Friday, April 25, 2014

Proposed Connecticut law

The legislature in Connecticut has paused in its campaign to drive every gun maker and ammunition producer out of the state (taking all their jobs with them) to take up a law that prohibits day care centers from providing 2% or whole milk to children over the age of two. Only skim or 1% milk can be served.

What are these people thinking? Even the Framingham Study, the "science" that launched the country on the "hate meat/hate fat/eat what Procter and Gamble processes" fad in the 1950's has had results  that indicate that people who ate natural foods like eggs, butter, whole milk and meat lived longer with fewer health problems. The head of that study, a doctor, called these long-term scientific results "disappointing" which ought to give you a clue. How can scientific data be disappointing?

The Framingham Study linked the intake of fat with "artery-clogging cholesterol." Science has pretty well discovered the connection is not there--other factors are much more important. The whole idea of eating "diet" and "low-fat" may, in fact, be a factor in causing obesity. As I have written here before, farmers fed hogs skim milk (actually, it was waste after the cream was separated) because they knew it would fatten them.

If they don't watch out, Connecticut is going to replace California as the home of bad ideas. Oh, and by the way, when you are doing "good" for the kids, how about exercise, portion control and fewer processed foods?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


When I was growing up, a rumor would often be repeated about a farmer who bootlegged and sold it to his brother who operated a bar in "South O" (South Omaha, a rough area then and now) by the stockyards. I started to write a story about that, and the research has led me to believe that it was probably just untrue.

The farmer was accused of shipping livestock to Omaha and returning with a truck full of sugar, the coveted "profitable backhaul." The sugar would be converted into alcohol, shipped back to Omaha with the next load of livestock, the brother would fill bottles with it and serve in his bar and taxes would be avoided.

Maybe it was feasible in the 1940's and 1950's, but right now the economics are not compelling--you would avoid Federal and state taxes of about $17.50 per gallon. The sugar involved would cost $5 or more, you should use distilled water, the yeast is about a dollar per gallon, and, even though the equipment is reusable to a large extent, there is a lot of labor involved. Plus ice. Your "gross margins" are not that great.

The glass fermentation vessels, the stainless steel mash pot and the sealed distillation vessel, the copper coil (without lead solder joints)...pretty soon you have quite a little investment. Just to make about a gallon of 80 proof (40%) liquor with virtually no taste--sort of a version of vodka--and avoid less that $20 of taxes.

Add on the risk of getting caught and the risk of poisoning somebody, and there accumulate a few disincentives. Not that those always deter lawbreakers. Part of the poison issue involves the collection and disposal of the first amounts produced during distillation. These first volatile substances are chemicals that vaporize at a lower temperature than ethanol, such as methanol and acetone. It is probably a good rule for humans to avoid drinking cleaning fluids.

Lead is quite a traditional culprit since some old timers used automobile radiators to condense the ethanol, and those radiators had lead-solder connections. Some plastic is often used today for the fermentation process that takes a while, and alcohol can react unfavorably with some plastics.

Better to go buy a whole bunch of cheap vodka at just over $20 per gallon, taxes included, and fool your patrons with that.

Nuts. I thought I might have a good story to relate, but after all is said and done, it isn't very plausible and good stories always have an element of "it could have happened that way." Maybe next time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Brandeis University has withdrawn its offer to bestow an honorary degree on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a renowned proponent of women's rights and a critic of the mistreatment of women in Islamic societies.

She was born in Somalia, victimized with genital mutilation as a youngster, fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage at a young age to a relative, and eventually served in the Dutch parliament. She wrote the script for a movie, "Submission," that was critical of Islamic treatment of women. The producer of that movie was murdered and the Muslim community declared that she was next, that she would be murdered. She now lives in the United States.
She was scheduled to receive the honorary degree until Islamist students and others created a petition, denounced her as a "notorious Islamophobe" and basically intimidated the administration with hate speech.  In addition, a group of 86 faculty members signed a letter to Dr. Frederick Lawrence, President of the university demanding that he rescind the invitation. He obeyed. Such cowardice.

The irony continues. The reason given for cutting her from the honorary degree was that her views did not match up with the "core values" of the university.

The university has bestowed honorary degrees on people such as Tony Kushner, who flatly stated that the creation of Israel as a Jewish State "was a mistake," who regularly accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing and of savagery and who blames the existence of the state of Israel for the "terrible peril in the world." Kushner received an honorary degree in 2006.

