How To Help Earthquake Victims in Nepal

Several charities are either on the ground or gearing up to help Nepalese survivors after the devastating earthquake they just suffered. There are some of the charities who are best suited to help because 1) they are already present in Nepal and 2) they have excellent (4 star) ratings on Charity Navigator or some other independent charity investigation. Here are some I can recommend:

Save the Children

Oxfam

Global Giving

Doctors Without Boarders

UNICEF

Please help if you possibly can.

Posted in shit I think y'all should know | Leave a comment

Worried About Eeyore

My daughters want to go back to Disney World, of course. I assumed it was because Disney World was fun. However, I recently learned that there are many reasons for wanting to return to Disney World and rebuilding Eeyore’ s house is not the least of these.

The girls were watching Winnie the Pooh, and when Eeyore’s house was destroyed in a flood Spock turned to her sisters and said “We need to help Eeyore rebuild his house.”

Stitch: That’s a good idea.

Lilo: What will me make it with?

Spock: I think bricks would hold up best. (She knows her 3 Little Pigs lessons!)

Lilo: But where will we build it? I think the 100 Acre Woods is in England.

Stitch: I think that they moved it into Disney World.

Spock: We can take bricks to Disney World!

Lilo: Will they let us bring bricks into Disney World?

*moment of contemplative silence*

Stitch: We can SMUGGLE bricks into Disney World!

*cheers from the trio*

I love my daughters, y’all.

Posted in daughters, I like this, dammit., life as I know it, motherhood | 3 Comments

The Anti-Science Behind Defending GMOs

The latest “GMOs are awesome; organic is a scam” tirade popped up on Jezebel yesterday and it left me with a head ache from the eye-rolling. Why? Because stanch GMO defenders are claiming *science* when the science is on the other foot. I have degrees in biology and a medical anthropology, so I am not ignorant of what science is – or how it can be presented in such a way that it looks better than it is.

The science of pro-GMO zealots is a bit shaky and they don’t even seem to have enough information to know it. Let’s take a look at this part of the article, for example:

“The term “GMO” refers to how a food ingredient was bred, not its content. Knowing whether or not a food is GMO is akin to knowing whether or not a person was conceived via in-vitro fertilization. Indeed, genetic modification is not an ingredient, it’s a breeding technique, and there’s no reason for consumers to know if their food was made using this method. The scientific consensus on GMOs shows that they are as safe as their conventional and organic counterparts. Indeed, there have been thousands of studies showing their safety, many of which haven’t been industry-funded. Every major scientific oversight organization in the world, including the World Health Organization and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says that GMOs on the market are safe to consume.”

First, I have a problem with false equivalency fallacies. Thus, the author lost me when she claimed GMOs are the same thing as cross-breeding and/or in vitro babies. 1) A GMO is an organism whose genome has been altered by the techniques of genetic engineering so that its DNA contains one or more genes not normally found there. This does not happen in nature. That means a genetics engineer used a plasmid to put recombinant scorpion insectotoxin (modified scorpion venom) in new breed of cabbage (which has be tested on human cells grown in the lab and just seems to hurt insect cells). That’s not how foods were ‘modified in the past. In the good ole days farmers and botanists would get two similar plants to breed (smearing the pollen on by hand in needs be) and bred the ‘good’ outcomes to get more of what they wanted. At no time have they ever gotten a cabbage to do the what-what with a scorpion. Putting a bit of animal DNA in a plant can only be done with high-tech stuff in a lab. 2) In vitro babies have not (as of yet) been genetically modified; they are human sperm and human egg melding and growing into an embryo which is implanted in a human womb. The resulting human is not a GMO.

All the author has shown me in her first two sentences is that she doesn’t understand genetic engineering or reproductive technology.

Secondly, not all GMOs are the same. Making a tomato drought resistant is a whole different ball of wax than making it express spider genes, you know? Insulin made in the lab is a delight. The bacteria that gobble up oil spills make me happy. So GMOs are not a catch-all. Just to be clear, the GMOs I’ll be griping about for the rest of the post are those food crops with non-plant DNA spliced in.

