Thursday, August 25, 2005

Solving The Energy Crisis... Really!

I see that the Bush Administration has finally decided to modify the way CAFE (corporate average fuel economy--the way car manufacturers' average gas mileage for their fleets is computed) standards are measured. The major change is to move SUVs and light trucks (pickup trucks) from the exempt 'truck' category into the 'passenger cars' category. The goal is to try and force car manufacturers to make lighter, more efficient SUVs and trucks with better fuel economy.

What the NHTSA seems to have forgotten is why the popularity of SUVs rose in the first place. In the late '70s, SUVs were available (the IH Scout II, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy Suburban, full-size Ford Bronco) but were generally sold to special purpose users, i.e., large families, rural residents who lived in communities with bad roads or bad weather, trailer pullers. The station wagon was the vehicle of choice for the average American family with children. The Carter Administration changed that, when they enacted CAFE regulations, and these regulations largely doomed the station wagon. Corresponding with these regulations were the increasing requirements for child safety seats, which require more 'hip room' than the average adult occupies. The American car-buying public is inherently rational, and the disappearance of the station wagon forced many of them into buying SUVs. This trend was noticed by the Big 3 and, with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan mini-van and the Jeep Cherokee SUV the market was born. It didn't hurt (the car manufacturers) that SUV and light truck sales weren't counted against the CAFE averages.

Here we are, twenty years after the introduction of the mini-van. What will happen if American auto manufacturers are restricted from making enough SUVs to satisfy customer demand? Well, car buyers will buy SUVs from foreign manufacturers. Used SUVs will rise in price. And people will keep their SUVs longer, and keep them running longer. Altogether, not what the rule-changers have in mind, and a course of action that will actually result in a decrease in average fuel economy (older vehicles invariably are less efficient as their drivetrain ages and deteriorates).

Instead of all of this useless symbolism, why not do something that will make a difference? That will result in a decrease of at least 10% of the petroleum used by this country? That will make the environment cleaner? And, that will require absolutely no reduction in energy consumption by American businesses and consumers? I know... you're sold already... or if not, you should be.

First, some facts about US energy consumption:

• Approximately 2% of the electricity consumed in this country is generated using petroleum not including natural gas

• Because of inherent generation inefficiencies, it takes three times the amount of energy as measured in BTUs to be consumed as is generated, e.g., one BTU of electricity requires the expenditure of three BTUs of petroleum with two BTUs wasted in heat and friction losses

• Approximately 45% of the total petroleum consumed in this country is used for gasoline production and use in automobile transportation

These facts indicate that if we can generate an extra 2% of our electricity via other means we can eliminate the use of petroleum for electrical generation, and any extra generation will reduce the usage of natural gas. They also indicate that using another energy source for automotive transportation besides petroleum (electricity, hydrogen) that is itself not a byproduct of petroleum will, again, reduce our oil consumption.

The secret to petroleum independence is alternate means of generating electricity. After all, hydrogen is created using electricity. And, solar-generated electricity (by the use of solar panels) is among the cheapest forms of electricity; the entire cost consists of the cost of the panels and ancillary hardware, and there is no operating cost. So, what we have to do is to increase the amount of solar electrical generation.

Here's how:

• Change building codes to require each new residential and commercial construction to include enough solar or wind generation capability to provide 10% of the anticipated daily building consumption

• Give corporate and individual taxpayers a tax credit for US-manufacturered solar or wind generation equipment used to provide up to 10% of their daily energy consumption (US-manufactured means the solar panel must be made entirely in the US, ancillary gear must be manufacturered here in the US and use US-made components if available)

• Require utilities to provide net metering so consumers can sell their generated electricity back to the utilities, thus reducing the amount of electricity utilities have to generate especially during peak times (daytime) while lowering consumers' electricity costs

• Give corporate and individual taxpayers a tax credit for purchasing vehicles that use renewable energy sources (electric vehicles) or for using non-petroleum fuel sources (electricity, biodiesel, ethanol)

