Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Climate Apocalypse and/or Democracy

From Huffington Post:

In the last week, a group of scientists and a prominent historian each predicted a climate apocalypse. The scientists, led by Ricarda Winkelmann of Germany's Potsdam University, issued a paper finding that, if humans burn the rest of the world's estimated fossil fuel reserves -- which might take only another 140 years at current rates of increase -- effectively all of the world's ice will melt, and sea levels will rise some 160 feet, enough to change the surface of the planet and drown, among others, New York, London, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and all of Bangladesh.

Historian Timothy Snyder of Yale argued in the New York Times that climate change may bring us the next Hitler. If we ignore the warnings of science and don't start investing in clean technologies, climate shocks will push countries into panic-inducing scarcity, inspiring everything from ethnic and religious conflict in Africa and the Middle East to imperial land grabs by a hungry and worried China. The Nazi precedent is at the heart of Snyder's essay, which is titled "The Next Genocide." For him, Hitler's genocidal war for "lebensraum," or "living space" for Germans, is a paradigm of an anti-scientific response to an ecological crisis. Snyder emphasizes that Hitler rejected scientific measures to increase crop yields and called for Germans to colonize Ukraine and the rest of Europe's grain belt as protection against a food-poor future.

Taken together, these two warnings underscore the discomforting fact that the future of the planet is a political problem. The map of every coastline, the habitability or uninhabitability of the places where billions of people live today, will arise from policy decisions, as surely as if we were detonating those cities, or literally playing God and raising the seas with a word. This is only an especially vivid example of the new human condition, the Anthropocene, in which people are a geological force shaping the Earth. From now on, the world we inhabit will be the one we have made. We can't decide to stop shaping the planet, but only what shape to give it. And the only way to decide deliberately and explicitly is through politics. Nothing else can bind and direct us in the right way.

And, as Snyder emphasizes, ecological crisis can make politics horrible. It can power the worst politics imaginable, to the point of genocide. But avoiding that awful future isn't just a matter of accepting scientific guidance and opposing evil where it arises.

Instead, we can ask what kind of politics makes ecological crises less terrible. Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel laureate in economics, famously observed that no famine has ever taken place in a democracy. That is, a natural disaster isn't simply a matter of drought or crop failure; it is a joint product of these events and political decisions: who gets the food, whether to let people starve. No democracy has let its own people starve -- which is an abstract way of saying that democratic citizens have not let one another starve, or, more muscularly, have refused to be starved. There is a key here to a politics for the Anthropocene: a world of ecological crisis, where ecology is both a political problem and a political creation, must be democratic, or else it will be terrible.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Dark Side of Alternative Medicine and Holistic Healing

Alternatinve medicine is called quackery and is a dangerous fraud.  As Tim Minchin says "There is a word for alternative medicine that works...  Ah yes.  It's called medicine."

From Alternet

Some forms of holistic healing come perilously close for blaming sick people for things beyond their control.

By Susan Sered September 4, 2015

Holistic healing sounds like a good thing. I certainly believe that each of us is far more than a cluster of discrete organs, bones and cells. I also believe that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone; the mind and the body are a cohesive unit; that every illness experience is embedded in a wider social context; that environment matters; and that the manner in which a healer relates to a patient can result in widely different outcomes. And while we Americans may be suspicious that some brands of healing are nothing but quackery, unless the healer interferes with standard bio-medical treatment (for example, by telling patients they must stop receiving cancer chemotherapy) we tend to see holistic healing as benign” Even if it doesn’t “work” it helps people struggling with pain and disease feel better.

That assumption, I’ve come to see, needs to be looked at a bit more closely.

A number of years ago I conducted interviews with 46 Boston-area complementary and alternative medicine practitioners who told me during an initial phone call that they treat breast cancer patients. 
Their healing modalities ranged from acupuncture to Zen shiatsu therapy and from homeopathy to past life regression.

