Archive for March 7th, 2010
TYD recommended Egypt: Engineering an Empire, and rightly so: it’s fascinating to watch the development of civil engineering as the Egyptian engineers mastered their craft through trial and some pretty glaring error. Well worth watching. And it’s amazing that, as Egyptian civilization emerged 5000 years ago, that was 6000 years after the enormous temple complex being excavated now.
Fascinating post at The Skeptic Dad:
Pop quiz: How much water should we drink each day?
You already know the answer, right? Eight glasses, I hear you say. Eight eight-ounce glasses, in fact, I hear you say.
I know. We all know. It’s been drilled into our heads since… since… since time immemorial, right?
So much so that a couple years ago I bought this mug you see to the right. This really big mug. The idea was to find a mug for use at work that would hold my daily water requirement – that magic 64 ounces that we all need. And I even found one at my local Super-Mega-Hyper-Mart™ that fit the bill perfectly. Trust me, this sucker is big. I’ll admit, it’s hard to appreciate the mug’s presence and stature without reference objects, but if I had put anything too close to it, said object would be irretrievably trapped in the mug’s gravity well.
But that’s not all — not only is GargantuMug big, it’s informative, too. It mentions the 64-ounce guideline, tells you what things could go wrong with you if you get dehydrated, tells you to drink this much in a day, and even gets silly now and then. In upside down text, it reads, “If you can read this, I need more water!”
So clever! So useful! And yet…
Maybe not so useful…
An article in Scientific American from last June sheds some light on the story. Physician Heinz Valtin, MD, from Dartmouth Medical School, found no evidence of any science indicating a reason to drink that much water, and also saw no evidence in the general population of their being chronically dehydrated to the point of needing to drink 3½ gallons of water each week. He did locate what is believed to be the origin of the “8×8 rule”, and it’s interesting, to say the least (emphasis mine):
Valtin thinks the notion may have started when the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council recommended approximately “1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food,” which would amount to roughly two to two-and-a-half quarts per day (60 to 80 ounces). Although in its next sentence, the Board stated “most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods,” that last sentence may have been missed, so that the recommendation was erroneously interpreted as how much water one should drink each day.
To quote Mr. Spock.. “fascinating”. A misinterpretation of a recommendation back in 1945 has resulted in the commonly-held belief that we all need roughly a six-pack of water every day.
It goes even further. Of course, we also all know that the 64 ounces have to be actual water, right? That soft drinks — especially caffeinated soft drinks — don’t count, right?
Think again: …
Responding to concerns about the safety of nicotine based pesticides, such as imidacloprid, the Italian government, last year, banned them as a seed treatment. According to the Institute of Science in Society, Researchers with the National Institute of Beekeeping in Bologna, Italy discovered that "pollen obtained from seeds dressed with imidacloprid contains significant levels of the insecticide, and suggested that the polluted pollen was one of the main causes of honeybee colony collapse." Since the Italian government’s ban last year bee colonies have sprung back. In some regions no hives have been lost at all with the exception of citrus groves in Southern Italy where neonicotinoids were sprayed.
Which brings me to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, whose love for the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid I got to experience first hand. Last year our neighborhood was one of the first targeted by the CDFA for treatment in Los Angeles county after the appearance of the dreaded Asian Citrus Psyllid, a carrier of a fatal citrus disease called Huanglongbing (HLB)—see my early post about the psyllid and HLB. During a brief treatment period last fall CDFA agents and their contractors TruGreen attempted to spray every citrus tree with Bayer Crop Science’s version of imidacloprid, brand name Merit. During that spraying in my neighborhood CDFA agents and TruGreen:
1. Entered private property without warrants or permission.
2. Left misleading notices (see below) which failed to note that the treatment was voluntary.
3. Acted in an arrogant, condescending and rude manner. They also lied. When I declined treatment and noted that I was particularly concerned about the use of imidacloprid one agent offered what he called, "an alternative." Upon further questioning he admitted that the "alternative" was a pellet version of imidacloprid–not an alternative at all, just the same insect neurotoxin in another form.
4. Ran out of pesticide. There are so many citrus trees in our neighborhood that the CDFA ran out of their precious imidacloprid tablets. They never returned to finish the job leading me to conclude that the operation was a kind of pesticide theater, a way to both justify their funding and please their friends at Sunkist.
European beekeepers would like to see all neonicotinoids banned for good. I’d like to see the same here. While imidacloprid is probably not hazardous to humans, all the oranges in the world are not worth killing our pollinating insects. And fighting invasive species this way is a losing game. I believe that HLB is inevitable. It’s just like Pierce’s disease in grapes, which is now an unavoidable part of viticulture in Southern California.
To my neighbors: I suggest we organize. Let’s resist CDFA’s attempt to spray more imidacloprid should they come around again. I’ve created a form where you can leave your email address here. I promise not to share the email addresses you provide or to send out spam. The list I create will only be used in the event we need to organize as concerned citizens. Hopefully I’ll never have to send out an email. But let’s not let CDFA treat us in a rude or condescending manner again. The next time CDFA pays a visit they may come with warrants and be even more surly. I’d love it if we had a crowd to greet them.