• Require public transport to use either electricity, biodiesel, ethanol, or LPG as fuel, and prohibit the use of any other fuel (gas, diesel)

• Let drivers of electrical vehicle get free public parking and use of HOV lanes regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle

• Allow the sale of biodiesel to consumers and exempt it from any fuel-related tax (sales tax only)

• Open up ANWR for drilling and exploration because any oil we get domestically reduces our trade deficit and keeps US dollars in the US instead of sending them to the Middle East

These changes would result in automakers building SUVs with small, powerful, yet efficient turbodiesels, as well as producing more electric and hybrid vehicles. They would also stimulate the public to buy these vehicles. The onsite generation requirement would result in more efficient structures that also generated part of the electricity they consume.

All of these changes would be much less disruptive to the American economy (the tax credit for US-manufactured energy equipment would greatly stimulate production and lower costs due to increased economies of scale), and would knock back our usage of petroleum. If only the business/residential energy generation requirement were passed in California, their electricity crisis would be over (max consumption is during the day, when the sun shines). Giving people incentives to purchase new, more energy-efficient and eco-friendly vehicles that still met their needs will also help, and it will help stimulate the economy. If all of these changes were adopted nationwide, in a decade or so our petroleum energy consumption would probably drop by 25% per capita, which would make a big difference.

Well, there's my plan for energy independence. What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2005

What Democracy Really Means

Image of protester at 3 Nov 2004 post-election rally
courtesy of

For too many Americans, "democracy" is a nebulous concept that seems to mean "our government when my candidate wins." Refusing to abide by the results of elections, many (including Hillary Clinton) claimed George Bush was "selected, not elected" and decried his first term as illegitimate. Congressional Democrats, with the help of former Republican Jim Jeffords, stalemated the Senate for two years while claiming that Bush's "selection" rendered his presidency subject to bipartisan control and influence. Of course, Bush ignored his political opponents and governed as if he had won by a landslide (as any successful president must), enraging his adversaries even more and spurring them on to increasingly extreme attempts to thwart the president's agenda. How these actions were viewed by the general public was shown in the stunning setbacks suffered by Congressional Democrats in the 2002 mid-term elections.

The 2004 presidential election was "deja vu all over again." Many Democrats claimed that, once again, the election was "stolen" by GOP voter fraud in places like Florida and Ohio, despite a complete lack of evidence for their position (and, in fact, considerable evidence that what voter fraud existed was done by Democratic operatives). Again, many Democrats refuse to accept the outcome of the elections. The last time this happened, the last time Democrats refused to accept the legitimacy of a Republican president and the rule of law, was in 1860 and the result was the Civil War. Is that what Leftists really want—another Civil War? In many cases, yes it is.

I look at what many on the Left are calling for... actively urging our troops to disobey orders and desert, urging troops to kill their commanding officers, and other sorts of anarchic violence. All because they disagree with the policy of the current administration. Yet they have the gall to defend these, and other odious acts, as legitimate acts of "dissent" that demonstrate their love of country. I see it differently. I see these acts as treasonous, as giving aid and comfort to our enemies in time of war.

These people need to understand that legitimate dissent is not the same thing as denying the outcome of elections, nor does it include urging unlawful acts. Our system of government relies on everyone agreeing to abide by the rule of law and the outcome of elections, whether or not their candidate wins. Fight the good fight, and accept the outcome. (Heck, in the first days of our country, the loser of the presidential election became the vice-president. How hard would that be today, to have Al Gore and then John Kerry willingly agree to support George Bush and work for his agenda?) In our constitutional republic everyone's rights are protected and each individual has the right to have their say, but at the end of the day the winners of elections get to run things (while following the Constitution, of course). If we don't understand this and abide by it, then our elections mean nothing and our country is a banana republic instead of a constitutional republic.

