Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Plan, A Stand and A Problem

The President has vetoed the Congress's spending bill which included troop withdrawl provision. The plan, give troops the funding that they need until they can be brought home. The stand, sending that plan to the President. The problem, the President has decided to not fund the troops and to not bring them home.

Regardless of political beliefs, a few things cannot be denied. Aside from simply cutting funding for the troops, this was the strongest move that the Democrats could make to precipitate a troop withdrawl. As the current administration has shown however, aside from cutting funding, there will be no troop withdrawl anytime in the near future. However, at the same time, the White House has effectively done just that, cut the funding for the troops.

What happens now?

The Democrats have three options. First, they could sit down with the Administration and try to come to an agreement on a troop withdrawl strategy. This would probably be the best option, however, I don't see this happening. The sides will probably sit down, but the Administration will not budge. The Administration does not want to leave Iraq on their watch. It is in the Administration's interest to maintain troops in Iraq until the next president takes over, then Iraq will be their problem. Second, the Democrats could simply decide not to pass a funding bill. This seems like an unlikely and probably poor option. Aside from how the public and troops may react to such a measure, it would seem unlikely that it would pass in the Senate. Third, the Democrats could modify the spending bill slightly, try to draw more Republican support and send a bill similar to the recently vetoed one to the White House. This probably is not the best option, but boy, it would be fun. Another plan, another stand, and another problem.

Could the White House afford to cut the funding for the troops twice?

Share on Facebook

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Inherent Evils of Socialism

I must have missed a memo along the way, but apparently socialism is inherently evil.

I guess it depends on what your definition of socialism is. Maybe if your definition of socialism is something like:

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

I could see how a belief of socialism as being inherently evil could be formed if this were the definition. However, this is not the definition of socialism, this is the definition of terrorism, whereas modern socialism, or the advocating of more equality for the good of all people, seems quite different. I have a difficult time understanding how something like terrorism and something like socialism could both be grouped into the category of inherently evil.

Traditionally, Christians had a class of things they considered inherently evil, the "Seven Deadly Sins," consisting of extravagance/lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Do these "sins" fall in line with socialist values? Are these socialist goals? Or, do these seem more inline with Capitalist realities? Based on these "sins," which ideology is really more inherently evil?

Maybe socialism is inherently evil. If trying to obtain equality is inherently evil, I guess the real problem then lies in the fact that, given the opportunity, the majority of people will make sacrafices in order to achieve equality. A recent University of California - San Diego study looked at past research which

Demonstrated that people are willing to incur costs to punish and reward others, especially in scenarios where every player's contribution to a common pool results in greater benefits for all. But in those cases it is hard to tell whether the actions are motivated by egalitarian preferences for similar income levels or a desire to enforce norms and encourage group cooperation.

So, to determine whether peopel were motivated by egalitarian preferences, the scientists removed self-interest and group cooperation as factors and found that

Material egalitarianism is more than just a long-held ideal of utopian philosophers and political theorists... (because) people still, at a cost to themselves, gave money to the poorest players and took it away from the richest... Subjects who had received more than the group average were penalized most frequently and most heavily, at a rate of about three-quarters of a unit for each unit above the average. In contrast, those that started out with considerably less than the others got sizeable gifts, at rate of about eight-tenths of a unit for each unit below the average. The pattern of behaviors had the effect of equalizing income. - Science Daily

If this is the case, then I gues we all must be inherently evil socialists.

Share on Facebook

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Make May 15th National Ride the Bus Day

There is a movement afoot to not buy gas on May 15th. Conservatives are arguing that if people choose to not buy gasoline on May 15th it will actually raise gas prices on May 16th. I fail to see the correlation.

Gas prices, like other items in the economy are priced based on supply and demand. Some basic economic principals are important to remember. As supply goes up, price goes down. As demand goes up price goes up. If supply goes down, price goes up. And as demand goes down, price goes down. When supply and demand meet, the market is in equilibrium.

So what happens if on one particular day people do not buy gas? On that day, demand will go down and supply will go up, which theoretically, if the trend continued, would actually lower the price of gas. Alright, but what happens on subsequent days when all the people who don’t buy gas on May 15th go to the pumps? There will be more supply, because people did not buy gas on May 15th, and there will be more demand, because people who did not buy gas on May 15th potentially will need to buy gas on May 16th. Won't this then cause the price of gas to go up on May 16th? No, for two reasons: 1) Gas is not that volatile. One of the primary factors that determine the price of gas are U.S. crude oil inventories, which will effectively be unaffected if people don't buy gas one day and then buy the same amount of gas they would have bought on the following day. 2) Unless people increase their demand above what would be normal for a two day period, the price of gas will not increase. If people buy gas on May 16th and not on May 15th without increasing the amount of gas that they would have consumed during that two day period, the price will not increase. What will happen is that the market will simply go back to equallibrium and there will be a zero net change in gas prices based on consumer activity.

