Monday, January 29, 2007

Supply Demand Irony - Part II

Tyson foods, the huge producer of Chicken and other food products, is quoted on the CNBC website today as follows:

"We remain on track to meet our earnings guidance for the year, but emphasize the dramatic rise in corn prices has become a major issue for us and others in the food industry. Companies will be forced to pass along rising costs to their customers, meaning consumers will pay significantly more for food," said Chief Executive Richard Bond in a statement.
The Tyson news release went on to say (though left off the article on CNBC):

If left unaddressed, the bigger long-term issue will be the availability of U.S. and global grain for protein and other foods. We fully support efforts toward renewable energy; however, as the food versus fuel debate unfolds, we must carefully consider the negative and unintended consequences of over-using grains."

Let me state the obvious. As ethanol becomes more popular, it drives up the cost of corn. Not only does this increase costs for all food products that use corn, it also drives up the cost of ethanol. As the cost of ethanol goes up, it becomes less competitive with oil based fuels. Meanwhile, the selling price of oil goes down as alternative energy sources increase total supply. At some point ethanol can't compete at all without massive government subsidies or consumers willing to pay a voluntary "green tax" on each gallon of ethanol-based fuels.

As Tyson said, this doesn't mean we should stop our efforts to diversify our energy resources. It only means that it isn't as easy as it seems. It is complex and each new direction has many potential unintended consequences.

Please note that the analysis just posted here is even more relevent to the global warming issue. Each action taken has far reaching consequences.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Atheists 3, Christians 1

Considering how many smart Christians I have in my group of friends and associates, I was worried that my new blog, The God vs No God Debate, would be populated by way too many Christians who are capable of defending their faith. The I expected to be hunting like crazy for atheists and other non-believers to join the discussion. So far the Christians are pretty much absent. Three smart guys from the opposition camp are regulars now, and a few others have popped in for a comment or two. Does this have meaning beyond this tiny forum? Are Christians content to stay out of the larger debate? I suspect that may be one of the biggest issues of our time. Europe in the 70's may be America in the 10's.

What Are Your Favorite Movies of All TIme

If you listen to Hugh Hewitt, you know that on Friday at 5:00-6:00 PM, he has Emmett of the Unblinking Eye as his guest. He and Emmett review current trailers and films, but also take a look back at the best 10 in some class (e.g. movies starring Clint Eastwood, best war movies, best movies about short people.) Over the past 4 weeks they have been listing the 100 best movies of any genre since movies began. You can see the entire list here.

Here is the top 21. I point to them because you'll note that 1939 was an amazing year for film. While 2007 was a good year (and 2006 a disaster), one wonders why almost 70 years later, we are making films that can't compare to 1939.

21. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
20. Young Frankenstein (1974)
19. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
18. The Searchers (1956)
17. King Kong (1933)
16. Gone with the Wind (1939)
15. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
14. The African Queen (1951)
13. Psycho (1960)
12. Paths of Glory (1957)
11. Chinatown (1974)
10. Stagecoach (1939)
9. The Star Wars Trilogy [Star Wars (1977)/Return of the Jedi (1983)/The Empire Strikes Back (1980)]
8. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
7. High Noon (1952)
6. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
5. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. Raging Bull (1980)
3. Citizen Kane (1941)
2. Casablanca (1942)
1. The Godfather (1972)/ The Godfather Part II (1974)

I have always loved the movies almost as much as I love books (not quite, though.) For better or worse, I'm going to compile my own list of best 100. But I need some help. Please use the comment section to give me as many of your top picks as you like.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Poland Loves Me

My new business book has been purchased for translation into język polski. My banker laughed until he cried when I told him this news. And I thought Polish jokes were politically incorrect. My earlier book was translated into Chinese. Nobody laughed about that. Hmmm.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Supply-Demand Irony

We all agree on one point. We want clean, cheap, replenishable energy. But in watching the process unfold during these last few years, there are two ironies that work against that result.

The cost to extract oil is very, very low. Most of the cost today has to do with supply-demand issues and specific issues that create fear in the market place with regard to future supplies. For example, crude sold at an average of $25 per barrel in 2003, and even less than that prior to 9/11. The current price of $51 is not due to higher costs of extraction, transportation, or any other cost. Merely the fact that there are lots of buyers, and a cartel that purposely limits supply to keep prices high. That, and a premium for fear of interruption in that supply due to international political issues.

When the cost was over $70, lots of folks jumped into the markets trying to make a buck on alternative energy or ways to conserve. This is a good thing. But, as the price drops below $50, some of these alternatives will no longer be economically viable, and folks who were ready to buy conservation methods will be less inclined to do so. The very fact of these new supply lines, and a drop in demand from more efficient use of energy is part of the reason for the drop in selling price of crude.

