Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are Humans Wired for Empathy?

If case you hadn't noticed, I donate blood and blood products on a regular basis. They used to pay people for blood, but went to a strictly voluntary system years ago. There have been studies demonstrating that blood collection centers actually achieve a higher turnout if they don't offer compensation to donors. They probably get a higher-quality product. If I'm not getting paid, I don't have any incentive to use deceit in order to donate. Which got me thinking, are there transactions other than blood where voluntary donation yields better results than compensation?

Turns out there's a field of economics asking the same question. I read an interesting article in Ode Magazine, called "The altruism in economics". The article covers the blood donation scenario, along with something called the Ultimatum Game. In the game, two players are given a sum of money to share. Player A is to offer a portion of the sum to Player B. If B accepts, they share according to A's offer. If B rejects, both players get nothing. Traditional economics would say that A should offer B the minimum amount possible, since B should logically accept any offer. Interestingly though, the typical offer approaches a 50/50 split. It may be that humans have an inherent sense of fairness, or that Player A looks at it from B's perspective and (irrationally) decides that he should offer close to half in order to get B to accept.

In either case, it gives me hope for the future. When we finally realize that there is just one Earth, maybe we will learn to share.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What are you Doing on October 24th?

Whatever it is, hopefully it won't involve the release of greenhouse gases. I will probably ride my bike (surprise!). Training ride in the morning, then grocery run in the afternoon. If I'm feeling energetic, I may ride down to the farmer's market, instead of the neighborhood Thriftway, and pick up some local produce.

What's so special about October 24th? It's International Day of Climate Action. It's being organized by 350.org, dedicated to "building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis--the solutions that science and justice demand". The number "350" refers to 350 parts per million, a level scientists have determined as the safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere.

We're currently at 387 and rising, so there's a bit of work to do. 350.org recognizes it will take much more than individual action to reverse course. There's nothing wrong with switching out lightbulbs, driving less, and getting an electric lawnmower, but governments need to step up and stop subsidizing the extraction, production, and consumption of fossil fuels.

So leave the car in the garage and take a walk around your neighborhood. Let your family and neighbors know why you're taking a stand. And then call your elected representatives and ask them what they're doing to stop the destruction of our planet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gay Marriage Left Me (and my Dog) Unable to Have Children*

Sadly, it's true. I'm sterile. And so is my dog. Is it because of gay marriage? Over the past several years, my state (Washington) has enacted a series of laws establishing and protecting the rights of partners in a committed relationship. Gay, lesbian, or senior couples can register as domestic partners and receive nearly the same legal status as married couples. Not quite where it should be, but probably as good as we're going to get.

Unfortunately, Referendum 71 seeks to roll back even this measure of progress. Remember, some of these laws have been in place for years. Ask yourself, has your marriage been destroyed? Has the fabric of society been rent asunder? I submit that investment bankers have done more damage to the American family than gay marriage. Maybe we should enact laws prohibiting investment bankers from reproducing.

Vote Yes on Referendum 71. Keep the status quo. My marriage and family survived intact. Yours will too.

*It's probably because of the vasectomy I had after the birth of my last child, but you never know. The dog was fixed when we adopted him.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Do You Really Bike to Work in the Rain?

We've been having a wonderful indian summer. A bit chilly in the mornings, but dry and sunny. I hold no illusions but that the rains will eventually return. However, the rain bike has a new drivetrain and is waiting patiently in the garage.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stops the dedicated bike commuter. Take a look at these statistics on commute method from the Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey:

City State % by bicycle
Portland OR 6.0
Minneapolis MN 4.3
Seattle WA 2.9
San Francisco CA 2.7
Sacramento CA 2.7

Heading up the list is Portland, a city known more for ice storms than balmy breezes. I've never wintered in Minneapolis (#2), but I'll wager it's a little on the snowy side. My town, Seattle, squeaks in just ahead of the top-two California cities. San Diego (#22), Miami (#34), Las Vegas (#52) -- what's your excuse? It sure as heck can't be the weather.