Thirdly, there is not a scientific consensus GMOs are across the board no-need-to-test-it safe. Why? Because American scientists are not the only scientists on the planet. The studies coming out of the EU, China, Japan, and other countries have noticed some not-good results of eating GMOs. For example, EU scientists published an article in the International Journal of Biological Sciences (peer-reviewed) which said that, “Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.”

That is one of many articles available. It was easy. I just grasped the concept that America isn’t the only place in the world. I also understand that if the EU has problems with GMOs it is because their scientists have found a damn good reason to be worried. It may turn out that the fears are groundless in the long haul, but I would prefer not to be the ‘oops’ in the equation if it goes from sugar to shit.

Thirdly, the studies showing GMOs are hunky dory are wonky. In grad school I read a paper whose title trumpeted the fact xylene inhalation did NOT cause birth defects in rats (2001 Evaluating Chemical and Other Agent Exposures for Reproductive and Developmental Toxicity. Pp. 1-114. Washington, D.C.: National Research Council; National Academy Press). And that was the truth. No more rats were born with birth defects in the xylene exposed population. However, when I looked at the DATA it turns out 1/3 of all the xylene affected rats spontaneously aborted their pups. The study didn’t “count” the horrendous level of spontaneous abortion because the pups weren’t BORN with birth defects. They also didn’t “count” the fact that the xylene affected pups that were born were VERY underweight. They told the truth, but at the same time lied out of their ass.

That’s why you always have to READ the studies, not just go with the platitudes in the titles.

The assumption that GMOs are just as good as organic is also built on that same kind of shady data farming. Remember the headlines all over the place in 2012 gloating that organic food isn’t any better for you than non-organic food, which gives everyone who is skimming the newsfeeds the impression that scientists have “proven” that the benefits of organic food is just a bunch of hippie hyperbole. Of course, if you read the study (or even the whole article) you can quickly see that the Stanford study was clear in the fact that organic food significantly reduces your exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria and pesticide residue, which is BETTER for YOU. The results of the study showed (as other studies have also shown) that munching on conventionally grown food increases your consumption of pesticides by more than 80% … and that these pesticides have been linked to all kinds of cancers as well as a ton of environmental and health damage. The headlines were 100% misleading sensationalist drivel but the pro-GMO adherents love to mock the silly tree-huggers for eating organic when “science says” it’s totes okay.

Finally, there the author’s claim that every major oversight organization in the world says that GMOs are dandy as can be. Well, remember that ‘you don’t drop dead’ is not the same as ‘they can’t hurt you’ and that the EU, China, and Japan are also in “the world”. In fact, all 26 countries that ban or partially ban GMOs because they 1) haven’t been proven safe and 2) they have shown harm in several studies are also “in the world”. Now, pro-GMO devotees say that it is a “lie” that GMOs are banned … because “1) non-approval of domestic cultivation of many GMO products, plus 2) mandatory labeling of food products that have even small traces of GMO content. Food companies in Europe have reformulated their products taking out all GMO ingredients so as to avoid these labels, and this is what has squeezed GMO foods for direct human consumption out of the market. But products from animals raised on GMO feed do not need a label, so Europeans continue to use GMO corn and soy for animal feed.” Moreover, there are some few products proven safe enough for countries to green-light. For example, Germany okays GMO potatoes. This ignores the fact that the populace of the EU is aware of the negative tests coming in from their science departments (which is why they don’t want to eat GMOs) and that what you will let a cow or pig eat is NOT NECESSARILY what you would eat or let your kid eat. I’ll wear GMO cotton no worries, but I want to be SURE it was 100% safe before I will eat it. (Not that I am eating cotton. It’s a metaphor.) If a GMO is sufficiently tested and shown to be safe with no transference of transgenic material into the microbiota of the human gut, I’ll eat it.

