Thursday, August 16, 2018

Does Business Experience Make one Suitable for Public Office?

Frequently, people who feel that money in government is being mismanaged set up a clamor to elect a public official with extensive business experience.  Someone with business experience, they claim--and probably sincerely believe--would not mishandle public money as has happened in some recent instance.  Well, we have to think about this issue, certainly.  But there seems to be overwhelming evidence, after watching a couple of presidents who had business experience in action, that business experience alone is certainly no guarantee that money will be handled competently, or properly.
There are certainly those who would point out that neither of George W. Bush, nor Donald J. Trump was a competent businessman.  In order to be fair, when analyzing the relative merits of businessmen versus candidates with other sorts of experience, we should compare a competent businessman, judged by some objective measure of competence.
What does a competent businessman (who wants to run for office) bring to the table?  Let's see:
  • knowing how to oversee expenditure,
  • keeping an eye out for fiscal problems,
  • an interest in greater efficiency, and elimination of unnecessary red tape,
  • being able to manage the interacting finances of numerous sub-systems,
  • experience in hiring employees, keeping a firm hold on salaries,
  • knowing how legislation affects the business,
  • knowing how to use advertising to the benefit of the organization,
  • knowing how to develop your product to maximize profitability,
and possibly other expertise of a minor nature.
Already, you will begin to see the roots of failure in the training and the conceptual framework of the businessman.  Unlike an autonomous business, a government department is a unit in a larger structure, and the income and the expenses, though they certainly have to be managed, cannot be tinkered with with the same latitude as in a business.  You can't cheat the customer.  I suppose you can, but the customer can vote you out, whereas in business, your custom base can't vote you out of business; you can always wriggle out of trouble, or at the worst, declare bankruptcy.
Part of the problem is that businessmen are trained to view the world and their circumstances in terms of profit and loss, an antagonistic relationship.  It's customers versus the business, the business versus competing businesses, the business against the tax man.  This world-view makes the delivering of services very difficult, because there is no one who can play the role of the antagonist.  But the mindset needs an antagonist, and we see today the administration needlessly antagonizing parties that ought to be allies.
It may make sense to look at those who have headed non-profits as being particularly qualified for public office.  A non-profit or charity is faced with the task of delivering as much as possible, using whatever resources are available in a given period of time, and one expects that this is, most of the time, what the government has to do.  Then, of course, there is the delicate negotiation with the taxpayer, balancing what services are possible, versus what tax burden is reasonable.  A conservative administration would--normally--seek to reduce services, while trying to reduce taxes.  A left-leaning administration would--normally--seek to increase services, while urging increased taxes.
Businesses, usually, try to do several things.  They try to sell their product or their service for the highest price they can get, without charging a price so high that they lose their customer base.  This is accomplished by spreading information about the desirability of their product or service, and attempting to persuade the largest number of people that they need this product!  This only makes sense because each sale gives the businessman a little money (because, of course, the product costs a little less to create than the price it is sold for).  In a government department, it is often the case that the 'products' actually cost more to create than the public can be charged for, so that the fewer the numbers of members of the public avail themselves of the service or product, the less expense the department has to absorb.  A businessman would look at that situation with horror, and insist that the public should be charged enough to break even, or possibly to make a profit.  Businessmen urge this sort of behavior frequently, eagerly suggesting that the profit be used to subsidize some other product or service (since obviously, the department cannot keep raking in a profit without causing alarm).
A businessman--whose world, I believe, is really small--can quickly become bewildered when transplanted into government, where the pressures are numerous and complex, and not necessarily adversarial.  Because the dynamics of adversarial behavior are thought to be well understood, government has been set up with adversarial relationships, to encourage moderation.  A person arriving in the world of government fresh from the battlefields of business is likely to feel comfortable when he or she identifies one of these adversarial relationships.  This is not always good; ultimately these relationships which, though adversarial on the surface, are ultimately collegial, and both parties ultimately have to cooperate for the good of the people.  In the business world, of course, often this sort of cooperation is forbidden, because it discourages competition, and is recognized as frequently driving up prices.
Most of all, businessmen are eager to have one of their own running for office, because in their simple worlds of cutthroat competition, life is simple, and they hate the more complex world of public service, because it is so alien.  They would much rather deal with the known competitor than the unknown bureaucrat.  They want someone who speaks their language.  They like having someone in office with whom they can deal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

