25 June, 2009

Should We Be Fair?

Everyone in the world is being affected by global warming.  Islanders.  There's a whole island off the PNG coast whose people have had to relocate to the mainland, where they are resented and being harassed by the local people.  Just recently a 3yo girl was killed over that particular little disaster.  Other islands are not far off or in the process of relocating to higher ground. Drought and famine stricken.  There are water wars in India, farmers unable to grow crops in Asia, and countless similar events unfolding on the African continent.  Australia is slowly succumbing to a steadily worsening drought.

Mind you, it's not all doom and gloom.  With less than twenty percent of the world considered affluent, most of the world's water use  going into making the foods, goods, and luxuries that this percentage uses, they have consistently good lifestyles, fine foods, plenty of meat, and a wealth of manufactured goods.  They live in houses built with resources (cement, steel, aluminium) which the other 80% of the world are sorely missing even though they may be a major source.

Everyone is suffering ill effects for the benefit of the few, but the few are better insulated from those effects and therefore aren't likely to rate the effects of global warming in the same way as those islanders or famine and drought affected people.

So when there's a call for the affluent to compensate the people who are being affected, I feel all sorts of itchiness and conflict. I'm conflicted, because while I'm a member of the affluent percentage, I'm not really affluent and can ill afford to spend much of my resources on someone else.  Yet that just shows how much more desperately the less fortunate person needs those resources than I do.  If I was conspicuously eating only the finest beef and vegetables flown in from their native country/region on a daily basis, I'd have no hesitation switching to local foods and sending some of my monetary resources to someone in Africa.

But I'm not doing that.  I'm living a pretty modest life by Western standards, and in fact growing some of my own food, using local farmers' markets, and eating low footprint meats and vegetables where possible.  And even if I magically became more affluent and got more money resources, I'd be a bit worried about sending my money to the eight people I owe.

Because, the regions those eight people live in are chock-full of people who would, one way or another, extort steal and obtain the aid I'm sending and abuse it to make themselves as affluent as myself, and therefore my compensation would be wasted.  There would be one marginally more affluent person, and eight people who are now being exploited by two.

Even if my compensation reached those people, even if I was 100% committed to the ideal and sending them 80% of my resources so that we each ended up with a fair share, there's still the exploitation problem - suddenly finding themselves fabulously wealthy by their standards, my eight villagers would be looking for places to spend their new-found wealth.  And finding all the scam and junk in the world ready to absorb their money, leading to some Chinese company exploiting them in a more subtle way but with the same result.

Some people would like you to think that if we all reduce our standard of living, eventually the world's inequities will even out and we'll all have an acceptable standard.  But think about this.  Would you work for $1000 a week, send $800 of that away, and still be able to survive?  Could you live and hold down your job, do the shopping, and get to appointments if you could only drive your car for 1/11th of the number of trips you currently use it for?  Are you prepared to move into your kitchen and dining room and ship the rest of your house to Uganda?

And of course, the 80% you've sent to those other people, will it help them or be stolen or otherwise mis-used?

There's another faction.  On a more sinister note, these are the people who are secretly stockpiling guns among their survival stores, and are already deciding which 32 people they will exterminate to make way for their family...  Less radical members of this faction believe that the Earth has a closed-loop feedback system, and if the problem is caused by too many humans, well then...  pretty soon there will be a bit of a cataclysm or two, and then things will balance out by themselves...

But that ignores the function of that "extra" population - while it could (by someone braver than myself!) be argued that a lot of that extra population contributes nothing but more burden on scarce resources, most of the world's population is involved in garnering the resources we use and turning them into the everyday things we take for granted.  So unless the miraculously-saved "Chosen Ones" are prepared to take on eight other people's work, the standard of living will drop for them. This faction also believes that as we exploit particular resources, there will be effects, often catastrophic, which will work to remove population.  Things like rivercourses drying up due to damming and irrigation schemes are one such direct mechanism.

