Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Boys vs Girls

Ok, I had a bit of a feminist outbreak this evening at mutual. I tried to ignore it, but I'm afraid that didn't help much.

Here's the thing: every year the scouts have a blue and gold banquet that fills the gym with supportive people, parents, and friends for the boys age 8-13. Every year they ask the young women to provide a nursery for the event.

I'm not all that convinced that scouting is a good program to associate with the Church's YM program to begin with--it seems like a way to ensure an inherent structual inequity between the YM and the YW programs. (That said, if they opened scouts to anyone who actually wanted to participate, boys and girls, and didn't force the kids that didn't want to, then I'd be more willing to consider the possibility. But that's still a complicated relationship with YM/YW.) And that inequity just seemed rather prominent tonight. Here, let's celebrate these young men and put the young women back where they belong, in a small, unventilated room crawling with young children.


The YW program does have an event meant to celebrate the young women and their achievements over the past year--it's called Young Women in Excellence. The past two years we've moved from the gym into the relief society room, partially because it just wasn't worth arguing with the young men wearing scout uniforms who wanted us to finish up so they could play basketball. Even when we did have it in the gym we couldn't fill it the way it was filled tonight. I don't know why; both events celebrate achievements from the past year and provide a program for that recognition.

So tonight, looking at their blue and gold luau, I'm afraid all my apprehensions concerning scouts, YM, and YW came together. If I had a son in scouts, I'd have him join a troop not affiliated with the youth program. Grrr. I

But, now that I'm calmer, I realize that my thoughts may be totally off track. And this distinguished group knows more collectively about scouts and YM than I do. Any thoughts? Am I overreacting? Underreacting? What do you think about scouts and the church? (See, I've been good and haven't even mentioned the problems of said relationship in the context of a world-wide church in an age sensitive to cultural colonialization....) Ok, I'm really done now.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In the News

Ancient Salsa:

Inhabitants of the New World had chili peppers and the makings of taco chips 6,100 years ago…. Upcoming questions on the research agenda -- and this is not a joke -- include: Did they have salsa?
Driver of the year:

A 79-year-old motorist in Sweden who hadn't driven to town in more than 40 years told a court he was stunned to discover that the country had switched from left to right-hand traffic -- in 1967.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Frosty Has a Gold's Gym Membership

It snowed today, and today being a holiday I decided to make a snowman. An anatomically correct snowman (mostly). We've only had the fluffy dry snow all winter, but it finally snowed 4 inches of the heavy wet stuff so I had to take advantage. After looking at him for awhile, I feel kinda jealous...


Humanity Advances

Pirate Toaster for $40.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

My 2 cents on ethanol

Recently Jared asked me about ethanol. I didn't really remember/know much, other than it was a bad idea. Then in my one class we had to write an essay on mutualistic and parasitical relationships in the ecology of enterprises by example. And so, here is what I wrote.

Recently is has become popular to call for “energy independence.” Be it for dislike of pollution, fear of dependency on unstable suppliers, xenophobia/protectionism, or simple rhetoric, the idea of growing our own fuel has some traction recently. Even President Bush has said “Ethanol comes from corn -- and we're pretty good about growing corn here in America; we've got a lot of good corn-growers. Therefore, it makes sense to promote ethanol as an alternative to foreign sources of oil. Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline to produce a clean, efficient fuel.” Subsidies to ethanol producers have increased and mandates for using a gasoline/ethanol blend have been enacted.

Despite the populist appeal, the merits of ethanol and other biofuels tend to be grossly overstated by politicians. The Sierra Club’s head global warming expert, Daniel Becker, said that the process to produce biofuels is so energy intensive that “at the end of the day, you have a product that is no boon for the environment.” Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey stated in a congressional testimony that producing ethanol from corn “takes about seven gallons of oil to produce eight of ethanol.” Furthermore, ethanol based fuel yields lower mileage than regular gasoline. Paul Krugman noted that the Department of Energy said the net savings in replacing a gallon of gas with ethanol is only around a quarter of a gallon. This is “because of the energy used to grow corn, transport it, run ethanol plants, and so on. And these energy inputs come almost entirely from fossil fuels, so it’s not clear ... ethanol does anything to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” This is because ethanol contains around 40 percent less energy than gasoline. Vehicles using E85 (85% ethanol 15% gas) will get approximately one third less miles per gallon.

Besides the higher fuel prices and lower mpg that consumers are legally mandated to face, the increase in ethanol production raises food prices. Besides direct consumption corn is used to feed animals. Hence the shift of corn usage from food to fuel raises the price of meat as well as corn products. Hungry people in places like Egypt who are dependant on American corn are also worsened by the ethanol mandates. The poor in Mexico are hurt by the raising price of tortillas due to the increased price of corn.