What the GOP does Better than the Democrats

Frankly, nothing; the Democrats run the government better than the GOP in every way.
Most of the time, the Democrats provide services better than the GOP.
Most of the time, the Democrats run fairer elections than the GOP.
Most of the time, the Democrats run a more humane Prison system than the GOP.
Most of the time, the Democrats are fairer to women than the GOP.
Most of the time, the Democrats understand science better than the GOP, and science education.
Most of the time, the Democrats are less hostile to foreign countries than the GOP, which they don't understand.
Most of the time, the Democrats understand workers' issues better than the GOP.
Most of the time, the Democrats are more protective of the environment than the GOP, though sometimes they go overboardClean energy, Global Warming, all come under this heading.
The Democrats try harder to balance the budget than the GOP.
The Democrats are more reluctant to initiate wars abroad than the GOP.
Why then even bother about the GOP?  Because Big Business is running the country, and the GOP is more friendly to Big Business.  Hillary Clinton, though, is friendly towards Big Banks, and this is a problem.

In a not entirely unrelated piece of news, one of our local Little League teams from a rural county quite unexpectedly won their first game in the US Little League playoffs.  Then they won their second game.  Then they won the third.  Then they lost a game, which meant that they had to keep winning all their games from then on.  They won one, and then they lost an innings in their most recent game.  Lost another innings.  Lost another.
Little Leaguers, being teenage kids, once they begin losing, get so demoralized that they continue losing.  Adults coaching them also get demoralized, because they just know the kids are demoralized, and so it seems a waste of time to keep pumping them up to keep going.
Are the Democrats emulating Little League behavior?
Generally, the Democrats of the past that are beloved of their constituents have not been the bullies in the Democrat party.  There are some bullies who have pushed their way into high offices in the party through ruthless power politics and dirty pool.  But these are despised within the Democrat party (though the GOP probably regards them with awe and admiration ).  But all around us, in this season so ripe for a change, among the earnest, altruistic new candidates are a few vicious pit bulls.  We are in a quandary; should we support the Democrat Doves or the Democrat Hawks?
Winning this next election is important, but Trump has left us huge debt, and what are the Democrats going to do once they win?  Raise taxes, and lose the next election?  It isn't a foregone conclusion that raising taxes will make them unpopular, but honestly, it will be raising taxes in order to afford the big handouts Trump gave his friends.  Unless the taxes target specifically those who got enormous tax breaks in 2017-2018, the money will flow, ironically, from the Middle Class to the Super Rich.  Trump effectively borrowed the money for his tax breaks from the future Democrat government.
We should pass legislation that allows anyone with a personal worth of more than a billion a one-time opportunity to emigrate to wherever they please: Jamaica, or Grenada, or Mexico, or wherever.  It is better to get rid of them, despite losing the trillions of dollars they take with them, than to let them stay here, spreading their poison, and continually looking for hucksters to run for president for the GOP.  And they can take their guns with them; hopefully they won't hurt anyone but themselves.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Nuanced Positions on Issues

I, for one, certainly choose how seriously to take an article on the Web based on the opinions of an author on various issues.  Possibly some of us perform a similar test based on the opinion of an author on a single issue.  Fine.  But let's talk about this.  Many of my own attitudes are conditional.

