Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Peanuts, herbs and spices--good for your gut

From ZME Science

Imagine a busy city on a weekday morning, with sidewalks packed with people rushing to get to work. Now, imagine this at a microscopic level and you’ll understand what the microbiome looks like inside our bodies. It has trillions of microorganisms of thousands of different species, including not just bacteria but also fungi, parasites, and viruses.

These “bugs” coexist peacefully in a healthy body, in fact recent research is showing that they influence a great deal of bodily processes. They’re also largely influenced by what we eat. Processed and fried food can damage the gut equilibrium, while vegetables and fruits help maintain it. Now, researchers found that adding a daily teaspoon of herbs and spices and an ounce of peanuts to the diet can also have a positive impact on your gut.

“Research has shown that people who have a lot of different microbes have better health, and a better diet, than those who don’t have much bacterial diversity,” Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn University, and one of the researchers behind the two new studies on microbiome health, said in a statement.

In their first study, Kris-Etherton and her colleagues compared the effects of snacking 28 grams (one ounce) of peanuts per day versus a higher carbohydrate snack (like cheese bits or pretzels for instance). At the end of six weeks, those who ate peanuts had an increased abundance of Ruminococcaceae — a bacterium linked to healthier liver metabolism.

A total of 50 participants completed the study, with the researchers assessing fecal bacterial diversity. Nuts (including tree nuts, peanuts, and nut butter) are usually recommended as part of healthy dietary patterns. Peanuts are the most consumed nut in the US. But this was the first study to look at their effect on microbiota composition.

In the herbs and spices study, the researchers analyzed the impact of adding blends of herbs and spices (such as ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme) to the diets of participants at risk of cardiovascular disease. Herbs and spices have been previously associated with a healthy gut, but not actually investigated.

The researchers looked at three doses — about 1/8 teaspoon per day, a little more than 3/4 teaspoon per day, and about 1 1/2 teaspoon per day. By the end of the four-week experiment, participants had an increase in gut bacteria diversity, including an increase in Ruminococcaceae, especially those eating the highest doses of herbs and spices.

“It’s such a simple thing that people can do,” said Kris-Etherton in a statement. “Everyone could benefit by adding herbs and spices. It’s also a way of decreasing sodium in your diet but flavoring foods in a way that makes them palatable and, in fact, delicious! Taste is really a top criterion for why people choose the foods they do.”

Scientists are still learning about the connection between gut microbiota and a range of health factors, from blood pressure to weight. A lot more research is still needed, said Kris-Etherton. In the meantime, we can all start looking at our diets and think of ways to make changes. It’s never too late to start eating a healthier diet.

The two studies were published in the Journal of Nutrition and the Journal of Clinica Nutrition.

If you do eat peanut butter, make sure it hasn't been 'stabilised', i.e., hydrogenated.
There should be oil separated out in the peanut butter.
If there isn't, the unsaturated fatty acids in the peanut butter have been turned
into trans fats, which are bad for you.


BYD second only to Tesla in Oz

After months of waiting, BYD car deliveries have started.  From Drive

Newly-launched Chinese car maker BYD has accounted for one in five electric vehicles sold in its first three months of deliveries, second only to Tesla, its first batch of sales data has revealed.

VFACTS industry sales data released today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) lists 845 BYD electric vehicles reported as sold in its first three months of deliveries.

This is believed to place BYD – which currently only offers one model, the Atto 3 small SUV – as Australia’s second-best selling electric-car brand, ahead of the likes of MG, Hyundai and Polestar, and behind only Tesla.

The BYD Atto 3 is believed to place third or fourth on the leaderboard for the best-selling electric-car models, behind the Tesla Model Y (1805) and Model 3 (391), and the MG ZS EV (exact sales figures are unconfirmed, however the tally is estimated to be fewer than 700 over the same period).

The sales result is despite a stop-delivery notice in force for three weeks from October 21 to November 11, as BYD’s local distributor EVDirect worked through concerns with federal regulators over the Atto 3's compliance with Australian motor vehicle regulations.

The notice was issued after the child-seat top tether point for the centre rear seat was found to be hidden below the carpet, breaching compliance rules for five-seat passenger cars including the Atto 3, which require these tether points to be accessible without the use of tools.

Compliance concerns were also raised with the ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the front passenger seats, as it is illegal for child-seat restraints to be fitted in the front seat of passenger cars in Australia. The distributor says these ISOFIX points have been “disengaged”.

