Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fracking Earthquakes: Not a Qualification, But a Causal Connection

As scientific research into the causal connection between the oil / gas drilling’s fracking process and the production of seismic activity in neighboring regions will eventually lead to the increasing acceptance and understanding that fracking can and does increase earthquakes. Even if you don’t agree with the view for a religious, business or political reason (or all of these) I am not focusing on the ‘cause and effect’ relationship that fracking has to seismic events. Just for the sake of discussion let’s set aside the “proof” argument, let’s not worry about whether the practice of introducing high differential pressures in sub-surface geological strata bring about seismic conditions that would cause earthquakes. While this may be the very definition of the physics of seismic criteria for what causes earthquakes; there is no reason to apply western scientific methodology to reaching a conclusion that fracking must be an earthquake-like phenomena.

OK, so now that we are all ‘intellectually’ prepared to think about fracking causing earthquakes (remember you don’t have to really, really believe this); we can talk about the important issues and questions around the fracking-earthquakes that don’t seem are even being thought about.

Is the increase in seismic activity associated with fracking a bad thing? I know that the concept of earthquakes would immediately lead one to believe that it must be dangerous and deadly to the public, but that’s a simplistic conclusion and a blind leap that all earthquakes are bad. If you consider that the number of earthquakes that occur every year is 1.5 million (about 4,000 a day) then you have to ask yourself – REALLY?  Given this, is your view on the badness of earthquakes perhaps now dependent upon the question of “well how big a quake are we talking about?” We should be able to take some comfort in the fact that if fracking does lead to more earthquakes that doesn’t mean that it harms us. It doesn’t mean that fracking doesn’t pose a hazard either but we are at least starting to comprehend that like most things the fracking / earthquake issue is not subject to resolution by the simple-minded (and I don’t just mean politicians).

What about the possibility that fracking-induced quakes are actually beneficial? Now an earthquake is the process of the earth’s crust releasing stresses and pressures through the shifting, breaking, fracturing (note the commonality of terminology here) and/or shearing of the rock strata. This release of potential energy does produce some kinetic effects that vary in magnitude with the (here we go again) magnitude of the seismic event. Now what if fracking enables these stress release events to occur more frequently at lower energy levels? What if it eliminated the “Big One”? In other words, fracking may reduce the risk, danger and damage that normal naturally produced earthquakes might represent. Are a thousand small quakes that are hardly even noticed better than, equal to, or worse than one seismic event that brings down the house?

We should ask the geologists, particularly those heavily vested in researching and studying earthquakes, whether the active creation of mini-quakes in say Ohio could reduce the intensity of stresses in Colorado which reduces pressures in California? Maybe Ohioans could help the good people of California by accepting the inconvenience of a bunch of small tremors every day. Of course there is the possibility that all these little fracking quakes could actually trigger the “Big One”, maybe even contribute to the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera. Ohioans may not be as negatively affected by the one as the other but you would think they would have some degree of self-interest and consideration to at least want someone to explain the risk to them. Ok, I have to admit, I don’t know that much about the people in Ohio. I’ve lived near Ohio both to the east and west; and I’ve driven through/across Ohio a couple times. But I can only speculate that the people of Ohio would expect the question of fracking and earthquakes to be considered, assessed and reacted to based on a scientific understanding not upon the wishful thinking and attitudes that some prefer to apply to state and national issues.

In addition to these aspects of fracking-quakes there are second-tier issues that would be related to the consequences of increased tremors and quakes to the environment, for example pollution of ground water.

These oft ignored questions only look at the practice of fracking along the dimension of their propensity to affect the frequency, magnitude and consequences of earthquakes. Other dimensions of fracking remain with their own questions and are equally worth of being examined and understood by competent and informed individuals (again not applicable to politicians).

