Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Eating Habits and the Obesity Epidemic – Starving Kids in Africa Aren’t Affected By Your Clean Plate

WARNING: Large dietary changes should only be done based on advice from YOUR Registered Dietitian (RD)  who practice science-based approaches to your health. When I say YOUR, I mean one you have met with on a professional level, and who has done at least a basic evaluation of you and your physiology. I am not one of those people.

If you don’t have one, ask your doctor to recommend one. Doctors can ensure there’s no obvious physical reasons why your diet must be restricted in a certain way, and they’re likely the first person to tell you that you’re dangerously obese. But nutrition training in med school can be grossly inadequate, and some programs actually do not require nutrition courses as a part of the curriculum.

A registered dietitian is trained far more in the aspects of your diet. Think of it this way. If you need surgery, your doctor recommends a surgeon to do the procedure. So if you need to lose weight, they should recommend you a dietitian for the same reason—RDs are the experts.

This post is merely food for thought (pun intended), basic logic, and some information (cited with reputable sources) that is generally understood to be good dietary advice. A qualified RD was also consulted to help ensure factual content.

I implore you not to give audience to people like The Food Babe, David Avocado Wolfe, Gwyneth Paltrow, or any other person who is entirely unqualified to be giving you dietary guidance. They are well-known by qualified scientists for giving demonstrably false and occasionally dangerous advice.


Unless you live under a rock, you have no doubt heard we Americans have an obesity epidemic. Hundreds of years ago, this might have been seen as a good thing. But while it is a clear sign the United States largely doesn’t have a starvation problem, it is a serious health concern.

Let’s start by digging into a little of that Darwin evolutionary goodness. I think we all understand our energy comes from food, right? Without digging into a jargony hole, it basically works like this.

Food contains calories. While most know this, few know what a calorie actually is. It is not an atom or molecule of something like sodium (salt) or sugars (glucose, sucrose, and fructose). As this great video points out, a calorie is a unit of measure for energy, defined as what it takes to raise 1 kilogram of water by 1° Celsius. 

Counting your basal metabolic rate—the number of calories you need to survive—coupled with the basic activities one performs on a daily basis, a general consensus is that the average male converts about 2,500 calories a day to the energy they use to sustain life, and the average female about 2,000. But this can vary wildly from person to person. An MMA fighter for instance, often is in the 4,500-5,000 range.

We all know Einstein, with his famous E=MC², demonstrated that mass and energy are interchangeable. This means when you eat food (mass), you convert some of it to energy (calories) through chemical processes within your digestive system. When you read the calorie count of food, it’s simply explaining how much potential energy, using the chemical processes in your gut, is in the food you’re about to eat.

On a side note, Ever heard that celery is a negative-calorie food (Has fewer calories than you burn eating it)? Yeah, it’s bullshit.

I specify above “via the chemical processes in your gut” because there’s significantly more potential energy, like millions more, potential energy in the food via nuclear process like fission or fusion. So I wanted to point that out in case a physicist reads this and feels compelled to fire off a correction.

It should be noted that just because a particular food has 100 calories for instance, your body’s ability to convert all of it to energy can vary based on the chemical content of that food. Some foods require little work from your body to be converted to energy, some require much more. This is why not all calories are equal, and yet another reason to consult your dietitian.

Albert Einstein

You use this energy to do involuntary actions like beat your heart, open your lungs, and digest food; as well as voluntary actions such as reading stuff like this article, trolling pseudo-science quacks on Twitter (guilty), or lifting weights. You also extract the vitamins and minerals your body needs from your food, and finally the rest goes out your tail pipe as waste.

That last point is important when considering adding vitamins to your diet. Most people get all they need from a normal diet. When you add supplements, while having no deficit in your diet, your body just sends them through because it doesn’t need them. You could eat your cash and save yourself some time. Consult your doctor on this one. If they cite a deficiency you have, get a supplement as  recommended, but other than that—save your money.

If you were perfectly efficient, you would eat the exact number of calories you need for all the work you’re going to do in that moment, but that requires far more planning than any one human can do, constant eating as you do the work, plus a lab to calculate how many calories are in what you eat. So instead, we evolved to have a way to store calories for future use so we don’t run out of “gas,” and that “gas tank” is fat.

Slightly Internet-Famous Zero Body Fat Model

So Myth #1 we should dispel, is that fat is bad—it isn’t. Zero body fat is not only incredibly difficult to achieve, it’s not ideal either. A minor amount of body fat allows your body to operate at its best.

Don’t be fooled by fitness competitions. Those people (who are quite healthy) dehydrate and ironically make themselves temporarily unhealthy prior to a competition, to give a false impression of looking healthy, only to restore that body fat and water weight as soon as the competition is over. As Men’s Health points out in this article, an 8% – 20% is generally considered most healthy.

Fat is the first thing your body converts to energy when needed. Once all the fat is gone, muscle will be converted to energy next—which is what occurs during starvation. Eventually your body will consume vital organs like the heart and lungs, and then you’re dead.

So be thankful you have evolved to have some fat. It doesn’t do work inside your body, unlike muscle and organs, making it ideal for storing energy, so you don’t consume the things you actually need to live.

So back to the Darwinian goodness. Our ancient ancestors didn’t have a grocery store to go to, and ancient man didn’t evolve from apes with farming implements in their hands. So sometimes meals were few and far between. Thus we evolved a way to overeat when we have access to food, store that potential energy in our bodies, and put it to use when needed later—this overeating impulse is in our nature.

But if you know we’re predisposed to overeat, you can make a conscious decision not to, thus maintaining a healthier diet. Very few of us are in a situation where we have a legitimate concern over finding a regular source of food.

The next myth we should bust, is that you get fat from eating fat. The reality is that this was a false narrative pushed by the sugar industry, because sugar is a much larger contributor to obesity than fat, and that’s a less than ideal marketing campaign. So how is eating fat somehow less fattening than eating sugar? Instead of me trying to elaborate on this complex issue here, allow the good folks at the Cleveland Clinic to explain.

Various Types of Sugars

I know it seems counter-intuitive, because you’d think eating fat means you add those fat cells to your own fat cell count. But your fat cell count doesn’t change after adulthood, it’s the volume in them that does. So eating animal fat means you have to digest it and it’s constituents go into your own fat.

Basically, as was mentioned earlier, not all foods convert to energy as easily as others, requiring more work from your digestive system to convert them to energy. So despite fat and sugar having similar caloric content, your body has a much easier time doing so with sugar, than fat.

But before you jump on the anti-sugar bandwagon, let’s discuss that a bit. I’ve heard people argue sugar is a toxin or poison. In biology, the saying goes that “everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.”

Glucose metabolism in the brain ~Nature.com. Click image for story

As is explained quite well in this National Center for Biotechnology Information article, “Glucose (component of sugar) is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain, except during prolonged starvation.” It goes on to point out that glucose fuels muscles as well. It cannot be overstated how important it is for you to have some level of sugar in your diet.

So while enough of any substance can be toxic, sugar is not a poison in any traditional sense.

