Category Archives: Business

The Science of Food and Energy

I wonder what the anti-GMO crowd will have to say about vegetables grown in space. The Independent reports that “Astronauts on the International Space Station will sit down to a very special meal tomorrow as they become the first people to ever eat vegetables grown on the station itself.” NASA scientists in charge of the Veg-01 experiment believe that growing and consuming fresh produce in space will confer both physical and psychological benefits on the astronauts, and they also see implications for improving “urban plant factories and agricultural practice designed to use electrical light sources and practice water conservation.”

Physical and psychological benefits of consuming healthful food? Don’t tell that to scientists recently funded by Coca-Cola. The soft-drink company reportedly donated $1.5 million to start the Global Energy Balance Network, an organization led by exercise scientists and dedicated to promoting the view that exercise is more important than diet in avoiding obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Hmmm. “Really virtually”? And he also had to add an “in fact” to the sentence? I think the Coca-Cola funded scientist doth protest too much.

Sugar is well known to be detrimental to human health. This recent article, for example, counts on readers to understand that, when scientists say that soybean oil is even worse for you than sugar, this is something you should heed. I have been blessed with a good metabolism that has allowed me to consume carbs with relatively little effect on my weight (thanks mom and dad!), but even with my metabolism I see that what I eat has much more of an effect on my weight and energy than does the amount of exercise I get. And that says nothing about the effect of carbs, particularly sugar, on the body’s all-too-precarious and little understood, in my opinion, balance of hormones and other life-sustaining chemicals (adrenals, thyroid, etc., etc.).

There may be some truth to the group’s assertion that many Americans are too fixated on the number of calories they consume, and that many would be healthier if they got more exercise. But if their message is, “Don’t worry, enjoy your sugary sodas. You can exercise it off,” then they are doing everyone a disservice. Not only is sugar bad for the body, but so is the type of exercise many use to burn it off: steady-state cardio. (See this article, which explains how steady-state cardio exercise, such as running, depletes muscle, tricks the body into retaining fat, and interferes with proper thyroid function.)

I have never been a big soda consumer, particularly in recent years as I’ve come to understand the effect of both sugary and reduced-calorie sodas on my health. Still, I’m somewhat sympathetic with Coca-Cola’s plight. Why? Because the company’s primary motivation for funding the Global Energy Balance Network is government intervention:

This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.

“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

This is one of many instances in which we can agree with the position that governments are taking on an issue, while at the same time maintaining that government has no place interfering. (Gay marriage, anyone?)

Speaking of being out of place, how about the group of 29 U.S. scientists who took it upon themselves to write a letter to President Obama praising the Iran “deal”? In a News Sandwich, I am supposed to deliver only one bad news story on a particular theme, but this is another example of scientists acting, not in service of human life, but against it. The letter, reports the New York Times, “praises the technical features of the Iran accord and offers tacit rebuttals to recent criticisms on such issues as verification and provisions for investigating what specialists see as evidence of Iran’s past research on nuclear arms.” Only tacit rebuttals, because these scientists are not able to refute arguments by, e.g., the Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo, that the content of any “deal” with Iran is meaningless because this regime, a leading sponsor of terrorism controlled by totalitarian theocrats, cannot be trusted.

I’d much rather see this group of 29 top nuclear scientists working on ways to provide us clean, plentiful, inexpensive nuclear energy. I’m still waiting for my Coca-Cola-can-sized, residential nuclear reactor that will free me of dependence on government-imposed monopolies. But while many of us work to change the culture to one that will legalize true energy innovation, we will have to be content with those technological advances, made possible by science, that are still legal.

Here’s one for which entrepreneurs will, no doubt, find numerous applications: iSkin, which is

A skin-worn sensor that turns the human body into a touch sensitive surface for controlling mobile devices has been developed by scientists in Germany. iSkin is made from biocompatible silicone rubber with pressure-sensitive sensors that are stuck to the skin of the users, allowing them to use their own body to control mobile devices.

One of the scientists “also hopes that it could one day be possible to incorporate an energy-harvesting system that would power iSkin via the wearer’s body.”

I wonder if the iSkin scientists could team up with Coca-Cola’s scientists and see if they can suck out the calories we consume in sugary soda? Would that qualify as “sustainable energy”?

I’m off to write my Patent Application now…

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The Private Sector Reigns Supreme…Again

Good news for Apple fans: the company’s mobile operating system, iOS, as well as its new iPhone 6 devices, feature beefed-up levels of default encryption and–to the horror of our federal government’s “Justice” department–no “back door.” Zack Whittaker of ZDNet argues that the “feds only have themselves to blame” for Apple (and also Google) beefing up their smartphone encryption, because the federal government has failed to scale back the NSA’s bulk metadata collection in any significant fashion. I agree, and I also agree with Whittaker’s (and others’) disappointment in the Washington Post editorials echoing “Justice”‘s call for a “back door” and arguing for a “compromise” on encryption.

Yes, government should be able to compel the production of evidence when it has probable cause and particularized suspicion (and follows procedures appropriate for the context). But government should not be able to compel manufacturers of devices to do its job, to make it unnecessary for the government to approach the device owner directly with the warrant. As Yaron Brook alluded to on Facebook yesterday, it is great to see the profit motive encouraging companies to cater to customers’ privacy preferences.

[Also notable: this story about Twitter suing the U.S. government over limits on its ability to disclose surveillance orders, something about which Apple has also complained.]

