Saturday, September 4, 2021

Social Security & Medicare trustees 2021 report

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget article (link) 

Two graphs show the looming financial crisis for the Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance trust fund and the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund. 

"The Medicare Trustees project the Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund will run out of reserves in only five years, by 2026. Upon insolvency, Medicare Part A spending must be cut by 9 percent, with those cuts growing to 22 percent by 2045."

"The Social Security Trustees, meanwhile, project the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund will deplete its reserves by 2033 and the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund by 2057. The theoretically combined trust funds will exhaust their reserves by 2034 ... Upon insolvency, all beneficiaries will face a 22 percent across-the-board benefit cut, growing to 26 percent by 2095."

The report does not address Medicare Parts B, C, and D. 

The report doesn't say what "insolvency" exactly means. The first quote above strongly suggests it is when the "reserve" is depleted. The "reserve" is an accounting gimmick. It is the result of the fund's dedicated revenues exceeding benefits paid in prior years. The "reserve" is merely IOUs from the U.S. Treasury. The federal government did not save the excesses, but spent them on other government programs. When benefits exceed dedicated revenues after the "reserve" is depleted, the excess will be paid from general revenues (income taxes, etc.) and/or by the federal government incurring more debt (by selling new U.S. Treasury securities).  

The benefit cuts the article describes is based on existing law. Of course, Congress can change the law before then, and Congress could cut benefits by non-uniform percentages. It could cut higher income benefits by greater percentages than lower income benefits.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

60 Minutes - microchips

CBS's 60 Minutes on August 29 had a segment about microchips. Link. It was a repeat from May 2, but I did not see it then. The first guest was the CEO of Intel. Very interesting. He said that only 12% of the world's microchips are made in the USA. Many are made in Asia, with Taiwan making the most microchips for cars. Another guest was the Chairman of the largest chipmaker in Taiwan.

New cars sales declined due to the Covid pandemic. Car makers cut back production. When car sales increased again, car makers weren't prepared for the jump in volume due to lack of microchips. The supply chain for microchips is several months.  

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Aristotle's wheel paradox #4

Wikipedia has a page for Aristotle's Wheel Paradox. I edited it substantially during September-December 2018. The page was very poorly written before then. I added two original solutions, the second and third below. The page has been edited many times since then, but only in minor ways. On August 18, 2021 somebody else edited the page, greatly reducing in size two images I had put on the page and putting them into frames on the right side of the page. Wikipedia allows an editor to preview how his or her edits will affect the page's appearance on the device he or she is using. However, the page's appearance on my smart phone -- and likely most or all other smart phones -- is quite different due to its small screen size. For example, the frames do not appear. Their content still shows, but the article's flow and appearance are worse.  

Most Wikipedia pages can be edited by millions of people whenever they get the urge. So I am hereby preserving part of the article as it existed before August 18 in this blog, where presumably nobody but me can modify it. I will not so preserve the section titled History of the paradox, which I did not edit. The following are the introduction and the Analysis and solutions section, which were written near 100% by me. 


Aristotle's wheel paradox is a paradox or problem appearing in the Ancient Greek work Mechanica traditionally attributed to Aristotle. A wheel can be depicted in two dimensions using two circles. The larger circle is tangent to a horizontal surface (e.g. a road) that it can roll on. The smaller circle has the same center and is rigidly affixed to the larger one. The smaller circle could depict the bead of a tire, a rim the tire is mounted on, an axle, etc. Assume the larger circle rolls without slipping (or skidding) for a full revolution. The distances moved by both circles are the same length, as depicted by the blue and red dashed lines and the distance between the two black vertical lines. The distance for the larger circle equals its circumference, but the distance for the smaller circle is longer than its circumference: a paradox or problem.
The paradox is not limited to a wheel. Other things depicted in two dimensions show the same behavior. A roll of tape does. A typical round bottle or jar rolled on its side does; the smaller circle depicting the mouth or neck of the bottle or jar.

There are a few things that would be depicted with the brown horizontal line in the image tangent to the smaller circle rather than the larger one. Examples are a typical train wheel, which has a flange, or a barbell straddling a bench. In this case the the distances moved by both circles with one revolution would equal the circumference of smaller inner circle. A similar but not identical analysis would apply.

Analysis and solutions

First solution

The paradox is that the smaller inner circle moves 2πR, the circumference of the larger outer circle with radius R, rather than its own circumference. If the inner circle were rolled separately, it would move 2πr, its own circumference with radius r. The inner circle is not separate but rigidly connected to the larger. So 2πr is a red herring. The inner circle's center is relevant, its radius is relevant, but its circumference is not.

Second solution

This solution considers the transition from starting to ending positions. Let Pb be a point on the bigger circle and Ps be a point on the smaller circle, both on the same radius. For convenience, assume they are both directly below the center, analogous to both hands of a clock pointing towards six. Pb travels a cycloid path and Ps a curtate cycloid path as they roll together one revolution.

While each travels 2πR horizontally from start to end, Ps's cycloid path is shorter and more efficient than Pb's. Pb travels farther above and farther below the center's path – the only straight one – than does Ps. The image below shows the circles before and after rolling one revolution. It shows the motions of the center, Pb, and Ps, with Pb and Ps starting and ending at the top of their circles. The green dash line is the center's motion. The blue dash curve shows Pb's motion. The red dash curve shows Ps's motion. Ps's path is clearly shorter than Pb's. The closer Ps is to the center, the shorter, more direct, and closer to the green line its path is.
If Pb and Ps were anywhere else on their respective circles, the curved paths would be the same length. Summarizing, the smaller circle moves horizontally 2πR because any point on the smaller circle travels a shorter, more direct path than any point on the larger circle.

