Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Instant Replay

Tuesday saw an important, if unnoticed event in the ongoing Democratic primary election. Hillary Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania not only served to re-legitimize her campaign beyond any spectre of a doubt, but it also provided Clinton supporters with a key statistic that even her befuddled campaign simply cannot ignore: Barack Obama's lead in the popular vote has disappeared. With Tuesday's 1,260,060 votes in Pennsylvania's primary, Clinton moved ahead of Obama in total votes cast by a count of 15,116,076 to 14,417,134. Now, as usual in this primary contest, these numbers are accompanied by a host of caveats.

Most notable and most important is the issue of Michigan and Florida. Both of these states are having their popular vote counts, along with their delegate votes, withheld due to their violation of DNC rules regarding the timing of their respective contests. The total popular vote totals above include the tallies from both of these states; however, a major point remains. While in Florida both Clinton and Obama appeared on the ticket, in Michigan Obama was absent. Obama chose not to campaign in the state with the knowledge that the process would likely be all for naught. In doing so, though, his campaign provided definitive evidence that if there are no delegates to gain, the state is not a priority.
Campaigning directly to electoral votes, or in this case delegates, is a hot button issue and causes many to question the process of the electoral college. In this primary contest, where delegates replace electoral votes, the same principals apply, causing states to vary in importance in vague proportion to the number of delegates they carry. Through the years, various candidates have pledged to ignore this process and give each citizen of each state their proper attention regardless of the number of delegates - or electoral votes - their state carries. Obama has been mum on the topic, but his campaign strategy in Michigan does plenty of talking.

So what about November, when the votes at stake are electoral, and not delegates? A previous post on this blog points to the nature of victories achieved in the primary so far, and how they may translate come November. To recap (with updated numbers), to tally the electoral votes for each state won by the respective candidate shows the following totals:

Clinton: 284 Obama:193

Allowing for the fact that many of these votes will be gobbled up by John McCain in November is a fact that only further serves to support Clinton, as she has won far more traditional "blue" states, and Obama has been very successful in "red" states, likely to go to McCain in November. When presented with this case, Obama supporters have been quick to point to two arguments: Michigan and Florida should not be included in the counts, and Obama has a strong lead in the overall popular vote. It will be very interesting to see if Clinton's campaign can capitalize on the fact that Obama's argument concerning the popular vote is simply no longer valid, and the argument concerning Michigan and Florida is simply too petty a claim to stake in the face of such an important general election. By abstaining from the Michigan contest to focus on states where the delegates would count towards his tally, Obama acknowledged the very principle that cements Clinton's legitimacy: There are certain states that, for better or for worse, carry more importance in an election, and in those states Clinton has been overwhelmingly more successful.

Obama has done a masterful job at seizing momentum, inspiring his base, and marketing his campaign. But the fact simply remains that the numbers no longer add up to support his front runner status. The idea of this primary process is to determine which candidate will be most prepared and equipped to win a national election. Looking at the numbers above, it has done so. The time is drawing very near for Democrats to fall in line and concentrate on November, for this is an election they cannot afford to lose.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Theory of Memory

Think back for a moment to where you were when you viewed the above video, or even, where you were when you began reading this sentence. Chances are you are still in the same physical location as you are in now. Now take a moment to consider where you were an hour, a day, or a week ago. You will find, most likely, that your situation has changed, that you are no longer in the same place - or are you?

Our fundamental concept of memory is best described by drawing an analogy to a computer's hard drive. As we move through our lives, our brains encrypt information and store it away to be drawn upon and referenced again and again. Is this, though, the most logical diagram we can employ to gain full knowledge over our interface with the past? Perhaps.

Consider now a different approach. What if, like touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, etc., our memory truly is a sense? Instead of drawing upon bits of information stored away in our brains like files, our memory is a physical sense of the past as it truly exists? This may seem like quite a stretch, but consider the following: In modern quantum physics, the laws of entanglement basically assert a general inter-connectivity between all physical aspects of the universe. Theories of conservation and relativity dictate (among many other things) that all mass and all energy, in all of forms, is neither destroyed nor created, but pass through various phases of existence and physical perception, and back again and again. Lastly, for the purposes of this specific theory, consider Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, which introduces the concept of spacetime, and some of the principles that bind this phenomena to the same laws that govern all other aspects of the physical universe.

Basically stated, all of these principles allow for the theory in which the past exists physically, right alongside the present and the future and all of the physical matter and energy we use as an interface to interpret our positions therein. Adding together all of these principles allows us to look at our perception of the past in a much different light.

I'll reference the video clip to illustrate the point further. The majority of our physical existence is dictated by a series of interactions with our physical surroundings, i.e., I see the coffee mug in front of me, I reach for the mug, grasp, touch, and feel the mug, bring it to my lips and consume its contents, as confirmed by my sense of taste. Through a combination of physiological maneuvers, both sensory and muscular-skeletal in nature, I have performed an action. But what if this action involved a coffee mug that was not in plain sight? What if the same mug was behind me? An act of memory replaces an act of sight in becoming the first step in determining the mug's physical location. Under the assumptions of this new, different theory, instead of referencing a snapshot of the point in time where I placed my mug on the table behind me, my brain references the point in time itself.

Just as the neurological experiments of Ben Libet (explained in the clip) point to a possible connection between our physical sensations and the future, could it be that there is a physical link between our senses and the past?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

U.S. Obesity Rates

I found this amazing - but startling - chart on Paul Levy's blog. Click through the slides to watch the unfortunate trend in obesity illustrated in dramatic fasion.

Read this doc on Scribd: obesity trends 2006[1]

This information is all the more alarming when the numbers are put into perspective. The following information is taken from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website.

Defining Overweight and Obesity
Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems.

Definitions for Adults
For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat.

An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
See the following table for an example.

Height Weight Range BMI Considered
5’ 9”
124 lbs or less Below 18.5 Underweight
125 lbs to 168 lbs 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight
169 lbs to 202 lbs 25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
203 lbs or more 30 or higher Obese

(To calculate your BMI, click here)
With health care, and more importantly, health care costs continuing to draw national attention of a mostly negative ilk, the trends and statistics illustrated above may help to point out that many, many more people than just doctors, politicians and health insurance executives play a very fundamental role in determining the nature, and cost, of health care in this country.