The New York Times is reporting that parents are counseling their kids not to enlist. It's about time that the American public is standing up to this war, considering that they let themselves get mislead during the buildup to it and then didn't have the balls to vote Bush out last fall. The US needs to get out of Iraq and a weakened military might be the only way to force them to get other countries to pick up the slack. Iraq obviously still needs help, but the US presence is more of an irritant than a healing factor.
Edit: I just had to add this quote.
"They don't realize that they have a role in helping make the all-volunteer force successful," said Col. Slotwinski, who retired in 2004. "If you don't, you're faced with the alternative, and the alternative is what they were opposed to the most, mandatory service."
I see, sir. Opposing my child's recruitment is going to end up getting everyone drafted, so I should shut up, eh? Sir! Yes! Sir!
A new Earth Policy Institute report concludes that China now consumes more raw materials than the United States, at least as far as meat , steel, coal, and grain are concerned. The US still dominates oil consumption, for the time being. Although consumer consumption overall is still lower in China than the US, the number of consumer computers sold in China is doubling every 24 months (that's almost Moore's law in effect!) and some goods such as TVs, cell phones, and refrigerators, are bought by more Chinese than Americans. This affirms the dual trend of China serving as the manufacturing center for the rest of the world and using this position to develop the consumer class of its own society. China's economy expanded by half a point shy of 10% last year. Not bad for a bunch of commies.
The report declares that China is no longer a developing country but is best considered an emerging economic superpower.
Of course, there is quite a bit of trouble in paradise. It is estimated that 3/4 of city water is unfit for drinking and 2/3 of Chinese cities exist in a haze of air pollution. China is consuming timber at a voracious rate, contributing to epidemic deforestation throughout Asia.
Guess the freedom to set policies however you want, independent of your population's demands and desires, isn't any better at avoiding running one's society into the ground than forking it over to the free market. Fucking commies.
The baton of supremacy and the title of the most powerful and influential has been passed from nation to nation, East to West, since the beginning of civilization, and it is being passed on to Asia now. Unfortunately, the current US government will undoubtedly see this as a threat and are likely to respond with the big guns. Taiwan's relationship with the motherland and its status as the only Democracy borne from and in defiance of a Communist takeover are just another vector in the dynamic that is likely to bring us on a collision course with China.
War with China seems so unlikely today that I'll be scoffed at for predicting it. But in 20, 30, 40 years from now when India, China, and the United States are each consuming more resources than the Earth will be able to produce, something is going to have to give. Be it water, oil, or something else, there are likely to be pretty nasty resource wars in the future.
Just more reasons why we need to develop cheap renewable energy sources. Not sure what to do about materials for all the shit we want to buy though.
The expanding American waistline has been a well known subject of discussion and distress for decades now, hitting full domestic stride in the 80s at the latest with a continuing self-conscious diet sub-sector in our economy continuing to flourish. It's an odd phenomenon considering how much we know about the problems associated with being overweight, namely heart disease, cancers, diabetes, bone problems, muscle problems, poor circulation, and many other issues. Some specialists have put obesity as the greatest health risk of all, higher than smoking even (as in, it's better to be a thin smoker than an overweight non-smoker). As if knowing the risks weren't enough, we know all about what to do: get more exercise and activity and eat healthier. Americans don't move, eat suboptimally nutritious foods, and eat too much of it.
Oddly, even this combination of knowledge about problems and solutions isn't enough. Americans are getting fatter every second. It isn't just Americans either, though. As GDP rises, so does the percent of obesity, reflected from the east and west of the United States in Europe and Japan respectively. As it stands, modern economically successful social structures contribute to incredibly unhealthy humans.
Activity is a big problem, especially in the United States. Stop and think about how much activity you get. The few people who read this board actually probably get an average amount as many work in manual labor jobs, so exceptions are probably high in this sample. But many people walk around the house a little bit in the morning, walk to the car, walk to the seat they sit in for 80% of the next 8-10 hours, walk back into the house, and maybe a few hundred more steps around the house between the table, den, and bedroom.
