Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 13th, 2018

“Empire Games” (on Netflix) has a certain contemporaneous aspect

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Watch the first half hour and see whether you don’t find some resonance with today.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2018 at 4:44 pm

Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture

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Christie Wilcox writes in the Scientific American in 2011:

Ten years ago, Certified Organic didn’t exist in the United States. Yet in 2010, a mere eight years after USDA’s regulations officially went into effect, organic foods and beverages made $26.7 billion. In the past year or two, certified organic sales have jumped to about $52 billion worldwide despite the fact that organic foods cost up to three times as much as those produced by conventional methods. More and more, people are shelling out their hard-earned cash for what they believe are the best foods available. Imagine, people say: you can improve your nutrition while helping save the planet from the evils of conventional agriculture – a complete win-win. And who wouldn’t buy organic, when it just sounds so good?

Here’s the thing: there are a lot of myths out there about organic foods, and a lot of propaganda supporting methods that are rarely understood. It’s like your mother used to say: just because everyone is jumping off a bridge doesn’t mean you should do it, too. Now, before I get yelled at too much, let me state unequivocally that I’m not saying organic farming is bad – far from it. There are some definite upsides and benefits that come from many organic farming methods. For example, the efforts of organic farmers to move away from monocultures, where crops are farmed in single-species plots, are fantastic; crop rotations and mixed planting are much better for the soil and environment. My goal in this post isn’t to bash organic farms, instead, it’s to bust the worst of the myths that surround them so that everyone can judge organic farming based on facts. In particular, there are four myths thrown around like they’re real that just drive me crazy.

Myth #1: Organic Farms Don’t Use Pesticides

When the Soil Association, a major organic accreditation body in the UK, asked consumers why they buy organic food, 95% of them said their top reason was to avoid pesticides. They, like many people, believe that organic farming involves little to no pesticide use. I hate to burst the bubble, but that’s simply not true. Organic farming, just like other forms of agriculture, still uses pesticides and fungicides to prevent critters from destroying their crops. Confused?

So was I, when I first learned this from a guy I was dating. His family owns a farm in rural Ohio. He was grumbling about how everyone praised the local organic farms for being so environmentally-conscientious, even though they sprayed their crops with pesticides all the time while his family farm got no credit for being pesticide-free (they’re not organic because they use a non-organic herbicide once a year). I didn’t believe him at first, so I looked into it: turns out that there are over 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops that are approved by the US Organic Standards. And, shockingly, the actual volume usage of pesticides on organic farms is not recorded by the government. Why the government isn’t keeping watch on organic pesticide and fungicide use is a damn good question, especially considering that many organic pesticides that are also used by conventional farmers are used more intensively than synthetic ones due to their lower levels of effectiveness. According to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, the top two organic fungicides, copper and sulfur, were used at a rate of 4 and 34 pounds per acre in 1971 1. In contrast, the synthetic fungicides only required a rate of 1.6 lbs per acre, less than half the amount of the organic alternatives.

The sad truth is, factory farming is factory farming, whether its organic or conventional. Many large organic farms use pesticides liberally. They’re organic by certification, but you’d never know it if you saw their farming practices. As Michael Pollan, best-selling book author and organic supporter, said in an interview with Organic Gardening,

“They’re organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off.”

What makes organic farming different, then? It’s not the use of pesticides, it’s the origin of the pesticides used. Organic pesticides are those that are derived from natural sources and processed lightly if at all before use. This is different than the current pesticides used by conventional agriculture, which are generally synthetic. It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks.2

Take the example of Rotenone. Rotenone was widely used in the US as an organic pesticide for decades 3. Because it is natural in origin, occurring in the roots and stems of a small number of subtropical plants, it was considered “safe” as well as “organic“. However, research has shown that rotenone is highly dangerous because it kills by attacking mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of all living cells. Research found that exposure to rotenone caused Parkinson’s Disease-like symptoms in rats 4, and had the potential to kill many species, including humans. Rotenone’s use as a pesticide has already been discontinued in the US as of 2005 due to health concerns***, but shockingly, it’s still poured into our waters every year by fisheries management officials as a piscicide to remove unwanted fish species.

The point I’m driving home here is that just because something is natural doesn’t make it non-toxic or safe. Many bacteria, fungi and plants produce poisons, toxins and chemicals that you definitely wouldn’t want sprayed on your food.