All of the healers explained that bio-medical treatment alone is insufficient because it only targets the symptom (cancer) and not the underlying causes of the disease. (Only a very few of the healers actively discourage their patients from continuing bio-medical treatment.) The deeper, root causes identified by the healers cluster into a few categories:

*Elements of the modern environment or lifestyle that cause or contribute to the rise in rates of breast cancer;  for example, air pollution, computers sending out electromagnetic rays which typically are parallel to the level of a woman’s breast, deodorants and antibiotics.

*Food and drink related causes such as alcohol abuse, dairy products, artificial sweeteners and gluten.
*Personal experiences and character traits including trauma, social isolation, lack of self-acceptance and feelings of resentment.

As I listened to healers (almost all of whom I very much liked on a personal level) I began to understand that through invoking these root causes the healers were actually reframing or expanding breast cancer from a discrete physical disease of a body part to a much larger problem potentially involving all areas of a woman’s life (and possibly her past lives as well). 

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Are Vitamins And ‘Natural’ Supplements Good For You?

From Popular Science:

The NIH just pledged $35 million to find out—but it may not be enough

By Alexandra Ossola September 9, 2015

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Wednesday that it will invest a total of $35 million toward research into dietary supplements. Five research centers will spend the next five years investigating the effectiveness of some of the most popular “natural” dietary supplements in the country.

This research is important because the medical benefits of many nutritional supplements are unproven, despite the fact that about one-fifth of Americans take them. Antioxidant supplements, for example, have been found to stave off cancer, among other diseases, in some patients but worsen preexisting lung tumors in mice. Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your risk of heart attack, or it could increase your risk of prostate cancer, or do nothing to stop cognitive decline. If any of these chemicals contains a miracle cure—or if health-conscious people are unwittingly hastening their demise—doctors should probably know.

Paul Offit, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who has written extensively about vitamins and nutritional supplements, sees the value in these sorts of studies, even if the result is negative—in the past, similar studies have shown that taking concentrated garlic doesn’t slow bad cholesterol, or that the herb saw palmetto can’t help an enlarged prostate. “When patients want to take [these supplements] physicians can say ‘Don’t do it, take a statin instead. And don’t take garlic because it’s “natural”—it just doesn’t work,’” Offit says. The term “natural” is deceiving, he adds, since most drugs are derived from compounds found in nature.

But Offit doesn’t think the NIH’s investment in research will solve the real issue with supplements: a lack of strict regulation. “The problem is getting a quality product in an unregulated industry. I cannot emphasize this more strongly—the FDA simply does not regulate [supplements],” he says. Though the FDA does claim to regulate supplements, studies in recent years have shown that the nutritional supplements sold in health food stores contain varying quantities of the active ingredient that is often different from what is on the bottle, plus a whole bunch of extra ingredients not even mentioned on the label. Earlier this year, the New York State Attorney General conducted an investigation, adding to the mounting evidence against the efficacy of these supplements.

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Fourteen years ago I still lived in Los Angeles.  I got up early that day because it was a primary election day for the Mayor of LA.

When I got into the polling place the election workers were closely watching a small television.

They said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. At first I thought it was an accident, like when a plane hit the Empire State Building. I did my civic duty, voted and went off to get my breakfast bagel.

I called Tina, who lived on Long Island at the time.  She was unaware of events but turned on the TV and filled me in on what was happening.  I hurried home, put on the TV and booted up my computer.
By that time the first tower had collapsed and the second followed. Events that would be replayed again and again.

Both Tina and I had met a woman, who was killed on one of the planes.  My cousin had friends killed at the Pentagon.  Tina knew a family whose daughter was in one of the towers.

I moved to Long Island a few months later.  I avoided Ground Zero.  Then I accidentally wound up exiting a subway near there.

Sometimes revenge is just another word for justice. I remember the videos of the Palestinians dancing in the streets. Hell if they had wanted to turn the entire Middle East (except Israel, our only real ally there) to glass the day after 9/11 I would have said go for it.

Now I think we would have been better off if we had acted more like Israel did after Munich in 1972. They had the Mossad hunt down and kill the Jihadi scum that had murdered their Olympic atheletes.

