Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Food poverty

Money is money. The invention of money - a universal medium of exchange - created wealth partly because it made life easier. If you've ever tried living cash-free, in a LETS scheme for example, you'll find your fellow anti-capitalists are heavy on aroma-therapists and light on plumbers. LETS = Local Exchange Trading System. If you ever get help from your neighbour and they refuse payment, you'd better be prepared to have them demand your first-born at a really inconvenient (to you) time in the future. Those reciprocal favours are really important social glue but quite hard to assign a monetary value. I wish there was more demand for help with biology or statistics in the deeply rural community where we live. Then I'd be able to add value to the exchange. I'm glad my firstborn has escaped because when he spent some time with us 15 years ago he was requested-and-required to paint a concrete fence across the bottom of our neighbour's yard . . . and I felt morally obliged to help him.

In January I confessed to being too thick to understand the concept of fuel poverty as distinct from, well, poverty. If the government was going to eradicate it, surely they would give recipients money which it would be hard to ensure got spent on bags of coal. Old Age Pensioners, for example, get €9.00 / week extra as Fuel Allowance between October and March. But that just gets added to Pat the Salt's General Account. Fair enough: four pounds of butter inside might be as valuable as bales of briquettes outside: not least because he doesn't have an open fire-place!

Now the idea of Food Poverty has sailed over my horizon and I sense that this is as equally suspect as Fuel Poverty in that all poverty is fungible (= mutually interchangeable). There is no Euro in a purse that is for dinner and another that may only be spent on heating. They have at least defined their terms. You suffer Food Poverty if you are
  • Unable to afford a meal with meat, or vegetarian equivalent, every second day;
  • Unable to afford a weekly roast dinner (or vegetarian equivalent); and
  • Missing one substantial meal in the last fortnight due to lack of money.
All three must apply to count as Food Poverty. We know that it is harder to eat well if you are poor. Salads are more expensive than hambugger and frozen pizza. Eating crap is bad for you but it is also bad for the state, which will have to treat and manage your obesity and diabetes, so it is worth putting money into getting proper food on the plates of all out citizens. But I don't find Food Poverty to be helpful either a) in the debate or b) in the solution. This is not denying that hunger is a problem among the poor, especially in dog-eat-dog societies without a welfare state. Check out this thread explaining the difference between being poor and being broke. Broke is better.

In 2013, Mandate and Unite, the two big trade unions, commissioned a report on Food Poverty, and summarised the data in the peculiar map below. They chose to scale the size of the labels by the absolute numbers in each of the 26 counties. Dublin's 112,300 is bigger than Leitrim's 3,400 . They must believe that the geographical location of food poverty is somehow useful or informative.
The Journal picked up the press release running the story under the same map and drew this conclusion "The map shows Dublin fares worst with 112,300 people suffering food poverty. Larger counties like Cork and Galway follow close behind, with 50,500 and 25,300 people in need of assistance respectively." That jangled my crap-detector alarm because it implies that cities have a worse problem with food poverty than small towns and rural communities. It might be true: you might have a bucolic image of peasants at least being able to have some drills of spuds, fruit in the hedgerows and snaring a rabbit or two for Sunday dinner. But I thought it called for some analysis.
County FoodPov Pop County FoodPov Pop
Carlow 5,800 56,875 Longford 4,300 40,810
Cavan 8,000 76,092 Louth 12,500 128,375
Clare 12,400 118,817 Mayo 14,000 130,425
Cork 50,500 542,196 Meath 18,900 194,942
Donegal 18,700 158,755 Monaghan 7,000 61,273
Dublin 112,300 2,137,639 Offaly 8,900 78,003
Galway 25,300 258,552 Roscommon 6,900 64,436
Kerry 16,000 147,554 Sligo 6,800 65,357
Kildare 20,200 222,130 Tipperary 16,300 160,441
Kilkenny 10,500 99,118 Waterford 11,800 116,401
Laois 8,800 84,732 Westmeath 9,300 88,770
Leitrim 3,400 31,972 Wexford 15,500 149,605
Limerick 18,500 195,175 Wicklow 14,000 142,332
These data are remarkably, almost absurdly, well correlated: r = 0.98 which is more clearly indicated in a scatterplot:
The take home from this is two-fold. 1) the food poor are always with us: the number of people who suffer is very close to 10% of the population in every county except Dublin. 2) in the Capital, (the lonely dot in the top right corner of the graph) there is about half as much food poverty as elsewhere. In other words is would be better to scale the labels the other way round: Dublin's Food Poverty is only 112,300 while Leitrim's is3,400. Did I mention FoodCloud? I did, last December. One of our active neighbours signed up for this a couple of years ago and is the contact for the local ALIDL store. They will call her to say that they have 50 turkeys, or six boxes of tiramisu, or some really weird exotic cake which no normal Irish person would buy. She will drop by after work and load as much of the At Sell-By Date food as can fit in her Nissan Micra and then drop it all off at a couple of Traveller halting sites, a few households of indigent Romanians and the young chap with epilepsy. For people with no spare cash and probably a generous shaking of debt, this appearance of food, even peculiar food, is viewed as manna from heaven. That's a lot sounder that carrying the unsellable food out to a dumpster and locking the trap-door.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A new form of divination