I dare you to test your activity with a pedometer. I used to wear one (I still would but I didn't bring it with my to my in-laws when we moved here for the baby). 10,000 steps is supposed to be a good standard of activity; not really enough to burn weight off, but enough to keep you at wherever you are without gaining more, pending an intelligent diet. When I leave the house for school or work, I have a number of 10-15 minute connections between home, work, and trains as well as walking between classes, so hitting 10K isn't hard for me on work days. On study days, I'm pretty sedentary. My personal worst was 642 steps. That was essentially get up, hit the bathroom, sit in front of the computer save 1 or 2 bathroom breaks, 15 steps to the kitchen for lunch, and that's it. Shameful, eh?
At my biggest, I breached the 240 mark (109 kilograms = 240.3 pounds ±) but have been able to get down to a respectable 222 and falling as of today. The biggest thing for me was reducing the size of my portions. It's not that hard to do and has a huge difference. I've heard that restaurant portions in the U.S. have grown by 1/3 since the 1970s, and other researchers have shown how the way our food is presented to us actually leads us to eat more. We eat more fast food which is well known to be more fatty and less healthy than home cookin'.
But it isn't just that we eat too much, as everyone who is fat isn't guilty of gluttony. And it isn't as simple as the food being just high in fat and bad calories. Caloric content is closely related here, but the richness or energy content of the food is also a contributor. The type of food we predominantly eat now is consistently more energy dense than what our appetites have evolved for and thus we end up eating more calories. Our bodies have a metric that is employed to determine how much we should eat but this metric isn't tuned to the caloric content of the food we eat and we end up overconsuming. We get tricked by the food we are eating.
Some people try to compensate by eating healthy at home, a move that typically consists of adding more fruits and vegetables. It's been recently discovered though, that microwaving vegetables essentially destroys their nutritional value, at least as far as free-radical destroying antioxidants are concerned. It's best to cook vegetables at least a little bit, as even though they have more nutritional value raw, its locked up in forms that aren't so easy to digest. Steaming works best, and pressure cooking is decent, especially if you use the water left over to make soup or something. Boiling destroys about half the nutrition and a lot of what is left over gets thrown away in the water, and nuking the veggies destroys over 90%. Saves time maybe, but doesn't help you at all.
Will it matter for the citizens of the United States? I doubt it. I expect more and more people to keep getting fatter and fatter, dying of more heart attacks and cancers. Some people have suggested banning fast food advertisements aimed at children (I think we should ban all advertising aimed at kids actually), a proposal worth considering especially in light of evidence that fast food is addictive. I think we need to start being aware of what, why, and how we eat though, as a paradigm shift in our conception of diet is the only thing that will matter. But by then, the signs that our nation's growning fat and opulent is an indicator of our decline will likely be seen as predictors instead.
Come on in and tell us how fat you are!!
Last July, the USFDA approved pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly's application to administer recombinant Human Growth Hormone (rHGH) to healthy children who happen to be in the bottom 1% of their age group for height. (Okay, this is a bad pun, but unavoidable. Can't really describe them to be in the top 1%, can I?) I find this to be a horribly disturbing action that speaks volumes to the deficiencies in our society.
Maybe I'm not being fair and I just don't realize how hard it is being short. This isn't entirely true, as I was kind of short in middle school due to my unfortunate combination of being younger than everyone else in class as well as hitting puberty at a later age than average. But even my shortness at that time wasn't anything compared to the 1% of kids who want this stuff. According to the Washington Post, some of the kids are smaller than kindergarteners when they are in second grade and suffer during gym class because they are so small. These are people who are predicted to grow up to be less than 5' tall.
rHGH has been given to people suffering from natural deficiencies in their ability to produce the hormone, but the new ruling clears the path for kids who have no abnormalities or disfunction to receive treatments. These treatments can cost up to $40,000 a year and can require 6 injections a week, just to gain up to 4 inches in final height. Improvements are not guaranteed and some people don't respond at all.
This whole issue is disappointing. I know its kind of naive to expect children not to pick on short kids, but just because kids seem naturally inclined to be jerks doesn't mean we should abandon efforts to educate them. The hypocrisy of it reeks: can't have genetic manipulation of our DNA but we can subject children to these kinds of chemical interventions without running afoul of God? C'mon!