The physical environment is also worsened. More land is cleared to grow crops, which lessens natural habitats. More pesticides and water are used. Sugar cane, which is a much superior source of biofuel, can’t be used extensively due to the climate of America. Places like Brazil have achieved success using sugar cane. Importation could happen, but the sugar lobby blocks it because they don’t want the competition.

New York Time columnist Thomas Friedman summed up the sugar situation best: “Thanks to pressure from Midwest farmers and agribusinesses, who want to protect the U.S. corn ethanol industry from competition from Brazilian sugar ethanol, we have imposed a stiff tariff to keep it out. We do this even though Brazilian sugar ethanol provides eight times the energy of the fossil fuel used to make it, while American corn ethanol provides only 1.3 times the energy of the fossil fuel used to make it. We do this even though sugar ethanol reduces greenhouses gases more than corn ethanol. And we do this even though sugar cane ethanol can easily be grown in poor tropical countries in Africa or the Caribbean, and could actually help alleviate their poverty.” Conservative Harvard economist Greg Mankiw noted that Fridman called the nature of affairs “stupid,” and agreed with him.

Yet despite all this ethanol gets a tax break of 51 to 71 cents at the pump and is mandated to be used in fuel. With organizations as diverse as the Sierra Club and the Cato Institute and economists as far apart on the political spectrum as Krugman and Mankiw opposed to a policy, it would be expected that such a policy would have difficulty passing. Yet it does, and politicians boast.

One reason is votes. The farm lobby is strong, and politicians attempt to placate a concentrated group of voters. Iowa is an important state for politicians with presidential aspirations. Krugman noted that Obama and Biden both were on an introduced bill to increase ethanol production. Hillary Clinton mentioned ethanol in a town meeting in the state. Pushing for more ethanol usage leads to a mutualistic relationship with the farm lobby. Votes are purchased for the politicians, and the centralized voting bloc gets the handout and legislation desired. Although the relationship is parasitic with the rest the nation, the dispersion of interest and lack of a coalition similar to the agricultural bloc renders other’s opinions mostly meaningless, as witnessed by the current policies.

Besides votes politicians receive pecuniary profits from ethanol mandated legislation. From the end of the 2000 election cycle to mid 2006, ethanol giant Archer Daniel Midland has donated $1.2 million to Democrats and $1.85 million to Republicans. Other ethanol producers have also donated to campaigns. In exchange for billions in subsidies, politicians are rewarded with millions of dollars that ultimately originated with taxpayer money.

If one feels that the price of gasoline is too cheap and should be raised to discourage consumption, then the current method is one of the worst methods to achieve this. Giving billions of tax dollar money to the ethanol industry which is parasitic on consumers, the environment, users of corn products both domestic and foreign, and poor sugar farmers abroad is highly inefficient. This could be bypassed simply and a Pigouvian tax levied that would generate government revenue instead of creating more spending programs. This would make the price more stable and be a more efficient and direct method of increasing the price. Yet since politicians profit in both votes and contributions they continue to support and enact legislation to use coercion to ensure its propagation with their mutualistic relationship with the ethanol producers. The effect of the windfall on producers can be seen stock returns on two of the biggest companies, Archer Daniel Midland and Pacific Ethanol as compared to the S&P 500 and the Blue Chips’ returns (from Yahoo! finance).

(the footnotes didn't work out so well in copy and paste, but here they are.)

1. “His Car Smelling Like French Fries, Willie Nelson Sells Biodiesel from the New York Times” http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/12/30/business/30biowillie.html?ex=1171170000&en=79bf54533266f347&ei=5070
2. Quoted in “Energy Piracy” http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=4228
3. “The Sum of All Ears” available at http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/01/paul_krugman_th_1.html
4. “CAFE and ethanol: two Democratic dogs chasing each other's tail; has the President bought in?” available at http://www.sepp.org/Archive/weekwas/2007/February%2010.htm
5. “Against the Grain” http://www.smartmoney.com/barrons/index.cfm?story=20060810 see also “Is Ethanol the Answer?” http://p259.news.mud.yahoo.com/s/usnews/20070205/ts_usnews/isethanoltheanswer
6. “Global Warming’s Friendly Fire” in WSJ Feb. 8, 2007 available at http://www.sepp.org/Archive/weekwas/2007/February%2010.htm
7. “Sugar Ethanol” http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/09/sugar-ethanol.html
8. “Green Fuel's Dirty Secret” http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13646 see also “Archer Daniels Midland: A Case Study In Corporate Welfare” http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-241.html


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Day of Love ... Need a Laugh?

