Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What is "moral"?

What is "moral"? The use I am concerned with is, from the American Heritage Dictionary, 1:Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.

My question is this; Is there a base criteria that can be reasonably applied to test 'morality' of 'human action and character'?

My answer is this; Yes, there is! And it is simply "Does this action or this aspect of character enhance or advance the survival of the human species?" A 'Yes' answer would indicate 'moral' and a 'No' answer would indicate, at best, neutral and, at worst, definitely 'immoral'.

Now I grant you, as is often the case, while the question is simple, the answer is not. Nevertheless, I can see no other reasonable basis for judgment of 'morality'. What other criteria could we apply that would work in all situations? What other definition of 'goodness' or 'badness' really makes sense?

There is plenty of room for discussion here. What constitutes 'survival'? What constitutes 'enhance or advance'? Maybe those 72 virgins (or whatever the number is) are the best thing for all of us! (Personally, I think somebody forgot to ask the virgins and what about the lady martyrs?) I'm not all that fond of the concept of 'harps in the hereafter' but if you are truly convinced that that is the best we can do then your concept of what is moral might differ from mine. Then at least you will have to make the case that 'harps in the hereafter' are better for the human species than the likely result of my actions if you want me to see your proposed actions as 'moral' and my opposition to them as 'immoral'.

What should America's Role be in the world?

I want to say thanks to Brian Westbye and his article "questions for the common man". The title of this article is one of those questions. And one that we could stand to have a bit of discussion on, I think. I am Asking not Telling, but I have some ideas.
I think we should be defenders of the weak.
I think that to be effective at that we must be strong.
Strong enough to pay the cost of providing harbor for the weak.
Strong enough enough to say no to those who would abuse us.
Strong enough to say yes to those who would join us.
Strong enough to pay the cost of finding the right thing to do.
Strong enough to pay the cost of doing the right thing.

Frankly we have not demonstrated any of those strengths as country for a long time. Probably since the second world war. Our record there was far from perfect (look at what we did to our own who were not caucasian), but we did show that we could give on an individual level for the percieved common good.
Have we ever been perfect, will we ever be perfect? Of course not! But I think we were better once as a country and we can be again.

Energy! Where does it come from?

Well believe it or not all energy on earth is derived from atomic reaction. And the biggest reactor on earth is not on earth. It is 8 minutes by light speed away at that big bright spot in the daytime sky. Oil is solar energy, hydro electricity is solar energy, wind power is solar energy, firewood is solar energy, ethanol is solar energy, coal is solar energy, waves and ocean currents are solar energy. Even geothermal energy is solar (maybe not our sun but some sun somewhere and when) energy.

Lets roughly rank these in ascending order of 'efficiency': geothermal, oil, coal, ethanol, firewood, waves and currents, wind, hydro, solar cells. Now I certainly don't claim to have these all in exactly the right order, but you can see the drift. By the way 'efficiency ' would be the ration of energy put in to energy retrievable (or is it the other way around). The basic rule is that the more steps you are away from the atomic reaction that fuels it all the worse off you are. There are other considerations, of course. The cost of retrieving the energy stored and of handling the by products of that retrieval are certainly two big ones.

Geothermal for example is several steps away from the original energy, but it is not very expensive to harvest in some areas of the world and creates little or no pollutants (though there could be side effects of wide spread use such as volcanic triggers and even 'core cooling') but it is readily available only some areas.

Oil? Well let's see. Use sunlight to grow a plant, feed the plant to an animal, bury the animal under centuries of weather (powered by sunlight) erosion, hunt it down and get it out of the ground and refine it and then burn it for the energy left.

Coal? Well let's see. Use sunlight to grow a plant. Bury the plant under centuries of weather (powered by sunlight) erosion, hunt it down and get it out of the ground and crunch it up and then burn it for the energy left.

Ethanol? Well let's see. Use sunlight to grow a plant. Chop the plant up and feed it to yeast. Distill the yeast pee to get alcohol. Burn the alcohol for the energy left in it.

As you can see there isn't much difference in the 'efficiency' of those three. Ethanol's big advantage is the ability to reduce "centuries of weather (powered by sunlight) erosion" to a few days or weeks of yeast feeding. Its quicker than coal or oil but it isn't much closer to the source.

And they all three require a huge expenditure of energy to harvest the energy. Oil has actually reached the point where it is energy negative. It now cost more energy to get than it produces.

So why is oil still used? Well there is a huge infrastructure all ready in place, it is quite portable, and it is economically storable in even small to medium quantities.

What about coal? Mainly it has pollution problems, is not easily transported, and cannot be readily stored in small to medium quantities. For these reasons only a limited infrastructure has ever been developed.

What about ethanol? It is portable and readily storable in even small to medium quantities, but there is almost no infrastructure, and, frankly, due to its inefficiency and cost not much reason to develop any.

All energy sources have some drawbacks but there is just no reason to think that switching one grossly inefficient system for another is the best way to go.

