Tuesday, January 31, 2012

comments please!

I want to create a forum on this page where people can share things they are doing to limit their environmental impact. It could be small, like using a non-disposable coffee cup, or big like buying a hybrid car. (ps, its ok to get a little competitive, but I will delete comments that are derisive so no picking on one another.)

Poof! You are all environmentalists! Now lets crowd source, there might be any number of ideas out there then many of us haven't thought of yet!

Save the Chocolate

Have you ever had a hard time convincing someone to care about global warming? I can think of plenty of times when the subject had inspired apathy during conversation. Often people feel it is too big for them to make a difference or that they are powerless to stop it. It is daunting to think about it holistically, millions of tons of carbon in the air, large scale industrial operations puking nitrous oxide in the air, warming oceans increasing atmospheric water vapor content. What impact does an individual really have?

Well more than you think. Not only is your personal carbon foot print contributing, but more importantly, how does your influence in a community raise standards in general. It might seem like a small thing, but people tend to accept the social mores of their community more than we would like to admit. In my life time I have witnessed the rise of recycling for example. What used to be the habits of statistic outliers like hippies and bums picking up beer cans at the beach, have been accepted in many communities to the point where not separating your recyclables could garner sharp looks and derisive comments from the local gossip.

Still not feeling global climate change on a personal level? Ok, how about chocolate. Scientific American has been following the impact of climate change on several bio-systems. One that might be of interest to chocolate lovers is the sub-tropical regions of the world, the exclusive habitat for cacao trees. Yup, global cacao production has declined in the last few years due to changes in climatic conditions combined with spread of several diseases and poverty. Mars corp. is researching ways to attenuate damages, but with growing demand coming from emerging economies and decreasing supply, it might mean less chocolate to go around.

So do what you can to limit your personal environmental impact, if for no other reason than to save the cute animals and chocolate.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday book Review

A few years ago I had the honor of meeting David Suzuki author of “The Big Picture”. He was in town as part of a lecture series and I was his driver during his stay. Not one for small talk I asked him; as one of Canada’s most recognizable geneticists, what he thought of the recent developments (at that time) about the role non-encoding DNA might have regarding gene expression. We had just pulled up at a stop light, and he turns to me and says “we don’t understand shit about genetics” implying that we have only just started unraveling the mystery behind the blueprint for all life on earth.

His no nonsense way of answering that question reflects his writing style, though absent of the course language I should stress. “The Big Picture” is a series of essays about a range of topics circling the central theme of the book. It reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould only with out the stuffy feel of a book being written from a wing back chair surrounded by leather bound volumes and expensive scotch.

While some of the topics chosen seem a little rudimentary to someone reading for years on such material, it does provide brilliant and current examples for those of us who have tired of trotting out old standards every time we get into a conversation with some unfortunate individual who actually still doubts the anthropogenic nature of global climate change, or doesn’t understand why it is important to save the animals that don’t look cute pictured on a tee-shirt.

If you have any friends or relatives that live in a community where environmentalism is a bad word tantamount to job killer, this is the perfect gift. Accessible science for the masses.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Red state vs. blue state

Recently I have seen a picture circulating around featuring statistics regarding “red state“ and “blue state” financial contributions to the federal budget compared to their consumption of entitlement money. (I would post the picture but for two things; first it is not my intellectual property and secondly I am not very good at that sort of thing.) Naturally I am always wary of statistics, as it is easy to manipulate data sets in all kinds of ways, especially wary when they pertain to political issues.

For the sake of conjecture however I will take this one at face value. I offer a different explanation for the conservative attitude regarding entitlements, they might just be more familiar with the system as it functions. If it is true that “red states” receive a higher percentage of aid per capita than blue states, it is quite possible that they see first hand what it does to communities and they do not like the trend. Maybe they would do better if greater access to education was apart of the system, or community involvement.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying we should toss unemployed or underemployed families out into the streets, I strongly feel that the social safety nets are necessary to stave off desperate circumstances that could lead to consequences for all of us. What I am saying is maybe it is time to take a long hard look into the social ramifications of the system as it stands. I am not thrilled to have my tax dollars spent on supporting meth houses but I am totally ok with it being spent to help a family feed its children and keep a roof over their heads.