If the price of oil dropped back to $25, almost no one would be making buying decisions based on fuel savings, because any additional cost could not be recovered. And those who are creating alternative fuels that would have to sell at above $25 would be out of business.

Here is where the irony gets a bit deeper. As alternative fuel companies drop out of the market, the selling price of oil will go up, since there will be less overall supply of energy. As we become more and more efficient, and use less of any kind of energy per person, we will create less demand for alternative fuels.

These market forces working both for and against cleaner methods will have many winners and losers, and the market is a sometimes cruel teacher. But the market will eventually find its way. I'm betting on a major breakthrough in batteries or in biofuels. But, it could just as easily be that we find a way to use oil in a cleaner way.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Media Can't Decide - Global Warming or Global Cooling

If you are still even leaning toward believing the global warming hype, please read the following. If you need more, go here for the rest of the story.

It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age. The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”

Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.

Following the ice age threats from the late 1800s, fears of an imminent and icy catastrophe were compounded in the 1920s by Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan and an obsession with the news of his polar expedition. As the Times put it on Feb. 24, 1895, “Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again.”

Those concerns lasted well into the late 1920s. But when the earth’s surface warmed less than half a degree, newspapers and magazines responded with stories about the new threat. Once again the Times was out in front, cautioning “the earth is steadily growing warmer.”

After a while, that second phase of climate cautions began to fade. By 1954, Fortune magazine was warming to another cooling trend and ran an article titled “Climate – the Heat May Be Off.” As the United States and the old Soviet Union faced off, the media joined them with reports of a more dangerous Cold War of Man vs. Nature.

The New York Times ran warming stories into the late 1950s, but it too came around to the new fears. Just three decades ago, in 1975, the paper reported: “A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable.”

That trend, too, cooled off and was replaced by the current era of reporting on the dangers of global warming. Just six years later, on Aug. 22, 1981, the Times quoted seven government atmospheric scientists who predicted global warming of an “almost unprecedented magnitude.”

In all, the print news media have warned of four separate climate changes in slightly more than 100 years – global cooling, warming, cooling again, and, perhaps not so finally, warming. Some current warming stories combine the concepts and claim the next ice age will be triggered by rising temperatures – the theme of the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Recent global warming reports have continued that trend, morphing into a hybrid of both theories. News media that once touted the threat of “global warming” have moved on to the more flexible term “climate change.” As the Times described it, climate change can mean any major shift, making the earth cooler or warmer. In a March 30, 2006, piece on ExxonMobil’s approach to the environment, a reporter argued the firm’s chairman “has gone out of his way to soften Exxon’s public stance on climate change.”

The effect of the idea of “climate change” means that any major climate event can be blamed on global warming, supposedly driven by mankind.

Spring 2006 has been swamped with climate change hype in every type of media – books, newspapers, magazines, online, TV and even movies.

One-time presidential candidate Al Gore, a patron saint of the environmental movement, is releasing “An Inconvenient Truth” in book and movie form, warning, “Our ability to live is what is at stake.”

Despite all the historical shifting from one position to another, many in the media no longer welcome opposing views on the climate. CBS reporter Scott Pelley went so far as to compare climate change skeptics with Holocaust deniers.

“If I do an interview with [Holocaust survivor] Elie Wiesel,” Pelley asked, “am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?” he said in an interview on March 23 with CBS News’s PublicEye blog.

He added that the whole idea of impartial journalism just didn’t work for climate stories. “There becomes a point in journalism where striving for balance becomes irresponsible,” he said.

Pelley’s comments ignored an essential point: that 30 years ago, the media were certain about the prospect of a new ice age. And that is only the most recent example of how much journalists have changed their minds on this essential debate.

Some in the media would probably argue that they merely report what scientists tell them, but that would be only half true.

Journalists decide not only what they cover; they also decide whether to include opposing viewpoints. That’s a balance lacking in the current “debate.”

This isn’t a question of science. It’s a question of whether Americans can trust what the media tell them about science.

This doesn't mean that we are not in a period of warming. It doesn't mean that the potential warming might be catastrophic. It does mean that we need to be very, very skeptical of the folks who say the debate is over. We need to wonder what the real motive is for politicians, scientists, and academics to try and squelch the debate. We especially have to wonder when those who promote the idea of global warming want to spend your money.

34% of Democrats Don't Want the Troop Surge to Succeed

According to a Fox News Poll, that is. I'm not sure what that means. Hugh Hewitt has a take on it here. But I have to believe that the folks who answered this question had to have misunderstood the question. Is it possible that any American would want us to fail in Iraq? To what end? Because the hate America? Because they hate Bush? Or war? Or our reasons for going there? Or the want the Islamofascists to take over the Middle East? Or the World?

I'm way past understanding the results of this poll.