The Dubya Refrain

How could I know that
No one said anything to me
There is no problem

Had some information
It might have been all correct
We acted on it

I can not see it
A conflict of interest
My man would never

Oil not the reason
Freedom is not the excuse
Profit not the goal

Tax cuts raise revenue
Everybody knows this is a truth
My people tell me

I did not suspect
No one said anything to me
There is no problem

I Thought The Gun was Loaded

To be sung to the tune of

"I Didn't Know the Gun Was Loaded" by

Hank Fort & Herb Leighton 1949

I Thought His Gun Was Loaded

Oh Ol' Dubya was his name
Through the west he won his fame
Being handy with the story

But he drove the folks insane
Cause he'd whip out his pistol
And shoot most any guy
And sing out this alibi

I really thought his gun was loaded
And I'm so sorry my friend
I really thought his gun was loaded
And I'll never, never do it again

But one night he made a slip
Shot New Orleans in the hip
So the law it took a hand
And made Dubya take the stand

And he pled, 'oh your honor
I'll know you turn me loose
When you hear my one excuse'

I didn't know the storm was loaded
And I'm so sorry my friend
I didn't know the storm was loaded
And I'll never, never do it again

I didn't know the storm was loaded
And I thought his gun was loaded
All I did was was listen to ...
My experts and my friends
And I'll never, never do it again

Let's have another law

In an article about an Internet "problem" In South Korea, another 'law' was proposed. Apparently folks are getting seriously flamed for various minor acts of social indiscretion and being forced into exile or even suicide. Apparently 'considering the source' is not an option and for some strange illogic, not picking up after your doggy is deserving of a severe hounding, but driving somebody out of the country with incessant yapping about this minor transgression is not. Strange, strange indeed! How about skipping the new law and just posting a few choice comments about the silly mutts doing the chasing. But then living in a country where it is considered reasonable to sue McDonalds for giving you hot coffee, I guess I shouldn't throw stones.

The Pertinent Question.

In the comments on an article, on the Gather blog site, by Anna G. entitled "Why We Can't Fix the World - Even When We Try" WM H. asks the question "Are we as individuals capable of exercising our "free will" to see beyond what we perceive as "good" for our individual selves and make choices that are good for the species as a whole?"

My answer to that question is a resounding NO! It is not humanly possible to be anything but selfish. Now before you all jump down my throat, hear me out. While I firmly believe that we are not capable of doing anything except what we see as 'good for ourselves', we are capable of coming to see "feeding the hungry" or "building a house for a neighbor" or "helping an old lady across the street" as "good for 'me, myself and I'."

Mother Theresa did not spend a lifetime helping (some would argue with that characterization of her work) the poor to help the poor. Mother Theresa did it because she felt God had commanded her to do so and it would be worth her everlasting damnation to refuse and besides she wasn't 'that kind of person'. The man does not run into the burning building to save the baby, he runs into the burning building to literally 'save himself.' Ask him! He will tell you most likely "I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't tried." Our experiences and training form our concepts of what is 'good for us' but there is no reason to believe that anyone ever, from Ted Bundy to Mother Theresa, intentionally did something they felt was 'bad' for them. We simply don't do that. We can't!

So before we get too worried about the fact that as a country or as individuals we don't do everything we could to help others (and we certainly do not in either case) let us keep in mind that the fact that what we do do 'to help others' happens because of our socialization and education and we can control those quite a bit.

And remember that the only effective approach is "Here's what in it for you." This is not crass, or cynical, it is simply what is. We are self aware entities and as such are, and can only be, self-centered. Don't bemoan that, just use it!

The 'All Volunteer' Military -- A disaster in the wings?

I served in the army before it was always a choice. I chose to do so but I had my reasons. I was tired of going to school, I wanted to see some of the world and frankly I wanted to be soldier, at least a little bit. I was 18 for goodness sake, got to be allowed a bit of silliness no?

Basic training basically cured me of the silliness of wanting to be a soldier. After that I had the simple philosophy "Do what has to be done to the best of my ability and beyond that, well, **ck 'em if they can't take a joke."

I got to see some of the world, Fort Campbell, KY, Fort Monmouth, NJ, several spots in Vietnam, one little hill in Cambodia, and a pretty fair bit of the area around Frankfurt, Germany, so that part worked ok. I was ready willing and able to go back to school when I got out so that part worked ok. As they say "two out of three ain't bad."

But I came to a conclusion then, and still think it was correct for the time, that bothers me now. I was, and still am, convinced that, at that time, the Army operated fairly well 'in spite of ' and definitely not 'because of' its career soldiers. The brains and skills of its front line soldiers were mostly there because of the draft and they seldom stayed beyond the initial 'hitch'.

Can it possibly be that the increased pay (oh my has it increased) can possibly entice the quality of individual routinely drafted? Frankly I doubt it, but if it can then I worry about the 'volunteer army' for another reason.

If being a soldier is that economically advantageous, how long before the soldiers' loyalty is to the army and not the country? There is good reason why our founding fathers wanted a well-regulated militia and an armed populace but not a large standing army. They had very good reason to be afraid of career military. Look around the world. Is there an 'oppressed populace' anywhere where the military person is not economically advantaged over his other options? Is there a stable nation anywhere that maintains a large all professional army? I don't see it and while I applauded the ending of the draft with all its built in dodges and unfairness, I can't help thinking that it is the first step in a major disaster.