American Elephants

The Interesting Relationship Between Online Business and American Retail Business. by The Elephant's Child

It’s pretty clear that online business is playing hob with retail in general. Retailers are hurting as consumers turn to online sources where they can get quick service, particularly from Amazon, and not have to go trailing through a mall to try to find what they need.

A story in the Wall Street Journal today exposes an uncomfortable relationship between the federal government and Amazon. “The U.S. Postal Service delivers Amazon’s boxes well below its own costs. Like an accelerant added to a fire, this subsidy is speeding up the collapse of traditional retailers in the U.S. and providing an unfair advantage for Amazon.”

This arrangement is an underappreciated accident of history. The post office has long had a legal monopoly to deliver first-class mail, or nonurgent letters. The exclusivity comes with a universal-service obligation—to provide for all Americans at uniform price and quality. This communication service helps knit this vast country together, and it’s the why the Postal Service exists.

But people went online too, and first class mail is down some 40% from its peak. I contact many friends by email now, rather than writing a letter, and you probably do too. The post office still visits each mailbox each day, but there’s less traditional mail, so the service has filled its spare capacity by delivering more boxes. But when the post office delivers 10 letters and one box and a passel of junk mail to one mailbox how do they allocate the cost of the postal worker, the truck, and the network and systems that support the postal worker?

In 2007 the Postal Service and its regulator determined that, at a minimum, 5.5% of the agency’s fixed costs must be allocated to packages and similar products. A decade later, around 25% of its revenue comes from packages, but their share of fixed costs has not kept pace. First-class mail effectively subsidizes the national network, and the packages get a free ride. An April analysis from Citigroup estimates that if costs were fairly allocated, on average parcels would cost $1.46 more to deliver. It is as if every Amazon box comes with a dollar or two stapled to the packing slip—a gift card from Uncle Sam.

Amazon is big enough to take full advantage of “postal injection,” and that has tipped the scales in the internet giant’s favor. Select high-volume shippers are able to drop off presorted packages at the local Postal Service depot for “last mile” delivery at cut-rate prices. With high volumes and warehouses near the local depots, Amazon enjoys low rates unavailable to its competitors. My analysis of available data suggests that around two-thirds of Amazon’s domestic deliveries are made by the Postal Service. It’s as if Amazon gets a subsidized space on every mail truck.

I don’t know which stores will be gone in a few years, or if they will survive. Right now, it’s clear that retail is hurting, and some retailers are in trouble. Will our malls survive? The federal government has”had its thumb on the competitive scale for far too long.” They need to stop picking winners and losers. I believe that the country will be better off if online and retail  compete and continue to survive.

I don’t know if the retail problems cover all kinds of goods or just some. Are Home Depot and Best Buy as much affected as say, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney? I need more evidence. Amazon just bought Whole Foods, in anticipation of making a big push for the grocery business, but Amazon is planning to build stores, where everything you select is tallied up automatically on your card as you take it off the shelf. We tried Amazon’s online groceries when too sick to get to the store, and it was prompt and  good service. Someone remarked that they saved money because they weren’t tempted with impulse items online. I prefer to go to the store.

The Government is subsidizing Elon Musk as he has fun with new engineering ideas, but Tesla is running into major problems, and solar is turning out to be a flop, just as his first experiments with this big vacuum tube thing for moving people has had it’s first success in a miniature version. All very interesting, but I don’t understand why he gets government subsidies. One might assume that we got an early lesson with Solyndra.


Wind Turbines Do Have a Use Even When There’s No Wind by The Elephant's Child

I have written many times about the problem with wind turbines is the simple fact that wind does not blow all the time. It is too intermittent to be successful as a source of significant power.  I have learned that wind turbines are useful— even when the wind does not blow. Who knew?

This was a tweet from someone in Germany, but I lost it and cannot find his name. So thank you, I apologize for not adding your name.

