Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Science: BPA Concerns May Have Been Overstated

One of the things about belonging to a professional society is that one can receive occasional news round-ups of items that might be of interest.

As someone who likes hiking, I heard about BPA in the context of Nalgene deciding to shift the making of their water bottles to plastics that do not contain BPA.

In their BPA FAQ Nalgene said this:
We are confident that the bottles which contain BPA are safe for their intended use. However, because of consumer requests for alternative materials, we have decided to transition our polycarbonate product line to Eastman Tritan™ copolyester. This product joins our family of bottles and containers made of various non-BPA materials such as HDPE, PP, LDPE and PET.
...
Based on the findings of the Food and Drug Administration, The Environmental Protection Agency, The European Food Safety Authority, The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, The Japan Ministry of Health, Labor & Welfare, The American Plastics Council and other reliable sources from around the world, we continue to firmly believe in the safety of our products containing BPA. However, we intend to carefully monitor the results of the National Toxicology Report and the Canadian government’s inquiry into this issue and any other relevant scientific information.


In a recent email news update from one of the scientific professional societies, there was a link to this item about BPA.

Excerpt:
“In a nutshell, says Teeguarden, “we can now say for the adult human population exposed to even very high dietary levels, blood concentrations of the bioactive form of BPA throughout the day are below our ability to detect them, and orders of magnitude lower than those causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.”

The study was entirely funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while the analytical work was duplicated by two other government laboratories to ensure extra rigor. The researchers used the latest and most sensitive techniques to find BPA as determined by the CDC (LC/MS/MS using on-line 2-dimensional liquid chromatography if you are curious). Moreover, the new study corroborates earlier independent studies which showed that BPA was rapidly absorbed, detoxified, and eliminated from humans.


I don't know how widely reported this study will be. But I pass it along via this blog to those who might have concerns about BPA. From a business perspective, does this mean BPA will once again be used?

As it is now, my current hiking water bottles are of the newer Nalgene BPA-free variety. Hopefully, there isn't some other chemical in those plastics that might be the subject of investigation in the future?!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Politics: Playing Debt Chicken or Is it a Poker Game?

That about sums it up.

Both sides want to avoid problems with the debt limit.

But each side wants something in exchange for raising the nations credit limit.

The Republicans want the growth of government to be slowed down and are using the debt limit as leverage.

The Democrats want the growth of government to continue and are using the debt limit as leverage.

Each side thinks the other will be blamed for any resultant economic chaos if the debt limit is not raised.

From a hard headed political perspective, the key is probably the Senate Democrats. They have the edge 53-47.

If those four votes can't be peeled off, the Democrats will blame the House Republicans for the failure.

But if four of them were to be swayed by an offer from the House, a deal would then pass the House and Senate leaving the White House with the burden of issuing a veto.


UPDATE: I made a terrible mistake in forgetting the culture of the Senate that manifests itself in the "cloture rule." Simply stated, debate can be closed (cloture) with a vote of 60. Thus, the deal making must bring over 7 Republican Senators.

In order for the House to reverse course, 26 Republicans have to switch which could happen but that is unlikely given that both sides of the House have pretty solid party discipline. Senators traditionally have been more willing to break the party line.

UPDATE: The current scenario is that the Speaker of the House will have to bring over Democrat house members to counter the no votes from the Tea Party Wing of the GOP House members.


It is a high stakes poker game and both sides have lousy cards but one side will take the pot when the blame falls on the other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Politics: CBO Projections as of June 2011

For your bed-time reading.

I haven't read the thing but I've skimmed a few sections here and there and I've looked at some of the graphs where as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Here are the ones that caught my eye.


The "Extended-Baseline Scenario" assumes that current tax and spending policies are not changed going forward. Thus, some tax cuts that are set to expire actually expire and some tax increases set to take place do become activated. Likewise, spending increases and decreases currently projected to occur become realized.

As you can see most spending remains steady except for the health care part of the budget (Medicare for elderly, Medicaid for poor, CHIP for children and Exchange subsidies for the newly passed 2010 health reform law) which looks to increase 2-3 fold.

The revenue line grows to 30% of the GDP to cover the increased spending.

The "Alternative Fiscal Scenario" is based on current tax and spending policies but assumes some of the tax increases expected to occur in the "Extended-Baseline Scenario" will not occur for obvious political reasons as well as tax cut expiration dates get pushed further into the future. Likewise, some of the spending cuts expected to occur in the "Extended-Baseline Scenario" do not occur for obvious political reasons.

As you can see the overall spending in this scenario grows just like the other one but the revenue line holds at 18%.

Thus, the key facts:
(1) Spending will go up in either scenario. The baseline scenario goes up slightly less compared to the alternative scenario probably because the alternative scenario assumes some promised spending cuts don't actually happen.

(2) Revenue as % GDP rises in the baseline scenario while it doesn't in the alternative scenario.

Is the rise in taxes assumed in the baseline scenario realistic?

Historically, how much taxes have we paid?

That is shown in the graph below.


Tax revenue has been remarkably flat in the last 40 years. It has been as low as 15% of GDP due to the recent economic downturn combined with tax cuts to try to revive the economy. It has been as high as 20% during the boom time of the 90s just before the double hit of recession and 9/11 in 2001.

Thus, the "Alternative Fiscal Scenario" that assumes ~ 18% GDP tax revenues is historically realistic.