IRAQ and Risk Theory

I just don't get the Dems. Aside from the fact that many of them were calling for an increase in troops until George W decided to actually increase troops, their analysis of the current situation and possible solutions seems beyond lame to me.

There seems to be two choices on the table. Increase troops for a while, finish the training and outfitting of Iraqi troops and political types, then leave when things are more stable.

Choice two - start pulling out now, or pull out now.

After the huge investment we have made, it would seem like the first line of action has a very small cost and/or risk. Yes, people will continue to die, and more mistakes will be made. There will continue to be actual $$ spent in large quantities. However, the reward for this choice is monumental. Stable Iraq, more stable Middle East, model state, better stability in oil business, win for the good guys, loss for the bad guys.

It might not work, and we might still have to leave with a loss. However, it seems worth the risk.

On the other hand, the move out approach seems to have great risks in terms of potential human suffering now and later. Yes, the financial risks are less, and the risks to American soldiers MIGHT be less, and there is certainly some chance that less presence by US troops might make it easier to broker a peace.

But it seems to me that the risk/reward analysis strongly favors this last effort at trying to get the job done.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Some Naturalists Are Turning Nasty

During the last few election cycles, it has become more and more acceptable to stereotype those of us who trust Jesus. We are not very bright, easily led, closed minded, and probably have a gun rack on our pick up.

A few month ago when I attended the Global Warming Conference put on by the Skeptic Society, they used a comedian who said things about Christians that he could have never said about Muslims or science professors. It was pretty vile.

As I visit other blogs dedicated to promoting Darwinism, Naturalism, or anti-theism, I am faced with extremely dismissive discourse towards those who don't buy their particular "truth." This same attitude is seen by those promoting global warming. Those who don't agree with these folks are not just wrong, but ignorant.

I raise this issue because it seems to me that this works against arriving a truth. The issue is reasoned discourse without ad hominem statements or other techniques that don’t go to the issue. Calling a person or an idea dumb doesn’t do a thing to advance the discussion, it merely creates a negative environment.

When we do brainstorming at our company, we assess a $1 fine to anyone who is dismissive of even the seemingly most inane ideas. We find that a truly outside-the- lines idea commonly leads to something remarkable. We also know that some folks who are more likely to be good at upside down thinking quickly shut up if they feel that they or their ideas have been marginalized.

In addition, such approaches to debate suggest that the speaker is lacking humility, not open minded, and given to looking down his nose at those he doesn’t agree with. These are all the kinds of things that may eventually result in “hate” of the opposed group. In turn, those who, as a group, think this way may begin to advance stereotypes and act prejudicial towards the suspected “ignorant” group. (Failing to hire, promote, or otherwise reward those on faculties who think wrong, for instance.)

Don't think this is just a small issue that doesn't have potentially huge consequences. Dennis Kucinich said today that Congress will take up the fairness doctrine again:

Kucinich said in his speech that "We know the media has become the servant of a very narrow corporate agenda" and added "we are now in a position to move a progressive agenda to where it is visible."

Translated "We are going to make sure that Conservative and Christian media give equal time to Liberal and Anti-theist commentators." But of course the MSM is already fair and balanced, so it won't need to have any comparable oversight.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Book Review - The Innocent Man by John Grisham

John Grisham puts the lie to the idea that becoming a Christian automatically makes you a far right Republican. His early writings (pre coming to Jesus) reflect the same kind of bleeding heart liberalism that can now be found in "The Innocent Man." Having said that, I like John Grisham, as a writer and as a man.

First of all, he is a lawyer who doesn't have much good to say about most lawyers. Don't you already like him. Second of all, his liberalism seems to come from the depths of his real life experiences, not his college professors.

As a writer, he has few equals actively putting pen to paper today. While my partner complained that "The Innocent Man" was dry as dust, I found it to be very compelling. While this is the true story of a man charged with murder, and his trip through a corrupt and inept legal system. Because of some relationships we have in our ministry, the prison stories and the life of this man rang totally true. For those who don't have contact with folks in the prison system or who are afflicted with serious mental illness, it may seem too sympathetic to the problems the main character faces.

While Grisham states in the afterword that his decision to write a non-fiction book was based on the multi-layered story that this case offered, it is hard to imagine that his motivation was not at least significantly due to his aversion to the death penalty. He has written about this before in a fictional work.

If you like legal thrillers, you'll probably like this one.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The God vs No God Debate Needs Your Help

The first few arguments are posted, and there will be new material every day. We need everyone who has an opinion of the issues related to the existence of God to head on over and join the fun. We actually need lots and lots of atheists to come and give their opinions, as well.

