Friday, February 07, 2014

My take on the Creationism/Evolution debate

If you haven't watched the debate, I know that it will be on YouTube for at least a little longer.  It's 2.5 hours but definitely worth the watch. Click here to watch.

So, for those of you who live under a rock and had no idea, Ken Ham (founder of that famous Creationism museum in Kentucky) and Bill Nye ("the science guy") took the opportunity to entertain the world by holding a debate in Kentucky regarding whether Creationism can be considered a viable, modern model for the origin of the species.  Since then, I've seen all kinds of rhetoric from both sides.  The bible nerds out there giggle at Nye's liberal use of phrases such as "I don't know" and "That's the great mystery" while evolution pundits criticize Ham's use of scripture as his biggest tool for rebuttal.

Disclaimer:  FYI...I'm an Evolutionist.  My reason is simply that, by its nature, Evolution inherits the same extreme degree of scrutiny required from any scientific process.  It doesn't claim to have all the answers right now but tirelessly performs the due diligence required to eventually converge on an unimpeachable understanding of a natural phenomenon.  This process has always created a greater resonance within me than the more ethereally ideological approaches.

I'll skip the small talk and move straight on to the point.  I really didn't care much for this debate.  In fact, I don't really consider it to be much of a debate at all.  If I could go back in time, I would probably go back to a week prior and tell Mr Nye that...

I got the distinct impression that Mr Nye wasn't exactly among friends let alone peers.  He was understandably opposed to Mr. Ham but I perceived that he was also somewhat opposed to the audience as well.  I'm the kind of guy who pays attention to strange things like that.  As you watch it, you'll notice things about the crowd's reactions...the way that Mr Ham's snippy little "But Bill...there's a BOOK that tells us exactly where that came from" comments were always met with agreeable, supportive giggles from the crowd whereas the only way Mr Nye could ever solicit such a reaction was when he would briefly assume the caricature of the nerdy, eccentric, guy with the bow tie whom everyone recognized from TV.  In short, I don't think that Mr. Nye was among friends.

Some points that stood out for me:

  1. It was clear to me that Mr Ham and his army of sympathetic PhD'd scientists spend a lot of their time finding holes in theories and citing them as weakness.  I mean, these guys spend a LOT of time doing this and then memorizing each and every single one of them as a bullet point for later conversation with no regard for the notion that scientific theories aren't just spontaneously generated wholly and completely.  Gaps will often exist and for indeterminate periods of time.  Science fully embraces the idea of "to be continued", "this spot reserved for future study", and "we don't quite understand this right now".  So, how is someone like Mr Nye, an advocate for general science, supposed to prepare himself for such pre-planned assaults on such very specific "chinks" in the armor of some of these scientific theories?  I haven't a clue.  He's a braver man than I am. 
  2. Mr Ham assumed the enviable position of being able to create the rule stick by which the rest of his arguments would be assessed and by which Mr Nye's would be judged.  I can't really fault him because Mr Nye let him do it.  In the beginning, Mr Ham describes the two different  kinds of science: historical science and observational science.  (Taken directly from the gospel according to Ham).  Long story short, the premise of historical science was that we can't observe what happened in the past and thus science has no dominion over whether we can judge it to be true or false.  This being the case, he asserts that scripture is a recording of observed events and thus has merit that is missing in the scientific process.  Mr Ham beat Mr Nye with that stick repeatedly throughout the debate.  Were it I who was up there, I'd have knee-capped Mr Ham in the beginning but I get the impression that Mr Nye, although being blunt, is also a really nice guy.  So, not only is this Ham's turf and (I believe) Ham's audience, but it's also Ham's rule book. 
  3.  Mr Ham knew exactly what he was going to throw at Mr Nye and, what's more, he wanted the world to see it happen.  Hence, the invitation to Kentucky.  Again, I posit that had Mr Nye known what kind of scientific chinks were going to be thrown at him that he might have had a different strategy.   So...Ham's turf, (I think) Ham's audience, Ham's rule book, Ham's game plan.  This is a bit overwhelming when going up against Mr Nye's messages that often come across more as public service announcements than actual arguments.  
  4. I will say, though, that Mr Ham was a brave man for trying to stand up to science on science's terms.  The idea that some of these scientific theories were questionable using the tenets of the scientific process itself was probably the best move he could have made.  It's long been my opinion that when science and religion verbally go head-to-head that nothing will ever be accomplished.  How can either side hope to gain sympathy from the other when they both value different things and have completely different rule books determining validity and cogency?  Mr Ham at least did this part well by not only being willing to meet halfway but by spanning the entire bridge to meet Mr Nye on the other side.  
  5. And, alas, I was not a fan of Mr Nye using the pulpit to twice take a political posture.  As just about everyone knows, he continually purports that to believe in Creationism isn't itself a bad thing but to please teach Evolution to children with the premise being that scientifically literate people will be needed in the generations to come to maintain America's scientific and industrial posture.  It's a great message and I completely agree.  I just think that it was the wrong place and the wrong time. 

