Ain’t that the truth

From a URL of an NY Times discussion:
“well-intentioned-regulators-can-harm-patients”
That’s an important truth you won’t read much in the Grey Lady. The article in question (A Rush to Pass Laws by Jamie Grifo) also has a neat use of consanguinity that I have never seen before.

Antibiotic resistance long predates man-made antibiotics

An analysis of 30,000-year-old bacteria whose DNA has been recovered from the Yukon permafrost shows that they were able to resist antibiotics….The ancient bacteria in the sediments turned out to contain all the major genes that enable modern bacteria to resist antibiotics, Dr. Wright reports in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature. He and his team grew the products specified by some of these ancient genes, showing that the resurrected proteins conferred resistance to antibiotics.

Researchers Find Antibiotic Resistance in Ancient DNA By NICHOLAS WADE

Also of interest

Dr. Blaser warned in an article in Nature last week that the natural bacterial community of the human gut, handed down from mother to child over thousands of generations, might have been severely degraded in the antibiotic era. He sees a possible connection between this impoverishment of human gut bacteria and the current epidemic of obesity in wealthy countries. Farmers feed antibiotics to promote animal growth, and the same thing may be happening inadvertently to the human population, Dr. Blaser wrote.

I’d be surprised that much antibiotics could survive in the meat and dairy to make it into the body. Still, a lifetime is long, and hundreds of pounds of meat and dairy are eaten each year, so it wouldn’t take much to have a cumulative effect. This shouldn’t be hard to test. Get some dogs or pigs, feed them diets of identical meat, dairy, and vegetable proportions but have one half consume animal proteins raised without antibiotics. Do they put on less weight as they age?

A new stop sign and the merits of roundabouts

I really enjoyed the roundabouts when was hanging out with my family in Massachusetts this summer.   I wish they’d come to California. Though the economic estimates from the talk seem high, there would be great returns to bringing some economic thinking to bear on road design. A program where the state governments would give localities grants to convert multiple stop sign intersections to roundabouts paid for out of gas tax revenues might be a good place to start. Or you could let the car companies fund such grants and give them credit against the CAFE automotive fuel efficiency requirements. Simply give them credit for improving car efficiency regardless of if the efficiency improvement is in the road or in the car. If the goal is to make all cars 10% more efficient, we shouldn’t actually care if Ford makes their cars 10% more efficient or another set of cars that much more efficient. Actually, since existing cars are on average dirtier and less efficient than new cars, improving the efficiency of cars on the road rather than just new cars would have a bigger impact on overall efficiency. Plus, I suspect converting  roads to roundabouts depreciates much more slowly than investments in more efficient cars, so the benefits would last longer for an additional dollar of spending. Maybe Mr. Obama, the Senate, and the House could make an alteration in the law to make this possible. Dare I suggest that such a project could be a stimulus project that would be deficit neutral?

If we want to further harness the power of markets, why not make them trade-able credits? TAFEC (Trade-able auto fuel economy credits) would be a great way to allow road construction specialists to make the desired fuel saving improvements which they could then turn around and sell in a competitive market to environmental groups and automotive manufacturers. I’d structure them a bit like bonds, where there are some assumptions on the rate of fuel savings taking general car efficiency (in the area or nation) as an argument, and as that parameter changes the credit towards CAFE would change. As the video points out though, there are large time savings from these improvements. From a fuel economy perspective these are positive externalities. To ensure the optimal provision, we might want state or federal grants or tax subsidies on these programs to get more on the margin.

 

Healthy as a standard, but a low one, on female orgasms

“The thinking behind the “male nipples” explanation, as I like to call it, is that women have the tissues and nerve pathways needed for orgasm simply because of their shared embryological origins with males, whose orgasms serve a clear evolutionary purpose. In other words, women have orgasms for the same reason men have nipples. On the face of it, the byproduct theory seems rather male-focused and maybe even anti-feminist. It falls right in step with the Freudian notion of women’s penis envy: Men have prominent, easily orgasmic members, while we ladies are stuck with our itty-bitty imitator, the clitoris.

