Saturday, March 30, 2013

Day 338: And THIS is why I only Drink Water

A single serving of so-called healthy fruit juice has been found to contain the same amount of  sugar as three-and-a-half doughnuts or 13 hobnob biscuits.
Exclusive research for Mailonline has revealed that a single 250ml serving of white grape juice contained the same amount of sugar as four Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts.
Until recently, we thought the 'bad' drinks were those such as Coke and Pepsi, while orange juice was an easy way to get one of our 'five a day'.
But the goalposts have shifted. More and more experts are warning that sugary drinks in any form are largely to blame for our ballooning waistlines.
Shouting this message from the rooftops is one leading U.S. expert, Dr Robert Lustig.
In his new book 'Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar', he argues that it doesn't matter whether the sugars you drink come from fruit juice, smoothies or fizzy drinks.
He says that liquid fructose sugar is dangerous for our health, irrespective of the source.
These sugars are overloading our livers and leading to health issues such as heart problems, diabetes and obesity, which not only affects our quality of life, but also costs the NHS over £6 billion a year.
But why is orange juice, for example, so bad?
The key issue is a lack of fibre. When we eat fruit, fibre forms a protective layer that acts as a barrier to the intestine.
This slows absorption of sugar, so the liver has a chance to catch up. In fizzy drinks, fruit juices and smoothies, the barrier has gone, which leads to the liver being overloaded.
Also, fruit – which is how many of us get our five a day – is high in fructose, which affects blood sugar levels. Any sugar that the body doesn’t need is converted to fat – and we’re getting bigger. - Mail Online

Read the whole article - I dare you. How interesting that the things that are advertised as being the "healthy" choice are actually the opposite... The worst iced fruit drink, according to the article, is the Costa Massimo Red Berry Cooler, with a whopping 97.1 grams of sugar - that's as much as
16 Nature Valley Oats & Honey Granola Bars. 

How do you think the manufacturers get their drinks to be so tasty? There is no magical "healthy alternative" flavour enhancer to take the place of sugar - well not yet anyway. This is especially evident in weigh-less foods, they all contain markedly higher amounts of sugar than their competitors. Don't believe it? Read the labels. When I started reading the labels of food in the store I was shocked - simply amazed at all the crap that gets put in there with the packaging then still being audacious enough to claim to be the "healthy alternative". 

This leads us to the next question: You think these companies making all this "healthy stuff" actually care about you or me? Really? I think not.

The really scary thing is that we don't really know what is in any of the things we eat or drink - as has been shown so well by the horsemeat scandal. The only way we could find out for sure what the hell we are being fed is by becoming scientists. How can we trust the companies making the food, drinks and water we consume when the companies' main goal is to generate as much profit as possible? We don't. We can't. Our lives, our health and that of our loved ones depend on what we consume to nourish our bodies. When we take in toxic, harmful and otherwise inferior quality foods it takes a toll on our bodies - we weaken ourselves and open ourselves up to an entire host of health problems, known and unknown, treatable and untreatable - but mainly preventable. 

It is a disgrace to the gift of life that we so easily discard of our lives and health simply because we lack the initiative to investigate what it is that we are really participating within and supporting in the world. There are so many ways that our ignorance could harm us - we just haven't experienced them all yet. What happens when the toxic waste in the oceans gets to the point that the fish we eat is practically radioactive? Will the companies selling the fish care enough to pull the stock, or will they keep selling in an attempt to make as much money as possible while they still can? Hmmm... I wonder...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Day 337: Engineering Animals

