moldybluecheesecurds 2

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Nostalgic procrastination

I should be working on my graduate thesis, but instead I'm watching this:

Friday, April 28, 2006

Nine cogent reasons that oil prices are high

Hint: none of them are oil company price gouging.

Let's fight fire with gasoline!

Oops! Members of Congress are belatedly realizing that when gas prices get high, citizens no longer ignore the massive tax breaks for companies making record profits.

In the typical scurry for scapegoats when faced with a tough policy decision, both Democrats and Republicans are looking to revoke massive tax cuts given to the oil and gas industry in the most recent energy bill.

So what? We'll get some of that cash back to pay down the debt or shoot some Iraqis.

Or, instead of saving the cash, let's just spend it. It's an election year, so we'll give every American a $100 gas rebate from the federal government.

Whoa! As exciting as $100 is, let's look at the original point of energy policy - a secure, stable supply of fuel for the American economy. How do these policies measure up:
1. Tax breaks for oil companies making record profits: D-. True, greater supply would help reduce prices, but a number of scientists and geologists argue that increasing supply any further isn't even possible.
2. Taking back the tax breaks for tax cuts: F. When supplies are tight enough to drive prices this high, giving people more gas money doesn't send the right message.

Instead, Congress needs to develop an energy policy that addresses the root issue: oil supplies may have peaked and we have to shift to policies that shrink demand. For example, increasing CAFE standards to raise fuel economy, creating tax breaks for fuel efficient cars (but NOT hybrid SUVs), or a bigger gas tax.

Don't test the meat - it's safe

Mad cow disease took the world by storm in the 1990s as English herds were found to carry a form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The fear spread quickly, causing many countries to ban beef imports from counties where even a single cow tested positive.

The United States avoided much of the challenge, one could argue, because the USDA refuses to test more than 1% of the herd.
Despite the emotion around mad cow, the USDA asserts that its policy of testing 1% of the American herd is sufficient because the American herd is safe (one could argue that from a statistical standpoint, 1% might suffice). Supporting the USDA's position are the facts that we've banned the use of slaughtered cattle as animal feed and only 3 cases of mad cow disease have been discovered in U.S.-raised cattle.

Since the USDA is confident of our beef safety, how might we expect them to react when one American beef company displays interest in testing every head of cattle it slaughters (at its own expense)?

Dismay, of course. If we test more cows, we might find more disease. And 58 countries banned US beef after the first mad cow case was discovered here in 2003. In fact, the USDA is so afraid that regular and thorough testing might expose previously hidden mad cow disease that they plan to prohibit Creekstone Farms from implementing full testing.

The irony is almost overwhelming, since Creekstone is pursuing full testing in order to instill confidence in its foreign customers that US beef is safe. Statistically, testing every head of cattle is silly, but Creekstone Farms has hopes to sell beef to more than just the statisticians.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Politics meets internet cartoons

In a campaign for governor of Nevada, Jim Gibson has created a cartoon parody of his opponent accepting money from the evil Emperor of Enron. Has his opponent truly gone to the Dark Side?

Seconds on the brussel sprouts?

Since time began, parents have insisted that you must eat your vegetables and the US government has issued its guidelines (currently 5 servings a day). But it looks like those nutritious vegetables have been losing their nutrition. Better make that six servings a day...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The War On Drug Use, Part 2

Just a couple days after seeing news of antibiotic resistance in US agriculture comes news that drug-resistant salmonella is making rounds in Austrailian fish tanks. Apparently, ornamental fish used in home aquariums are often raised in regulation-free areas of Southeast Asia. By the time they get to an aquarium, the only bacteria left are those that have resisted the massive use of antibiotics in the fish farm.

What's more important, higher sales of ornamental fish or still having a few antibiotics that work on human disease?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A nuclear future?

Being born in 1979, the year of Three Mile Island, and seven years old when Chernobyl blew its lid in the Ukraine, it's no surprise I haven't been a big fan of nuclear power. The spent fuel is highly radioactive and contains a number of toxic heavy metals too boot. That might explain why the United States still lacks even one long-term storage facility for waste.

Furthermore, nuclear power brings along with it the risk of nuclear proliferation, a challenge we see in India and Pakistan (and Israel) - nuclear powers who have refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty - and in North Korea and Iran. Matters aren't improved when the US President threatens the use of nuclear weapons on some of these "rogue states." After all, if someone threatens to use a big gun on me, it might be to my benefit to build my own big gun, eh?

So, it's with some interest that I saw an article this Sunday by a Greenpeace founder defending nuclear power. Why?

Because the threat of global climate change is so real and so huge, and nuclear power is the only known, large-scale power supply that can replace baseload power plants like coal. The reason wind and solar can't do it, unfortunately, is because they are "intermittent" power sources (we can never be sure when and how hard the wind blows or the sun shines). Nuclear, according to Patrick Moore, can supply steady baseload power, is cheap (if you don't count construction costs), safe (from accidents), and more resilient to terrorism than many fossil fuels. Plus, it's carbon-free.

