Thursday, April 29, 2010

About Eggs

Factoids (courtesy of Harold McGee's "On Food And Cooking"):
  • Chickens are "indeterminate" egg-layers, which means instead of laying a fixed number of eggs a fixed number of times per year, they keep on laying each day until they accumulate a certain number. If a predator, such as a human, takes one of the eggs before she finishes she will replace it before stopping. If the predator keeps taking the eggs she will never stop.
  • An animal's "reproductive effort" is the fraction of her body weight which she deposits daily in her future offspring. A hen's reproductive effort is 100x that of a human.
    • An egg weighs 3% of a typical hen's weight, and she may lay an egg almost every day.
      • Imagine a human woman having a four-pound baby every day!
    • An industrial hen may produce eight times her body weight in eggs over the course of her year-long life.
    • A hen expends 25% of her daily calorie budget on egg-making. (Ducks expand half their energy on egg-laying!)
  • Hens have only one ovary.
  • Hens store sperm inside their oviducts. After the germ cell has accumulated enough yolk from the fats and proteins in a hen's liver, but before the egg white is added or the shell is formed, if the hen has mated recently some of the sperm will fuse with (fertilize) the germ. Either way the egg will still get laid.
  • An eggshell has about 10,000 little holes, concentrated at the blunt end, to let air into the egg while the embryo is developing. All these holes put together would be about as wide as the head of a pin (2 mm).
  • Inside of an egg yolk you can see a flat little white disc attached to ropy white things that look (sorry!) kind of like boogers. The white disc is the actual germ cell, whether fertilized or unfertilized, i.e. the chicken embryo. The ropy white things are designed to keep the embryo from smashing itself into the walls of the shell.
    • Good news! This means that you don't have to be queasy about eating unfertilized chicken embryos, or feel nauseous when you think about the texture of the yolk. That's just a bunch of fats and proteins from the mama chicken's liver. Only the little disc ever had any chance of becoming a chicken, even if it had been fertilized.
    • By eating the yolk you are, however, stealing candy from a baby. Unfertilized baby chicken, that is.
  • Modern industrial techniques transform feed into eggs with better than 33% efficiency, and feed into chicken meat at better than 50% efficiency. That is, you can produce a pound of eggs from less than three pounds of feed, and a pound of (broiler) chicken from less than two.
  • Egg color is totally unrelated to nutritional value or taste and is determined by the protein composition of the cuticle, which it the outermost layer (designed to slow water loss and block the entry of bacteria through the pores, at least initially).
    • Rhode Island Reds lay brown eggs.
    • Chinese Cochins lay eggs with yellow dots.
    • Chilean Araucanas lay blue eggs.
    • The cross between a Chilean Araucana and a Rhode Island Red lays green eggs.
Be pretty if you are,
Be witty if you can,
But be cheerful if it kills you.
If you're so evil, eat this kitten!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nuclear weapons, use of

Obama has announced a new nuclear posture for the United States: we will not enage in "first use" of nuclear weapons against any country which is signatory to and in compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

My uninformed reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review: Republicans are incorrect. The NPR statement is not important militarily. Responding to a chemical or biological attack with nuclear weapons is not an option we would want to exercise in any case. Suppose Uzbekistan or Nigeria, for some insane reason, hits New York City with a sarin gas attack that kills 4000 civilians. We are fully capable of destroying their whole national infrastructure with conventional military force (Army commitments in Iraq/Afghanistan notwithstanding). Using nuclear weapons would simply be a good way to kill a few million civilians for no good return. Realistically, we don't want to do that. Besides, if you really want those civilians dead, destroying their infrastructure will do it, over time via starvation, without the irrational negative PR associated with nukes.

So, you don't nuke someone who is too insignificant to harm you. The only nations we would ever realistically want to nuke are those who are currently unable to nuke us but are developing the capability to do so--Iran and North Korea, at least in the popular view--and those who cannot be defeated with conventional means. In the first case, Iran and North Korea are in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so the new posture does not apply to them. More importantly, they have been in violation all along and we _still_ didn't nuke them, even under the "warlike" George W. Bush. Most likely we were never even tempted to nuke them. In the second case we're dealing with serious, existential threats. Now, if Russia and China got together with Japan, Canada and Mexico and dropped a few hundred thousand soldiers on our shores by surprise--probably by stuffing them inside of shipping containers--we'd find ourselves outgunned, defeated, and occupied in short order if we stuck to conventional weapons, and it would be very tempting (but risky) to use nukes to salvage the situation. I don't imagine the offical "nuclear defense posture" is going to have much to do with how that scenario plays out. In almost any other scenario I can think of, initiating an exchange of nuclear weapons with Russia is a sure-fire losing game for both sides, again without regard to the "nuclear defense posture."

The one area I can see where this could make us less safe is that, having declared that we will not commit "first use" of nuclear weapons, another country might be tempted to force a military confrontation over something important to them (Taiwan) when the terms are favorable to them, since they know they won't get nuked for winning (although both parties are presumably willing to respond once the other party has already escalated to nukes). Thus, the new doctrine makes Taiwan and Israel less safe, and probably Georgia, and maybe all of Eastern Europe too. It doesn't make the U.S. any less safe unless you believe our interests are intrinsically tied to theirs.

It does make it slightly more hazardous to be a U.S. Navy carrier group in the Indian Ocean, since you can now be wiped out without triggering a nuclear war. That's bad for you, but good for the rest of the gene pool.

I may be wrong about all this, I often am.


"When people are married, instead of trying to get rid of each other, reflect that you have made your choice, and strive to honour and keep it." --Brigham Young

If you're so evil, eat this kitten!

Monday, April 5, 2010

How your taxes get spent

Your Money Is Spent On

Your Share


National Defense



Veterans and Foreign Affairs



Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Related Programs



Unemployment and Social Services



Social Security, Medicare, and Other Retirement



Net Interest on the Debt



Law Enforcement and General Government



Physical, Human, and Community Development



Total Paid



When I filed with they computed a summary for me of where my taxes went. I don't begrudge $5K on national defense, and $500 for law enforcement seems okay to me too. The $12K on Medicaid and Social Security are of more concern to me, and $2K for the national debt is non-trivial too, especially given how low interest rates are right now. It's easy to imagine that ballooning to $5K or more per year once interest rates go back to normal levels.
Presumably your taxes are spent in about the same way.

"When people are married, instead of trying to get rid of each other, reflect that you have made your choice, and strive to honour and keep it." --Brigham Young

If you're so evil, eat this kitten!