You can now go back to your personal view of does fracking cause earthquakes? And if you think that is the only question of importance then it probably doesn’t matter whether it does or doesn’t.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

American Intelligence Test #18 – Weed: Don’t Get Lost in the Smoke and Mirrors


American Intelligence Test #18Weed: Don’t Get Lost in the Smoke and Mirrors


The Governors are torn by the issue of marijuana: to legalize or not to legalize, that is the question; but that is where the Governors go wrong and fall off the log. Granted that is a question, and that question is at the center of the issue. Legalization is key question to any decision they make because they are debating how the law deals with the subject of the topic, marijuana; and is thus unavoidably and inseparably linked to the future of marijuana in America. It may be at the center of the debate but legalization is not the big or biggest question, rather it is the least of all the questions. This could be why the Governors had such a difficult time of it with the question; they were confused by its irrelevance.

Now, here’s the dope (to use a bad clichĂ©) that the Governors, state and federal legislative bodies, and everyone should be dealing (I couldn’t help) in. The broad topic is what is the role of government regarding such substances as marijuana, what are the costs and benefits of the policy adopted, what is the responsibility and accountability of various parties, and to what extent and how are policies and laws to be carried out?  So with all these questions and others besides, doesn’t it seem like another intelligence test is in order? As with any such test, don’t you think it may be highly informative not just for the Governors but for everyone else as well? Just making a decision for or against is not worthy of our leaders or ourselves if those decisions don’t stand up to even the most shallow examination.

Don’t be focused on what you want the answer to be, think about it first. We can only hope that the Governors will do the same, rare an occurrence as that may be.

Time to test yourself.
Question 1:   The Role of Government regarding marijuana. Which, if any, is the government reasonably expected to be protecting?

A.      Individuals from harming themselves
B.      Children from being harmed by others or themselves
C.      Society from predation by criminals
D.      Apply a societal moral/ethical judgment relative to drugs
E.       Citizens from harming other citizens
F.       General welfare of the people

Context:  The rationale for having legal restrictions on marijuana must be based on some principle of harm/damage that would result if it were allowed to be unrestricted. So simple enforcement of it being banned by the law is not a sound basis for why the ban exists in the first place. So the answer(s) to this question are relevant to defining the government’s raison d’ĂȘtre of the law.
Question 2:  Costs and Benefits. For each area below, answer if the cost or the benefit is from criminalization (C) or legalization (L)?

Cost:

A.      Law enforcement
B.      Healthcare
C.      Taxes
D.      Education
E.       Security

Benefit:
      A.      Healthcare
B.      Crime
C.      Taxes
D.      Employment
E.       Safety

Question 3:  Responsibility and Accountability. If use were to become legal would use in combination with each of the following be treated as a violation of the law?

A.      Driving
B.      Military on-duty status
C.      Government employment
D.      Healthcare provider on-duty
E.       Employee activities
F.       Education worker on-the-job
G.     Any distribution or sale to a minor
Question 4: Execution of the laws and policies if marijuana remains criminalized. How do we insure that the laws and policies are effective and beneficial, being applied uniformly and justly, and aren’t corrosive and corruptive to the enforcement processes?

A.      Depend upon Congressional oversight
B.      Trust our political leaders
C.      Political appointees as administrators
D.      Public oversight and review boards
E.       Each state will figure it out
F.       All of the above
G.     None of the above

Question 5:   No matter what the government does, there will be consequences on all sides. Are the consequences better (B) or worse (W) if we retain criminal status for use, production or distribution/sale?