Just last year, nearly half of the pesticides that are currently approved for use by organic farmers in Europe failed to pass the European Union’s safety evaluation that is required by law 5. Among the chemicals failing the test was rotenone, as it had yet to be banned in Europe. Furthermore, just over 1% of organic foodstuffs produced in 2007 and tested by the European Food Safety Authority were found to contain pesticide levels above the legal maximum levels – and these are of pesticides that are not organic 6. Similarly, when Consumer Reports purchased a thousand pounds of tomatoes, peaches, green bell peppers, and apples in five cities and tested them for more than 300 synthetic pesticides, they found traces of them in 25% of the organically-labeled foods, but between all of the organic and non-organic foods tested, only one sample of each exceeded the federal limits8.

Not only are organic pesticides not safe, they might actually be worse than the ones used by the conventional agriculture industry. Canadian scientists pitted ‘reduced-risk’ organic and synthetic pesticides against each other in controlling a problematic pest, the soybean aphid. They found that not only were the synthetic pesticides more effective means of control, the organic pesticides were more ecologically damaging, including causing higher mortality in other, non-target species like the aphid’s predators9. Of course, some organic pesticides may fare better than these ones did in similar head-to-head tests, but studies like this one reveal that the assumption that natural is better for the environment could be very dangerous.

Even if the organic food you’re eating is from a farm which uses little to no pesticides at all, there is another problem: getting rid of pesticides doesn’t mean your food is free from harmful things. Between 1990 and 2001, over 10,000 people fell ill due to foods contaminated with pathogens like E. coli, and many have organic foods to blame. That’s because organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens. One study, for example, found E. coli in produce from almost 10% of organic farms samples, but only 2% of conventional ones10. The same study also found Salmonella only in samples from organic farms, though at a low prevalence rate. The reason for the higher pathogen prevalence is likely due to the use of manure instead of artificial fertilizers, as many pathogens are spread through fecal contamination. Conventional farms often use manure, too, but they use irradiation and a full array of non-organic anti-microbial agents as well, and without those, organic foods run a higher risk of containing something that will make a person sick.

In the end, it really depends on exactly what methods are used by crop producers. Both organic and conventional farms vary widely in this respect. Some conventional farms use no pesticides. Some organic farms spray their crops twice a month. Of course, some conventional farms spray just as frequently, if not more so, and some organic farms use no pesticides whatsoever. To really know what you’re in for, it’s best if you know your source, and a great way to do that is to buy locally. Talk to the person behind the crop stand, and actually ask them what their methods are if you want to be sure of what you’re eating.

Myth #2: Organic Foods are Healthier

Some people believe that by not using manufactured chemicals or genetically modified organisms, organic farming produces more nutritious food. However, science simply cannot find any evidence that organic foods are in any way healthier than non-organic ones – and scientists have been comparing the two for over 50 years.

Just recently, an independent research project in the UK systematically reviewed the 162 articles on organic versus non-organic crops published in peer-reviewed journals between 1958 and 2008 11. These contained a total of 3558 comparisons of content of nutrients and other substances in organically and conventionally produced foods. They found absolutely no evidence for any differences in content of over 15 different nutrients including vitamin C, ?-carotene, and calcium. There were some differences, though; conventional crops had higher nitrogen levels, while organic ones had higher phosphorus and acidity – none of which factor in much to nutritional quality. Further analysis of similar studies on livestock products like meat, dairy, and eggs also found few differences in nutritional content. Organic foods did, however, have higher levels of overall fats, particularly trans fats. So if anything, the organic livestock products were found to be worse for us (though, to be fair, barely). . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2018 at 11:37 am

A modern touch in the opening of Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”

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With the previous post on rape in mind, along with the recent testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, I found the beginning of Chapter 2 of Jane Austen’s first completed novel, Northanger Abbey, to strike a chord:

In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland’s personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks’ residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind—her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty—and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.

When the hour of departure drew near, the maternal anxiety of Mrs. Morland will be naturally supposed to be most severe. A thousand alarming presentiments of evil to her beloved Catherine from this terrific separation must oppress her heart with sadness, and drown her in tears for the last day or two of their being together; and advice of the most important and applicable nature must of course flow from her wise lips in their parting conference in her closet. Cautions against the violence of such noblemen and baronets as delight in forcing young ladies away to some remote farm-house, must, at such a moment, relieve the fullness of her heart. Who would not think so? But Mrs. Morland knew so little of lords and baronets, that she entertained no notion of their general mischievousness, and was wholly unsuspicious of danger to her daughter from their machinations. Her cautions were confined to the following points. “I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself up very warm about the throat, when you come from the rooms at night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money you spend; I will give you this little book on purpose.”