Join us at The God vs No God Debate

Man With Too Much Time On His Hands

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Fitting Homosexuality Into Darwin

Over the past 10 years or so, movement homosexuals and those who support them, have been attempting to find a way to prove that homosexuality is not a choice. This has included a search for a gay gene, offerings of various theories as to brain function, and the general suggestion that no one would make such a choice when it creates such problems for those so choosing. Thus, the argument goes, homosexuality is natural and hard wired. So strident are believers in this conclusion that it is now considered unethical to "treat" homosexuals with a goal of moving them to the straight life.

But under a naturalistic or evolutionary paradigm, I have been unable to think how homosexuality fits in. Maybe there is a huge body of work on this, and I admit to not doing any additional research in preparation for this post. However, my substantial reading and study in this area over the past 40 years doesn't bring to mind any discussion of this idea.

As previously posted here, I believe that some homosexuals are born with a predisposition towards homosexuality. This would be in much the same way as some are born with predispositions to be substance abusers, be athletic champions, become diabetic, etc.

Under Darwin, one would expect that genetic variations which do not increase chances for survival and propagation would be less likely to be passed along to future children. Over time, these mutations would theoretically become so unlikely as to be at or near zero.

If we now add to the biological problems for continuation of this variation, the agreed upon social stigma, one would expect that the homosexual population would be decreasing over the centuries and would be non existent a long time ago.

How then does the homosexual variation continue? What natural advantage does it bring? How does it get passed along in the gene pool? Why, with the huge societal stigma, does homosexuality even continue as a social variation?

Finally, does this question give rise to another bigger question? Under Darwin, how have other so-called, hard-wired predispositions survived, such as substance abuse, schizophrenia, or Down Syndrome.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Some Folks Don't Read the Comments

Casual readers of Blogs commonly don't comment, and even fail to read the comments of those who do leave behind their take on the blogger's posts. This is missing most of the fun. Currently on this page in the 10 or so previous posts, there are over 100 comments. Most of them come from one fellow who is a bit out of control, so it is kind of educational to see how some folks act in public, even when they get called on it.

However, for any of you who are passionate about God and the importance of having a clear understanding of the arguments for and against belief in God (apologetics), the post below, Evidence For the Existence of God, and the comments that are attached provide a great read. So great that they will now be taken one-by-one and turned into threads of their own, both on this site and my new blog The God vs No God Debate.

Now, this will take some time, so don't expect it all at once. However, the new blog will have a very substantial body of material not found on this one. I am also going to invite some good friends who have a bit more "standing" than I do to come help with both sides of the debate. Don't know who will agree to do so, but the more folks come and get involved the more likely it is we can get some real substance going. It is not the goal of this blog to finally answer any of the major issues in a way that will satisfy 100% of the people. Can't be done. It is the goal of the new blog to give those who dig into it, refreshing new insights into the subject. That, I can assure you, will be done. I have been studying this subject for 22 years or longer, and just in the past two weeks have found treasure troves of ideas that I have never seen in print previously. Some of those will be appearing as early as tomorrow in the new blog.

Take Data - Twist to Fit

I wanted to be a scientist when I was a lad. I did actually do a couple of real-life experiments back in the day. When you are sifting through the results of your experiment, and assuming that you are human, you have this awful inclination to dismiss things that don't help your hypothesis, and tweak those that do to be even more in line with your "life" filter.

Of course, these tendencies can be much more insidious. Lets say your book deal, or your grant, or your job, or your new pill is on the line.

Well, what's on the line right now is whether and how much man is contributing to global warming. Today, a new study is released which shows that:

carbon dioxide in the ancient atmosphere increased from about 280 parts per million to 2,000 ppm, the same increase that experts expect by the end of this century...
So the obvious conclusion of this new study and any rigorous thinker who might expose it to public view would be that nature is perfectly capable of big swings in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But noooo. Go read it for yourself. But for those who want a capsule:

No one knows the reason for so much variation in carbon dioxide levels 300 million years ago, but as modern industrial activity continues to pump greenhouse gases into the air at rapid rates, the unpredictable climate changes that took millions of years to unfold naturally could be compressed into a few centuries or less today, several experts said.
Well, we can be pretty sure the "reason" wasn't MAN!

Now this article was written for and published in the Miami Sun Sentinal, so no surprise that they wouldn't know the truth if it bit them in the gluteous maximus. But really now.


Hearst Castle at Night at Christmas

I've always enjoyed touring the castle. As castles go, it is one of the best I've toured. However, with the exception of the indoor pool, there is absolutely no benefit to doing a night time visit. In fact, if anything, I would say there are way more negatives than positives. Now, if you have done 5 or 6 day tours, by all means do one at night for the fun of it.

The Christmas decorations were a treat. We were disappointed that these were all indoors, which means that they would have been just as cool during the day. The tour at Christmas also includes some local folks dressing up in period costume and "acting" as if they are visitors to the estate during the 30's. Another nice touch. Visiting at Christmas gets a 9. Visiting at night - 2.