A.      Addiction
B.      Under-age use
C.      Progression to other drugs of more serious consequence
D.      Gangs and criminal organizations
E.       National Security

The Special Question “X”:  Who profits from legalization (L) and who profits from criminalization (C)?
A.      Public
B.      Politicians
C.      Corporations / shareholders
D.      Criminal entities
E.       Terrorist organizations

DONE. While there are many more questions, if you or the Governors don’t have reasoned responses for these it probably doesn’t matter. To help assist in assessing your responses; you can at least view mine.
QUESTIONS: ANSWERS

1:  B, E, F
2:  Costs: all are Ls;   Benefits: all are Ls
3:  A through G
4:  G
5: A – E = W
“X”:  A=L, B=C, C=L, D=C, E=C

 The challenge to the Governors and the country is not whether marijuana is legalized or not, not even if just legalized for medical use. The challenge is that you have to have positions and policies that deal with all the consequences and ramifications of whatever positions and policies that are adopted. Are the sane and rationale approaches to the marijuana conundrum in America? Yes, there are. Would you bet that our politicians are adequate to the task?  I won’t provide my answer to this question, I don’t see it as part of the test or even a test question at all.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Choosing Your Social Problems Is Easier Than Solving Them

The issue of marijuana legalization in New Jersey or any other state will be fought over questions that will excite and evoke the loud vocal groups that will be for or against it. Their positions will represent any number of perspectives, including but not limited to: it’s no worse than smoking or alcohol, it’s a gateway drug to more serious drugs, legalization will reduce crime, legalized use will raise revenues, it will reduce abusive disproportionate punishment under the law, law enforcement efforts can be applied more effectively to more serious crimes, and it will lead to the corruption of our youth.

These are stances from which politicians or anyone can base their arguments and defend their decisions, but these are not the reasons to be for or against legalization; at least not reasons worthy of an informed and one would hope intelligent society. Now I have to concede that starting with the proposition that ours is an intelligent society is pressing the limits if credibility but what else can one do but hope. The question on the table for our society and our form of government is how to efficiently and effectively manage the social issue of drug use be it marijuana, alcohol or tobacco. The situation with each of these drugs is currently that we are failing in our responsibilities to ourselves, our children and each other. As a consequence we are failing with respect to other more destructive drugs and behaviors in even more serious ways.

So what is the issue regarding marijuana and its legalization that the politicians, the media, the religious factions, our capitalistic business elite, social advocates, and the public at large should be determining? The issue is how to best manage and deal with the implications of marijuana (and we should apply equally to alcohol and tobacco) in our society given that it is nothing more or less than one of the realities of the world we live in; and the simplistic view that allowing its use or making it illegal is the smart, sane, rational and prudent solution is unworthy of us as a society. Simple solutions usually don’t work for a simple reason; if the problem is overly complex and many faceted the simple is quite literally out gunned and inadequate.

With this issue in the hands of politicians and special interests the best we can expect is that marijuana should be relegated to the comparable status of alcohol and tobacco. It should evolve to a regulated and managed substance. This will not be easy or with its dependence upon political influences accomplished well, but it may be the only solution that avoids the abysmal failures that treating it as if it can be decided by the powers that be once and therefore forever as a forbidden substance when the society has neither the will nor the means to abolish it from our culture.
Along with this approach will be a societal requirement to set responsibilities and accountabilities for those who choose to use, produce, oversee and regulate it. The fact that this will not be easy does not alter the inescapable obligation that we have to our society to do far better than we have done to this point. You can choose to bury your head in the visions of what you want to be real but the ‘laws of physics’ of the world we live in do not bow to your visions.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Juggling the Protection of All Freedoms


This issue about religious freedom and the opinion that the ACA infringes upon it is only presented in the context of the religious side versus the government's side. I don't think I have heard anyone in government, from the religious groups that feel so threatened by it, from the media, from the political parties that use this issue as just another fund raising trinket to attract the attention of their core groups, or from the public at large about the "third party" involved in this issue. If you don't instantly recognize who the third party is then I would contend that that exemplifies that this issue is not being discussed or examined in the proper and necessary context that it not just deserves but that is required if the public's constitutional rights are to be adequately addressed and protected.