This is a big bonus, because the challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is titanic. In fact, to merely avoid the doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, the world has to reduce project carbon emissions by 7 billion tons (7 gigatons) by 2055. To give you some perspective, changing almost all of the 600 coal power plants in the U.S. to nuclear would reduce carbon emissions by .7 gigatons. That's 600 new nuclear plants!

The Princeton Carbon Mitigation Initiative describes this kind of emission reduction strategy as the "wedge game," since emissions reductions have to get larger as time goes on. Other wedge game solutions (wedges) include increased energy efficiency, solar and wind power, higher fuel efficiency standards, etc. However, it will take multiple strategies to make it.

Since nuclear is a known commodity, even if some of its externalities such as spent fuel and proliferation aren't solved, it might be a way toward stopping climate change.

The newest front in the War on Drugs

A study in Australia has revealed that prohibiting the use of certain antibiotics in animals helps lower antibiotic resistance in human diseases. Since more vulnerable germs means easier-to-treat disease and shorter treatment times, this is a big deal.

Since many American food producers simply use drugs prophylactically to avoid disease in their animals (that are frequently kept in filthy and densely-packed buildings), perhaps following the Australian model might pay off in terms of easier-to-treat disease.

The good news is that we're already on the way. Last year, the FDA banned the use of cipro-class antibiotics in poultry. Now, how about the cows?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Go for the mpg

It turns out that some implementations of hybrid technology are more about feel-good than do-good. Take, for example, the hypothetical hybrid Dodge Durango, whose impressive 14 mpg would reap a federal tax credit, leaving the 40 mpg conventional Honda Civic out in the cold. This is environmental policy?

The inside story of government lobbying

Joey: "Dad, why is the American government the best government?"

Nick: "Because of our endless appeals system."

Go see this movie

Easter candy and motion pictures

Now that the Lord's day hath passed, it's time to investigate things more banal, such as the origin of Easter candy, the rise of peeps, and the ridiculousness that is Lord of the Peeps.

Friday, April 14, 2006

It's "summer" and it's nasty

Many of us have our rituals for marking the seasons. Planting flowers, raking leaves, shoveling snow. My measure of summer is the arrival of the temperature inversion, when being inside is suddenly cooler than being outside. Today's labor in the library is marked by temperatures that are rather uncomfortable for the jeans and polo shirt combo I selected this morning.

Despite being somewhat chilly, however, the temperature isn't what's nasty today. That award goes to an old man who's been sharing the library all day. Every 10 minutes or so, there's a furious spate of throat-clearing and phlegm-loosening that reverberates from the library walls. Get a tissue (or a spittoon)!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

House for sale, $(one red paperclip)

Most people try to scrimp and save for the downpayment, but this guy decided he would start with a paperclip and try to trade his way up to a house.

He's already got a year rent-free in Phoenix to trade you...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Keep the change

This weekend, I got a call from a staff person at the library, "Hi, we found a folder of yours here and we're going to leave it at the information desk." See, one of my current jobs involves working in a public library several hours a week. So at first blush, I thought I had simply left something on the table I work at and was appreciative of the courtesy call.

The more I thought about it, though, the less it added up. I'm not actually employed by the library, but since I'm there 15-20 hours a week, I like to leave my 2-pocket folder and a related book in one of those 25-cent-deposit lockers between days there. Since the table I work at is about 8 feet square and has nothing on it except my stuff, it's kind of odd that I would have left something behind. I tend to just leave everything in the locker.

Bad idea.

See, the library staff must expect the lockers are only used by people actually in the library. So when they find one locked on a weekend, they assume it's because someone has forgotten their stuff or decided that the locker key was worth more than the 25-cent deposit. So when I arrived at the library today, I not only discovered my materials at the front desk; the library staff had disassembled the locker in order to empty it out.

After collecting my things, I sheepishly handed the now-useless key back to the receptionist, who promptly offered me the 25-cent locker deposit back. Embarrassed, I stammered out a refusal and slunk into the library, folder and book in hand.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cost and coverage are not the same

I want to thank the Los Angeles Times for offering a very nuanced, if brief summary of Massachusetts' new law for unversal health care. For once, a reporter caught on to the fact that universal health care - while an extremely important step for justice - does little to address rising health care costs. While expanded health care coverage should reduce emergency room care by allowing people to seek less expensive preventive care, it does not actually reduce the cost of treatments or the administrative overhead of health care providers.

Note: While it does mandate that all people buy health insurance, with subsidies for the poor, the Massachusetts system will not require all employers to offer health insurance (and even when they do, they fee for non-compliance is small). It will be interesting to see how this impacts the health-care-through-employer model over time.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Jesus was nonpartisan

Garry Wills has an interesting look at Christianity in American politics, claiming that Republicans have been wrong to make Christianity our public religion and that Democrats are wrong to want Jesus on their side.