Monday, January 22, 2018

Thoughts: How Does A Government Shutdown Indirectly Affect The American People? Two Examples

When a government shutdown was announced, people are left to wonder the 'fall out' of such a decision.  Living in 'limbo' is not comforting to say the least.  If a person is employed by a federal agency (National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, or Environmental Protection Agency, etc.) then the possibility of not being called to work is real and extremely discomforting.

The total cost of a government shutdown is astronomical and unaccountable - since the government is a complex machine.  Although, in the brief post below, I would like to introduce two areas in which the shutdown could have an enormous and unknown impact.  Again, the post below is part of the 'Thoughts' series to inspire thought-provoking ideas about the world around us.  With that in mind, lets explore the two examples of how a government shutdown indirectly affect the American people.

Food Safety?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for the generation and safety of food for the American public -- along with the Food and Drug Agency.  This morning, the following excerpt arrived in my e-mail box regarding the government shutdown and these two federal agencies from 'Politico':

Not all of USDA's divisions detail what percentage of their workforce will be furloughed, but many, like rural development, will operate with a skeleton crew - albeit a slightly beefier one than when the government shut down in 2013.
Essential personnel: The Food Safety and Inspection Service will have most employees working in order to help meat and poultry plants continue operating. The USDA outlined a few more details on which functions will continue at various agencies on its website.
The FDA, on the other hand, will stop conducting routine food facility inspections and will be unable to support some of its import monitoring, according to a contingency plan posted by the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency will step in should there be any high-risk recalls.

Typically, people do not think that such a government shutdown would or could potentially affect the quality of 'food production' in the United States.  The reality of the situation is that a government shutdown has far reaching implications which are not clearly defined.  Food safety is one such example.  It is critical to have federal inspectors present at each processing facility to ensure that corporations are adhering to safe practices and not introducing harm (poisonous bacteria) into our food supply.

According to the USDA website, the following measures will be taken during a government shutdown to ensure safety:

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE (PDF, 368 KB) – FSIS will continue work to:
-- Ensure meat, poultry, and egg products are safe and prevent the movement or sale in commerce of any meat or poultry products which are adulterated;
-- Inspect before and after slaughter those birds and animals intended for use as food for humans and inspect the further processing of meat and poultry products;
-- Apply foreign governments’ inspection requirements and procedures to verify that products exported from the United States are safe;  
-- Conduct emergency operations in connection with the voluntary recall of meat or poultry products determined to be adulterated or misbranded;
-- Conduct epidemiological investigations based on reports of food-borne health hazards and disease outbreaks;
-- Monitor allied industries to prevent uninspected, misbranded, or adulterated meat, poultry and egg products from illegally entering channels of commerce;
-- Provide pathological, microbiological, chemical, and other scientific examination of meat, poultry and egg products for disease, infection, contamination, or other types of adulteration;
-- Conduct a microbiological monitoring and surveillance program;

The webpage also details other crucial areas of inspection need:  Animal and Plant Inspection and Human Health Services, Risk Management Agency, Food Nutrition Services, etc.  The wide range of areas of need for special attention during a government shutdown show the complexity involved in such an affair.  Therefore, it is important to ensure that the entire government is running smoothly and has the proper momentum to ensure the services to the nation to which it provides services.

Science Research?

Along with a whole host of services offered by the government (Veterans Affairs, Social Security, U.S. Postal Services, etc.), a much larger scope is affected by a government shutdown.  As mentioned above, critical services to ensure safety to the nation's food and natural resources supply are needed.

In addition to crucial services offered to the nation to keep the day to day activities running, the health sector is affected in indirect ways along with the research sector which is funded by the government.  Here is an excerpt from an article appearing today on the website 'The Scientist' titled "As Government Suspends Operations, Science Projects Go on Hold" offering potential issues affecting science research and the health of our nation:

Fauci described the state of his department as a “scramble” on Friday, as scientists had to make decisions about the fate of their experiments, not knowing how long the shutdown would last. “You can’t push the pause button on an experiment when you inject an animal with a particular substance to see what the response is and then you have to go home for a week, two weeks, three weeks,” Fauci said. “It’s really quite disruptive to the science, number one. And number two, it’s very demoralizing to the people that they have to stop what they’re doing.”
Over the weekend, there was confusion about whether employees at federal agencies should show up for work today. Science reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for instance, told everyone to come in, yet its contingency plan states otherwise. Nature notes that EPA’s Office of Research and Development will put a hold on experiments. “Staff will be allowed to come in and feed the fish, but they cannot take the measurements for the scientists,” Lesley Mills, an EPA biologist in Narragansett, Rhode Island, tells Nature. “People are going to be upset.”
Nature spoke with crop researcher Chad Hayes at the US Department of Agriculture whose travel to Mexico today—timed to coincide with a brief window of sorghum pollination—could be disrupted, along with a year’s worth of work.
According to Vox, half of the Department of Health and Human Services staff will not work during the shutdown. That means that, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will continue to monitor this year’s high flu activity, reports might take on a sluggish pace.
“Under a shutdown, CDC’s capacity to track and respond to disease outbreaks will be impacted,” a CDC spokesperson tells Buzzfeed News. “Flu surveillance, for example, will continue to collect data being reported by states, hospitals, etc. However, our staff resources are limited, which means it will take longer to review, analyze, and report out information needed for public health action.”