After all, while there is a desire to make and keep politically sensitive issues as a one-facet issue that cleanly and clearly divides people onto one side or the other; there is almost never only one dimension to such issues and in the case of the ACA versus religious freedoms example it is not and never was a one-dimensional issue. This is true even if no one involved seems to have comprehended that the complaint about the ACA forcing religious groups to violate their personal religious views and beliefs involves more than those religious groups' First Amendment rights. I am sure that as you read this comment you yourself immediately recognize the other important third party, so given that how do you see their Constitutional rights and interests playing into this issue?

As is often the case when there are points of contention between Constitutional rights and freedoms or rights versus governmental authority the decision that the Supreme Court is to render must of necessity include a determination of precedence of one right relative to another, or of a proper balance between the two if one doesn’t have an absolute priority over the other. Now if by some chance Justice Sonia Sotomayor (or any of the other Justices) doesn’t or hasn’t recognized the importance of the third party to this issue then how will this factor be properly accounted for and included in the decision making and judgment of the Court?

Will the rights’ of the people of the United States be served if the rights of all the people aren’t considered? Will my freedom be protected if my interests are not considered? Will your’s?

We should be more demanding of those in politics, the media, the courts and well the public when these issues are being dealt with. Maybe we should just be more aware that when these issues surface in our political environment today that the public’s interest and need to know is not just under-served but that the information that is presented is likely being provided without any competency from our elected officials and media outlets.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

American Intelligence Test #17 – A Minimum Sage for Americans

Now here’s the thing about the big debate in Congress and across the political landscape on the minimum wage, it may not be clear to those engaged in the debate whether they know much of anything about what they are debating. This doesn’t mean that they don’t understand the words themselves, they do know what each means separately and some know what the combined set refers to at the most simple and primitive level. However, given how highly you rate Congress in general, what would make you conversely consider that they are going to be likely to understand this issue? Do you even think that you understand this issue? Are you comfortable relying upon these minimally sage representatives to both be smarter than you and to do the right thing?

The Minimum Wage issue is an important societal test. It puts before you a question that has far reaching implications and consequences, and thus is one of those ‘laws of physics’ problems that you may think doesn’t impact you much unless you are a minimum wage earner. However the ‘laws of physics’ aspect of a minimum wage are very big because the ‘cause and effect’ impact is recursive in nature. So if you are going to put your trust in politicians, Republicans or Democrats, then you better be sure that they comprehend this issue properly and those unavoidable consequences that result from their particular action that set into motion the consequences that you, I and everyone else will live with and have to be accountable for like it or not.
So if you had to decide on whether to set a minimum wage amount now, what would your sage decision be? Would you increase it, keep it the same, lower it, or eliminate it? Your answer to this question should be decided now, and you can make a note for yourself about your basic rationale for your determination. Got your answer? OK, now you can choose to change it as you proceed with the test; but wouldn’t that be basically cheating yourself, treating you the same way that politicians treat you? The following test asks a couple questions and you should answer them in terms of what you think the right answer is, not what the right answer is based on what the decision you just made about the minimum wage was. This is a little tricky because you might feel that you ought to have answered differently but try to be honest with yourself, no politician is ever going to do that and it will be a refreshing experience.
Let’s begin impacting the American economy.

Question 1:   The lower the minimum wage the more competitive the US is with the rest of the world.   True  False
Question 2:  Increases in the minimum wage produces higher unemployment. True   False

Question 3:  Minimum wages are forcing a redistribution of wealth from middle to lower-income individuals?   True   False
Question 4:   Keeping minimum wage levels low promotes the general economy.   True   False

Question 5:   The percentage of people receiving the minimum wage is constantly growing and placing an increasing burden on the economy.   True    False
The Critical X-Question:  If keeping the minimum wage from increasing would help the economy and job growth then logically wouldn’t keeping all wages lower be even more effective in supporting economic growth and job creation?    Yes    No
Would reducing wages and bonuses to the top 1% be proportionally more beneficial?  Yes   No

It’s over. The answers below are referential, that is they try to give some additional info that may give a perspective of why I have judged them to be the proper answers. The real ‘cause and effect’ forces of minimum wages are much more complicated then I suspect even those who study this issue are capable of comprehending. That people disagree is not surprising but that we don’t recognize and admit that we don’t understand most of what is really at issue is not worthy of us.