Correction: It was a tweet from Damien Ernst in Liege, Belgium, who is a professor at the University of Liege. Wonderful picture, great sense of humor.

Charles Krauthammer: Build the Wall by The Elephant's Child

Charles Krauthammer nails it. As the Center for Immigration Studies says —they are anti illegal immigration and pro immigrant. We have around 4.4 million people who want to immigrate to the United States and become citizens. They are obeying our immigration laws, waiting patiently, and hoping. I see no reason why illegal immigrants of questionable integrity, who are flouting our laws should take precedence over those who are doing it correctly.

President Obama wanted more bodies and believed that illegals would be more reliable Democrat voters. No actual care for the people —he just wanted to win and defeat Republicans. He ordered the Border Patrol to pay no attention and flooded the country with illegals, violent gangs—MS-13—the international criminal gang, diseases we thought were gone, like smallpox, measles, and Mexican drug gangs and traffickers, who are responsible for the current opioid crisis, sex traffickers and criminal activity in general. All that, and he managed to decimate the Progressive party in the course of his efforts. Nice going.

Dr. Krauthammer is correct about Amnesty. Any time you offer amnesty to illegals—it is an open invitation to the next influx who will expect amnesty in their turn. Doesn’t matter if we claim this is the very last time.

CIS has also established that the wall would pay for itself if it prevents a  significant number of illegals. Illegal immigrants cost a lot, whether in police work, Border Patrol and the courts, health care (emergency rooms) or benefits.  Most who are rounded up and given hearings for deportation never show up for the hearings, and just disappear into the population. That all costs a lot. We welcome legal immigrants and wish them well. The Seattle area is home to a lot of high-tech with Microsoft, Amazon, and lots of others, and we have new residents from all over.

The French, Coming Apart. And the Rest of Us Too? by The Elephant's Child

Christopher Caldwell has a fascinating piece at City Journal about “The French, Coming Apart” He writes about Christophe Guilluy who has spent decades in France as a housing consultant in rapidly changing neighborhoods, studying gentrification, social problems, immigration tensions, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and changes in politics and the rise of populist parties.  It is a ground-level look, Caldwell says, at the economic, residential, and democratic consequences of globalization in France.

France’s political system is as polarized as our own, this discussion arises in the midst of a French election which has selected Marine Le Pen described as a far-right nationalist or populist and Emmanuel Macron, a representative of France’s elite who is apt to win decisively, but to represent the status quo which is hugely unpopular. Unsurprisingly, immigration is a major issue. President Hollande’s approval rating is down around 6 percent, Macron represents more of the same, apologizes for French colonialism, and is a fierce defender of France’s open immigration system.

A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them….

Most of France’s small cities, in fact, are in la France périphérique.) Rather, the term measures distance from the functioning parts of the global economy. France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities. But too few such places exist to carry a national economy. When France’s was a national economy, its median workers were well compensated and well protected from illness, age, and other vicissitudes. In a knowledge economy, these workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants.

Guilluy shows that if French people were willing to do the work in the prosperous urban centers, there would be no place for them to live. It’s an interesting look at French societal problem, but also at British and American developments. Caldwell calls it globalization, but I’m not sure that it isn’t something quite different. Working class Frenchmen no longer exist in Paris. Multiculturalism, artificial intelligence, freedom of speech, political correctness, socialism. Some of the same effects led to Britain leaving the European Union.  70% of Frenchmen tell pollsters that there are too many foreigners in France. Jews are leaving at the rate of around 7,000 a year, fearing for their safety.

I remember reading, years ago, that the globalist NGOs saw the future of America as the people crowded together in very large high-rise cities with connecting roadways, and the land returned to wilderness in between. One wondered where the food would come from, among other things. but this piece brought back that memory. The big cities of the country are becoming unaffordable, with tiny houses, and apartments made of shipping containers, to crowd more people in. My own sleepy suburb has become a high-rise city with affordable living apartments developing all over. Reports of tiny spaces renting for outrageous sums in the Bay Area abound.

