Friday, May 27, 2011

Zero Calorie Sugar

So when does 3.36 = 0? When it's the calorie content of Splenda.
According to the FDA, if a single serving of something contains fewer than 5 calories, the manufacturer is allowed to lie and claim that it has zero calories.

Further, when you consider that a single service of Splenda is 1 gram, while a single serving of sugar is 2.8 grams, well, if we just reduced the size of sugar packets to a 1 gram serving size then, since it would only have 3.85 calories, we could also claim that it was zero calories.

I see a business opportunity here......

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Too May Teachers Not Enough Students

I want to start by professing some of my ignorance here: I have never been a teacher, I have never studied "Education", so I may be way off base here.

I think we have too many teachers today.

Specifically I think we have too many bad teachers.  I recall a friend of mine back in High School who related his experience in a Geometry class where the teacher didn't understand anything past the first half of the book - so his class was basically converted into a "study hall" for the second half of the year.  This teacher had many years in service, I assume she effectively had tenure, and I am horrified to think of how many young folks she injured by failing to do her job.  [anecdotal, and second-hand as well, but I'm using this to illustrate where I'm coming from, not as evidence to support my conclusions]

For my time as a student, I rarely cared a wit about getting individual attention from the teacher for the vast majority of the time.  I could have had 10 classmates, 50, or even 100 (and I did have some classes in college with around 100 other students) and yet in all cases I was able to absorb the information being sent from the instructor as well in each case.  The information spoken or written could be heard and seen the same no matter how many students were present.

I will admit that I enjoyed smaller classes more.  I did enjoy being able to get more individual attention from the instructor.  But the purpose of a school (especially one largely supported by funds forcibly confiscated from the citizenry) is not the pleasure of the student, it is for the education of the student.

I am not opposed to making the experience pleasant, but I believe that any effort towards that end should only be done after the core purpose of educating the students has been accomplished.  I also believe that any cost for non-core activities should be paid for voluntarily by people who want those improvements.

So what are the benefits of fewer teachers and a larger class size?

With fewer teachers to pay, we will be able to pay them more money.  With higher salaries, teaching will become more attractive to those who are most capable, those who by their very nature are able to do many things will be more inclined to choose to teach.  More people will want to become teachers, so the bar to entry can be raised to exclude those least able to teach.

With fewer teachers to administer, we will need fewer school administrators.  These administrative positions are overhead - they have no direct influence over the education of the students.  If we assume that the goal of the school is to educate its students, then it is to the benefit of the school to reduce its overhead to devote more of its resources to the declared goal of education. 

If we had a limitless supply of resources to devote to every worthy enterprise then none of this would matter.  That is not the world in which we live.  Though we can print money, we cannot print wealth (we can at most only dilute it by the printing of more money.)  If the goal of education is to educate people, then I believe that we need to direct our limited resources to the funding of only the best teachers we can get.  For educators: raise their standards, raise their pay, thin their ranks.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Legislative implications for "Birther" scenerio

(disclaimer: I'm agnostic on the question of Obama's place of birth, and I am neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar - I just got to thinking after reading about Louisiana HB 561)

So what happens to all the legislation that Obama has signed into law if it is somehow discovered that he's not eligible to serve as President of the United States?  While I think it would be impossible to undo it and all the effects of it, I don't think that would even be necessary, because according to Article I, section 7, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution:
"..If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it..."
So it seems to me that even if he is illegitimate, the laws he has signed would remain in effect, having not been vetoed after a 10 day period.  I suppose there could be some argument as to whether the bill had actually been "presented" to the President.

I suppose his many executive orders might be "undone" but given the effect of one of his first executive orders closing down GITMO....

What I think would be more interesting is what about any bills that were vetoed by him.  Since all of his acts would be invalid, seems to me that those bills might actually be legitimate laws.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

They Live

Some days I look at the world around me and I feel like such an alien.  Every so often I get a glimpse of the alien in someone else and I'm struck with the realization that possibly everyone else is just as alien as me.  That's what I like to tell myself anyway.

If religion is the opiate of the masses, then self-delusion is surely the opiate of the individual.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why conventionally grown tofu is the key to our continued prosperity...

One of my favorite Biology teachers in college, Dr. Pinter, had something to say in response to the pro-vegetarian argument that fewer resources would be consumed by a vegetarian diet versus an omnivorous diet: that while true, this does not solve the problem of depleting our resources, it only kicks the can down the road because we would simply continue to reproduce until we hit the limit of plant food available. So we would live as well with either strategy so long as we adjusted our population accordingly (note: this is according to my recollection of my time sitting in a class more than a decade ago, which may be of questionable reliability - but as it is this recollection that brought about this line of thought, I think it still relevant.)

