All posts by Animal

Animal’s Science Thursday News

Science!Some tidbits from the wonderful world of science!

A Precursor to RNA?  Excerpt:

If RNA was indeed the first biological molecule, discovering how it first formed would illuminate the birth of life. The basic building blocks of RNA were available on prebiotic Earth, but chemists, including (Georgia Institute of Technology chemist Nicholas) Hud, have spent years trying to assemble them into an RNA molecule with little success. About 15 years ago, Hud grew frustrated with that search and decided to explore an alternative idea: Perhaps the first biological molecule was not RNA, but a precursor that possessed similar characteristics and could more easily assemble itself from prebiotic ingredients. Perhaps RNA evolved from this more ancient molecule, just as DNA evolved from RNA.

What’s interesting about this?  We really don’t know much about how life came to be on Earth.  We know quite a lot about what happened once there was life, but the study of life’s origins – abiogenesis – is still working out the basic details.  This may be a step towards a better understanding, maybe even a hypothesis.

Mating With Neandertals Was Hard.  I’ll forgo the obvious joke.  Excerpt:

Uncle.
Uncle.

While past studies have suggested that interbreeding improved immunity and genetics related to disease resistance, it turns out that Neanderthals might have actually passed along some harmful genes, as well.  Studies suggested that genes associated with increased risk of lupus, biliary cirrhosis, Crohn’s disease, and smoking addiction were all inherited from the Neanderthals.

Whoops.  While it’s interesting to know that there are traces of these hardy, resilient humans left, we could probably do without the disease aspects.

One more, this one presenting the possibility of a revolutionary material:  Lighter Than Water, Stronger Than Steel.   Excerpt:

Materials shape human progress – think stone age or bronze age. The 21st century has been referred to as the molecular age, a time when scientists are beginning to manipulate materials at the atomic level to create new substances with astounding properties.

Taking a step in that direction, Jens Bauer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and his colleagues have developed a bone-like material that is less dense than water, but as strong as some forms of steel. “This is the first experimental proof that such materials can exist,” Bauer said.

Hank Rearden could not be reached for comment.

On that note, we return you to your Thursday, already in progress.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

This just in from the always-worth-reading Dr. Victor Davis Hanson:  A Beat-up, Exhausted, and Terrified Republican Establishment.  Excerpt:

On almost every contemporary issue there is a populist, middle-class argument to be made against elite liberalism. Yet the Republican class in charge seems ossified in its inability to make a counter-argument for the middle class. Never has the liberal agenda been so vulnerable, a logical development when bad ideas have had five years to prove themselves as very bad ideas. When Obama is all done he will have taken high presidential popularity ratings, a supermajority in the Senate, and a large margin in the House and lost them all — if only the Republicans can make an adequate case that they represent the middle class, the Democrats only the very wealthy and the very dependent.

The thing is this:  I’m not all that sure that the Republicans really do represent the middle class any more.  I’m not sure anyone does.  The Democrats sure as hell don’t; they represent an odd coalition ranging from radical environmentalists, the Occupy Wall Street nutbars, and the San Francisco latte socialists to labor-union activists and a few last old Truman blue-collar Democrats.  The GOP struggles to gather in what someone a few years back called the “Sam’s Club” Republicans – the small business, entrepreneur folks, the people that drive real economic growth.  But they aren’t doing a very good job of that, either.

Dual-BearsA big part of the GOP’s problem is their failure to adjust to a generational shift in attitudes.  The up-and-coming generation is open to the Republican’s low-tax, small government message, but is resistant to the party’s social wing, which insists on government interference into other aspects of people’s lives.

It’s a pretty problem, and one that neither party seems to be able to wrap their brains around.  Whichever one does first – and the GOP seems to hold an edge on the growing libertarian population – will have a majority advantage for some time to come.

Tuesday Movie Review

Sensei
One of my favorite things about Japan.

First of all, thanks to the Other McCain and The Daley Gator for the Rule Five linkage!  Be sure to check both sites for extensive collections of Rule Five linkery.

So, something a little different today.   Having spent some time in Japan, working, making friends and absorbing the culture, one of the things I’ve noticed is the tendency to animate movies and series that Americans would produce with live actors.  Japanese animated media – “anime,” for those who aren’t familiar with the term – runs the gamut of most media, from truly awful to entertaining to deeply thoughful.  Mamoru Hosada’s feature film Wolf Children is one of the latter.