Answers:
1. False.  These jobs are not a significant portion of the income population. The work involved is not highly related to international competition as it is more often related to local job situations that are not subject to international competition.

2. False. There is no empirical evidence that increasing the minimum wage has a negative effect upon employment. The slight increase in income at the lower income level may actually increase demand on businesses that both employ and depend upon consumer demand from the lower income population. This emphasizes the Henry Ford principle of workers are also consumers, an unusual and unexpected insight from a leader of capitalism.
3. False.  Actually the dynamic existing in the economy is that the middle class is shifting slightly toward the lower income range in the income population distribution. It’s not that the lower income group is acquiring more of societies’ income, rather that the middle class is losing it to the higher income levels.

4. False. Holding minimum income levels constant is actually reducing the true value of the minimum wage level. The minimum wage level is fundamentally flat over its history in real economic value. Thus the logical conclusion absent any additional factor would be that minimum wage changes have had no impact on the economy since it has been constant during periods of good and bad economics.
5. False. Actually, the percentage of the population impacted by the minimum wage is declining. So it’s not getting to be a larger problem; it’s actually becoming of lesser importance, affecting fewer people, and a minor economic issue. This explains why it is increasing in political significance, which is why politicians use it as a divisive issue since they are spending a lot of time talking about something that is of meaningless substantive value but perceived as highly important by a large portion of the voters who don’t know much about reality.

X-Question. Yes to both. If lower wages to one part of the income distribution is beneficial then it is logical that it would generalize to all segments of the income population. I would propose that Congress should dismiss its efforts to raise the minimum wage and replace it with a new economic concept about which they are ill-informed, ill-equipped to manage, and ill-suited to have any say over and present and pass a law that establishes a Maximum Wage for the nation. This would create an entirely new political issue over which the idiots in Congress could wage their inane debates. Or as members of Congress would understand: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

American Intelligence Test #16 – Search / Save: Are Both Privacy Violations?

If you want your privacy protected what exactly would you expect, require or demand? US District Judge Leon has decided that the government gathering and collecting personal data, in this case phone records, is a violation of the 4th Amendment. CEOs of a number of our largest technology companies have requested the Administration to reform the US’s surveillance practices. Certainly this issue is an important one; and one worthy of much study, discussion, debate and judgment. Now there will be a lot of talking about the issue that guaranteed; but talking is not study, discussion, debate or judgment. And the public will ultimately reap the fruit from this seeds planted in our democratic fields.

Surely this is a simple issue, a clear and easy question to answer, and an item that all of us can get our minds around and be together on. Of course that will require all of us to see this question in the same light and come to the same understanding of what it means to be on one side or the other. So maybe to begin some thoughtful contemplation on this question would not be a bad idea; perhaps there might be a payoff in the end from knowing what we are choosing to do or not do. Given the simple nature of the issue this shouldn’t be a problem. We all agree to the answers to these easy questions, right? Or properly put, you believe that everyone else agrees with what you think the right answer is?
When you select what your correct answers to the following questions are then you’ll also be sure that we all share those same answers. However, if when you’re finished you are also sure that there are a lot of folks that won’t agree with your correct answer then that’s a likely indication that this is a question that requires a great deal of thought by even those who are sure they are right.