So, again, I really don't think that it was much of a debate.  I'm glad that Bill Nye is around and is willing to zealously run with the torch of scientific advocacy the way that he does.  I'd be lying, however, if I said that I think that anything was accomplished or that either party came out on top.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Unseen Charleston: Riverfront Park at Night

Ok, so tonight's entry for Unseen Charleston doesn't exactly qualify as "unseen" but it definitely ranks up there among the things that every Charlestonian should see at least once.

The pictures below are from Riverfront Park in North Charleston.  For those of you familiar with the old navy base, you'll know the place that I'm talking about.  

Everyone I know who's ever been there has been during the day.  Granted, it's still arguably cool during the day but it really takes on an unbelievable ambiance at night and I think it's something that most  people would enjoy.  It's one of the Charleston area's hidden gems (and it's free, too). Feel free to peruse some of my images below.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Entry: Why I'm tired of the SAD

  • This post only discusses diet and, while acknowledging the exercise/medication/genetics/caloric- restriction components, leaves them for other people to tackle.
  • This post is not intended to provide empirical, formal methods.  It will neither present nor cite the science.  If you find any interest and/or problems with it, do your own research.  That's what I've spent the last 2 months doing.  It won't hurt you to do the same.  You might learn something in the process.

Sooooo...I started eating differently a couple of months ago.  I'm on board the hippy train of whole foods and no sugar.  Grass-fed this and free-range that.  Lots of bacon and no whole wheat anything.  I decided to write this post not as a testament to my new hippy awesomeness but simply as a place that I can send people when they give me grief for my decisions.  Chances are, if you're reading this, that means you.

Now for the "why" part.  Long story sister. She radically modified her diet years ago as well as those of her family.  She's been tweaking it ever since.  She follows this thing called "primal nutrition".  The premise is to simply eat as a caveman did (plus a few caveats here and there) since that is likely the road to optimal health as defined and vetted through zillions of years of evolution.  One day, I tried to give her my tub of left-over bacon grease (because I love some bacon!!).  She explained that the bag of grease I was holding constituted an awful lot of awesome calories and that I should keep it and put some in my smoothies every morning.  Sounded kind me.  All kinds of warning bells went off in my head.  Not only was she advocating my consuming this goop but also doing it regularly.  "I refuse to die in my 30s", I thought to myself.

One random day I decided to google the [supposed] benefits of bacon grease.  The yielded results were interesting.  That lead to researching coconut oil which lead to researching cholesterol, saturated fats, lipids, and so on and so forth.  The rabbit hole was deep and had many steep turns and branches.  All the research and trends I had stumbled across coupled with the unassailable state of my sister and her family's health and fitness (including the fact that her older son may be, quite possibly and very literally, the smartest 4th grader in the country) caused some serious interest on my part.  They all slurp whole-fat bacon like it's spaghetti and they all sport fat compositions and blood chemistry that is well in the "awesome" range.

Years prior, I had already blown the eggs-are-bad-for-you myth out of the water.  My mind being somewhat more open after that experience, I figured, what the heck!

What follows represents my current state of mind.

One representation of the USDA's food
pyramid.  This pyramid has changed over time
For those unfamiliar with the propaganda, SAD stands for [the] Standard American Diet.  Every American should have heard about the food pyramid by this point in their life.  It illustrates what the federal government says should be the focus of your diet.  Things to be consumed sparingly are in the small section on top, dietary staples to be considered the bulk of the diet are on the bottom, and everything else is in-between.  

