Friday, February 27, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: Endless Winter Never Ends

Happy Friday!
[W]ith a strong enough electric field, Magneto can disrupt any object made from ordinary matter by converting it into a plasma of electrons and nuclei, thus destroying it. However, Graviton can create a black holearound any object that will also destroy it. In fact, if Graviton creates a black hole around Magneto, it would not only destroy him by taking him out of our universe but also eliminate any ability for him to project his electromagnetic field out of the black hole, since nothing can escape from a black hole. However, a black hole can support a static electric charge, so if Magneto is quick enough, he could create a big enough charge on his body so that the black hole would be charged—and in fact, if the charge is large enough it could prevent the black hole from forming, since for a given mass of black hole there is a maximum charge for a black hole of that mass. In this case, Graviton would just have to increase the mass of the black hole he is trying to create faster than Magneto can increase the charge and a black hole would eventually form. Once it is formed, Magneto would not be able to add any more charge to the black hole, so that would be the end of that.
I love this so much.  There’s even a bit in the full explanation about the Law of Conservation of Energy, noting that if these guys aren’t immune to that law, their powers are much less powerful.  However, I think this fight is less interesting because it ignores Newton’s laws.  If we keep their powers on a scale with the energy in the human body, these guys are less mind-bendingly powerful while still possessing abilities that are extremely useful.  That would be more compelling in the long run, not less.
Also: I hate that movies and comics let Magneto use his powers to affect metals that aren’t reactive to magnetism, like aluminum and lead.  Similarly, pop media never show him using his powers to generate electric fields.  As the article points out, this ought to be an important aspect of Magneto’s abilities.
The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.
This is the most quintessentially American article I’ve read all year.  We’ve identified the problem, studied it to determine exactly what the likely impact will be, and have a good idea what steps we could take to prevent the issue from recurring, but…  Nothing is going to happen because the political will to prevent stupidity doesn’t exist, nor are Americans paying enough attention to force change.  
3. Friday Hair Metal: Dio

