Saturday, March 26, 2011

How Are the Mighty Fallen: Curt Johnson the Child Abuser

Grim looking Curt Johnson at his hearing.

Former Johnson Polymer Chairman and owner Curt Johnson was arrested and arrained for sexual assault on his 15 year old stepdaughter.  For prurient details see here and here.

Being an heir to a fortune is not a good way to raise a child, and Curt has been in trouble before.  Bill & Melinda Gates' idea of giving their money to charity and not to their kid seems pretty good.

Depravity and immorality hits billionaires who should know better. Of course, high school dropouts should know better too.

I recall when Woody Allen hit on his step daughter (though she was over eighteen),  his wife hit the ceiling and divorced him. I can't imagine Curt's wife would be any different. Of course, Curt's wife is his second wife, and she used to be his secretary . . .

Oh, and Curt could get 40 years.
Curt Johnson looking good during
better times. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

I like "The Daily"

The Daily is a daily download for iPad from media tycoon Rupert Murdock. It is a daily magazine with news, sports, gossip and entertainment. While I still love my Kindle, The Daily is what the iPad is made for. Interesting content refreshed everyday with big pictures. Plus it has stories that aren't just rehashes of what I get on Google News or

The Daily is a little light on real news; I assume they think you are reading Google News on the side. It is mostly feature story news, which is why I say it is more of a daily magazine. There are an assortment of video stories inside, and The Daily opens with a video teaser for the rest of the issue.  

It does have a crossword and a Sudoku, so that is making it more of a newspaper. My Detroit Free Press on the Kindle has neither of these.

Of course, The Daily does not have the movie schedule and neither does the Kindle version of the Free Press.

I like it. After the two week free period I subscribed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

BP: Peak Oil is Here -- well almost.

Two great graphs from BP's latest annual report. At left is where the energy is coming from, and it is less and less from the OPEC nations. This means that OPEC will have less pricing power in the future. Why is their influence declining, because petroleum will have less and less dominance of the world's energy supply.

At left is the form that the energy comes in, and the black layer at the bottom is petroleum. Notice how it is barely increasing.

The time when the production of oil maxes out is called Peak Oil, and it has been predicted for years. The fact that a major oil company is predicting essentially flat oil production in the face of 40% growth in energy demands says something important about the state of the energy economy. It says that all the cheap oil has been found, and to get the remainder we are going to have to work for it.  Just how serious that is, is anyone's guess. I tend to think the peak will be very rounded, as oil companies look harder and harder for more oil. They will also tap more and more unconventional super-heavy crude.

Notice the light gray band at the top. That is wind and solar. Just under that is hydropower, which is a significant piece of the picture.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Civilian War Death Rate in Afghanistan LOWER than Murder Rate in Detroit

Afghan Civilian Deaths are Lower Than US Cities; photo
The Afghan civilian death rate due to the war in Afghanistan is low, 9.8 per hundred thousand. In 2010 there were 2777 civilians killed, and the population of Afghanistan is about 28.4 million.

By contrast the murder rate in Detroit is 34 per hundred thousand. As high as that is, it is down from 41 in 2009.

Let's think about that. It is three times more likely for a Detroit city resident to be killed, then for an Afghan civilian to be killed in the war.  308 homicides and 900,000 people.

This says two things, that the war in Afghanistan is a slow-motion conflict not affecting many areas, and that there are too many killings in Detroit.

It also shows the military is limiting civilian casualties.

Wine Protects Against Gamma Rays

In a sign there really is a God, the red wine chemical resivitrol has been proven to protect against gamma radiation. Resivitrol of course is the famous anti-oxidant found in RED WINE.

This shows that heavy drinking is not an irrational response to nuclear attack. Something many of us knew instinctually ;=)

In a nuclear explosion, all three forms of radiation are abundant, but the gamma radiation is hardest to shield against.  Oncologist Joel Greenberger of U of Pittsburgh speculated that chemicals that prevent oxidation would help, and they do.

The beneficial effect of wine and resivitrol in protecting against "nuclear fallout," hurts when radiation is given therapeutically to battle cancer tumors. This is because radiation tears up the body forming free radicals, and if oxygen gets to them quickly the free radicals become stable compounds. On the other hand, if the oxygen is absorbed by anti-oxidants, the damage may be repaired. Anti-oxidants help cancer patients feel better, but in doing so they reduce the beneficial effect of the drug on the tumor -- that is they help the tumor too.

Greg's Wine 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cats Can't Taste Sugar

Kitty is showing her tongue, which does not have sweet
I learned today that the gene encoding the Sweetness receptor on the tongue is defective in cats. The gene is there, but the protein does not work. (More genetics here.)