But care should be taken to get the right amount. What’s the right amount? I know you know the answer to this by now, ask your registered dietitian. Again, your needs are unique to you, and any magic number published somewhere, as if it somehow works for everyone, is false by virtue of its one-size-fits-all premise.

But nonetheless, if you’re medically overweight (not the kind of overweight healthy or underweight body dysmorphia  sufferers describe as overweight because they’ll never believe they’re skinny enough), it’s probably a fair assumption that your calorie and sugar counts are high.

So how do we fight obesity? We all know that portion control and exercise are the two bits of dietary advice that never go out of favor. But because they’re difficult and require work, many seek the latest diets pushed by celebrities who look great, or self-help gurus who tried something and it worked (anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence folks.)

Most of these diets don’t work for a number of reasons. Not the least of which, is some of them are absolute nonsense with no basis in biology. Others are decent enough premises, but the issue goes back to us evolving to store up as much energy as is available to us at the time, in preparation for potential future fasting. This mechanism sadly works against you when you do successfully lose weight.

For instance, let’s imagine your ideal weight were 150 lbs, but you had gotten up to 200 lbs. If you do successfully drop that 50 lbs, while this number is ideal for you, your body has adjusted to the idea of you being at 200 lbs., and will continue to trigger the hunger reflex until you eventually get back to 200 lbs. So the best way to combat obesity, is to stop it before it starts. While it’s not impossible to lose it and keep it off, it is significantly more difficult.

This brings me to my next point—those poor starving kids in Africa. When we talk about portion control, the one tactic you’ve likely never heard of, but should be your tactic “du jour,” is intuitive eating (stopping when you feel full). Your body evolved a mechanism to tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full for a reason. Why would it make sense to listen to the impulse that’s telling you to eat, while ignoring the one yelling at you to slow your dinner roll?

Within the intuitive eating framework Cara Harbstreet RD from Street-Smart Nutrition advises there’s a phenomenon called the:

“satisfaction threshold”. It’s the point (or the bite) you reach to achieve maximum satisfaction from a food. When you eat past that point, each bite becomes less and less satisfying and you derive less pleasure from the eating experience. It can’t be ignored that we eat for other reasons than fuel. To say food is only eaten for fuel is like saying humans only have sex to reproduce. There’s many other motivators there, so identifying the point where you feel satisfied from a food can be the signal to stop eating. I’ve told clients to go home and bake a pan of brownies and count how many bites they take before they get bored or burnout with the sweetness and texture. Amazingly, more often than not, it’s only two to five bites, and not the whole pan although they could go that far if they wanted to. If that’s the case, we work on mindfulness and awareness because they aren’t tuned into what their body/brain is telling them.

Many of us grew up with the notion that we needed to eat everything on our plates, because there are starving kids in Africa, and therefore we shouldn’t waste food.

First of all, you’re not going to send your leftovers to starving kids in Africa. So I assure you, they do not care, nor are assisted in any way by you overeating. If you want to help those kids, send them money, or promote gene-edited foods (aka Genetically Modified Organisms GMOs) that are specifically developed to grow in these places. Before you ask if GMOs are unsafe, there’s not one shred of evidence showing them as unsafe, and because they’re engineered to resists pests, and reduce pesticides, they’re often more safe than their non-edited counterparts.

Human conditioning is a very powerful thing. If you teach someone something early and often, they can believe it the rest of their lives, even if they’re constantly exposed to compelling evidence of the contrary. So teaching kids to overeat is quite possibly at the heart of our obesity epidemic, because we’ve taught them that despite our obesity epidemic…well, you know…those starving kids in Africa need you to keep eating. I myself, knowing all that I’ve written here, still have a hard time stopping when I’m full because of this powerful bit of conditioning.

Addressing the idea that this food is wasted is slightly more complicated. Pretty much all food is organic. Don’t get me started on the FDA’s sadly anti-science definition of organic, (This was in response to those with fears of man-made foods and pesticides), I’m talking about the actual definition from chemistry, a simple carbon-based compound. This means that if you throw it in the garbage, and it goes in a landfill, it will biodegrade and fuel new organic life forms. There’s little to no harm done by chucking it in the bin, except for maybe the attraction of pests.

There are two scenarios regarding food waste:

  1. Excess food goes in the trash can
  2. Excess food goes through your digestive system, makes you fat, then goes in the toilet.

When viewed from this paradigm, hopefully you see the trash can as the better alternative. Either way, if your body didn’t need it, it’s ending up as waste, literally nothing, and I mean nothing good comes from eating it in that moment.

The actual waste is in the energy spent by the people who brought it to market, like the farmer’s tractor and the truck to haul it to the store, when you didn’t actually eat it. But, all that waste occurred before it ever ended up on your plate. So throwing it away after-the-fact, does no additional harm.

Nonetheless, waste is bad, so there’s a couple of things you can do to prevent it going forward:

  1. Don’t Overfill Your Plate: If you can go back for seconds, underfill the plate. Go back for more only if you’re truly still hungry. Heck, getting up for 30 seconds to get another plate even counts as a tiny bit of exercise.
  2. Get smaller plates:
    Same portions, but smaller plate on right looks fuller, and tricks you into thinking you ate more.

    (<–Click to see explanation of this mental trick.) Sure, you’re only tricking yourself, but if it works, it works.

  3. Stop Rewarding Restaurants Who Over-Serve: Tell them they give you too much food, and you may not return as a result. Maybe they’ll take it to heart, and cut back in the future. It saves them money, after all. Frequent a restaurant serving more responsible portions, or offer a smaller portion as an option. A free-market eventually listens.
  4. Ask for Less at Restaurants: I often tell the people at Chipotle for instance to give me about half the rice as usual. They may not give you a discount, but you’ll be less fat for the same price. Technically, that’s a win-win for you and them. Stop thinking of it as them getting one over on you—it was your request after all. Plus, if you like their food, you’re helping them stay in business if you save them money by allowing them to give you less.
  5. Leftovers: If you must frequent a restaurant that overserves, stop as soon as your full, and take the rest home for later. It doesn’t have to be destroyed in one sitting. Heck, you can even purposefully cut the meal in half, and plan to take the other half home before you dig in.
  6. Always Err Low: We’ve all been in the drive through, and debated one hamburger or two, small fries or large, etc. Always order the lesser amount. You’ll usually still be full when you’re done. You can always keep a snack on hand just in case. But you’ll avoid overeating because you’re full but you accidentally ordered too much and don’t want to throw it away.
  7. Always Err Low #2: Now that you’ve learned to back off at the restaurant, take that skill to the grocery store. Cara Harbstreet RD advises: A lot of food waste happens inside the home (restaurants are equally at fault) but when I dive into a food budget with someone, more often than not it turns out they’re throwing away large amounts of perishable foods like fruits, veggies, fresh herbs, dairy, meat, and poultry that goes uncooked or is cooked, but not used as leftovers. If you overstock your pantry, there’s also a chance you’ll cook more than you need so you don’t throw it away, meaning you’ll be tempted to eat more too.