Just in case Valentines Day isn't all its cracked up to be this year (and even if it is, as I'm sure mine is, this is worth a look), I am now posting the link to a site that makes fun of very scary Valentines Day cards. Hope its fun :)


Monday, February 12, 2007

Why Romney's Religion is Helping Him

I think over the past six months I've read at least 50 newspaper articles about whether Mitt Romney's mormonism will hurt his campaign for the presidency. If you pay attention to the new sidebar, you'll see a new article about it at least once a day. What I find ironic is that that very question is giving him free publicity to people who wouldn't have given him the time of day otherwise. For most people, in their minds Mitt Romney = "the mormon candidate". Can the average republican name any other candidate besides McCain, Romney and Guiliani? Those 50 articles are 50 articles that the other candidates do not have. As for the polls, most of which say that a significant proportion of Americans say they won't support a Mormon candidate, I don't really believe them because when you vote for president, you vote for a candidate, not a religion. By the time the primary election actually rolls around, I bet most people will have almost forgotten that Romney is a Mormon and will instead know quite a bit about where he stands on issues. But it will be the Mormon question that will have gotten him all that initial "free" publicity. And if he wins the primary, I highly doubt that evangelicals will collectively oppose a candidate who is against abortion and gay marriage and vote for Hilary instead.

Moral of the story: All publicity is good publicity.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Pointer Conversion

Here's an email I recently received:


i had to laugh a couple of times over the last week or 2- my professor in lecture uses power point and really needs a pointer to show us stuff he's talking about. someone in one of my other classes said she wished she had a pointer. then at work yesterday, this older lady i work with had a pointer with a fork on the end of it and was using it for stuff.

i've converted.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

2008, ain't it great?

So I was perusing the web and found this interesting page.

It's a political page with a bunch of different resources on it, but the one that interested me was the page listing presidential candidates for 2008. It lists all the candidates that have registered so far and has an individual page for the top ones giving a summary of the candidate. It seems to be a fairly non-partisan page and a good resource to learn about the major candidates out there.

There's actually quite a few people running that I wasn't aware of. Apparently the republican party has both michael the archangel and god running on their ticket (they happen to be the same person in the form of Michael Jesus Archangel) and the democrats have the returned christ on their side (who goes by the name of Randolph W. "Randy" Crow; click here if you want to read his easter message). Who will win? It should be quite the exciting race.


Monday, February 05, 2007

No Ordinary Post

I'm not sure if any of you frequent Times and Seasons (a blog run by a bunch of Mormon academics and lawyers), but I really liked this post. The last paragraph made me think. He mentions things we can do to make sure the important, extraordinary people in our lives do not become commonplace tools, one of which is eating meals together. It reminded me of Salsa night- not the blog, but the actual night where we all got together and talked and laughed. It was a common thing we did, but those days will stand out as among the most memorable, yet ordinary experiences I've had. Not to be sacreligious, but it draws my mind to the sacrament, our weekly communal meal. Maybe thats why I love cooking and eating so much- its one way for me to put the ordinary people around me into an ordinary situation that magically becomes a communal (and unmistakably life-sustaining) experience. In our fast, oft-times disconnected world, a meal is often the only time we have to really talk, communicate and commune with each other.

So in other words, if I'm ever rich, expect plane tickets in the mail for a yearly salsa night.


Great Moments in Pointer History II

This indeed was a great, great, GREAT moment in pointer history.

But to read it, you will have to go to my blog, Fruit at the Bottom. Yes, a shameless plug. I'm still trying to jump-start awareness of my blog.

It's worth the link, though.


Friday, February 02, 2007

On Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report today in which it revealed that it is very confident that humans have contributed to global warming.

Before I get into this too far, I will point out that I am not an expert (yet) on this topic. However, I am interested in the topic and in the reactions you all have to the way other people (the media, politicians, businesses) talk about it.
From what I can tell in the news articles, the IPCC report said 4 interesting things:

1. Global warming is real and significant.
2. It is "very likely" caused by human activity - mainly fossil fuel combustion.
3. There is no way to reverse the effects in the short term. Even if we drastically cut emissions of greenhouse gasses, the average world temperature will continue rising for 100 years or so.
4. The effects will include rising sea levels, increased likelihood of droughts, severe weather, hurricanes, etc.