I view many of these "dissenters" as spoiled children... except that their acts only encourage our enemies and hurt America, just as the US peace movement encouraged the North Vietnamese to continue to fight after the Tet debacle and that victory only required killing sufficient numbers of American troops to turn public opinion against the war. The Sunni Baathist diehards and the al Quaeda extremists will continue to target US servicemen and innocent Iraqi civilians as long as they believe there is a magic number of casualties that will force the US to disengage and abandon Iraq to them. After all, it worked for the North Vietnamese and the "dissenters" are telling our enemies that it will work for them, too. Many on the Left want the US to lose in Iraq because losing would be a setback for the Bush Administration. Never mind the cost in American lives and the harm to our country and the West if the terrorists prevail; it's more important to exercise the right to "dissent."

If you don't like the outcome of an election, then work to win the next election. If you don't like the policies of the current administration, say your piece... but realize that losers are in no position to demand anything. If you want your agenda to be enacted, convince the majority of voters that your agenda is preferable to their agenda. Hint: understanding why you lost and working to rectify that is probably a better tactic than insulting everyone who voted against you.

These "dissenters" like to claim that dissent is patriotic. I agree: dissenting legitimately is patriotic. However, advocating murder, military insurrection, and encouraging our enemies is not legitimate dissent, despite any claims to the contrary. I am reminded of Samuel Johnson's words whenever I hear "dissenters" arguing that any action is legitimate and that "dissenters" love their country: "[to claim] patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Note: It seems there is a large battle brewing among Democrats as to whose view (the "dissenters" or the moderates) should be represented by the Party, and as to whether or not the far-Left fringe groups should be ignored or courted (ht: Wizbang). Protein Wisdom also weighs in on patriotism being used to justify extremism.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Letter To Cindy Sheehan

Dear Cindy,

I have a friend who was killed in Iraq, and I also have a small son and I can imagine the devastation you must feel after losing your son.

However, like your son I am also a person who has stood up to take the oath and enlisted into our nation's military, and like your son I did it of my own free will.

From reading some of your interviews, it is clear that your son made a choice, albeit a choice you disagreed with. The choice was your son's to make, not yours. Your son made another brave choice when he volunteered to go help his brothers in arms who were in need of rescue. His death was noble, because he truly gave his life for his fellow soldiers.

Please don't denigrate his sacrifice, or the sacrifice of my friend. Both of these men were among the best our country has, and their lives were taken not by George Bush but by the bastards who have raped Iraq for decades but for brave men like my friend and your son.

Can't you see that the course you champion, cutting and running, only renders the sacrifices made by our troops a waste? Can't you not also see that, by finishing what has been started... and we are winning this brutal war... these men will have bought something worthwhile with their sacrifice? They will have brought democracy to the birthplace of human civilization for the first time in history. They will have dealt a crushing blow to al Quaida and its minions. They will have made our country and our world safer. They will have shown ordinary Arabs that peace and freedom are possible, and that despair that leads to terrorism is not the path to follow. They are the ones who have risked it all in an attempt to make the world a better place, and they paid the price.

You've met with George Bush once. Do you really think you're going to change his mind, or my mind, or anyone's mind? Of course not... so what's the point? Do you think that your son, if he were still alive, would be embarassed or proud of your actions? Do you not see the harm your actions have done to your family?

You've said your piece. We've heard you. Now, please go home, for your family's sake, and for the sake of your son's memory.

Casey Sheehan deserves to be remembered for his bravery, not your protests.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Was Hiroshima Necessary? Making the Case For Dropping the Bomb

Today, August 6, is the sixtieth anniversary of the first use of atomic weapons in warfare at Hiroshima, Japan.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II. The bombings also started the Atomic Era and kicked off the greatest arms race the world has ever known (and will probably ever know). With the development of thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs) what was once inconceivable—the capability to destroy all life on the planet—now became possible.

Human technology has changed more since Hiroshima than in all of recorded history. For much of the last half of the Twentieth Century Americans, Europeans, and Russians went to bed every night knowing that, just possibly, they might not wake up tomorrow. Computer-controlled machine tools and open access to higher education education has empowered those who would do harm to us and our way of life; what was once the work of geniuses in government labs is now the province of technocrats using equipment available on eBay. The knowledge and skill needed to create atomic weapons is widespread, and the reason terrorists haven't detonated a nuclear bomb in an unsuspecting metropolis is more a matter of lacking the raw materials than the know-how. Many experts believe that within the next two decades we are almost certain to see terrorists use a nuclear weapon to destroy a large city in Europe or America.