The more gentle hippie way, of demanding less resources, being satisfied with what nature provides without ripping more out of the earth, sharing resources and work - this is yet another faction.  You can think of this as a small reduction in the standard of living for the elite for the benefit of everyone, and if this is done willingly, then it is a Good Thing for the world, but will still not re-balance things as far as is needed.  I'm already being a good hippie in that I recycle what I can, prefer local to import, deliberately use less and make it stretch further, and try and think of the consequences of my consumption.  I can tell you that it results in a less than ideal lifestyle, but still is far better than the lives of my eight less fortunate extended family.

Personally I believe that the answer lies in the synergy of all the above.  As food and water become scarce, there will be wars and skirmishes which will go down in our history books as one of the bloodiest and most callous times ever recorded.  "Natural" disasters triggered by global warming and exploitation of resources will leave millions, if not billions, dead or dying.  The people who take their cues early and learn to get by on a bit less in order to lessen the impact, will be slightly ahead of the curve and more likely to be equipped to survive.  

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22 June, 2009

Wine and Cooked Food. FTW.

Two things in articles here and here which point to our diet as the key, the very foundation, of what brought on our intelligence and advancement.  And which should totally smash some of the outdated ideas of diet that are circulating.

If you're a regular reader you know already that I had prostate cancer (and BTW a few weeks back was the four year anniversary of when I first knew I had abnormalities, and just using the diet and nothing else, I'm still clear and expect to be clear well into old age) and that I was kind of pushed into developing a diet for it and am selling the e-book of the diet online.

I'm pretty relaxed about The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook Diet, because that's precisely what the diet is about - NOT forcing unnatural changes in diet - and because the book recognises that we as a species got here largely on the basis of the foods we eat and how we eat them.  Our farmer forefathers may not have had an Internet, but they did have traditional knowledge and what to them was just basic commonsense.

Be that as it may.  Farming and growing food spared us from the need to constantly expend all our energy foraging, and allowed us to perfect tools and techniques for hunting, then domesticating.  Wine introduced alcohol to us, and alcohol inhibited the growth of a range of bacteria and allowed some food preservation to take place.

Wine also has a reputation as a digestive, that is, taken after dinner it helps break down our food.  Remember, the most basic tenet of my diet is to make it easy for my body to use the nutrients in my food. It was one of the things we as a species did to lift ourselves above the survival threshold, and it's what we still need to be doing now.

Another thing - all those "raw" diets.  They insist that we as a species are designed to eat our food raw, but that is pure unadulterated rubbish.  One of the key events of our species was the use of fire.  Do you think that the fire somehow magically got into our brains and made us smarter, while we chewed away on largely indigestible hunks of raw food?  Of course not!  One of the reasons we find fire to have been a key driver of our evolvement is that it enabled us to cook food and thus extract more nourishment from that food.  Over thousands of generations, our bodies have become supremely adapted to cooked food.

And vegans/vegetarians, sorry but meat, and especially cooked meat, was one of the turning points in human development.  Our farmer forebears were so convinced of the benefits of meat that they began to herd and domesticate animals for meat.  And please bear in mind that most "folk wisdom" stems from generation after generation of people without cars and phones and computers and newspapers do distract them, who had little else to do but observe what was going on around them, and draw conclusions from that.  Stuff like "Oh, Bardar eats his meat burnt over coals, and he's bigger and stronger than anyone else.  And to think, he was the skinniest one here, a few years ago..."

I can't believe that despite knowing so little at the time, I was able to accurately hit so many targets with the Zen Cookbook diet.  But then, most of it was folk wisdom, and some of it was folk wisdom confirmed by research and science.  And all of it appears to work, and appears to get proven over and over the deeper I dig into food and nutrition and therapeutic values of foods.

9th June 2005, by the way.  That was when I got my life-crumbling PSA reading that led to tests and biopsies and the Body friendly Zen Cookbook.

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Is This "Analog Green?"

Kind of wrong.  Kind of.  Why would I repurpose a TV into a giant thermometer?  I already have several thermometers, and actually recharge their batteries in a solar charger so that I'm not wasting energy and creating greenhouse gases in the process of finding out how much those greenhouse gases are raising the average temperatures in my part of the world...

