Rotten Corn

President Bush made me smile tonight. He finally conceded that global climate change exists and that we should develop policy to deal with it. He supports production of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which are the best alternative we have at this time, in my opinion. Bush also seems to have abandoned his obsession with the hydrogen fuel cell and the hydrogen economy - which are about as unrealistic right now as living on the moon. However I have a problem with Bush's ethanol obsession. Developing ethanol is a great policy to propose if you are a politician and a terrible policy if you are an economist. The truth is: ethanol might reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it will do virtually nothing to solve climate change and it will have a handful of harmful economic side effects.

To the untrained eye, ethanol looks like God's gift to the world. Ethanol is made from corn - so we're helping American farmers. It emits significantly less CO2 than gasoline - so it is good for the environment. We get it from America - so we don't have to import oil from some jerks who are out to get us. Thousands of GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler vehicles already run on ethanol - so the infrastructure is maturing. Brazil is now energy independent because of ethanol - so we know it works! How could it get any better? Ethanol will solve all of our energy problems, right? Wrong.

The ethanol that your Chevy Impala burns emits less CO2 than gasoline, but ethanol isn't sucked up out of the ground like oil - we have to make it from corn. Consider the agricultural process: First, a farmer plants some seed using some farm machinery that runs on oil. Then the farmer sprays fertilizer (made from oil) and pesticide (made from natural gas) all over the field. When the corn is finished growing the farmer uses an oil powered machine to harvest the corn, then he puts it on an oil powered big rig so that it can go to the ethanol production facility. In order to turn corn into ethanol, big machines powered by electricity (which comes mostly from natural gas) convert the corn into sugar and then into ethanol. Then another big rig (again powered by oil) drives the ethanol to Speedway, BP, Sunoco, or wherever you buy the ethanol. The amount of energy (all from oil and natural gas) used to create that ethanol that you put into your Impala is so high that we did virtually nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, nor did we do anything to clean up the environment.

With so much corn in demand, the price skyrockets. This is problematic for many reasons. First, higher corn prices translate into higher prices at the grocery store for corn based products or any food that relies on corn in any way. The ham and turkey that you buy will cost more because they eat corn-based feed. The eggs and milk you buy will cost more because cows and chickens eat corn-based feed. The list of foods that will experience price inflation is endless. Realizing how valuable corn is as a commodity, farmers will switch out a lot of their soybean crops and other crops for corn. That means the price of soybean skyrockets and anything that relies on soybeans. Not only do our crops go up in prices, but we have less available to export and what we do export will be relatively expensive compared to other crop exporting countries. That hurts the value of the dollar and economic effects from a weak dollar will ensure. Economically, ethanol is bad news.

So how did Brazil do it? They made ethanol from sugar, which has an energy density about 8 times higher than corn. That means for every unit of sugar they put in, they get 8 units of ethanol out; for every unit of corn we put in, we get only one unit of ethanol out. In order to feed America's energy addiction we would have to harvest far more corn than we have, thats a problem. There are a lot of reasons why ethanol is bad for consumers, but I won't go into that now. I think the October 2006 issue of Consumer Reports sums it up best. Ethanol is merely a myth that will never account to much of anything.

Bush should continue to support plug-in hybrid vehicles but he needs to abandon ethanol. Its only a matter of time before the media catches on to the fact that ethanol is not sustainable and only a matter of time before ethanol loses support from consumers. We shouldn't waste time, money, and resources now to promote a technology for political gain. Start investing in plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles as an alternative to the internal combustion engine. We're not going to solve the energy prices by switching from one fuel to another - we can make a more significant change by reducing the amount of fuel we use. Ethanol won't do that - plug in hybrids will.
A left-wing organization called Feminists for Life should be welcomed by pro-lifers with open arms. Finally.. a group of feminists that believe in something other than the "right to choose" has emerged. FFL wants Roe v. Wade overturned and wants abortions to be illegal. So what does the Christian Right have against these pro-life feminists? Unlike the Christian Right, who believes that banning abortion will instantly translate into a perfect, life fostering world, Feminists for Life actually tries to solve underlying causes of abortion. This drives the Christian Right crazy.

