Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Friday, September 27, 2013

London - Day 15

Friday, 20 September, 2013.

Our very last day in London, and, wouldn't you know it, the dawn broke clear and sunny with low humidity!  This is the kind of weather we were expecting for our trip, and we only got it on the very last (half) day.

Thanks, London!  Bloody hell.

I had pre-arranged with England Transfers to drive us from the flat to Heathrow.  They provide a better, cheaper fare than using the London Black Cabs, and it's much more direct than trying to use the trains.  England Transfers charged 39 GBP each way; a Black Cab would have been at least 75.

I saw many people in the underground struggling with large bags to get up the escalators (or stairs!) and I didn't want to be that couple.  

I walked outside the flat to look for the driver and there he was, parked on the side of the road waiting for me.

We loaded up the bags into his car and it took over an hour to get to Heathrow due to some very heavy traffic.  Heavy traffic at 10:30am on a Friday?  What.  Ever.

The driver was from Sri Lanka and came to London in 1997.  He'd been driving a cab for many years and said he just could not get ahead.  Better than living (or dying) in Sri Lanka due to the civil war there, but he wasn't happy at all.

He told us that tourists can travel to Sri Lanka with no worries, but that he would probably be killed if he tried to return now.  He is a Tamil, a Hindu.

As a tourist, I absolutely will not travel anywhere a civil war is going on, even if they allow tourists and don't bother them.  Tourism generates dollars, and I will not support repressive regimes with my tourist dollars.  So, fuck that.

When we finally got to Heathrow, I could not believe how tight the security was.  We have never experienced anything like it.  

We had to show our passports at least six times to different people at different checkpoints. Getting into London was a breeze.  Getting out took forever.

They pulled one of our carry-on bags aside and searched it, pulling out everything and even going through pockets.  

Turns out the wife had slipped up and put two large bottles of perfume in her carry-on, which is a no-no.  

Our flight took off on time and was pretty smooth until we got close to Houston and we hit a lot of turbulence.  Not the worst turbulence we've ever experienced, but bad enough to make you a little dizzy.  And a little nervous.

We made it through Customs in Houston easily and found our driver (Super Shuttle) with our name on his sign.  As soon as we stepped outside the terminal, BOOM, we got hit with a load of muggy, heavy air.  Ah, back in Houston.

It was raining like hell.

This driver was an atheist, so we had a nice chat en route to the house, slamming Joel Osteen and other fakirs.

He made a funny comment to the effect that every one of Osteen's books was exactly like the others.  They just change the title and the cover.

give up hope all ye who enter

We finally walked through the door of our wonderful, spacious home around 7:30pm. With all of America's warts and religious fundamentalists and charlatans, I'm still quite proud and lucky to be an American citizen.    

No matter how much fun you might have on vacation, it's always nice to get home again.

In a future post, I will publish some reflections on our London adventure.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

London - Day 14

Thursday, 19 September, 2013.

Broken record:  we wake to cloudy, rainy, windy and cold weather.  And September was supposed to be mild and sunny.  

The wife cooked breakfast in the flat for the last or next-to-last time and promptly shattered the French Press "coffee maker" supplied by the flat.  I looked all over the net and could not find one store that sold them anywhere near us.  Oh well, tell the owners and take our lumps.

Today is the second play on our vacation agenda: War Horse, at the New London Theatre.

Caught the Jubilee Line west to the Picadilly Line east and exited at the Holborn station into a driving rain and a million people.  This rain and mass of humanity is frankly getting old. It's a good thing we fly back to the states on Friday because we're getting burnt out.

The play, War Horse, was fantastic.

I was a little skeptical as to how they could pull off a puppet-horse in the play, but they had every detail down, to the twitching of the horse's ears to swishing of the tail to pawing of the ground with the hooves.  You quickly forgot that there were actually three people inside the horse costume.

If you have not seen the play or the movie, you should.  By the end of the play, I had tears streaming down my face, as did my wife and countless other patrons.

I wonder what that looked like:  as the actors were taking bows at the end of the show, to look out at the crowd and see practically everyone with tears running down their faces?