Wolf Children IThe primary character is a college girl, Hana, who meets and falls in love with a rather strange young man.  Kare slips into college classes, listens and takes notes, but is not enrolled in the school.  He works for a moving company, lifting and carrying boxes, and in so doing amasses a formidable series of observations on human families and human behavior.

Finally, as their relationship deepens, he reveals to Hana that he is in fact a wolf that can take human form.  The Western term would be “werewolf,” but Kare is not a vicious monster, but rather a rather gentle-natured, affectionate man who occasionally has to let his feral nature hold sway, shift to his wolf form and hunt, pheasants seeming to be his preferred prey.

Wolf Children IIThe two have two children, a girl, Yuki, and a boy, Ame.  Shortly after Ame is born, Kare dies, apparently killed in an accident while in wolf form and carted away by a garbage service – after all, to their knowledge he was just a dead dog.  Hana is left to raise two strange children on her own.

Strange children they are indeed – half human, half wolf, with a decided tendency to flip back and forth between the two at inopportune moments.  After a brush with child services and several uncomfortable encounters with other families, Hana leaves Tokyo and takes the children to an old, run-down house in the mountains, far from the city.  There, she hopes, the children can grown into their unusual natures in their own ways.  “If you could only be one thing, would you want to be human,” she asks them at one point, “or wolf?  I want you to have that choice.”

It is the growth of the children, and that inevitable choice, that makes up the balance of the story.  The tale has many facets; the growing acceptance and affection shown to Hana and the children by the local farming families and residents of the small nearby village, the experiences the children have in the small local school, their exploration of both aspects of their unusual heritage.Wolf Children III

It ends up as a beautiful coming-of-age story, showcasing the children’s transitions – somewhat predictably, one goes in each direction, human and wolf.  It is also a compelling illustration of the difficulty parents can have adjusting to their children’s choices, and to their growing maturity.

Wolf Children is probably Mamoru Hosada’s masterpiece.  It is interesting, touching, engaging, and has that best of all movie features, a happy ending.  Check out the trailer, and enjoy the film – it’s well worth the watch.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

This is interesting.  Not surprising, but interesting.  Popular Anti-Fracking Study Discredited by Colorado Health Department.  Relevant excerpts:

“It is difficult to draw conclusions from this study, due to its design and limitations,” Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s chief medical officer, said. “We appreciate continuing research about possible public health implications that may be associated with oil and gas operations in Colorado.

“With regard to this particular study, people should not rush to judgment.”

Why? Because the study didn’t distinguish between active wells and inactive wells. It also did not distinguish between vertical, horizontal, oil or natural gas wells.

“This makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the actual exposure people may have had,” Wolk said.

Further, the researchers never considered outside factors that may have resulted in birth defects, such as drinking or smoking.

“Without considering the effect of these personal risk factors, as well as the role of genetic factors, it is very difficult to draw conclusions from this study,” Wolk said.

Also:

The researchers noted in the study that they never bothered to check where the mother lived during conception or the first trimester. This is when most birth defects occur, so not knowing what was going on in the mother’s life at that time is a significant problem in determining whether fracking was to blame.

In other words, shoddy science.  A case in point; the study mentioned noted a decrease in birth defect among women who live closer to wells, a seeming contradiction that should have raised some alarms on the study’s methodology.  Why?

Because contradictions don’t exist.  When a seeming contradiction is found in a study of this nature, one should check their premises; one or more of them will be wrong.

Here’s the crux of this issue; there can be no absolute right or wrong answer in a policy issue of this nature.   There can only be tradeoffs.  There is a level of mess we will accept in order to increase our energy independence and lower the cost of energy.  Worried about Shy Bearour chronically high unemployment rate?  Stagnant tax revenues?  Runaway Federal debt? Explosion of numbers on welfare?  The answer is economic growth, and cheap energy is a supercharger for economic growth.

And no matter what side of any given issue you might take, relying on shoddy, self-contradictory  science makes for a shoddy, self-contradictory argument.

Rule Five Friday

2014_01_321_Rule Five Friday (1)Let’s talk about marriage.  Not specifically gay marriage, or non-gay marriage, or plural marriage, or interspecies marriage; just…  marriage.