I R 5 today!! On 21st May 2013 I posted an interesting historical document about how the genetic code was worked out and why UUU is given pride of place in the codon table. On 22nd May, I sank back exhausted (maybe because I was busy marking exams . . . or dagging sheep). On 23rd May 2013 I went all peculiar on myself and wrote about underwear. Since that date, I have posted something on The Blob every day, an unbroken stream of sense and nonsense. It looks like I put nothing up on 19th July 2016 but that was a cock-up on the scheduling front and whatever I wrote & posted that day was attached to an earlier date.
Insofar as normal people blog, they blog about their lives; The Blob has become my life, like the . Richard Herring, comedian and commentator has written something every day since 2002 on his Warming Up blog. He does it to prevent writer's block. For me it's so I know that I did something today. It is also a record; eventually everything I can remember will be captured here. The real benefit is in the nature of "if you want something done, ask a busy man": because The Daily Blob has now become a tail wagging the dog 'necessity', I am kept in a state of mental alertness. A Blob a Day before breakfast works as well as a cold bath at that time works well for Protestants: invigorating, cheap and effective.

To celebrate/mark 365*5+1 (for 29 Feb 2016) = 1826 days, I have discovered / invented a new form of divination to tell us what will happen in the future. You may forget scrutinising the tea-leaves or your Daily Mail horoscope or watching a yak butter lamp guttering in a Tibetan cave. What you need to do is click on to the Protein database and ask that Oracle for guidance. I entered:
"1826 [slen]"
and picked the most meaningful [Wiz! you couldn't make this up] of the 2213 proteins which Entrez delivered as being 1826 amino acids in length:
>XP_015453711.1 protein Wiz isoform X2 [Pteropus alecto]
That's a DNA-binding protein called Wiz Widely Interspaced Zinc Finger Motifs from Pteropus alecto the black flying fox: the GoTo fruit-bat.
With the help of Wa-Kan-Tanka, the Great Turps Substitute, I believe [alleluia] this tells what the future holds. The thing is that proteins are made of 20 different amino acids, each of which has it's own single-letter code.  The Oracle writes messages in this code and those who seek can find the true answer to their questions.
  • I know this message is for me because it starts off flagging three different mammalian species all of which have featured in The Blob: seal Phoca vitulina,  rats Rattus norvegicus, hare Lepus europaeus
  • Then we have: a aasgl glass a Harp feed a day repeated. I take as a  recommendation to remain mildly liquored up with Irish lager.
  • Then: Verdict, harsh, harsh, real harsh. Like the Sybils or the Oracle at Delphi this Word of Wiz can seem obscure but ultimately has meaning to those who seek the truth. It is clearly a salutary warning that more than three glasses at a sitting may have head-achy consequences
  • Finally: He's easily a sage [or saggy?] silver piss-pot must be warning that as I age [silverback] I may become awkwardly incontinent, especially if I drink quantities of lager shortly before bed.
Well that's me warned!. I am mindful of Mark Twain's advice about writing (for a living): "Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for".  I am indeed sawing more wood every day - it will be a long cold Winter

Monday, 21 May 2018

calcium is vital

More than 35 years ago I resolved never to sit another written exam again, ever. I devoutly wish that I didn't have to set and mark any exams either, but that change would be far too radical for The Institute. Nevertheless, I operate an, almost effective, No Child Left Behind policy: I make it very difficult for students to fail. To do this, I try to deconstruct the examination process and make it transparent. Listen up!: I don't like mondays marking; I want to make it as easy as possible for me; I don't expect long literate essays, least of all from my Polish students; I am likely to examine any idea that can be compressed into a list of at least four bullet points. One such feedback-loop is recalling the four functions of bone:
  • muscle-attachment and movement
  • protecting soft tissue: skull, thorax
  • calcium reservoir
  • making blood cells in the bone marrow
Calcium Ca is the third of the physiological cations (positively charged molecules) after sodium Na and potassium K. Clearly, especially according to the Milk Marketing Board, Ca is important for bone strength, the matrix of which is calcium phosphate. But calcium's physiological importance pre-dates vertebrates and all living things are avid for the stuff which is generally in short supply in the environment. It was therefore  a nifty trick to solve the engineering problem of movement by making the rigid struts out of calcium phosphate . . . so you could truck your own supply of calcium about so it was available for nervous and muscular activity. Why calcium is used as a trigger for nervous transmission and muscle contraction is lost in the mists of time but so used it is. Nerves and muscles have evolved so that they need just the right amount of calcium to be available and so homeostatic mechanisms have developed to ensure that this balance is just right like Goldilock's porridge.

