket:

Some background. There’s a super flashy gotham city area of Moscow which goes by the name of Moscow-City. This area was designed to be a super cluster of mega skyscrapers which would stand as an emblem of Moscow’s status as an ‘international financial capital’.

The New York Times has a great article – “In Moscow, a Financial District in Name Only” (reproduced in the Globe and Mail) and a very cool slide show.

Like the City of London, Moscow City was intended to be an architectural tour de force, and home to a world-moving financial industry.

Moscow City: Empty SkyscrapersMoscow City: Empty Skyscrapers, JamesRyan85

What happened, however, is that the architectural tour-de-force was completed – some very cool buildings there – but the financial industry failed to materialize:

Moscow’s skyscraper district… reflects the broader problems in the Russian economy. The country, facing broad-ranging financial sanctions and largely dominated by state-run companies, simply has no need for vast office spaces for stock traders, auditors and bankers.

Vacancy rates in the newly built financial district have become acute. The entire site… had a vacancy rate of 32 per cent at the end of October, [and] is projected to rise above 50 per cent next year when new buildings open. (Globe and Mail)

Instead, Moscow City is now home to enterprising businesses like the High Level Hostel (great reviews!) – an honest to god youth hostel opened 40 stories up one of Europe’s tallest buildings.

High Level Hostel, Moscow
High Level Hostel, Moscow

For a humorous account of a secret sushi restaurant hidden in one of the largely empty towers, read “Cafe 59 – the secret sushi joint in Moscow City Federation Tower:”

“Why I was being escorted? Well first we had to take a special lift into the heart of the tower, for which you require a special card. Then we passed through the offices of Hyatt International and on into a plush marble lobby which I presume will one day be less like an empty movie set and more like an exclusive Doha style 6 star hotel. One day. Another key card and another lift whisks us up 59 floors in what I think was about 20 seconds. Through a black corridor, my coat is taken and finally I came out at a very posh but empty glass-walled restaurant with the massive sprawl of Moscow spread before me as far as the eye could see.” (Louise in Your Pocket)