Hind sight is 20/20 and I went along with the rush to war.  So did 70-80% of my fellow citizens.  I can't blame Fox News I was reading the New York Times and News Day every day and they were rah-rah for war too.  Now we are mired in the 1400 year old wars between the Muslim world and the West, wars marked by imperialism on both sides.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Natural Right of Self Defense

September 4, 2015. By Tenth Amendment Center

The right to keep and bear arms is actually part of a broader natural right to self-defense. No government, no document, no vote creates your right to self-defense. You have this right because you are a living, breathing human being.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day Or Any Other Holiday. What the Fuck Do They Mean Anymore?

I'm old, I'm tired of fighting.  I've become cynical.

I used to put up rousing pro labor music on Labor Day.

I'm nearly 70 years old.  I was born in the late 1940s and grew up in the 1950s, an era of optimism, despite what many would have young people believe about that era it was a good time.

World War II was over, Eisenhower was President. The Democrats ran Adlai  Stevenson, a total dweeb with the personality of a slug against him, twice. I wasn't supposed to like Ike because my parents were staunch Democrats.

Looking back on things I think Eisenhower was the second greatest Republican President ever.  He managed the US during one of the most dangerous periods in history and helped keep the nukes from flying.  He presided over rise of the civil rights movement.  Built the interstate highway system that drew the country together.  He saw to it that the promises of home loans and the GI Bill for vets saw the rise of the educated middle class in America.

Yeah I remember a lot of things about those days.

I remember how we had a parade on Memorial Day to honor those who gave their lives fighting to keep this country whole and defend ideals we shared.  Almost all the stores were closed except for one or two pharmacies.

I remember the Fourth of July when we had parades and a big gathering at a place called Fireman's Field that was a day of partying, speeches, bands and entertainment capped of with fireworks.

We had a parade on Labor Day too, all the stores and the paper mill closed that day too.

November 11 was Armistice Day, later as World War I faded from memory it became Veteran's Day.  We had assemblies in school where veterans spoke of the wars and their service.

I remember Thanksgiving, a day of showing gratitude, families gathering for a big feast.  As I grew older there was usually the Army-Navy Football game on the TV.

I remember Christmas and New Years as the Holidays.  People had their own religions and celebrated them differently including the days on which presents were exchanged.

Somewhere along the line something was lost.

That rising middle class became separated from the working class. The children of the generation of vets who were the first generation to go to college became the white collar elite. They became the privileged and started looking down on the people who built the buildings and roads, drove taxis, waited on them in restaurants.

With that condescension, perhaps even contempt towards working people came an anti-union rhetoric and stagnant or  even falling wages.

In the early 1960s I read a book by Vance Packard, The Status Seekers: An Exploration of Class Behavior in America and the Hidden Barriers That Affect You, Your Community, Your Future.  I wish I could remember it better as Vance Packard was a real sociological Cassandra warning of trends that threatened society and the well being of humanity.

I know I grew up questioning the rampant consumerism and status seeking of the privileged. I wanted adventure more than the rewards of conformity. I liked the bohemian life more than the status seeking games.

After the 1960s they blamed the hippies for every modern social problem, hippies became the universal scapegoat.

Some where along the line we stopped having parades on the Fourth of July and the LGBT rights parades celebrating the Stonewall Riot became the only parade most cities seemed to have.

Instead of parades and celebrations of important events and movements that affected the life of Americans we saw those days turned into orgies of consumption.  Days featuring huge sales kicking off yet another season of marketing during which people are supposed to assert their individuality and status by their spending and consuming.

I've worked in Big Box Stores where Labor Day marks the start of the Christmas Marketing orgy, with Halloween tossed in as an extra must consume and spend money on event.

While I was wondering if this is a universal given I learned through a Facebook Friend that they still have a Labor Day Parade in one of the small Adirondack villages I grew up in.  I learned there is/are small towns and cities that still hold Fourth of July parades and events.

We have a small business and know people who restore cars and houses, make real wood cabinets and the like.  We celebrate those who open and run their own restaurants unbeholding to and not following the rules of some corporate board of directors.

Some of us are looking at less being more with smaller homes, less status and more time even if only to loll around reading or watching TV.