Research which is funded by the United States government is conducted in all parts of the world for a variety of reasons which I will not go into at this time.  The point is that halting research has far reaching implications.  Especially, in a seasonal or a year long research trial where daily (routine) care and management on the part of government employees can drastically affect research results.  If you are conducting a test on food production where the source of an issue might reside with an fruit orchard, then pollination times are critical.

Not to mention, if the research is tracking flu developments as mentioned in the excerpt above for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Missing critical data collection on the flu over the course of a government shutdown could alter the statistics of a flu season.  Which could have downstream adverse effects on the success or failure of a given flu vaccination in a season.


At the moment, the Senate is voting on to fund the government (i.e. re-open the government).  Regardless of the success or failure of the vote, the American people should have an idea of the 'totality' of such a disruption to their daily lives.  In some cases (i.e. food inspection services), the implications of shutting down government services could be large.  Not to mention, disrupting the collection or dispersion of flu vaccination data (and/or treatment).

The government was not designed to shutdown.  Therefore, any efforts to ensure that there are no disruptions in the federal process are encouraged.  Furthermore, each of us should write and/or call our elected representatives and demand that in the future, a shutdown be averted with the highest priority.  Until next time, have a great day.

Related Blog Posts can be found here:

Where Do I Find That Post On "Mike Thinks" Blog Site? An Index of Blog Posts

Friday, January 19, 2018

Parameters: Obesity Short Circuit Discovered Leads To Overeating


The United States has rising obesity rates.  At least, that is what is heard on the news periodically over the last few years.  What is to be done?  Lifestyle change?  How can science help if any?  According to new scientific research announced recently, researchers have discovered a 'trigger' mechanism which might lead to over eating as shown below:

Obesity involves the complex interplay of diet, lifestyle, genetics, and even the bacteria living in the gut. But there are other less-appreciated factors that are likely involved, and a new NIH-supported study suggests one that you probably never would have imagined: antenna-like sensory projections on brain cells.
The study in mice, published in the journal Nature Genetics [1], suggests these neuronal projections, called primary cilia, are a key part of a known “hunger circuit,” which receives signals from other parts of the body to control appetite. The researchers add important evidence in mouse studies showing that changes in the primary cilia can produce a short circuit, impairing the brain’s ability to regulate appetite and leading to overeating and obesity.

Click on the link above to read about just how the 'primary cilia' play a key part in the 'hunger circuit'.  The discovery add more information into the relevant factors which might trigger the 'hunger circuit' by sensing a hormone leptin.  The sensing is wired up into our brain to the hypothalamus - which controls crucial body functions such as hunger, thirst, temperature control linked to emotional responses.   Exciting right?

As technology improves, the advances in medicine should follow accordingly - right?  I have mentioned on this site previously that nothing is really new about rates of certain diseases such as different types of cancers as compared to the last century.  What has changed is our (science and in turn medicine's) ability to detect a disease such as a type of cancer earlier on in a patient's life.  Earlier detection leads to a higher probability of treating the cancer more effectively.

Although, some diseases (and obesity might be considered a disease in the future) are difficult to detect and treat.  Over the last few decades, medicine has advanced quite a bit in understanding different mechanisms which lead to obesity - as stated in the excerpt above.  Which makes the problem more complex to solve.  Developments such as understanding the interplay of the "primary cilia" and "over eating" are welcome and add to an eventual solution down the road.

Unraveling a new circuit in the pathway of obesity will add to researchers understanding of the causes leading up to obesity in the future.  Of course, as with other diseases, researchers are discovering that from an evolutionary standpoint, the human body has multiple avenues by which a disease can progress.  Otherwise, discovering a 'single circuit' or 'single pathway' is more easily treatable (i.e. by creating a target drug for that single circuit) from a drug discovery or medical standpoint.


Although the research above is completely surprising for promising treatments of obesity in the future, we should not bet on a single treatment just yet.  Today, as has been shown still to be the most effective is to change your lifestyle habits and incorporate exercise into your daily routine.  A 'magic bullet' may be possible through science down the line.  Still, the surest way to control the problem is to handle the root cause early on with natural changes which at the end of the day are more effective in the long run.  Calorie intake cannot exceed calorie output - simple.