Somehow, driving a whole TV and a bunch of circuitry just to do what I'm essentially doing for free now isn't all that appealing to me.  I know - the analog TV is waste anyway - but how about we do a bit of a cost/benefit analysis on these things?

What is the day to day cost of running an old analog TV and Digital Set Top Box (DSTB) compared to the cost of running a newer (possibly OLED or LCD based) digital capable TV?

What is the cost to produce a new digital capable TV versus the cost of having an already produced analog TV plus whatever it takes to produce a DSTB, considering the old TV is going to end up as landfill?

Just how many TVs do I have, anyway?  I've repaired and inherited five TVs in the last year.  I'm desperately trying to think of what to do with any of them, but running them as a display is not one of my preferred options...

I wonder if we haven't well and truly passed the point of survival if we total up all the crap machines we've already got and which are all environmental hazards to dispose of.  Personally, I'm going to wait until I see a recycling scheme that seems to actually create less pollution than it cleans up.

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17 June, 2009

Not The Origin Of Species

And now for somethng completely weird.   Monty Python, eat your heart out.  (And liver, and fish heads if you like, yes. Wait, fish heads?)

It turns out that breeding programs for endangered/low population species may be doing harm.  What's amazing me here is that this development seems on the face of it to make a mockery of genetics and natural selection.  For a start, read this article. If the researchers haven't made a major stuff-up in their data, and they all check out, then that brings up  a few questions.

In brief, the article states that researchers have found that if you take wild trout and breed them in a hatchery, (or in fact taking wild hatchlings and just raising them in a hatchery,) their offspring are less effective at reproducing or surviving in the wild.  Furthermore, if they do produce offspring, whether with other hatchlings or wild trout, those offspring in turn are also less fit at reproducing or surviving.

See, the problem is, (and yeah I can see you've already leapt past me here but bear with me) you're taking species A and breeding them, you will still get Species A.  If you take Species A infants and raise them in captivity, they are still Species A.  Yet the research seems to indicate that when you release them into the wild or they breed with wild Species A, they somehow produce Species B type offspring with wildly different survival capabilities.

There are two alternative theories for this, neither of them is hugely palatable to me, actually.  Because they point to some ineffable metaphysical properties of Life that we haven't isolated yet.

The first theory, which would to some extent be borne out by a longer study and by examining and studying the successive generations of those hatchery-raised trout, is that there is some way that genetics works which doesn't rely on the usual mechanisms of selection.  Because, of course, you can see the problem here:  What the study has in effect found is that if you take an identical batch of hatchlings produced in the wild, and raise half of them in the lap of luxury and the other half in the wild, then they inexplicably start producing different offspring when you put them back into identical breeding conditions.  That's like saying that the spoiled effete trout can somehow choose which DNA sequences they release into their eggs and sperm.

That would make genetics and selection a lot different than we've found them to be, for sure.  And it means that we humans should see clear breaks in various sections of our own genotype due to things like wars and famines, versus surpluses and wealthy times.  While no real study has been done of this that I know, I very much doubt any such strata of genetic traits versus time or events will be found.

The second theory is just as scary because it gets into the whole nature versus nurture thing, and implies that there may be some equivalent of a "culture" passed on between trout.  The farm-raised trout would thus have less knowledge of the tough ole world out there, be a lot less reproductive because they've not been in a situation where there's constant pressure to reproduce (after all, you're swimming fin to fin with your fellow fishes) and so they don't perform well, and also don't pass on the same "story" to their offspring, leading to the natural "tradition" to be diluted.

That means that all creatures have cultures, and those cultures are important to their remaining a species.  Change the story, change the creature.  Want fatter pigs?  Don't waste generations painstakingly breeding for the fatter pigs, just provide them with treadmills and exercise equipment so they can eat more but burn the calories - then take the equipment away from the next generation...