It's good to "feel."

When we got out of the matinee, guess what? It was still raining.

We caught trains back to the flat, deciding to blow off trying to ride the London Eye in the rain and wind.  Maybe next trip, if there is a next trip to London, which is rather doubtful.

After a short rest at the flat, we caught a bus up to the O2 arena and had dinner at the Wagamama next door.  Then back south and one last nights sleep in the Greenwich flat.

To borrow a phrase, London is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here.

Krugman - Freedom

And here is another good one from Paul Krugman.  He talks pretty plainly in this one.  

I can't help but wonder about these Republicans, these supposed "Christian" Republicans, who seem to just want to slash and burn programs for the less-privileged.

What kind of "Christian" is that, exactly?  Shit, I'm an atheist, and I have a greater urge to help the poor than these Christians do.  Fancy that. Maybe it's because I'm a Democrat.

Free to be Hungry
by Paul Krugman

The word “freedom” looms large in modern conservative rhetoric. Lobbying groups are given names like FreedomWorks; health reform is denounced not just for its cost but as an assault on, yes, freedom. Oh, and remember when we were supposed to refer to pommes frites as “freedom fries”?
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman
The right’s definition of freedom, however, isn’t one that, say, F.D.R. would recognize. In particular, the third of his famous Four Freedoms — freedom from want — seems to have been turned on its head. Conservatives seem, in particular, to believe that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.
Hence the war on food stamps, which House Republicans have just voted to cut sharply even while voting to increase farm subsidies.
In a way, you can see why the food stamp program — or, to use its proper name, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — has become a target. Conservatives are deeply committed to the view that the size of government has exploded under President Obama but face the awkward fact that public employment is down sharply, while overall spending has been falling fast as a share of G.D.P. SNAP, however, really has grown a lot, with enrollment rising from 26 million Americans in 2007to almost 48 million now.
Conservatives look at this and see what, to their great disappointment, they can’t find elsewhere in the data: runaway, explosive growth in a government program. The rest of us, however, see a safety-net program doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: help more people in a time of widespread economic distress.
The recent growth of SNAP has indeed been unusual, but then so have the times, in the worst possible way. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was the worst slump since the Great Depression, and the recovery that followed has been very weak. Multiple careful economic studies have shown that the economic downturn explains the great bulk of the increase in food stamp use. And while the economic news has been generally bad, one piece of good news is that food stamps have at least mitigated the hardship, keeping millions of Americans out of poverty.
Nor is that the program’s only benefit. The evidence is now overwhelming that spending cuts in a depressed economy deepen the slump, yet government spending has been falling anyway. SNAP, however, is one program that has been expanding, and as such it has indirectly helped save hundreds of thousands of jobs.
But, say the usual suspects, the recession ended in 2009. Why hasn’t recovery brought the SNAP rolls down? The answer is, while the recession did indeed officially end in 2009, what we’ve had since then is a recovery of, by and for a small number of people at the top of the income distribution, with none of the gains trickling down to the less fortunate. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012, but the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. Why should food stamp usage have gone down?
Still, is SNAP in general a good idea? Or is it, as Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, puts it, an example of turning the safety net into “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”
One answer is, some hammock: last year, average food stamp benefits were $4.45 a day. Also, about those “able-bodied people”: almost two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the elderly or the disabled, and most of the rest are adults with children.
Beyond that, however, you might think that ensuring adequate nutrition for children, which is a large part of what SNAP does, actually makes it less, not more likely that those children will be poor and need public assistance when they grow up. And that’s what the evidence shows. The economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach havestudied the impact of the food stamp program in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was gradually rolled out across the country. They found that children who received early assistance grew up, on average, to be healthier and more productive adults than those who didn’t — and they were also, it turns out, less likely to turn to the safety net for help.
SNAP, in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.
Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.

help from the sun

While doing some research on solar power, I ran across this piece on the Shell Oil website.   They are using solar power to boost oil extraction.  Clever.  How about really developing solar so we don't have to extract oil at all?  