Key policy question:
(1) Does the Federal government back off on the spending to match the more historically realistic revenue behavior of the last 40 years?
(2) Or does the Federal government go on a full-court press to explain that taxes need to rise in order to pay for the promised health benefits which account for the bulk of the growth of the government in the decades ahead?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Technology: Digital Radio

We all know about digital TV. A little while ago, the USA made the transition to digital only signals. Thus, all the old analog TVs became non-functional unless one connected a digital converter box.

Little did I know until recently there is a transition to digital radio taking place.

For the moment, analog signals will continue to be transmitted with the digital signals.

This process is also occurring in many other countries with each region adopting their own technology standard.

I have bought one of these gadgets to hear the new technology in action.

Pros:
The sound quality is indeed excellent.
The text information on the display can be informative.
The parallel channels are fun to pick up.

Cons:
The device is somewhat expensive though I would imagine audiophiles with nice stereo setups would enjoy the options available.
Though the number of stations broadcasting with digital signals is expanding, in practice there are only of handful of stations I like to listen to. Some of them haven't gone digital or if they have, the signal strength is insufficient such that the reception defaults to analog.

Outlook:
Radio devices are quite durable, I wonder how often does the average person buy a new radio?

When one does enter the market for a new radio, unless one is an audiophile wanting top notch sound or someone interested in new tech gadgets (like me), the price differential is a barrier to buying a digital capable unit.

Given that much radio listening is done while doing housework, working in the garage, or puttering around the yard, the quality of sound a digital signal could generate may not be worth the extra expense.

Thus, digital radio will remain niche until the price comes down substantially.

Non-profit of the month: July 2011 - Arise Africa Kershaw Challenge

Arise Africa is a non-profit started by some young Americans who wanted to do something to serve the people of Africa.

It isn't a big group but it is taking practical steps to serve.

I heard about the organization because as a Dodger fan, I get occasional email notes about what is happening with the team off-the-field in addition to the usual game updates.

In what has been a tough year for Dodger fans, one bright spot has been Clayton Kershaw, the ace of the pitching staff.

But my respect for him is heightened mostly because of one of his off-the-field commitments that has come to my attention.

His wife, Ellen had been a part of Arise Africa in her college years. During the off-season, after their wedding, they went together to participate in some of the work taking place there. As a result, upon their return, they set-up the Kershaw Challenge to raise funds for an orphanage.

I'm "pitching" in by donating to the cause and hope you will "step-up to the plate" too! 8-)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Politics: "Kinder and gentler" political rhetoric ... not ...

Geraghty points out latest from POTUS.

Quote emphasis by Geraghty:

President Obama, yesterday: "I’ve asked leaders of both parties and both houses of Congress to come here to the White House on Thursday so we can build on the work that’s already been done and drive towards a final agreement. It’s my hope that everybody is going to leave their ultimatums at the door, that we’ll all leave our political rhetoric at the door."

President Obama, today: "The debt ceiling should not be something that is used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners, for oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars because the price of gasoline has gone up so high."

Monday, July 04, 2011

Theology: Re-imagining the American Experience

What are the virtues of the American story?

I think Dennis Prager puts it pretty well in the video item below.



To summarize:
Liberty
We are free to pursue our dreams and to go as far in life as hard work and good luck will take us.

E pluribus unum
“From many, one.” Unlike other countries, America is composed of people of every religious, racial, ethnic, cultural and national origin. Out of many people we become one people – Americans.

In God we trust
America was founded on the belief that our rights and liberties have been granted to us by the Creator.

America is far from a perfect place and we have our share of troubles. However, these virtues have meant a great amount to our country and has helped build much good in it.

However, the clear weakness of America in recent decades has been the over-emphasis on the accumulation of wealth and the willingness among some to break rules to do so.

As a follower of Jesus, how might I re-imagine the American narrative bringing it under the Lordship of Christ?

I found myself drawn to St. Paul's letter to the Galatians.

If we speak of liberty as a virtue then we who call Jesus Lord need to heed the following:
Galatians 5:13
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.


If we acknowledge "e pluribus unum" and the great melting pot of America, then we must rise to the challenge of loving our neighbor who may or may not share our religious or political beliefs nor share common cultural traditions or personal interest. As St. Paul put it bluntly:
Galatians 5:14-15
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.


And finally, if in God we trust is to have its fullest expression in us as followers of Christ then we need to yield totally to the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


The "spirit of the age" has made the acquisition of wealth the central aim. We need the antidote that an attitude of service, the priority of love and the working of the Holy Spirit can provide.

As we celebrate July 4 and the founding of America, let us do so with thanksgiving but also prayerfulness for our citizenship is to the even higher calling of the Kingdom of God!

Culture: Putting the American Dream on the Psychologist's Couch

I suppose every culture has a heroic narrative of itself. It can be reflected in their national anthems or in their unofficial anthems.

For the British, it probably would be "Jerusalem."

For Americans, it can be any number of songs like "God Bless America," "America, the Beautiful," Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," or Neil Diamond's "Coming to America."

Conversations about the merits of the American Dream and the idea of American Exceptionalism have been made difficult by binary thinking: America is the Great Satan or America is a Christian Nation.

Like most things in the world, America is a mix of good and bad.

But having said that, America is pretty unique as a beacon of liberty (economic and religious) such that people for centuries have taken great efforts to immigrate here.

Also unique is the melting pot of America where in many parts of the world such a mix of ethnic groups and religious ideas would lead to outright fighting in the streets.

And finally, the notion that humans have rights given by a Creator has propelled America forward in advancing freedoms here in the USA and the nation's willingness to support freedom in other parts of the world.

Here below is a video describing the above three ideas of "liberty," "e pluribus unum" and "in God we trust."



Happy Birthday America!