Hopefully these little chicken nuggets of food science and skepticism will help you to rethink the way you eat, and help you be better parents, healthier adults, and better consumers. This obesity epidemic is not a virus floating around in the air needing a complex biological cure, it’s a simple habitual issue that small behavioral adjustments can end in one generation or two, if we simply make the effort.

Oh, and I almost forgot, don’t be afraid to spice things up a bit! As it turns out, capsaicin, the stuff in peppers that makes them spicy, triggers your body to heat up (that’s why you start sweating when you eat it). In doing so, it can burn off more of that energy you’re storing in your fat cells. Check the report out here.

 


Cara Harbstreet, RD

Special thanks to Cara Harbstreet RD, host at Street Smart Nutrition. Follow her on social media: Twitter: Cara Harbstreet RD and Facebook: Street Smart Nutrition. Her input was quite helpful in putting together this post, and her website is full of great food info.

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Analysis: Organic, All Natural, Chemical-Free, and Genetically Modified Organisms

One of the biggest fads of the current decade must be the rise of people promoting all-natural, organic, chemical-free, non genetically modified foods. The argument sounds quite romantic, healthy, and wholesome, for sure. There’s only one problem—scientifically speaking, it’s largely bunk…all of it. Let’s jump right in and address them one by one.

Organic

This word is often used to describe non-genetically altered foods that use natural fertilizers, like animal dung, as opposed to man-made fertilizers containing what people fear are harmful chemicals.fda_sign_web_14_0_0[1]

In 2002, the FDA passed the National Organics Program (NOP). Which sought to regulate the use of the word “Organic” on foods, defining four labeling category standards:

  1. 100% Organic – No man-made substances contained or used
  2. Organic – 95% or more “organic” content
  3. Made with Organic – 70-95%
  4. Specific Organic Ingredients – Food cannot be labeled organic, but if it contains any organic ingredients, they can be called out.

Everything else: not allowed to use the term organic.

Here’s the problem with the “organic” moniker, the word ORGANic simply indicates that item is an, or was once harvested from an ORGANism—a carbon based life form. All fruits, vegetables, and meats are organic by the true definition of the word.

Calling unaltered foods “organic” is deceptive language used to mischaracterize and stigmatize man-altered foods because some are skeptical about the safety. It serves to give the impression that, biologically-speaking, they are not “real” foods, which they certainly are. If such foods weren’t organic, they wouldn’t have genes to modify in the first place. So by no scientific metric could you accurately label such foods, “non-organic.”

The FDA, being in the business of protecting us through science, should be bound to the scientific method in their decision-making process and use scientifically accurate terms. They’re appointed, not elected officials. Appointed officials are supposed to ignore public opinion, instead making decisions based on facts, because they are shielded from the pressures of getting voter support to get elected—a premise they violate using these improper terms.

The FDA should simply classify them with accurate terms, like maybe “non-synthetically fertilized,” and leave the politics to the politicians.

All-Natural

Have you ever eaten all-natural corn? If your answer is yes, you’re already entering into a falsehood. Corn cannot, nor does not grow in the wild. It is entirely a man-made crop that is believed to have been started about 7,000 years ago in central Mexico by farmers planting a similar plant called teosinte.

Teosinte vs Maize
Teosinte vs Maize

But the fact is that most everything you eat from the fruit and vegetable aisle has been modified by people through cross-pollination for millennia in order to grow higher crop yields or achieve other desirable traits. Almost nothing we consume today exists in its all-natural state—unaltered by humans.

This is also true of meats, whether it be through cross-breeding, or genetic modification, man has found ways to keep them healthier and safer—both to themselves and mankind, such as hornless cattle. The horns aren’t needed as there are no predators to ward off, and they often end up hurting other cows and people with them.

Almost no one wanders the forest looking for wild fruits and vegetables, picks them, then brings them straight to market. Even if people had a jungle in their back yard, which most don’t, it would be a highly inefficient way to do it; you’d spend most of your time looking for food versus picking it. (Ever watch a Bear Grylls episode? He spends hours just to find a cockroach to eat.) This would lead to both ridiculously high food costs and increased starvation by virtue of the extreme low crop yields it would produce.

Bear Grylls eating "who knows what."
Bear Grylls eating “who knows what.”

On a side note, I’d like to point out that almost every disease known to mankind is all natural. So even if you did genuinely find all your food in a jungle somewhere and lead an all-natural lifestyle like primitive man, you’d probably never live past 30 or 40 (also like our primitive ancestors) because something else all-natural would kill you. Ironically for you, something entirely man-made, like many modern-day pharmaceuticals, would easily save your life.

Chemical-Free

Thanks to the efforts of people like Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe, who frequently criticizes food for containing too many “chemicals” in them, people have become chemophobic.

On Vani’s website, she does at least have a disclaimer that effectively admits she doesn’t have any qualifications on her blog’s subject, her education is in computer science, not biology or medicine.

Vani Hari aka The Food Babe
Vani Hari aka The Food Babe

Yet despite the fact that she admits her ignorance, (which is forgivable if she cited credible sources to back up her opinions) people follow her so vehemently, that she has a Food Babe Army!

Why is this? Aside from the fact that she’s visibly attractive, and many studies have shown attractive people tend to garner higher perceived credibility, Vani speaks in a language that people who have little knowledge in science easily understand. Among other things, she often argues that all those chemical names you don’t recognize sound scary. (Hint: Anything you don’t understand would sound scary)

Thankfully, there are people like Yvette d’Entremont aka The SciBabe, who holds a B.S. in chemistry, and an MSc in forensic science, and thus is significantly more qualified in the field. She vigorously debunks people like Vani, hopefully educating those willing to listen, as to why people like Vani are misguided. As Patricia C. Hodgell once wrote, “That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be.” A mantra Yvette epitomizes with her website.

Yvette d'Entremont aka The SciBabe
Yvette d’Entremont aka The SciBabe

So where does Vani go wrong? When she lashes out at chemicals, and their scary-sounding names, the obvious and simple answer is that EVERYTHING is a chemical. The only thing that isn’t a chemical is a vacuum, and no I don’t mean a vacuum cleaner, I mean the absence of something.

Does dihydrogen-monoxide sound scary? Because it’s water. (Di meaning two, mono meaning one, it’s two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen, aka H2O). Does sodium chloride sound bad? It’s just table salt.

An accurate list of all the naturally occurring chemicals in an apple.
An accurate list of all the naturally occurring chemicals in an apple.

See this pic here showing the list of naturally-occurring chemicals that exist in a simple apple. These are not fertilizers added later, nor genetically added traits by man, they’re just what makes up what the FDA would call an organic apple.

While the sentiment to be cognizant of what you put in your mouth is a good thing, Vani’s logic is pure fear-mongering from a point of ignorance, not based on any scientifically-accurate knowledge on her part. Nothing is more dangerous than a charismatic, yet ignorant person on a mission.

The SciBabe has done such a great job debunking Vani’s false claims, I highly recommend checking out her work if you want to learn more.

Genetically-Modified Organisms

This one is by far the most complicated of the four, but I will attempt to lay it out in a way that makes sense without getting too jargony, although it may be a bit oversimplified for brevity’s sake.