Abortion.   I'm putting this one first, despite the risk of losing most of my readers right here.
I really don't like abortion at all.  I think it is an expensive and inefficient and accident-prone method of contraception.  But I support Planned Parenthood simply because of all the other services they provide.  Not being a woman, the men having been largely marginalized within the Abortion, For or Against Forum, I'm going to leave this right here, and I know all supporters of a woman's Right To Choose do not all feel the same way on this issue, even if they agree on almost every other political issue.
Electricity Producing Plants.  Recently, a post on Fb by the ever popular George Takei contained a meme, and a video that purported to set us straight about various attitudes that are common with tree-huggers.  One is that electric vehicles are cleaner than gas-fueled vehicles.  No, said the video; where does the electricity come from?  Polluting coal-fired plants.  Well, if there is to be a future for us at all, I can't see where our power would come from, except from central power stations, and we hope that someday, they will all come from renewable and non-polluting sources, e.g. wind turbines, and even nuclear plants, for the lack of other alternatives.  Does it make sense to disparage electric vehicles at this point?  I don't think so.  High-efficiency hybrid vehicles are an excellent temporary solution (which we could have implemented in the 90's, except for the hostility from the gas companies and the auto industry).
Gerrymandering.  The record seems to show that this practice was supported by the Democrats in the early 20th century, so that the scattered North Carolina black community could have at least one black representative (either in the State House, or in Congress, I don't remember which).  From where we sit, in 2018, it seems pathetic that only a black could be trusted to represent black minority interests, but back then, it was probably the only way, judging from the political history of the Carolinas even today.  So if I was asked back then whether Gerrymandering was a good thing, I would probably have thoughtlessly said yes.  Well, this is a lesson to everyone.  Things that seem wonderful at one time are sometimes proved to be terrible in hindsight.  Today, I would support a destricting method (redistricting sounds too complicated) based on population distribution, local governments, and mathematics, and possibly geography.
Biodiversity.  Some progressives regard biodiversity as necessary to guard axiomatically.  From the point of view that the ecological contribution of many species is poorly understood (yes; scientists don't know absolutely everything, which is why it is so frustrating when science haters reject all science categorically, even on well-understood issues), species extinction is bad.  But I do not think that we need to become paranoid about extinction.  I agree we do not have a basis for distinguishing between major species and minor species based on the influence on the ecology, but we cannot put every species on life-support; we must make choices.  People judge the importance of particularly threatened species based on their estimated environmental impact, but good judgment has to be used.
SocialismSocialism and Freedom / Liberty are sort of dog-whistle terms today, used in sort of "weaponized" ways, than as a description of the politics of an issue.  Many of us have no idea of what others are thinking; if everyone thought clearly, we would really need them to carefully state whether or not they like socialistic principles, or whether they're opposed to them.  The problem is that many who say that they hate socialism will be horrified if all socialistic programs were to be dropped; and many who support socialism would be aghast at some suggestions that a socialist might put forward.  There is a spectrum of positions on how government should be structured, and how communal services should be organized.  Many services are categorized as private, and others as public.  Public transport is clearly public, and personal transport is clearly private.  People expect that taxes would pay for public transport, but the very rich dislike the idea of sharing public transport with ordinary people, and the idea of bankrolling it.  On the other hand, until they get the idea of putting helipads in their homes, they're going to need to use the same roads as the rest of us, so sure, let's fund the roads--just the roads I use, one of them would say.  If you went around your local community, you would see that certain roads are maintained beautifully, but others are not.  If all the roads are maintained, you have socialism; otherwise I don't know what we have; probably corruption.
Trucking.  Another of the memes that George Takei--rather thoughtlessly--put on fB (I usually agree with most of his positions; this is sort of an exception), is that Big Agriculture might have some saving graces.  Big commercial farms are more efficient, says the video; small farms may use more fertilizer and agro-chemicals, and this is bad for the environment.  Who are they kidding?  Certainly small farms could fall into the trap of deploying insane amounts of agro-chemicals, but corporate farms are yet to moderate their use of polluting materials.  Over-farming on large tracts of lands depletes the soil, and depleted it for decades.  They do have the potential of changing their techniques so that they restore the land, but I don't think they do it.  On the human level, they are highly mechanized, and have been the source of huge unemployment.  Mechanization is inevitable, but it did not need to be inevitable so long ago.  Finally, Big Agriculture produce has to be trucked thousands of miles to their supermarket chains.  At the moment, trucking is a highly polluting business (correct me if I'm wrong), and taken in sum, small farms seem by far a better way to go.  This is not to say that small farms will continue to use the low-impact methods for which we favor them.  Even little farms use inhumane procedures in chicken and livestock farming, and veal, for instance, comes from facilities in which the cattle are treated very cruelly.  (My wife knows all about this, but is powerless to influence it, since Pennsylvanians love their meat.  From the point of view of livestock, this is a terrible state.)
Box Stores.  This is the term they use around here for chain stores such as Walmart and Lowes, and similar multi-outlet corporations.  At first, they were able to sell things at low prices because they could negotiate favorable terms because they bought in bulk.  Today, they get their goods from China, and similar countries where wages are low.  (Of course, tariffs change the dynamics of this dramatically, and it will be interesting to see how it ends up, if we can survive a season of buying substandard goods at high prices until the administration chooses to make a deal with China.  Eventually, the Chinese Government must begin to take the interests of Chinese Labor seriously; at the moment they do not.  When that moment comes, we will need to pay prices that the goods are really worth.  Modern economic theory says that Worth is in the eye of the Buyer.  It will be interesting to see what an Iphone, for instance, will be "really" worth, if trade unions are tolerated in China.
Trade Unions. Do you really know what trade unions are?  They are organizations that sprang up in the early years of the last century to protect workers: the Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, the Lady Garment Workers, and so on.  Until these unions were established, workers were paid peanuts.  Gradually, as legislation was passed that enabled these unions to legally negotiate with management for higher wages and better conditions, workers in unions became more affluent, and workers had a certain amount of pride.  Now, of course, management (some of whom belonged to what we call, today, the 1%, but back then they were about 5% of the population!) hated unions, because so much had to be paid to the workers, which could have gone to the shareholders instead!  Gradually, over the seventies and the eighties, a lot of furious propaganda vilified Labor, blaming it for the 'Low' living standards of everyone.  Unions lost a lot of their power, and today the garment industry in the US is practically dead, and Far East factories make most of our clothes, even Trump ties; car makers build their plants abroad, etc, etc, and unions are unable to provide their members with a good wage.  Teachers Unions still exist in the state of New York, for instance, and New York teachers have a love-hate relationship with their union, which has been saddled with the responsibility for maintaining academic standards.  All in all, unions have done a lot of good, but being under the control of labor legislation, depending on the laws governing them, and the burdens placed on them, they can no longer be depended upon to carry out their responsibilities, and labor management tends to become increasingly cynical.  A political candidate who declares hostility towards Labor is a bad bet, because he or she automatically takes the side of management in labor disputes by definition.  Labor unions are no longer able to negotiate incredibly high pay rates for workers; management (and conservatives) simply capitalize on past hostility towards labor, and I, for one, do not approve of this attitude.  A political candidate who supports Labor is a better bet.  Big Labor is a weak instrument for progress, but it is the only instrument we have.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Using reason in a post-Truth era