We've been polarized as a nation and people by folks who are experts at the art of selling and propaganda.  After all if we are at each others throats over bullshit issues we might never notice how empty our lives as consumers and worker drones really are.

We might never ask how we go to a place where politician seem selected by big money, bought and paid for not to govern in the interests of the people but in the interests of the rich elites.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

I used to be part of the anti-GMO thing until it was pointed out how without GMO foods we would lose a billion or two people to starvation.  As of today we have 7.363 billion people on this planet and are headed towards a massive population crash like a runaway train.

Loss of several billion people to starvation is inevitable unless we stop the population bomb now with one child only policies.

From Scientific American:

Intuition can encourage opinions that are contrary to the facts

By Stefaan Blancke August 18, 2015

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have met with enormous public opposition over the past two decades. Many people believe that GMOs are bad for their health – even poisonous – and that they damage the environment. This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMOs are safe to eat, and that they bring environmental benefits by making agriculture more sustainable. Why is there such a discrepancy between what the science tells us about GMOs, and what people think? To be sure, some concerns, such as herbicide resistance in weeds and the involvement of multinationals, are not without basis, but they are not specific to GMOs. Hence, another question we need to answer is why these arguments become more salient in the context of GMOs.

I recently published a paper, with a group of Belgian biotechnologists and philosophers from Ghent University, arguing that negative representations of GMOs are widespread and compelling because they are intuitively appealing. By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture our attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.

In the paper, we identify several intuitions that may affect people’s perception of GMOs. Psychological essentialism, for instance, makes us think of DNA as an organism’s “essence” - an unobservable and immutable core that causes the organism’s behaviour and development and determines its identity. As such, when a gene is transferred between two distantly related species, people are likely to believe that this process will cause characteristics typical of the source organism to emerge in the recipient. For example, in an opinion survey in the United States, more than half of respondents said that a tomato modified with fish DNA would taste like fish (of course, it would not).
Essentialism clearly plays a role in public attitudes towards GMOs. People are typically more opposed to GM applications that involve the transfer of DNA between two different species (“transgenic”) than within the same species (“cisgenic”). Anti-GMO organizations, such as NGOs, exploit these intuitions by publishing images of tomatoes with fish tails or by telling the public that companies modify corn with scorpion DNA to make crispier cereals.    
Intuitions about purposes and intentions also have an impact on people’s thinking about GMOs. They render us vulnerable to the idea that purely natural phenomena exist or happen for a purpose that is intended by some agent. These assumptions are part and parcel of religious beliefs, but in secular environments they lead people to regard nature as a beneficial process or entity that secures our wellbeing and that humans shouldn’t meddle with. In the context of opposition to GMOs, genetic modification is deemed “unnatural” and biotechnologists are accused of “playing God”. The popular term “Frankenfood” captures what is at stake: by going against the will of nature in an act of hubris, we are bound to bring enormous disaster upon ourselves.

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Navy SEALs set to open to women, top admiral says

From Navy Times:
By David Larter and Meghann Myers, Staff writers August 19, 2015

he Navy is planning to open its elite SEAL teams to women who can pass the grueling training regimen, the service's top officer said Tuesday in an exclusive interview.

Adm. Jon Greenert said he and the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, believe that if women can pass the legendary six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve.

"Why shouldn't anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason," Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times and its sister publication Defense News. "So we're on a track to say, 'Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'"

Greenert's full interview is set to air Sunday morning on "Defense News with Vago Muradian."

The push to integrate the storied SEAL brotherhood is coming on the heels of a comprehensive review led by Losey, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, that recommended women be allowed under the same exacting standards required of male candidates. Final approval is still pending. The Army and Air Force are also moving to open all combat jobs to women, according to officials who spoke to the Associated Press. It's believed the Marine Corps may seek to keep its ground combat jobs, including the infantry, male-only.

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The Politics of Being a Woman in a "Christian Nation"

From Huffington Post:

The far right is pitting God against women. Mike Huckabee's support for the decision to deny a 10-year-old rape victim an abortion is just another example in a long history that continues this election season.

