Maybe some whales will get caught…

A Huge Break in the LIBOR Banking Investigation
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/a-huge-break-in-the-libor-banking-investigation-20120628

I discussed before how the real criminals were skating by, but it seems that there might be some hope that they won’t get off Scott Free (whatever the hell that means). Still, a $450 million fine for a company the size of Barclays or UBS doesn’t amount to much and might not even be enough to change their behavior.

But, at least with this tiny ray of hope, one can fantasize that perhaps the oligarchy’s strangle hold can be loosened just a bit, maybe leaving room for me to slip in to the 0.1%…

A win for Obama or a win for the insurance companies?

SCOTUS upholds ‘Obamacare’! Roberts backstabs the GOP! Insurance companies rejoice!

Well, were I a bettin man (I do gamble, but with cards, not law) I woulda bet that the ACA would have been overturned. Still, with the 5-4 decision it is clear that it wasn’t the no-brainer originally thought by nearly all the pundits I read. However, what is interesting to me is that there are some very unhappy people that it was upheld, but not just the Tea Party wackos…

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare 5-4
http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/28/how-will-supreme-court-rule-on-health-care-law/?hpt=hp_t1

[Updated at 10:38 a.m. ET] Physicians for a National Health Program responded critically to the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that the ruling did not amount to universal coverage, 26 million people will remain uninsured, it keeps in place high co-pays and gaps in coverage and it will not control costs.

“Why is this so? Because the ACA perpetuates a dominant role for the private insurance industry. Each year, that industry siphons off hundreds of billions of health care dollars for overhead, profit and the paperwork it demands from doctors and hospitals; it denies care in order to increase insurers’ bottom line; and it obstructs any serious effort to control costs,” the group’s statement said.

It said a “single-payer, improved-Medicare-for-all system” would remedy these problems, including the issue of cost. Ideally, the group said, such a system would pay “all medical bills, streamlines administration, and reins in costs for medications and other supplies through its bargaining clout.”

I basically agree with their sentiments. Nothing in the ACA will help reduce medical costs. It may provide a lot more people with insurance, but as pointed out, lots of people will still be uninsured (and presumably uninsurable, due to poverty or whatever). The real winners are the insurance companies, they get guaranteed new revenue, yet their obligations are in many cases much weaker (and they were rather weak to begin with).

So obvious to the biochemist

Certain Diets May Help Body Burn More Calories: Study
Low-carb and low-glycemic plans work best, but low-carb regimen has drawbacks
http://www.ivillage.com/certain-diets-may-help-body-burn-more-calories-study/4-a-468579

I wanted to title this “Another thing that makes you go ‘Duh!'”, but felt that would be too repetitious, so went with something completely different (a man with three buttocks!). The gist here is that the way they measure calories for food has nothing to do with metabolism (except that at some point someone was smart enough to label food that didn’t get digested as having zero calories). Why does that matter? Well, when you are counting calories, the number on the label doesn’t tell you what the actual number that will be utilized by your body and as such, you may be making very poor eating decisions. Fat calories, while they look huge on the label, are a bit deceptive. The body does not efficiently convert fats into energy on a per-molecule basis, so despite fats as being reported as a high calorie food in comparison to carbohydrates, because (simple) carbohydrates are generally turned into energy with the highest level of efficiency, you could actually be much worse off with a low fat diet. Also, interestingly (to me, anyway), most fats have to be metabolized before they can be repackaged into your own fat cells, so in many cases the body will preferentially pack the energy from carbohydrates into stored fat and instead metabolize fat in the diet into energy for immediate use.

Proteins are generally very poor sources of energy for your body’s cells and cause problems with toxins (we can ‘excrete’ carbon, oxygen and hydrogen via breath, nitrogen (proteins always have nitrogen, fats and carbs almost never) has to be excreted as a solid or liquid). In addition to having complex metabolic pathways to make use of proteins, your body would rather use it for cell maintenance than for just keeping warm. Indeed, there is a fairly rare genetic disorder that causes people with the defect to slowly poison themselves by eating protein and they have to be very careful in their diet.