Let’s start with this, an idea I’ve given some thought to myself over the years:  Get The State Out of Marriage.  Relevant excerpt:

In Oklahoma this past Friday, State Representative Mike Turner boldly challenged, “whether marriage needs to be regulated by the state at all.” He floated a bill that would remove the state’s role of licensing matrimony. This was in response to a recent court order that strikes down Oklahoma’s definition of marriage as traditional one-man-one-woman.

Think about that for a moment.  Take your time, I’ll wait right here.

Ready?  Let’s move on.

Rather than defend the status quo, I’ll take a different tack; what good reasons are there for government to be involved in marriage?  I can think of one; marriage has a legal component to it, in that it is 2014_01_321_Rule Five Friday (2)a contract between competent, capable adults.  (Normally a man and a woman, but that perception is somewhat in flux at the moment.)   Now, contracts are written and agreed to between competent parties all the time without government involvement; government generally only becomes involved when one or more parties violates the term of the agreement in some way or another.

How is government involved in marriage?  In one primary way:  the issue of marriage licenses, usually at the county level.  Why do we need a license – in essence, permission from the county government – to get married?

Many, many years ago, when I was a little tad, we lived on a farm near Fairbank, Iowa.  Our neighbors were an older couple, Grace and Brownie, who formed a treasured extra pair of surrogate grandparents for me.  I have a distinct memory of sitting with my mother in Grace and Brownie’s kitchen listening to Brownie, a stubborn, no-nonsense WW1 veteran and lifelong farmer, talk about 2014_01_321_Rule Five Friday (3)his pursuit of a building permit to extend one of his farm buildings.  Most of all I remember his lament that “these days you have to get a permit from the county to take a shit.”

That was in the late Sixties.  Things have not improved since that time.

One could make an argument for building codes and the concomitant permits to make sure that those codes are adhered to, especially for commercial buildings.  But marriage?

Removing government from the business of marriage makes a great deal of sense.  It would make no inroads on the religious observation of marriage.  Churches of all sorts could go right on conducting marriages exactly as they do now, with a little less paperwork.  It would make no inroad on the secular observation of marriage.  People who are not religious (like me) could conduct any type of ceremony or observation that suits them.  Would some people forgo marriage altogether?  Probably, yes; some people already do.  The numerator may change some, but the denominator remains the same.2014_01_321_Rule Five Friday (4)

Here’s the real rub, though, and this is why advocacy of this could be a winner for the slowly-growing libertarian wing of the GOP:  Removing government from the business of marriage removes the thorny issue of gay marriage from the debate.

“But Animal,” you might ask, “doesn’t that open the door for all sorts of domestic arrangements?  Doesn’t that open the door to polygamy, polyandry, and all sorts of other polys?

My reply:  “Well, sure.  But if government isn’t involved in the licensing of domestic arrangements at all, what changes?  People all over are free to indulge in those kinds of domestic arrangements now, they just can’t get a license from the county to formalize it.  And why should they?”

2014_01_321_Rule Five Friday (5)My take on social issues of this sort is based on one simple principle:  I don’t give a damn what people do, as long as they leave me alone.

Now, I’m about as heterosexual as you can get, in case you hadn’t figured that out from my penchant for Rule Five cheesecake.  I like women, and to my very good fortune women have always liked me.  (Mrs. Animal most of all.)  It’s beyond my capacity to understand why a man would be sexually attracted to another man.  But then, it’s beyond my capacity to understand why people like watching football on television.  And that’s OK; the fact that other people do those things doesn’t affect me.  It doesn’t affect my marriage.  It doesn’t affect my life.  It doesn’t affect me if two men, or two women, or three men and five women, or two men and a rosebush want to live together and call it “marriage.”

I know there are religious objections to gay marriage; I’m not religious and I don’t share them, but I acknowledge the depth of conviction of people who do hold those views.  This proposal can easily address that as well.  Churches that object to gay marriage should be free to refuse to conduct them.

Removing the licensing requirement from the equation removes the controversy.  It’s a good idea.  This Oklahoma proposal should be taken on the road.

2014_01_321_Rule Five Friday (6)

Animal’s Daily News

Sleepy-BearI didn’t listen to the State of the Union.  It’s nothing more than political theatrics, and no matter who the President is, everyone already knows what he’s going to say.  I’ve read the transcript, and this one was perfectly predictable in its banality and fact-challenged economic presumptions.   Some noteworthy commentary:

SOTU Response From A Veteran:  NO!

Krauthammer: ‘When Obama repeated Guantanamo, you knew he’d sort of run out of ideas’

The State of the Union:  Make it Stop!