(The systematic erosion of public confidence in reliable news sources is said to be a well-known fascist strategy.  Locate a reliable news source, and keep consuming it; just throwing up your hands and playing solitaire is a losing idea!  Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Don't get mad, get even.  I am generally opposed to violence of any kind, even verbal violence, because it does not work for progressives.  All this hysterical anti-fascist diatribes we get on social media (read: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter), have negative effects.  The chief negative effect is that they repel conservatives who have had enough.  There are many of those.  I see increasingly more evidence that reasonable people who are conservatives find that they can no longer stand to be associated with the nonsense that the undescribable losers who appear to support the GOP and/or the President keep constantly spouting.  (Why do I say appear to support?  You figure it out.  A significant majority of members of Congress are cynics.)

In November, after the new, reformed Putin makes a visit to the warmly welcoming White House, (or who knows; maybe Trump has planned a stupid trick that he hopes will destroy Putin, like stealing his underwear so he can't leave, but will probably result in all sorts of horrible things--US intervention usually backfires,) we want disillusioned conservatives voting with Democrats.  The last thing we need is more anti-conservative rhetoric, such as "We don't need no steenking conservatives to help defeat Trump!  Why don't you crawl back under the rocks from under which you crawlded out of?"  We all know the idiots who used to say this sort of thing in funny movies.  Don't be that guy.

I have been watching conservative videos on YouTube.  Why?  Well, I told Google that I no longer wanted to have my feed adjusted to what Google thinks I would enjoy seeing.  It turns out that (until I insisted that they do not use my mouse clicks to select what I see) Google made sure that even my suggested YouTube videos were selected to be only progressive-friendly ones.  So Google's advertising technique actually put me in a progressive bubble.  I can honestly say that my Google-managed bubble was a far more comfortable place in the Internet than this free-for-all digital world which I now inhabit.  Be careful what you wish for.

For more than a year I have wondered what the conservative sector could possibly say that would persuade people that progressives and liberals don't have a leg to stand on.  Well.  I saw smart-mouthed alt-right congressmen shutting down polite black congresswomen and senators.  What do they mean by shutting down?  Insulting into silence.  Countering arguments with insults seems one of the few things that alt-right congressmen have learned to do.

Tomi Lahren, a conservative talk-show host who is much admired, says that she likes hearing the popular candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak.  I couldn't bear to actually watch the video, because it would consist of Lahren's poorly-argued rebuttals of Ocasio-Cortez's goals.  Her goals are: (1) a living wage for everyone, (2) Health care for all, and (3) education for all.  Let's look at these objectives dispassionately.

(1) A living wage for all.  The conservative rebuttal of this is: Who will pay for it?  Taxes, obviously, so this is yet another instance of this Puerto-Rican woman wanting to transfer the hard-earned money of the long-suffering Koch Brothers, as well as thousands of struggling small businessmen and the middle-class into the hands of her fellow Puerto-Ricans.  On top of that, it will encourage more immigration from Mexico, more lazy minority bums from trying to find work, and will encourage these people who will get on the welfare rolls to go out and get more drugs.

