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Good enough for the gladiators

October 22, 2014

Dinner last night was dal and greens. Breakfast this morning the usual oats. Perhaps not far from how Roman gladiators ate.

Oil and wind

October 20, 2014

Read a short interview with one of the few women mud engineers. And then this longer article about life in the Bakken oil boom. Though that article is about North Dakota, it explains much about the truck traffic in south Texas.

Kansas has lots of wind and land. Governor Sam Brownback supported wind farms. Then the Koch brothers got to him.

Death, taxes, and giant cane

October 17, 2014

The evolutionary imbalance hypothesis explains why invasive species are more likely to come from some parts of the world than others. And it has some empirical backing. But even if you didn’t know why invasive species like giant reed so often originate in parts of Asia, it’s a cinch that once it’s so well adapted here, we’ll never get rid of it.

Viking hoard discovered with metal detector

October 16, 2014

One of these retired fogies who wonders about with a metal detectors has discovered a hoard of silver and gold relics in a Scottish field, stashed away by some Viking who never returned to it. I suspect we all know one of those folks who goes out with a metal detector. Maybe even a relative. Tell them they’re slacking, if all they’ve found so far are loose change and scrap pieces!

Two-sided markets and surplus

October 14, 2014

Optimal pricing becomes difficult when one sets of customers determines the market size for a second set of customers. And is crucial to the economics of the internet. A subject Jean Tirole explored.

Does waste build resiliency into our economy? Maybe. I’m skeptical that the waste is where the resiliency is needed. Eating a lot of vegetables inevitably wastes more food than eating packaged foods that have a long shelf-life. Do it anyway.

The health of apostates

October 12, 2014

I never suffered any anxiety from leaving my childhood religion. But I’ve never been an anxious person. It’s easy to understand how other people would suffer from that, especially if it comes with being disowned by family or friends, with loss of job or status, or with other material changes in life. All of which impinge on health. Then there’s this:

“When you were five years old and learning English, you never stopped to ask your parents why you weren’t learning German,” said Ray, who uses cognitive behavioral therapy to decatastrophize the concept of hell for clients. “You just learn it. The same is often true of religion. When you’re taught about hell and eternal damnation at ages four through seven, these strong concepts are not going to easily leave you. Just like it’s hard to unlearn English, it’s hard to unlearn the concept of hell.”

Dr. Javier Campos sees this in his family practice:

If you have this thought of hell and that you’re going to be punished for unbelief, it [sometimes] translates into other somatic symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety, and needing to be on medication to sleep.

No doubt, unlearning is more difficult for some people than for others. But even if someone wanted, most of us cannot brainwash ourselves into a faith. Especially one well-understood and once shattered. I suspect there are many non-believers in the pews of their long-time churches, wondering who of their fellow congregants actually believe, and who are merely going through the motions for the human camaraderie and for fear of what they would lose if they made their non-belief public. Good on Javier Campos, who has a compassion independent of his own religious belief.

Ebola vs. stupidity

October 11, 2014

People do not think rationally about risk. The average American is more at risk from lightning strike or dying of the seasonal flu than getting Ebola. The one and only thing that determines how that risk changes going forward is how large the epidemic peaks in Africa. The world is small today, and diseases don’t respect borders. Whether tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands are infected there determines the risk of cases ending up here. This is a disease whose outbreaks peak. The size of that peak matters. Which is why the most important thing the US now can do with regard to Ebola is help contain the outbreaks in Africa:

The catch is that you can’t truly wipe out the Ebola threat, even for Americans, without controlling it overseas. As long as it’s un-contained, it will continue to make its way to other countries—carried by people over land, sea, or air — because the world is simply too interconnected to shut down borders completely.

Given the mathematics of infectious spread, time is of the essence. The quicker we act, the smaller the number of people struck. This is one of the cases where decisive action means tens of thousands of lives saved, for little money spent.

Sen. James Inhofe is blocking funds for that.

Phyllis Schlafly blames Obama.

Louis Farrakhan blames Henry Kissinger.

No disease puts us at as much risk as those whose influence far, far outruns their knowledge.

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