Related Blog Posts:

NIH Director Updates Congress On Research Progress

Dr. Francis Collins and Bill Gates Discuss Global Health And Genomics

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How Much Do New Drugs Cost To Bring To The Pharmacy Counter?

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Unraveling The Resistance Of Antibiotics!

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A Perfect Example Of Why Science Outreach Is Critical: Science Needs Simplification!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thoughts: Florida Gets Offshore Oil Drilling Ban - Why Not Pacific Coast Too?

Source: Wikipedia

Recently,  Governor Rick Scott achieved the mere impossible...what do I speak of?  The prospect of stopping 'off shore' oil drilling off the coast of Florida seemed impossible.  According to news reports, the impossible seemed possible with recent action on part of the Trump Administration.   Of course, if a state on the East Coast was given such a ban, the obvious question arose which surrounded similar bans on other East Coast states not to mention the obvious bans on the Pacific Coast too -- highlighted by the excerpt from 'Politico Energy'(from last week):

FLORIDA DRILLING MOVE SPARKS BACKLASH: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's quick decision to reverse course on opening Florida's coastal waters to offshore drilling sparked a flurry of demands from other states whose officials oppose the opening of their shorelines to oil and gas exploration, and even angered Trump administration allies in the energy industry, Pro's Ben Lefebvre and your ME co-host Anthony report . Californians plan to invoke the same arguments as Florida - the importance of their own huge coastal tourism economy and military bases whose operations could be disrupted by oil spills - in seeking an exemption. "That standard they applied to Florida is the one we intend to use," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in an interview. Florida Republicans, meanwhile aren't satisfied with Zinke's offer and said they are still pursuing legislation to extend a moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that is set to expire in late 2022.
They will be heard: Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email that Zinke "intends to meet with or phone every governor who submits a meeting request. Governor [Rick] Scott was the first to do so." Wasting little time, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper formally requested a meeting or phone call with Zinke on Wednesday in a letter.

Here is a link to the letter from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to read filled with compelling facts and statistics against off-shore drilling.  There are such 'mixed announcements' coming from the Trump Administration lately.  On Jan. 4th (2018), an article appeared in the 'Los Angeles Times' stating that there are significant obstacles facing the expansion of the oil industries along the California Coast.  Especially, at a time when oil production is at an all time high -- according to the author of the article in the 'Times'.

In light of this reporting, then what purpose does the excerpt above achieve?

The California Coast is already being drilled heavily upon.  Just drive up and down the coast and look out into the water.  In pockets of Southern California and further off the coast in other areas, oil rigs continue to pump oil out of the ground.  I wrote an article about the decline of the quality of the California beaches a year ago as a result of this drilling.  The situation is sad to say the least.  Although, the nation along with the world is highly dependent upon the oil industry.  According to a calculation in a post, 94 million barrels of oil is required on a daily basis to fuel the entire world's oil demand -- WOW!!!

I have indicated through writing various posts on this site that the investment community is gearing toward a large shift -- a shift toward investing primarily in 'sustainable energy' resources.  Over the course of the last year, the efforts have been on display.  Of course, these efforts are counter to what the current Administration thinks is good for the nation.  Regardless, the world is headed toward a renewable energy future.  The days of the oil boom are coming to an end.

The fact that the Department of the Interior is accepting requests to meet is good -- as long as the meeting occurs and the expansion of off-shore drilling is coming to a halt.  According to an update yesterday morning from 'Politico Energy' regarding extending the ban to California was as follows:

YOUR OFFSHORE UPDATE: Following his promise to discuss the administration's recent offshore drilling proposal with any and all states that wanted to, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke with multiple governors on Friday. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, reiterated his opposition to new drilling in a Friday phone call with Zinke. "I told him the concerns of Washingtonians and West Coast residents deserve be treated with the same consideration and deliberation as those in Florida," Inslee said in a statement. "Secretary Zinke did not provide that commitment, unfortunately. But this fight is far from over." Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's office said Zinke agreed to consider exempting the state after they spoke Friday, according to the Associated Press.
Zinke also promised Friday to travel to California to visit Gov. Jerry Brown to discuss the agency's plan, Pro's Ben Lefebvre reports. "During the conversation, Gov. Brown asked for the same consideration Florida recently received and noted broad opposition from Republicans, Democrats and Independents across the state to any expansion of oil and gas drilling off of the California coast," Brown's office said. "The Governor invited Secretary Zinke to come to California to continue this constructive conversation in the weeks ahead and the Secretary agreed to a future meeting and visit."
As for whether Zinke will make a trip to Washington anytime soon, Washington State spokeswoman Tara Lee said the governor did not explicitly ask the secretary to visit the state. But it was her understanding that "the governor repeatedly asked the Secretary what information he would need to make a decision or change his mind. It doesn't sound as Sec. Zinke provided that information."