Here is the point where I should probably tell you that I no longer trust the government's judgement regarding their idea of "healthy".  I have come to believe that all those "Heart Healthy" labels are a load and so are the foods whose labels boast the use of "healthy" polyunsaturated fats.  Regardless, let's put my new-found tree-hugging-hippie opinions aside and ask ourselves one simple question...

Why is the bulk of our diet, the [supposedly] healthy foundation of the SAD, also the stuff that is the most processed?  

By "processed", I'm referring to the degree to which a food does or does not resemble its original form.    Man, in his current form "appeared" ~150,000 years ago.  Do you think he ate pretzels and loaves?  Probably not, considering that agriculture didn't really exist beyond ~7,000 years ago.    

I don't know.  But, given the "my health or their wealth" attitude that I've recently adopted, I'm thinking that it might have to do with the $$$ involved.  How much wealth  do you think is created when a man walks up to a chicken, kills it, takes it home, cleans/cooks it, and eats it?  Now, juxtapose that example with the guy who buys the tractor that harvests the grain and the vehicles used to transport the grain, all of the people employed to turn that grain into bread (and then package it), the logistics companies used to distribute the bread, and the wholesaler who stocks their shelves with it.  (for anyone who reads economy/business books, the word "wealth" is commonly used; I'm not trying to be an @ss by using it here).

My example obviously isn't perfect.  That chicken didn't have to be picked up directly by the consumer.  After all, there are similar industries for meat, dairy, and produce.  (I'm not going to go there, though).  I've coined another phrase..."It doesn't pay to live off the land".  Regardless of whether I'm a hippie or not for saying so, living off the land doesn't pay.  Granted, it pays off for the person doing it, but not for the food industry nor for economy.  Want to know something else interesting?  Grains are cheeeeeeap.  Minimum effort with maximum return.  Low production costs coupled with high returns = profit.

NOTE:  At this point, you should realize that I'm not dealing in trickery or voodoo, here.  I'm laying it out on the table and asking you to critically think about what I'm saying and the questions I'm asking.  It's your job to interpret and not mine to tell you how to do so.  

Basic research yields the following results:
  • The 20th century saw a dramatic decline in the use of Saturated fats which are now substituted for polyunsaturated and trans-isomer fatty acids ("trans fats").
  • The 20th century saw a growing emphasis placed on grains and other "empty carbohydrates" over nutrient-dense meats, produce, and dairy.
Other interesting results:
  • The 20th century saw a dramatic increase in mental depression.
  • The 20th century saw a dramatic and unprecedented increase in heart disease.
  • The 20th century saw a retarded increase in Diabetes.  
  • Although this bullet is unnecessary and arguably related to other things, I'll leave it here in honor of items such as Alzheimer's, Autism, sexual performance/verility, etc.    
NOTE: the research yourself if you have any questions.  These are your rabbit holes to explore. Whether I'm mistaken or not, you owe it to yourself to get educated on these issues.  

In addition to the wealth generated by the food industry in the 20th century, here are even more interesting results:
  • Increased wealth generated by the pharmaceutical industry to combat mental depression.
  • Increased wealth generated by the pharmaceutical industry to combat heart disease
  • Increased wealth generated by the pharmaceutical industry to combat high blood pressure
  • Increased wealth generated by the pharmaceutical industry to combat erectile dysfunction (et al) 
  • Increased wealth generated by the pharmaceutical industry to combat the side-effects of the previous medications.
Why, if this implied correlation is so obvious, is everyone supposedly dumb enough to leave the self-destructive status quo as is?  We're not as dumb as we look, you know.   

Maybe you guys weren't, but I was!  If you would have told me two months and one week ago to go cook something in coconut oil, bacon grease, or whole butter, I'd have told you to pound sand because common sense and conventional wisdom both told me that that stuff will kill my @ss faster than a bullet to the head.  I would have had my argument all lined up for you..."satfat = high cholesterol = heart disease = my imminent, rapid, and unavoidable death = puppies dying".