“Genetically” refers to an organism’s genes or DNA. The easiest way to explain this, would be to start with the Theory of Evolution.

A human’s DNA has approximately 3-billion base pairs, or variables, in its makeup. But mankind is a fairly new species on Earth. If we go back to the beginning, there would have been a single-celled organism called LUCA (Last Common Universal Ancestor). As the name insinuates, much like you share most of your parent’s DNA and can use that information to trace a family’s genealogy, every living thing on Earth shares some DNA with one another. All the DNA that all living things share would eventually lead you back to LUCA.

Click for more info on LUCA from Georgia Tech Research
Click for more info on LUCA from Georgia Tech Research

So how did life go from LUCA to your humble correspondent? By accident—that’s how.

In my previous post about cancer myths, we discussed how cancer is simply your own cell’s DNA mutating to a new, “non-you” DNA, which then becomes its own organism. That doesn’t happen on purpose. Your body is constantly replacing most of the cells within it that die off (with a few exceptions).

But occasionally, rebuilding a 3-billion piece jigsaw puzzle leads to an error here and there. The likelihood of such errors can be increased by things like UV light from the sun causing skin cancer. Those things that increase the odds of cancer-causing mutations are called carcinogens.

Some of those mutation errors are small and have little if any real effect, or produce something that cannot sustain life and dies quickly because it’s bad code. But some however are viable life forms, and they become a new organism.

While cancer is an example of the negative impacts DNA writing errors can do, all the life on Earth today, including humans, are great examples of mutations having a mostly good outcome. I say “mostly” because it also brought us things like mosquitoes and viruses.

But if LUCA never mutated, LUCA would be one lonely organism—remaining today, the only life on Earth, it’s DNA faithfully replicated over and over again, producing an endless stream of LUCA identical twins.

So what does this have to do with genetically modified organisms?

As was discussed, DNA is mutated or modified, quite randomly and by accident, via natural processes. If these processes lead to a life form that is poorly adapted to its environment, it likely dies an early death. Makes sense, right?

2000px-Mutation_and_selection_diagram.svg[1]
Click to go to Wikipedia page on Evolution
But if nature “selects” a mutated life form that is highly suited to its environment, that life form will thrive. This is called natural selection; the process that made a single-celled organism eventually turn into us.

But those changes take thousands of years, and us humans being somewhat impatient, would like some of those changes now.

As an example, let’s imagine a fictional batch of tomatoes. You plant ten of them, and as they ripen, one seems to stand out as more plump and tastier than the others. There are two reasons why this might be.

Environmental factors affected one more than the other, such as bugs nesting in nine of them, but through dumb luck, avoiding one. As you can imagine though, if they are planted next to one another, it’s unlikely environmental factors would not affect them all equally.

Instead, the more logical reason is that one had a mutation in its genes that simply made it a “better” tomato. I say better, but it’s not better for the tomato, as that tomato is more likely to be eaten. It’s just better for the farmer growing it and the consumer eating it.

Now if you were a farmer 10,000+ years ago, you’d wisely select seeds from that one tomato plant in an effort to make sure all your future tomatoes are more like that one.tomato-plant[1]

Notice I sneaked the word “select” in there? We went from natural selection, to human selection. Where nature did something by accident, your prehistoric farmer would have done that on purpose. No one knows when this may have started, but it’s certain that the earliest farmers would have soon understood this process.

Now imagine in our tomato example, that two tomatoes of our ten were good but in different ways. One was bigger, but the other was tastier. Now our farmer has a problem—which one to pick? The solution is cross-pollination. The plant kingdom’s version of a blue-eyed blond marrying a brown-eyed brunette mating and producing a blue-eyed brunette child.

Here we’ve went from human selection of organisms to the primitive version of genetically modified organisms, because you now have a product that solely exists because mankind wanted it to. This process is believed to be nearly 10,000 years old, and for millennia, has been the extent of man’s knowledge on how best to alter his foods to suit him.

Cross-pollination, while effective, is still dependent on nature and reproduction writing that billion-plus line of DNA code. And as discussed, nature makes mistakes. But the other factor that makes cross-pollination less than ideal is that if we go back to our tomato analogy again, let’s imagine those two good tomatoes also have poor traits we don’t want. Maybe they’re bigger and tastier, but aren’t as easy to grow. Or have a trait that while meaningless to humans, attracts bugs that destroy them. With cross-pollination, you take what nature gives you by mating the two and hope for the best.

Now fast forward to the modern era (sort of). In comes Friedrich Miescher, who on 1869 discovered “nuclein,” what we now know as “deoxyribonucleic acid,” or “DNA.” Then nearly 100 years later, American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick finally observed the double-helix nature of DNA, and the understanding of life’s building blocks began.

Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope. (Click image for more information)
Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope.
(Click image for more information)

These tiny puzzle pieces in the makeup of organisms are basically binary code (technically it’s quadratic)—on and off switches for traits of every living thing. So going back to our tomatoes yet again, we finally understood that we could map our two good tomatoes’ DNA to understand what each line of code does, turn on or off the traits we did and didn’t want, leaving exactly the tomato we desired.  Just as importantly, adding the ability to make that exact tomato over and over again. We no longer had to hope that nature would write the code we wanted though cross-pollination.

Is that tomato something other than a tomato? No, it’s a tomato with the same basic genetic makeup as any other tomato, just precisely the tomato the farmer wanted. It’s important to understand also that it’s entirely possible that evolution would have created such a tomato on its own through random mutations, we just have the technology to bring it to market now.

Many fear the unintended consequences, which is fair. But there are a couple important things to understand as to why this needn’t be the case.

  • In most instances, nothing has been added to the tomato that makes it dangerous like a synthetic fertilizer might be. A tomato’s DNA was modified (Switches that are already there are turned on or off), not supplemented. Even when code is added, it’s added because scientists understand exactly what that code does, and have every reason to be confident they know what the result will be.
  • The process used to modify the organism’s code, usually a tool called CRISPR-Cas9, modifies only the lines of code the modifier intended. It is incredibly precise, and therefore is far less likely to lead to unintended consequences compared to cross-pollination.g-CRISPR_web[1]
  • There is a rigorous process used to test the modified food before they’re approved for human consumption. Not just by the maker, but then by the FDA. This approval process is far more rigorous than most other things you regularly put in your mouth, whereas cross-pollinated foods we’ve been eating for years, are rarely tested at all.
  • While I’m just a blogger, and shouldn’t be trusted as an authority, the American Association for the Advancement of  Science (The most sterling science organization you could ask for) is quite the authority on all things science. And they said in a 2012 report, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” I’d trust them before someone like Vani Hari, myself, or the myriad of less famous Facebook experts you might see on your timeline.

The Moral Of The Story

I was listening to the Talking Biotech podcast the other day, and something struck me. Dr. James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology was speaking to a group of people in Uganda about genetically modified foods. And one of the attendees from Uganda stated that he couldn’t understand the argument that people in America are arguing over one good food versus another when in his country, they just desperately want food.