By the sounds of the excerpt above, again, the Trump Administration is 'flip flopping' on an obvious issue.  Close the coast to further off-shore drilling.  What the Trump Administration should be concerned about is the 'aging' equipment -- i.e. pipelines which carry the enormous amount of existing oil which is pumped.  Why not invest in new infrastructure (i.e. repair and inspect).  That would produce jobs to stimulate the economy while keeping up an 'aging' system which is destined to decrease in productivity over time as renewable investments increase over the same period of time.

The time is now to invest in a renewable and clean future with regard to any sector.  Change starts now.  Until next time, have a great day.

Related Blog Posts:

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Los Angeles Was Built On Top Of Oil?

A California Dream Spoiled By Big Oil

Is 94 Million Barrels Of Oil A Large Amount? That Is The Global Daily Demand!

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Thoughts: Immigrants Are Extremely Important To America

Source: Newton Free Library

America is a nation of immigrants...Right?  I am sure that you have heard some permutation of that statement frequently over the course of the last few years.  Under debate is that currently, the Trump Administration is trying to limit the number of 'H-2 visas' which are awarded to immigrants each year -- in hope of bringing more jobs back to American citizens.  Lets stop and take a look at an excerpt from 'Politico Agriculture' which arrived in my e-mail box recently:

H-2A APPLICATIONS JUMP IN 2017: As President Donald Trump continues to push for limiting the number of foreign-born workers in the U.S., the success of the H-2A agricultural guestworker program is sending a different message. In fiscal 2017, the Labor Department received a record number of applications for H-2A visas - upward of 200,000 and an almost 15 percent increase from fiscal 2016.
Florida tops the list: Even though California is the largest agricultural-producing state, Florida had the most applications for the Labor Department's H-2A visas. The top 5 states - Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington and California - have more than half of the total H-2A visa recipients in the country.
In 2017, California growers and contractors, who produce over one-third of the nation's vegetables and two-thirds of fruits and nuts, set a state record for recruiting its largest number of H-2A guestworkers, a new Los Angeles Times analysis found. The visas are for temporary or seasonal jobs that last under 10 months.

Even if the food/Agricultural sector was ignored, other areas would suffer from deficiencies in losing immigrant workers.  Immigrants make up the American population.  Immigrants, until recently, were able to pay taxes -- even if here 'undocumented' - What?  Yep.  People coming to our country to work make Americans better people!  Yes.  I have written about my own experience here.  Check it out.

When the Administration considered a travel ban last year, I wrote a blog post about the implications from the biotechnology sector - which can be accessed here.  The travel ban imposed stood to hurt many different sectors.  One of which would be the enrollment of international students which brings in a large amount of money, not to mention the political relationship formed between countries.  Here is a blog post briefly discussing the fall-out on American Universities due to travel restrictions.

Additionally, the improvement of immigrants to our system of education is not very well understood.  Having a greater diversity is better for American culture as a whole.  Diversifying viewpoints and thought processes brings out the best inventions which lead to better technology down the line.  California State University (CSUN) is made up of a large portion of DACA students.  Just a year ago, CSUN students made the news for contributing the highest number of scientific publications to prestigious journals over a specified amount of time.  Read about that achievement here.

If the advancements in society were not enough to motivate the inclusion of talent from various nations, just look at our precious food supply.  Who are the people who keep food on our table?  One could argue the person who brings the food to life from the soil in the Earth to your marketplace.  Of that process, a sizable portion of that workforce are here on H-2 visas.  Meaning, U.S. residents depend upon immigrants for their food supply.  Stop and think about that for a second.


Before any U.S. citizen treats immigrants (of which we were at one time) like a baby in the bathwater, each of us would be well served to stop and consider the accomplishments of the United States as a nation that are due to immigrants.  There are many.  Furthermore, before any immigrant is 'discounted', think about the  critical services such personnel choose to work for to support the nation on a day to day basis.  As noted in the excerpt above, the national food network would definitely take a large hit if immigrants were not of service to our nation.

Finally, the diversification and inclusion of many different ideas into a single culture can only improve the outlook over a given time.  Diversifying the viewpoints in a nation alone -- brings out creativity which might not have existed before.  We are a nation of immigrants and should therefore be accepting of our own people -- i.e. immigrants.  Until next time, have a great Martin Luther King holiday!

Related Blog Posts:

Republicans Take Away Undocumented Immigrants Tax Cuts?