(CNN) -- A cyborg beetle or a pet fish engineered to glow under ultraviolet light might sound like something you'd see in a movie about the future.
But if that's the case, then the future is here.
Those are just two of the developments science journalist Emily Anthes explores in her new book, "Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts." In easy-to-digest language, Anthes looks at the varied ways scientists are reshaping other living things -- and opening up a dialogue on ethics in the process.
Cloning, for example, falls into this discussion, as does "pharming," or genetically engineering animals for medicinal purposes. Advancements in prosthetics are giving new options to injured animals -- and occasionally benefiting humans, too.
Anthes highlights the example of Atlantic bottlenose dolphin Winter, whose story -- she lost her tail after being caught in a crab-trap line and was fitted with a prosthetic one -- inspired the 2011 movie "Dolphin Tale." In the process of developing Winter's tail, scientists came up with a prosthetic gel liner that some human amputees now use on their artificial limbs because of its impressive grip.
Biotech's capabilities extend to pet owners. A dog owner who frets about losing a beloved companion might be intrigued by the possibilities cloning offers, while cat lovers with allergies would probably be interested to hear that genetic engineering could offer a solution.
GloFish, which are zebrafish that have been genetically engineered to contain a fluorescent protein gene, are sold as pets in 49 states. (There's also a domestic cat in the U.S., Mr. Green Genes, who glows when placed under ultraviolet light, although Anthes doesn't foresee there being much of a market for more like him.)
CNN explored these examples and some of the stickier ethical questions posed by engineering animals in an interview this week with Anthes. Some answers were edited for brevity.
CNN: What was the impetus behind "Frankenstein's Cat"?
Who are we to be ... playing God? That's a phrase you see all the time in the animal world.
Emily Anthes
Anthes: I'm a science geek and an animal lover, so I gravitate toward stories about animals. Over time, I noticed that it seemed like every week there was some new story about genetically modified this, or cloned that, or cyborg bugs, or beetle drones. I got interested in putting all the pieces together and trying to figure out what this all meant.
CNN: When you look at something like the bottlenose dolphin and how it carries over to the way we treat our own amputees, it seems to be a win-win all around. But at what point does it become a little hairier, and morally ambiguous, when you're talking about using different experiments to help human problems?
Anthes: The dolphin is a great example because that involves treating an animal that's already been injured on its own. It may have human payoff down the road, but in the process of doing this work, you're making an animal better. But not all research is like that. In some cases, we take animals who are healthy and we make them sick so we can study them, and that, obviously, is a lot more ethically complicated.
That's probably one of the most -- if not the most -- common uses of genetic engineering, is scientists engineering rats and mice who suffer from various diseases that they then want to study to learn about cures or treatments for human disease. That's a pretty clear instance where animal welfare and human welfare are in direct opposition.
It's tricky, because it seems deeply unfair, and in some senses, it is. I like animals, and I don't want to see us creating rats that are just studded with tumors all the time, but if you told me that would actually yield a cure for cancer, it's hard to say no to that.
Studies have shown that the public is deeply conflicted about this, and I think there are some distinctions you can make based on what the potential benefits are. I don't like the idea of testing cosmetics on animals, and I think a lot of people would agree with me. But I think most people are slightly more accepting when it comes to testing chemotherapy on animals, because the potential payoff for humans is so big. Of course, that's not any consolation for the animal.
CNN: I thought you made an interesting point in your book about technology, that we're in a period where we're accustomed to personalization. What could the future of biotech hold for that?
Anthes: We have desired custom-designed pets for a long time, it's just that our options for creating them were limited. The techniques of molecular genetics really lets us go in and, for the first time, target very specific individual genes.
One of the big areas of interest has been in creating hypoallergenic pets. With cats, for instance, there's one gene in particular that codes for a protein that is what a lot of humans react to. The idea is, if you could disable this protein, maybe you have a cat that doesn't cause an allergic reaction.
I think a genetically engineered hypoallergenic cat is something that there would be a lot of demand for, and something I could very easily envision being a hit on the marketplace.
CNN: That's a very useful purpose, but then again, it raises questions of where the ethical boundaries are.
Anthes: I understand all of the criticism that has been lobbed at genetic technologies, and I think many of them are absolutely valid. We should consider animal welfare, we should consider environmental effects, we should consider human safety.
And there will certainly be cases in which we want to make alterations that are not good for animals, are not good for humans, are not good for the environment, and we should absolutely reject those products.
I think the point I really wanted to make is that it doesn't always have to be that way. Not every product will be harmful and dangerous, and some might actually be beneficial. I would hate to see these technologies rejected out of hand when there may be some useful applications.
CNN: Where do you think that anxiety about biotechnology stems from?
Anthes: I think there are some different concerns, and some of them are practical even if they get sort of sci-fi esque. [W]hat happens if these modified fish get loose, and what havoc might they wreak?
Then there are more philosophical concerns about, 'Is this unnatural?' and then, 'If it's unnatural, does that make it wrong?' And who are we to be, quote-unquote, playing God? That's a phrase you see all the time in the animal world. Are we sort of unleashing forces that we can't control? These are all questions that come up again and again.
At the root of it is the fact that this is new and high-tech. ... Things that are new are much scarier than things that are old. Things that are quote-unquote, technological are scarier than things that are, quote-unquote, natural. You have a lot of those factors wrapped together when you talk about something like genetic engineering.
CNN: Was there a particular species or experiment that intrigued you as being at the forefront of biotechnology?
Anthes: I think this world of cyborgs is really fascinating, and also very representative of the future. I think a lot of the early work in biotechnology was manipulating biology and the genes that are already there. I think the future in many ways is the mash-up of the living with the nonliving, the biotic with the a-biotic. I think we're really going to see, for lots of different reasons and in lots of different species, a growth of creatures that combine electronic bits and biological ones.
CNN: Such as the robotic bugs that you were talking about in your book (where scientists are studying how to turn an insect into a device that can be used to gain intelligence for military purposes).
Anthes: That's one very dramatic example, and I think there will be more of them. But I think there will be less dramatic kinds of cyborgs that will become more and more common. There are a number of therapies being tested for human disease that involve implanting sort of neuro-prosthetics in the brain, and (using) bionic prosthetic limbs. I think it's going to become more and more mainstream to come across humans or animals that have electronic parts wired into them.
CNN: What do you think are the greatest impacts on a person's personal life that may come from the latest biotechnology research?
Anthes: I think there's a lot of potential in this field of canine genetics, which is just growing like crazy. We're already starting to see some of it: There are commercial labs that can test your dog's DNA for less than $100, and give you information about what diseases it might be prone to and that can really help you make better medical decisions for your dog. I think this world of care and genetics may help us tackle the world of genetic dog disease, which a lot of research has shown is a huge problem among many breeds of dogs.
CNN: You say in your book that working to create genetically modified animals says something about us. What did you find to be the answer to that when you were done writing?
Anthes: I'm not sure there's one answer, but it reveals a couple of things.
It shows, for instance, that we imbue our pets with aesthetic value. Sometimes we want to change them just to look nice to us. Sometimes we want to change (animals) just to provide a better service to us, to produce better meat or certain kinds of drugs. Sometimes, we want to change them more out of altruism for their health.
It shows in some ways how complicated our relationships with animals are; that we simultaneously value them for what they give us, but that we also want -- or think we want -- them to have long, healthy lives for their own sake.
That was something I came back to again and again. The bottom line is that it reveals how complex our feelings are for other species. We don't want to see them suffer, and yet if their suffering gives us a cure for cancer, then maybe that's OK. It reveals that we're deeply conflicted about the role that animals play in our lives.

