Friday, April 29, 2016

Challenging Some Preconceptions About Cooking and Eating

People who don’t understand science and make decisions on feelings, first impressions or advice from others often get it wrong.  Here is some information on cooking and eating that may seem surprising.

I’ve heard in conversations people condemn the use of microwave ovens for the preparation of any food.  “I just can’t bring myself to nuke it,” they say.  “It just can’t be as healthy, and I know it doesn’t taste the same.”  Then they go on and on about how careful they are and how they want only the best for their family.  Everyone just sits around the table and nods.  Among some, this is an in-vogue subject.

Now we hear from the scientists.  According to the health.harvard website: “The cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible. Microwaving meets those criteria. Using the microwave with a small amount of water essentially steams food from the inside out. That keeps more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method.”  The truth is the exact opposite of what these people profess to believe.  The food may taste different, but that’s not because it is less healthy.

Some of these same people are violently opposed to genetically modified food products (GMOs).  I have written about this before (most recently in February and originally in January 2013), noting how the science on GMOs is clear and how political opposition to GMOs only leads to unnecessary suffering in the world.  In the words of Patrick Moore, who has a PhD in Ecology, became one of the first members of Greenpeace and is former president of the Greenpeace Foundation:  “I believe that the campaign of fear now waged against genetic modification is based largely on fantasy and a complete lack of respect for science and logic.”  (From “Environmentalism for the 21st Century” p. 9)

The scientists are firm on the safety of GMOs and now this interview with a Purdue professor of Agricultural Science expands upon the issue.  “All of the scientific evidence, so far is that it’s not a problem.”  But what would happen if GMOs were banned?  “We’d have higher food costs around the world. We’d have more poverty. We’d have more pesticide use, and more harmful pesticides. And we’d have higher greenhouse gas emission so more contribution to global warming.”

What puzzles me is that the same ones who use a majority of scientists to support their convictions about man-made climate change will take exactly the opposite stance on GMOs.  Unfortunately, in a democracy protests and public opinion carry more weight than science.  People who don’t understand science and make decisions on feelings, first impressions or advice from others often feel the need to influence policy, driving decisions that have the potential to inconvenience or even harm the rest of us.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Apparent Inconsistencies

The thing about these essays most commented about is my tendency to look at things differently enough to get people thinking, whether or not they agree with the conclusions.  Today let’s look at some apparent inconsistencies. 

Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” Perhaps these are justified on the basis that they are not foolish, but they do seem inconsistent.

First, I wonder how some people can argue that individuals have a right to move from one country to another when conditions in the second country are economically more favorable for them – even if the move is illegal; while at the same time objecting to a company moving from one country to another legally for the very same reason.

Then I ran across this article in a regional magazine.  A naturalist writes that the woodcock and grouse are disappearing from southern Indiana.  The problem is not predators, poor game regulations or farming practices, but “forest succession away from young forests to middle and older stages of forest development…the unintended result of misguided timber management.”  The problem comes from a change in forestry practice due to public pressure from individuals and conservation groups to practice “selective” forest harvest.  For sentimental reasons, they favor older trees and forests to younger ones.  It is a political decision rather than a scientific one, as every planned cutting is met with “protesters trying to shut down all timber harvest on state and federally-controlled property.”  Clear-cutting may be ugly, but so is what nature does with lightning-initiated forest fires.  It’s a shame these protesters, who claim to love the trees and animals, work against nature by not taking the time to learn more about it.

Finally, those favoring legal abortion and insurance coverage of all contraception argue that they are “pro-choice” and favor a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body.  If that is the case, and a woman indeed has a right to choose what she does with her body, why don’t the pro-choice folks also adamantly favor both eliminating drug laws and legalizing prostitution.  Drug laws restrict a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body.  If she wants to take recreational drugs or use prescriptions in any way she desires, the state forbids her to do so.  Likewise if she decides to use her body as a source of income by selling sexual favors to those who are willing to pay, she must risk arrest to do so.  Sabrina Williams uses her physical abilities to earn a very substantial living, as do other athletes, fashion models and others.  If they are allowed to choose, why is there a restriction against those who want to become prostitutes?  Of course, many consider prostitution immoral, but many consider abortion immoral as well.  This seems like an inconsistency, a selective application of a principle.

