QuickReaction, Thursday-5

Unusual headline choice: In a Catholic publication the headline screams “Doubters of Darwin, here’s your evidence.” Now how should we parse this? That the article contains evidence justifying doubts (and numerous creationist lying article claim) or that it contains evidence to confirm Darwin? Given this is religion site it seems unlikely it would evidence in favor of Darwin. Or is that just my bias? That I would expect religious sites to attempt to present “evidence” against evolution since this is the much more common case. Well, no, the article describes the Nebraska swallows (that I’ve called out before in a QuickReaction) and actually claims evolution is occurring. Now this writer doesn’t know much about creationist tricks – the swallow evidence is something conveniently labeled “micro-evolution” by creationists. They distinguish that this might be possible but is irrelevant since “kinds” (the unscientific and useless and undefined term from the  bible) don’t change and that macro-evolution doesn’t happen and couldn’t possibly just be a sequence of many micro-evolution steps. OK, so – the author isn’t familiar with creationist nonsensical dogma. But again why this headline? Is the author trying to suck creationists in, thinking they’ll interpret the headline as I did and then have to read through the counter-evidence they’d reject – possibly. But hard to determine an author’s motives so most likely the author just thought they were being cute.

Psychological “studies” are more suspicious (about fat) than even nutrition studies: I expected to get more from this article than was there. Some very wishy-washy stuff from mere question and answer surveys (no actual measurements) indicate that people who believe in exercise (rather than diet) as the primary weight control are more likely to be fat (poorly measured) and/or are more likely to overeat. So thin people believe in diet and fat people  believe in exercise. Now wait a minute, let’s get some basics here. #1, since people get to self-select which group they’re in this “association” proves nothing; if I’m thin I can believe whatever I choose as to why, so I segregate myself into a group, but what about putting people randomly into groups and then deciding, and, #2, so what – this proves nothing about whether exercise or diet is more useful for weight control, just which people prefer and/or, rightly or wrongly, with or without actual facts, believe. Belief is irrelevant as a measure of truth. So what a silly article! It’s not even very interesting.

Interesting debate: Bicyclists in San Francisco are attempting to get an urban route heavily focused on bikes but of course the route goes through existing neighborhood, with businesses, and those business owners believe their livelihood is threatened by removing the cars. It is likely that removing cars will reduce some business, but, OTOH, the bicycles may increase some business. The trouble is the pluses may not offset the minuses, either in magnitude or in kind (businesses that get customers on bikes are probably different than those that get them from cars). As a bicycle enthusiast (although inactive) I like the idea of the route, but I also understand how it may clobber some business and that is unfair (but, so is life). Around here, sometimes adding bicycling expands business, at least for some types of business. Bicyclists aren’t just poor students who don’t spend (check the prices on upper end bikes before concluding bicyclists are poor). And bicyclists are consumers. And it sounds like the changes would encourage all sorts of “slower” traffic which is more likely to include buyers. One delight on the west coast is Vancouver and how robust their small shop business is, given many people there live in high-rise condos and don’t even have cars, so they’re out on foot. As a tourist it was fun walking on the commercial streets and that could happen in San Francisco too. So I’ll be curious to see if the city has the guts to stick with improving routes for cyclists now that it may cost somebody something. And then how it goes.

Will social isolation kill me? This story certainly seems to imply it will but this press report reveals the ambiguity that is present in most studies (I’ve often described how popular press over-simplifies studies and the studies themselves, if you can find them, are more guarded in their conclusions). So there is something going on but it’s just not clear what. This is relevant to me in strong personal way because my isolation here in Omaha is far worse than it ever was in California (despite my sense that the Midwest is actually “friendlier”). And it’s likely to get worse not better (it has gotten worse in last 18 months). But what I wonder is what is the actual mechanism? It’s hard to believe my BP is going to rise just if I’m lonely. I suspect that isolation and loneliness probably just translate to depression and thus not doing anything about health problems. So like many things I need better data.

What will Puerto Rico get from this? So they’re trying to lure super-rich with promise of reduced income taxes (that’s a really big problem for hedge fund guys who already get a super break of not having their income counted as income). What does it do for the local economy, the hyper-rich aren’t exactly likely to go shopping at the local stores. A few jobs for servants, undoubtedly with minimal pay and no benefits (the rich are notoriously stingy to servants) isn’t going to do much. Undoubtedly the rich will find a way around having to actually spend much time there and when they are there it will be entirely inside private enclaves. So Puerto Rico gets very little. Of course, it’s not their taxes these greedies are avoiding, but U.S. taxes. So the U.S. government foregoes millions in taxes (even with the good deal existing tax breaks) to put a tiny bit of money into Puerto Rican economy. Nope, I just think this is just more giveaways to the rich.