The health risks aren't clear either. In the 1950s, women who received hormone therapy to stunt their growth got messed up reproductive systems as a bonus. Of course there is no reason to assume that rHGH is going to cause problems, but there is no reason to assume that it won't either. It's safety has been established in problematic patients so far, but we don't what effect it could have on an otherwise perfectly functioning system. Overloading a body with more HGH than it makes could drive the natural mechanisms to shut down, for instance, forcing the kids to continue the treatments much longer than otherwise would have been necessary. HGH is needed all through life, just in lower doses. It really isn't a growth hormone as much as a metabolizing hormone, and thus is needed all through life.
Our nation's fixation with physical attributes and our willingness to invest massive sums of resources in the pursuit of some media-inspired ideal form is disheartening. Of course people are welcome to do whatever they want in life, to pursue a life of crass consumerism and superficial materialism till the cows come home. But shouldn't we ask for more? Shouldn't we strive to become a society more at ease with who and what we are inherent of our own rather than one that seeks to destroy (a process that consumption relies upon)?
I read yesterday that the average annual bill for prescription medicine among the retired elderly is about $3,100, and some people have annual bills of over $13,000 for medicines necessary to keep them alive. For anyone other than the filthy rich this is a staggering amount of money, all the more so when you consider that old people don't have earned incomes. I can sympathize with their call for federal prescription drug benefits to help ease this burden.
But although I sympathize, I'm not sure I support such a call. I don't know if I like the idea of using tax dollars to buy drugs for old people, especially when we don't use tax dollars to provide basic health benefits to the general non-elderly population and the law prevents us from buying particular recreational drugs as we may desire, even when these drugs are just plants and fungus. I'm not trying to turn a cold shoulder to old people here, but it just doesn't seem to be appropriate.
I like old people. I think they are pretty cool and I wish the nation as whole took greater pride in and care of our older generations. Their experiences over the last century are unique in the history of the universe and it is a shame to not capitalize on their wisdom and experiences more. Old people are a national treasure, a resource to be cherished and honored.
But when your time comes, your time comes. The human body isn't supposed to last for a 100 years, especially considering the stress we put it through in the environments we live in. Bodies wear out, plain and simple. I don't think it is the best idea to use our collective financial resources paying for kidney dialysis and hypertension pills.
This is a difficult opinion to hold though becuase it feels so heartless. I think that part of it rests with our collective fear of death and shame associated with the passing of a life. Death is a nasty thing, hidden away and treated as an enemy that we have to combat with the aim of conquering. This leads us to despise death instead of embracing it as the final chapter of the incredible rollercoaster ride of life. Death is inevitable, and if we recognize this and life our lives with an eye to it, we may instill a new sense of purpose and accomlishment, not to mention better health habits.
In a nation of overweight, diabetic, underexercised, smoking couch potatoes, the idea that we should spend our tax money on financing life past its due date strikes me as wrong, as a way of running away from facing up to moral responsibility and a perpetuation of the nasty habit of focusing on treating the systems instead of teh causes of a problem.
I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't offer health benefits or insurance coverage to people. I DO support that idea. I'd even support providing chemical crutches to people below the average life span. But once you beat the odds and pass the average age, no more subsidies and welfare. Life with dignity and allow the nation to collective invest in the next generation, providing benefits for children and those still in the prime earning and caregiving years.
But if my opinion on this would be adopted by a majority, it would have to be accompanied with a sense of respect and gratitude to the elderly, for we are choosing to force them to continue to provide for themselvse long after they have given of themselves to others. It's a tough position to take, and I am not really excited to hold this opinion, but I can't help it.
Then again, maybe shunting some of the billions (that is thousands of millions) of dollars we spend on building weapons would solve the problem. I'd be happiest if this were to happen, but the realist in me knows that the (current, at least) powers that be would never concede to the value of that.
What kind of world do we want to live? Are we even having a dialogue dealing with this issue? I find so frustrating that we, as a species, are so incredible complex and capable in so many absolutely stunning ways, yet we still act like imbecilic trolls most of the time. In spite of all of our advances, have we progressed? Technologically, progress is undeniable. Politically, we've transformed the nature of human society many times over. But do these circumstances warrant the designation of progress?