Just a few ideas to think about.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Driving Home The Need For Responsibility

An ongoing theme of these posts has been that when we don’t take responsibility, we give up some freedom.  Another recent example makes that very clear.

According to this Washington Post report New York may be the first state to pass a law allowing police to access a cell phone after an accident to determine if the driver was texting at the time of the accident.  The proposal is “causing concern among some civil liberties groups, who say that it could interfere with people's cellphone privacy.”  The state counters with the argument that the so-called Textalizer, which takes its name from the Breathalyzer, does not capture the content of a message but “only determines if the phone was in use at the time of the accident.”

“The bill includes language that gives law enforcement ‘implied consent’ to having one's phone tested at the scene of the crash.”  (Note:  driving is a privilege, not a right, so the government can add reasonable conditions – like being 16 years old.)

A group advocating methods to reduce distracted driving has promoted this idea.  The need for this additional measure then, arises from an increase in distracted driving, especially related to cell phone use.  Several years ago this was not an issue, but as more people (not necessarily you and me) abused the responsibility to pay attention while driving, we all are subject to what some consider another intrusive practice.

But the continual erosion of freedom is not the primary reason to act responsibly.  Research presented in the Harvard Business Review bears this out.

 “When we fail, we internally pinpoint what the authors [of the study] call an ‘attribution of responsibility – namely taking personal ownership for the outcome or blaming it on external circumstances.’ If you take personal ownership, their research shows you’re much more likely to learn from and work harder after that mistake.”  Those test subjects who put the blame on outside factors were less likely to succeed in a follow-up exercise.

In other words, those who play the victim don’t even take the time to figure out what went wrong and take corrective action.  They just assume everything is beyond their control.  It’s easier to turn power (and along with that some of their choices) over to someone else and not have to deal with it or admit failure.  That’s when the politicians come along promising to “fight for you,” which of course only leads to more regulation and less freedom.  Not acting responsibly becomes a vicious cycle.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Is College Worth the Cost?

Here is something worth thinking about.  Young people spend five or six years getting a college education, some with the belief that it will help them do better financially in life.  Let’s look at a few numbers dealing with averages to show how this assumption can go wrong.

First we must address opportunity costs.  While attending college a student typically is not working, except possibly part time to contribute to current expenses.  Time spent at college is time lost to earning (and experience and possibly seniority).  We need an estimate of how much time that is.  A Time Magazine article from 2013 tells us:  “According to the Department of Education, fewer than 40% of students who enter college each year graduate within four years, while almost 60% of students graduate in six years.”  For a rough average, five years seems reasonable.

Next look at the relative average pay for a college graduate and a high school graduate.  The National Center for Education Statistics helps out there:  “in 2013 median earnings for young adults with a bachelor's degree were $48,500, compared with …$30,000 for those with a high school credential."  (Note: The Start Class website lists 22 colleges where the median salary of their graduates is less than what a high school graduate earns, but we’ll stick with the averages.)

The salary difference is substantial, but don’t forget the opportunity costs.  Right off the graduation stage with diploma in hand the college graduate is already 5 years of salary (@$30,000 per year = $150,000) and five years real work experience behind.  The average graduate is also almost $30,000 in debt.

Assuming out any interest on loans and the effects of inflation (to keep it simple), the graduate needs to make up about $180,000 just to get even.  With an advantage of $18,500 in salary (before taxes) it will take nearly 10 years to close the gap.

This is for the average.  Some will do better and some worse.  It takes a few more assumptions and a few simple calculations to get down to the individual case.  Additionally, college is not for everyone and some people with only a high school education can do much better than average.  The big watch out, however, is that competition for unskilled or semi-skilled jobs is fierce – not just here, but in places like Mexico and Asia where a $20 hourly wage job can be done by a replacement earning $4 or less per hour.

It is important for every high school student to consider these issues carefully and calculate the likely long-term outcome using realistic personal assumptions.  I heard of one young man who chose a private college at $40,000 per year over a public college at about $12,000 per year because the private college was smaller and he had a better chance to make an athletic team (no scholarship involved).  The five-year difference will be almost enough to buy a modest house in the part of the country where he lives – and his goal is to be a high school math teacher!  Even if he gets that teaching job, chances are he will work an additional 6 to 10 years just to make up the difference financially of this one decision.