So, the net effect is that pure calories are not enough to determine an optimal vs non-optimal diet. The different food groups have different types of energy sources and the body makes use of them very differently. There is also a big difference between the highly refined foods (pure sugar and refined flour are biologically almost identical) and more ‘raw’ food (like whole grains) in that the more complex foods require energy just to break them down to become an energy source. This is never taken into account on the nutrition labels either, so you can imagine that relatively modest changes in the types of food in your diet, despite having the same number of reported calories, can have a vastly different effect on your waistline. The vast majority of information made available to the average Jill and Joe is totally misleading (of course, that is because of a vast (right wing?) conspiracy with food producers, so you can be sure something bad will happen to me on my way home this afternoon) and instead of simple information like ‘eat less, exercise more and avoid processed foods’, we are drowned in blather about how to drop 40 lbs in 40 minutes or some such.

NRA government conspiracy

The NRA vs. Eric Holder
The rabidly pro-gun/anti-Obama group is pushing a wild theory – and intimidating some Democrats along the way
http://www.salon.com/2012/06/27/the_nra_vs_eric_holder/

This article is quite apropos my last post. It is clear now that the GOP and the NRA (thus the Tea Party) are in fact one in the same and the lies about ‘Fast and Furious’ were made up with the soul intention of embarrassing our President (like him or loath him, he is still ‘our’ President and in a rational world (yes, I know how idiotic that statement is when applied to the US) he would have all of our support even if we disagreed with him).

Personally, I like guns and if I could afford it I would have a .50 cal sniper rifle and would practice with it every day (those rounds can cost nearly $5 a pop, so just practicing needs a deep pocket) until I got good enough to pick off targets at a mile (when I was in the Marine Corps I could hit a man-sized silhouette at 500 meters 8 out of 10 times, though that wasn’t considered exceptional in any way). Having said that, I do think that the NRA’s unyielding objection to any sort of restrictions on guns is idiotic. If someone wants to be a collector and be able to buy and sell hundreds of high powered assault rifles a year, he should be required to register and should keep records of who he bought and sold to. While I think that it should be trivial for anyone to purchase such weapons, I think it should not be trivial to do so several days a week while being homeless and destitute. I can only assume that the NRA wants to support the militia men who advocate armed insurrection against our government, how else to explain their dogged resistance to even the most mild and narrow attempts to keep track of people and identify people who are clearly purchasing guns for black market resale? They claim it is part of a slippery slope, that once any single restriction is put in place then an avalanche of restrictions will follow, but that only reinforces the insanity behind such idiot conspiracies like the one outlined in the article above. I don’t hunt, but I don’t care to give up the option to do so. However, I am happy with being identified as someone who has purchased a gun specified by serial number. The effort to purchase a car is way greater AND that act requires insurance. Surely it is possible for rational people to agree on a level of tracing that raises the bar for black market sales to the point where it becomes trivial to catch criminals yet also allows us (after we win the lotto, of course) to get our automatic weapons and pop off a few (thousand) dollars worth of rounds.

More fast and furious

I commented obliquely about the Fast and Furious folderol when I blogged regarding the clearly politically motivated attack on Holder earlier, now it seems that the _entire_ thing has been fabricated by a disgruntled ATF agent and inflamed by, get this, militia member “who has advocated armed insurrection against the U.S. government”. This is where the GOP gets its information! Oh, did anyone mention that the people behind many of the purchases (totally legal, btw) “turned out to be FBI informants who were receiving money from the bureau”?

The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal
A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.
http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/06/27/fast-and-furious-truth/?hpt=hp_t2

It is very sad reading, so you might want to stick with the bliss of ignorance. It is hard enough to support our fucked-up society as it is, you may not want to realize the depths of institutional idiocy.

