The Lion King Still Lingers, For Now

The Lion King Still Lingers, For Now

Africa’s wildlife not threatened by dentist, but miscommunication and land loss.
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On Wednesday, Aug. 12, animal lovers around the globe celebrated “World Elephant Day.” The timing couldn’t get any better. A dozen updates and shares on Facebook and I realized just how much last month’s media drama had affected folks on the Internet.

I admit it. Ever since, there has been echoing attempts to throw Dr. Walter Palmer, the killer of Cecil the Lion, in a pile of elephant poop — or however else people wanted to handle his actions to cause viral shame — and I have to say, it felt good in my all-cool-animals-matter heart. Unfortunately, however, the truth about sport hunting on the African savannah is rather more complex than a Minnesota dentist.

In fact, I recently visited the Northern circuit of Tanzania, with its couple of million abundant species. To my great (or rather so uneducated) surprise, hunting for fun does not necessarily have a negative impact on the biodiversity. As Martha Honey describes in her book “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?” (p. 244), sport hunting is the ultimate paradox of ecotourism.

She goes on to explain that, “Although some of those involved in conservation and nature tourism find hunting distasteful, cruel, and ethnically reprehensible, many admit that if properly managed, trophy hunting helps curb poaching, does less environmental damage, and brings in much more foreign exchange than do photographic safaris.”

As Honey says, this double-faceted relationship might help sustain the wildlife in the area. In so doing, hunters provide more revenue to the country than do the many clicks on the newly bought system cameras that hang around the necks of gawking tourists, who want nothing less than to capture the memory of a lifetime — sometimes so badly that they forget to put the lens down and enjoy being in it.

But who decides what is considered OK to shoot? An elder Canadian guy living in Moshi, Tanzania, described how he’d been out hunting at one of the game reserves. He had got the license certified for certain animals only (and here I was, thinking that anyone can fly over there and start firing bullets left and right).

The first herd of animals was at range, but they weren’t on the list:

  • GUIDE: Shoot it!
  • CANADIAN: But it’s not on the list…?
  • GUIDE: Ah, it doesn’t matter, friend. Shoot one for me, too.

Maybe I was right? For what's problematic with game reserves is not the idea of killing majestic animals, but the constant mismanagement that comes with it; problems that can be traced to cultural endeavors, others that have been snapped up from the introduction of Western corporations and their moneymaking greed in the area.

The true issue for many of these animals is land restrictions: tourism companies take over big chunks of land to build complexes for Westerners to enjoy; agriculture has become hip and an easy way of living lately, and climate changes affect the water supply in and around the national parks for both humans and wildlife alike.

And so, with the loss of crucial land outside of the national parks, greater animals such as the elephant will continue to decrease. Trapped within park boundaries, their mobile lifestyle cannot be satisfied. At the same time, weaponry dispersed decades ago during civil wars now come in handy to poachers, who see the giant tusks as a better future for themselves.

Thanks to an Asian invasion of Africa lately there are now even legalized routes to ship off a set amount of ivory to Asia. However, the illegal bi-product takes advantage of the scene, which makes it difficult to control how much actually ends up in China.

Dr. Charles Foley, a researcher at the Wildlife Conservation Society, has been working with an elephant project in one of the national parks, Tarangire, since 1993. He works to secure wildlife corridors outside of the parks (plots of land stretches strategically drawn after the movement of animals) to helps alleviate the tense situation between humans and elephants.

“Wildlife numbers will come back, but you have to protect the land,” Foley said determinedly, before zipping from his cup of tea. He seems hopeful about the future of the elephant, although the overall count has dropped drastically from 1.2 million in the ‘60s to only thousands today.

Foley mentions the importance of media to inform especially the Asian population about the ivory trade, as he believes they are not educated about the ongoing. Whether media companies can make elephants the “new panda” over there remains questionable. But Foley does not show any sign of worry.

“A country who can ban people from having two children can do anything,” he said with a laugh.