OK - I know that was long, but I just couldn't leave any part of it out. I actually cannot believe that the person discussing this point calls herself an "animal lover". Placing our own interests ahead of animals' for no reason other than because we think we are awesome and animals are not quite as awesome is just plain elitist and cruel.

Dooming any kind of animal to a sickly life of tumors or TB or fevers from some random disease just because we apparently can't find a cure any other way is ridiculous. We come up with all kinds of ways to achieve the ends we desire when our own interests are involved, but when our interests are not in the picture then it's no holds barred.

If we were to place ourselves in the position that we have put these animals in, then we would be singing a different tune. The biggest justification for the torture of animals is that it's for the greater purpose. If giving ten thousand mice cancer and therefore dooming them to a slow and painful death will help us to develop some new anti-cancer drug, then why the hell not?! It's not like the mice can voice their disagreement in a way that we will understand. We'll just content ourselves with the thought that the mice must not be conscious of what is happening to their bodies and that they cannot feel pain. 'Cos, you know, they're mice.

We are so self absorbed that we are able to justify our own inhumanity. We don't really care about the interests or well being of animals - we just want them to accessorize and accentuate our image. Animals are just fashion accessories and tools to be used to further our own goals and desires. We should feel shame - it's absence says more about us than we will ever admit to ourselves: We are all sociopaths. Think about it: we can think about the pain, suffering and ultimate death of another living being in a cold and calculating way and then go on to calculate how their misery will benefit us. We lie blatantly and openly about our apparent concerns for other beings, saying that we care but then dooming them to torture. We wonder why there are these apparent "sociopathic" people in our society that go on killing sprees - but they are simply staying true to the nature that is imposed on them by society itself. Just because they're a little better at controlling their pesky emotions than the rest of us conflicted souls they are shunned. Funny how the wheel turns, isn't it?

If every creature on Earth did what we do, there would probably be no Earth right about now. Everyone would be waving their banners of "For the Greater Good!" - Oh, really? For the greater good of whom?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Day 336: It's Not That We're Lazy...

We're just not motivated enough to change the world.

It is a picture which reveals the desperation of Britain's growing population of unemployed - thousands of job seekers standing outside a hotel for the chance of finding employment.