While I am on the topic of data mining, let’s look at what the ‘safe studies’ actually studied. Hmmm … there seems to be a whole lot of ‘safe for animals and thus safe!” studies and studies that absolutely ignore any non-American results. Also, the studies avoid any mention of the topic that truly concerns me – transgenic transference into the human gut. It the ‘no birth defect in rat pups’ maneuver all over again. Moreover, when the pro-GMO crowd assures us that “scientists say” the minute changes in the DNA of GMOs cannot get into your system (which is what worries dumb anti-science hippies apparently), they are (probably unintentionally) fibbing. As early as 1999 scientists were finding that the transgenic material in some GMOs was getting into the intestinal tracts of rats and effecting them. Then again, that study was in an English medical journal so maybe it doesn’t count? There are also some studies have shown that specific genes form specific GMOs did not survive and transfer into the human gut, but that is not all GMOs and not all GMOs have been tested. Then there are the studies showing that while some GM transgenic material can get into the guts of animals, but don’t show up in their flesh … which may mean we can eat animals that eat GMOs but need to avoid GMOs themselves. The trouble is that were JUST DO NOT KNOW. The safety of GMOs vis-à-vis transgenic transference is predicated on the assumption that it can’t happen in almost all cases.

Then there is the fact we know so very, VERY little about the human microbiota and biome. We know enough to fill books, but that is just scratching the surface. It turns out your gut microbiota effect things like obesity and depression and whether or not you’ll get cancer … but 20 years ago anyone saying that would have been mocked for their silly hippie theories of food and health. What happens when transgenic material gets into your gut? We know that when genetically modified rice is fed to rats it causes “a complex effect on caecal microflora that may be related to the health of the host” but what about us? Are GMOs safe for the hale among us, but those of us with food sensitivities are going to get screwed if we eat it? Good question and no one really knows for sure.

Recently, research on the gut bacteria of some Amazonian natives was released that highlights our ignorance and cavalier attitude toward our microbiota. “Natives of this village were shown to have the greatest diversity of bacteria seen in any population in the world … “Our study suggests that the pre-modern human microbiota was composed of a greater diversity of bacteria and a greater diversity of bacterial functions when compared to populations impacted by modern practices, such as processed foods and antibiotics,” said Gautam Dantas of Washington University”. Thus we have ALREADY been screwing around with our biome. Furthermore, the lead author of the study, Maria Dominguez-Bello, pointed out that “Our results bolster a growing body of data suggesting a link between, on the one hand, decreased bacterial diversity, industrialized diets, and modern antibiotics, and on the other, immunological and metabolic diseases — such as obesity, asthma, allergies, and diabetes, which have dramatically increased since the 1970s.” The first GMO hit in your produce aisle in 1994 with the delayed ripening ‘Flavr-Savr’ tomato. (There’s no evidence they harm you, but I must say they taste like Styrofoam and atrocity.) By the end of 1995 there were 35 GMOs for your consumption. You know what else started in 1994? The rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity and type II diabetes in US adults. In fact, lots and lots of bad health effects have been on the sharp rise since GMOs (and the pesticides & herbicides that de facto accompany them) became common on our table. Correlation is not causation, but it does make you wonder.

One more thing; don’t act like science is infallible at every turn. Remember when it was perfectly safe to give antibiotics to livestock and now that turns out to be a bad idea? You know who figured it out? Non-American scientists in the EU that’s who, which is why antibiotics in the EU have been banned as ‘growth promoters’ for more than a decade. You know, the same guys and gals with the doubts about GMOs being fed willy-nilly to humans. Excuse me while I listen to them.

Posted in health, I've been thinking too much, shit I think y'all should know | 1 Comment

Be a Good Person and Buy One of Her Books

I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating.

See Sandy James. See Sandy’s husband. See Sandy’s husband fight cancer. Look. Look at the medical bills pile up. Up. Up. Up. See Sandy write. See Sandy write books. Look at you buy Sandy’s books! Look at the medical bills being paid! Look at you being a good person with a new book!

Sandy James is a friend of mine, and her family is in a rough patch right now. The lavish salary she gets from teaching just isn’t enough to fight off the medical bills – which are the #1 cause of bankruptcies in the United States (but at least we are not “burdened” with universal health care like every other industrialized nation on earth!) and she is terrified at the way they are piling up already.

Sandy’s books are good but like most authors her books are a small source of supplemental income. She needs it to be larger source if she’s not going to get flattened by the medical bills. At the very least she needs it to be a bigger trickle of money than it is now.

She has a new book out now, entitled Fringe Benefits. She also has an impressive back list of great reads for your enjoyment. If you read romance novels, please buy one  or more of hers. If you don’t read romance novels, buy one anyway because you should broaden your genre horizons. I’m also told they also make excellent gifts.