The whole study seems to  imply that species react to their environment not by natural selection but by somehow choosing which traits they wish to pass on to their offspring out of the DNA junk in their genome.  That means that we should expect to find that if you open the coop doors, the chicks that were born before the door was opened will be different to the chicks that are born afterwards, despite having the same parentage.

And of course it raises the question that if we have trout that grow up differently in the farm than in the wild, why their offspring in turn don't grow up differently back in the wild.  You'd expect that changing the conditions for tame trout would result in recirpocal changes, yet the study seems to imply that this doesn't happen.

I'm therefore leaning towards calling some kind of flaw in the study's base data, because the study produced results at odds with almost everything we know about genetics.  If it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, then it must be a duck.  Unless of course it was born in the wild and raised in a chicken house with a working TV, when apparently we can expect it to grow up into a gryphon or a turkey or a Jurassic hadrosaur.

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16 June, 2009

How To Make Worse Look Good...

Why the hell Treehugger keeps coming out with these stupid reportages is beyond me.  Are they serious, for chrissakes, or are they an ironic attempt to make the whole green movement into a joke?  Just take their waxing lyrical and drooling over this POS.

Yes, I'm as conscious of the need to save power as the next person.  But I'm also aware of the total cost of ownership of something like this, ecologically speaking.  Let me get this next few paragraphs perfectly straight and logical.  I'd hate to look like as much of an idiot as their reporter did...

It's a USB hub, right?  We've just about mastered making these out of leftover cardboard and three of the eleven secret herbs and spices, which is to say, they have as much of a carbon and greenhouse footprint as any other gadget of around the same utility and materiel content.  So to begin with, I have the choice of using this hub or any other, probably cheaper, hub.  I can put the extra dollars I've saved into my kitty towards another grey water tank or diverter hose.

But no, the reporter bemoans the fact that we're not going to get a chance to waste money unless we go to Japan.  Screw saving money for some vegetable seeds, let's waste it on a USB hub that does exactly the same job as any other USB hub.

"But this one has switches!" the reporter says.  "I can switch off my unused USB devices!"

Ah yes.  Those switches... my first problem with them is that they are mechanical components.  That means that they will wear out, therefore giving an much shortened lifespan compared to a switchless hub.  Because you'd be operating these switches every time you want to switch off the spare caddy drive or the USB humping dog memory stick, you'll be moving the hub, flexing the cord, and hastening the demise of the cord.  And of course, wearing out those switches.

Then there's the environmental footprint of those additional switches.  First, you're going to be buying a replacement for this hub much sooner than you would have to replace a barebones hub, so over your life as a USB device user, you'd be using more hubs in that life span.  Then, there's extra material involved. How much does that add to the cost of these hubs?  (If you use higher grade switches to extend the whole hub life, expect that those high grade switches will cost more in terms of resource usage, energy, and waste production than cheap switches.)

Then there's the way you'll use these switches.  Let's go back to that caddy drive, and suppose that I use it for a few minutes, then, being a conscientious citizen, I switch it off cos I know I won't need it for 15 - 20 minutes.  Then I switch it back on, with an initial power drain surge when it spins up and boots up, and wait around 10 - 30 seconds for the operating system to find it and activate it.  How much energy have I just used sitting waiting for the caddy drive and the boot-up?  Over the life of the hub, will the energy saved even come close to atoning for the waste involved in manufacturing and building in those switches?

If you think I'm nitpicking the energy savings, here's this same magazine trying to decide whether the combined effect of people dumping analog TVs and buying new DTVs, or buying an additional STB converter, is going to impact the environment.  How nitpicking is that?  So I don't think I'm actually over-thinking this in comparison to what Treehugger should have been doing.

So to add to the nitpicking analysis, here's my next question - will people actually use the switches anyway? If you have to wait for a device to boot each time you need to use it, will you switch it off or just leave it running for the whole session?  Well, I'll be a model greenie and switch off when I don't need it.

And here, last of all, the coup de grace for this piece of greenwash - as I reach towards the hub to switch off the switch, I realise that this is a familiar action - I've been using it all along to just unplug the bloody device when I don't need it!

So somehow, Treehugger has been sucked into a greenwash.  Tsk tsk...