This is a controversial subject, so it is important to communicate precisely. For me, that's one of the most frustrating parts in all this. When I see news reports or read articles about this IPCC report, the reporters rarely give enough of the actual contents of the report. This seems like it often happens when it comes to global warming stories, or anything politically charged. After giving a quick summary of what the IPCC said (sometimes contradicting other quick summaries from other articles in the process), they jump straight to analysis or quotations from people we haven't heard of who may or may not be interpreting the report correctly in the first place.
I guess that's another thing I should mention. As I have studied more statistics (in the course of my actuarial exam preparation) I am increasingly wary of anyone else trying to interpret statistics.
I will give you a quick example. Suppose that I hear on the radio today that the U.S. GDP in January was up by 3%. What does that mean? It could mean that it was 3% higher at the end of January than at the end of December; or it could mean that the GDP was 3% higher at the end of January than at the end of January last year; or it could mean that GDP growth from the start of January to the end of January was on the pace to be 3% for the year. My point is that you often have to have more information than you are given in the news to properly interpret a given statistic.
Anyway, what I am saying is that when it comes to this subject, I rarely feel like I have enough information to judge anything for myself, even after reading an article or watching a report on it. So here is what I'm going to do. I'm going to list my biggest questions about global warming. I have been wondering about many of these for months or years, ever since it has started becoming a big topic. Feel free to try to answer the questions, or to add some of your own. Then, I am going to go do some research. I'm going to actually read this IPCC report (at least the summary) and anything else I can get my hands on and try to get what information I can straight from the sources. Hopefully I'll be able to answer these after I've done all that. I suspect that I will be able to answer some and debunk the assumptions underlying others, leaving me with some stubborn unanswered questions.
Note: These questions take the viewpoint that the burden of proof lies with those who claim that global warming is real and caused by human activity. Let's say that the presumed audience of these questions is the IPCC.
My questions are:

A. What are the sources of your data? How far back does it go?
Is it from urban areas? Urban areas that used to be smaller when you started taking measurements in the 1800s? Have you taken into account the fact that urban areas tend to heat up as they develop without effect on the outlying rural areas? What's up with the stuff I hear about taking ice core samples? What does that measure?

B. How do you know that this warming isn't just part of a natural cycle?
How do you know fossil fuels are to blame? It's true that we've burnt more in the last 200 years than previously, but there are many things that are different now than they were 200 years ago. Women's suffrage and pogosticks come to mind. How do you know that the relationship between global warming and fossil fuels isn't as spurious as it would be between warming and number of women voters or between warming and number of pogosticks.

C. What about the global cooling everyone was worried about 30 years ago?
Are you all the same scientists that were talking about global cooling in the 70s? If that was just a temporary trend, as it appears it was, why isn't the warming trend also temporary?

D. What can be done to mitigate the effects?
Is the long-term solution just to use less fossil fuels?

E. What about the scientific method?
This is related to some of the other questions. You can't perform climate experiments the same way you can perform experiments in other areas. If we were to design an experiment to test the causal relationship between fossil fuel combustion and global warming, it would have to look something like this:
-First we need two identical earths with identical characteristics, population, etc.
-One will be the control earth which we will simply observe.
-On the experimental earth, we will prevent them from burning fossil fuels.
-Observe for 300 years or so.
Since you haven't done that, how have you come to your conclusions?

F. Could there be any good effects of global warming?
Could this cause a net gain of arable land in the world? Less deaths because of blizzards?


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Great Moments in Pointer History I

Jared and I have talked about starting a blog about great pointer moments, but decided instead to put said moments on Salsanight. I do not claim that this is the first great moment in pointer history, as there have been many that have preceded it, rather this is the first one to be posted on the aforementioned Salsanight.

Over Christmas break I visited some relatives in Ohio that I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. We first visited my one aunt who doesn’t even have indoor plumbing, she’s still going strong with the outhouse. But no pointers were involved there. We then went to my other relative’s house (My dad’s mom’s mom’s brother’s daughter, so I’m not sure what she is to me). In 2002 she moved from her old house (which also lacked indoor plumbing) to a newer house. My brother Stephen and I went exploring in the old house, which looked like it was about to fall over. As we were trying to go to the attic, we were thwarted by cobwebs. After a futile effort by Stephen to try to clear the webs, I the older, wiser brother stepped in. I extended my pointer and stuck a rag on the end and cleared the stairway in no time. We then could safely go to the attic with having to worry about and cobwebs getting in our way.


against my will

So blogger finally dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the new blogger. It wouldn't let me sign in to the old blogger any more, and so I am, now, officially up-to-date. I suppose blogger thinks it's good for me - but I don't like change. The only plus is that I'm now able to post here again - not that I have anything interesting to say today - just hello & I'm still here.