Undergraduate Institution Leads The Change In Publications -- Yeah!

The Biotech Industry Takes A Stance Against Immigration Ban

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Parameters: Horse Racing Depends On Type Of Track Surface?

Source: HorseFund

There is no doubt that the sport of horse racing is dependent completely on the gambling industry on which the industry sits.  Without the gambling industry, the sport would be completely dead.  With that being said, each gain in speed on part of each horse can be the difference between a huge win and a huge loss.  Therefore, the horse racing industry is very careful to examine all of the relevant parameters on which a victory (horse winning) depends.  Why do I bring this up?

Life is made up of parameters which make up equations.  Specifically, equations are made up of parameters -- which define the relevant aspects of the equation.  For instance "y = x" is an equation which relates a parameter "y" to another parameter "x".  Equations can be written in terms of more parameters -- for instance -- "y = x + z + m" -- where the parameter "y" is dependent on three parameters "x", "z", and "m".

This is not to confuse you but instead, to reduce the complexity of the idea of an equation.  In the future, when I say that the following parameters are important, you will understand by realizing that I am speaking in terms of placing importance on ideas or quantities related to a topic.

Why do I carry on about all of these equations for life, etc.?

In a recent article in "The New Yorker" titled "Puerto Rico’s Ortiz Brothers Light Up Horse Racing" the author walks us through the unlikely success of two Puerto Rican brothers who have risen up to be stars in the horse jockey profession.

Near the end of the article, a significant paragraph with regard to success in the horse racing industry is displayed.  The parameter which is extremely important is 'dirt' on which the horses run on the track.  Here is the excerpt:

n turning a royal pastime into a profitable business, the founders of tracks like Saratoga and Churchill Downs democratized the sport, but they also planted the seeds of horse racing’s slow demise. Many of the ills of racing in this country can be blamed on the overcommercialization of the sport, beginning with the dirt surfaces themselves. Kings’ races took place on turf—that is, grass—which is the animal’s natural running surface, and most big European races are still run on turf (as are some U.S. races). But you can’t run ten races a day, six days a week, as tracks here often do, on turf—it turns to dirt quickly. Besides, the developers of the sport in the U.S. didn’t have the grassy pastures of the royal estates to work with: they hewed the tracks out of the forests.
Running in deep dirt puts additional strain on the horses’ hearts, lungs, and limbs, especially when it’s muddy. That’s one reason that far more horses suffer catastrophic breakdowns on American tracks than on European ones, which drives casual fans away from the sport. Fifteen horses died at the Saratoga meet this summer, eight in races and seven while training. Some attributed this dismal statistic to the dirt track’s being too deep.

Which brings on the use of large amounts of drugs to treat injuries to the horse:

 There is a pharmacopoeia of legal drugs in the U.S. that Thoroughbreds receive to treat the effects of the wear and tear of racing, such as phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory, and furosemide, a diuretic used for pulmonary bleeding. Then, there are illegal drugs, which have become harder to detect. There is no central racing commissioner’s office, and as a result there is no way to set testing standards for drugs, or to effectively penalize doping; state racing commissions make their own rules, and often doping goes unpunished. The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act, a bill that would grant the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency the power to regulate drugs in American horse racing as it does in other sports, has been before the House since 2013. “Racing has to come to grips with the fact that, like every sport, we have integrity issues,” Stuart Janney, of the Jockey Club, told me. “Drugs do get into our sport, they are more sophisticated, they are harder to detect, and they are more effective than they were in the past, and our method of policing our sport is out of date.”

The above excerpts lay out parameters on which the success of a horse depend upon.  From the standpoint of a horse owner, the differences in the parameters stated above -- i.e. frequency of racing (numbers of races per day), type of track (turf vs. dirt), and the degree of cheating (doping, etc.) -- can carry large benefits (in terms of monetary) returns (winning).  Of course, from the perspective of a track owner or regulator, the parameters pose a challenge to overcome to have a 'fair race' each run.

Why are different perspectives important?

Scientist get a bad rap in terms of being labeled 'emotionless', 'serious', 'boring' people.  When in fact, scientists are typically everything but these descriptors -- alright, we are a serious group of people.  Typically, scientists look at life through the lens of equations.  That is not to say that each of us only speak in terms of equations.  Although, when asked to discuss a certain aspect of life (i.e. horse racing), typically my mind defaults to looking at the relevant parameters which make up horse racing to get a better perspective before commenting in on a discussion.  Why is this?

Because, in order to solve a problem in life, one must be able to inspect the relevant 'parameters' on which the problem depend upon.  An activity such as 'baking' can be made up of many complicated 'parameters' (i.e. type of flour used - for the rise of bread, method of mixing ingredients, length of mixing, types of ingredients used, etc.).  A chef could carry on at length about the various parameters.