Long queues started to build two hours before the jobs fair at the Solent Hotel, in Whiteley, Hampshire, got under way, drawing in people from all walks off life clutching CVs and laptops in a bid to make the right impression.

The turn-out was so strong a one-in, one-out policy was enforced, as an estimated 4,000 would-be workers tried to land employment the new shopping centre. - Mail Online

We are a resourceful lot. We can find ways to survive in unforgiving extremes; we push our bodies to their limit just to prove that we can; we queue for new gadgets for hours and sometimes days; we queue for our divas too; we think of new and interesting reasons to hate each other; we think of new and innovative ways to kill each other; we make our food production as streamlined and effective as possible so as to maximise profit; we can hold on to a grudge for generations with enough zest to still want to murder the "guilty" party; we refuse to acknowledge the suffering or even existence of about half of the human population and only about 0.5% of the animal and plant population.

We have proven over and over that any of us are capable of doing and overcoming extreme conditions and tasks in order to satisfy some kind of motivation within us. We will wake up super early just to make sure we avoid the inconvenience of standing in a queue all day.

So why the hell don't we use our innovation, dedication or motivation to change the world for the better? Why, because we only act when our own interests are invested.

Consider the activists and human rights fighters and crime fighters - most of them had a personal experience of whatever they're fighting against - what's that saying, "you only care when that something happens to you"?

So now we all go through our lives, hoping that none of those terrible things ever happens to us, while at the same time placing an absurd trust in some invisible force to come along and fix the world. We are more than capable of doing it ourselves - and realistically, no miracle is going to come and get us out of this mess. We made our bed, now we must get the fuck out, burn it and make a better one.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Day 335: Child Suicide Bombers

Swat, Pakistan (CNN) -- Just over one week ago, Pakistani authorities paraded 11 children accused of terrorism in front of the local media. The boys, aged 10 to 16, were apprehended while attempting to plant home-made explosives on behalf of local militant groups operating in and around the city of Quetta, in Balochistan.
The boys' arrest highlights Pakistan's worsening civil strife and underscores how Pakistani terrorist groups continue to exploit children.
This is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan are increasingly turning to children as operatives.
Most of the children recalled overwhelmingly negative experiences at the training camps. After performing menial tasks, they were locked in a 4x5 meter room for the rest of the day. Some reported being repeatedly beaten, and in a few cases, sexually assaulted by senior figures.
One child with whom we spent some time graduated from such deplorable conditions only to be 'allowed' to become a martyr, changing his mind literally at the last second. That boy is now one of Sabaoon's brightest hopes for successful rehabilitation and reintegration, and a potential role model for younger children at Sabaoon. But he remains profoundly traumatized by his experiences.
Other children actually reported having had positive experiences with the TTP. Some became involved through family members already in the movement. For them, adventure, camaraderie, and a sense of purpose proved all too real. Terrorism was the family business, and even if the children didn't want to get involved, how could they refuse?
Nobody knows exactly how old some of the children are. Many don't have birth certificates and don't know their own age themselves.

We've all heard the horror stories of child soldiers, so it should not come as a surprise that children are being used as martyrs. The reasoning is the same: kids are easier to intimidate and 'brainwash' into being good little soldiers and will be willing to do anything their superior asks of them.

So, how the hell did all of this come about? "Terrorism" doesn't just happen, it is actively instigated and acted out. Most terrorists are trying to impose their idea of the "right way" to live on a bunch of people who believe something different (the wrong stuff obviously). Now, the terrorists can see quite clearly that their actions only cause more resistance, as opposed to the acceptance and conversion they are apparently trying to achieve. Any person can see that coercion and force will not lead to happy, functional or docile people.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as objective reasoning or critical thinking when it comes to beliefs and opinions, people will fight tooth and nail for what they believe is right - even if it is very wrong.

Just think, 2000 years ago the Romans lived in a way that is very different to how we live now. They believed their way of life was the best - and that involved gods raping goats and having penises on pretty much everything (signs, jewellery for children, decorations, statues...) - check out this article on the lives of Romans in Pompeii just before they got pwned by the mountain of doom.

It's always about beliefs and opinions, whose is better, whose is right. Obviously every aspect of our beliefs and opinions are created in our imaginations - but that doesn't make them any less valid! Or stupid.

Our world is made up of segregated sects of opinions, all vying for the supremacy of validation and capitulance. No one sect is ever willing to give up what they believe, and so the conflicts continue.

The simplest answer is almost always the correct one: Just STOP.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Day 334: Is Retirement The Same As A Slave Purchasing Their Freedom?