Question 1:   To invade your privacy is there a requirement for the government to know who you are? Must they have an actual interest in you as a specific individual?                      Yes    No

Question 2:  If a legitimate subject of a government investigation were to become connected to your path thorough life, is it an invasion of your privacy should for the government to collect information about them that by default contains information about you?                                Yes    No

Question 3:  If someone were to follow the garbage trunk that picked up your garbage, follow the truck to the dump and sort through the trash to pick out information including data about you; would that be an invasion of your privacy rights?                Yes or No
What if they did this every week?            Yes or No

Question 4:   The government has an enormous amount of data about everyone already (not like the phone records folks are in an uproar about). Currently this data is not used to seek out any indicators that would be useful in identifying ‘persons of interest’ who may be engaging in suspicious behavior. Is the possession of this information an invasion of your privacy? Remember to consider that there was a reasonable justification for the government to have the data for its original purpose; the question is whether just having it with no effort being made to use it constitutes a violation of privacy?                               Yes or No

Question 5:  The government engages in an analysis of a massive collection of data to determine if there is a connection between a known group of terrorists and an unidentified contact in the US who is assisting them in coordinating an attack. The records searched include every phone call made into or out of the US. Thus every call that you made is by definition included, but no connection was established.

A.      Was your privacy violated?                                                             Yes or No

B.      Since a computer did this, did it violate your privacy?               Yes or No

C.      Is it the existence of your records that invades your privacy?   Yes or No

D.      Does it matter who holds the records, and as long as it isn’t
the government then it’s not a violation?                                    Yes or No

E.       If I looked at every record of every person in the US and except
for one person (not you) didn’t know who the records represented
have I violated everyone’s privacy?                                              Yes or No

The Critical Question “X”:  If the collection is impersonal, detached from anyone in general, and not used in connection with a pre-identified individual without a court approved warrant is that an invasion of privacy?          Yes or No

So given the clarity of the issue the answers are obvious, correct?
You are done, and you can now decide if you think we will have a collective public agreement. If it helps, here are what I think the reasonable answers would be.

Answers for all questions are No.
The dimension of this issue that needs to be factored in is whether possession of data is a violation? The 4th Amendment is a protection against unreasonable searches. While Madison would have some serious concerns about the government indiscriminately searching information to see if the government can find something to use against you when you are a pre-defined target that they are “after”, I can’t say that he would see searching for data that is not about you but about everyone. In this context, you are not relevant. You are nothing more than a fleeting non-match in a computer program; just another binary field that has no meaning or interest to the machine.

The issue of privacy isn’t the data here. The privacy issue is the intentions of those who have chosen to do a search. If they have the intention to invade your privacy then using the data is a violation. But without that intention is it?
Now I am not asking you to trust government. I would hope you wouldn’t trust the technology companies to the same degree. Certainly don’t trust politicians. But since we have to decide what our society is to permit and what it is to protect, don’t we have to be “eternally vigilant in the protection of our liberties”? So we have to deal with the complexity of the world. Don’t make this a simple problem to answer. It isn’t. And we don’t have an answer yet.

A Thought on the Republican Party and Its Progeny - The TEA Party

Witness the political organism in mid-evolution. King's efforts may be nothing more than the normal response to the TEA party by its progenitor Repubican party in terms of the survival of the fittest. The political environment is not capable of sustaining both given the competition for the resources that each needs to survive at the level that it seeks: being the sole entity that will exist as the Republican party into the future. This competition isn't a bad thing, it's just what happens organically as the each political cell attempts to establish its dominance for the food of politics: money and power.

What emerges will be a creature of the Republican zietgeist in the party constituents, or at least those that have the influence over the decisions that formulate future Republican policies. This new Republican creature may be an evolutionary dead-end or it may spring forth as a vital and prolific group that overtakes our governance. Perhaps the two contending organisms will diverge and evolve into two separate and incompatible species that are constantly at each other until one is pushed into extinction.

The interesting question is whether whatever emerges in the end is an entity that is symbotic with our American values and freedoms or is a virulent cancer that will eat away at the nation's democratic foundations until it has destroyed the very social body that gave it birth.

I suspect that which path is followed will depend upon whether the organism applies intelligence, integrity, honesty and compassion to its behaviors. Time will tell. Evolution after all is indifferent to what you want, it only provides what you choose to do and the inevitable consequences that flow from those choices.