(2) Health care for all.  This is a philosophical difference between the conservatives (who are either affluent executive-level people, or poor folks who stubbornly refuse health care, and most kinds of preventive medicine) who either don't need or don't want subsidized health care, and progressives, who think health care should be a given, especially for children.  Ocasio-Cortez is not going to persuade conservatives to think positively about universal health care, and the Health Care Industry will encourage keeping it private, which means more profits for them.

(3) Education for all.  Again: Who will pay for it?  The conservative rebuttal of this will have to be more subtle, and filled with dog-whistle terminology, and will add up to: we do not want the poor, and blacks and minorities and immigrants getting illusions of grandeur, so that our darling white boys will get crowded out of the good jobs, and nobody will be available to patch up the potholes.

The fact is that Ocasio-Cortez does not strike me as someone who wants a living wage, and education just for her fellow ethnic minorities; she wants it for everyone. What Bernie Sanders and the far Left wants to do is to include health, education and a living wage into the basic stuff that is available free to everyone; and then the rich can go out and get better health, better education, and more money for themselves and their children, the way it has always been done.

[Added later: I did force myself to watch a few minutes of the Tomi Lahren-related video on Fox TV, and was surprised to see that it was --at least in the segment I watched-- not a vicious attack on Ocasio-Cortez, but simply a patronizing dismissal of her as a force to be reckoned with.  She had been interviewed about her position on Israel and the Palestinian settlements, and she had conceded that she was not ready to answer questions on why she opposed the settlements.

Most Millennials will be in the same position, because the conflicts in Israel and the Palestinian settlements are so freighted with historical baggage that younger people simply cannot get their heads around the convoluted arguments the Israeli government gives for breaking agreements with the Palestinians.  The very presence of the Israelis in Israel after WW2 was based on various international agreements, mostly negotiated by the British.  But Israel has kept its borders open to Jews from anywhere in the World, which means that they must constantly acquire more farmland for new settlers.  They keep track of every Palestinian infraction of any sort, and use them to justify more Israeli settlements on the West Bank, contrary to agreements, and of course, Palestinians make attacks in retaliation, and so on.  If we wait for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to study up on the issue and make a statement, that would probably be suitable as a response to any questions on it that may come up.]

Health.  Why is universal health care so hard to achieve?  Because the Health Industry has driven up the cost of health care artificially high--which can be done in a supply-and-demand economy using scarcity techniques--so that if health care was readily available, it would cut into the profit margin of the health care vendors.  Only de-escalating health-care costs can make this happen.

Education.  This is a huge problem that is tied to the economics of labor in a free society.  Some education should be free, and of course some of it is.  Making college education free sounds like a great plan for vast majority of us, and in theory it simply means that every one can postpone actually paying attention to their teachers until they go to college, where they can start trying to learn the skills that their parents and grandparents learned in school.  Rich kids are already doing this.  (Not very well, because if they major in Business, they can essentially not learn anything.  (Okay, so I have it in for business majors, but forget that.  Just don't elect one for President.)

A living wage.  This is actually tied to other things.  If basic shelter (housing) is available for free, basic food is available for free, basic education is available for free, then 'A living wage' begins to look entirely different.  I'm not opposed to a living wage for anyone, but it seems to conflict with the determinedly anti-socialist attitude that has been common in the US for so long.  If the Socialist attitudes of those on the far Left spreads, then eventually there will be bloody revolution, and a more egalitarian society will emerge out of the ashes.*  The only way this can be prevented is if the US can force China and Mexico to be the workers, (the actual makers), which will allow the US to be the takers, as we have been for many decades!  This is, of course, what the GOP is trying to do, but it suits their purposes to designate the poor and the immigrants as Takers, while they call the 1% the Makers, because they provide factories in which the poor can make things for their bosses).  The GOP classes the poor, minorities, immigrants, and in some cases women, with Chinese and Mexicans, in other words, people who should not be enjoying Stuff.

Well, anyway, decent conservatives are becoming demoralized.  If they help 'unseat' the GOP majorities in the house and the senate, we are morally obliged to establish a rational, welcoming set of principles to which they can subscribe, on which to base some sort of coalition that can hold together for the polls, and for at least enough time after the elections to reestablish moderately progressive, reasonable policies and laws.  I don't think an F150 in every pot is going to work.