It is an interesting piece and both disturbing and thought-provoking. If you want to be provoked into pondering just where we are going, I recommend it. Paul Mirengoff at Power Line writes about it as well, but mostly in reference to the French election.

Makes me wonder if in pursuit of “draining the swamp” in Washington D.C. it wouldn’t be a good idea to move some agencies out to cities across the country. It’s getting way too incestuous back there.

Solving the Problem of Good Drinking Water for All by The Elephant's Child

Members of the political left often assume that if they just had complete control, they could fix all the annoyances that bother them so much, fix or at least repair human nature, create great inventions, do away with the political right—one of the truly major annoyances—everyone would be happy and get along. Anyone who is a member of a family knows that assumption to be absurd. Human nature is fixed, immutable, and unchangeable. Governments don’t create great inventions. Great inventions are oftentimes made by accident, and blundered into. One such discovery is graphene.

Andre Geim, a Russian-born scientist at the University of Manchester in Britain, and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for isolating graphene. Dr. Geim wanted thin graphite to study its electrical properties. A doctoral student suggested using cellophane tape.”They used the tape to peel off layers of graphite until they got to a layer so thin it was transparent. Not only did it not fall apart, it was strong, flexible and possessed astonishing electrical properties.”

Back in 2013 when I first wrote about graphene. I didn’t know there was such an occupation such as a materials scientist. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novosetov at Britain’s Manchester University were playing around with scotch tape and a lump of graphite in 2004. That resulted in a shared Nobel prize, knighthood, and a £61m National Graphene Institute.

As of May in 2004, it had resulted in more than 9,000 patent applications. Companies like Apple, Saab, Lockheed Martin, Nokia, BASF SE were interested, for potential uses such as filtering salt from seawater, flexible touch screens, anti-rust coatings, sports equipment like tennis racqets, DNA sequencing devices and distilling vodka. Labs all over the world are hard at work, including the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Research has shown that graphene is better than Kevlar at stopping bullets fired at supersonic speeds.

In 2015, I wrote about a graphene heating system that would dramatically reduce home energy costs from 25 to 75 percent. Now researchers from the University of Manchester have made a breakthrough in desalinization by using the “wonder material graphene.” They have designed a graphene oxide sieve to make seawater potable, and more importantly have tweaked the graphene composite in order to make it commercially scalable. The BBC reports:

[It] has been difficult to produce large quantities of single-layer graphene using existing methods, such as chemical vapour deposition (CVD). Current production routes are also quite costly.

On the other hand, said [Dr Rahul Nair], “graphene oxide can be produced by simple oxidation in the lab…In terms of scalability and the cost of the material, graphene oxide has a potential advantage over single-layered graphene.”

Though the material is only 13 years old, its potential for applications has surged dramatically ranging from better information and energy storage to faster transistors to more efficient lasers.

 Companies have worked to include graphene into the design of objects as small as a computer chip to as large as an airplane wing. It has been called the most flexible, most conductive, and strongest material in the world, and we’re just getting started on deploying it into manufacturing processes.

Part of the hold-up on this graphene boom has to do with how expensive and time consuming it is to manufacture. That’s where these graphene oxides come in, the production of which is evidently much simpler. The latest breakthrough involves using these graphene oxides to help ensure future water security, but there’s a lot more to be excited about when it comes to this miracle material.


The Oroville Dam Drama, Explained In Full by The Elephant's Child


The pictures of the Oroville Dam spillway and the power of the vast rush of water are both beautiful and frightening. It seemed sure that the dam would collapse. So many people were evacuated. Climate scientist Dr. Roy Spencer had very thorough coverage at his website: . Lots of pictures, diagrams, charts to show the watershed of the dam,  the damage to the spillway, the history, everything the armchair geologist might want to know and more. A little raw nature is a nice relief after all the raw emotion on the streets.

Why is America So Rich? by The Elephant's Child

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