Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wrong, wrong, WRONG!

This story makes me hurt on the inside.
“Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services."
Ok, here's the thing. Heroin is A Bad Thing because it kills people. If we could do something that helps people not die, that would be A Good Thing.

It seriously seems that some people would condone - no, enforce - higher death rates if only to keep people away from heroin. And certainly, heroin use is one of those things I don't want to encourage. Heroin use deeply hurts not only the people who use, but also their family, their friends, their work associates, their pets... it's generally a nasty scene. Deterring this would be good. But NOT when it costs people their lives. Anyone who's lost a loved one to heroin use would tell you that they would rather have their loved one alive, even if that loved one were using heroin.

Threats of physical punishment are NOT the way to convince an adult human being to do something. We should all know this by now. Right?

Each human being is worthy of life. Even people who break the law. Even drug users. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a monster.

Monday, January 28, 2008

<3

The Skeptic's Circle.

Read it.

Is good.


That's right. Cuban B.

Fatosphere, schmatosphere. It's all biology, people!

So about this "Obesity is undeniably bad for you" thing.

I was under the impression that it was poor diet and no physical activity that were bad for you. I understand that these things are related to weight: tossing high-calorie low-volume food down your gullet will result in consuming more cals than you need, and sitting on your ass all day will result in those calories having nothing to do but hang out around your thighs. And, yes, having grossly swollen adipocytes is linked to insulin resistance and other nasties like that. (Then again, so is consuming pound after pound of simple carbs, regardless of your body shape.)

But... you all know about the leptin/orexin system right? To sum it up, your body has an (ahem) homeostatic mechanism for regulating your food intake. If your fat stores go too far above 'normal', you don't eat as much. If your fat stores go below 'normal', you eat more. I don't think I'd be too far off to say that this system is intact in most fat people. It's not like your body is being 'tricked' by off-base leptin levels into thinking you're starving. It's more like your body thinks that a certain amount of fat is normal.

Let's say that a hypothetical fat person stops eating bacon-burgers and donuts and soda on a regular basis, and starts eating veggies and brown rice and lean meats. Let's say this imaginary fat person loses their car and starts walking everywhere they need to be. You will probably see a change in weight. But it won't be terribly drastic. Sure, you'll trim up some areas that used to be a bit more fleshy, but as far as weight goes, that person isn't going to drop below their normal leptin baseline.

Regardless of what these lifestyle changes do to your waistline, they will make that person much healthier. I would imagine, for reasonable people, this would be fine. In fact, spectacular.

However, our society tends to be unreasonable about health and weight. It's not enough that I am healthy. I need to be thin, too. Because the way most people see it, fat people are fat always and only because of unhealthy habits, and therefore if you have fat on you, you must be unhealthy.

If, like almost all of us, your baseline is somewhere between 20 and 50 pounds above our cultural 'ideal' (or 'ideal BMI'), there's no way to bring it down without continually fighting your body's natural weight maintaining system. Anyone who's tried to diet knows this. The continual hunger. The physical dissatisfaction after finishing a meal with only the allowed number of calories. The nagging obsession with food and eating. But...
"You wouldn't discourage a smoker from quitting just because it's difficult to make people quit smoking. Some will, and they will benefit from the change."

The difference between quitting smoking and cutting calories is that with smoking, your body pretty quickly (within a week) readjusts to a nicotine-free environment and the constant, aching cravings subside to an occasional nuisance. If you can grit your teeth and suck it up, quitting really isn't that terrible, just persistently inconvenient. Speaking as someone who's never quit for more than a month or two, I know that I can go pretty much indefinitely without a cigarette if I had to. If I were to be put in a magic 'No Smoking Allowed' bubble for any length of time, it wouldn't really bother me. But gathering the willpower to voluntarily resist smoking? Ech. Maybe next year, when things are a little less hectic.

That's because nicotine isn't actually required for survival. Sure, it can hijack you for a little while and make you think that you need it. But you still don't actually need it. I'd like to remind everyone here that we do need calories. We've always needed calories. Lots and lots of em. Your ancestors' survival absolutely depended on your ability to store extra calories on your body like that. When your energy stores (fat) go below 'well stocked', your mammalian body is absolutely driven to restore it to full capacity. I believe that this is a major factor as to why there is no empirically proven long-term weight loss technique.

This is also one of the major reasons I totally dig the fat acceptance movement.

(Of course, another one may be the fact that the last and only time I visited Victoria's Secret, the lady who was supposed to be sizing me stopped short of actually telling me what size I am and said, "We don't have anything that would fit you here. Try Lane Bryant." Yeah, and fuck you very much, too.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why, you ask? For the lulz, of course!

So you may (or may not) be wondering what I think about this "war" between a group of 13-year-old boys from 4chan and the Church of Scientology.

I think that the Church of Scientology is a dangerous cult, and is directly responsible for the death of at least one person. And not in the 'Scientology's philosophies led her to do something stupid' way, more in the 'Church officials strapped her to a bed for days without food or water' way.

Besides, I'm pretty sure that the worst that can happen is epic lulz. So Anonymous... you have my blessing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I think they have a word for that...

They call it "Equivocation".

