October 30, 2009

Sports Arenas Of, By and For The People?

Mayor Stork announced a new task force to figure out how to get a sports arena at Cal-Expo, I guess because the old task force didn't work it out.
Or maybe it's because this task force will announce its results just about the time we get to vote on KJ's strong mayor proposal. Given the expected members of the task force - "City Hall officials, business leaders and attorneys" - I think one can pretty much predict that they will say what insiders dressed in fancy suits usually say. 'We're wealthy so if you follow our advice you will be too.'

October 24, 2009

Sustainable Health Care & Evolution

On UCTV this morning, I happened to tune in to Prof. Lucy Shapiro sharing some sobering information about some health care issues that are more boring and more important than the public option.
I am reminded of Pogo's warning about our true enemy - it's us. Our own search for individual security and survival lead us to take pills we don't really need, and then when we really need them they don't work because the germs have evolved.
Shapiro says that natural genetic engineering is far more hazardous to our health than what we cook up in the lab. She discusses the realities of quarantine, which would limit our personal freedom far more than the terrorists can. But she doesn't address the question of the effect of human genetic engineering on the ecological systems which provide our food and water.
For example, one recent proposal alleges we can protect ourselves from almonds contaminated by salmonella by sterilizing the almonds with heat, but then they are no longer raw and some of the enzymatic value of live food is lost. Similarly, bagged lettuce that has been contaminated by e. coli has led to scorched-earth plans to genocide all natural plants (that could harbor actual wild animals and their dangerous poop) if these plants are growing anywhere near the monocultural lettuce, even though this eradication will make farms less healthy overall.
But food that is fresh and grown in a natural way is healthier than food grown in an ecological desert and then incubated in a plastic bag. And healthier food is required for healthier people whose immune systems are strong enough to resist germs.
To paraphrase a quote often attributed to a famous musician, "evolution happens." It happens to germs and humans alike. And it happens to individuals.
And it is what makes or breaks a species. Germs can only make us strong if we let them, if we are strong enough to face the entropic economic reality of diminishing returns. Perhaps a modern-day Pogo can help.

October 18, 2009

Investing for the Future

There's good advice in the newspaper this morning about separating investment proposals which are too good to be true from those that rely on the real economic value that is always the foundation of actual monetary returns.
Discounting fancy restaurants and expensive suits is an excellent idea. Although Arden Fair recently banned hoodies, it's a fact that men dressed in expensive suits are responsible for far more monetary losses than those dressed like bums.
It's only under unusual circumstances that publicly-traded investments need personal scrutiny, and I believe we are now back in circumstances where attention to general market conditions is enough for the average person to invest safely. Private investment proposals, however, always require caution. Educated and personal examination is appropriate in these situations. If you can't see the tangible thing that you are investing in, be extra careful.
At all times, an understanding of the real economy - which is the foundation of the monetary economy - is the safest approach. Economic shocks are most likely to occur when the monetary economy fails to accurately reflect the real economy.
Recently, I visited an eco-village which is still growing that seems to me like a good place to put my money. And I am sure I will find more as I continue to travel around ecotopia. Be aware, however, that this kind of investment requires even more personal participation, because communities require co-operation.

October 15, 2009

Economic Efficiency?

The problem with economic efficiency as defined by economists is its widespread interpretation as "maximiz[ing] the production of goods and services." This unfortunate phrase overlooks the physical limits to growth on a finite planet. It would be more efficient to optimize the production and consumption of goods and services.
The basic philosophy of classical economics offers a deeper definition of economic efficiency. The concept of value is the key concept, rather than maximum production or profit. And value is a qualitative, subjective, individual estimate. The economy - and all transactions - are based on all our individual estimates.
Since we are all human, we share similarities in our needs and wants, and thus in what is valuable to us. Needs have a higher priority than wants, and we have a variety of needs - physical, emotional, social, spiritual, etc.

The physical needs that pertain to our perceived need for fossil fuel energy are: clean air and water, healthy food, and snug shelter. Although we are used to paying money and using fossil fuel to meet these needs, all of these - money, fossil fuel, food, water, etc. - actually come from the planet.
The engineering efficiency of using fossil fuels to work for us is a ratio of output to input:
Useful Work (e.g., miles driven)
Fuel Used (e.g., gallons)

But this ratio distracts many people from looking at the big picture. A more useful ratio would be framed in terms of our true priorities:
Clean Air and Water, Healthy Food, and Snug Shelter
Resources: Sunshine and Planet Earth

Naturally, a healthy planet will be the most efficient way to meet our needs.

October 5, 2009

God/s Make Men, Men Make Trouble

Just finished reading about what's now possible with engineering of genes and organisms. It's pretty creepy.
Not so much because it's necessarily more dangerous than existing GMOs, or nano-pollution, or climate change, or rusting nuclear weapons. They're all capable of freaking out most optimistic and sensible people.
The real problem is human nature. I just don't think we have the emotional sanity and spiritual stamina to avoid the corruptions of power. And many technologies offer too much power.
Power corrupts just the way the Ring of invisibility corrupted Smaug in the Lord of the Rings, just the way it would have corrupted Frodo had Sam not intervened.
Many human religions warn of hubris, of the vanity that built the tower of Babel, of the yang than always overextends itself to become yin, that pride goeth before a fall. And the only time Christ is known to have been angered was by spiritual pimps profiting in the temple.
Can spiritual wisdom enter into political decisions? Can we possibly learn the kind of peacefulness and cooperation that would solve the problems we have always known how to solve if we weren't so selfish and competitive?
For example, what good will it do us to design better children when we do such an overall lame job of taking care of them all and bringing them up happy and healthy? We can't even offer most of them the traditional benefits of old-fashioned breast-feeding and healthy food and water.
Until we learn how to do well the things we already know how to do, we aren't going to do that well with the new things either.