Professor James Dale
Professor James Dale

His point was pretty powerful, that people like Dr. Dale are helping to grow healthy foods in places that couldn’t grow them otherwise, effectively doing something that few charities have ever been able to do efficiently—feed the hungry. Sending people food has never, nor will ever be, the best method to end starvation—it’s far too costly and inefficient. It’s also not a sustainable and renewable source of food since it depends on people to send it.

Designing food that can grow where the needy live, in a land that has otherwise been barren of real food choice previously, saves lives in a far more meaningful way for all future generations that live there.

As someone who values life over willful ignorance, I cannot stand idly by and watch the scientifically illiterate bemoan this most noble of sciences, endangering the lives of those they may help, without calling them out on their erroneous claims. It’s heinous ignorance at best, and willful, dangerous, depraved, and nearly sociopathic misdirection at worst. People’s lives are at stake every day via starvation, modified foods are the best way to save them.

 

Anti-GMO Pot Smokers: The Unwitting Hypocrites

As someone who loves science, with more than just a passing interest, I tend to trust scientists in general far more than politicians, Hollywood stars, CEO’s or the general public.

Sometimes scientists get things wrong, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any group of people are more right about how the world works; my trust is placed in the most capable hands.

One of the more controversial subjects these days is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many people consume them without knowing it, some actively avoid them, and some are like me—trustful of the people who know more than me that the product that they are bringing to market has been well-researched, and has provided no evidence of any harmful effects to the consumer.fda_sign_web_14_0_0[1]

Recently, the FDA weighed in on genetically modified apples and potatoes, approving them for resale in the US. This won’t stop anti-GMO activists from attacking them, however. And companies like McDonald’s, have stated they have no intention of using the potatoes.

McDonald’s have not elaborated on their reasons to my knowledge, but assuming they’re aware of the science behind them, and the rigorous testing these potatoes must have passed by their manufacturer, J.R. Simplot, and then the FDA, I feel it’s safer to assume McDonald’s is simply making a smart marketing decision.Simplot logo[1]

People who are OK with GMOs will still buy from McDonald’s if they already were a customer, and people who are afraid of GMOs will too. The only people McDonald’s might lose are people making a principled stand to avoid them because they’re being anti-science, and I suspect such people are pretty small in numbers.

One group of people are unwitting hypocrites however, and that’s the high number of marijuana users who say they only consume organic, non-GMO foods.

Go to any pot dispensary, and you will find a myriad of choices available to the consumer so vast, that no other consumable crop likely exceeds it in variance. There are certainly more marijuana choices available than there are varieties of apples and potatoes.

The reason for this is that marijuana is one of the most heavily genetically modified organisms on the planet. People have been combining varieties of seeds for centuries to come up with crops that are either heartier to produce a greater yield of usable plant, or more often than not to yield a higher THC content for better highs.

The bottom line is that it’s nearly impossible to procure marijuana in its natural state these days.

Marijuana Harvest
Marijuana Harvest

So these users are either supremely ignorant as to how that pot came to be, or somehow have decided that the “scientist” who lives next door working out of their basement, and may or may not have taken a few biology classes, knows more than the multitude of PhD holders at Monsanto, Simplot, and/or the FDA as to what is safe for human consumption. If there’s logic in that, I don’t see it.

The argument is that marijuana is genetically modified by cross-pollination, or cross-breeding, a process where the pollen of one plant is introduced into the stigma of another. Essentially, it’s the plant version of crossing a horse with a donkey to create a mule.

By doing this, you’re coupling two plants with DNA which is nearly identical, but specifically that share a common trait you hope to enhance by combining them. This will usually work to some extent, because that’s how procreation works in general.

This is oversimplifying it a bit, but basically, when any two organisms procreate, the commonalities they share have a high chance of being part of the offspring, the traits they don’t share have a 50:50 shot at becoming part of the offspring, and of course, if neither have a particular trait, they are all but guaranteed not to produce offspring with that trait.

Think of shooting a shotgun at a target 100 feet away. Most of the shot may centralize around the bulls-eye, assuming your aim was true, but there will be scattered buckshot all around your aiming point that’s rather indiscriminate.Shotgun_Target This is cross breeding. You’ll get pretty close, and you’ll often have something close to the desired result (a bulls-eye), but you’ll likely have a lot of other stuff you didn’t necessarily want as well (shot outside the bulls-eye).

What people like Monsato and Simplot are doing however, is specifically activating or deactivating a particular and singular gene they know will give the offspring they create the desired result, without changing anything else. If cross-breeding is a shotgun at 100 feet, GMOs are a marine sniper on his best day from just 5 feet.

While I know this can be a soft spot for creationists, evolution is a very natural process. Traits that are most common in surviving species carry on, traits that aren’t usually die off before procreation, and go extinct. It’s an incredibly slow process that can take up to hundreds, if not thousands of generations. Cross-breeding and GMOs simply speed it up to one generation, and often obtains something pretty close to the desired result of the breeder, GMOs are simply the significantly more precise of the two.

It may not seem natural, and by definition it isn’t, but it’s effectively just an infinitely faster version of evolution, something that is indeed entirely natural.

Science, somewhat justifiably so, isn’t always considered trustworthy. There is a long history of scientific discovery that has been at the expense of human lives. Whether it be malicious Nazi scientists doing experiments on their Jewish captors, or well-intentioned experiments that have simply gone wrong, scientific endeavors have occasionally killed humans.

However, when you think of all the diseases that have been eradicated, all the organ transplants and medical procedures that have given people new leases on life, or all of the wonderful technology that simply makes our lives easier, clearly science has had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the human race.

GMO producers are simply either trying to being a better product to market, or often save lives by creating crops that can grow in places around the world who are starving because the produced GMO’s natural cousin won’t grow there, saving many lives. So if you’re against that, you’re unwittingly asking people to starve to death because you think it’s wrong for mankind to “play god” with food.

Either way, I love science, and I love the idea of using science to provide the world a better organism. Now pass me the GMO french fries.

 

Eric Garner’s Death Should Never Be Equated To Michael Brown’s

A friend of mine who happens to be a government employee and now a died-in-the-wool statist (he keeps calling himself a liberal, but I don’t think he knows what it means) started a conversation with me stating that “you know how much of a liberal (read: statist) I am, but when is it OK to fight back against the police, get killed over it, then be labeled the victim?”

I read a good bit of the grand jury evidence against Michael Brown in Missouri, and like the grand jury, came to the conclusion Michael Brown was shot in self-defense.

I watched in disgust as he robbed a convenience store, forcefully pushing aside the owner as he was confronted for stealing the cigarillos. So I have little reason to believe the “gentle giant” argument put forth by those who knew him. Kind people don’t do what he did to that innocent store owner.

See the video here.

While I’m not glad he is dead, I have no reason to believe Michael Brown treated Darren Wilson with any more respect than that victimized store owner. I feel that if Michael Brown is a victim, he is only a victim of his own aggression, not a racist police officer’s actions.

But the Eric Garner death has a completely different meaning to me; one I cannot ignore.

Whereas Michael Brown robbed a store and attacked a police officer it seems, both felonious activities, and both with clearly defined victims; the impetus for police action against Eric Garner is very different.