I really hope Walmart fails against Amazon: Amazon is a fine company and Walmart sucks, so to see Walmart trying to move into Amazon’s online business is frightening. Only under extreme conditions (like it’s the only thing around when I’m out in nowhere) will I go in a Walmart. Their goods are the worst of the worst Chinese crap and barely usable even if they are the only stuff. Yet people are suckered into going there because Walmart manages to create the illusion they save money (sure, with ignoring the idea their goods are useless, they’re real “bargains”). OTOH, Amazon does a fine job and they already have razor-thin margins based on incredibly efficient operations (and some exploitation of their workers, which is not so good). So there is no way Walmart can legitimately price undercut Amazon. So they will only beat them via loss leaders (just eroding Amazon’s already thin margins) or by lousy service. Any issue I’ve had (or known anyone else to have) with Amazon is immediately and efficiently settled. Their customer service is excellent. The returns policy is excellent. In contrast customer service at Walmart is horrible. So: a) I don’t want Walmart to win and possibly kill Amazon, the way they’ve killed other superior businesses (all those empty storefronts in small towns can’t be because Walmart is actually better), or, b) Walmart is a race to the bottom and so if they become a real threat to Amazon the only way Amazon can survive is to become as bad as Walmart. So I lose either way. So hopefully customers who shop at Amazon will not be as stupid as those boneheads that actually hang out in the stores and so conning Amazon’s customers will not be as easy, I hope. But Americans are stupid when it comes to “value” shopping since they are so easy to con with slightly lower prices and horribly worse products and service.

Defending the banks: It’s not often you see anyone defending banks these days so when you do you need to read between the lines. Consider the source – Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. Right, ground zero of Keynesian thinking (did they just hire Krugman or Stiglitz) – NOT! The argument is weak, although someone needs to point out how stupid Germany is being, shoving unneeded austerity down the throats of people (not the banks) due to the sins of the banks, as though some Cypriot fisherman had any say in managing Russian mob money. No, I think WSJ would rail against anything but austerity in the U.S. and scream about stimulus, so I doubt they’ve turned a philosophical corner. More likely it’s simpler than that – greed (why assume something complex when something simpler will do?). WSJ is probably representing the views of some of the people who actually took haircuts in the Cypriot solution. They’re representing TBTF banks here who can’t stand the idea that any bank, no matter how stupid, and at no matter what cost to the public, doesn’t get bailed out. And Murdoch probably had some dodgy money parked in Cyprus that he’s now lost. Or perhaps it’s as simple as that banks should never have any consequences, no matter how bad they are. Either way fisherman and waiters in Cyprus are going to take the hit and a few Russians and maybe a few bondholders, which is really the point of this. WSJ doesn’t care about the Cyprus economy or the Eurozone economy or the U.S. economy, just the cash hoards of the super-rich, who want the freedom (and safety) to move their money anywhere they chose so they can play one country off against another. WSJ probably fears that taking Cyprus out of the mix may make Caymans more cautious or even tax a bit more, so obviously the big rich want as many lawless banking zones as possible and that’s what they lost in the Cyprus deal.

A sensible nutrition article: I never thought I’d see it, HuffPo publish popular press version of nutrition studies with a sensible twist, like admitting that mechanisms are unknown and potentially not even there. Of course they still mostly peddle the same tired and unproven advice but at least they admit it’s unproven and possibly just a chance association. They do, however, contradict themselves. For instance, on describing the effect of water, they say “All participants ate the same amount of calories” but then, in discussing the possible mechanism they say “older adults who drank two cups of water before a meal ended up eating about 75-90 fewer calories” Which is it? Same amount of calories or less calories? Less calories obviously is more likely to explain differential weight loss than “same” so, again, just another filler that suppresses how much you eat. Suppressing how much you eat, whatever method does that, is obviously going to work, but why can’t they, in two consecutive paragraphs see this inconsistency in their own prose and then select the right answer – no, the people were offered the same amount of calories but some didn’t consume all of them and that reduced consumption is the useful effect.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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