At Fox News' Republican Presidential debate in Cleveland, Jeb Bush boasted that, informed by his faith, he "defunded planned parenthood and created a culture of life in my state." When Megyn Kelly asked Scott Walker if he would "really let a mother die rather than have an abortion," he refused to temper his position that there should be no exceptions to his "pro-life" position.

Ted Cruz professed "God speaks to me every day through the scriptures and this informs my position on religious liberty, life, and marriage." And Marco Rubio argued that even in the case of rape, women should not have the ability to make choices about their pregnancies. Sadly, such proclamations ignore individual rights, freedom of religion, and the fact that faith as a guiding principle can be dangerous when the foundational teachings of social justice are ignored.

In an effort to create a "moral" society, women's health and welfare are nothing more than political pawns for too many Republicans. The supposed secular nature of the nation aside, the parameters of the pro-life conversation are severely limited in scope. Claiming they are focused on protecting life in the name of God, such views ignore the interconnection between such legislation and poverty rates. Politicians who brag about defunding Planned Parenthood ignore that nearly all federal funding received by the organization goes to contraception and other essential health services. Under Jeb Bush's "culture of life," Florida became one of the worst states for women's health and wellbeing in the nation. Sr. Joan Chittister has explained these political notions are pro-birth; little attention is given to what becomes of children once they are born or to the women who have given birth.

Even Joe Biden, who acknowledged that his Catholic values - particularly in relation to reproductive health -- should not be forced upon other Americans, fails to recognize that Catholicism supports the wellbeing of women. Reproductive health is a social justice issue and refusal to grant access perpetuates the oppression of women.

Perhaps Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it best: "Reproductive freedom is in a sorry situation in the United States. Poor women don't have choice."

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I was a civil rights activist in the 1960s. But it’s hard for me to get behind Black Lives Matter.

From The Washington Post:

I support BLM's cause, but not its approach.

August 24, 2015

As the rapper Tef Poe sharply pointed out at a St. Louis rally in October protesting the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.: “This ain’t your grandparents’ civil rights movement.”

He’s right. It looks, sounds and feels different. Black Lives Matter is a motley-looking group to this septuagenarian grandmother, an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many in my crowd admire the cause and courage of these young activists but fundamentally disagree with their approach.  Trained in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., we were nonviolent activists who won hearts by conveying respectability and changed laws by delivering a message of love and unity. BLM seems intent on rejecting our proven methods. This movement is ignoring what our history has taught.

The baby boomers who drove the success of the civil rights movement want to get behind Black Lives Matter, but the group’s confrontational and divisive tactics make it difficult. In the 1960s, activists confronted white mobs and police with dignity and decorum, sometimes dressing in church clothes and kneeling in prayer during protests to make a clear distinction between who was evil and who was good.

But at protests today, it is difficult to distinguish legitimate activists from the mob actors who burn and loot. The demonstrations are peppered with hate speech, profanity, and guys with sagging pants that show their underwear. Even if the BLM activists aren’t the ones participating in the boorish language and dress, neither are they condemning it.

The 1960s movement also had an innate respectability because our leaders often were heads of the black church, as well. Unfortunately, church and spirituality are not high priorities for Black Lives Matter, and the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that empowered black leaders such as King and Nelson Mandela in their successful quests to win over their oppressors are missing from this movement. The power of the spiritual approach was evident recently in the way relatives of the nine victims in the Charleston church shooting responded at the bond hearing for Dylann Roof, the young white man who reportedly confessed to killing the church members “to start a race war.” One by one, the relatives stood in the courtroom, forgave the accused racist killer and prayed for mercy on his soul. As a result, in the wake of that horrific tragedy, not a single building was burned down. There was no riot or looting.

“Their response was solidly spiritual, one of forgiveness and mercy for the perpetrator,” the Rev. Andrew Young, a top King aide, told me in a recent telephone interview.

“White supremacy is a sickness,” said Young, who also has served as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta. “You don’t get angry with sick people; you work to heal the system. If you get angry, it is contagious, and you end up acting as bad as the perpetrators.”

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