Then there is Desmond Tutu - a man widely revered for the work he did on behalf of South Africans, but who also is a rank anti-Semite. Tutu has compared Israel to Hitler, attacked the "Jewish lobby" as too "powerful" and "scary," he has sanitized the gas chambers of the Holocaust which he said made for a "neater death" than one under Apartheid, and he complained of the "Jewish monopoly of the Holocaust." He also insists that Jewish Holocaust victims should forgive the Nazis. Bishop Tutu received his honorary degree from Brandeis University in 2000.

One finds it difficult to accept that the views of Kushner and Tutu on the state of Israel are consistent with the "core values" of Brandeis University, founded by the Jewish community to provide a high quality education for Jews who were excluded from top universities by a quota system. But encouraging free speech, IS, or should be, a core value. One would expect that the administration of Brandeis University would pay lip service to "free speech," and "diversity" and "intellectual freedom," but their behavior indicates that they do not have the courage to actually support those "core values." Not when threatened by violent and fanatical opponents.

This is not the first time that campuses across the country have banned prominent people from speaking because their ideas may create discomfort. Last year I think it was Condoleezza Rice. To ban free speech anywhere is deplorable, but to do it on a public stage at a "liberal arts" university is one of the worst examples.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Baseball season is here, and this is a good story only tangentially connected with baseball. Sent to me by Jerry D, and I appreciate it much. One of Jerry's correspondents asked if the nuclear physicist mentioned in the article may have been the source of the pseudonym of the character on "Breaking Bad." I replied that I thought it was a good thought, in principle, but still uncertain.

When baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on tour in baseball-crazy Japan in 1934, some fans wondered why a third-string catcher named Moe Berg was included.

Ruth and Gehrig
The answer was simple: Berg was a US spy.
Speaking 15 languages - including Japanese - Moe Berg had two loves: baseball and spying.
In Tokyo, garbed in a kimono, Berg took flowers to the daughter of an American diplomat being treated in St. Luke's Hospital - the tallest building in the Japanese capital.
He never delivered the flowers.  The ball-player ascended to the hospital roof and filmed key features: the harbor, military installations, railway yards, etc.
Eight years later, General Jimmy Doolittle studied Berg's films in planning his spectacular raid on Tokyo.
Catcher Moe Berg
Berg's father, Bernard Berg, a pharmacist in Newark, New Jersey, taught his son Hebrew and Yiddish.  Moe, against his wishes, began playing baseball on the street aged four.
His father disapproved and never once watched his son play.  In Barringer High School, Moe learned Latin, Greek and French.
He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton - having added Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit to his linguistic quiver.
During further studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and Columbia Law School, he picked up Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian - 15 languages in all, plus some regional dialects.
While playing baseball for Princeton University, Moe Berg would describe plays in Latin or Sanskrit.
Tito's Partisans
During World War II, he was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assess the value to the war effort of the two groups of partisans there. 
He reported back that Marshall Tito's forces were widely supported by the people and Winston Churchill ordered all-out support for the Yugoslav underground fighter, rather than Mihajlovic's Serbians.
The parachute jump at age 41 undoubtedly was a challenge. But there was more to come in that same year.
Berg penetrated German-held Norway, met with members of the underground and located a secret heavy water plant - part of the Nazis' effort to build an atomic bomb.
His information guided the Royal Air Force in a bombing raid to destroy the plant.
Heavy Water Plant
There still remained the question of how far had the Nazis progressed in the race to build the first Atomic bomb. 
If the Nazis were successful, they would win the war. Berg (under the code name "Remus") was sent to Switzerland to hear leading German physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Laureate, lecture and determine if the Nazis were close to building an A-bomb.
Moe managed to slip past the SS guards at the auditorium, posing as a Swiss graduate student. The spy carried in his pocket a pistol and a cyanide pill.
If the German indicated the Nazis were close to building a weapon, Berg was to shoot him - and then swallow the cyanide pill.

Moe, sitting in the front row, determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal, so he complimented Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel.
Werner Heisenberg
He effectively blocked the Nazi efforts to make the A Bomb

Moe Berg's report was distributed to Britain's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and key figures in the team developing the Atomic Bomb.  Roosevelt responded: "Give my regards to the catcher."
Most of Germany's leading physicists had been Jewish and had fled the Nazis mainly to Britain and the United States. 
After the war, Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Merit - America's highest honor for a civilian in wartime. But Berg refused to accept, as he couldn't tell people about his exploits.
After his death, his sister accepted the Medal and it hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown,

March 2,1902-----May 29, 1972