I found it surprising that my own preconceptions were so fierce that I had extreme psychological difficulty going against the conventional dietary grain when I started to deviate from it (no pun intended).  Seriously?  These hippies on the InterWeb were actually trying to convince me that whole-fat pork bacon was good for me!  "What a tree-hugging-hippie load-of-cr@p fantasy world they must live in".

It was then that a switch in my head flipped and I started to recognize something that bore a striking resemblance to classical conditioning.  My response was really no different than Pavlov's dog.  What's more is that I find that I can't discuss this with just anyone simply because I get slapped down very quickly by that same conditioned response that I used to have.

NOTE: At this point, I'm wondering if you're having a similar conversation with yourself in your head.

Remember, folks, that man has been around in his present form for ~150,000 years.  How did we get to this point?  By eating off fatty, bloody animal carcasses, drinking dairy straight from the cow/goat/sheep, plucking colorful fruits and veggies from where we could find them, and so on and so forth.  Things like fatty bacon, eggs, and whole, unprocessed milk didn't become "bad for us" until the government said so in the 20th century.     

Random Question:
Why on earth would saturated fats be considered bad if they come from the natural animal sources that man has used for food for well over 150 millenia?

I don't know.  But interestingly enough, while saturated fats were being demonized, they were replaced with other artificial fats and oils that allow processed products to live for a very long time on a shelf in either a grocery store or your pantry.  What's even more interesting is how ardently the government has tried to prove causality between saturated fats and heart disease.  By the way...this is called the Lipid Hypothesis.  To date, they can't prove it.  It's like the holy grail of food science that nobody has been able to find.  I've read several articles talking about how there is "concensus among experts that the link is there and how it's simply 'accepted fact now' " but yet nothing that's definitive and stands up to academic/scientific scrutiny.  By the way...guess who gets funded.  Is it the researcher who finds against the lipid hypothesis or the one who can find a half-assed roundabout pseudo link that quasi-supports it?   The answer may surprise.

Take a look at this picture.  

I'll be the first to offer the disclaimer that its whole purpose is to glorify coconut oil.  However, the thing that I enjoy about this particular graphic is the last row.  That information is unbelievably important and even more so when you consider the rapid decline of American health in the 20th century.

So, on to the next tangent.  Let's take a trip to the doctor to get our cholesterol checked.  It's the [supposed] responsibility of every adult to make sure that their cholesterol is in check.  After all, it is a killer.  (/sarcasm)

Things you may hear from your doctor...
  • Cholesterol is dangerous
  • You should have a cholesterol value lower than such and such.
  • Your LDL cholesterol should be lower than such and such.
  • Your HDL cholesterol should be higher than such and such.
  • We have statins (cholesterol drugs) ready to prescribe should you need them. 
Things you may hear from a scientist who does the actual research...
  • Cholesterol really isn't bad for you.  It can be but only in certain extreme, specific conditions.  Unfortunately, accepting this premise means that its wealth that your doctor won't be building.
  • Why are you adding your LDL/HDL values together?  That's ridiculous!  They're disjoint.  You need to be making interpretations based on the structural appearance of the LDL in the blood, observable plaque on the artery walls, and also the LDL/HDL ratio.  But don't tell your doctor that.  It makes it more difficult to put you in the oh-my-god-you're-gonna-die category and also makes them irrelevant given their inability to perform the procedures that get the real results.
  • Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) isn't cholesterol at all and neither is its High-Density cousin.  It's a transport mechanism for cholesterol.  Cholesterol is one of the body's mechanisms for damage control and it is naturally produced, moderated, and stored in the liver.
  • Don't use statins.  If you're even thinking about it, read the fine print (and I'm not kidding here) that says that there's no real proof that they do anything.  Alas, don't tell the pharmaceutical industry.  That's wealth that they won't generate otherwise and a kick-back that your doctor doesn't get for prescribing it to you.    
FACT:  I had a doctor condescendingly ask me once after I refused a Lipitor prescription:  "So what are you gonna do?  EAT better??