Cats do have an ample number of umami receptors which would steer them to eat more meat, and obviously no sugary plants. Cats show no attraction or aversion to sweets -- completely oblivious.

Some people think that the 20% carbs that are in most catfoods is causing feline diabetes because cats lack the machinery to absorb sugars.

Tigers and cheetahs have exactly the same genetic defect as domestic cats. Chickens also lack a sweet gene. On the other hand, everyone knows dogs love sweets. Interestingly dogs cannot taste saccharine.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Beasts and Viruses in Your Brain

From the WNYC Show On the Media, there was a story about Stanford's Lera Boroditsky and Paul Thibodeau's research on how we think, and specifically that we think about complex issues in terms of simple metaphors.  This approach is called metaphorical framing, and it shows up in political and social ethics contexts. More on what metaphorical framing below.

In this experiment, an imaginary city was either described as having crime problem "like a beast," or " like a virus."  In addition groups we given loads of additional details that were the identical. Groups told crime was "like a beast" went for police and prisons. Groups told crime was "like a virus" went for education and after-school programs. This showed that people took the complex issue of crime, and thought about it like controlling wild animals or controlling disease, which are quite different. Further it showed people were open to the suggestion of what metaphor to use rather than developing their own thought devices or metaphors.

Lera Boroditsky
The effect of the beast/virus metaphor was stronger than the political party. 71% were affected by the metaphor. Political party only changed responses by 10%.

Once you know that simple introductory metaphors impact the whole way a problem is framed and then solved, the word choice becomes enormously more important. 

Metaphors are not mere flurrishes but rather are tools of thought:

"Metaphorical framing supposedly serves as the transmission belt for experience and position-making. In this manner, metaphors are not mere linguistic devices that illuminate or obscure the issue. Rather, they are tools of thought and social construction. Given similarities in the way the human mind works in relation to a similar environment, a stable and functional body of knowledge or truths may be shared within a group or community. These “shared truths” within a socio-cultural group shape the way problems are set or defined, and decisions or positions are taken."

Decision makers are trapped by their metaphor-based thought processes,  in stilted language:

"How does metaphorical framing translate into decision-making? According to William Flanik from the University of Toronto, decision-makers have cognitive and affective biases that bound or constrain the mental tasks of problem setting, option-formulation and option-evaluation. In this regard, metaphors influence the cognitive and affective importance of decision inputs."

Flanik says that the Nuclear Missile Defense project was characterized as a "shield" for use against "rogues," and that this was an integral part of people's understanding without being objectively true or false.

My conclusion is that our brains are not as logical and well organized as we think they are. We are too easily influenced by whatever.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Rich Are Getting Richer? Why?

In the last post I showed that the Rich are getting Richer, so why?  I want to get richer, what are the rich doing, and what can we plodders learn from that?

The graph at right shows INCOME GROWTH, not income. So if I make a million dollars a year, and I get a 1% raise, thats $10,000. If I make $10,000 a year, and I get a 1% raise, that is $100. This makes sense.  When I was young, and made $1.28/hr, and I got a 0.4% raise, and got an extra nickel an hour or $2 per week.

Top income earners get most of the income, and they get most of the absolute income growth.

The  percentage of national wealth controlled by the top sector has increased, but not dramatically.  This fraction has jumped up and down in the last 90 years.

So why are the wealthy making more, it seems that money is making more money. That is capital gains from current investments is the main difference. 

A person can only work 8 to 14 hours a day, but I can have an unlimited amount of money earning more money for me. Once I get some money invested, I just keep getting more -- as long as I don't spend it. I can have an almost infinite amount invested for me. Once you are wealthy, you keep getting wealthy because you are getting more interest or dividends for your money.

Although that makes sense, data on the recent trends in income disagree. They show that individuals in highly paid industries are making more and more. According to Damanick Dantes (which must be a pseudenym), compensation on Wall Street and for CEO's really took off in the 1980's.  Like Dantes I don't have a problem with rich people who work hard and are productive. Further, the people that earn a ton of money this year, are different from last years and next years -- that is there is churn in the top earners from year to year.

The richest people in America started with a wealthy background, but not enormously so. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet became enormously wealthy based on their merit, but had a strong headstart with good educations and access to the family money. In the top 10 richest people in America, six are industrialists who had a large hand in their fortune, and 4 are descendents of Sam Walton.

What seems to be happening is the computer technology is allowing better management and better efficiency creating better returns to entreprenuership. I'd say better returns to capital too, but interest rates are at record lows right now.