A common biology lesson deals with how energy is passed from one layer of creatures to another, as demonstrated by the graphic on the right. The yellow bar is 1000 pixels tall, representing the energy that comes from the sun. The next bar is only 100 pixels tall, and this represents the energy taken from the sun by plants for their own use. The next bar is 10 pixels tall, representing the energy which herbivores get from the plants they eat. The final bar is 1 pixel tall, representing carnivores and the energy the get from the animals they eat. I could go on a few more levels, but it’s hard to draw a bar only a tenth of a pixel tall. Each level only gains about 10% of the energy from the layer below.

Vegetarians often use this principle to illustrate how much more efficient it would be if we switched from the carnivorous level to a plant-based diet. Doing so would mean that we would have a tenfold increase of energy available to us. But there’s one big problem with this idea — a carrot just doesn’t barbecue as well as a steak. The carrots slip right through the bars and onto the coals.

Ignoring grilling carrots for the nonce, the laws of thermodynamics explain how energy moves from one layer of life to another and why the energy levels keep dropping in each layer. While an in-depth discussion of thermodynamics is way beyond the scope of this article, it’s still worth taking a quick look at the principle.

1st Law of Thermodynamics — energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.
2nd Law of Thermodynamics — the disorder in an isolated system will never decrease.
3rd Law of Thermodynamics — absolute zero, the absence of any kinetic energy, cannot be reached, only approached closely.

Since that’s a little dry, here’s how C. P. Snow, a British scientist, described these three laws:

1st Law — you cannot win
2nd Law — you cannot break even
3rd Law — you cannot leave the game

The laws of thermodynamics tell us that any time we do work, we are converting energy from one form to another. Dams take potential energy and convert it into kinetic and electrical energy. Cars take chemical energy and convert it into kinetic energy. That’s the 1st law in action. The 2nd law explains that each time energy is converted, at least some energy is lost in the process. No car engine can convert gasoline into kinetic energy (the vroom) with complete efficiency. Some of the energy from the gasoline is turned into noise and waste heat, neither of which is used. The same thing happens in living machines like you and me. As we eat our grilled steak and carrots, we imperfectly convert that chemical energy into new skin, muscles, and 5K runs.

The 2nd Law describes entropy. Entropy is the spreading out of energy in a system, going from more organized and useful energy into disorganized and less-useful energy. There is no way to reverse this trend other than on a small scale, and doing so will still increase the overall disorder and energy change in the total system.

Bored already? Have you remembered why you didn’t like science classes? Now for the kicker — these laws, but most especially the 2nd Law, apply to life, as the diagram above shows. On average, only 10% of the energy from one layer makes it into useful energy for the next layer. This loss of energy also applies to people, nations, and organizations.

So what is the most efficient way to move money (that’s financial energy for you and me) from one person to another? Notice the trend below:

– You give $100 to someone.
– The Federal Government taxes $100 from you and gives money to someone.
– The Federal Government taxes $100 from you, gives money to a state welfare department, which hands money to the local welfare department, who hands money to someone.

Do you see the extra layers appearing? Remember, as money moves from one layer to another, this movement costs money. So as this $100 passes through the layers of bureaucracy, some is skimmed off to pay for salaries, the buildings and maintenance, and petty cash expenditures. Of our original imaginary $100 taxed from you, the end recipient on welfare gets less than $25. That means over $75 of your hard-earned tax money was lost in pushing your taxes from one department to another. In other words, for every one welfare person you help with your taxes, you have funded three bureaucrats. Gives you a nice warm fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?

This is one reason why I instinctively favor smaller government over larger government. Smaller organizations cost less to staff, not only in numbers of people on the payroll, but because with fewer layers of bureaucracy there is less entropy as money (energy) passes through. We do need government and the services it provides, but these services come at a cost, both seen and unseen. This is why Thomas Jefferson was correct when he said, “That government is best which governs least.” This is true even on a thermodynamic level.

Some people discuss and fantasize over a world-wide government that would make world-wide laws and policies just as the Federal Government currently makes national laws and policies. But I cannot look on this idea with as much eagerness, because the principles of thermodynamics tell me that adding this extra layer of bureaucracy will sap even more of our financial energy. Knowing how inefficient government already is, why would I want to add yet another layer?

I see no benefit of a world-wide government that would outweigh the cost of having it in the first place.