Here is the video account of what happened. The actual interaction that lead to Garner’s death is at the end of the video at approximately the 8-minute mark.

Medical examiners ruled the death a homicide, due to neck compressions, as one can imagine. Famed medical examiner Michael Baden backed up the findings.

But what led to the police confronting Eric Garner in the first place?

Eric Garner was selling untaxed cigarettes in front of local area businesses, garnering complaints. New York has a $4.35 tax on packs of cigarettes from the state, but add to that, a $1.50 tax by the city of New York, and they are by far, the cigarette taxing capital of the United States.

This overtaxing of cigarettes in the city has led to an underground market for untaxed cigarettes bought out-of-state, them smuggled in and sold on the street. Often referred to as “loosies,” whereas a normal pack of cigarettes go for $14.50 in NYC, Eric Garner’s loosies would typically sell for around $8.00.

While I understand that businesses don’t like people outside their stores selling “illegal” goods, the sidewalk is public property. Aside from store owners who were annoyed, Eric Garner’s only victim would have been the city and state of New York for lost tax revenue—he was harming no fellow citizens.

The police are not rightfully given much of a choice on which laws they choose to enforce. Even if they didn’t agree with the law, they are sworn to uphold it, and regarding the cigarette tax, they did exactly that.

When I wrote The Point Of A Gun two years ago, I asked people to consider this basic principle when considering a proposed law. Would I be willing to kill someone over it? If not, I shouldn’t ask government to potentially kill someone for me over it.

Some people felt I was fear-mongering at the time, making up ludicrous arguments to promote libertarianism. Surely no police officer would kill someone over something so benign as cigarette taxes, they would argue.Utah-DPS-SWAT[1]

Apologies for saying us libertarians told you so, but…we told you so.

Eric Garner may have been a menace to local businesses, he did have a long criminal history for more serious crimes, and he certainly could have been more cooperative with the police. But while he was clearly irate, I didn’t see him attempt to attack any officer, so there was no victim the police were protecting at the time, including themselves.

If Eric Garner had been murdering a homeless guy, raping a woman, or molesting a child, no one would be upset he is dead now at the hands of the police. We’re mostly all willing to kill someone under those circumstances.

So that means the policeman’s actions were not the problem. The problem is, and often always will be, government oppression that leads to mini-revolts like this one.

If libertarians were in power, Garner would have been no different from any other street vendor selling random goods, but in New York, liberty is all but dead, especially for smokers.

So if you want freedom, you must start voting that way. Otherwise, you have no right complaining when the government carries out orders you essentially voted for them to enact. People yearning to be free will stand up for their rights, and under these statist-like rules in New York, will either get accidentally or purposefully killed for defying them.

We libertarians will always ask, “What is so wrong with the concept of No-Victim-No-Crime?” Because we can surely tell you what is wrong with statism. It results in deaths of victimless “criminals” like Eric Garner who should be alive today, and able to sell whatever the hell he wants to sell, so long as he isn’t hurting anyone.

Alternative Medicine: The Grand, Ignorant And Immoral Oxymoron

There can be no doubt, many people suffer from iatrophobia ​—a fear of doctors. Being poked with needles, recommended for surgeries, or placed on never-ending drug regiments can make people want to curl up in a ball somewhere and hide forever.

As a result of this somewhat understandable fear, people often look to alternative medicine for the answers to their problems. Whether it be practices like chiropractic, homeopathic, holistic, acupuncture—the list is mind numbing.doctor_needle2[1]

So first, let’s look at the definition of the word medicine.

med·i·cine
ˈmedəsən/
noun
noun: medicine; plural noun: medicines
  1. the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
  2. a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth.

When discussing the idea of alternative medicine, it should first be understood that there is essentially no such thing as alternative medicine.

  • There is medicine: practices or compounds that treat a medical condition or disease.
  • There is non-medicine: practices or compounds that  do not treat a disease or medical condition.

There is no middle ground here, the item in question either works, or it doesn’t work. The level of effectiveness may very, but there has to be a noted effect, above the margin of error or the placebo effect, or it cannot be considered medicine.medicine[1]

For hundreds of years, scientists have laid out the path to determine which is which. It’s called a clinical trial, an extension of the scientific method. While the concept goes back thousands of years, in the last century, the process is now pretty consistent and highly effective.

In a fictional example, I will create a drug called Libertol (I had to throw a little politics in this thing), and I will have invented it to treat a disease called oppressionitis.

Assuming I’m a drug company, I’m going to be biased to confirm that the millions of dollars I spent developing Libertol actually yielded a functional, and thus marketable product. Since that bias could either unintentionally skew my results, or raise concerns I might purposefully have skewed the results, I would find an independent party to test Libertol in order to rule out any actual or perceived biases I might have.

The independent testing facility would start by looking for a number of people with oppresionitis, and ask them if they’d be willing to submit to a study on a new drug to treat this horrible disease. For the sake of argument, let’s say we get 500 people to be our guinea pigs.

Clinical Study Map. Click for more info
Clinical Study Map. Click for more info

Why 500? Because “anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence.” (Great science maxim #1, there will be more) But what do scientists mean by that?

Imagine you flip a coin once, and it lands heads up. Would you then assume that every time you flip a coin, it will land heads up because of that one flip? Of course you wouldn’t. That is essentially anecdotal evidence. One, or barely more than one, instance is almost never to be treated as if its results are indicative of what should be expected on a consistent basis. This is also why you are wise to often get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion when seeing doctors.

So maybe you flip the coin ten times? It lands heads seven out of ten due to random chance, which is not only entirely possible, if I’ve done my math right, is likely to happen about 1 out of 8 times (15:125 to be exact). So does that mean a coin is prone to land heads up 70% of the time? Again, of course not. The more times you flip it, the closer it will get to its actual probability of 50:50 as the odds start to balance out.Coin[1]

So when doing a clinical trial, the more people you can test, the more accurate your results will be, and this is why we want 500 people in our above fictional example.

These trials are actually done in phases, with only about 20-80 people at first, if the drug ends up having detrimental side effects, you don’t want it to affect a large number of people, after all. But by the time the study hits phase 3, there will likely be thousands of participants being evaluated. But I’m simplifying the three phases down to one, and the process in general, for the purposes of this article.

Once volunteers are gathered up, half of them will be given the actual drug, the other half will be given a placebo (a non-drug). This placebo is designed to control for the placebo effect, a condition whereby a person will convince themselves a drug works, even if it doesn’t.

The placebo effect will generally not alter things that are purely quantitative, like blood pressure, heart rate, or other measurable conditions, but it can have quite the profound effect on subjective data, such as pain level and other issues the user merely reports on versus being tested with equipment.

The results of the group who took Libertol would then be tested against the people who took the placebo they thought was Libertol, and Bob’s your uncle—you have a result.

If Libertol actually worked, it would show as such by being more effective than the placebo was at treating oppressionitis. Otherwise, the results will come back as “no more effective than a placebo,” and Libertol would be sent to the ineffective drug graveyard in the sky, barring any noted side effects that may be beneficial elsewhere.