Drop in crime

I doubt that most of us would realize this without being told, but violent crime has actually dropped precipitously over the last 30 years. Cracked has a wonderful article on the interesting statistical correlations with this drop:

The 6 Weirdest Things That Statistically Lower Crime
http://www.cracked.com/article_19893_the-6-weirdest-things-that-statistically-lower-crime.html

#6. Getting the Lead Out of the Environment

This has a very plausible sound to it and had me nodding my head as I read it. Sort of like the antibiotic thing I talked about earlier, there seems to be a very strong correlation and one that is easy to extrapolate to causality.

#5. Crack Cocaine Scaring Everyone Straight

This one I am not buying so much, humans don’t really ever get ‘scared straight’, so I see it more related to

#4. There Is Suddenly Plenty of Drugs for Everyone

This is the core of my reasoning for doing away with the whole ‘war on drugs‘ (but please note my caveat). With the massive profit removed, the incentive for crime, particularly violent crime, has largely vanished. I like this one like I like the lead one.

#3. Gangsters Getting Geekier

While I do see that there is a huge benefit to going with identity theft (this is an even safer crime than prostitution! more money, even less risk), I think the reduction in violent crime is largely due to #4 (and #6 and #1).

#2. Illegal Immigration

I am of the opinion that lots of this crime goes unreported, so to me the reduction in crime associated with illegal immigration is more to do with our idiotic response to the illegals (throw them in jail, then toss them back over the fence, even when they are victims rape, robbery, murder, etc.). However, I have read about #1 below and believe that it slots right in next to #6 as the likeliest reason we have seen the drop in crime…

#1. Legalized Abortion

This is not to say that rich don’t engage in violet crime (Menendez brothers, anyone?), just that they engage in a whole crap load less than impoverished sons of husband-less mothers. What do you wanna bet that the crime rate starts to creep up 15-18 years after all the GOP’s war on women effects start to settle in?

Group evolution

Evolution and Our Inner Conflict
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/evolution-and-our-inner-conflict/

Though the initial focus of the article is discussing the dynamic between selfishness and altruism, what I found most interesting was the idea of group evolution. Reading the wiki page it seems clear that the basic idea is quite controversial, but to me it explains a lot of human behavior very tidily. Effective groups produced more offspring than ineffective groups and groups soon learned to recognize beneficial traits from other groups and made directed selection by encouraging out breeding. I see this sort of selective behavior in higher species like mammals way beyond simply mole rats (and humans). Lots of herd animals have benefits to selectively evolving group traits. Take elephants for example. While males tend to operate largely independently (though based on what I have read the last couple of years, males operate in loose groups as well (not as self-evident as the female dominated tight matriarchal groups) and the lost of patriarchs has resulted in significant problems, not the least of which is the young males are unable to effectively deal with their periods of must), female operate in tight groups that collectively have to deal with complex situations over long term periods (not the least of which is the periodic drought). Those groups that were most effective at operating together would have the most offspring that would reproduce in the next generation, so I can see that altruistic genes would become quickly established in organisms that form groups for long periods, even if that particular gene variant wasn’t particularly beneficial to the individual. Naturally, if altruists never actually spread their own seed, it would make it more challenging for a group to effectively pass that trait along the generations, so I can see a balance being required where the purest form of altruism is incapable of being stable. Conversely, I see the purest form of selfishness as being unstable as well as individuals that fail to contribute to any group could easily be excluded. There has to be a balance between selfishness and altruism and I am sure that the most effective groups had a wide range.

I can envision situations over the long term where during different periods of plenty and privation that the different extremes would have different survival characteristics, but it seems to me that once established, such group evolution would be very difficult to be lost as something would have to trigger the individual to be more successful than the group for long enough that the individuals out breed the groups. Just like highly aggressive individuals are successful in certain environments, I am sure that highly aggressive groups will be successful in certain environments. Thus, there could easily be traits linked to races and cultures that evolved because of different environments.

Personally I don’t see the huge objection to the power of group evolution, it seems like it has better value in predicting human behavior than basing everything off the individual.