This chain of events—the Atomic Era, the Cold War, nuclear proliferation—started sixty years ago today. Was it necessary? Did the US need to develop and deploy nuclear weapons? Did we need to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I believe an examination of history shows that we did.

How many of us know what was going on back in the 1940s just prior to and during World War II? Genocide was rampant in both theatres of war (Pacific and European); the Nazis were busy pitchforking millions of the undermenschen into crematoria and slit trenches, while in Asia the Japanese engaged in pleasurable activities like baby-bayonetting contests and rape-fests. Early in the War, Japanese maltreatment and brutality towards captured soldiers and innocent civilians became widely known thru events such as the Bataan Death March and the surrender of Wake Island.

The war in the Pacific was unbelievable in the viciousness and cruelty encountered by both sides. Early on, the average fighting American realized that their Japanese opponents would neither give nor accept quarter (mercy). Examples such as the Goettke patrol, where 19 men led by LtCol Goettke went to accept a purported surrender of starving and disease-ridden Japanese troops arranged by a Japanese prisoner only to be ambushed and annihlated—only three men escaped and the remains of the rest of the patrol were never located—hardened the Marines' and GIs' hearts. Once the Japanese tactic of faking surrender, death, or serious injury in order to kill responding Americans became widely known, our Marines and soldiers became understandably reluctant to risk their lives by taking prisoners. Eventually, the American forces developed a deep hatred of their opponents because of this lack of adherence to Western norms of civilized behavior.

As the war progressed and Japan suffered more defeats, its ability to defend itself shrunk accordingly. However, the deeply-ingrained warrior code that was widespread among the professional core of the Japanese military refused to consider surrender and instead resorted to more and more extreme methods and tactics. Despite Japan's military weakness in the face of growing US strength, each island campaign became more and more bloody as the Japanese improved their defensive tactics; no longer would they uselessly sacrifice themselves in repeated banzai charges in an attempt to drive the invading Americans off the beach. Instead, they would carefully prepare extensive defensive fortifications, carefully camouflaged and connected by underground tunnels, and seek to kill as many Americans as they could before they were destroyed by superior American numbers and firepower. The kamikaze was the result of the effective destruction of Japanese Naval air power and the deaths of experienced and trained Japanese aviators, yet despite the tremendous casualties inflicted on the American fleet surrounding Okinawa there was no chance that kamikaze attacks could influence the outcome of the war.

So, here we are, the Allied commanders in the Pacific in the summer of 1945. In the past year our troops have just experienced the carnage of Pelelieu, the Phillipines, Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. We've witnessed the tragedy of Japanese troops forcing civilians to jump off cliffs rather than surrender to Americans. We've seen spectacular counterattacks that were as bloody and tragic as they were useless. We've seen young Japanese men who could barely control their rickety aircraft gladly dive into troop transports and aircraft carriers, killing thousands of our men and sinking dozens of ships. Our intelligence shows us the depths and the desperation of the Japanese preparations to counter an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

We also had evidence of a more sinister type. Japanese biological and germ warfare research was well-known; what was not so well-known was the Japanese atomic bomb project. Yes, they were trying to build a Bomb, too. And there is a report that the Japanese were on the way to attack America with a dirty bomb when the war ended; a German U-boat with U-235 aboard surrendered to US forces in the Pacific at the time the Japanese government capitulated; two Japanese on board the submarine committed suicide in order to avoid capture and interrogation.