The point of the 'parameters' series is to point out a few parameters about a given observation to the reader (you).  At that point, you may decide on the length of investigation into the matter.  Or may simply decide that the information provided is enough to get a better satisfaction when at the horse racing track into the future.  Nevertheless, the process of parametric analysis (i.e. assigning parameters) to a phenomena is an important gift to build in life.   I promise that after reading this post you will never see horse racing in the same light again.  Cheers!

For an 'index of previous blog posts' - Click Here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How Many Cigarettes Can You Roll With 18,000 Pounds Of Marijuana?

I received an e-mail notification the other day regarding breaking news from the Los Angeles Times.  Of course, I had to open up the notification immediately, what happens if I miss some news -- OMG.  Just kidding...Anyways, I read in the article that around 18,000 pounds of Marijuana had been seized in a gigantic bust in San Bernadino (California, USA).  I forwarded the article to myself and in the process lost the article.  Although I found an excerpt from an ABC news article shown below:

Police in Southern California raided a weed "fortress" on Wednesday, seizing 35,000 marijuana plants and shutting down an operation they believe was bringing in millions of dollars a month.
San Bernardino Police say eight people were detained Wednesday when police and federal agents raided the warehouse that was converted into a multi-level grow house.

The article goes onto say that the equivalent of 35,000 marijuana plants equal 18,000 pounds of marijuana.  Immediately I felt overwhelmed by such an enormous number.  Therefore, I decided to ask the following question which I intend to answer in the blog post below:

How many cigarettes can be rolled with 18,000 pounds of marijuana?

By answering the following questions above, the enormous numbers which were reported would be cast in a different -- more reasonable light.  With this in mind, lets start the dimensional analysis below.

How Many Grams Of Tobacco Per Cigarette?

As I mentioned above, in order to understand the massive amount of marijuana which was removed by law enforcement during the raid in San Bernardino, dimensional analysis can be used.  To start with, the amount of tobacco in a single cigarette needs to be determined.  If the question: How Many Grams Of Tobacco Per Cigarette? -- entered into a search engine (i.e. Google), the following is a result:

The result of the inquiry indicates that the amount of tobacco can vary in each cigarette by 65-100%.  For the purposes of this analysis, the amount per cigarette will be chosen to be 90% -- to take into account the paper and the filter also included in the cigarette weight.  Upon closer inspection of the amount of tobacco per cigarette above, the units are stated in 'grams' rather than 'pounds'.  Why is this important?

In order to determine the number of cigarettes which could be rolled with 18,000 pounds of marijuana, the units of cigarettes and marijuana will need to be converted into the same units of measurement.  Otherwise, a comparison cannot be accomplished.  Since the amount of tobacco per cigarette is stated in units of 'gram', the conversion of 'pound' to 'gram' is in order.  Again, typing the following question into a search engine: How Many Grams In A Pound? -- yields the following result shown below:

In every pound of marijuana, there are 453.592 grams of marijuana.  With this conversion factor in hand, lets start by finding out how many cigarettes are in a pound of marijuana.  If a typical cigarette has (as stated above) around 0.90 gram of tobacco (90% of a gram) per cigarette, then dividing the total amount of marijuana in a pound (expressed in units of grams) by 0.90 gram will yield the total number of cigarettes which could be rolled with a single pound as shown below:

The calculation above shows that if a pound of marijuana was converted into 'rolled cigarettes' would equal 503 cigarettes in total.  WOW.  If that is the total number of cigarettes equal to a single pound of marijuana, then imagine the total amount of cigarettes which could be rolled with 18,000 pounds which was seized in the police raid in the news.

In order to determine the total amount of cigarettes which could be rolled with 18,000 pounds, take 503 cigarettes (equal to a single pound) and multiply the value by 18,000 as shown below:

Wow!  Now that is an enormous amount of cigarettes.  Each of us are probably familiar with the sight of a person standing outside a building or in a park smoking a cigarette.  Considering the total amount of marijuana which was seized, the total amount could be converted to a total of 9,071,840 cigarettes.  The amount is huge and incomprehensible.

As usual, in order to visualize or comprehend the enormous number of cigarettes above which represents 18,000 pounds -- a larger or more representative 'metric' needs to be used.  Below, I have chosen to compile those cigarettes above into larger 'packing units' (i.e. cartons, pallets, etc.) to get a better grasp of that enormous amount of marijuana which was seized in the police raid.

How Many Pallets Are Required For 18,000 Pounds?