Viagra being one of the best examples of this phenomena, was originally designed for blood pressure issues, which it was horrible for, but turned out to be quite the rock star at “pitching tents.”viagra[1]

So the moral here, is that you shouldn’t take medical advice from someone who tried something once and it worked. There are infinite other possibilities to explain why it seemed effective, rather than it actually being effective. Instead, ask your doctor and if you’re a true skeptic, research yourself for clinical trial results.

I was recommended acupuncture by my neurologist for headaches, only to do my research using sites like sciencebasedmedicine.org. Much as I expected, I found that clinical trials showed acupuncture is “no more effective than a placebo.”

People who had actual acupuncture reported similar results, within the margin of error, to people who were treated with fake acupuncture where the needles were purposely misplaced. It has never been shown to be more effective despite its hundreds of years of history. The only “ancient Chinese secret” here, is that it doesn’t work.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture

While we place a lot of trust in doctors, not all of them adhere to the scientific method exclusively, some are flat-out quacks. But if you want medicine versus non-medicine, you should demand as such. So lesson learned, I won’t be seeing that neurologist again.

There are two types of alternative medicine practitioners:
Fraudsters who know they’re taking advantage of you, or
ignorant people who simply don’t know better. But why give your money to either one?

If someone is purposefully deceiving you for a fee, that is a horribly immoral practice where you take someone’s hard-earned money that could be used for something that would help them, and instead sell them something that won’t. If I lived in an anarchistic country, I would want to destroy every one of these sociopaths. They are valueless human beings, in my opinion.

But even if they’re just ignorant and think these practices actually work, they’re still taking your hard-earned money for something that doesn’t. Assuming you don’t have money to burn, why do exactly that?burning-money-e1340332352315[1]

It is true, an argument can be made that if the placebo effect does work for things like pain, giving someone a placebo might make them feel better without introducing foreign chemicals into their body. But it’s still inherently dishonest, and I would hope none of you would willingly pay someone to lie to you.

All health claims are scientific in nature, meaning there are biological processes that are either going to get better, stay the same, or get worse in your body after treatment. So trust in things that have passed the test of the scientific method, and understand that “that which can be destroyed by the evidence, should be.” (Great science maxim #2)

“Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence.” (Great science maxim #3) This is what clinical trials provide beyond any reasonable doubt.

People like Harry Houdini spent their lives trying to debunk such fraudsters. Penn & Teller had a show called Bullshit on Showtime which aired for eight seasons debunking them as well. See an excerpt demonstrating the placebo effect here.

James Randi is famous for purposefully overdosing on homeopathy, taking a “lethal” dose, to show that if such a dose had zero effect, the prescribed amount surely must do nothing.

So if I am a libertarian, why do I care? Shouldn’t people be free to put into their body whatever they want? Absolutely!

While I would never prosecute a non-medicine consumer (I refuse to call it alternative medicine), fraud is a violation of your right to property, specifically, your money, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

These people get away with fraud by making non-scientific claims such as saying these things increase your energy or boost your immune system. An actual boosting of your immune system would essentially be an autoimmune disease where you body attacks its own cells. Something you really, REALLY don’t want. But it is effectively immeasurable since there is no number by which your immune system can be rated with, in a manner such as blood pressure or cell count.

I’d like to quickly dispel a couple of these myths by showing you the purpose, methodology and power of skepticism, or critical though, hopefully encouraging you to do your own.

Things like acupuncture, for instance, are said to be practices that are hundreds of years old (as if that is somehow evidence), and that doctors won’t often recommend them because there’s no money to be made. Might I point out that acupuncturists do in fact work for money? Therefore there is actually money to be made—they’re making it. In order to believe this argument, you must do no critical thinking whatsoever. I just dispelled it in one sentence.

People argue we have a cure for cancer, but drug companies are suppressing it to make more money on drugs that only treat cancer, not cure it. This one requires a little more skepticism, but let’s bring up some valuable points to debunk this.

  • Drug companies do make drugs that cure cancer. Chemotherapy and radioactive seeds are but a couple. We simply don’t have one drug that cures all cancer all the time, nor one drug that doesn’t have harmful and potentially fatal side effects as chemotherapy does.
  • This assumption also means that a drug company would have to invest the typically millions of dollars required to develop a drug that works, then shelve it without recouping any of that money as a return on their investment. Why would they develop it in the first place if they don’t want such a return? These conspiracy theorists are arguing how greedy drug companies are, then asserting a claim that they are purposefully throwing money away—an overwhelming contradiction.
  • Then we must also assume that the scientists who went to medical school, usually with the intent of saving lives, many of them specifically dreaming of being “the one” who cures cancer, spent years developing a drug that works. However, once realizing their dream of curing cancer, completely eschewed their ideals and agreed to suppress the drug for money. A theory that’s insulting to every moral medical student who ever slaved away for eight years in college to save your life.
  • Lastly, the above two bullets would both involve more than one person. The drug company has a board of directors, and the labs often have tens or hundreds of people on staff, yet not one of them headed over to CNN or Fox News to blow the whistle?

I could go on and on pointing out the logical fallacies and ignorance of thinking these ways. But hopefully my two examples of how to be a proper skeptic will inspire you to do more critical thinking of your own, instead of buying into these radical conspiracies. The life and the pocketbook you save could be your own.

P.S. I linked to an article debunking acupuncture above. Here is another debunking homeopathy with what is effectively simple, yet astounding math. I promise, it is worth the read. (Click the picture)

539838_10150934532972695_942140407_n-560x700[1]

Also, here’s a great video demo from Twitter’s @ScienceBabe

Consenting Adults Amendment: How Columbus City Council Screwed The Little Guy

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Like many internet writers, I’m an amateur—I do this for the joy of spreading the liberty and rational thought message to any who will listen. If you’ve ever gotten the impression I’m rich, your hypothesis regarding my financial status, is indeed quite flawed.

Many on the left champion more regulation because they say such things protect and/or help the little guy, the underprivileged guy, the poor guy—that’s me!

So let’s see how this is working out for me so far.

In order to help lift myself out of financial distress, I ultimately need to either get promoted, find a new job, or obtain a second job—I’m ruling out the lottery due to statistical improbability. Of the three choices, the latter is the easiest and least risk-involved, so I endeavored to find additional ways to pad my pocketbook.

As I was watching an episode of The Independents on Fox Business, host Kennedy did a segment on Lyft, the peer-2-peer app based car service. It’s a very novel, yet simple, idea.Pinkout81-640x426[1]

  • You have a car and want to earn some extra cash.
  • You download the Lyft app and apply to be a driver
  • They do a quick background check to ensure you’re not one of Charles Manson’s kids.
  • Then a Lyft mentor comes out, shows you the ropes, inspects your vehicle, then gives you a big pink mustache to put on the front of your car signifying you’re a Lyft driver for users to easily identify
  • Once you’re ready, you launch the app, then signify you’re a driver awaiting a rider
  • Any riders needing a lift would launch the app and select a driver who is available and closest to them
  • You meet up, a ride is given, and upon completion, money is exchanged
  • The driver and rider then both rate each other on the experience. If either rates the other below three stars, they’ll never get matched again

Immediately I thought, this was for me. I have a very clean, well-maintained, low-mileage 2002 Honda Accord sedan that would be ideal.