BYD and its local distributor EVDirect claimed it planned to provide its sales data for the FCAI’s monthly VFACTS sales reports for September and October, but missed both deadlines.

With three months of BYD deliveries combined, VFACTS data lists 4457 electric vehicles as sold (referring to deliveries, not orders placed) in November, up 685 per cent compared to the same month last year.

With Tesla’s sales data excluded – as it did not report sales to VFACTS this time last year either – the growth percentage drops to 298 per cent.

Tesla remained atop the electric-car sales charts last month, reporting 2196 vehicles – or half of all electric-car deliveries – across 391 Model 3 sedans and 1805 Model Y SUVs.

This represents a ramp-up in deliveries, after only 1109 Tesla vehicles were reported as sold in October – down from its record result of 5969 in September, and 3397 in August.

Since 1st July, as a result of changes to tax regulations enacted by Labor, the price of an EV/PHEV is reduced by your marginal tax rate.  So the BYD ATTO, already the cheapest EV at A$44,000 would fall by 32.5%  for most people,  to about A$30,000.   There are only a few new petrol cars cheaper than that.  Since the BYD is a lot cheaper than the Tesla Model 3, and about the same price as smaller petrol cars, sales are likely to continue to explode.

Have we seen the bottom of the bear market?

 Short-term, Wall Street is now very overbought (lower chart).  Normally, that will be followed by a retreat.  Markets (and economies) tend to move in waves, with small waves and bigger waves and sometimes giant, decades-long waves.  But movements in the short waves can give us some guide to likely moves in the somewhat longer waves.  For example, if the share market goes sideways from here, momentum will decrease, and it will move from being overbought to oversold without falling.  Being oversold, the next likely move would be up.  So that's something to watch for.  We have seen one very tentative sign that we might be approaching a cyclical bottom:  the last oversold downward spike in momentum didn't go as low as the previous one, often a sign of an impending cyclical turn, i.e., the beginning of a new bull market.  However ....

[Continued below these charts .....]

The trouble is ..... the market isn't cheap.  Look at the chart below, showing the dividend yield for the S&P500 and the 10-year bond yield.  Before the Covid crash, the D/Y averaged 1.9%.  Let's regard this as "normal" for the sake of the argument (it isn't normal, but it'll do for now)  Then the Fed cut the Fed funds rate to zero, and embarked on a massive program of quantitative easing (QE)  After plunging, so that the D/Y rose to 2.6%, the combination of massive fiscal stimulus and zero interest rates drove the market back up from an index level of 2237 to a peak of 4793, and the DY down from 2.6% to 1.2%.  

So if we are returning to a pre-Covid "normal" state, the DY should be 1.9% instead of 1.6%, which means either dividends have to rise by 20%, or the market has to fall by that amount.   Yet dividends are unlikely to rise.  A recession (mild according to most analysts, but possibly severe, according to me) is on the way.  Moreover, during the bull market from the Covid crash lows, fiscal and monetary policy were hugely supportive.   But the opposite is true now.  The Fed might have slowed the rate of increase in the Fed Funds rate, but it hasn't stopped lifting rates.  And, despite claims of a spendthrift Democrat administration, fiscal policy is tightening.  And that's before we get to soaring inflation and oil prices.  Yes, they have prolly peaked for this cycle, but the Fed won't end its penchant for rising rates and tightening policy until they are certain inflation is heading towards their target.  Even rising unemployment and falling payrolls may not deter them -- and we're not seeing anything like that yet.  Payrolls are still rising by more than 200K per month.  It's a good idea not to bet against the Fed.

Where am I positioned?   I'm sitting on a lot of cash in my notional portfolio---which has however underperformed for the last few weeks!  But I've been wrong before.  And no doubt will be again.  I'd be much more convinced that we're beginning a new bull market if the DY was back at 2.5%, in other words, if we'd had the final capitulation plunge, the last panic-stricken sell-off before markets rally.  As we had during the Covid Crash.

The usual warnings apply:  I could be wrong; these opinions are free and, like most free things, worth what you paid for them; forecasting the future is difficult; past performance isn't necessarily correlated with future performance; your personal circumstance may differ (e.g., you might only care about long-term performance); the share mkt might be looking through the  recession to the airy uplands of recovery later in 2023 (seems a bit early to me, but ....) .  

What legacy will Putin leave Russia?

From The Conversation

“Nobody listened to Russia,” Vladimir Putin intoned in 2018, as he unveiled the poisonous fruit of Russia’s military modernisation project: a nuclear-powered cruise missile; a hypersonic glider; and a nuclear warhead atop a drone submarine, designed to flood coastal cities with tsunamis. “Well, listen up now.”

