Monday, February 25, 2008

What is "natural"?

I was so pleased to read this article on virgin birth in the New York Times. It tells of a single female komodo dragon at the Kansas zoo who just had baby komodos without being in contact with a male komodo for the last decade. The birth is a fantastic occasion which points to the wonderment of nature, but the article uses it as an illustration of how little we know (and assume) about nature.

I am annoyed and frustrated by numerous individuals to justify their beliefs and their morals based on what is "natural." On the left, people are quick to scorn herbicides, pesticides and genetically modified foods because they are "unnatural". On the right I've people decry homosexual marriage, in-vitro fertilization and both therapeutic and whole cloning because it is "unnatural". Specifically in the realm of vegetarianism, I've heard the argument used by both sides: vegans claiming that it isn't "natural" for humans to drink cow milk, and meat-eaters claim that eating meat is healthy and "natural" for humans.

It joys me to find that "natural" is not such an easy concept to triangulate. Nature is better at doing its job than we are to understanding it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

HD DVD Dead, shame on Sony

It appears that HD DVD has died. I can't say that I had much skin in this game. Though I have a high definition television, I still enjoy plain old vanilla DVDs, and much of the content I watch is television recorded digitally (and in high definition) through my computer. However, I had a strong preference that no company win the format war (er, skirmish, war is a bit grandiose) that pitted Blu-Ray against HD-DVD, and especially not Sony. I had hoped that Sony had learned, through years of heartbreak, that creating a proprietary format and attempting to ram it down people's throats was not the way to go. They have enough experience, with beta and connect, to know that they should embrace partners and work with other companies. I am not sure that Toshiba was a lot more reasonable in their efforts to "reach across the aisle", but I don't think they have such an asinine history of rejecting partnerships or open technology as Sony. Honestly, I wanted both sides to continue their ridiculous positions until digital downloads could trump both of them, so both companies could lose their investments, and hopefully think twice next time about not working together.

Astute readers might mention that I seem to like Apple, and Apple nearly never works with anyone else. Well, that is right. What can I say?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Romney drops out?!

I did not see this one coming. I sort if wanted it to happen, since Huckabee is my conservative candidate of choice, but I honestly thought Romney would fight it out for a little longer. Maybe his sons convinced him to save some of the inheritance for them.

I am really interested to see how this might change the dynamic between McCain and Huckabee. It would be really difficult for them to continue to be so chummy now that there are only two. If Huckabee wants to maintain the possibility of a vp spot, he ought to bow out soon. However, he is basically in the best position he has ever been to really take the nomination. Romney and Huckabee combined took about as many delegates as McCain, so conceivably he could be in a good position if all of those were value voters. However, probably too many of them are fiscal conservatives who wouldn't touch Huckabee with a ten-foot pole.

I think what is fascinating is how the two final Republican candidates are so distasteful to certain segments of their party. This is a critical election for the future of the Republican party, especially if they win the general election.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

Well, I am heading to bed, but what a fantastic day. To have the excitement somewhat like a general election day, but with so many candidates, is pretty great, I think. It looks like Hillary is taking a slight lead over Obama in number of states won, but the proportional system of Democratic delegates will keep him going well past today.

However, I think the Republican contest, with three active candidates, is of course more dynamic. Support is solidifying around John McCain, but it looks like Huckabee is going to be able to pull out enough state wins to keep going. I can only imagine how this must make Mitt Romney's blood boil. He thinks that had Huckabee been out of the race all Huck's support would flow to him, however, I don't know if I support that theory. I think the reverse is a lot closer to the truth. Were Romney to drop out of the race, I think Huckabee would get a big boost, because of the value voters who would go to Huckabee. I think a lot of Huckabee's evangelical voters would have a problem with Romney's religion.

I can only hope it gets to a brokered convention. Isn't it strange, how now that I am 28, I am excited about watching a decisive convention on television, when only three elections ago I was cursing the political coverage because it prevented my favorite television shows from being on? Wow, I've gotten boring.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Why a Democratic scientist is noticing Mike Huckabee (in a good way)

I am a scientist, and a Democrat, and in general I respect people who value scientific knowledge. So, it was with great surprise that I recently found myself interested in Mike Huckabee's presidential run. I know that at this point he doesn't have much of a shot of actually receiving the nomination, but I think he will do respectably in some contests come super Tuesday. He will probably win Arkansas, I think, and he at least has a small shot at Georgia and Tennessee, and maybe Oklahoma. I was surprised at my interest because Mike is nearly unapologetic about not believing in evolution. I am pretty sure that we would be on opposite sides of the stem cell research debate and abortion, but I feel like I am still rooting for him, nonetheless.

There are a few reasons why I found myself hoping another man from Hope would be nominated for president:
1) My main reason for defending Mike Huckabee is because I feel like I know what guides him, and can appreciate and anticipate how he will make decisions. He is foremost a Christian, and secondly a Republican. So many of his political leanings are rooted in the Bible, and can be anticipated. The Bible is, I think, a generally good guide to life, so why wouldn't I support a candidate who chooses to follow the Bible in his daily life, both personally and politically?