The key is that there are two complementary hormones that control the amount of calcium circulating in the blood. You have a gland in your neck called the thyroid [prev], it is pink but it has cells of at least two distinct types, so distinct that someone named the minority type the parathyroid gland - not glands even though there are four clusters of parathyroid cells embedded in the thyroid but producing a hormone, memorably called PTH parathyroid hormone. These cells are not yellow despite being coloured so for clarity in the cartoon thyroid in a mnemonic picture at the top of this post. Other cells of the thyroid proper make another hormone called calcitonin. When blood calcium falls below a threshold, PTH is released. There are cells embedded in bone called osteoclasts which are sensitive to PTH and dissolve the calcium phosphate matrix and leach calcium into circulation. When blood calcium is too high calcitonin is released which triggers activity in another sort of bone cell called osteoblasts whose job it is to scavenge calcium and phosphate from the blood and build more bone with them. It is, like all normal Hum Phys, exquisitely finely balanced . . . until it isn't: clearly something has gone wonk if you suffer from osteoporosis. So this is what we know in the world of bullet-point learning:
Blood calcium Too low Too high
Hormone PTHcalcitonin
Gland ParathyroidThyroid
Bone cell osteoClast osteoBlast
Bone matrix Crush Down Build Up
Blood calcium raised lowered
Geddit? PC TB
For me and my expensive education, I associate osteoclast with iconoclast - an image breaker but that won't be helpful for my pharmacy technicians. There you are: two likely exam questions knocked off in one Blob:
Q1. Describe how calcium balance is regulated in human physiology.
Q2. What are the four functions of bone?
In the belt-and-braces way that is so typical of the effect of hormones, PTH affects not only the osteoclasts in bone but also the gut which is thereby primed to absorb more calcium as it passes through. And remember that vitamin-D's other name is calciferol and that it's also involved in calcium balance. But for answering Summer Exam questions for Human Physiology, let's keep it cartoon simple.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

No means Yes

Repeal the Eighth News.
You have to give tribs to the opposition for getting their message out on the face of Ben Bulben just round the corner from where William Butler Patriarchy lies buried  . . . or not buried - probably not.
Until it was removed [CENSORSHIP!! no fair etc.] the sign was seen by the plain people of Donegal and Sligo as they horseman passed by; then got another bite at the publicity cherry when the Yes side expressed outrage on Twitter and in the press. But there's no point in getting angry if you can get even; and the Irish way is to pffffft deflate the pretensions of the other side rather than punching them or setting fire to their homes. The power of photoshop has been mobilised to change the message
  • Does my bum look big in this? NO
  • I ViNO
  • kNObs
  • ☑ YES ☐ NO
  • BONO
  • NO country for young women
  • Did I leave the gas on? NO
  • Vote yes: NO more exporting women for essential healthcare.
Some of these responses are by local cartoonist Annie West who summed up the response to the marriage referendum. Thisall should remind you of the ironic response to breadmageddon during Storm Emma this Spring.

Backstory of Repeal: The Dadical- Sorosgate - October 2017March 2018 - Current Position

Sunday very Sunday

What have we in the bran-tub today?

Saturday, 19 May 2018

River runs 19 May 18

There's beauty in the silver, singin' river.

Let's hear it for Kiwis

They [here = The Man, Auntie, the Beeb] must think we are plug ignorant. . . probably because we are. Take the BBC's Missing Country Quiz to find out how little you know. The deal is that a four-colour map [it's a theorem: bloboprev]of some part of the world is presented in which one country has been dissolved into the [white] sea. Your starter for 10 shown R. If you think this must be a trick question because it's obvious, then you won't need the help which the BBC provides by reducing the possible answers to a MCQ N=3. Here is it Portugal, Italy or Greece.

I won't be sending the Quiz Link the Dau.II the Sporcle Queen lest she take it up as an insult to her knowledge of the naming of parts about the world. The last question erases New Zealand from the map. This may be the whole point of the quiz, because erasing the Kiwis from the cartography geography is a bit of a meme. There's a whole website devoted to flagging missing cases. Here's Murray from Flight of the Conchords a) looking older b) phoning head office about being lost in limbo. The woman at the other end of phone is Jacinda Ardern Te Pirimia o Aotearoa. Who is clearly a good sport, as well as being Left, young (b 1980), cool with cannabis, down with the gays and pregnant. The fact that she was brought up a Mormon and now isn't shows that she can think about fundamentals: anyone who changes their mind as an adult is okay with me. Jimmy Carr having an anti-heckle with the PM on NZ TV. And I'm down with the haka too.