One of the rallying cries during the lead-up to the liberation of Iraq was the oft-shouted “No blood for oil!” This is a cute and snappy slogan, but it has no basis in fact. If the U. S. were really that greedy for oil, Kuwait would have become the 51st State a decade ago. Nor would it take much force to occupy Saudi Arabia. But oil did play an important part in the lead-up to the fighting in Iraq.

In 1996, a U.N. plan was implemented to feed the people of Iraq. For years Iraq was under a trade embargo as a result of invading Kuwait. The plan was informally called the “Oil for Food” program, and it allowed Iraq to sell its oil at dirt-cheap prices in exchange for humanitarian aid, mainly food and medicines. This plan ran for about seven years under the direct control of the U.N. In January of this year, the Iraqi newspaper al-Mada published a list of 270 names of people and organizations whom the newspaper found in Iraqi oil ministry documents. These were the people and organizations who took part in the Oil for Food program. Dick Morris sums up some of the people involved in a New York Post article:

The list of those receiving these bribes includes France’s former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua (who’s a leader of Chirac’s party) and Patrick Maugein, the head of the French Oil firm Soco International. France’s former U.N. ambassador, Jean-Bernard Merimee, got vouchers to sell 11 million barrels.

In Russia, the payoff chain reached right into the “office of the Russian president.” President Vladimir Putin’s Peace and Unity Party also got vouchers, as did the Soviet-era Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov and the Russian Orthodox Church. Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky shared in the largesse.

Who were the three biggest opponents to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq? Who were the three biggest beneficiaries of the Oil for Food program? Why, in both cases these were France, Russia, and the U.N. Basically, Saddam had bought their opposition to the war with oil bribes. Oil certainly did play a part in the fighting in Iraq, but oil wasn’t the reason why the U.S. invaded. Oil was the reason behind the people crying out for the status quo. After all, they had a sweet deal going on.

If someone tells you the U.S. invaded Iraq because of oil, congratulations! You have just discovered someone who doesn’t have a clue. Feel free to give them their sign.


In April, news broke of Americans and other Coalition soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. In one photo, soldiers grin behind a pile of naked Iraqis. Another shows a female soldier grinning and pointing to naked Iraqis. Americans and Arabs are understandably upset about this. After all, Americans value human dignity, and the Iraqis in the pictures have had this dignity robbed from them. And Arabs are upset because the photographs seem to show just how evil the satanic American crusaders have become.

I want a full investigation of those involved because I value human life and dignity. But to be honest, I’m not all that torn up by these photos. Regardless of how much is true and how much is fake, the “torture” displayed by the Coalition doesn’t hold a candle to the real torture the Iraqis endured under Saddam’s rule. On one hand we have a pile of naked people, and on the other hand we have thousands shot, starved, macheted, stung, and maimed by Saddam.

America is being blamed for this because we have standards and we clearly failed to live up to them. But Saddam didn’t have any standards, and the world seemed willing to give him a pass. If France, Russia, the U.N., and American liberals had their way, Saddam would still be in charge, and the real torture and rape rooms would still be in full swing.

The Draft

Early this year, Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel introduced a bill to reinstate the military draft. “I truly believe that those who make the decision and those who support the United States going into war would feel more readily the pain that’s involved, the sacrifice that’s involved, if they thought that the fighting force would include the affluent and those who historically have avoided this great responsibility,” Rangel said.

Liar. This has nothing to do with making sure the children of the rich serve, and everything to do with forcing people to serve against their wishes.

During the Vietnam War, college campuses rocked with anti-war demonstrations. One main reason was the understandable anger of being forced to serve a cause that one did not believe in or support. Modern liberals like Rep. Rangel hope that by reinstating the military draft, they will foment the same anti-war emotions and demonstrations in which they participated during the ’60s and ’70s. These liberals care less about making sure our military is fully staffed and funded than they do about creating the same kind of anti-war demonstrations they remember from their younger, less informed days.

I cannot support this push for the draft because I can see the cynical purpose behind it. But even if the draft were proposed by conservative leaders, I would still be against it. This is one area where my libertarian feelings rise to the surface, and I agree wholeheartedly with what Robert A. Heinlein said back in 1961:

Conscription is slavery – and I don’t think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone – no matter what name it is called. We have had a draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can’t save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say: Let the damned thing go down the drain!

America will go down the drain if it cannot inspire enough citizens to put their lives on the line to defend it. Or as stated in another place:

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.