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HuckleB's Journal
HuckleB's Journal
September 28, 2015

Dorthe Nors on whether today's Danish fiction reflects the identity of those outside Copenhagen

Today, Dorthe Nors investigates whether today's Danish fiction reflects the identity of those living outside the capital, Copenhagen.


A great radio essay that certainly speaks to the rest of the world, including the US.

September 26, 2015

GMOs and Junk Science


"In today’s media landscape, where unfounded opinions, hype, and rumors are rife, the scientific method – the means by which we determine, based on empirical and measurable evidence, what is true – should serve as a touchstone of reality. Science enables us to gauge what we think we know and to identify what we do not. Most important, it discredits false claims made for personal or political reasons – at least it should.
But scientists occasionally “go rogue,” forsaking the scientific method – often for notoriety or economic gain – to produce propaganda and to sow fear in a public that lacks expertise but is hungry for information. This abuse of scientific authority is especially widespread in the “organic” and “natural” food industries, which capitalize on people’s fear of synthetic or “unnatural” products.

A recent example is the Indian-American scientist V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, who, with Prabhakar Deonikar, published the much-ridiculed paper “Do GMOs Accumulate Formaldehyde and Disrupt Molecular Systems Equilibria? Systems Biology May Provide Answers.” (“GMOs” are “genetically modified organisms,” itself a misleading and often unfairly stigmatized non-category, circumscribing a universe of organisms modified with the most modern and precise techniques of genetic engineering.)


But the problems with Ayyadurai’s paper are legion. Its title alone is enough to show that something is amiss. If you think that GMOs might “accumulate formaldehyde” – a chemical that is probably carcinogenic at high levels but is present in most living cells and found widely in our environment – the obvious response would be to measure its levels in the organisms. Ayyadurai, however, chose to make guesses based on modeling via “systems biology.”



Another false hero of the anti-GMO crowd.

September 25, 2015

Superfood Silliness. Don't believe the hype.


"Someone is always trying to tell us what to eat. It’s like religions: they can’t all be right, and they might all be wrong. One of the most pervasive food myths is the idea of “superfoods,” the belief that certain foods are particularly good for us.

Obviously some foods have more of certain nutrients than others, but the idea of “superfoods” is just silly. No food is a perfect source of all nutrients. Yes, spirulina (blue-green algae) has an impressive array of nutrients; but spinach has even more.


Gayelord Hauser claimed that five wonder foods would add years to life: skim milk, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, yogurt, and blackstrap molasses. Cider vinegar has been promoted as a cure-all that keeps the body in balance, thins the blood, and aids digestion. Wheat grass is said to cleanse the body, neutralize toxins, slow the aging process, prevent cancer, and supplement body enzymes with plant enzymes. I’ve never tried it, but it looks putrid and I’ve been told it tastes even worse than it looks. “Anti-inflammatory” foods like kelp, blueberries, shiitake mushrooms, and wild Alaska salmon supposedly counteract heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. The scientific evidence doesn’t support any of those claims.


Superfood lists disagree with each other and can include as many as 200 foods. If these were all superfoods, almost all foods would be superfoods, making the concept meaningless. So many healthy foods are left off the lists that you could eat a healthy diet while avoiding everything on the lists. Believe it or not, raw meat contains every essential nutrient, even vitamin C, which is destroyed when meat is cooked. For obvious reasons, I wouldn’t recommend a raw meat diet.



September 23, 2015

Court rules waitresses can be fired for gaining weight

The Borgata Casino in New Jersey has a rule stating waitresses are not allowed to gain or lose more than seven pounds

"An appeals court in New Jersey, USA has ruled that the Borgata Casino can tell its waitresses that they will be fired if they gain too much weight or even if they lose too much weight.

This is based on a lawsuit that was brought on Borgata as a result of their very strict policy regarding their waitresses, who are known as the Borgata Babes.