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14 June, 2009

Meet Meat

I can't really add more to this piece except to say - your diet is you.  Know where you came from, know what you must eat, and you'll know you have a long healthy future.

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10 June, 2009

Unshy Flies Make Me Question Things

I was just watching two flies running around on the floor.  That started a quick series of thoughts, which culminated in totally despairing of both evolution and creationism.

Because, these flies moved around within inches of each other without the usual flight reaction.  Flies survive because any movement near them triggers a jump / fly reaction when they are grounded.  It's how a fly becomes successful instead of dead.  So why didn't another fly moving nearby trigger the response?

"Oh," I'll get told, "the fly recognised that it was just another fly.  After all, that's how they find each other for mating."  And that raises two more interesting but distressing thoughts....

Firstly, saying it's possible for a fly to "recognise" another fly is to say that the flies have a sense of identity.  "Oh! I'm a fly, that's another fly! Relax again!"  An advanced sense of self is not what you expect to find in a cluster of nerves and neurons that would barely cover the point of a blunt pin.

Secondly, there's this mating strategy, indiscriminate humping.  If you don't have a sense of identity, then you rely on a set of other cues to direct your humping.  Pheromones, sounds, colours.  If you accept that flies have a very simple control mechanism (since there's no room to fit much thinking gear in there) then you'd expect that flies woul;d be humping anything around them with the requisite profile and smell.  Yet they don't...

On the other hand, we've been selectively breeding dogs for thousands of generations now, and you'd think one of the things we'd have selected against would have been indiscriminate humping - and yet highly bred lapdogs do this more than flies or wolves.  So natural selection either selects for some unhelpful traits, or else we don't have the theory quite right yet...

And for a "Creator" to be having to listen to several billion flies' prayers every day "buzz buzz buzz!  send us some nice shit today o lord!" because he gave them some kind of advanced intellectual mechanism is also a bit  of a stretch.

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09 June, 2009

Be Still The Wildebeest

No more migrating herds.  That's the conclusion one can draw from this article, which is in itself a worrying thing.  But more worrying is that the author also discovers that there are no historical data to work out the rate at which this pattern is changing.   And more worrying than that is our attitude to it.

I bet that you just read that and the hair on the nape of your neck didn't prickle when you read it, you didn't reflexively clench down on your seat from the news.  And yet that's exactly what should be happening, on a pandemic scale.

Because the reduction in migrations is another proof of the damage we've done already, and the fact that some migrations have stopped simply due to extinction is more of the same.  You and I should be shittin' kittens and blue lights, yet we're so numb to what "they" have done to "our" world that we just sort of shrug and move on.

With so many species checking out, isn't it time we stopped cataloging these losses and instead started concentrating on not losing the bastards in the first place?  Did you eat beef more than once or possibly twice this week?  Did that beef come from further than 25 miles away?  Then you're probably indirectly responsible for the death of one springbok or oryx this week.  Multiply that by your suburb and you can see where those herds are going.  Dying of the butterfly effect of our hamburgers and steaks.

A good way to visualise this is to imagine that your steak actually came from a wildebeest or a kangaroo or a reindeer.  Even if you only had one steak or burger, a whole animal had to die for that meal.  Which divides the blame you feel among a few dozen people who also bought beef, but if you're doing that every day, well just start totaling that up in your head...

I'm far from a raving vegetarian - I believe a certain amount of meat is a prerequisite for us to be healthy - but I don't advocate huge beef herds slaughtered hundreds of miles away...  Again, take personal responsibility people!  Think about these things and then maybe go for a bit of locally grown lamb or rabbit or chicken.  Spread the load around, soften the impact...

My parents keenly felt the effect of every wasted scrap of food, because they grew up in a time when food wasn't mass-produced as it is today, and they knew that you made every last bit count, from having that luxurious steak dinner once a fortnight to saving the leftovers and making a casserole or stew.  Because when they grew up, food was still wrested out of the earth with much effort, and everything was used.  We seem to have no such qualms today, and that's not a good thing.

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