(broken record) Or how about hemp?!  We can use hemp oil to make plastics these days!  For less money!!  We can use hemp for fuel, plastics, food, clothing, building materials, just about everything we get from petroleum except for some of the nastiest chemicals. 

A little help from the sun

Shell has supported the development of an innovative method of using solar power to boost oil extraction.

It’s an ingenious way of making the process of extracting oil more efficient. By simply housing extraction equipment in a giant ‘glasshouse’, engineers are able to use clean renewable solar power to help boost oil production from existing fields in a more cost-effective, energy-efficient and sustainable way.

The effort has received support from several sources, including the Shell Technology Ventures programme, and has been installed for commercial use at a Shell project in Oman run with the Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), the country’s largest oil producer.

Over a period of six months this year, it has replaced around 400,000 m³ of gas, saving 800 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Unlocking trapped energy
Traditionally, natural gas is burned to generate steam for injection into reservoirs. The steam heats thick oil, helping it to flow more freely and boost production, a process known commonly as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Gas, however, is a valuable resource in many oil producing countries, especially in the Gulf states of the Middle East where it is needed to generate power and desalinate water.

One way to reduce natural gas consumption – and also cut CO2 emissions – by as much as 80% in EOR operations is to use solar power to produce steam. The gas saved can then be used where it is needed the most to generate electricity for industrial applications or exported as liquefied natural gas.

But conventional solar thermal technologies can be costly; the rows of mirrors which collect sunlight are made of expensive, heavy steel, and require substantial, concrete structures that anchor them to the ground against strong winds. Dust and debris collect on the mirrors, which makes them less efficient and call for frequent, labour-intensive cleaning.

The ‘glasshouse’ innovation could have a huge impact on EOR operations around the world, especially in sun-soaked Middle Eastern countries.
Shell’s new glasshouse innovation helps to overcome some of these practical draw-backs. Engineers Rod MacGregor and Pete von Behrens first developed the ‘Enclosed Trough’ technology in California after forming a company called GlassPoint.

“My partner, Pete, had the great idea of putting the entire solar field in a glasshouse,” says Rod. “By enclosing the troughs in an agricultural-grade glasshouse, we can use low-weight, low-cost materials to reduce the capital cost of the field by more than half.”

Inside the glass there is no wind and no dust. The troughs are so light that they hang from the glass ceiling, like tomato plants in a greenhouse. While they must still be cleaned, an automated robot cleans the glasshouse roof, reducing operations and maintenance costs and conserving water.

Shell’s vast glasshouse structure in the Omani desert.
Making a vision reality
Independent energy company Berry Petroleum of California recognised the technology’s potential and invited GlassPoint to install a pilot plant at a 100-year-old oil field in California. The plant started up in 2011 and was the world’s first commercial solar EOR project.

This was followed by a second project, 27 times bigger than the first, for Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), the largest oil producer in Oman in which Shell has a 34% interest. The pilot plant started production in December 2012 and was officially commissioned in February 2013. Between February and July it replaced around 400,000 m³ of gas, saving 800 tonnes of CO2 emissions that would otherwise have been emitted from the gas fired steam generators. [i] To date, the project produces 10% more steam than originally expected.

In 2012 Shell Technology Ventures invested in GlassPoint, attracted by the technology’s potential to reduce the cost and carbon footprint of EOR. In return, this gives GlassPoint access to Shell’s expertise and global network of partners in the energy industry.

“When Shell makes an investment in a small company like ours, potential customers take note,” says MacGregor. “Shell’s investment and interest legitimises the technology and helps put our company on the map.”

[i] Based on MMBTU/ton: 2.18. OTSG efficiency: 85%. CO2 (lbs/MMBTU): 117. 1 ton= 2,200lb. Cumulative output of steam up to end of June: 5,600 tons. MMBTU gas replaced: 14,360. CO2 avoided: 760 tons

This story originally appeared on

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

London - Day 13

Wednesday, 18 September, 2013

Cloudy again.  Shocking.  