Let's switch gears and talk about "those people".  Yeah...them.  You know of whom I speak.  The ones who go through life absolutely struggling to eat well enough so that they can lose weight, lower cholesterol, get rid of their chronic case of this or acute case of that.  They avoid fats, eat plenty of veggies and grains (made with canola and vegetable oils), consume only the egg whites, and follow the dietary path as well as they can considering how the government has laid it out for them.  Why is it so hard for them to be healthy?  (Try not to apply stereotypes here regarding genetics, exercise, and medications.  Conditioned response, perhaps?).  

Random Question:
Why would nature spend millions of years endeavoring to evolve a creature (man) that would have to struggle to maintain good health?  I thought evolution was all about optimally adapting to one's environment and such.   

I don't know.  Personally, I don't buy it.  

Maybe...just maybe...nature evolved a creature who could easily maintain an optimal state of health given the nutrients available to it over the last few million years.  Maybe this creature doesn't know how to process these new artificial oils and food sources.  And just maybe this animal came to depend on natural oils, fats, meats, and produce that were available and that didn't have to go through a farmer's combine on its way to this creature's mouth.

So, what do I have to show for all this? I'm not speaking rhetorically, either.  I'm talking about me...Jason...personally.  After all, I've given up the sugar (including grains, cereals, etc), upped my saturated/monounsaturated fat intake, killed off my [other fat] intake, and eat foods with a minimal amount of processing (which usually means eating locally farmed and grown stuff when possible).  I eat loads of bacon and save the grease for my morning smoothies, I eat as many whole eggs as I want, I keep a tub of real butter at my cubicle at work and lick off of it all day, and I sometimes chug coconut oil. 

The result?  I haven't lost any fat.  Not a single pound's worth.  Well...maybe just a couple.  It's been very slow.  Then again, that wasn't quite the intent.  If weight loss is ever going to happen with this new nutrition, it'll take a good while to kick in.  I've spent 35 years on the SAD and it's going to take a while for my body to start trusting me.  Lord knows I wouldn't mind a pound or two here or there.  But again, that wasn't the goal.  Also keep in mind that I haven't gained any fat, either.  Now, what have I noticed?

  • My sleep cycle is awesome!  I have no problem going down at night and I have no problems getting up.  I stopped using an alarm clock weeks ago.
  • Whenever I eat the same food that I've eaten for the last umpteen years (grocery store food and restaurant food alike), I can now actually feel what it does to my body over the next few hours and, quite frankly, I don't like it.  I have been forced to re-define what my body considers "normal".
  • My mood is elevated and consistent now.  Personal details aside, anyone who knows me knows how huge of a deal this is.
  • My skin heals faster.  No kidding.  It's been [accidentally] tested.
  • My nails are growing significantly faster now.  It's actually kind of annoying, but note-worthy.
  • The bloat is gone.
  • My joints feel sooooo much better.  All this time I took for granted what I thought was "normal".
  • The perpetual dark rings around my eyes are magically gone.
  • I'm more resistant to sun burn.
  • My...umm...bathroom business...umm...yeah.
Random Question:
Your body will crave a fat, juicy steak. It will also crave a nicely glazed doughnut.  Have you ever wondered why your mouth will water when you smell that steak but not when you smell the doughnut?  (At least, this is the case for me).

I don't know.  I do, however, think that it might have something to do with the addictive properties of sugar.  And yes, when I say sugar, this includes breads and other grains.  I've read that sugar, by some scientists, is considered to be more addictive than cocaine.  I don't know if that's true, but I can see the addictive cycle now.  I've observed that, after quitting cold turkey, it takes a week (literally, seven days) for sugar withdrawal to kick in for me and 1-2 more day for it to subside.  It's been tested multiple times.  I also find it interesting that a fat, juicy, fat-loaded steak that is supposedly bad for me will elicit a physical response in my body which begins the digestive process (salivation) but a processed food like a doughnut will not.  Granted, there are other counter-examples and this is just me.   

The thing that you should understand is that I wrote this post not to support the opinions that I've built but because of what I have observed.  Personal, empirical observation has landed me in my current mindset and has convinced me of a good degree of merit.  Well....that coupled with the research regarding government practices in the 20th century.  

