Archive for March, 2012

Stay classy, NOM:

BuzzFeed obtained a confidential strategy memo from an anti-gay marriage group, the National Organization for Marriage, with a goal of “fanning the hostility” between black voters and gay voters by casting President Obama as a radical foe of marriage.

Obama is “a radical foe of marriage”? Clearly. Just look at his personal life! Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, is just all about marriage.


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(note: typically I respond to comments in the comment section, but in this case I’d like to make a more detailed reply)

Commenting on my previous post, Jastonite writes:

Arguments on the merits of a law belong in the houses of Congress. When it comes to the courts and legality of legislation is in question, merit matter little. For example, if a confession has been obtained as the result of torture, it is not appropriate to argue the merits of the confession nor the merits of the torture techniques, but only whether what was done is torture and whether torture is a legal way to obtain a confession.

I agree that the proper places for legality and merit arguments are the judiciary and the congress, respectively. The point I was trying to make (and re-reading my post I see that I made it poorly, I blame it on the lack of coffee that morning) is that I don’t find arguments solely to the legality of a law (bill, rule, regulation, etc) to be persuasive independent of arguments on the merits. If you can explain to me why we can or can’t have a law (legality) but not why we should or shouldn’t have it (merits) I will remain unconvinced of your point. That isn’t to say I think legality arguments are unimportant, just that they should not exist in a vacuum. Kevin Drum uses this framework here:

So then, what’s the limiting rule? Why can’t Congress mandate that we all eat broccoli? Answer: because it’s not necessary to the proper functioning of any plausibly reasonable healthcare regulatory structure. Congress may have the power to intrude on individual liberty, but it can’t exercise that power arbitrarily. It has to be appropriate and plainly adapted to a legitimate broader goal. The individual mandate is. Forcing you to eat your broccoli isn’t.

To me, a convincing argument will base the legal case within the merit case. “We should have this law, and in fact, we can”.

Again, I understand the articles I linked to were not trying to do this, but I think they would be stronger if they had!

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Mitt Romney is indeed a job creator! But probably not in the way he meant:

Larry Killgallon, president of Etch-A-Sketch maker Ohio Art Co., told Bloomberg TV he’s loving the use of his company’s toy in the presidential campaign debate.

Said Killgallon: “We’re talking about creating T-shirts and the kind of things we could bring to the convention.”


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Ari Kohen highlights, er, this:

The mayor of the southwest North Dakota tourist town of Medora is seeking permission for a hanging, and he is sticking his neck out by volunteering to be the one to go to the gallows.” In perhaps the greatest individual story in Associated Press history, a North Dakota mayor wants to convince us that he’s not crazy when he wants to hold a fake hanging for tourists

I don’t… Um… What? Really?

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The top 4 words used to describe him

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Kevin Drum highlighted the video below looking into biofuels from algae. I want to make a few points regarding this, because there’s alot here I think people don’t understand:

First off, the chart at the 2 minute mark. We see that it takes far less land to make an equivalent amount of oil from algae than from corn or soy. Well, OK, but lets unpack that a bit. When we grow corn to produce biofuels, we do a few things. First, we have to get the corn out of the field. Then, we have to get at the part we make the biofuel out of, the starch. Then we make the biofuel, which is ethanol. For algae based biofuels, we have an analogous process. First, we have to get the algae out of the water. Then, we have to get at the part we make the biofuel out of, the oil. Then, we have to make the biofuel, which is biodiesel.

So what’s my point? Well, getting corn out of the field is really, really easy. Getting algae out of the water is really, really hard. In fact, no one knows how to do it efficiently yet. You can centrifuge it, filter it, or you can even feed it to fish and collect the algae-containing fish poop (seriously). But it isn’t efficient.

Next, we have to get at the part we make the biofuel out of. In corn, thats the starch. We can either purify the starch and ferment only it (thats called wet milling) or we can just grind up the whole corn kernel and ferment the whole thing (thats called dry grind). In either case, not so hard. Algae though is a different story. Once you’ve gotten your algae out of the water, you have to get your oil out of your algae. To do that you have to break open the cell, and extract the oil. People have used supercritical carbon dioxide (that’s what Garden State Bioenterprises wants to do, I believe), they’ve used hexane, and other methods, but again, none of that is efficient. Or cheap.

So all that efficiency you gain by using less land? Gone, gone, gone, and then some, before you’re even ready to start making your fuel.

As for the statement at 2:20 that CO2 used to grow algae offsets the CO2 used when it’s burned, well I agree. Algae does photosynthesis, which means it takes in CO2 and sunlight, and makes more algae and oxygen. Then when you burn it, CO2 is given back off. Its the same for every plant. Keep that in mind, because people seem to suddenly forget that fact when they talk about ethanol.

A lot of people seem to support algae biofuels but at the same time are against corn ethanol because they think it takes more energy to make and gives off more greenhouse gasses than oil. I disagree with those claims, but would just like to point out that algal biofuels take significantly more energy (and thus more GHGs) than ethanol to make.

Bottom line, fuel from algae is inefficient and costly to make. So much so that we haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Ethanol, on the other hand, is very efficient and relatively cheap to make. So why does algae get all the media love?

(ps: yes, a couple months ago I promised a post about why I think the anti-corn ethanol arguments are wrong. I haven’t forgotten. I’m working on it. Actually them. It’s going to be a multi-part series. Because this is my blog and I’ll nerd out if I want to damn it)

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This week, the National Constitution Center featured arguments for and against the Affordable Care Act.

I find both of these arguments to be weak and unconvincing.

Arguing against the individual mandate, Shapiro comes up with a bunch of scenarios in which the government could mandate you to do something that sounds silly, like buying broccoli. If they can do this, what’s to stop them from forcing broccoli down your throat! But this argument can be applied to any governemt regulation or mandate. I hear it all the time from folks on the right, and it just isn’t any good. It always strikes me as an attempt to reframe the debate on more favorable grounds. Winning an argument about healthcare might be hard. But winning one about broccoli won’t be.

Arguing in favor of the mandate, Amar and Brewster just get down to semantics. If you don’t purchase insurance under the mandate, you pay a penalty. Had they called that a tax, rather than a penalty, all would be well. The constitution gives the power to tax.

Neither argument actually takes on the mandate on the merits. We should evaluate the mandate based on its effectiveness and impact (or lack thereof) and not on semantics or the hypothetical tyranny of broccoli.

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