Archive | September, 2012

What is the internet, really?

29 Sep

What is the internet? Does it has a physical appearance? It is a place where we can actually visit? An interesting talk by Andrew Blum on Ted will give you the answer to these questions.

 

The power of a great introduction

28 Sep

A great video i found about how we can write a good introduction:)

 

A second thought on our memory

28 Sep

We always think that our memories are reliable and what we think we remembered are true and whatever scenarios we ‘see’ in our head are exactly the same as what had actually happened. This is a fallacious thought and forensic psychologist, Scott Fraser tell us why this is the case.

 

27 Sep

Progress in GP

Our world is more interdependent than ever. Borders have become more like nets than walls, and while this means that wealth, ideas, information and talent can move freely around the globe, so can the negative forces shaping our shared fates. The financial crisis that started in the U.S. and swept the globe was further proof that–for better and for worse–we can’t escape one another.

There are three big challenges with our interdependent world: inequality, instability and unsustainability. The fact that half the world’s people live on less than $2 a day and a billion people on less than $1 a day is stark evidence of inequality, which is increasing in many places. We’re feeling the effects of instability not only in the global economic slowdown but also in the violence, popular disruptions and political conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. And the way we produce and use energy is…

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26 Sep

Gee Pee Land

The phrase ‘begging the question’ is often used incorrectly in the media or in common utterance. What people often mean when they use the phrase ‘begs the question’ is ‘raises the question’. E.g. Given how obesity rates have been climbing despite the soda ban, this raises the question about the effectiveness of the law. 

‘Begging the question’ is actually a logical fallacy, a form of circular reasoning where basically the premise and conclusion are the same. Consider the video below:

Why did you find it funny or incredulous? Because the teacher’s conclusion (‘drugs are bad’) is the same as the premise (‘because they are bad for you’).

Have you ever heard your friends sometimes remark – often without having thought it through – how someone is good looking because they were handsome/pretty? Or how violent video games are harmful because they contained violence? Or how sometimes choices are presented in a…

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Thurston Howell Romney -The New York Times

24 Sep
By
Published: September 17, 2012

In 1980, about 30 percent of Americans received some form of government benefits. Today, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, about 49 percent do.

In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge, Eberstadt notes, has increased faster under Republican administrations than Democratic ones.       

There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country. You could also say that America is spending way too much on health care for the elderly and way too little on young families and investments in the future.       

But these are not the sensible arguments that Mitt Romney made at a fund-raiser earlier this year. Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”       

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?       

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.       

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.       

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.       

Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.       

The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.       

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.       

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.       

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.       

Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.       

Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?       

Frank Bruni is off today.

Is biofuels better than fossil fuels?

18 Sep

This is extracted from IDEA:

Biofuels help achieve energy independence

Point

The reliance of America and its western allies on conventional fossil fuels, chiefly oil, is a major security issue. Currently 22% of US oil comes from the Middle East, 22% from Africa, and 19% from Latin America1.The past actions of OPEC and the recent willingness of Russia to use its  supplies of natural gas to threaten European states both point to a need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels2. Oil prices often rise due to instability in the regions where it is produced, which has harmful impacts for consumers around the world. For example, in 2011 the invasion in Libya caused oil prices to rise because of fear of reduced oil production in the region The US and its allies lose leverage over many international actors as its hands are tied due to dependence on oil, as is the case with nuclear proliferation in Iran for example. The US Department of Agriculture determined that the US could produce enough biomass to meet 30% of its energy needs, which in addition to other forms of alternative energy could make a significant impact on oil consumption. Increasing the use of biofuels can therefore contribute to our security by ensuring that more of our energy needs are met from within the country, reducing dependence on foreign suppliers.

1 http://lugar.senate.gov/energy/graphs/oilimport.html 2http://money.cnn.com/2009/01/07/news/international/russia_ukraine/index.htm

Counterpoint

Attempting complete independence from other countries is impossible and undesirable – the world is now too interconnected and interdependent. Prosperity rests upon being able to trade goods and services widely with people in other countries and attempts to retreat from this free market will impoverish us as well as them. Nor are the USA and its western allies scarily dependent upon just one source for their fossil fuel needs – new countries like Angola and Canada have all become major energy suppliers in the past decade[1]. In any case, America’s demand for energy is so great that there is no possibility of achieving energy independence through biofuels. F all of America’s corn was used to produce ethanol, it would still only meet 4% of energy demand[2].

[1]http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text

[2] http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/06/biofuels

Biofuels are renewable and sustainable in the future.

Point

At present mankind is using up fossil fuel resources at an alarming rate, and often damaging the environment in order to extract them. If we go on relying on fossil fuels they will one day run out, and not only will our descendants no longer have viable energy reserves, but they will also have to cope with the ecological damage coal, oil and gas extraction have inflicted on the earth. Making fuel from crops provides a perfect, sustainable solution. Additionally, biofuels can be mixed with fossil fuels, and eventually replace them, without having to entirely change the infrastructure of countries. Other forms of alternative energy would call for new investment and development just to use them, whereas biofuels can slowly be introduced to cars in higher quantities, and gradually new cars will be designed to run entirely on biofuels. However, overturning the entire system would not be necessary, reducing the cost associated with using biofuels. Biofuels already have a great deal to offer today, but prospects for the future are even more exciting and deserve our support. New crops like Jatropha promise to produce much more energy from a given amount of land1. They also flourish without annual replanting or chemical inputs on marginal land. In the longer term, bio-engineers are working on producing “cellulosic” biofuels biofuels – in which the stems and leaves of plants or trees are used to produce ethanol, not just the fruits or seeds. Cellulosic biofuels would allow much more fuel to be produced from a given amount of land, and could also be made from the waste products of food or timber production, such as straw and woodchip 1. The future prospects for ethanol are great, and thus call for increased investment and development because only then will ethanol truly be a viable alternative.

1. http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=biofuel_home-basics

 

Counterpoint

For biofuels to be renewable and sustainable, they will have to be grown in mass quantities. Rainforests and grass lands, which naturally soak up carbon, will need to be cut down, ultimately making ethanol that much more environmentally irresponsible. While they may be renewable, the quantity that would have to be grown makes it an unreasonable solution.

 

Biofuels are better for the environment.

Point

Biofuels are the best way of reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for global climate change. As with fossil fuels, burning biodiesel or ethanol to drive an engine or generate electricity releases carbon into the atmosphere. Unlike with fossil fuels, however, growing the plants from which biofuels are made takes carbon from the air, so overall the process is carbon neutral1. This means policies to increase the use of biofuels could greatly reduce overall levels of carbon emissions, and so be a major part of tackling global climate change. Since the international community has made reducing climate change a priority, with different climate conferences like Copenhagen, seeking energy alternatives should be at the forefront of their efforts. Biofuels can also help improve local air quality as mixing ethanol with fossil fuels helps meet clean air standards, and overall be one of the tools used to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

1 http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=biofuel_home-basics

Counterpoint

The idea that ethanol is carbon neutral is overlooking the carbon emissions associated with growing the crops (energy for the machines) as well as transporting them to and from the processing facilities. Ethanol production consumes 6 units of energy to produce 11. In no world is that efficient or better for the environment.

1 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050329132436.htm