Technological progress is mostly a matter of accident. We are a curious animal and started poking around and asking some good questions at a certain point and slowly developed a body of knowledge allowing us to manipulate the world in incredible ways. But so what? What have we done with it? Longer survival rates for citizens in developed nations? Stood on the moon? Figured out faster way to communicate over longer distances? What else? Technological advances primarily come in two forms: military or economic. Neither of these are really good candidates for gauging progress. One is designed to kill and destroy and the other is based on selfish material cultivation. Not really species advancement. Just doing the same old shit with fancier methods and bigger explosions.
Politically its not really any better. As our technology developed, more people were living longer so we were forced into developing better methods of dealing with them. But its always been about lowest common denominators. What is the minimum that those in power have to do to stay in power? Look at a group and answer that question and you'll be able to predict what their society and government looks like pretty accurately. It may appear to have gotten better over the last 100 years, but it hasn't. A few societies have better educated masses so the minimum needed to keep them satiated has risen a few notches, so the advancements don't really reflect an actual change in thought and behavior, just a tweak on the old system.
I don't think this is due to an inescapable aspect of human nature though. Human nature isn't really all that behavior specific in the strictest sense. We have a lot of default modes of perceiving, organizing behavior, and acting on the world, but this can usually be updated and overridden by symbolic thought. We see it all the time in particular cultural expressions, education, and philosophy.
Where am I going with this? I dunno, to be honest, but it was on my mind and I want to keep some activity on here. Sorry for the incomplete thought. Hopefully more on this sooner than later.
I teach a class entitled "Living in a post-9/11 World" at a women's college in Japan. In this class, I get them to think about the economic, political, and military realities that brought us to where we are today and restrict our options for future development. Today I had them break into groups and work on an optimistic exercise. I asked them to imagine the best plausible future for the world, specifically with regard to the relationships between the G-8 nations, the Middle East, the United Nations, IMF, WTO, etc. My plan was to get some plausible scenarios on the table and to get them thinking about the interplay between these institutions. I asked them to set ideal goals for 5, 10, and 20 years down the line.
As I walked around to each group, most groups were doing well, but one group was stuck. They said they were having trouble because every time they started to think about a positive future scenario, they felt it was a pointless waste of time because there was no way things were going to turn out that good. I reminded them that in the depths of the cold war nuclear annhilation seemed unavoidable, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has taken surprisingly positive turns as well as negative ones, and that the Troubles in Northern Ireland have come under resolution. As bleak as it may seem, times to change.
But as I thought about it, I realized that these examples aren't necessarily reliable prognostics. The Cold War ended because one side collapsed under its own unsustainable weight and the other two problems proved to only be solvable by the combatants themselves. The conflict between modernity and religious fundamentalism isn't going to end with the collapse of the economy of one side or the other; they aren't tied to physical reality enough to be subject to that kind of pressure. And while it may seem that the combatants are modern nations vs fundamentalist nations (namely Euro-America vs the Middle East), the basic battleground is within the non-modern nations themselves. There really isn't much that outside nations can do to fix the political, economic, and religious states of these nations (unless you consider the approach taken in Iraq to be a viable solution.)
So where does that leave us? I'm trying hard to be a realist, but at times that can lead to defeatism and complacency with the current order, so a healthy does of idealism is needed. Idealism that isn't based on reality is doomed to inefficiency and ineffectiveness, so one has to be realistic. First of all, 10 and 20 years doesn't seem all that far away, and it isn't, but at the same time, there is plenty of time for change. Leaders die or are changed in elections, populations can develop ideas and desires with faddish speed, so it isn't unreasonable to hold out hope for sudden, unexpected, drastic change. But all the same, change has to come from within, and that just doesn't look like it is going to develop soon. And with outside nations only succeeding (apparently) in stirring the up a bee's nest with their good intentions, is there any rationale reason to be positive?
NewScientist has a story with great art discussing how diet affects gene expression in mice. Mice fed different levels of nutrients gave birth to progeny with different colors of fur and differeing tendencies towards obesity and diabetes. This is only a rodent study, but the processes at work are likely to be involved in some way or another on other mammals at least.