Yes, I'm also talking about Denyse O'Leary, even though Evil Bender already tore a her a new one over her list of "predictions" that ID "theory" supposedly leads to.

PZ summed up my initial reaction:
"I don't think she understands the meaning of the word 'prediction' in a scientific context."

Here are the "positive predictions" of creationism ID in list form:
  1. "An end to unfalsifiable ideas about zillions of flopped universes and a focus on how we can best explore our own universe, as per The Privileged Planet."
  2. "We will learn more about the real nature of our universe and our place in it, and how best we can explore it when we accept the fact that it didn't 'just happen.'"
  3. "Discovering the true mechanisms of bursts of natural creativity may be of immense value to us, especially if we need to undo some significant harm to our environment."
  4. "We will focus on what consciousness can do, especially in treatment of mental disorders. Yes, a drugged up zombie is better than a suicide, but only because the zombie isn't technically dead. Why stop there?"
  5. "We will discover the functions of many brain areas whose functions we did not know before."
  6. "We can have a better grasp of what consciousness does and how it relates us to our environment."
  7. "Better health care for people with complex illnesses."
  8. "For example, if one culture decrees that 'God says you SHOULD beat your wife' and another culture says that 'God says you SHOULDN'T beat your wife', the observed instance of wife-beating will be lower in the second culture than in the first. Human nature may be the same everywhere, but human behaviour is predicted by culture. So culture matters."
All of these are set aside and labeled as predictions. I really didn't take them out of context. No really, go check if you don't believe me.

Most of these boil down to 'When creationists ID theorists take over, we will learn lots more and be very, very happy.' In fact, predictions 1, 2, 3, part of 4, 5, 6, and 7 all have this form. That leaves us with the insinuation that psycho-pharmaceuticals turn people into zombies and that 'culture matters'.

This last one may actually qualify as an actual prediction, but the logic of it completely escapes me. Apparently one of the implications of creationism ID is that different cultures are... different?

Regardless, they're not predictions in any kind of meaningful sense of the word, and anyone with more than a couple braincells to rub together will probably regret wasting the effort trying to understand it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A perspective from a former soldier

Scenes from the Battleground is a very well done blog for those of you who find education and mild schadenfreude entertaining. Oldandrew describes in gory detail what happens when the culture of ignorance and apathy go unchecked in British schools.

Anyone anywhere at this point should know that American kids (and adults, and Congresspeople) share in this same culture. I went to a poorly-funded small suburban school district outside Pittsburgh, and reading the Scenes definitely reminded me of my time on the front lines. There were plenty of kids who had no interest in learning, no forethought aside from tomorrow night's party, and no consideration for others.**

The problems at my school were far less pervasive, though, and the more I read and think, the more I realize that we had a lot of safeguards in check to keep us in line, which never really struck me as 'disciplinary measures' until now.

One example I wanted to write about came into my head because of Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory: my school had Hall Passes. For a while, we had paper ones that we were responsible for carrying around with us, with a little form on them that you used to mark down the time you left the classroom and a space for the teacher's signature. Any teacher in the hallway would send us back to class if we didn't have one of these (though if you carried a blank one around and didn't look shady, you could totally get away with it). It at least had the effect of preventing students from going to the bathroom every half hour, since teachers could look at your pass and see how often you've been out. Later, we switched to a different system, where each classroom got its own large wooden hall pass, with the room number carved into the side. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to lug the piece of wood with you. If ten people wanted to go to the bathroom at once, tough cookies. You had to wait for the person to bring back the hall pass.

During secondary school, I was increasingly isolated from the 'problem' kids as I stayed in the 'AP' (advanced college-preparation) track, which I think is also a good thing as far as discipline goes. Kids who are ready to write sonnets are unfettered by jealous and destructive classmates, and kids who have a rough time with the five-paragraph essay have smaller classes, more thorough explanations, and less issues that lead to disturbing others' learning.

The strictly-enforced detention/suspension system and policeman patrolling the corridors also cut down on overt classroom disruption, I'm sure. But in the more general, 'blow-off' courses, where lots of kids at different ability levels are taught by a 'lenient' teacher, I've seen a lot of BS. My 6th grade band teacher once broke down in front of our class because of seemingly-unstoppable poor behavior, threw pages of musical score at the auditorium full of kids, and stormed out of the room for the rest of the period. Thankfully I didn't see this anywhere else.




** Side-note: To be fair, my high school served a fairly lower-class demographic, and most of the 'problem' kids in my school were of the most humble family situations while most of the 'good' kids had less modest upbringings. It's not entirely the kids' fault that they were brought up with low expectations and low discipline, and it's not entirely the parents' fault that their lives are full of the types of challenges that make raising a child difficult.

Progress?

Fifty years ago, a group of nine black high school students trying to go to a white school had to be escorted by members of the Army's 101's Airborne Division past an angry white mob.

Nowadays, there's a very good chance that we may elect a black man for President. I'm definitely rooting for Obama. His stance on the issues is most like mine out of all of the dudes (and lady) out there, and his style is entirely acceptable to me. (Although to be honest, I'll be quite happy with Edwards or Clinton too.)

Not that it's perfect. But it's a nice display of our progress as a nation. I'll take it, regardless.