Gender neutral

Why is ‘having it all’ just a women’s issue?
http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/25/opinion/coontz-women-have-it-all/index.html

I agree strongly with this author. Why is it that “It’s awfully tough to balance work and family — for a woman.”, why can’t it be a challenge for men as well? I suspect that at least a century ago, here in the US our society made a decision (likely without conscious thought) that men should not be involved in family interactions. Instead, men should labor unceasingly and provide no more than sperm and a paycheck to the family dynamic. It is high time that this dynamic change so men can find it socially acceptable to complain about work-life balance (and then achieve such balance, of course, along with the women).

A thing that makes you go Duh!

Wind turbine creates water from thin air
http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/29/world/eole-water-turbine/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

Not living in an area where water scarcity is an issue I can say that this never really served as an idea for me. However, I have thought about the use of compressed air generated from wind turbines and dealing with the inevitable water that is stored in even the driest of dry air (at least at sea level, at the tops of tall mountains the air can get quite dry), so in many respects I have given this concept a lot of thought, but with the water as a waste product rather than as the target.

Since the amount of moisture any gas can contain is related to the pressure of the gas, anyone who has worked with a compressor knows that you need to bleed the accumulated water from the system on a pretty regular basis or eventually the entire compressor tank fills up and becomes useless. Generally, though, that water is a mess of rust and oil from the compressor and I have never looked at it and thought about having a drink, but I can see optimizing a system to produce potable water fairly easily. I think that for remote ocean islands it actually makes a huge amount of practical sense and is likely an order of magnitude cheaper and easier than desalinating. Since the air surrounding ocean islands is likely to be nearly saturated with water to begin with, I see some fairly rudimentary designs being capable of producing quite a bit of water and I think it might even be possible to design such a system in a way that much of the materials can be produced locally.

As for arid regions like deserts, the air still contains moisture, just less. Often the dew point is at or below freezing (one of the reasons why there are such wild temperature swings in those regions as night time temps tend to dip until the dew point) which means in an arid region some sort of cyclic system would need to be developed (meaning build up frost/ice for a while, then allow to melt, rinse and repeat). The approach described in the article appears to be a bit too complex for my liking as it requires generating electricity and then using that electricity to cool a surface to produce the condensation. I would use compressed air in any system I would design. First, the compressed air has a higher dew point, so it is easier to extract water from it, second, using the neat physics of the vortex tube you can produce cooled air, which, btw, can be used to extract even further water from the compressed air. One of the problems with using a generator is that generators tend to ‘burn up’ if operated outside of their design parameters (meaning too slow or too fast) and to maintain optimal RPM, complicated (thus expensive and high maintenance) techniques are necessary to ensure proper range. Also, there is a critical lower bound that the generator fails (and an upper bound, but that is often dealt with by simply de-coupling the generator from the turbine blades). By going with a pure compressor-based system the complexity and expense of the generator and speed control systems are eliminated and thus a much cheaper and more robust system should be feasible.

As a business I don’t see this being worth huge sums. As a humanitarian effort I see it as something that could be quite feasible and with a very high rate of return. While the water squeezed from air isn’t guaranteed to be pure (after all, there are tons of air-born toxins), I can envision some fairly simple means of excluding almost all particulates, which would probably go a long way to removing almost all toxic sources. A quick look at the web site mentioned in the article (http://www.eolewater.com/) makes me think that they are not going to appeal to the poorer regions of the world. Without exploring their patents it is hard to know if they have some lock on the idea or not (I know that there has been extensive efforts to dry compressed air over the centuries, so I would be a bit surprised if they have anything fundamental). I do see that there could be quite a few ‘well heeled’ customers that might consider a more expensive system, particularly if they are considering other desalination approaches, but I see the biggest bang for society’s buck in the poorer areas of the world where alternatives to produce potable water are based on wells which are likely quite expensive to produce in comparison. I am halfway interested in pursuing something like this, but somehow suspect that once I click on ‘publish’ on this blog entry I will probably forget about it, except possibly to entertain my wife for a few minutes during our weekly too and fro Shenandoah.

Oh well, it entertained my mind for a few minutes…