Right now is such an exciting time in science because we are getting down to such details that expose the fundamental interconnected coherence of nature. Deconstruction has led us full circle to connections. Fascinating.
While I'm raping Suckful's Spacedog Sparky's links, I might as well link to this story about a pack of feral Chihuahuas. I'd quote bits of the article to entice you to read it, but it's all so good you just need to read it yourself.
I say the best solution is to lock them in an arena and train a webcam on them, then set up a paysite that lets people watch them tear each other apart. Even better, put them on an island and let the chips fall where they may. You could take bets on which one ends up living. It could be like Lord of the Flies 2: Chihuahua Boogaloo. I wonder if they'd break into factions with head honcho Chihuahuas that organized raids on each other.
When my wife and I went to Hawaii a couple years ago, we went hiking in one of the inner island rainforests. It was a pretty hike, but there was a surreal section where we heard something in the bushes nearby. We paused, a bit unnerved, I'll admit, and then suddenly 3 jungle Chihuahuas burst forth from the underbrush. They weren't menacing or frothing at the mouth, but pattered in that little impish Chihuahua way down the path for about 200 feet before veering back off into the brush. The biggest dog was the leader of the three and the other two flanked him (her?) a doglength back and to the left and right. It was weird, like we were on the fringe of some jungle pigmy dog society and had been discovered by a security patrol. True story.
After seeing that, I don't trust Chihuahuas. If a desert ratdog can establish itself in a Pacific island rainforest, it probably has more going for it than it gets credit for. For that reason, I bet these wild dogs in Los Angeles probably aren't going to make very good playmates for preschoolers. If the judge decides to spare them euthanasia, some of those animals lovers who think it inhumane to kill them better be first in line to take them into their home.
A seemingly innocent notion ascribed to the sexes. It's often confused as a biological plumbing issue with male gendered penises and female gendered vaginas. We have societal ideas about what kinds of behaviors are appropriate for those with the corresponding pipes and outlets and think of those who don't fit these rules as "gender benders."
There is so much incredible research going on right now that explores all different aspects of the human condition from the notion of self-awareness to free will to sexual identity and the basis for behavior. Those paying attention know that questions of nature vs nurture are outdated, as the two forces with the potential to shape us are not exclusive nor competitve.
But the really stunning stuff deals with molecular biology, especially neurology. We are learning more and more about how the body works on a molecular level, which means we can identify cellular processes that manifest in all sorts of ways, from heart disease to the relationships between twins. What's particularly amazing is that once you delve this deep, things begin to look simply mechanical. The homunculus disappears.
We are getting a deeper understanding of how the brain works. We've got good models for understanding the physical and psychological evolution of humanity. It's exciting stuff.
But back to gender. People tend to think of gender as a kind of identity built on the foundation of the physical structure of our reproductive organs. It's really not that simple. Much of the behavior that we associate with males and females varies between sexes with regard to variables with different distributions between the sexes. For example, female infants are more likely to gaze at human faces longer than male infants, but if you look within each sex, we find that female infants with higher levels of intrauterine testosterone gaze at human faces for a shorter time than females who weren't exposed to as much testosterone as a fetus. So it isn't just a reproductive organ thing happening here. Neat, eh?
What's even more cool, in my opinion, is that although we can trace a lot of behavior and development to particular hormones and whatnot, we also find that particular behavioral traits arise in opposite patterns when opposite patterns of say, child care, occur in a species. The example here is male seahorses. Male seahorses gestate fertilized eggs and give birth, and researchers have found that, especially with regard to reproductive patterns, male seahorses behave like females in most other species and vice versa. What this means is that it isn't a male/female issue as much as it is a reproductive role related issue.
There isn't any rule book that says males must act a particular way or that lays down a particular code for female behavior. Rather, over generations of evolution, species have settled into ways of interacting that provide them with the best opportunities for perpetuation of their genetic lot. There may be infinite strategies within this field of opportunities, but there are only a finite number of successful ones. And those develop without regard to penises and vaginas.