Feminists for Life are currently working on a project called the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Act, which would distribute $10 million per year to colleges in order to improve housing, health coverage, and child care for students who are pregnant or parents. This project achieves a few key goals. First, it allows pregnant or single mothers to stay in school, despite her parental responsibilities. Second, it gives women an incentive not to look to abortion. Serrin Foster, president of FFL, explains it in simple terms: abortion doesn't happen "because women want to fit into a size 5 bikini; parents have abortions for the same reasons that they have trouble raising children." Even though the Stanton Act is a noble attempt to give women a reason not to have an abortion, the Christian Right staunchly opposes it. The Christian Right can't stand the fact that a group would want to help a single woman who became pregnant. Abstinence is the only solution the Christian right will accept, and the Stanton act actually encourages sinful sexual activity (or so they say).

Although Feminists for Life don't take a stance on contraception, they don't specifically oppose it. The irony for the Christian Right is that they want to see an end to abortions, yet they don't want to give people the tools that might prevent an unwanted pregnancy from happening in the first place. The Christian Right is in an awkward position because for some reason they think we live in a perfect world. They believe that if we tell kids abstinence is good that they'll follow it. They believe that if we make abortion illegal no one will have one (because we're all perfectly law abiding citizens, after all).

The Christian Right needs to wake up and understand something important: in order achieve the end they want, we have to bend the rules to get there. Remember, many members of the Christian Right believe that the Iraq war is justified if it means overthrowing a dangerous and evil dictator. In other words, they believe that murder is justified as a means to achieve a more important end! You can't certainly tell me that helping a pregnant woman afford to raise her child is more immoral than killing thousands of people. The Christian right needs to abandon this stereotype that pregnancy out of wedlock is the worst sin anyone can commit. Once they start working with groups like the FFM can we actually start to make some progress.

Idiot Box

If there is ever a time to call the TV the 'idiot box' it is when the TV is tuned to Fox News. Apparently all smokers are now bad people. Don't get me wrong... I still support my contention that Smoke Free Ohio is a good idea, but I'm not about to go dump all of my friends who smoke. And I'm certainly not going to re-consider voting for any particular candidate because of his/her tobacco consumption.

Any good conservative should be outraged that this is the type of garbage his/her media is putting on their air. Obama may smoke cigarettes, but at least he didn't smoke thousands of innocent Iraqis in an unjustified war. Obama may smoke cigarettes, but at least he isn't a recovering alcoholic with DUIs on his record. Obama may smoke cigarettes, but at least he has proven that he can be a good leader and strong politician.

This just in... Altria's stock prices surges thanks to strategic product placement on Fox News. Did anyone else like the graphic that they show at the beginning of the segment? All I can say is: WOW.

Senator Gone Wild

Down in the great state of Tennessee our elected officials are once again hard at work to take away more of our freedom. State senator Doug Jackson doesn’t like some of the commercials that air during Conan. In fact, he dislikes it so much that he’s introduced a bill that would ban cable companies $50,000 for airing ads for “obscene products” (can anyone say ambiguity?). Jackson even came up with a cute name for his bill: The Girls Gone Wild Be Gone Bill. The AP quoted Jackson as saying, "This is being interjected right into our living room; people feel like, as they sit in their living rooms, they just have to surrender; there's nothing that can be done.”

Excuse me Senator, but I believe there are a couple of things the can be done. First, the best protection against obscene material on TV isn’t the V-chip or the FCC, it’s the on/off switch. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, shut it off. Second, how about putting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour. Even in the dirty state of Ohio, these types of ads don’t start running until after midnight. This ordeal might be different if these ads were airing in the afternoon on Nickelodeon, but that obviously isn’t the case. Come on Tennessee, you already tried to take away online gambling (which didn’t work in case nobody told you yet), and now you want to jack up TV censorship. If you follow my two simple recommendations I guarantee we can solve the problem at hand.

