Friday, October 27, 2006

One Set of Ecological Footprints in the Sand

For my Sustainable Development class I calculated my "Ecological Footprint" according to a questionnaire on a website maintained by the organization Redefining Progress. The questionnaire covered my eating habits, the size of my home, and modes of transportation, among other topics.

The results are returned in the number of acres of biologically productive land that it takes to maintain my bad self. Overall, I require 22 such acres. The average for the U.S. is 24 acres. Worldwide, there exist only 4.5 such acres per person.

Here's the breakdown by type of resource used:

Food: 5.9 acres
Mobility: 1.7
Shelter: 6.7
Goods / Services: 7.7
TOTAL: 22 acres

One of the questions was about how many hours per year I spend flying. There were five possible answers: 100 hours, 25 hours, 10 hours, 3 hours, and 0 hours. I answered 25 hours. I had a vague idea that air travel is incredibly resource-intensive, so I redid the quiz, and this time reduced my air travel to 10 hours to see how much of a difference it would make.


Food: 5.9 acres
Mobility: 0.7
Shelter: 6.7
Goods / Services: 6.7
TOTAL: 20 acres

By spending just 15 fewer hours in the air, I would reduce my mobility acreage and my goods and services acreage by one acre each.

I also did a Carbon Footprint calculator at another website sponsored by a British organization. This calculator measures how much carbon dioxide I spew into the atmosphere with a questionnaire based on home energy use and modes of transportation.

The results: I personally belch 19,801 kg of CO2 into the sky each year.

On the one hand, I live in a city and drive less than 25 miles a week on average. On the other hand, our apartment is in a draughty old house that could use some good weatherstripping. And, once again, there's the air travel.

By far the largest contributor to my carbon footprint was air travel, which added 9,000 kg of CO2, or 45% of my total carbon footprint. Right now I don’t have to travel for business, but even the three to five vacation trips I take per year emit a huge amount of CO2.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Getting Out the Vote

Generally, I take Election Day off to do Get Out the Vote (GOTV) stuff. In the past, I've done door to door canvassing and always wondered if it was worthwhile, compared with other methods, such as phone banks.

According to Get out the Vote!, a study of GOTV efforts between 1998 and 2002, door-to-door yields 1 additional vote for every 14 people contacted, while phone banks average 1 additional vote for every 35 people contacted.

In 2004 I and a friend did targeted door-to-door in a semi-rural area of New Hampshire. This meant visiting a pre-determined list of identified voters, not simply going up and down a street knocking on every door. I estimate we actually talked to 8 people per hour, or four per hour per canvasser.

Four contacts per hour -- that's a pretty low contact rate, especially compared with phone. The phone canvass looks like it might be more efficient, even though the vote-per-contact yield is over twice as low.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Specifics on the Senate

Dem Pickups:
Montana: Tester
Ohio: Brown
Pennsylvania: Casey
Tennessee: Ford

Dem Holds:
New Jersey: Menendez

Republican Holds:
Virginia: Allen
Missouri: Talent
Rhode Island: Chafee

Election Prediction

Democrats need to pick up 15 House seats to gain majority. I say they'll get 12.

Democrats need to pick up 6 Senate seets to gain majority. I say they'll get 4.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Regarding George "It Rhymes With Darkly" Berkeley, "Alex" writes,

I am starting a list of names that are mispronounced and I wonder at what point that will fade from oral history. For example, the VP of the CSA was Alexander Stephens but pronounced "Steffens". Or Florida had a Senator named James Talliferro, but pronounced Tolliver. Any others?

Yep...Gnarls Berkeley is how I like to think of him. A few years ago a guy walked up to me and asked me, in a British accent, how to get to the Chandler Hotel "on Barkley Street." After a couple seconds of confusion, I pointed him in the direction of Berkeley Street.

According to Wikipedia, Berkeley, California is named for the Bishop.

As for your list, how about Mark Teixiera of the Texas Rangers? Not that it's mispronounced, but that I don't think the average American would know how to pronounce it by looking at it. And maybe we Americans are mispronouncing it as "Teshera," anyway.

And Alexander Cockburn, columnist for The Nation. In the Spring of 1989, I applied for a summer job at The Nation. Despite the fact that I addressed my cover letter to Ms. Micah Sifry (because I had never seen or heard of the Hebrew name Micah before and wrongly assumed it was a woman), Mister Sifry called me for a phone interview, during which I said that I enjoyed reading the columns of Alexander Cockburn, pronouncing all the letters as written. Only later did I discover that his name is pronounced Coe-burn, just like that awesome actor James Coburn. I didn't get the job.

I don't know of a specific one, but there's got to be a Beauchamp ("Beecham") out there somewhere whose name is routinely mispronounced. And how about a Leicester?

In Connecticut it is "Grenitch." In Rhode Island I believe they say East Green-which.

In Minneapolis, we often drove along Nicollet Ave., pronouncing that last "T" like our lives depended on it. Same with the final "N" on Hennepin Ave.

I think the very first McDonald's Restaurant was in Des Plaines, Illinois. That's "Dez Planes," thank you very much.

And how about 50 Cent? If you don't say "Fitty," it's like there's a giant neon sign above you saying: Bonehead. Bonehead. Bonehead.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

George Berkeley's Epistemology

I'm taking a "Classics of American Thought" class. So far we've read John Winthrop on why economic and social inequality is actually pleasing to God, and John Locke on the basis for property rights and his epistemology, particularly the difference between primary (shape, size, solidity, number, and motion) and secondary (color, taste, smell, sound, and texture) qualities of objects.

This week is George Berkeley who sets out, in "Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous," (1713) to oppose Sceptics and Athiests by, in the first dialogue, adopting the Sceptics' point of view, namely that it is impossible to definitively prove the existence of objects. It's impossible because, as I understand it, we are slaves to our perceptions and to our experiences, so that everything we think we perceive is actually the production, in our mind's eye, of an archetype. For example, our eyes perceive a round, red, shiny thing with a little brown protruberance at the top. The particular combination of these shapes and colors is compared with a set of archetypes stored in our memory, resulting in the idea of an "apple" to form in our minds. We then proceed as if the apple exists.

Basically, as he presents the Sceptical point of view, Berkeley is saying that it's impossible to escape from our perceptions. We can't be certain that our perceptions are real -- after all, we perceive things in dreams but that doesn't make them real -- so we are left with doubt as to the nature of reality.

I follow the scepticism argument with respect to the sensory perceptions like color and sound, but things like shape, size, and motion are a bit more difficult for me. Can't we use a yardstick to measure the size of something? Or a yardstick and a stopwatch to measure its speed? I guess Berkeley is saying that we have to perceive in order to make those measurements, so we're back where we started.

What about pure intellectual ideas, like that of a circle? According to Berkeley's treatment of Scepticism, one cannot conceive of a circle without giving it some secondary qualities, such as, "Is it filled in or an outline?" If filled in, what color is it? If an outline, how thick is the line? Etc.

But what if I conceive of a circle as the set of points in a plane a units from a specified center point? I suppose Berkeley would say that I'm simply using other archetypes and symbols.

Where all this is going remains to be seen. Now I'll read an exchange of letters between Berkeley and Samuel Johnson.
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