The settlement, which comes as Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to leave the DOJ, is the latest in a string of Wall Street banks striking financial agreements for their role in inflating the housing bubble that sent the U.S. economy tumbling into the Great Recession. “Other large banks have already struck similar settlements, with Bank of America agreeing to pay a record $16.7 billion last year and JPMorgan Chase settling for $13 billion in 2013,” the New York Times reports. “Compared with other Wall Street banks, Morgan Stanley was responsible for a smaller volume of securities backed by troubled mortgages, the investments at the heart of the settlements.”
I don’t know how many people are interested in this, but from the article, the punishment in question was for securitizing loans based on sub-prime mortgages and then selling them as higher quality assets than the banks knew them to be.  You can buy bonds which pay interest based on other peoples’ mortgage payments, and as a matter of full disclosure, I’ve done exactly that a time or two myself.  Although I’m currently invested heavily in stocks—and much less heavily in bonds because we’re waiting now for a rate hike to cut the value of bonds significantly—this wasn’t true until recently.  Prior to that, bonds were relatively more attractive than stocks, at least on an asset-price basis anyway, which is why I had most of my portfolio in bonds immediately before and in the years immediately after 2008.  
Regardless, a bond security—or a fund of bond securities, which is what you’re more likely to see outside of the actual financial industry—is only worth something if the borrowers whose loans make up the basis of the security are likely to pay back their loans.  In the cases in question, the big banks were bundling shitty loans into shitty securities but then passing them off as high quality assets via fraudulent asset ratings and claims.  Whole sectors of the economy then bought into what would otherwise have been a relatively narrow window of risk for a very specific sector of the finance industry, spreading the risk from housing defaults across the entire economy.  Hence the crisis of 2008.  
The upside of spreading that risk was that it generated liquidity, allowing more people access to the housing market.  The downside was an unstable rise in capital asset prices, most notably home prices.  I’ve long believed that this kind of capital asset price inflation has taken the place of traditional price inflation in the modern economy because of the increasing concentration of wealth on a global scale, but if this belief is widespread, I’ve never seen anyone else own up to it.  
To put it another way, every country on earth cannot simultaneously print money to stimulate their economies without creating global price inflation.  And they aren’t.  Most folks just aren’t seeing the inflation because it’s not coming in the form of gas prices or consumer goods’ prices, and it’s limited in its impacts to food prices.  Instead, we’re seeing capital asset price inflation, most especially in the stock markets but also in housing and in other asset prices as well.  Ultimately this leads to even more concentration of wealth, but it’s an invisible concentration because most folks aren’t seeing how substantially the value of the money that they already have has declined on a relative scale.  Add stagnated wages to this, and… well, the rich have really been getting a lot richer.  We knew that, of course, but I don’t think many folks understand the mechanisms behind it.
[S]ome drug safety experts questioned why the Food and Drug Administration so swiftly approved the drug for binge eating — seeking little outside input — despite the fact that, for decades, amphetamines, which suppress the appetite, were widely abused as a treatment for obesity.
One prominent eating-disorder specialist said that although Vyvanse showed promise, other treatments, like talk therapy, had more research behind them…
The marketing strategy for Vyvanse, like that of Adderall, sheds light on how pharmaceutical companies seek to influence the diagnosis and treatment of a medical condition — in an effort to make billions of dollars in sales — even in the face of concerns about potential dangers of a drug.
I don’t know much about Binge Eating Disorder, but I remember feeling marked skepticism when Sally and I first saw the soon-to-be-iconic Monica Seles TV commercial for Vyvanse a few nights ago.  Is this really a real thing, or is this—as the NY Times seems to believe—a made up condition, created as a way to increase the market for an extant, already profitable drug?  Vyvanse is an addictive amphetamine that’s currently in use as a treatment for ADHD.  Amphetamines are also a potential—if dangerous—treatment for obesity, though for obvious reasons they aren’t as good as simply adopting better eating and exercise habits are.
Slate ran an article this week by writer L.V. Anderson in which it seemed pretty clear that she, at least, developed Binge Eating Disorder as a matter of learned behavior based on self-esteem and body image problems, combined with highly ineffective and dangerous dieting.  She began binging on her diet’s “cheat” days, and the habit got totally out of hand, leading to real health problems.  In effect, she trained her body to binge and then lost control.  But then…
I still don’t totally know why, or how, I stopped binge eating, although I can name a few likely contributing factors. I started seeing a therapist after college, which gave me a safe way to vent my embarrassment and make the connection between my eating habits and my unrealistic expectations for myself in other areas of my life. I started writing about food, which transformed my unhealthy preoccupation with food into a healthier one—once you make a hobby (in my case, thinking about food) your job, it loses a lot of its mystique. I became interested in feminism, which helped me realize how much I’d bought into the widespread cultural message that women only have worth if they’re thin, and then in the fat-acceptance movement, which debunked the moral judgments I’d made about fat. I very gradually let go of the idea that I had to control my eating, which paradoxically made it much easier to control my eating.  
Being honest, this does not make me believe in a unique psychiatric disorder called “Binge Eating Disorder”.  Rather, it makes me think that binge eating can be the result of other issues in a person’s life, issues in which binge eating manifests as a symptom.  I don’t say this to minimize anyone’s suffering.  I merely want to reflect the reality that treatment works best when it addresses root causes, not ancillary symptoms.  
It’s worth noting that the assertion in the Times’s article is borne out by Anderson’s experience; she got help through talk therapy and cognitive behavioral changes.  I don’t know that this makes the drug Vyvanse less effective, but it certainly implies that there are other, non-drug treatments that have shown themselves to be at least equally effective.
As always, buyer beware.
This is the Winter from Hell, the Winter That Never Ends.  I’m sick of it.  It’s really, really depressing.  
This winter is fucking
endless, messing with my mind.
Bikes hate icy roads
Have a good weekend.


  1. They've always had to write Graviton as having some kind of mental/emotional hang-up or else he'd be basically invincible.

    It's funny, I (semi-jokingly) used to wonder with a friend if I had a binge-eating disorder, but at the time online research indicated that anorexia and bulimia were basically the only recognized eating disorders.

    1. I hadn't really thought about it, but that's totally true. The one exception I can think of is the inaugural story arc of the West Coast Avengers. That team had Iron Man (Rhodey) and Wonder Man, and it was one of my favorites for a long time.

      As far as eating, I don't know what to say about that besides noting that triathlon is undoubtedly a better way to treat any potential issue than is taking amphetamines.