I propose a two birds one stone solution, get paid for your education. You are producing either intellectually or in the case of trade school physically and intellectually, why not find ways to fund the future while supporting today. Agro tech classes in rural parts of the country with land grants could also provide food for the community as student workers receive a salary and learn sustainable farming techniques. Urban communities could develop civil engineering programs where vital on the job training at all levels could start to tackle the problems with our failing infrastructure. Every city and town nation wide would do well to have a sustainable energy development program.

Instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, why not mobilize our workforce and revitalize our flagging economy?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Marginalization of Science

I am somewhat disturbed about the state of affairs regarding scientific progress especially as it pertains to policy making. There is an ever growing body of evidence regarding global climate change, just as an example, that represents the work of tens of thousands of scientists world wide and spans many disciplines within the scientific community. While from an outside perspective some of the research contradicts its self as predictions range from; catastrophe imminent, to something may happen in some length of time longer than the human life span.

It is this contradiction and a disproportionately small number of flawed individual data sets, that are the basis for inaction on the parts of policy makers. This is a travesty in my opinion, akin to recalling every form of paper currency because some of it might have been used for a drug deal at some time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that much of the lobbying effort in American politics against the acceptance of anthropogenic climate change is done by people with a financial interest against the necessary measures that might attenuate its damages.

Science accepts skepticism, in fact it is one of the most fundamental components of science. A hypothesis must not only explain all relevant data and be repeatable, but also be predictive of results through experimentation. It doesn't get more skeptical than that. Imagine if you had to live up to these criteria in your daily life, imagine having to prove that the federal government still guarantees your ten dollar bill for all goods and services, public and private, every time you wanted to buy a cup of coffee.

Bottom line, the people who are in the only place to effect real change on matters of science are often giving equal weight to arguments from those with a obviously vested interest against experts who have developed a truly remarkable body of evidence.

I welcome your comments or questions in the comment section below or on twitter @marcqmindaccess.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Book Review

Who remembers what the world was like in 2002. We had just survived the 2000 midnight destruction of the earth and we found our selves with lots of stocked up can goods and water, sounds like a perfect time to write a book! When I look back on those times I remember optimism as we forged ahead into a new millennium.

Two books from that era are worth a second look in my opinion, “Biomimicry” by Janine M. Benyus from the late 90’s still reads like a futurists depiction of a possible sustainable planet complete with permaculture crops that don’t destroy the soil, computers that more closely resemble the human mind and materials plucked right from natures playbook that out perform the chemically intensive substances we currently use. It would be interesting to see; now more than a decade later where some of the experimental research has led. (If Dr.’s Suzuki or Benyus happen across this article, I would be first in line to buy a follow up book. Hint hint.)

The second book first printed in 2001 with a second edition in 2004; still before the political system neutered the American scientific community, is “Wild Solutions” by Andrew Beattie and Paul r. Ehrlich. While somewhat less fantastic than the previous book, also reads like a primer to inspire a new generation of scientists with ideas for research. Some of the ideas in this book inspire a desire to live closer to nature as it lets you into some of the tricks and tools in the survival kit of animals. Other passages give you hope for the battle we are losing with the ever intensifying antibiotic arms race.

Even if all you want is an escape to better times from a scientific point of view either of these titles might be found hiding in your local book store. Keep and eye out and keep reading!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wedge issue voting

Often I hear the same issues cropping up around election time. Reproductive rights, entitlements, environmental, religious, and a wide variety of other social or fiscal issues. One thing I have noticed is how little is actually done about these issues when a political base takes power. The way I see it, the political parties don’t want real lasting change on these issues as they are necessary as whips to drive the voting populace to voting booths.