For most of us, our goals in life include marriage, kids and early retirement. The percentage of people who are able to attain that last one is quite low - most of us are forced to work well into our old age and still don't have enough to survive without government assistance. Sometimes that government assistance is enough to allow for a dignified decay into death, but in many countries government assistance isn't even enough to buy food to have a balanced diet. How many retired parents have to move in with their middle aged children? Most people I know have at least one grandparent who lived with their kids.

Now, once upon a time, in a land that is not quite so far away, there was a thing called slavery. Now what this means is: one human being could own another human being (like, say, a car) and treat that human being as property or as an object to be used and/or discarded on a whim. As a matter of fact, slavery does still exist. There is a country in north Africa that still practices slavery, even though it's technically illegal. This is a very interesting and informative article about slavery in Africa. There are other forms and locations for modern day slavery: there is debt slavery, mostly in Asia, and the slavery that comes about from human trafficking - this is mostly sex slavery. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article about Contemporary Slavery.Check out this quote taken from that page:

The number of slaves today remains as high as 12 million to 27 million, 
the highest number in human history

There were (and are, in some cases - probably not applicable to some sex slavery) only a few ways for a slave to gain his/her freedom: The government could free the slave, the master could free the slave, or the slave could purchase his/her freedom. Since slaves don't/didn't get decent (or any) wages, the chances of them buying their freedom are/were slim to none.

I don't know about you, but this whole slavery thing seems eerily familiar: having restricted choices to to social and/or economic position, being forced to work in order to survive, being treated as inferior by those in higher social positions, working with the sole purpose of being able to be free to choose.

Doesn't that sound a little like slavery?

We work our entire lives for the luxury of living as we please, but by the time we get there (if we are lucky enough to have had a good job and therefore a decent nest egg) we're old and decrepit and can't do many of the things we may have wanted to do. We are no different from the bonded workers in India, we just don't realise that we are. We want to believe that we are free already - as if free choice exists in a system controlled by money. Many choices in life have a price tag, and if you can't afford to pay it then it's simply not an option to you. You could resort to stealing, but there's not much difference in the end - and in any case, the thieves that are the best at what they do are sitting on a big pile of money that the rest of us believe is legitimate and honest. Yeah, right.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 333: Healthcare Industry Does Not Care About Health

Scarce donor organs meant for NHS patients are being sold to wealthy foreigners for tens of  thousands of pounds.
A leading hospital has confirmed that 19 private overseas patients bought donated livers in the past two years.
Such organs are in short supply. Of the 550 NHS patients waiting for a liver, one in six is expected to die before they can get a transplant.
But since 2011, King’s College Hospital in London has  given livers to patients from Greece, Cyprus, Kuwait, Libya and Dubai.
The trust is likely to have been paid around £1million for all the transplants, but it refused to disclose how much it received for them individually.
Although experts have condoned the practice as ‘morally wrong’, it is not illegal because the Government does not believe it prevents NHS patients from having transplants.
The Department of Health has refused to implement a ban – ignoring the advice of a specially commissioned taskforce – and claims organ donations are increasing. - Mail Online

Good healthcare goes to those who can pay the hefty rates - this is simply a fact of life as we know it. I cannot name any country that has better public than private healthcare, although it is plausible that there is/are some good public hospital(s) somewhere in the world - I'll believe it when I see it.

South Africa has a very equality-oriented constitution, among the top in the world - but this constitution does not enforce the rights it lays down, no. One can easily see this upon entry into the country. There is no such thing as equal rights here, only more expensive rights and less expensive rights. The public hospitals are appalling and are more likely to kill you than cure you. Public hospital staff are entitled, incompetent, unsympathetic and downright dangerous most of the time (I suppose that's only marginally worse than the private hospital staff, but definitely still not first choice). If you get sick in South Africa, you'd best have good (expensive) health insurance or a buttload of money if you hope to live.

Sure, you could get medical aid (health insurance, whatever) but only the wealthy can afford that, so if you're poor then public hospital it must be.

I find this medical system of ours to be utterly perverse - having to pay for something as basic and universally required as good healthcare is abominable. (Gee, kinda sounds like everything else in our stupid system). That there is even a distinction between "good" healthcare and "not so good" healthcare is disgusting.

But, you know what they say: money can buy you pretty much anything. Ok maybe they don't say it, but I just did so it must be true. You may be a terrible person, but if you have money you can outlive any penniless saint.

Healthcare isn't about health, it's about competition - and the winner is always the one with the most money...