Third solution

This solution only compares the starting and ending positions. The larger circle and the smaller circle have the same center. If said center is moved, both circles move the same distance, which is a necessary property of translation and equals 2πR in the experiment. Also, every other point on both circles has the same position relative to the center before and after rolling one revolution (or any other integer count of revolutions). For a wheel with multiple concentric inner circles, each circle's translation movement is identical because all have the identical center. This further proves the circumference of any inner circle is entirely irrelevant (when the outer, larger circle is the one that rolls on a surface).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Theater of consciousness

In the 17th century Rene Descartes assumed that the pineal gland near the center of the human brain is the "principal seat of the soul." In his book Passions of the Soul, he split man into a body and a soul and emphasized that the soul is joined to the whole body by the small pineal gland through which the spirits in the brain's anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities.” Link1 Link2

The pineal gland played an important role in Descartes’ account because it was involved in sensation, imagination, memory and the causation of bodily movements. The rest of the body was machine-like. However, he said very little about how the soul interacted with the body. In a different book Descartes expressed the view that everything in the mind must be conscious. In other words, there is no subconscious processing.

Descartes’ theory or model is rejected by most modern philosophers. The prevailing theories of mind are “theater models” of consciousness.

Bernard J. Baars’ In the Theater of Consciousness describes the “theater model” of consciousness as follows.

“The brain seems to show a distributed style of functioning, in which the real work is done by millions of specialized systems without detailed instructions from some command center. By analogy, the human body also works cell by cell; unlike an automobile, it has no central engine that does all the work. Each cell is specialized for a particular function according to instructions encoded in its DNA, its history, and chemical influences from other tissue. And the cell is of course the body’s basic unit of organization. In its own way the human brain shows the same distributed style of organization.

“The theater metaphor is useful because a great array of evidence indicates that consciousness creates access to many knowledge sources in the brain. And yet only a fraction of the brain seems to directly support conscious experience. This consciousness network seems to include the sensory areas of the cortex, perhaps some surrounding areas, and a few subcortical structures; together they provide the stage for the unconscious audience in the rest of the brain. Consciousness seems to the publicity organ of the brain. It is a faculty for accessing, disseminating, and exchanging information, and for exercising global coordination and control” (6-7).

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Intuit will withdraw from IRS Free File program

Intuit, maker of TurboTax, will cease participating in the IRS Free File program (CNBC article). People will still be able to file free using TurboTax, since there is a free version of TurboTax outside the IRS's Free File program. CNBC says, "In the last tax season, Intuit delivered 17 million free tax filings, including roughly 3 million through IRS Free File, according to the company." So 14 million returns, about 82% of the 17 million, were filed using TurboTax's free version outside the IRS's Free File program anyway. The 82% is instead 90% for the latest eight tax seasons. 

Neither the CNBC article nor Intuit's blog mention ProPublica's smear campaign conducted between about April 2019 and February 2020. Regardless, I bet the smearing had something to do with Intuit's decision. I wrote several blog posts about the smearing. At least it gave Intuit a lot of bad publicity and spurred a government investigation (link).

The Intuit blog mentions the limitations and restraints of the IRS Free File program, but does not say what they are. Most or all of these limitations and restraints are ones imposed by the IRS. Very likely one is the IRS's no advertising mandate. Another likely one is the "dead-end street" problem within the IRS Free File program. A user can start using one of the free software offerings and later find out he or she does not qualify due to some obscure criteria. In other words, the software leads the user to a "dead-end street,"  and the user has wasted a lot of time. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

USPS pension Ponzi scheme

This Reason magazine article is about the United States Postal Service's pension system. Its pension system has a $50 billion unfunded liability. That's an "accounting term for the gap between what actuaries expect the system to owe current workers and retirees for the rest of their lives and the revenue it's expected to take in from paychecks and investment earnings." 

If a private sector company's pension plan has a severe unfunded liability, the federal government's PBGC will intervene and shut it down. The federal government is not likewise intervening on the USPS pension plan. This shows the federal government's hypocrisy and a double standard. 

The article also refers to the $70 billion unfunded liability of the USPS fund for paying health care expenses for retired workers. There is no PBGC counterpart for private sector plans that pay such expenses. Private sector companies are not required to prefund health care expenses for retired workers mainly because they could, theoretically, eliminate those benefits at any time. If a private company terminates a plan that pays retiree health care benefits, it doesn't make a new gaping hole because the payments it makes are small. Nearly all retirees get most of their health care expenses paid for by Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and Medicare supplement insurance. In other words, there are alternative resources. However, there is no different resource for retiree USPS health care expenses. The federal government still has the funding obligation. The only way the federal government could get rid of its liability for USPS retirees is to stop paying their health care expenses. Rest assured that won't happen.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Nervous system

I post this now because I believe it is relevant to my prior post, What is consciousness for? The sensory or afferent nerves are involved in all awareness. The motor or efferent nerves are involved in all volitional bodily movement -- of legs, arms, hands, fingers, head, jaws, etc. So the nervous system links awareness/consciousness and volitional movement. The article 'What is consciousness for?' also links consciousness and volitional movement, but makes only one brief mention of the nervous system.

Very interesting.