Most importantly, it will be very difficult to base any coalition of moderates and liberals on their common hate of minorities, as Trump had done.  It is a miracle that it worked at all, because it seems that those whose guiding principle is hate of minorities and immigrants, are found in clusters in the central parts of the country.  Urban and bi-coastal areas are far less down on minorities, despite the fact that it is in these places that minorities live.  Minorities themselves probably do tend to dilute the hostility, but it seems reasonable to think that those who are familiar with minorities are less hostile to them, but I could be wrong.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Popular Science looks at the Downsides of using Artificial Sweeteners

Bad news about artificial sweeteners has been making the rounds for decades.  One never knows whether this sort of negative publicity is being supported by the Sugar Industry, or by some similar outfit with a vested interest.  Always beware.  This most recent article in Popular Science magazine (which has been known to sensationalize some stories, resulting in confusing readers without a strong science background, but has also been known to bring great news stories to public attention) says that it is possible that heavy use of artificial sweeteners can lead to increased fat deposits.

Let's look at some of the basic axioms.
* Sugar contains calories, and drinking lots of soda with real sugar does lead to obesity, unless the calories are used up with exercise.
* Unused calories are stored in the body as fat.  Ounce for ounce, fat contains far more calories than sugar and carbs, so fat cells are like zip drives for large calorie files.  To burn off fat, you must first unzip the fat files (essentially by about 28 minutes of exercise using sugars, at which point the stored fat begins to get used for the exercise.  This is why they always suggest that you should exercise for at least half an hour).
* When Insulin in the bloodstream finds more sugar than the body can immediately use, it triggers the conversion into fat.  This is new information to me; I did not realize that Insulin had anything to do with conversion of sugar to fat.  I could have misunderstood whatever I read, so take this message with a little caution.  It is an important point that needs to be clarified, so don't put off for the indefinite future doing your own research about it.  Do as I say, not as I do.
* Artificial sweeteners contain very few calories, so, yes, they don't supply the body with unnecessary calories.
* When any normal person eats a little sugar, there are brain centers that issue a 'satisfaction' or 'reward' signal, which normally leads the person to slow down eating.  Artificial sweeteners don't do that (or at least not as effectively), so, apparently there's no negative feedback to the eating loop; your system could get stuck in the 'eat more' position.  (More about negative feedback at the end.)
* Eating anything sweet--both sugar and artificial sweeteners--stimulates the body into producing Insulin.  Insulin is, as Popular Science, and similar articles in WebMD and the New York Times explain, a sort of key that unlocks muscle cells into opening up, and allowing sugar to enter and fuel muscle activity.  (For Type II diabetics, this key doesn't work very well.)

Wait a minute.  This means that if you use Artificial Sweetener, the Insulin production is triggered, but finding no sugar, the Insulin encourages storage of sugar as fat.  But there isn't any sugar!

Actually, there is.  People oversimplify these things for the benefit of us laymen; it is never the case that there isn't any sugar in the bloodstream; there's always a little.  I was recently in the emergency room being looked at by the doctors.  I was hoping that they would admit me, because I was in pain!  At first they said: this is simple; we can send you home soon, and you can check in with your general practitioner in the morning.  This is not an emergency.  But for various reasons my diabetic medication was reducing my blood sugar levels too aggressively, which sent the ER doctors into a panic.  Why?  There always has to be some sugar in circulation, otherwise the brain and the heart won't have the sugar they need to work.  Yes, the brain runs on sugar, which means, my young padawans, don't try to take a test on an empty stomach; your memory and your reasoning centers need a little sugar to work, and one expects that a test would involve brainwork.

So, drinking a lot of artificially sweetened soda can generate a brief glut of Insulin, which tries to package the little sugar there happens to be lying around into fat cells.  Once the sugar level falls to critically low levels, you lose consciousness, and if the Insulin burst is extremely large, the body will shut down to painfully low levels.  Finally, the liver has emergency stocks of sugar that it releases, to prevent additional damage, but I don't understand enough of those matters to give you an accurate description of them.

The "Artificial Sweeteners → Fat Cells" effect appears not to have been established experimentally, or at least I don't understand the degree to which it is just a conjecture.  But I believe that there is some evidence that heavy drinkers of artificially sweetened soft drinks do gain weight over time; I'm just not certain whether what I described is the actual mechanism.