By late July 1945 the Japanese government had rebuffed several surrender demands by the Allies. American military planners estimated that, based on previous experiences against Japanese forces, the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands would result in hundreds of thousands of American deaths and millions of Japanese military and civilian deaths—and that was something that a war-weary America that had suffered 300,000 deaths and millions of injuries on the battlefields of World War II didn't want to have to endure. So, facing an enemy who had fought fanatically, who neither accepted or offered surrender, whose words and deeds demonstrated the willingness to fight on and die rather than capitulate, who was not discouraged by the firebombing of Tokyo, the total embargo of the Home Islands, or the virtual destruction of the Japanese Air Force and Navy, who had no hope of victory yet no fear of death... what would you do?

Truman made the hard call when he gave the orders to proceed with the first attack against Hiroshima. Yet, even after the incredible devastation that literally left the Japanese government reeling in disbelief and astonishment, the Japanese government refused to surrender. America waited 5 more days, and then dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki that was even more devastating. There is evidence that this second bombing precipitated a military coup by officers who were adamant about not surrendering (the coup was fortunately aborted due to an American bombing raid that killed the coup's leaders). Upon delivering a second surrender ultimatum, the Allies also announced that cities would continue to be destroyed until the Japanese surrendered (a stone cold bluff on our part as there were no more atomic bombs available). The Soviets, seeing that the end was near and wanting to expand their Far Eastern territories, invaded Japanese-controlled Japan and China. Finally, the Japanese realized that the war was over; the only thing they could control was how many more Japanese died. Upon this realization the government admitted defeat and accepted the offered terms of surrender. The war was over.

Could we have won without dropping the Bomb? Almost certainly... but at what cost? For those who claim the Bombings were immoral, I would point out that a government owes one duty to its citizens; to protect their lives and to value them above those of an enemy nation-state. When there is no other alternative, it is far better for enemy civilians to die than for our troops to die. And, how many Japanese civilians would have died if we had invaded the Home Islands? The civilian casualties that occurred on Saipan and Okinawa—casualties that were largely the responsibility of the Japanese—equal those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A powerful and compelling argument can be made that dropping the Bombs actually saved lives.

The complications of the Atomic Era mentioned earlier... the Cold War, living under the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction, the rise of nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism... are historical events that would have happened in one manner or another regardless of our use of the Bomb. Time only flows in one direction; the nuclear genie was out of the bottle and it will never go back in.

Responding to a question about Woodrow Wilson's claim that World War I was the "war to end all wars" philosopher George Santayana replied "Only the dead have seen the end of war." What can we learn from Hiroshima and Nagasaki? War is hell. Innocent people die horribly in war. Therefore it behooves all nations to avoid war whenever possible, to only wage just war, and to wage war relentlessly so that the conflict is decided sooner rather than later.

The lessons have all been learned, and forgotten, before. Again, quoting Santayana, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." We dropped the Bomb because our enemy refused to face reality, to learn from history. Unfortunately, I think we will need to one day drop it again.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Principle Over Politics or Vice Versa?

As you may know, a few years ago President Bush authorized, for the first time in the country's history, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. However, the research funding bill limited funding limiting that funding to be used on a fixed number of stem cell lines (stem cells descended from specific embryos); I believe it was seventy-two. In other words, researchers couldn't go out and get new stem cells, by harvesting new embryos, if they wanted to remain eligible for federal research money.

This seemed, to me anyway, to be a Solomon-like approach to the issue of embryonic stem cell funding. The law recognized the reality that research was being done on these seventy-two lines anyway, so the moral dilemna of whether or not harvesting embryos was tantamount to murder was avoided because they were already being used. The only decision to be made was, are the benefits of experimentation on these already-sacrificed embryos worth the expenditure of federal funds?

In the past couple of years, researchers have been disappointed with the initial results on embryonic stem cells, and the most promising research has been done using adult stem cells (generic cells that all of us have, and that are readily available to researchers without the moral issues that invariably accompany embryonic stem cells).

On Friday, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) announced he would support the easing of the current federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell research by loosening the restrictions and allowing for the harvesting/collecting/acquiring of new embryos from the pool of surplus embryos that were created by parents for in vitro fertilization but never used.