Had breakfast at the flat and decided to blow off our trip to Charles Darwin's home, Downe House.
stock photo
There is no organized, direct transportation to/from this English Heritage Site, and the trip would entail one train, change to a second train, then change to a bus, then walk the last 15 minutes.  Total trip time around an hour.  And an hour back.  

I could never figure out if we could use our Oyster card all the way or not, so the trip might cost us another 30 GBP or so, just to get there.  It was way beyond Zone 9.

Oh well, add it to the growing list of things we didn't get to do...

Instead, we decided to just hang out around the Thames and walk along the river, sorta the "Bankside Walk" idea from Rick Steve's book. 

 Caught a train to Westminster and popped up to the surface amid a veritable sea of humanity.

I'm sorry, but there are just too many people in London, and most of them act like tourists.  Our next trip is going to be on a tropical island somewhere with an absolute minimum of other people.  

We crossed the Westminster Bridge and walked north along the South Bank of the Thames, past the London Eye. 

stock photo
We wanted to ride the London Eye, but here it was 1pm and it wasn't moving, so I walked into the office and asked what's up?  A worker said she didn't know why it wasn't running, then said they were doing maintenance.

Ok, let me guess.  It's not running because they are doing maintenance.  See?  That wasn't too hard, was it?

Hey, maintenance is a good thing.  Take all the time you need, people.

The South Bank is beautiful.  A really broad promenade with musicians, pop-up restaurants, magicians, dancers, you name it, it's going on.

Amazingly, it wasn't raining.

We hadn't had lunch yet and saw a Wagamama so we popped in.  This place is really great.  They should open up more stores in the US.  

Continued walking east along the Thames and stopped now and then on a bench just for the hell of it.  Gotta do that on vacation now and then.  

We are not Type-A travelers where we have to get up, get out, and see everything possible.  If it happens, it happens.  If it doesn't, well, c'est le vie, or however they say it in Cockney.

The Tate Modern Museum is in this area, so we stopped in to the (free) museum for awhile.  Sometimes, I just don't get the "art."  I have a feeling I am not alone in that.

There is a roof-top restaurant and bar on the 6th floor of the Tate Modern and most guidebooks say it's a great view and decent food, so we went up there to see if we needed reservations for dinner Thursday.

Turns out they close when the museum closes, and the museum closes at 5:30pm each day.  So, "dinner" is not really an option at the restaurant.  I'm sorry, but this seems a little stupid to me, one of the few things that didn't make much sense during our trip to London.

After Tate, we kept walking east along the Thames and the path starts winding along narrow alleyways and inland a bit.  Seems like everywhere you turn in London, there is some historical landmark of some kind.  No exception here.

Eventually, we wound up at the London Bridge underground station and so caught an eastbound Jubilee line train back to North Greenwich.  Packed like sardines.

The wife remembered that there was a GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) inside the O2 Arena, so we went into the O2 to look around and found it for dinner.

The O2 seems only about half full.  There are many 15 restaurants in there, all on the east side of the Arena.  The whole Millenium Dome concept (what the O2 was originally called) just never lived up to expectations.  Kinda sad.  At least it's well-positioned for future growth in the area, if that continues.

Caught a bus back to the flat and ... zzzzz

more solar, less wind

If the U.S. government, and here I mean both the Democrats AND Republicans, would get off their butts and show some independence, we could really plow ahead in developing renewable fuels.  Unfortunately, most of them are deep in the pockets of oil, coal, and nuclear power interests.  

Even so, the spread of solar and wind power is rapidly expanding, in spite of the government.  

There are some pretty exciting developments in the dissemination of power around the globe.

Check out this story on bringing power to Africa.

Did you know that in Africa, more people have mobile phones than electricity?  Sounds a little odd, doesn't it?

And this next one, about how more solar capacity has been installed recently than wind power.  

Solar power to overtake wind for the first time

Solar power capacity is set to overtake wind for the first time this year, as a slowdown in the world’s two largest wind markets, China and the U.S., clear the way for a growing solar market, according to a report released Thursday.