There is yet another effect that some people will find more persuasive than others.  If we eat a normal healthy diet, our intestines will contain certain beneficial bacteria that humans have evolved with, over the millennia.  These bacteria help digestion, and are even considered to help people with maintaining emotional balance.  It sounds like something out of a Woo Woo publication, but I have never read any scientific article that denies this statement.  Unfortunately, large levels of artificial sweeteners are said to, at the very least, interfere with this balance of so-called intestinal flora (because bacteria are considered to be plants, not animals), and at the worst, kill them off, and introduce harmful bacteria instead.  This is clearly a broad generalization because there are scores of varieties of both kinds of intestinal flora (good and bad).  Many of your friends probably consume yogurt, and Kim Chee, and Kombucha, all foods that are considered to encourage good bacteria in your intestines.  Since you can control this balance only indirectly, some people consider that the whole thing is not worth bothering about.  I'm not going to weigh in on it, because each person addresses the matter in a different way, and the suggestions I give may not work.  However, note that acute diarrhea, and strong antibiotics, both deplete your intestinal flora, and you need to work hard to restore them, if you care.  By the way, from all I have read, it appears that you need to eat yogurt pretty aggressively (at least two containers per day of yogurt advertised as containing live bacterial cultures) to make a difference in your good bacteria levels.

For the lazy executive: food with just a little sugar and no artificial sweeteners is much better for anyone than anything with artificial sweeteners.  If you want to compromise, cut down severely on food--and especially beverages--with artificial sweeteners.  We've known that artificial sweeteners have bad effects, but it looks as though they have worse side effects than we initially suspected.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Is the US Embarrassed?

Several things happened over the last few days.

1. Donald Trump visited Britain, amid hostile demonstrations, which included a balloon in the shape of, as I understand it, a baby Trump.

2. Trump was received graciously by Queen Elizabeth, but then proceeded to get in front of her, and generally impede her progress while reviewing the troops.  He either does not know how to conduct himself on state occasions in Britain, or intentionally behaved boorishly.

3. He went golfing in Scotland, to the annoyance of hundreds of Scots, who showed up to jeer at him.

4. He met with Vladimir Putin in Finland.  Putin was significantly late, but we're told that that is not unusual.  Once they sat down together, Trump asked Putin whether Russian intelligence had interfered with the American Elections of 2016.  Putin said no, but expressed a willingness to participate in the investigation.

5. At a subsequent press conference, Trump declared that he believed Putin, and was satisfied that Putin's heart was in the right place.  Putin had confessed that he preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton, since Clinton had been tough on the Russians in relation to the invasion of the Crimea, and Ukraine, as well as assassination of certain secret agents.

The International Media seems to say that Trump had made an ass of himself.  But, as we know, and according to the belief that Trump clings to, the media does not reflect the opinion of anything but itself.  (This is not exactly true, but Trump might have someone read this Blog post out to him, so I have to be careful.)

But the point remains: about whose opinion are we anxious?  The opinion of Fox News?  The New York Times?  The Washington Post?  The Russian Press?  The North Korean Invisible News?  The people of the world?  Worrying about the public opinion of the world at large is a senseless idea, because there are at least 20 different opinions that anyone could have at this moment, soon to be boiled down to about 10 broad attitudes.  All of these would be different opinions about Trump, and quite different opinions about the American Public.

By now everyone knows that our electoral system is seriously flawed, since it depends on the good intentions of people in certain offices, but which we cannot depend on in the future.  Or perhaps we should brace ourselves to see a long parade of egotistical fatheads vying to be President.  The GOP is probably convinced by now that politicians are no longer a good farm club for the major leagues, and that only 'reality show' people could win the crucial vote of the chauvinistic Trump electorate.

The Democrats seem to be reeling into philosophical instability.  At their worst, I used to think, they were just a little dazed and confused, but quite able to run the government.  But Trump and his party have depleted the Government Coffers to such an extent that it is virtually impossible to recommence the welfare services that the GOP shut down.  The options are: go on an austerity diet, (something which alienated the working class in Britain, remember?) while slowly paying off the debt created by the GOP.  After four years of that, they're sure to lose the next election, because the dynamics of the situation will be poorly understood by the public (or will be ignored by the public), who will believe the lies of the GOP once again ("Remember, Trump almost got rid of those pesky Mexicans for us, but the Dems and Hillary got in his way!"  Never mind that Hillary Clinton did not hold office while the White House was down with this severe case of Trump-itis), enabling the GOP to distribute the savings among the 1%.