While I think that her reasoning here is sound, it has an underlying assumption that the size of the world population is unimportant. From my perspective I think that we humans are better off with the largest population our planet can support.  Have you noticed that people who live in populous areas (i.e. cities) tend to be (generally) wealthier  than those who live in sparsely populated areas?  The more people we come into contact with, the greater the chance that their innovations will inspire innovations from us, and vice versa.  Human technological innovation, which has played a central role in our efforts to improve our material lives occurs so much faster when we have more ideas from more people from which to draw.

Central to supporting an increasing worldwide human population is the production of sufficient quantities of food.  Pre-1960s naturally occurring famine was not an uncommon event, today it is almost exclusively the result of political events (i.e. tyrants like Ethiopian "President" Mengistu Haile Mariam who deliberately starved large numbers of their people as part of a military struggle against the Oromo Liberation Front and other anti-Derg groups.)

What has changed things between then and now was an incredible series of innovations (beginning in the 1940s, yielding results by the 1960s):
  • developing high-yield grains
  • improvements in irrigation techniques
  • modernizing land management techniques
  • development and distribution of hybridized seeds
  • development and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides
These innovations, collectively called the "Green Revolution" are what have allowed us to keep famine at bay these past several decades.  To return to "organic farming" (a term I find curious) would either require reducing our population or would necessarily lead to a population reduction by means of mass starvation.

So my thought process here is:
  • I think that increasing our standard of living is a good thing.
  • Technological innovation is the way we have historically increased our standard of living.
  • An larger population of well connected people is necessary to bring about that technological innovation.
  • Modern farming techniques are necessary to support even our current population.
  • Moving to a vegetarian diet will enable the feeding of a larger population than an omnivorous diet will.
I'm not opposed to "organic" foods or farming - it often results in a higher quality of food, but at a much higher cost.  TANSTAAFL and "organic" farming comes at a price - (and here I'm making some under-informed assumptions, I invite corrections) it takes more land, requires more labor, uses more resources to produce the same quantity of food that could be produced using modern (i.e. "conventional") techniques.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Labor Justice

So the knee-jerk reaction to low-priced foreign imports is the imposition of tariffs and other restrictions on their importation in an attempt to "protect" domestic industry. Restrictions on the quantity of available goods cause the same number of dollars to chase fewer goods, causing prices to rise. It does not, however, follow that wages should also rise with prices. What causes wages to increase? "When two workmen run after one boss, wages fall; when two bosses run after a workman, wages rise."

Perhaps a more precise way to express that sentiment might be: "The rate of wages depends upon the proportion which the supply of labour bears to the demand." Wages therefore increase when the demand for them increases 1 (duh!). Now the demand for labor is directly dependent on the amount of available investment capital. It follows then that even if a government prohibits the importation of a good, this action has no effect on the quantity of investment capital, it can only change the allocation of that capital. What this means is that an increase in labour demand in one protected industry necessarily reduces the labour demand in another industry.

The sum of production is the result of capital and labour, minus any obstacles imposed. If obstacles are increased for a fixed amount of capital and labour, then the sum total must decrease. And if the amount produced is diminished, then how can one assume that their share of production will increase. Such a belief is dependent on the assumption that the "rich"2 who effectively make the laws will for some reason sacrifice an increasing portion of their decreasing fair share of production. It seems to me that one would be wise to reject this most suspicious act of generosity.

So what I'm wondering here is this: Is it not just that after working all day I should be able to use my earnings to purchase the most they can? Is it not obvious that the imposition of trade restrictions reduces this? Does it not also logically follow that ANY tariffs or any other sort of imposed restriction of trade is an unjust taking of my labour?


ideas taken from "Does Protection Raise the Rate of Wages" by Fred Bastiat
  1. ^ Also note that increasing wages does not increase prices unless that increase is imposed from outside, in which case the increase in price is still not due to the wage increase, but to the external imposition.
  2. ^ who are generally better politically connected than the rest of us.

So here's what got me thinking about this

I was reading this paper about a sociological study about morality and political ideology and what struck me was this paragraph:
Figure 8
"Previous research has shown that liberals are less disgust-sensitive than conservatives (Inbar et. al., 2009). The low level of disgust sensitivity found in libertarians could help explain why they disagree with conservatives on so many social issues, particularly those related to sexuality (e.g. MFQ – Purity in Study 1). Libertarians may not experience the flash of revulsion that drives moral condemnation in many cases of victimless offenses (Haidt, Koller, & Dias, 1993)."

The reference to "flash of revulsion" sounds physiological, and makes me wonder if there is some sort of biological mechanism here - sort of a nice way of saying that some people just can't help but try to impose their way of life upon you any more than they can help their skin pigmentation or gender.

I'm wondering then, if bigotry is biological, what could be the purpose and advantage to it since afaict it is simply an irrational belief in demonstrable falsehoods which I would assume to be a distinct disadvantage. 

More importantly, if it's biological in origin should their mental handicap qualify them for protection under the ADA?

Monday, February 7, 2011

More than mammals?

So I find this topic so fascinating because I have such a difficult time understanding the motives of those who disagree with me.  With most things, I can usually come up with some motive to assume of my opponent - but here I am mystified, though I recently read a few things about which I'll write later on.