Clean energy news and data provider Bloomberg  New Energy Finance forecast new onshore and offshore wind farms to add 33.8 gigawatts and 1.7 gigawatts, respectively, to global power markets.

That compares with an estimated 36.7 gigawatts of new photovoltaic, or PV, capacity, the first year in which solar power will add more megawatts than wind.

“The dramatic cost reductions in PV, combined with new incentive regimes in Japan and China, are making possible further, strong growth in volumes,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). “Europe is a declining market, because many countries there are rapidly moving away from incentives, but it will continue to see new PV capacity added.”

Falling technology costs, new markets and the growth of the offshore wind farms will ensure wind remains a leading renewable energy technology, it added.

Last year, offshore and onshore wind farms added 46.6 gigawatts to power markets worldwide, compared to 30.5 gigawatts for solar installations.

After years of oversupply and consolidation, wind turbine makers and solar manufacturers may see profits back, BNEF said. Suppliers have cut costs and honed focus on the more profitable markets, and clean energy stocks have rebounded by 66% since their lows of July 2012, it said.

Despite the change in rankings predicted for this year, wind and solar will contribute almost equally to new electricity capacity additions in the next decades, BNEF said.

The provider forecast wind power to expand to 17% of the world’s total power generation capacity by 2030, from 5% in 2012.  Solar will expand to 16% by 2030, from 2% in 2012.

Monday, September 23, 2013

London - Day 12

Tuesday, 17 September, 2013

We wake up to a steady rain.  Again.  

We caught a quick bus (there's a bus stop about 100' from the door of our unit) up to the Greenwich North train station.  It's very modern compared to some of the other stations.  

There has been a rash of suicides in the underground train stations in London.  One sure-fire way to commit suicide is to throw yourself in front of an oncoming train.  

One London resident complained to me that this is a very selfish way to die.  What happens is that when someone throws themselves under a train, they shut down the train line for several hours, inconveniencing all of the other passengers.  Interesting perspective.

The Greenwich North station has extra doors that remain closed at all times to prevent access to the rail bed, and only when a train stops and the trains doors open do the secondary doors open, allowing egress and ingress.

So we caught the Jubilee line west to Baker Street, then changed to the Bakerloo line to Paddington for the wife's 10:30am chiro appointment with her new favorite chiro, Dr. Ashton Vice.  

We were early, so we stopped once again at Bonne Bouche for a bite and some coffee.  When we find something that works, we stick with it.

Today would be the follow-up visit to Dr. Vice, of the London Spine and Joint Clinic.  We sure would like to find a good chiro who practices similar techniques in the US, but we may not be that lucky.  

The doc first uses an industrial-strength vibrator/massager which sends her to the moon.

Then he adjusts her in multiple ways.  

Finally, he ends the treatment with 10 minutes of "e-stim" or electrical stimulation of specific locations.  She's familiar with this and loves it.

I took several pictures of the charts on the doctor's walls so I could study them and perhaps give my wife the same kind of relief that she was getting from him.

We were disappointed that he would not (could not) give us a referral to any chiropractor in Texas that he would recommend.  

He said he just didn't know any, and besides, most chiros in the US were now into all the woo-woo crap that has no scientific basis:  pyramid power, laser/heat treatment, etc. USA!  USA!

When we got out, it was still raining.  We decided to catch a train to Knightsbridge station, which is right next to that iconic department store, Harrods.

Have any of you ever been to Harrods?  What a mess.  This thing is five stories tall and as big as a large city block.  It's a maze.  And it was hot as hell inside there.  I couldn't stand it, so I left and sought out the Starbucks just down the street while the wife did some shopping.

She showed up at the Starbucks only about 20 minutes later, saying she was too overwhelmed by the store, and the heat inside.

It was lunchtime, so we sought out a place to eat, in the driving rain.  Couldn't find the Wagamama which was supposed to be in the area, so instead settled at a sidewalk cafe, any sidewalk cafe, because going inside a couple of them we noticed that they were all blazing hot inside.  WTF?

We wanted to sit outside, even in the rain.  