Remember Bush jr.? When he first took office not only did the republicans control the House the entire time, but the democrats didn’t take the senate until part way into his second term. If he really wanted to ax big government and out law abortion he had opportunity, what he lacked was motive. He was anything but a non-partisan compromiser, so any argument that he abstained out of some kind of altruism does not ring true. I think the facts speak pretty clearly that it was not in the best interest of the party to genuinely address these issues. He did manage to pull off the greatest bank heist of all time, robbing millions of American tax dollars and handing them over as “necessary” bank bailouts (free market my ass).

Now the Democrats are just as bad, they pretend to be led around by the nose and wring their hands, while monied interests line their pockets just as much every election season. The political brinkmanship has stopped even being somewhat convincing. To me it seems more like pro-wrestling, with the winners and losers chosen ahead of time and both reading from the same script. Truly if the founding fathers where alive today and aware of all that has become of our nation, I am sure they would advocate a second revolution.

If you look at what they could be doing and what they have done, it is pretty obvious exactly whose interests are being protected in DC. I'll give you a hint, if you make less than a million a year, it isn't yours.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Consolidation of the media.

One of the most interesting things I have noted about the Arab Spring is the role various state run news media outlets have played. Often when the media is closely controlled by the state, after the dust settles and the young media savvy protesters return to put their lives together, they then have the second battle of fighting entrenched complacency. While I do not want to insinuate that we are living in a fascist regime or other hyperbole in that vein, it is striking that a faction within American politics has strived to control so much of our media.

If you will grant me a digression, passive vs. interactive media. When I am reading a book, news paper, blog or any other form of written media and something strikes me as odd, I can stop, research more on a topic or check the references where the information is coming from. One reason I have never like broadcast news is its momentary nature. It does a end run around your common sense by switching so rapidly from topic to topic that fact checking in the moment is nearly moot. As such, I feel broadcasters can be a little more lax at best or devious at worst in the content they provide.

Now it can be argued that you can just turn off media sources, but nothing disturbs me more than to be in a place where that is not an option, a waiting room in a business for example. Even if you are not paying attention to every word, there is a chance that part of your brain might be. It has been well proven that mirror neuron response and other cognitive phenomena is taken advantage of by advertisers, why shouldn’t those with an agenda and public forum also bend the will of the people.

Today, we find more and more independent news papers falling from the market everyday, information that is circulated through the main media outlets seem to be funneling from smaller and smaller sources of content, and I for one am disturbed by this trend. There are several industries that for the public good need to be kept insulated from the corporate profit motivated system. Media as it is necessary for an informed public so they can make informed decisions is definitely one of them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A transparent lateral democracy.

I have mentioned before that we live in a day and age where internet technology has led us to a place where interconnectedness has grown to where it might possibly replace the flawed system of representative democracy. We can post a picture or comment on any number of sites and get feed back, positive or negative from thousands or more within hours or days. Why can't we have that kind of access to the political system that has real world implications on our daily lives?

While there is still a segment of the population that is not internet literate enough to employ a lateral democracy at this moment, I think it will not be long before this will become less and less of an issue.

If I ran for office I would set up a secure .gov website where anyone willing to register their social security number and lives with in my constituency would be able to vote as well as weigh in on a public forum on a daily basis about the issues that cross my desk. I imagine my self in that position as a truly public servant and regardless of my personal views, it would be the will of the people I would respect.

We should tear down the walls of access to our political leadership. The technical issues like security and fraud are not insurmountable. A system like this could be made secure and put in place within a year. While I doubt it would mean serious advancement of my personal political views, just bringing about more political access to the general populace would alone serve the greater good.

As I have said before, I don’t think this would be a boon or bust for the corporate system of capitalism. Corporations are after all made up of people, and if they treat their people right, it would behoove them to vote in the interests of the parent company. What I do not agree with is giving them the loudest voice in the our current political system that is basically for sale to the highest bidder at this point.

I welcome your comments either here or on my new twitter account @marcqmindaccess

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pet product idea.