Those in favor of relaxed restrictions argue that the embryos are most likely going to be destroyed (or will die in storage) anyway, so why not use them for research? Also, researchers have discovered that embryonic stem cells (all stem cells, actually) become useless after a certain number of replications/divisions, and lose the nondifferentiated attributes that researchers depend upon to try and convert them into specific-purpose cells, i.e., heart muscle cells, liver cells, etc. In short, the view seems to be that since the stem cell lines we're currently working with are becoming useless, and we have all of these embryos sitting there in liquid nitrogen, why don't we make federal funding available to buy and use these embryos for further experimentation?

To me, this reasoning ignores the principle behind the funding limitations; human life is sacrosanct and should not be arbitrarily ended to further medical research. Let me explain further.

There is no doubt that thousands of lives could be saved each year if only we had a sufficient number of organ donors in good health whose deaths could be predicted or controlled to coincide with efficient organ harvesting. The Chinese solution is to typematch their prisoners and coordinate executions with organ harvests... or to harvest certain organs like kidneys involuntarily from prisoners who aren't facing execution. We could do the same thing here. We could easily establish a DNA database of all death row inmates and execute them by simply letting them die once a suitable recipient needed their organs and the harvest was complete. After all, why should an innocent little girl die, and a kidney or liver or heart be wasted? Of course, not very many people want to slide down the slippery slope resulting from the support of the harvesting of organs from prison inmates, or from the poor who might wish to sell an extra kidney to a stranger for the money. After all, in many places in the world people have been kidnapped and their organs have been stolen.

Now, some will argue that embryos aren't human and are not entitled to the protections we afford human life. Where do we draw the line? Can aborted fetuses be kept alive, and a new abortion procedure developed, so that stem cells and organs can be harvested? Since elective late-term partial-birth abortion is legal, do we allow a woman in her eighth month to terminate her pregnancy and provide the fetus' organs for harvest? Certainly there are billions of stem cells in the expelled umbilical cord; let's sell those to the researchers and give the money (derived from federal taxes) either to the mother or the abortion clinic. What about people like Terri Schiavo? Certainly she must have had a bunch of good stuff that might have saved several lives. Why didn't we harvest her organs, because she wasn't going to be needing them. Where do we draw the line?

The time is coming, and soon, when we're going to have to stop ducking the question: when does human life begin, and when does it end? In the near future we will develop the technology to "grow" a human from embryo to full-term infant without it ever having to be inside a woman's body. Maybe we'll develop a way to use another animal, like a cow or a sheep or a chimpanzee... or a brain-dead woman. Maybe we'll develop an artificial womb. Whatever... but then we won't be able to avoid the question of what a human life really is anymore, or when it begins. Not unless we want to see companies growing humans by the boatloads... maybe genetically engineered with full manual dexterity and the ability to learn simple repetitive tasks but with no higher brain capability. Will these be the new slaves, able and willing to do the most menial of tasks for nothing more than mere substenance? Or will humans make something more sinister, like the Clone Army from Star Wars but infinitely more menacing?

I'm not Catholic, and I have some problems with established dogma (and more problems with the way the hierarchy of the Church functions, as exemplified by the pederast priest problems that were knowingly covered up). I don't agree that preventative contraception, such as condoms, that blocks fertilization is immoral. However, I do agree with Catholic thought on this issue: human life begins at conception and we must treat that life with the same reverence, respect, and protection that we offer newborn infants. This position is the only principled way that prevents the horrors that will inevitably occur as our technology increases to the point where we can intimately control the most minor aspects of our biology.

So, is Frist's change of heart a matter of principle over politics? Or, is he trying to stake out a political position that differentiates him from other potential presidential candidates at the expense of principles? I can't claim to see inside someone else's heart, or head. But I don't understand how someone could be against such research on principle and then, a few years later, switch sides.

It's either a human life, or it isn't. If it is, and I believe it is, then no human life has the right to arbitrarily end another human life whether or not one benefits. After all, isn't arbitrarily ending another human's life the very definition of murder?