Two TED talks, the first from Feb 2006:
and this from Mar 2007:
If you like those graphics, take a look at this post to make your own.
Give Scientology a wide berth. Laurie Goodstein in the NY Times:
Raised as Scientologists, Christie King Collbran and her husband, Chris, were recruited as teenagers to work for the elite corps of staff members who keep the Church of Scientology running, known as the Sea Organization, or Sea Org.
They signed a contract for a billion years — in keeping with the church’s belief that Scientologists are immortal. They worked seven days a week, often on little sleep, for sporadic paychecks of $50 a week, at most.
But after 13 years and growing disillusionment, the Collbrans decided to leave the Sea Org, setting off on a Kafkaesque journey that they said required them to sign false confessions about their personal lives and their work, pay the church thousands of dollars it said they owed for courses and counseling, and accept the consequences as their parents, siblings and friends who are church members cut off all communication with them.
“Why did we work so hard for this organization,” Ms. Collbran said, “and why did it feel so wrong in the end? We just didn’t understand.”
They soon discovered others who felt the same. Searching for Web sites about Scientology that are not sponsored by the church (an activity prohibited when they were in the Sea Org), they discovered that hundreds of other Scientologists were also defecting — including high-ranking executives who had served for decades.
Fifty-six years after its founding by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986, the church is fighting off calls by former members for a Reformation. The defectors say Sea Org members were repeatedly beaten by the church’s chairman, David Miscavige, often during planning meetings; pressured to have abortions; forced to work without sleep on little pay; and held incommunicado if they wanted to leave. The church says the defectors are lying.
The defectors say that the average Scientology member, known in the church as a public, is largely unaware of the abusive environment experienced by staff members. The church works hard to cultivate public members — especially celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of the cartoon scoundrel Bart Simpson) — whose money keeps it running.
But recently even some celebrities have begun to abandon the church, the most prominent of whom is the director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, who won Oscars for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.” Mr. Haggis had been a member for 35 years. His resignation letter, leaked to a defectors’ Web site, recounted his indignation as he came to believe that the defectors’ accusations must be true.
“These were not the claims made by ‘outsiders’ looking to dig up dirt against us,” Mr. Haggis wrote. “These accusations were made by top international executives who had devoted most of their lives to the church.”
The church has responded to the bad publicity by …
Ever since deregulation caused a worldwide economic meltdown in September 2008 and everyone became a Keynesian again, it hasn’t been easy to be a fanatical fan of the late economist Milton Friedman. So widely discredited is his brand of free-market fundamentalism that his followers have become increasingly desperate to claim ideological victories, however far-fetched.
A particularly distasteful case in point. Just two days after Chile was struck by a devastating earthquake, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens informed his readers that Milton Friedman’s “spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile” because, “thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse…. It’s not by chance that Chileans were living in houses of brick–and Haitians in houses of straw–when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down.”
According to Stephens, the radical free-market policies prescribed to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by Milton Friedman and his infamous “Chicago Boys” are the reason Chile is a prosperous nation with “some of the world’s strictest building codes.”
There is one rather large problem with this theory: Chile’s modern seismic building code, drafted to resist earthquakes, was adopted in 1972. That year is enormously significant because it was one year before Pinochet seized power in a bloody U.S-backed coup. That means that if one person deserves credit for the law, it is not Friedman, or Pinochet, but Salvador Allende, Chile’s democratically elected socialist President. (In truth many Chileans deserve credit, since the laws were a response to a history of quakes, and the first law was adopted in the 1930s).
It does seem significant, however, that the law was enacted even in the midst of a crippling economic embargo (“make the economy scream” Richard Nixon famously growled after Allende won the 1970 elections). The code was later updated in the nineties, well after Pinochet and the Chicago Boys were finally out of power and democracy was restored. Little wonder: As Paul Krugman points out, Friedman was ambivalent about building codes, seeing them as yet another infringement on capitalist freedom.
As for the argument that Friedmanite policies are the reason Chileans live in “houses of brick” instead of “straw,” it’s clear that Stephens knows nothing of pre-coup Chile. The Chile of the 1960s had the best health and education systems on the continent, as well as a vibrant industrial sector and rapidly expanding middle class. Chileans believed in their state, which is why they elected Allende to take the project even further.
After the coup and the death of Allende, Pinochet and his Chicago Boys did their best to dismantle Chile’s public sphere, auctioning off state enterprises and slashing financial and trade regulations. Enormous wealth was created in this period but at a terrible cost: by the early eighties, Pinochet’s Friedman-prescribed policies had caused rapid de-industrialization, a ten-fold increase in unemployment and an explosion of distinctly unstable shantytowns. They also led to a crisis of corruption and debt so severe that, in 1982, Pinochet was forced to fire his key Chicago Boy advisors and nationalize several of the large deregulated financial institutions. (Sound familiar?)
Fortunately, the Chicago Boys did not manage to undo everything Allende accomplished…