The weather was so bad we decided to blow off catching a bus to Westminster Abbey and the Churchill War Rooms.  The list of places we were NOT going to see was starting to outnumber the places we DID get to see.  Oh well.

So instead, we caught the Tube back to the flat and took some naps instead.  And, oh boy, I seem to be catching a cold.  Thanks, London! 

The wife cooked up a dinner of pasta and broiled green beans;  quite good.

Good doc visit was the best thing about today.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

London - Day 11

Monday, 16 September, 2013

We slept late, as usual.  Hey, blow me!  We're on vacation!

The wife whipped up a tasty breakfast at new flat in the Greenwich Millenium Village (GMV).  Similar appliances to the other flat, but a lot more room.  Another French Press in this unit.  I guess you can call it a "coffee maker" although it leaves a load of sludge in your coffee cup, which is kinda disgusting. 

It was cloudy again, as usual, with only a smattering of rain, so we walked 15 steps to the nearby Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park.  

It's basically a swamp with a lot of wildlife and several trails.  

At least the Brits practice conservation.  They don't subscribe to the "God won't let us fuck up the planet" attitude prevalent in so many Americans.  

One path in the Ecology Park leads to the Thames Path, which is basically a river walk for miles and miles and miles along the Thames River.  On both sides.  Awesome.

We walked up the Thames Path to the Emirates Air Line sky tram and the O2 arena, which is right next door to the North Greenwich underground Tube station.  Some of the sky was actually blue!

This station also serves as the launch point for several bus lines, and we caught London Bus Route #129 over to Greenwich Village.

It starts raining again, naturally.  We visited the Greenwich Market and strolled along Greenwich Church Street for awhile before stopping in a Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), another restaurant chain which makes some damn good burgers.  Hamburger.  Lamburger.  Buffaloburger.  You name it.  Grass-fed, sustainable.  Those damn Brits.

After lunch we wandered on the Royal Observatory grounds for awhile, in the rain, eventually finding the actual Observatory.   A program called "We Are Aliens!" was playing in the Planetarium, so we bought a couple of tickets.

Wow, another break in the rain.  It's a pretty nice view from the top of the hill at the Observatory.  

One of the features of this Royal Observatory is the Greenwich Mean Time Meridian, where you can stand on either side of the so-called Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere.  That's pretty silly.  It's the actual line of GMT.  By the time we got to here, they were closing down and we didn't want to pay 7 GBP just to straddle the line and then be rushed out.  So I took this picture of other people straddling the line.

Walked back down the hill and caught the 129 bus back to the GMV.

Since the weather was its usual suckiness, we stayed in and had another pizza dinner from the food store next door.   Surprisingly good for 3 GBP.

That's it.  Some walking.  Some shopping.  Some ooo-ing and aahhh-ing.  Some eating.  ZZZzzzzzz........

Krugman - Wonk Gap

Yes, we made it back to the states from our European adventure.   Still working through the finishing touches of the travelogue, which will come out gradually over the next week or so.  Or not.  Can't predict the future with much accuracy, even when forecasting the weather.

The very day we left London - yesterday, in fact - was the clearest, most beautiful day since we'd arrived.  On our last day.  Which was really only a morning and then get to the airport.  Thanks, London!

Here's a column from Paul Krugman that he published on 8 September, the day after we landed in London.  I didn't pay too much attention to politics in the USA while we were over there, but we did get to talk a lot of politics with people over there, and every single one of them thought the Republicans in Congress were acting like babies.

The message in this column bears repeating.  In fact, it makes me want to call up my House Rep, Republican Ted Poe and tell him to cut this shit out.  My guess is that far too many Democrats in red Districts have not bothered to contact their representatives and make their views known.  I know I have not done a very good job of that.   Yet.

I was prepared to attend one or more Town Halls in August, but Ted Poe held only one of them during the entire August recess, with only about a three-day notice on his website, on a Tuesday morning at 8am to a group of Republican women (who presumably don't have to go to work like most of us do).  I'm going to give Poe some shit about that.   And these endless votes to defund Obamacare.  And these juvenile threats to shut down the government if Republicans don't get their way.  And ... the list is growing.