The casino claims it makes the waitresses aware of this from the moment they're hired, telling them that they're are not supposed to gain or lose more than seven pounds while working there.

According to the Associated Press, the court said: "the Borgata Casino's personal appearance standards are lawful. But it also said part of a lawsuit brought by 21 servers should be returned to a lower court to determine if 11 of the women were subjected to a hostile work environment over enforcement."



Well, umm. Hmm.

September 23, 2015

Ben Carson argued evolution was ‘encouraged by’ Satan


"As it turns out, the same year, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson delivered remarks that were strikingly similar. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:

In a speech delivered in 2012, Ben Carson said the big bang theory was part of the “fairy tales” pushed by “high-faluting scientists” as a story of creation.

Similarly, Carson, a noted creationist, said he believed the theory of evolution was encouraged by the devil.

I wish I could say that’s an exaggerated description, but it’s really not. The retired right-wing neurosurgeon, known for his off-the-wall ideas about a great number of issues, called the science surrounding the big bang “ridiculous,” and added in reference to evolution, “I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary.”



September 23, 2015

Dalai Lama says that any female successor would have to be 'attractive'


"The Dalai Lama has astonished his millions of followers by declaring that any female successor to his role will have to be "very attractive" to do the job.

The Tibetan spiritual leader, a self-declared feminist, stunned a BBC interviewer by saying that were a woman to eventually take over his position, she would be unsuitable if she was ugly.

"That female must be attractive, otherwise it is not much use," he said.




Granted, the question wouldn't even be viable if the interview was with, say, the Pope.

September 23, 2015

The Role Of Organic Pesticides In California


"Did you know that organic farmers use pesticides? They do. Would it surprise you to know that many of the same pesticides are used by both conventional and organic farmers? In fact just over half of all the pesticides used in California by all categories of farmers are active ingredients that are approved for organic. Would it surprise you to know that very little of modern pesticide use involves highly toxic chemicals? In fact the organic-approved and synthetic pesticides used in California today have a similar distribution of relative toxicity , mostly at the low toxicity end of the spectrum. This sort of useful information is publicly available, and is helpful in addressing many common misperceptions about organic and about pesticides in general.


In the graph above I’ve broken out the 2013 California pesticide use by major categories based on pounds. The categories that have organic-approved active ingredients are indicated with the USDA logo and together these comprise 55% of the total pounds applied. These materials are extensively used by both organic and non-organic growers. The conventional growers have additional options, but definitely use some of these same materials as part of a resistance management strategy and for other practical reasons.


The reason that consumers can be confident that their food is safe is really the same for organic and conventional. The products that are allowed are rigorously evaluated, and the details of how they can be used are set through “label requirements” regarding worker safety, restrictions around sensitive habitats, rate and timing limits, and the time allowed between the last application and harvest. Those restrictions (which exist for both organic and synthetic pesticides) are designed to ensure that any residues at the consumer level are well below a very conservative threshold called a “tolerance” in the US and MRL (maximum residue level) in other countries. In the US and Canada respectively the USDA and Health Canada take random samples of foods from the commercial supply and test them in labs for the presence of pesticide residues. What they find is very encouraging and should give consumers considerable confidence (this independently developed website allows you to visualize this public data source). Interestingly, this testing does not include a look at the highest use-rate organic-approved pesticides (sulfur, petroleum derived oils, copper compounds). To do so would require an additional testing regime at considerable cost, and the materials are not considered to be of sufficient concern to warrant that.

So in conclusion, pesticides are definitely used on organic crops. Organic and conventional growers use many of the same chemicals. For the organic and synthetic pesticides in use today there is a similar distribution of intrinsic acute, oral toxicity. Consumer confidence in this area can be based on highly transparent sources of data and on the legacy of decades of environmental campaigning, decades of increasingly rigorous regulation, and billions of dollars of investment in finding better and better options for pest control."

The graphs are very interesting, when they are compared to one another.

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