Sally, or rather Sarah (for what young lady of common gentility will reach the age of sixteen without altering her name as far as she can?), must from situation be at this time the intimate friend and confidante of her sister. It is remarkable, however, that she neither insisted on Catherine’s writing by every post, nor exacted her promise of transmitting the character of every new acquaintance, nor a detail of every interesting conversation that Bath might produce. Everything indeed relative to this important journey was done, on the part of the Morlands, with a degree of moderation and composure, which seemed rather consistent with the common feelings of common life, than with the refined susceptibilities, the tender emotions which the first separation of a heroine from her family ought always to excite. Her father, instead of giving her an unlimited order on his banker, or even putting an hundred pounds bank-bill into her hands, gave her only ten guineas, and promised her more when she wanted it.

I never expected to see such a clear depiction of sexual assault, nor a comment on how common it is in resort towns like Bath, in a Jane Austen novel. The fact that it is so baldly presented indicates that the dangers were both common and well known. The obliviousness of Catherine’s mother drives the point home.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2018 at 8:07 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Less than 1% of rapes lead to felony convictions. At least 89% of victims face emotional and physical consequences.

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It’s amazing to me how many people view men as the victims in sexual assault cases. Andrew Van Dam reports in the Washington Post:

The consequences of sexual assault fall overwhelmingly on the victims.
About 0.7 percent of rapes and attempted rapes end with a felony conviction for the perpetrator, according to an estimate based on the best of the imperfect measures available.
On the other side of the incident, at least 89 percent of victims report some level of distress, including high rates of physical injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
There has been much wringing of hands about the damage done to American men by accusations of sexual assault, as brilliantly chronicled this week by The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa.
But any fretting on behalf of those accused of assault should take into account research that shows that millions of victims of sexual assault have paid a serious, measurable price, physically and mentally.

Less than a third of rape incidents are reported to the police, according to an analysis by the nonprofit advocacy group RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), which combined Justice Department National Crime Victimization Surveys from 2010 to 2014 with other federal data to track what happened to perpetrators.
Just 5.7 percent of incidents end in arrest, 0.7 percent result in a felony conviction and 0.6 percent result in incarceration, RAINN found. The organization’s website notes these figures are approximations, not scientific estimates, because their analysis “combines data from studies with different methodologies.”
The specter of false accusation looms large in the backlash chronicled by Rucker and Costa, but a 2009 review of research from around the world, based on credible sources, indicates only between 2 and 8 percent of all sexual assault reports were false. Again, the research looks only at reported incidents. Most incidents aren’t reported.

Not only do rape and sexual assault typically go unreported, but definitions also vary, and many of the mental and physical effects are slow to manifest and challenging to detect. Survey findings vary based on how questions are phrased and what population is surveyed.
Almost 9 out of every 10 sexual assault victims experience some level of distress, with 46 percent experiencing severe distress — a higher number than we see among victims of robbery or aggravated assault, according to an analysis by Justice Department statisticians Lynn Langton and Jennifer Truman of 2009-2012 figures from the massive annual crime victimization survey mentioned above. Other sources place the figure even higher.
Three-quarters of victims experience significant social and emotional problems in the wake of assault — at work or school and with friends and family. About 58 percent of victims are injured in the assault, suffering some combination of cuts, bruises, broken bones, gunshot wounds, internal injuries and rape injuries. More than a third of victims are injured badly enough to require treatment, typically in a hospital.
A 2009 literature review in the journal Trauma, Violence & Abuse by Rebecca Campbell, Emily Dworkin and Giannina Cabral found “rape is one of the most severe of all traumas, causing multiple, long-term negative outcomes.” Patterns remained consistent over time, which allowed them to include more than two decades of research.
The relevant studies found between 17 and 65 percent of women (they specify gender in this specific case) who have been assaulted develop PTSD. It is later noted that the 17 percent is an outlier on the low end. Most studies find somewhere between 33 and 45 percent.
As many as 82 percent of victims experience  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2018 at 7:17 am

Barrister & Mann Reserve shaving soap: Wow

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Still working from the Sharpologist article on the best shaving soaps, this morning I used Barrister & Mann’s Reserve Spice shaving soap (and matching aftershave). B&M describe the fragrance as “notes of carnation, nutmeg, vanilla, and tonka bean,” and its a fragrance I like (probably because of the vanilla double-hit from both vanilla and tonka bean).

The lather really is exceptional. I had barely started work on the puck with my Fine Classic brush when a thick lather formed. I applied it to my beard and added some water: a great lather. I’m tempted now to get the Lavender, but I’m trying to be disciplined. The Reserve shaving soap really is noticeably better in terms of lather than the other B&M shaving soaps.

With the Progress, I easily achieved a perfectly smooth result with no problems, and a splash of Reserve Spice aftershave finished the job. Great way to launch the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2018 at 6:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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