I loved having a dog. The long sunday walks in the park, the excitement of the dogpark and even the "what? this is my bed too now" looks I got when trying to claim more than my allowed corner. What I didn't like was the cleaning up the backyard droppings. The ones on the walk were to be expected and did not require searching around. But living in terror every time I had to cross the yard; especially at night if I forgot to take out the garbage and missed feces patrol the week before, was easily my least favorite part of coexisting with my canine companion.

I would like to see a scooping version of the roomba. It could come with its own doghouse equipped with solar panels to recharge it, and maybe even future advances could allow it to act as a lawn mower as well. But before we start getting ahead of our selves, lets talk target acquisition. In my mind I see a system that uses motion sensors combined with a heat seeking array that would monitor dog movements and respond to "movement behavior" specific to the act and dispatch the scooping bot like a dung beetle. Maybe even olfactory sensor technology has progressed to a point where it could also be employed with out disrupting the cost effective balance.

I guess it is either this or we start breeding dung beetles that respond to carnivore excrement.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Flaws of the free market

There are fundamental flaws in the concept of the free market that troubles me. I will use two examples, healthcare and the import retail.

First, if you have read other post on this forum (and feel free to comment, i will not edit or block anyone from participating in conversation) then you might be familiar with my views on capitalism in general. To be succinct no body makes real money in a capitalistic system with out disenfranchising a segment of the population in the interest of harvesting regular profits from them. No where is this more apparent than in the for profit healthcare system. I understand and support the idea that new technology and new drugs come from heavy investment in research. But the insurance model as it exists is predatory. Like a thug holding your health hostage for a ransom paid on a monthly basis.

Second, no company is an island. No company could exist in a truly free market in a healthy way. Currently the American Navy maintains eleven carrier groups in various parts of the world permanently. This ensures our trade interests are protected. I my opinion this is a service we provide through our tax dollars to companies that rely on international trade. If we did not protect these interests in this way, it would not take long for modern piracy to start seizing these low hanging fruits as they travel international waters. We pay for our oil twice in this way, if you think about it. Not only do we protect them in transit at sea, but we also pay for the roads they use to distribute the goods once they arrive at our shores. We pay to keep the infrastructure that makes their business possible in a lot of ways.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday book review.

Usually I like to finish a book before weighing in on it, but in the case of Sean B. Carroll's "The Making Of The Fittest" I am too excited to wait.
Now I admit I am kind of a science nerd and read a lot of scholarly works heavily laden with jargon that i may well never be able to pronounce out loud, but this is not one of them. I am surprised by the accessibility of Prof. Carroll's work considering the body of hard science he presents. The chapter on "The everyday math of evolution" might seem a little hard for a math phobic to sit through, but title not withstanding he works it in subtly making the function seem interesting and truly explaining the components. He also goes on to debunk several myths about evolutionary theory in a matter of fact way that would have taken Richard Dawkins several chapters. I say this book is well worth the cover price and it will become a permanent addition to my library.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New product ideas

I have been thinking lately about new applications for social media and phones, here is a few that i have come up with.

In light of recent laws that have been growing in popularity, not to mention the inherent dangers of talking or texting while driving i would like to see a “sorry I am driving” button flash on screen when call or text is received. I have a “ignore or ignore with text” function all ready present on my phone. But if it was an option anytime the phone was in transit and was as easy as unlocking the screen it might help with compliance with current laws.

Personal green meter application for facebook. Basically make being green competitive. Consumers could register product ownership in order to fine tune “green meter” as a part of a social networking site. 

Example: if a owner of a Toyota Prius registers their car, an estimate of their carbon foot print can be added to the metric of the app. posting about the use of reusable shopping bags or the recycling of a computer can also effect the meter. Ultimately, users of this service can help target marketing to products in the emerging sustainable market as well as specific products that might augment current purchases. Like hybrid auto service, a company that sells custom shopping bags or computer accessories. While the idea of giving marketers even more information to work with sounds a little scary at first, I think I would prefer seeing adds for companies I would actually make purchases from or are happy to support rather than the mishmash of crap i am sometimes subjected to in my random internet wanderings.