Whether it’s new weapons, threatening nuclear war, or illegally invading sovereign states, Putin has a habit of seeking attention. In fact, it’s been his most predictable strategic reflex. Combining a thirst for great power status with a primitive nativism that has crossed over into xenophobia, Putin has consistently sought to compel others to respect Russia, though having them fear it will also apparently do.

But what sort of Russia will Putin leave behind for the millions of citizens at whose expense he has enriched himself, both personally and politically?

As his disastrous war in Ukraine demonstrates, Putin’s achievements embody anything but greatness. He will leave Russia geopolitically weakened, economically little more than a Chinese vassal, its people viewed with suspicion and hostility. Russia will have little more than a hefty nuclear arsenal and a disregard for the laws of war to coerce its neighbours.

For those reasons, future Russian historians are likely to view Putin with revulsion, not respect.

It’s worth recalling that Putin first came to power in 2000 on a wave of popular relief, not euphoria. For years, Russians had faced unappealing leadership choices: an increasingly ill and gaffe-prone Boris Yeltsin; the Communist Party’s dour Gennady Zyuganov; and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the neofascist “clown prince” of Russian politics.

Unsurprisingly, Russians stoically but unenthusiasticaly voted for Yeltsin as president, but repeatedly elected rogues’ galleries of communists and nationalists (often called reds and browns) to Russia’s emasculated parliament as symbols of their discontent.

Enter Putin, who was plucked from obscurity by Yeltsin to become prime minister in August 1999. He soon became acting president when Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned on December 31.

In Putin, a population disillusioned with democracy and capitalism – which it blamed for economic shocks, rampant inflation and corruption, war in Chechnya, a decline in life expectancy and a shrinking population – saw the promise of relative youth. With that also came a sense of optimism that there was an alternative future for Russia than slow sclerosis, a return to the bad old days of the USSR, or muscular fascism.

At first Putin made few commitments: a vague notion of restoring Russia’s great power status, and a promise to clean up corruption.

Early in his tenure, pundits at home and abroad speculated about Putin the man. Did his shadowy KGB past hint at a preference for control, and ultimately dictatorship? Or did his role as chief of staff to the reformist mayor of St Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, suggest a democrat in disguise?

Of course, any doubts about Putin’s character have long since been expunged, save for a small number of his ardent Western supporters.

Yet it is worth recalling that the West has not just given Putin the benefit of the doubt on numerous occasions, but actively promoted him as a potential ally. Meeting Putin in June 2001, George W. Bush apparently “looked into his soul” and saw a trustworthy man. Tony Blair pushed hard (with Putin’s firm backing) for a new Russia-North Atlantic Council in 2002 to strengthen ties between Moscow and NATO members.

After those relationships soured over war in Iraq, Putin progressively repressed domestic freedoms with formal legislation and black PR, moulded the media into a propaganda arm, imprisoned oligarchs, embarked on gas wars against Ukraine, renationalised the energy industry, foreshadowed his current ultranationalism at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, launched the five-day war against Georgia, and threatened the West with nuclear annihilation.

Even then, Barak Obama still attempted to “reset” relations with the Kremlin in 2009 and 2010, prompting Russians to joke that when you reset a computer you didn’t erase its memory.

Western attempts to socialise Putin should therefore have ended well before Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. Yet the West responded with sanctions packages, reflecting an unwillingness to accept significant risks or costs. It then actively rewarded Putin with the opportunity to further extend Russian energy dominance in Europe – and the strategic leverage that came with it – via the Nordstream gas project.

The shooting down of flight MH17 by proxy Russian forces raised opprobrium, but no retributive justice. Nor did the poisonings of dissidents in Western capitals with fourth-generation chemical weapons, the horrendous conduct of Russian forces in Syria, or the Kremlin’s earnest attempts to polarise Western societies and interfere in their elections.

The dwindling ranks of those who support a softer line on Russia often justify Western behaviour with an odd sense of victor’s guilt, in which they see the West as partly culpable for Russia’s problems.

They are right, although not in the way they might expect. It is not enlarging NATO but placating Putin that has emboldened him to invade a sovereign state in the service of his imperial ambitions and throw Europe’s security order into turmoil.

Ironically, Putin’s singular capacity to divide has assisted his success in uniting Russia. He recognises that human frailties – fear, mistrust, anger – can be weaponised to generate support and even legitimacy, albeit not one recognisable in pluralist societies.