Re-State of the Union.

Everything Joe Biden Did, Besides Listen to the SOTU.  Let’s be honest about this at least; daffy old Uncle Joe should have been retired years ago.

Instead of more SOTU discussion, have a read on tax policy, from Brian Domitrovic of the libertarian Cato Institute:  Tax Revolt!  It’s Time to Learn from Past Success.  Excerpt:

The achievements of the 1980s and 1990s stemmed from one source above all: the centerpiece of Ronald Reagan’s economics, the bill that Congress passed in the summer of 1981. This was the great tax cut that had been originally sponsored in Congress in the 1970s by Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and Sen. William V. Roth of Delaware, “Kemp-Roth.”

The tax cut of 1981 — which took all rates of the income tax down by an average of 23 percent, lowered the capital gains rate by 29 percent, and reduced business taxes — was the point of origin of the renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s whereby the economy expanded well in excess of the government.

The tax cut made everything else easy. First of all, it took the heat off the Splashing-BearsFed. The Fed did not have to worry about stimulating the economy, because growth flowed from the tax cut. Furthermore, lower tax rates made loopholes less important as a source of profit, so business focused more on real entrepreneurship.

The 1980s saw the turnaround from years of Nixon/Ford/Carter stagflation and ‘malaise,’ the process began with tax rate cuts (not tax cuts; tax rate cuts.  There’s a difference.) but also saw the Imperial Federal government swallowing a simplification of the tax code that eliminated a lot of exemptions and loopholes.  The result?  Tax revenues soared, the product of increased economic activity.

But there was a problem; Congress increased spending just as quickly.  Now, for about the last ten years, Federal policy has become as hostile to economic growth as it was friendly in the 1980s, and Congress continues to spend.

That, True Believers, is the other side of the tax policy debate.  No change in tax policy will extract us from the current fiscal mess until Congress learns to stop the runaway spending.

Mr. Domitrovic concludes:

Instead of conceding long-term mediocrity under Leviathan, we should take inspiration from our past, indeed our recent past. The last time we were stuck with 2 percent growth for the long term, the 1970s and the early 1980s, we mustered a means of narrowing government. The real results were so stellar that to recite them is to take us back to a world we have lost — but only 15 years ago.

Tax cuts, stable money, and the rendering of spending and regulation as superfluous are the formula of the supply-side revolution — the Reagan Revolution. They stand sentinel right there, not long ago in our history, as the way to advance through our sluggishness and purposelessness today.

He’s right.  But it’s only half of the picture.

Animal’s Hump Day News

2014_01_29_Hump Day
Happy Hump Day!

Coming to us today from the RealClearPolitics site, another winner from the always-worth-reading Dr. Thomas Sowell:  The Inequality Bogeyman.  Excerpt:

One of the problems with so  many discussions of income and wealth is that the intelligentsia are so obsessed with the money that people receive that they give little or no attention to what causes money to be paid to them, in the first place.

The money itself is not wealth. Otherwise the government could make us all rich just by printing more of it. From the standpoint of a society as a whole, money is just an artificial device to give us incentives to produce real things — goods and services.

Those goods and services are the real “wealth of nations,” as Adam Smith titled his treatise on economics in the 18th century.

The esteemed Dr. Sowell hits to the very heart of the matter with this definition of “wealth,” and in so doing illustrates why government can not – by definition – create wealth.   Government can not create work; the only services government legitimately Peeking-Bear-150x99produces are ‘distributed’ services, such as fire and police protection, services which add value only retroactively following some unforeseen event.  Only private enterprise innovates, developing new goods and services before the need is anticipated.  This creates value; this creates wealth.  The very definition of entrepreneurship, creating value from ideas, is the wellspring of wealth.

Example:  Many of us on the wrong side of fifty remember what things were like before microwave ovens – and yet today, not only does every kitchen have one, most folks can’t imagine doing without one.  Value was created in the form of an entire line of products, producing wealth for millions, because of that innovation.  For a more recent example, see the iPod and iPad, devices that changed the way we listen to music and access information.  How many jobs were created by the production of those two devices alone?

BearDr. Sowell concludes:  Intellectuals’ obsession with income statistics — calling envy “social justice” — ignores vast differences in productivity that are far more fundamental to everyone’s well-being. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg has ruined many economies.

As usual, Dr. Sowell has it exactly right.