This is a sharp contrast to Mitt Romney, whom I can not anticipate at all. I have a feeling that Mitt Romney uses not the Bible to guide his hand in his day to day decisions, but instead uses political polling. When he was running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy, he sounded like a Democrat, and when he ran for Massachusetts governor, he sounded like a moderate Republican. Now that he is running for the Republican nomination, he sounds like a conservative Republican. I anticipate, if Mitt receives the nomination, that he will tack hard to the center, and start to reclaim those past liberal credentials, in order to win over Democrats and independents. As a Democrat that ought to make me happy, but it just feels like Mitt is slimy enough to say anything to win any election, and I can't stand that. I'd rather vote for a candidate with whom I disagree, but respect, than someone with whom I agree (somewhat more) but don't respect.

2) Secondly, I have found Mike Huckabee to break with his party enough for me to consider him a good leader. This harkens back to my first point a bit, because when "Republican" gets in the way of "Christian", I know Christian will win. In my state of Arkansas, Huckabee proposed and pushed through the biggest creation of child health care through ARKids. Republicans chide him now for expanding the government, but making sure kids have health insurance was more important, as a Christian, than limiting the growth of government. I don't know if he has spoken on the subject, but I feel pretty sure that Huckabee would have stayed his veto pen when considering the expansion of the children's health insurance program that Bush recently vetoed, even though it would have been paid for with tobacco taxes.

I have also beamed with pride as fiscal conservatives have attacked Huckabee six ways to Sunday. I always thought the fiscal conservatives and evangelicals, whose Christian values should direct them to help people, were strange bedfellows. Huckabee basically kicked the Wall Street types out of the bed. He is much more internally consistent than the other candidates, in my opinion.

2) Finally, I would be joking if I didn't mention that the biggest reason I am interested in Huckabee is because he is from Arkansas. I love my state, and I love seeing people from my state succeed. If I were from somewhere else, I think I'd be deriding Huckabee as ignorant and ill-prepared for the White House. However, as it stands, I am excited for him.

Like I said before, I don't think Huckabee has much of a chance on super Tuesday, but I think he will pick up a few states. At this point, I hope he does well, and I hope McCain considers him in choosing a Vice President. With McCain's paucity of religious credentials, Huckabee might just fill out the ticket to secure a certain victory. Just a couple of days and we will see.

Eating meat in the world

So, I am a little late commenting on this article from the New York Times, Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler, but I'd like to mention it none the less. I want to discuss it because I am a pot-smoking, hippy, vegetarian liberal. Actually, I am not all those things, but I am a vegetarian, so sometimes I get lumped into political movements in which I don't believe.

In general, I really enjoyed this article. The author presents ample evidence about the environmental impact of consuming meat, and for the most part doesn't use the accusatory tone often associated with PETA or their supporters. I am especially pleased that he doesn't start down the path of "animal rights," or cruelty, as it is such a nebulous and contentious notion that it is dismissed (as I think it ought to be) by most people who are generally sympathetic to notion of environmental degradation due to meat production.

I am also very much in favor of two of the solutions he submits, namely reduction of farm subsidies and better food technology. I don't agree with President Bush on many things, but I support very much his attempts (in the past, at least) to curb agricultural subsidies. These subsidies prevent consumers from seeing the true cost of their foods, and because of the massive lobbying groups supporting particular foods (I am talking to you, corn), situations develop where food is used in crazy and inefficient ways simply because the cost is artificially low (corn-based ethanol to reduce greenhouse gases? Ridiculous!) Though I am a democrat, I hope that a republican president has the will to cut these subsidies. Goodness knows the politicians from my state of Arkansas don't have the gumption. Growing food is something that the developing world, including South and Central America, do very well, and we should let them, and bring down trade tariffs to prevent their cheaper foods from being sold in our markets. The argument that in a crisis we need to be able to produce our own food doesn't quite hold water to me. In a crisis, we could stop eating a bit of the meat we eat and basically be flooded with the extra grain. I'm disappointed that Mike Huckabee has taken this stand in the presidential debates.

Secondly, the author mentions advancing food technology as an option, and I am proud that he does:
Longer term, it no longer seems lunacy to believe in the possibility of “meat without feet” — meat produced in vitro, by growing animal cells in a super-rich nutrient environment before being further manipulated into burgers and steaks.

I am proud the author mentioned this because for many of the hippy vegetarians who shop at the farmers market and whole foods, this is an option they find so distasteful as to be repugnant. However, it is a viable option, and we have continually manipulated nature in order to feed the growing population of humans (by domesticating cows, domesticating wheat, breeding chickens, etc.) It would be morally deficient of us to not develop technology that could help feed people because it doesn't sit right with us.

However, speaking specifically about moral decisions in food production and consumption, I am disappointed with the authors final paragraph:
In fact, Americans are already buying more environmentally friendly products, choosing more sustainably produced meat, eggs and dairy. The number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the last 10 years or so, and it has escaped no one’s notice that the organic food market is growing fast. These all represent products that are more expensive but of higher quality.

My problem with this paragraph is that there is an assumption that farmers market and organic food is better for the environment, when there is at least compelling evidence that organic food and farmer's markets are actually worse for the environment. There may be benefits of organic and farmers markets, such as less chemicals for sensitive consumers, but to say it is environmentally better is either nebulous or outright false. To the author's credit, though, he mentions that these specialty and more expensive options for meat hopefully will lead to less consumption, which, considering the epidemic of obesity in our country, would be over all a good thing.