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Avoid the shipping lanes

October 15, 2019

Small boat sailors making an ocean passage often try to avoid busy shipping lanes, for the rather obvious reason that those large ships are fast moving threats to small craft.

Well, maybe there is another reason lurking. It seems that ship exhaust seeds lightning. A lightning strike is nothing much to a large, metal ship. It is something terrifying to a small boat. And if my neighbor is any indication, lightning prefers to strike brand new boats.

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Debt

October 11, 2019

A young person’s ability to borrow a little money can be an important foothold in certain circumstance. It also can be a trap. Making it the financial equivalent of morphine, precious when used cautiously to treat pain, yet the source of many an addiction. The professionals supplying that debt aim for a sustainable addiction that leaves the debtor paying for decades, because that optimizes their profits. That business model has spread also to Africa. And as with other addictions, the early debtor may seem on outward appearance to be doing well financially and may be the bon vivant.

Puppy dog eyes

October 8, 2019

Wolves are attuned to each other’s stance and smell. It’s people who try so hard to read each other’s eyes. So when we domesticated dogs, naturally they evolved puppy dog eyes. “Poor thing — give him a bone.” (Cite).

I don’t recall ever playing Werewolf.

Alas, the Guinea worm survives

October 7, 2019

For a short while, it looked hopeful that Guinea worm would be eliminated in the next year or two. Robbie McDonald, an ecologist at the University of Exeter, explains the step backwards:

It is now clear that dogs are a maintenance host and that the worms in people are the same as in dogs. Therefore, eradication requires elimination in dogs as well as in people and this will take longer to do, and moreover, longer to demonstrate.

Nutrition

October 3, 2019

For most of human history, people had only one nutrition concern, one shared with other animals: finding enough to eat. Enough to keep flesh on bone. Enough for children to grow. Enough to make it through to spring. Food had a visible and clear impact on health. Without it, people shriveled, suffered, and died.

The study of nutrition started by identifying what counted as “enough.” Enough calories to keep alive. Enough protein to sustain muscle. Enough vitamins and minerals to avoid various deficiency diseases.

Once people have enough to eat, their fascination with food does not stop. Their questions just became more complex. How should I eat to optimize my athletic performance? To live longer? To look like my favorite actor? To improve my sex life? To avoid chronic diseases? And while those questions might seem quite logical extension of the first, given the clear importance of food on health, their relation to nutrition is far from clear. Many top athletes eat whatever they like, relying instead on their inborn physique and their exercise and practice. Your favorite actors likewise get their looks more from the genetic draw, from good makeup artists, and from video editing than from any particular diet. Even in the ads where they are shilling for nutritional advice or supplements.

Still, those researching nutrition have to dig into how diet effects health. That is their job, after all. And it is a tougher task in some ways than drug testing. Both face the challenges of biological complexity and human variability. But a drug typically is a particular substance, that is not normally ingested or otherwise administered, and the questions posed are how safe it is and how it affects a particular disease, with the expectation of acute effect.

Food is more complex. They are not simple substances. Both wild boar and commercial hamburgers count as red meat. But no one thinks they are the same. People already eat all sorts of food, and unlike mice, you cannot lock people in cages and force them to a particular diet for a long stretch of their life. People who more or less eat a particular food also are similar in other ways, from other foods they eat (e.g., those who eat a lot of hamburgers also eat a lot of hamburger buns) to other kinds of behavior and their socioeconomic class, all of which also impact health. People are bad at accurately reporting what they eat. People’s diets get reshaped by all sorts of popular fads. All of which makes it hard to tease out real signals when doing studies. So like the blogger who titles himself a health nerd, I am not much impressed by the recent analysis that downplays past studies on the risks of red meat, except to the extent that it highlights that most nutritional studies should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Having said that, I think there is ever growing evidence that Americans would be better off if they ate more vegetables. And even that comes second to my first piece of general health advice, for which there really is quite a bit of evidence: exercise!

The ecology of grifters

October 2, 2019

One of the interesting things about grifters is that they attract one another and work together in ways that are both symbiotic and antagonistic. They will con the other’s marks, they will cooperate for a while then turn against their former partners, they even will con each other. The Miami Herald writes on two Ukranians who are leaving behind a trail of bad debt and fleeced marks, even as they lead on Giuliani with promised political information, and benefit from their association with this administration.

Meanwhile, Giuliani has lawyered up. Trump once again lives up to his slogan, My Attorney Gets Attorneys.

Very early life

October 1, 2019

Australian scientists studying stromatolites find more evidence (cite) that they are the result of early life, 3.5 billion years past. Because unicellular organisms are mostly invisible and seem simple to us, it is easy to overlook that they in aggregate display almost all of the biochemical complexity of multicellular organisms, also. From a biological perspective, that underlying biochemistry is more substantive than visible features such as beaks, shells, and teeth. It makes perfect sense that unicellular species evolved for hundreds of millions of years, before developing the symbiotic relationships that let them evolve into the kinds of life familiar to us.