You can be a good human being and get a good book at the same time. You should go for it.

Posted in health, shit I think y'all should know | 2 Comments

Imma Go to Albania

Yesterday was Holocaust Remberance Day, which depresses the shit out of me and requires me to go searching for reasons not to quit humanity. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look any farther than Albania.

It turns out that Albania, which has a Muslim majority, was one of the few countries in Europe who didn’t just hand over it’s Jews to the Nazis. In fact, Albanian Muslims and Christians veered hard left and not only protected their neighbors, but also protected Jewish refugees fleeing from monsters.  Moreover, Albanians ACTIVELY rescued Jewish people from Nazi occupied areas outside of Albania:

“Many of the rescues took place in Nazi-occupied Kosovo, which is heavily populated with ethnic Albanians and was then part of Yugoslavia. Mr. Alickaj, 59, the New York travel agent, recalled in an interview that his father, Arif Alickaj, was executive secretary of the municipality of Decan and, using popular Muslim names, issued false identifications to allow Jews — many of them refugees from Macedonia and Serbia — to travel to Albania. He too was asked for a list of Jews but insisted there were none, Mr. Alickaj said … Mr. Alickaj’s friend, Arsllan Rezniqi, a grocer, owned a truck that picked up fruit and vegetables from Macedonia, and over time he transported 400 Jews to Decan. Word had come from ethnic Albanians in Macedonia that their Jewish neighbors were in jeopardy. Mr. Rezniqi’s great-grandson, Leka Rezniqi, 28, an anchor of a television news show in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Rezniqi even built a house in the garden as a shelter for refugees. Albanian neighbors knew Jews were hiding on the property and never exposed them.”

“”Why were the Albanians so fokking awesome that awesome will change it’s name to ‘meh’ because it cannot compare to the awesomeness of Albania? Theoretically, it lies in “a national creed called besa that obligates Albanians to provide shelter and safe passage for anyone seeking protection, particularly if there has been a promise to do so. Failure to act results in a loss of honor and standing. “It involves uncompromising protection of a guest, even at the point of forfeiting one’s own life,” wrote Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi.”

Most people didn’t know about this because the USSR invaded and occupied Albania after WWII and the Soviets weren’t big on “open” communication.

Right, so Albanian is now my favorite place on earth. Which is good, because it has gone from the war-torn anarchy of the 90s to a beachfront tourist paradise in the 2010s. Albania is trying to rebuild its economy and the tourist dollar (or Euro or Pound or whatever) is crucial. Plus, the Albania Riviera is hella cheap for the Western tourist. Seriously, you can stay a week in a nice hotel on a sandy beach with blue, warm seas for a couple hundred bucks. Just LOOK at Ksamil Beach:

ksamil-beach

I am very happy to know a vacation there would be morally correct as well as OMG fun.

*squee*

Posted in I like this, dammit., shit I think y'all should know | 1 Comment

Decency Run Amok

I’ve decided to do a ‘happiness blitz’ wherein the next three posts are going to be all about the good shit in the world. Sometimes, you gotta think happy thoughts, no?

Let’s talk about the credit-card processing firm Gravity’s CEO Dan Price. This guy just took a HUGE pay cut to give every single fokking employee of his company a raise to AT MINIMUM $70,000 a year.

“Mr. Price, who started the Seattle-based credit-card payment processing firm in 2004 at the age of 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year … The United States has one of the world’s largest pay gaps, with chief executives earning nearly 300 times what the average worker makes, according to some economists’ estimates. That is much higher than the 20-to-1 ratio recommended by Gilded Age magnates like J. Pierpont Morgan and the 20th century management visionary Peter Drucker. “The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” said Mr. Price … “As much as I’m a capitalist, there is nothing in the market that is making me do it,” he said, referring to paying wages that make it possible for his employees to go after the American dream, buy a house and pay for their children’s education …  From his friends, he heard stories of how tough it was to make ends meet even on salaries that were still well-above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. “They were walking me through the math of making 40 grand a year,” he said, then describing a surprise rent increase or nagging credit card debt. “I hear that every single week,” he added. “That just eats at me inside.” Mr. Price said he wanted to do something to address the issue of inequality, although his proposal “made me really nervous” because he wanted to do it without raising prices for his customers or cutting back on service. Of all the social issues that he felt he was in a position to do something about as a business leader, “that one seemed like a more worthy issue to go after.”