In conclusion, let me simply reiterate that the 20th century saw more radical changes in fundamental nutrition mandates and also mysteriously saw unbelievable declines in our general state of health.  Few things are more relevant than the old saying "you are what you eat".  Remember that every cell in your body is affected by everything that you put in your mouth.  All that food also has a shelf life in your body.  You don't just get rid of it in the bathroom the day after.

So, this new tree-hugging-hippy has one more questions to ask...

According to what I've written here, a lot of federal policies changed in the 20th century and, simultaneously, the country experienced a dramatic increase in illness and less-than-optimal health.  Is there a correlation?

I don't know. What do I now think?  I think that in a choice between "my health or their wealth", industry will always choose the latter.  I think that animal fats aren't bad for you.  I think the government is incorrect in what it thinks is healthy living.  I think that industry has too much say in federal policy.  I think that the 20th century way of eating will kill us as a species.  I think that people need to pay more attention to what they see and experience.  But, alas....I could be wrong.  What do you think?

(And don't bother answering out loud.  I won't care.  Do the research.)

P.S. Check out a movie called 'Fat Head'. It's on Netflix.  I ran across it a couple of nights ago.  The first half kinda sucks but the rest discusses the Lipid Hypothesis.

P.P.S Don't bother asking me about my cholesterol numbers.  Firstly, because of what I've already written here.  Secondly, because I didn't get any baseline numbers taken.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Entry: Why I would never want to be president of the United States.

I'll skip the introductory diatribe and jump right into the many reasons why I would never want to be the US president.  (And, if you're going to comment, please keep your liberal/conservative rhetoric to yourself.)

  1. They get blamed for everything.  Seriously, they do.  They will get blamed for doing a thing and blamed if they don't do that thing.  And, just like being able to take credit for things that have nothing to do with them (ie, capturing Hussein/BinLaden), they get blamed for things that are completely out of their control (ie, gas prices).  
  2. They can only win an election by making promises and having no idea if they will be able to keep them.  Granted, I think that most politicians are happy to throw campaign promises out the window at the first convenient moment, but at the same time, an honest man could never get the necessary votes because anything short of promising absolutely everything to everyone will make them seem non-committal, weak, and an invariably poor provider for their constituents.
  3. They are given only four years (eight, if lucky) to affect change in a system that has a zillion pounds of inertia behind it.  And, on top of that, legislation introduced under one's presidency really doesn't mean much because it can be repealed by the next president (after due process, of course).  That's why so many presidents rest on the laurels of "having introduced legislation" for this or that.  
  4. They get the "credit" for all of the bad things that have trickled down from previous presidencies.  Not only that, but inability to affect radical change on current "hot" issues in as little as a single month in office is seen as an incapability to do so.  I'm not kidding.  I paid attention this last go-round.    
  5. They have the privilege of surviving the presidential candidate rat-race only to spend the next 4-8 years haggling and fighting with congress who, in the end, affects the most change under the influence of corporate campaign finance and polytheism (which basically means that you can never tell just who is who's master in the house and senate).
  6. They are expected to know everything about everything regarding how this country is run at all times.  Although this country (as any other) ultimately runs by delegation, they will be blamed for every mistake made by everyone in their chain of command.  Granted, assuming blame for the actions of one's subordinates is a good trait, but the hierarchy of the federal government is something I would wish on nobody.
  7. They are expected to be a public figure, on the TV, at natural disasters, during holidays and celebrations, at international conferences, etc, and yet are still expected to get all the real work done behind the scenes. If they spend too much time on TV, then they're not spending the time where it needs to be.  If they make a point to spend less time on TV, they're pinged for not being an adequate figurehead for the country.  (This goes well with #1.)
  8. They work 24/7.  They're bedroom is literally in the same building in which they orchestrate global affairs.  There is no concept of a weekend.  And yet, every picture of them on vacation playing golf or chopping wood is seen as slackery.
I'm sure I'll be adding more as it comes to me.  This is just something that is continually on my mind.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Entry: The SC Lunatic Asylum

I forgot to post these a few weeks ago.  These are shots of the old SC Lunatic Asylum in Columbia.  This institution was established ~175 years ago.  You can read the history of the grounds here.

 Sorry...these are all external shots.  Internal photography done by talented individuals can be found here, here, and here.