New metric for success.

Sustainability needs to become the new metric of success.

In the middle of these trying times, it is important to remember what exactly got us into this mess in the first place. Currently success is judged fiscal year by fiscal year. A fortune 500 company CEO can expect a healthy bonus at the end of every year as long as a series of short term goals is met. There is a fundamental flaw with this model, human nature.

Capitalism is an extension of the opportunistic and predatory nature of man. Like evolution it is blind to the future and unintended consequences. But not in a well developed ecosystem like a forest with predators and prey, but more like bacteria competing for the limited resources of a patch of skin.

If you will grant me a digression, humans are not nearly as evolved as we like to think. Sharks, and alligators have existed in nearly their present forms for hundreds of millions of years, humans on the other hand have maybe 20 thousand years of our greatest asset, cultivation and the ability to support a society apart from hunter-gather groups. All things created by man are subject to mans own shortcomings, and as such our society is inherently flawed as individuals are flawed. Like a fractal image the component part resembles the whole.

I argue then, as we are young and still blindly groping our way from the darkness, the notion that we know better, should always be distrusted. On environmental issues often the interests of profit is carried over the interest of a system, that no matter how many barriers we create, we are still a part of and depend on for critical functions. Human kind would do well to adopt an attitude like a reverse of innocent until proven guilty,

Waiting for the old people to die!

I have decided to return and edit these. In the interest of honesty, and in the hope that my writing has improved over time, I am disclaiming that in my attempt to clean up my grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, I am not intending to change the concept or message (however ill formed it might be) of any post. If I do decide to add content (as I am now,) I will try to make it obvious by using foot notes or colored text. Besides, no one is reading this anyway. 

Let me introduce the concept of "entrenched complacency".

There is a growing sense of disfranchisement mixed with apathy in younger generations. This is in part the result of the centralization of power to people who no longer have the best interests of the majority of Americans at heart. For lack of a better, non-nut jobby sounding term, I will hence forth refer to these empowered decision makers as The Establishment. Now it is not hard to see the thinly veiled motives of these elite controllers. Often it is profit and the engines of such that are granted the loudest voice in Washington DC.

This is not to paint the Establishment as a monolithic entity; as much as they would like us to view it as such, or even as a two party state. In truth neither party really has the interests of most of us in mind, and the seeming dialectic that masquerades is mostly lip service. Instead, I see it as out of touch. We have allowed them to create a platform where; science is debated by people who do not have the time necessary  to understand or more often are not qualified to fairly assess the issues, civil liberties are hard won and tenuously held, profit motivation is held on equal ground with common good, and even truth can be subject to debate.

Not that everyone apart of the system is in the wrong, just mired in entrenched complacency. Simply; this is the system as it is and enough of those in power benefit from it as it is, so they fight against those that want to see positive change. We live in a world where you can post a picture or a essay on a public forum (internet) and find out within 24 hours what ten thousand people really think of it. Who among us feels that they have that kind of access to the leadership that makes deeply life effecting choices for us everyday?

Just hypothetically, what if when you paid your taxes at the end of the fiscal cycle, you could vote with your dollar? Say you are against social security, then when you submit your taxes you can adjust a pie chart saying where you want your money to go in government. Or exclusively publicly funded elections, this would not infringe on the rights of corporations to influence elections as they are made up of people and if they treat their employees right, they most likely would vote with the interests of their employer.

I think the concept of the public servant should also be rethought. Once you reach a specific level of power, your assets should be frozen permanently. This is not to suggest that our state governors should be kept in the poor house after they retire, but have their salary and pension be based on the average median income of the area they control. Now that would be motivation for building a better future! Flat out we need to take the money out of politics so our leaders can make decisions not out of self interest, but out of what truly constitutes healthy change for our country.

So I guess we just have to wait for all the old people to die so we can fix the system.