Cover Image Credit: Maxime Devillaz
Cover Image Credit: Maxime Devillaz
Cover Image Credit: Maxime Devillaz

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No, Socialism Does Not "Sound Good In Theory"

The Myth Needs To Stop
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Have you ever heard the phrase, “socialism sounds good in theory, but it fails in practice?” As any in depth reading of the 20th century will show, the latter charge is evidently true. However, socialism, and centralized economies in general, also have a fundamental theoretical issue that many of its proponents fail to take seriously.

Have you ever considered how we determine the price of everything we buy? I feel comfortable assuming that you haven’t, and in full disclosure I hadn’t either until very recently. But it's a question that warrants some deliberation. Let’s explore:

Firstly, the price of one thing kind of depends on the price of everything else. For example, the price of a laptop depends on the price of each of the components that go into it; and the prices of those components are dependent on the price of the labor that goes into mining and collecting the resources those parts are made of; and the price of that labor depends on a near infinite number of factors, all of which must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis that takes into consideration differences in people talents, abilities, and interests. Further, one must also consider more subtle factors such as climate, geography, culture, and politics, all of which indirectly affect something’s price. And I won’t even begin to talk about the risks that entrepreneurs take when pursuing business ventures, because trying to assign a monetary value to risk is impossible irrespective of the special circumstances of a particular situation.

Not only must a supplier calculate the costs incurred and risks associated with bringing a final product to market, but he must also negotiate with consumers – because entrepreneurs will only turn a profit if their product sells; and in order for it to sell customers must be willing to pay the cost; and for that to happen consumers must believe that the benefits they receive will outweigh the costs incurred from purchasing it.

So how exactly do we account for all of those relevant factors and come to an agreement on what something is worth? Doing so for one product appears hard enough, but just imagine trying to do that for every single good and service that gets exchanged. Then imagine trying to do that every single day – because prices of capital products change on a day-to-day basis.

This is called combinatorial explosion, and it’s a fundamental problem with computing. When trying to determine something’s worth, the number of combinations that one has to examine grows exponentially, so fast that even the most powerful computers we have will require an intolerable amount of time to examine them. Exacerbating the problem of combinatorial explosion is the fact that what constitutes value itself is highly subjective. Perhaps you’d be willing to pay more for a hybrid than a pickup truck if you have a job that requires you to commute; and perhaps the opposite would be true if you own a landscaping company. Regardless of what example we use, its obvious that some people value some things more and some things less, and thus you can’t assign definitive monetary value to a product without regard to individuals tastes and preferences – in other words, you need feedback.

Although price calculation is an irreducibly complex problem, it’s one that needs to be solved – and from a purely theoretical standpoint, it’s one that socialism fails to address. Ludwig von Misses elaborated on this idea in his work Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth. His critique of socialism, popularly known as the Impossibility Thesis, goes as follows:

The very definition of Socialism is that all the means of production belong to the government. Spin it any way you want to, that they belong to everybody, or to nobody, or to the government, but the important point is that there is no buying and selling of means of production. Nobody can buy or sell steel or coal or a factory, because it is illegal for anyone to own them. That would be Capitalism, if a private person owned any means of production whatsoever and could do with it as he pleased.

So, socialism abolishes private property of capital goods and natural resources. Since the socialist State is sole owner of the material factors of production, they can no longer be exchanged. Without exchange there can be no feedback and hence no market prices. Without market prices, the State cannot calculate the cost of production for the goods it produces. In the absence of economic calculation of profit and loss, socialist planners cannot know the most valuable uses of scarce resources – thereby making the socialist economy, from a theoretical perspective, strictly impossible.

So how have we solved this problem? Obviously there is some phenomenon that works as a price calculator otherwise we wouldn’t have prices.

Well, herein lies the genius of market systems: they provide a distributive computational solution to the problem of overwhelming combinatorial complexity. Because no single person can account for all of the relevant factors that affect prices, the only solution is to leave people free to figure it out on their own. Here is a more technical analysis of how this works:

All people make monetary bids for goods according to their subjective valuations, leading to the emergence of objective monetary exchange ratios, which relate the values of all consumer goods to one another. Entrepreneurs seeking to maximize monetary profit bid against one another to acquire the services of the productive factors currently available and owned by these same consumers.