After spending two weeks in England, I'm more glad than ever to be from the United States of America, warts and all.  We are still working to form a "more perfect union."  At least the Democrats are.

The Wonk Gap
by Paul Krugman
published 8 September, 2013

On Saturday, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming delivered the weekly Republican address. He ignored Syria, presumably because his party is deeply conflicted on the issue. (For the record, so am I.) Instead, he demanded repeal of the Affordable Care Act. “The health care law,” he declared, “has proven to be unpopular, unworkable and unaffordable,” and he predicted “sticker shock” in the months ahead.

So, another week, another denunciation of Obamacare. Who cares? But Mr. Barrasso’s remarks were actually interesting, although not in the way he intended. You see, all the recent news on health costs has been good. So Mr. Barrasso is predicting sticker shock precisely when serious fears of such a shock are fading fast. Why would he do that?
Well, one likely answer is that he hasn’t heard any of the good news. Think about it: Who would tell him?
My guess, in other words, was that Mr. Barrasso was inadvertently illustrating the widening “wonk gap” — the G.O.P.’s near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive. Health care is the most prominent example, but the dumbing down extends across the spectrum, from budget issues to national security to poll analysis. Remember, Mitt Romney and much of his party went into Election Day expecting victory.
About health reform: Mr. Barrasso was wrong about everything, even the “unpopular” bit, as I’ll explain in a minute. Mainly, however, he was completely missing the story on affordability.
For the truth is that the good news on costs just keeps coming in. There has been a striking slowdown in overall health costs since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, with many experts giving the law at least partial credit. And we now have a good idea what insurance premiums will be once the law goes fully into effect; a comprehensive survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that on average premiums will be significantly lower than those predicted by the Congressional Budget Office when the law was passed.
But do Republican politicians know any of this? Not if they’re listening to conservative “experts,” who have been offering a steady stream of misinformation. All those claims about sticker shock, for example, come from obviously misleading comparisons. For example, supposed experts compare average insurance rates under the new system, which will cover everyone, with the rates currently paid by a handful of young, healthy people for bare-bones insurance. And they conveniently ignore the subsidies many Americans will receive.
At the same time, in an echo of the Romney camp’s polling fantasies, other conservative “experts” are creating false impressions about public opinion. Just after Kaiser released apoll showing a strong majority — 57 percent — opposed to the idea of defunding health reform, the Heritage Foundation put out a poster claiming that 57 percent of Americans want reform defunded. Did the experts at Heritage simply read the numbers upside down? No, they claimed, they were referring to some other poll. Whatever really happened, the practical effect was to delude the right-wing faithful.
And the point is that episodes like this have become the rule, not the exception, on the right. How many Republicans know, for example, that government employment has declined, not risen, under President Obama? Certainly Senator Rand Paul was incredulous when I pointed this out to him on TV last fall. On the contrary, he insisted, “the size of growth of government is enormous under President Obama” — which was completely untrue but was presumably what his sources had told him, knowing that it was what he wanted to hear.
For that, surely, is what the wonk gap is all about. Political conservatism and serious policy analysis can coexist, and there was a time when they did. Back in the 1980s, after all, health experts at Heritage made a good-faith effort to devise a plan for universal health coverage — and what they came up with was the system now known as Obamacare.
But that was then. Modern conservatism has become a sort of cult, very much given to conspiracy theorizing when confronted with inconvenient facts. Liberal policies were supposed to cause hyperinflation, so low measured inflation must reflect statistical fraud; the threat of climate change implies the need for public action, so global warming must be a gigantic scientific hoax. Oh, and Mitt Romney would have won if only he had been a real conservative.
It’s all kind of funny, in a way. Unfortunately, however, this runaway cult controls the House, which gives it immense destructive power — the power, for example, to wreak havoc on the economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And it’s disturbing to realize that this power rests in the hands of men who, thanks to the wonk gap, quite literally have no idea what they’re doing.