Ignorance is Bliss

In America our media tells us all kinds of useful stuff: Middle-Easterners are terrorists... French people are jerks... the Chinese are out to get us... Israel is the second greatest place on earth... etc. This isn't a situation simply limited to the United States. I came across a clip from an Australian satire TV show produced by the same people who publish the Australian version of The Onion. When we wonder why people in other countries think we're stupid, it's because this is the kind of stuff they see and hear everyday.

Granted, the questions that the host asks are so easy anyone with a high school diploma should ace the little quiz easily, and 99% of the time people not shown on TV were probably right. What Australians see on TV are Americans who think John Howard actually walks the streets of Washington DC to talk to common folk; and Americans who can't answer very basic modern history questions; and American's who follow Bush like a blind sheep. This isn't exactly the best representation of our country's cross section. But then again, Middle-Easterners, French, and Chinese don't exactly get a fair representation in our country either. Isn't it funny how media works?

Big Green Monster

It’s no secret that Wal-Mart is not my favorite company; but there are a few things that have happened over the past week that is starting to change some of my opinions. Last Tuesday, Joel Makower, a green business expert, blogged about Wal-Mart’s proposal to install solar energy systems on its stores in five states. And today, the New York Times ran a story on the front page of its business section about Wal-Mart’s campaign to push compact fluorescent light bulbs into at least 100 million homes in 2007. When Wal-Mart first announced its plans to go green, many, including myself, believed it was campaign to help a company with huge public relations problems. Now it looks like Wal-Mart is in a position to have a major environmental impact at a time when we need it the most.

The truth is, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are to energy issues what vegetables are to obesity: a perfect answer that doesn’t solve because Americans refuse to consume either vegetables or CFLs. This is where being the nation’s biggest retailer puts you in a position to make a difference. By focusing on selling these light bulbs, Wal-Mart can single handedly change the consumption patterns for this product. Of course it doesn’t come without problems. First, Wal-Mart’s business model means that they will force light bulb manufacturers like GE and Phillips to produce at the lowest possible cost - most likely forcing these companies to light bulb production to China and other Asian countries. Second, CFLs contain Mercury in the bulb, which could create a new environmental problem when consumers throw them away. Americans are notorious for not recycling if it isn’t convenient, which means a concerted effort would have to be made to create a recycling program for CFLs.

Another truth is, there are a lot of Wal-Marts in this country, and a lot of prime real-estate on top of those buildings. If the plan goes through, Wal-Mart will begin installing solar panels on top of stores in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and New Jersey. As mentioned before, none of this is official, but Joel Makower believes that Wal-Mart could install solar panels on as many as 340 stores over the next five years. If this actually happens, the solar project will 60 times as big as the one currently being undertaken by Google in California. This isn’t a done deal; far from it. But if Wal-Mart is serious about their commitment to reducing their greenhouse emissions by 30% over the next three years, the solar project will be key.

This might seem like a dream come true for environmentalists; unfortunately, since most of these environmentalists are also liberals concerned with issues like workers’ rights, health care and trade, the situation gets messy. When I saw a presentation by Joel Makower in October, he said something that is painfully obvious yet so hard to swallow. A lot of companies have good intentions when it comes to the environment, but corporate critics never give them credit for it. What incentive does Nike, Starbucks, GE, etc. have to go green when critics are just going to blast the companies for not going far enough, or not solving any of their other problems? Wal-Mart is a big green monster. There are still plenty things wrong with Wal-Mart; but the truth is, critics haven’t killed the monster yet. A company this big engaging in a project like this isn’t just significant, it’s historic. Wal-Mart may still be a monster, but for their energy initiatives... I applaud the great beast.