The results of the above analysis indicates that 18,000 pounds of marijuana -- if converted into cigarettes is an enormous number of cigarettes -- 9,071,840 to be exact.  How does a person grasp such a large number of cigarettes?  Can a metric be used to frame that number into context?  Most of us have seen a person smoking a cigarette which fits in a 'pack' of cigarettes as shown below:

Source: Stack Exchange

In a typical pack of cigarettes, the number is only 20 or 25 cigarettes.  Therefore, a larger package is needed.  Cigarettes are packaged by 20 (individual cigarettes) into a box or pack as shown above.  On a larger scale for shipping purposes, "cartons" hold 10 cigarette packs as shown below:

Source: Marlboro

Still, that is only 10 packs of cigarettes into a carton which equals 200 cigarettes (individually).  On a shipping scale -- i.e. box. There are boxes shown below which contain 'cartons'.  These boxes are stacked onto a 'pallet' as shown below:

Source - click here

The pallet is the blue wood framed box on the bottom of the image above.  The boxes above hold the 'cartons' of cigarette packs.  In order to find out the number of cigarettes contained on the wood pallet above, the following was typed into a search engine: "How Many Cigarettes On A Pallet?"  The answer is shown below:

A total of 500,000 cigarettes are contained on a single wood pallet as shown above in the previous picture of the forklift with a bunch of boxes.  Now we have a metric which we can use to compare an enormous amount of cigarettes -- the amount equal to 18,000 pounds of marijuana.  In order to determine the number of wood pallets needed to hold 9,071,840 cigarettes, just divide the total number of cigarettes by the number contained on each wood pallet -- 500,000 as shown below:

The answer indicates that 18 pallets of cigarettes would be needed to hold the total number of cigarettes -- 9,071,840 -- which could be rolled in total with 18,000 pounds of marijuana.


Often when numbers or values are presented in the media (news), readers will just skip over them.  I tend to get stuck on numbers -- especially when the magnitude (value) of the number is extremely large.  In the case of the raid on an illegal marijuana operation which yielded 18,000 pounds of marijuana -- the use of dimensional analysis greatly reduced the difficulty of comprehending such an enormous weight seized.  Now, with the tools shown above, each of you (the readers) will be able to determine the total magnitude of large numbers -- using widely available tools online as I have shown.  The next time you read about a large amount of marijuana which is seized, you will be able to put that number into context using the above calculations.  Until next time, have a wonderful day.

Related blog posts can be found here using dimensional analysis!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Thoughts: Ralph Nader On A Cashless Economy

I enjoy very much receiving the e-mail newsletter periodically from Ralph Nader.  Simply because there does not exist a single topic on which the iconic activist does not provoke further thought on my part.  His thought-provoking newsletter reminds me that my narrow range of 'worthy topics' to be concerned with constantly needs updating to stay current.  I am drawing the message from him in my mind .... "Mike, are you current?  Are you concerned about current topics occurring right before your eyes? Maybe you were unaware of this..."  Needless to say, I enjoy reading and thinking hard about the content.

Recently, Ralph Nader shot out a short letter regarding the transition from cash to credit payments happening around the world over the last few decades.  Without further ado, here is the letter in full form as seen on his website:

Corporate Coercion and the Drive to Eliminate Buying with Cash
“Sorry we’re not taking cash or checks,” said the clerk at the Fed Ex counter over a decade ago to an intern. “Only credit cards.”
Since then, the relentless intensification of coercive commercialism has been moving toward a cashless economy, when all consumers are incarcerated within a prison of corporate payment systems from your credit/debit cards to your mobile phone and very soon facial recognition.
“Terrific!” say those consumers for whom convenience and velocity of transactions are irresistible.
“This is nuts!” say a shrinking number of free-thinking consumers who are unwilling to be dragooned down the road to corporate captivity and coercion.  These people treasure their privacy. They understand that it’s none of any conglomerate’s business – whether VISA, Facebook, Amazon or Google – what, where, when and how consumers purchase goods and services. Or where and when they travel, receive healthcare, or the most intimate relationships they maintain. Not to mention consumers’ personal information can be sent to or hacked around the globe.
Cash-consumers are not alone in their opposition to a cashless economy.  When they are in a cab and ask the driver how they prefer to be paid, the answer is near-unanimous. “Cash, cash, cash,” reply the cab drivers in cities around the country. They get paid immediately and without having to have a company deduct a commission.
Back some 25 years ago, Consumers Union considered backing consumer groups to sign up Main Street, USA merchants who agreed to discount their wares if people paid in cash. For the same reason – merchants get to keep all the money on sales made with cash or check. Unfortunately, the idea never materialized. It is, however, still a good idea. Today, payments systems are much more comprehensively coercive.
Once you’re in the credit card system, lack of privacy and access to your credit are just the tip of the iceberg. That is why companies can impose penalties, surcharges, overcharges and a myriad of other corporate raids on your private treasury. They get immediate payment. If you object, you could see a lowering of your credit score or your credit rating. Besides, you don’t even know you agreed to all of these dictates – banks have over 300 different special charges for their revered customers – in fine print agreements that you never saw, read or even possessed to sign or click on. What’s the likelihood that banks would continue to surcharge you if they had to bill you instead of debit you?
The sheer pace and brazenness of corporations when they have instant access to your credit is stunning. The recent crimes of banking giant Wells Fargo, including selling auto insurance and assigning new credit cards to millions of their customers who had no knowledge and gave no consent for these charges, which resulted in damage to these customers’ credit scores and ratings, can only be committed when consumers are turned into economic prisoners. There are still no criminal prosecutions of the bank or its bosses. Wells Fargo bank stock rose to a year high last month. To their credit, the CFPB imposed a $100 million dollar fine on Wells Fargo, which barred them from deducting the fine as a business expense.
Coercive fine print contracts rob you of your consumer rights by preventing you from going to court, imposing fines as high as $35 fines for  bounced checks (which typically cost the banks less than $2), and decreeing that you agreed in advance to all kinds of unconscionable abuses, so long as you are in a “customer” status with them. Some companies are even charging customers for quitting them.
The rapacity inflicted on cashless purchasers prevails across the economy – insurance, mortgages, telecommunications, healthcare, stock brokerage, online buying and, of course, requirements to use electronic payment systems.
The more consumers become incarcerated by the companies that purportedly serve them, the more lucrative commodity consumers become. This leads to, among other problems, massive computerized billing fraud in the US. In the healthcare industry alone, billing fraud amounts to ten percent of what is spent, according to Harvard applied mathematics professor Malcolm Sparrow, author of License to Steal. This year’s expenditure of ten percent of the $3.5 trillion expected to be spent amounts to $350 billion. A cashless economy further facilitates these larcenous practices.
A computerized economy is one where fraud can easily be committed on a massive scale, according to Frank Abagnale who, after serving his time in prison for identity theft, , has become an impassioned educator (serving institutions ranging from the FBI to AARP) on how to detect and avoid such crimes, which he estimates to cost people about one trillion dollars each year.
What it comes down to is whether consumer freedom is worth more than consumer convenience or whether the points earned for future purchases (assuming the costs are not passed on in hidden ways) are worth minimizing impulse buying, avoiding big data profile manipulations, keeping personal matters personal and requiring your affirmative consent to transactions where you decide what you want to buy and how you can pay.
However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pay by cash or check. Try renting a car or occupying a hotel room or buying a snack or drink on an airline without a credit or debit card.
In the latest example of such coercion, new boutique eateries like Two Forks, Dig Inn, Dos Toros or Pokee in New York City operate entirely through payment systems that reject all cash purchases. “But isn’t cash legal tender?” you might ask. How could they reject cash on the barrelhead? Simple, says the Federal Reserve, so long as they notify you in advance. It’s that fine print again.
The New York Times, reported these rejections and noted: “Not surprisingly, the credit card companies, who make a commission on every credit card purchase, applaud the trend. Visa recently offered select merchants a $10,000 reward for depriving customers of their right to pay by the method of their choice.” The nerve!
Cash consumers of America arise, band together and organize a National Association for the Preservation of Cash Purchases. You have nothing to save but your freedom, your desire to push back and your precious, affirmative and personal right to consent or not to consent, before you are forced into contract peonage.
Interested? Let’s hear from you at

Ralph Nader hits upon a point which he discusses in his book titled "Breaking Through Power" -- which is at over the course of time, corporate America has convinced consumers to hand over increasingly larger amounts of their daily lives.  The most visible example used in his book is that of a home owner being proud of his/her property -- lawn, gardening, painting, fence, etc.  During the years following WWII, the home was cherished as a prize. Since then, nearly all of the exterior maintenance and upkeep have been "outsourced" to a company of some sort.

Additionally, look at the "connectedness" of our society.  With a single click, you may have food delivered to your door.  At the same time, the service was historically (in the past few years) reserved for large businesses like Amazon to offer these services.  What is happening to our ability to participate in the process?  We do not even need to deposit our checks any more?  The dissociation is what Ralph Nader is discussing costs (small fees) which promote more money headed toward corporate America.  Taking away the option is the "red flag" for Mr. Nader.  Rightly so.

Think about it.  Is your life easier with the added technology or not?  Many people will argue that the additional services offered leave more time for us humans to do other tasks.  Is that so?  Do you save that much time outsourcing your dinner or groceries?  You still have to choose the items which will be delivered?  Leave your thoughts below in the comments section.