In this competitive process, each and every type of productive service is objectively appraised in monetary terms according to its ultimate contribution to the production of consumer goods. There thus comes into being the market’s monetary price structure, a genuinely “social” phenomenon in which every unit of exchangeable goods and services is assigned a socially significant cardinal number and which has its roots in the minds of every single member of society yet must forever transcend the contribution of the individual human mind.

So, rather than being set by an arbitrary authority from the top-down, contrary to what advocates of socialism might argue, prices actually emerge out of a collective process of people making individual value judgments and price appraisals from the bottom-up – and in effect, markets act as a de-facto price calculator by facilitating exchanges of goods and services between individuals.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that markets have issues, and of course our free enterprise system doesn't always live up to our highest expectations. However, when examining issues of the economic variety, one must always stay grounded in reality. Obviously if you use some hypothetical utopia or dreamland that has never existed as the basis for comparison our society will certainly fall short; but when compared to other societies, historical and present, we stack up among the best in the world.

Further, so long as we grant people the liberty to make their own choices, inequities will always exist; and as a consequence there will always be some people who are less well off than we would like. This doesn't mean we should do nothing to help those people who fall through the cracks, and it doesn't mean that all socialists are cranks. What it does mean, however, is that we shouldn’t strive for perfection in the form of a socialist utopia – because once you understand that the world is incomprehensibly complex, that humans are imperfect and imperfect creatures cannot produce something perfect, you come to understand what an absolute miracle it is that our society functions as well as it does.

Cover Image Credit: ChronoZoom

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Are YOU Ready for War?

I mean, the Holocaust occurred, and people never thought that would happen.
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Are you ready to live a life without Instagram? How about Snapchat? How about having to deal with power shortages? Could you imagine your life without hot showers? How about Dunkin Donuts?

For the past two weeks, I noticed that Army ROTC has been advertised in the El. It was kind of weird. I mean, why were they advertising the Army? It wasn't until Jersey Shore's premier that I connected the dots.


April 5, 2018

Girardi's and Hudson's Apartment:

We're eating pizza, enjoying family time; we even took a cab to honor Jerzday. As we are all sitting there on the couch, a Navy commercial comes on. Then, we all joke about how we are going to war with Korea. One thing led to the next, and we all start saying what we would actually do if we went to war. Julie wouldn't want to go to Korea, even though she's Korean. Then I admit that I wouldn't mind being station in Korea. After all, I adapt to different cultures pretty easily.

It wasn't until later that night that I realized, that this might be a possibility. All jokes aside, but we might actually go to war. Prices are rising. The military is being advertised. Our ROTC room is being remodeled. It suddenly seems like our program is improving, is it improving because they're going to need us soon?

(I realize that this makes no sense as much as it makes sense to me, but I think I peep something. It may just be a hunch from a sleepless-college-student that reads too many CNN articles, but I think I'm onto something).

Fortunate Sons. There I was zoning out, doing my pushups to the rhythm of one of America's sad realities. (The song is a protest piece against the draft during the Vietnam War).

What would I really do if we went to war? How would I tell my family? The only reason why my family has accepted me being in ROTC was because I kind of lied to them and said I would never end up in "battle". Yet, as the years pass, I realize that I perhaps may enjoy being in the field. I would never branch infantry, but I've been thinking about Field Artillery.

Disclaimer: I didn't mean to lie to my family. I just thought I would branch something that is "safe".

Later That Day:

On my way to Dina's apartment I see this:

a lot about who we are as a society.

Rumors about a draft have started to surface; how insane would that be? People don't believe that will happen. The only issue is that we always want to believe that bad things won't happen, but they do. Not trying to be pessimistic here but, it's kind of hard when history has been there to back my point up. I mean, the Holocaust happened, and people never thought that would happen.

Would that mean that we no longer have luxuries? Will macarons become scarce?


Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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