He set Kremlin clans against one another, elevating and demoting them in games of superpresidential sport. He encouraged victimhood by blaming Russia’s woes on moral decay in the West, American imperialism, liberals, “fascists”, Islamic terrorists, the Baltic states and Ukrainians.

He presented Russia’s oligarchs with a deal: they could continue to obscenely enrich themselves on the condition they stay out of politics. All the while he gradually shaped the apparatus of the state and society into a form in which he became the essence of all decisions, and the personification of Russian nationhood.

But, even in an autocracy, that only works provided there’s some good news to report.

For many of Putin’s presidencies, he was able to point to rising standards of living. Yet Russia’s structural inequalities have remained. In 2021, for instance, Russia’s 500 richest people controlled more wealth than the poorest 99.8% of the population.

That wealth is clustered in major cities. Russia’s ethnic minorities, save for local elites, are largely excluded.

Sanctions are also hurting. According to Andrei Illarionov, Putin’s former chief economic adviser, the number of Russians living in poverty will likely triple – to around one-third of the population. And an inability to diversify its economy will make Moscow beholden to Beijing as the main viable provider of capital to fund Russia’s extraction of energy and resources.

There is also no good news from the front lines. A combination of losses and defeats has made it harder to deny the scale of Russia’s military ineptitude. Having decried Ukrainians first as Nazis and then Satanists, Russia’s propagandists are now reduced to calling them ugly.

It is therefore increasingly evident that Putin has succeeded only in creating not a great power but a pre-modern petty state, characterised by fluid fiefdoms. He presides over a decaying and stratified society where wealth can be more precarious than poverty, where failure to intone whatever nonsense pours out of a cynical state media is grounds for suspicion and mistrust, and whose much-vaunted military might has been crippled by his own hubris.

Ultimately, Putin’s bequest to his people is grimness, not greatness. The next generation of Russians will be untrusted and unwanted in many of the world’s most prosperous and welcoming nations. Those who remain will be isolated, increasingly poor, and unable to shape their own destinies.

For all the suffering Putin and his people have inflicted on others, we should not be triumphant about that. On the contrary, we should lament it.

Monday, December 5, 2022


 I thought this was very beautiful.  But I have no idea where it is.

It reminds me of the days when I used to go hiking in the mountains, when my knees still worked. 

I have loud opinions


For the first time, world plug-in sales exceed a million

N.B. log scale. 
Each tick mark on the vertical (y-) axis represents a doubling of sales,
which is happening more or less every 18 months.

From CleanTechnica

Global plugin vehicle registrations were up 51% in September 2022 compared to September 2021, reaching a record 1,040,000 units. This is the first time ever the world reaches one million plugin vehicle registrations in a month. Despite the USA and Europe not reaching record months in September, China made up for it. China was also supported by a long list of other markets at record heights, with the highlights being: Australia (8,000 units), South Korea (17,000), and … Japan (13,000)!

Yep, Japan is (finally!) warming up to EVs, in no small part thanks to the success of the kei car Nissan Sakura and its Mitsubishi sibling, the eK X EV. Another interesting trend: all of the previously record-breaking markets are located in the Asia-Pacific region….

With such a strong month in September, plugins represented 17% share of the overall auto market. Full electrics (BEVs) themselves reached 13% share of the market! And these numbers could have been even larger if the overall market had not been in its newfound recovery mode. That, added to the fact that plugless hybrids (HEVs) posted their highest growth rate since last January (+14% YoY), confirms once again the significant correlation between the HEV and pure ICE (internal combustion engine) markets.

In September, the BEV growth rate (+50% YoY) was slightly smaller than that of plugin hybrids (+54%), but if we exclude China from the plugin hybrid vehicle (PHEV) tally, we discover that PHEVs would be down for the seventh month in a row. So, excluding China, where PHEVs have evolved into 30–40+ kWh battery systems (working more as extended-range electric vehicles than classic PHEVs), plugin hybrids are still struggling.

Year to date, the plugin vehicle share grew to 13% (9.3% BEV). With the plugin market now consistently reaching two-digit results in market share, one can say that EV disruption in knocking on the global automotive market’s doors. Expect the floodgates to open next year!

World car/light truck sales hover around the 70 million per annum level.   If EV/PHEV sales remain at their current seasonally adjusted level of 900,000 per month, they will make up ±15% of global car sales.  However, they are in fact growing by 65% per annum (smoothed), which means that in a year's time, EVs/PHEVs could make up 25% of global car sales.