To date, the most persuasive, convincing argument I've heard  in support of suppressing homosexuals is that homosexual activity is unnatural since the natural purpose for sexual intercourse is procreation, and homosexual intercourse is non-procreative.  There is an underlying assumption here that sex in humans is the same as sex in animals, so humans should be restricted to those activities that happen with other animals.

If we accept this assumption, then we cannot also argue in favor of monogamy, since that is not something naturally happens in the rest of the animal kingdom.  So to assert that human sexuality is the same as all other animal sexuality is an argument against all marriage.

Now, one may make an argument in support of marriage but against homosexual conduct and base this assertion on religious grounds, essentially saying that homosexuality is evil because God says so.  This may be true, but as it is wholly unverifiable via any process of natural science, I fail to see how this is an appropriate point to raise in any debate of public policy outside of a theocracy.

So if we believe that marriage is a good thing, then it follows that human sexuality is different from that of animals.  If we accept this assertion, then we no longer have any rational basis for discriminating against homosexuals OR homosexual behavior.  Now, it could be argued that promiscuity among homosexuals is destructive, but this only lends strength to the argument in favor of allowing (and supporting) marriage for same gender couples as this would strengthen homosexual monogamy.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

So what's so bad about deflation?

Some thoughts on the Federal Reserve, inflation, and deflation.  Please let me know if you find things that don't seem to make a lot of sense or there are things for which you want evidence. (I just don't want to go into too much detail because I could turn this into a small book.)

The theory explaining why  deflation is worse than inflation goes something like this:
  • The price of goods and services will be less tomorrow than it will be today.
  • Therefore the consumer will put off today's purchases until tomorrow because he'll get a better price then he can today.
  • Since this will be the case every day, consumers will never buy anything, and the economy will tank.
The problems with this:
  • It assumes that the only value of a consumer purchase is contained in the price paid.  This is obviously in error as a purchase is made to utilise.  Take computers as a concrete example of this.  The computer I buy today, I can be certain I will be able to purchase next month for less, and the month after that for even less.  Yet I still make the purchase because I buy it to use it.
  • It also ignores a distinct counter example of this: the United states in the late 19th century.  During this period the purchasing power of the dollar was increasing and the economy was booming.

The most widely cited example used to back up the "deflation is bad" argument is the disastrous results of the Federal Reserve's monetary contraction policy during the Great Depression.
  • The significant point here is that the deflation in this case was artificially introduced by government action, not by natural market forces.
  • To understand why governmental meddling with the money supply is harmful to an economy, one must understand how the meddling takes place.
    • If, for example, one day the government dropped a trillion dollars from helicopters, or mailed $300 checks to every person in the US, or magically added a zero to every dollar amount in the country, not much would happen - it would be a fairly meaningless gesture because the economy would be able to instantly adjust to the pecuniary alteration.
    • This is not the way they do it.  What happens instead is they (basically) give a bunch of newly-printed cash to politically connected cronies and the financial adjustment happens slowly as the additional cash makes it's way through the economy.  During the time between it's introduction and it's saturation, many people are going to make incorrect assumptions about the relative scarcity of goods and services because of the new money.  This causes resources to be poorly allocated, and that is what detracts from the wealth of the economy.
    • In the case of artificial deflation, again, the removal of cash from the economy does not happen instantly everywhere.  It occurs at specific points in the economy and ripples through, causing damage by inducing people to misallocate their resources.
So why does the government favour inflation over deflation, especially given the general public's dislike of inflation?  As always with government, follow the votes...
  • Inflation transfers wealth from creditors to debtors by making the debt owed less valuable.
  • Deflation transfers wealth from debtors to creditors by making the debt owed more valuable.
  • There are more voters who are debtors than there are who are creditors.
  • It is therefore in the self interest of the politician to pander to debtors by preventing deflation.

Science hijacked by.... Natural Science???

So I went on a little rant a while back about the improper use of the term "science" when one really means "philosophy."  Turns out I was a little inaccurate in my assertions.  Apparently the history of the word is that as recently as the 17th century it was used interchangeably with the word "philosophy."  Of course when I use the word I think of (and mean) those pursuits that utilise the "scientific method."

Anyway, I just wanted to acknowledge that I was somewhat in technical error in some of my criticism of the misuse of the term "science."

Lo teer tsakh

So words mean things, and sometimes words written in one language get a little muddles when they make it into another.  Sometimes, however the original source material is available.  Take the 6th commandment (or 5th for Roman Catholics.)  It is most commonly translated as "Thou Shall Not Kill" which seems to be kinda odd for a group of people who were omnivorous and engaged in periodic warfare which involved, necessarily, killing.  So how can these two contradictions coexist?

First, there are no contradictions.  If you find one, re-examine your premises, one of them is faulty.  The faulty premise here is the translation of the Hebrew word "tsakh" (also phonetically spelled "ratsach" I think) to kill - the more accurate translation is murder.