Destroying what the US had achieved, under the leadership of several Democrat presidents, and many Democrat congressmen, congresswomen, senators and senatoresses did not take long; hardly a year and a bit.  Putting Humpty Dumpty together again will take a long time.

One thing is certain: we have to keep an eye on access to the voting booth.  Bring your guns.  (Jk.)


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

High-School Algebra: Our Executive-Type Middle-Schoolers

I have been teaching college mathematics for many years, and quit recently.  (Well, I called it retirement, but actually it was quitting.)  But I was getting a little bored, and decided to put up a video on YouTube to show an alternative method for doing something students learn in Calculus 2.

Well, I just finished it, and it involved quite a bit of algebra.  And I was wondering just how much detailed explanation would need to accompany the slides, to make the calculations comprehensible to a typical viewer.  For instance, I had to compare the results we would have gotten, with an authoritative result from WolframAlpha, a program we used at our school, until it became a little too demanding for our majors, and some of our faculty!  (Our school is still ahead of the curve, but depending on how much incoming faculty at schools like ours like to trade interesting content for easier, more entertaining content, we might end up behind the curve.  Read on.)  The two answers are the same, except for a little algebra.  Here is a screen capture of the last slide:

Anticipating the question:  "What has 192 got to do with anything?", I added the little note at the bottom.

Now, I expect my readers to be divided pretty much in half between (a) those who think "It is perfectly clear that the answers were the same," and (b) those who think, "Well, that may be the case, but an explanation is in order, after all, these are just kids; heck I could not have figured that out, and I'm pretty good at math!"

Part of the problem is that many sorts of employers, both businesses and the government (or as we say in economics circles: the Private Sector and the Public Sector) want their prospective hires to know calculus.  Among other things, this means that Calculus teachers have to deal with students now who suspect that they will never actually use Calculus in their chosen fields, and their suspicions are probably right.  Over the last several years, things have let up a little, but there was a time when even Pre-Med students needed to get a good grade in Calculus to get into Medical School.  Why is this?  I don't know, but I can guess.  And my guess would give you pause as to the motives of the Medical Education Industry.

Coming back to those algebraic formulas above, it boils down to whether or not two formulas which look roughly like
are equal.  This material is actually learned (in most schools, at least a decade ago) in Grade 8, in better school districts.  Obviously, there's nothing to be done if you happened to live in a school district in which most parents prefer that their kids get better grades than a rigorous mathematics training.  This is one of the major pairs of opposing forces that keep battling inside most parent's heads.  The kid is hamstrung unless its grades are good, but the kid will struggle to even understand its math classes unless it knows its algebra really well.  Looking up these algebra facts just can't be done in real time; they have to be at the tips of the child's fingers.

In addition to school training, there is the problem of discipline.  Fractions are an obnoxious kind of mathematical thing; most kids prefer to use decimals.  Fractions are exact, while decimals are usually approximations, and for most purposes, including Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Economics, Political Science, Business, Engineering and Statistics, approximations are good enough.  (They have to be good approximations.)  So why do math teachers keep plugging these fractions?

The fractions are more logically useful.  Before the decimal approximation can be applied, the formula is developed using fractions; the relationships between various quantities are given using fractions.  Once the number you're interested in is narrowed down in terms of fractions, it can be approximated using decimals.  If anyone takes a nap while the fractions are being thrown around, and wakes up just when the calculator is needed, he or she will know a number, which may not be any use for the next problem, and will not know how it is arrived at.

This little post about fractions and elementary algebra describes only the tip of the iceberg.  Better minds than mine must address the problem that Indian and Chinese and Russian and Brazilian kids learn algebra a lot faster than American kids.  Their lives are tough enough that algebra is hardly something to complain about.  In contrast, for American kids, algebra is the worst kind of torture they have to face, so that for many men and women, algebra is the poster-boy for the unpleasant subjects they had to deal with in grade school, and which thankfully they did not need to suffer with in Adult Life.  If we keep up this level of intolerance to mathematics, kids might end up refusing to subtract, even if they reluctantly agree to occasionally add.  Think that's funny?  If Medical Schools keep up the mathematics requirements for admission, their numbers will fall, and we will find most of our medical professionals coming from overseas.  Which is not entirely a bad thing, I have to add.  On the other hand, if med schools relax the math requirements for admission, many citizens will harbor the (entirely unfounded) suspicion that medical professionals of the years after 2018 are not quite up to the standards we're accustomed to.

What the Monkey should have said is that There is no progress without some drudgery.


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