But as Elisabeth Lloyd, a philosopher of biology, argued in her 2005 book “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,” “The real problem with this view is that it assumes that in order to be really important, female sexuality, and in particular female orgasm, must have been a direct target of natural selection among females. But there is no reason at all to think that only directly selected traits are ‘important.’” She points to examples of valued traits that aren’t directly selected: “refined musical ability, the ability to design rockets, and even the ability to read.”

On the other hand, it’s also possible that the byproduct view could actually support feminist efforts against the so-called medicalization of female pleasure. “If female orgasm is seen as having no particular evolutionary function, but rather as an evolutionary freebie, then many diagnoses of ‘Female Orgasmic Disorder’ would be out the window, and women anywhere on the spectrum of orgasmic performance might be seen as normal,” Lloyd writes in an upcoming article. She argues that this view, which she refers to as the “fantastic bonus” theory, has the benefit of casting “all women as equally ‘normal’ in their orgasmic responses to heterosexual intercourse. The account expects no particular ‘adaptive’ set of responses to intercourse, and thus privileges none.” Meaning, “women who don’t have orgasm at all are as normal as women who always have orgasm with intercourse.”
Why does the female orgasm exist? BY TRACY CLARK-FLORY

It is good to do away with Female Orgasmic Disorder, another manufactured ailment that describes no disease. Still, I would hold off the celebration for feminism. Even if something is not a disease still don’t have to like it about ourselves. Being slightly below average height or happiness doesn’t make someone a dwarf  or depressed, but most of those people like that would rather be taller and happier.  Even the examples in the article suffer from this. Almost everyone would prefer a child with the mental capacity to experience refined music, engineer rockets, and read to a child that could not, even if the child were otherwise healthy and happy. Sometimes healthy is not nearly good enough.

 

Disasters are personally unusual, but actuarially predictable

I agree with Cantor and Weigel, every year there are disasters, and so if the federal government is going to provide disaster mitigation services and financing,  it should be budgeted for. In the event of a disaster way beyond normal size, then we could have a special payment beyond that, but even large disasters happen with some regularity, and they too should be budgeted for. Whatever budget we collectively decide is the ethical and appropriate one, that’s the government’s budget and we should spend it optimally and transparently. If we have unexpected, short notice, high priority expenditures  the savings should be found elsewhere. In some situations this would warrant changing the size of the government budget, but generally speaking at least some of the new spending should be offset by reduced spending on older categories. For an interesting further discussion of this issue, see Krugman and  Landsburg. My take away is that given the high levels of current waste in government expenditures, there is no reason to think that the marginal cost  of cutting existing programs is greater than the costs of raising taxes.

A better way to load a plane

In simulation, existing methods of loading an airplane are found wanting:

“Steffen tested the efficiency of several different boarding procedures by sending 72 luggage-toting passengers into a movie-set Boeing 757. Among the boarding techniques tested was the zone/block style, where passengers fill the plane back to front, one large group at a time; WilMA, or Window, Middle, then Aisle (how the “l” got where it did is a mystery); and Steffen’s own procedure (imaginatively called “the Steffen method”), which incorporates both the other two techniques (see chart).”

The Plane Truth: Boarding by Rows Is the Worst Possible Way, Says Physicist

Which is neat, although I certainly recognize the difference between the simulation and what happens when real world complexity is added. Some level of baby, handicapped, and elderly accommodation is necessary, and there will always be latecomers. so no one knows how well this will do in practice. Still, the idea is neat, and deserves further testing. But a comment on the blogger’s comment about the article “But can you imagine how long it would take to get people to line up in the correct order in the first place?”. That doesn’t sound hard to me.  Just write down a boarding number in addition to the seat number. Then line up in the resulting order before boarding. Late comers are seated after the normal order is done.