OMG the human decency of this man! I adore him. This is someone who chose his immortal soul (atheist friends: think of it as a metaphor) over Mammon. In fact, I am pretty sure he took a piss in Mammon’s ear. Dan Price is magnificent and I laud him with much lauding!!

Most of you have some inkling of what a difference this will make to his employees. They will use this largess to buy homes, cars, and goods that will churn money back into the economy so it is damn good for Seattle, too. YAY!!!!

I give Dan Price my seal of approval:

Smiling_Seal_

Posted in I like this, dammit., Mammon | Leave a comment

Empire, rinse, repeat

Slate published an interesting article comparing the declining Roman Empire to the current USA, and their points were correct. America, with it’s non-stop expansion wars and concentration of wealth at the hands of a few, is circling the drain as an Empire. It is taking the same route as the English Empire did as well. As Sir John Bagot Glubb wrote, there is a pattern of how empires rise and fall:

From the Assyrian Empire (859 – 612 BC), to the Arabic Empire (634 – 880 AD), to the British Empire (1700 – 1950), each seemed to last roughly 10 generations, or about 250 years. Glubb posits that each empire goes through six predictable phases, outburst/conquest, commerce, affluence, intellect, and finally decadence and fall. This rise and fall pattern is independent of governmental system (despotism, monarchy, republic, democracy), and the idiosyncratic qualities of the race that begat the empire (African, East Asian, European, Central Asian). This pattern is not affected by the technologies of the time (the wheel, horseback riding, seafaring, gunpowder, electricity, etc) and, while the pattern of the rise of great nations appears to be uniform, the pattern of their breakups is diverse, meaning that while all empires are birthed and live in roughly the same manner, how they die varies greatly.

No empire has ever learned its lesson from previous empires.

What strikes me as germane, and which Glubb didn’t talk about as much, is that the Empire is almost always an oligarchy/plutocracy when it collapses; the power is in the hands of a few and those few are the ones with money. America may have had a fighting chance until The Supreme Court decided money = ‘free speech’ because corporations are people, which opened the floodgates and pretty much turned the political process into a spend-off guaranteeing the rich would control political puppets.

I think the average guy/gal in America can tell something is wrong, but are without the knowledge and education to pinpoint the problem as one coming from systemic inequality that allows a few people to become mega-wealthy at the expense of the working and middle class. That’s a complicated issue and hard to fight. It is so much easier to throw the blame on ‘immigrants taking jobs’ than companies getting tax breaks for sending jobs overseas but not for bringing them home. It is so much easier to blame problems on people who are trying to gain access to equality, like minorities and women, than on a handful of rich white dudes exploiting 99% of other white dudes. If the average white guy thinks he is losing power because women’s lib and affirmative action are taking that power away, then he won’t know to blame the handful of billionaires at the top who are sucking away the lifeblood of the country and stuffing it in off-shore accounts. 

Meanwhile, those of us who DO see where the problem lies mostly just rant helplessly on the internet.

Fun times. 

The good news is that the USA will continue, just like Rome and England did, after its empire falls. Moreover, we will be influencing Western culture for hundreds of years after our imperial might has bit the dust — just like Rome and England. Another piece of good news is that some other Nation-State will undoubtedly step up to the plate and keep us from swirling down a power vacuum (my bet is on China with the possibility of the EU if it holds together) and into the second round of the Dark Ages. Technology is unlikely to just disappear. An increasing reliance on renewable resources for energy will make the Big Oil warmongers less able to demand wars. Life will go on. We’ll get to the point where we’ll demand better social safety nets and infrastructure again. If we are very lucky we can end up like Demark; it is not a world power and NOT a UTOPIA (no such beast exists) but in general its citizens are doing well and are happy. Frankly, having happy citizens is better than imperial power for everyone except would-be emperors.

Posted in I've been thinking too much, Mammon, shit I think y'all should know | 5 Comments