Now, if only Apple could figure out a simple and elegant solution to the threats posed by ISIS and Ebola…

The news on Ebola is getting worse, as we learn that a nurse in Spain–who presumably knows what precautions to take and has the materials necessary to take them–contracted the disease while treating two patients who had been brought to Spain for treatment. The nurse’s husband and two others have reportedly now also been placed in quarantine. The Los Angeles Times published a speculative piece, in which one expert opined that “We just don’t have the data to exclude [the possibility of Ebola spreading by air in close quarters].” While it’s natural to worry about a disease that seems to be killing more than half of those who contract it, we need to keep in mind that the assertion about the possibility of airborne Ebola is arbitrary–there is no evidence to support it and therefore it should be dismissed–unless and until such evidence materializes.

While we wait for more information on the transmission of Ebola, it is heartening to read of the Firestone plantation in Liberia, where the tire manufacturer has applied determination and common sense to the task of containing the Ebola outbreak, with great success. “[E]ven as the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded rages all around them, Firestone appears to have blocked the virus from spreading inside its territory.”

It is not surprising to me that a private company has outperformed governments in containing Ebola. In fact, while our own government should likely be doing more–temporary travel restrictions or enhanced screening–to combat the current outbreak, preventing the spread of disease is not a routine government function. Firestone realizes that it is crucial for the success of their plantation in Liberia effectively to contain the virus, and they have acted accordingly. (HT Rick Wilmes, who brought the Firestone story to my attention.)

What is a proper government function, however, is defending citizens against threats of physical force from enemies foreign and domestic. And it is here that the Obama administration’s default is most concerning. ISIS continues to behead western journalists and threaten the beheading of veterans and active members of the military. They are harassing military members and their families via social media. ISIS supporters have even managed to place their graffiti in Washington, D.C. And yet our President and his Secretary of State continue to evade the nature of the threat, or its origin, saying it has nothing to do with Islam and, apparently, everything to do with Syrian rebels needing our assistance.

Thankfully we have some Americans who are willing to speak the truth about the nature of the threat we face. The most unapologetic and outspoken critic of ISIS and Islam of late is, surprisingly, a liberal who most likely would not want to be included in a post praising the private sector: Bill Maher. Here’s the latest in a long series of Maher’s excellent commentary on Islam and the danger it poses:

Check the Real Time account on YouTube for more commentary by Maher, and join me in thanking him for speaking out and telling the truth when no one in our government seems to be able to.

You might also enjoy this from a few years ago: Maher’s “Muslim Dior” fashion show:

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When Government Offers You Lemons, Grow Avocados

In North Carolina there has been a surge in home schooling that is attributed, in this article by EAGnews.org, to parents’ rejection of the Common Core curriculum. According to the article, there has been a 27-percent increase in the number of home schools since 2011-12, and the number of children attending home schools now exceeds the number attending private schools. The best news is that over 180,000 children in North Carolina are attending either private schools or home schools, and therefore are not being indoctrinated by government schools.

I hope that, even when North Carolina makes the changes to the curriculum discussed in the article, parents keep their kids out of the government schools. One reason they’d be likely to do this is that they have already overcome the anxieties and obstacles associated with starting the homeschooling process, so they’re already more comfortable with it. Parents everywhere need to realize that Common Core is just the latest step in the government takeover of education; what existed before Common Core likely wasn’t much better in terms of content or pedagogy. More importantly the government school system, founded upon compulsory taxation and other forms of government force, was just as immoral before Common Core. For more on this topic, read “The New Abolitionism” by C. Bradley Thompson.

If only there were an analogous alternative for those of us wishing to escape the effects of Obamacare! (Unless you are a doctor who can afford his own hospital equipment and hire a private nursing staff, home medicine is not a realistic alternative.)

Fox News reports that a (slim) majority of Americans continue to oppose Obamacare. But this is little comfort to those companies who want to continue to offer quality health insurance to their employees while avoiding the so-called “Cadillac Tax.” In order to avoid the tax, employers are “shifting workers into plans with higher deductibles,” and “increas[ing] premiums for spouses who have access to other plans.”

From the article:

Robert Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates said he doubted many will end up paying the tax.

“What we’re finding is almost no employers are going to be hit by this ‘Cadillac tax.’ You’d be stupid to get hit by this ‘Cadillac tax,’” he said. “They’re all cutting their benefits right now.”

Already the “Cadillac tax” has been delayed, due to pressure from unions and other groups with political pull. Between the delay, and the fact that employers are cutting plans to avoid the tax, government won’t be getting the revenue it projected, which means Obamacare will cost a lot more than we were told it would. Nothing new for government, unfortunately.

A bit of good news from China: an entrepreneur there has modeled the solution to the problem of minimum wage hikes: cute robots that cook and deliver food in restaurants, each costing only $6,500. In China, that’s “roughly equal to the salary of a human employee.” Here, the salary of an employee is over twice that. Moreover, according to the robots’ inventor, restaurant owner Song Yugang, “The robots can understand 40 everyday sentences. They can’t get sick or ask for vacation. After charging up for two hours they can work for five hours.”

So, while I completely support the option some restaurants are choosing–adding a “minimum wage surcharge” to their tabs to show customers the effect of minimum wage increases–these cute robots make the same point in a way that avoids confrontation, and saves the employer a lot of money and headaches.

Bonus: you don’t have to buy a healthcare plan, “Cadillac” or otherwise, for a robot 🙂

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