Osama for President

CNN, the most trusted name in news... not so much. I no longer trust CNN to distinguish between Barack Obama (US Senator from Illinois) and Osama Bin Laden (Terrorist and leader of Al-Quida).


Did someone make a typo? Maybe. I wonder where the editor was on this one? Some might attribute this to human error (which we are all prone to); but I believe that when you brand yourself as the most trusted name in news, making mistakes like this is unacceptable. I’ve never been a huge fan of cable TV news, but I once watched CNN fairly regularly. Inside Politics and Crossfire were excellent shows that were canceled; Lou Dobbs’s show, which was once pretty credible, is now an entertainment program and the laughing stock of political punditry; and Anderson Cooper 360, my favorite show on CNN, now has to compete with prime-time TV. CNN is crashing and burning… fast.

Is there any chance I'll see "Osama for President" on CNN when they're running a story about Obama? Sadly, it wouldn't surprise me.

Update: Blitzer apologized for the "typographical" error the next morning on CNN; but come on guys... this should never have happened in the first place.

Three Thousand

…is the number plastered on the front page of today’s Plain Dealer. It is the number of Americans killed in the Iraq War. Years after we waged this war, it’s easy to go on with our lives and forget about what it means. Newspapers stick their Iraq War stories in the back of the International section of the paper and Cable News is more concerned with Mary Cheney’s personal life and whether or not we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Whenever a major milestone occurs, say 1000, 2000, or 3000 American casualties, we spend a day or two thinking about it and then lose interest again. The Iraq War (or any war/conflict/genocide for that matter) has a human element. Every person who dies, whether they are American, Iraqi, European, or whoever has a profound impact on people close to them.

The Washington Post ran an emotional story on the front page of the first paper of 2007. The article, which is titled Cold Ground for a Summer Love, tells the story of a young woman who lost her boyfriend in Iraq. After I finished the article I was grateful that someone had written about the human aspect of war. After I started reading some comments people were making about the article I was shocked to find out how strongly opposed a lot of people were to this story. I want to address some of their common arguments.

They only dated for one month, big deal. There are 2,999 people who are equally missed by people more serious than a one-month girlfriend.
This seems to assume there is a limit to how much you are allowed to care for someone. Since they only dated for one month she really shouldn’t care that he is dead? I’m not quite sure I understand what the appropriate time span two people have to date before they are allowed to have feelings for each other. Sure, it’s true that some people have an easy time rebounding from crisis, but for others it takes more time. This particular story may have made the front page of the Washington Post but there are thousands of similar stories that didn’t. To say that this is an isolated incident seems somewhat ignorant. Everyone has a different way of coping with loss. Some go to therapy, some visit cemeteries, Cindy Sheehan went all the way to Crawford Texas.

Death is an inevitable part of life; people die in car accidents and from hearth attacks every day. Crying in a cemetery is something that only drama-queens and emo kids do. Get over it.
This is a pretty harsh generalization. Like I said before, everyone is different and copes differently. Just because you might cope with a loss by getting together with someone else as soon as possible or forgetting they existed doesn’t mean it is what everyone wants to or should do. Would you truly appreciate the advice “get over it” if someone close to you died?

Wolfe knew exactly what he signed up for. No one should be surprised he is dead, he had it coming.
I hear this argument all the time and can’t believe people actually think this way. People go into the military for different reasons. Some go because they can’t afford to go to college and need the military to assist financially. Some go because they were recruited out of high school by military recruiters. Some go because they come from a military family. Some go because the alternative, working in a dead-end job with little chance for advancement, is worse. I don’t think it’s fair to say that everyone who goes into the Reserves has a death wish. And who is to say that some people may have joined the Reserves because they felt strongly about protecting America from Iraq’s WMDs. Is it fair that they are fighting and dying for something else?

So now its 2007… the Iraq War is unlikely to end soon; but its not too late to remember the people that this war impacts.