The problem with simply not buying gas on May 15th is that it won't have an effect on the oil company. If people drive on May 15th and simply do not buy gas on May 15th, they will be using the same amount of gas that they would have any way and will have to buy gas that they would have had to buy any way. If people really wanted to affect things they would not drive on May 15th. If people didn't drive on May 15th, that would have an impact. It would decrease demand temporarily, but would permanently increase supply. On May 16th, demand would go back to its pre-May 15th level, but supply would be permanently increased due to the lack of consumption of gasoline on May 15th. What would this do? Going back to the top, as supply increases prices decrease.

I propose that we do this on May 15th, refrain from driving. You want to make an impact, you want to really affect oil and gasoline prices, don't use any. Every modernized country in the world utilizes mass transit, poor people use mass transit, and people who really care about not using oil and gasoline use mass transit. Why not make May 15th your first time.

Share on Facebook

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Kansas: Taking The Yellow Brick Road Back To Reality

The Kansas Board of education, after 7 years of creationist rule, has evolved its thinking (thanks to public outcries and an election) and has instituted real science back into its class rooms. - Reuters

But, when the next school year starts, what evolutionary story will the schools be telling?

The predominant evolutionary view has been that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor, and that human physical develop, speech, language and brainpower have led people to believe ipso facto humans are more evolved than apes. However, recent scientific studies have seemed to suggest something slightly different.

A recent University of Michigan study, by looking at the recently-sequenced macaque monkey genome, was able to determine whether chimpanzees or humans had evolved more or less as compared to the macaque genome and found that "more genes have undergone positive selection in chimpanzee evolution than in human evolution." Meaning, on a genetic level, chimpanzees have evolved more than humans and may explain why certain kinds of primates, such as the rhesus monkey, are immune to simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the primate equivalent of HIV.

Other research done by Cornell University has suggested that human evolution may have resulted in a huge genetic defect, cancer. Human sperm, while developing the ability to live longer, are the main contributor to our suseptability to cancer. The study also suggests that on a genetic level, human and chimpanzee brains are practically the same.

Does this mean that chimpanzees have the ability to think and reflect, or possibly have, as the philosopher John Kavanaugh put it, an awareness of their awareness?

Possibly. A study from Columbia's Primate Cognition Laboratory has demonstrated that monkeys can acquire "the ability to reflect about their thoughts and to assess their performance." The experiment

Was designed to show that a monkey could express its confidence in its answers to multiple-choice questions about its memory based on the amount of imaginary currency it was willing to wager. (The) experiment was derived from the observation that children often make pretend bets to assert that they know the answer to some question... (and) provided clear evidence of their ability to engage in meta-cognition, an ability that is all the more remarkable because monkeys lack language.

The researchers note that "the ability to reflect on one's knowledge has always been thought of as exclusively human." At one point we also thought that the Sun revolved around the Earth, and that the Earth was flat. Maybe it's time to reassess where we think we lie on the evolutionary totem pole?

Share on Facebook

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ethanol Is Not The Answer

Sometimes what seems like a good idea at the time actually turns out to be a pretty bad one in the end. Such is the case with ethanol. Ethanol is not the answer to either global warming or reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Ethanol has huge physical and economic drawbacks, is inefficient, and produces more harmful emissions than gasoline.

A Minnesota study in 2005 revealed that one gallon of ethanol required 4.5 gallons of water, while a new ethanol plant can use up to 1.3 million gallons of water and produce 400,000 gallons of contaminated water every day. This type of pumping has recently shown a negative impact on Greene County, Missouri's aquifer which has dropped 140 feet in some places, and has led to more than half of the 300 well owners in the county to report problems with their wells. - St. Louis Post Dispatch

Currently, ethanol is being made primarily from corn. The U.S. does not produce enough corn to meet the demand, and even if it did, would we really want to rely on it. Current methods for producing ethanol require 450 pounds of corn to produce 25 gallons of ethanol, enough calories to feed one person for an entire year, which has resulted in an 80% increase in corn prices in 2006. Continuing increases in corn prices would obviously result in an increase in the production price of ethanol, but aside from this, it would also result in an increase in virtually every food item consumed in this country. Why? The answer is simple. Corn is found in virtually all food products produced in the U.S. in the form of Corn Syrup. Thus, as the price of corn rises, so does the price every product made from it, which does not bode well for the American consumer. At our current rate of corn consumption, both from food and ethanol, we all better hope that nothing happens to our corn harvests, because if anything did, it would make the Irish Potato Famine look like a walk in the park.

Scientists are working to produce ethanol from substances other than corn and that cost less than corn; however, unless these methods can make production and use of ethanol more efficient, they will do little good. Based on my assessment of information relating to ethanol, ethanol at best is as efficient as gasoline, yet requires much more energy make and produced more greenhouse gases than gasoline to produce (due to the use of farm equipment and processing needs). That being said, ethanol also produces more harmful emissions than gasoline.

Results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage (because) E85 vehicles reduce atmospheric levels of two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, but increase two others—formaldehyde and acetaldehyde (but) E85 significantly increased ozone, a prime ingredient of smog (and) inhaling ozone—even at low levels—can decrease lung capacity, inflame lung tissue, worsen asthma and impair the body's immune system (which would likely) increase the annual number of asthma-related emergency room visits by 770 and the number of respiratory-related hospitalizations by 990. - See Science Daily

So, what should we do?

There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power. These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land—unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which will require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits. - See Science Daily

Share on Facebook