2002 Honda Accord: According to Columbus City Council—death trap
2002 Honda Accord: According to Columbus City Council—death trap

So I installed the Lyft app, went on to the website, and signed up. I’m a personable guy, I love to talk to people, I can work when I want, and I don’t mind driving. Plus, I get to be self-employed again (I’m a previous small business owner), no jerk boss to deal with—it couldn’t be any more perfect, right? I was genuinely excited!

So Lyft contacted me, set me up with my mentor, but then an overreaching government hit me like a ton of bricks.

My 2002 Honda Accord is two years older than the 10-year-old or newer requirement a recently passed law by Columbus Ohio City Council requires, which meant that legally, I could not be a Lyft driver with my car; I’d need to buy a newer one. Generally speaking, if we had the money to buy newer cars, we likely wouldn’t be looking to drive for Lyft, right?

So these bureaucratic do-gooders, either guided by ignorant benevolence, or pressure from much-richer-than-I taxi company lobbyists (or both), who claim to be out for the little guy like me, took away this little guy’s right to go into business for myself in this manner.

Columbus City Council: AKA People Who Violated My Right To Earn A Living
Columbus City Council: AKA People Who Violated My Right To Earn A Living

I’m sure the Columbus City Council patted themselves on the back for their chicanery, touting out how they have protected would-be victims from someone with an unsafe automobile. But this assumes many things which cannot be deemed true with any certainty.

  • It assumes any car 10 years old or newer is safe. (False)
  • It assumes any car 11 years old or older is unsafe (False)
  • It assumes a would-be adult rider cannot make a reasonably intelligent decision about whether to get into a car and accept a ride from someone (Typically false)
  • It assumes that people who want to earn some extra money have the money to buy a newer car (Typically false)
  • It assumes Lyft mentors safety inspections aren’t good enough (Typically false). Remember, unlike Lyft,  government isn’t even inspecting your vehicle. Their regulation’s assumptions are solely based on the age of your car.

As I ponder the idea that I live in a free country where government exists solely to protect my rights, I am appalled that my city council, in a misguided effort to protect others, have harmed me with no legitimate justification—both me, and my car, are quite safe.

While I generally believe our Constitution’s framers did a pretty good job, if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll recall I’m not afraid to propose constitutional amendments that I think would advance their principles of limited government, and deny power-hungry rights-infringers that which pleases them most.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

That said, as a result of this incident, it got me thinking about a new amendment I wish legislators would adopt which would solve this problem and many like it—I’ll call it the “Consenting Adults” amendment.

The right for adults to engage in any agreement among themselves, barring any affected and unwitting third party, shall not be infringed.

It’s simple, and quite consistent with the Constitution’s intent as a limit on the how the government may deny your right to pursue happiness. Whether it be me providing a ride to someone for money; two or more people wanting to get married, regardless of their sex or preference; or any other act wherein consenting adults wish to engage. “We The People” should be able to do whatever we want to do, so long as we’re not hurting anyone else doing it. Libertarianism 101: No victim-no crime.

To be fair, I do understand our government usually acts with the best of intentions when they pass these laws. But sadly, many politicians neither have the intellectually capacity or knowledge to understand the ramifications of their actions to their full extent. Nor do they have the honor to admit when their actions have failed or had detrimental unintended consequences. Such instances should prompt them to repeal these regulations, but they rarely do.

They’re also sorely lacking in the understanding that everything they do, is ultimately done so, at the point of a gun. If such proposals were thought of in this manner, they would often be rejected.

Would you support cops showing up, guns drawn on me, screaming “Don’t you dare give that person a ride in your twelve-year-old death trap, or we’ll shoot!”? I sure hope not. But ultimately, if I defied this regulation long enough, that is precisely what would happen.

SWAT team: AKA People I'd eventually see if I used my 12 year old death trap to give people rides via Lyft
SWAT team: AKA People I’d eventually see if I used my 12-year-old death trap to give people rides via Lyft

Politicians should honestly understand that much of what people ask them to do is simply none of their business. Most of the time, when people say, “there ought to be a law,” they’re wrong. These days, our country is sadly free-ish at best thanks to such people. But if you vote for libertarian-minded politicians, we can correct that.

Energy Independence—Let’s “Nuke” America!

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Politicians on both sides of the aisle stump on the promise of working toward energy independence, yet will not advocate for nuclear power—an energy source so vast, that if you filled four football fields with 55-gallon drums of oil, you’d only need one shot glass of fuel converted into energy by nuclear power to match burning all that oil in energy production. The biggest reason for this is what I will call the “Airplane Principle.”

We’ve almost all heard that statistically speaking, air travel is significantly safer than travel by car. For those who haven’t heard this, or are not sure why people say it, allow me to explain. This article citing an NHTSA study shows that the odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1:98, but for airplanes, a mere 1:7,178—seventy-three times less likely. Yet, many more people are afraid to fly than drive despite the evidence that it is overwhelmingly safer.

So why is this? When things go wrong on a car, it can be very survivable; you often just pull to the side of the road and call a tow truck. When things go wrong with an airplane however, you’re liable to fall out of the sky—an event which likely ends in death—a much more terrifying event. I suspect fear of heights, a common phobia, doesn’t help either.

With nuclear energy, the stories of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the recent Fukushima disaster continue to strike a similar irrational fear in people as they recall images from 1983’s The Day After. While it’s true that nuclear energy is derived ultimately the same way as the release of energy from the hydrogen-bombs dropped on Japan to end World War II, we must not associate death and destruction with nuclear energy. Yes, it could go horribly wrong, but history suggests it almost never does.

Chernobyl Reactor DIsaster
Chernobyl Reactor DIsaster

Here are a few facts to help you evaluate nuclear energy on its merits.

  • Nuclear energy is not limitless, but it will seem like it. For instance, the US military employs submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors. These are very large vessels that would otherwise be powered by thousand of tons of diesel fuel in their lifetime. These nuclear submarines have an approximate 30-year lifespan, and during that time, they will never get refueled. Imagine filling up your car when you drive it off the showroom floor, then never having to refuel it until 2044!
  • This article from MIT points out that if you converted one atom of hydrogen to energy via combustion, it produces 1.0 electron-volt (eV). One atom of carbon under combustion produces 1.4 eV. One atom of uranium converted to energy via nuclear fission? 210,000,000 eV. (No, that is not a typographical error). They also point out that a fossil fuel power plant will produce one million more times waste and consume a million-fold more fuel than nuclear. Please click the link above for many more staggering facts—it is worth the read.
  • During the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear disaster in the history of nuclear energy, resulted in an initial two deaths during the explosion, and an additional 28 deaths due to acute radiation poisoning from the clean up effort afterwards. An increase in the region of 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been reported, but it is also known that the screening process for such cancer, having been vastly improved, may be a significant reason for increased numbers of the disease which while still capable of being deadly, is often treatable.
  • During the Three Mile Island disaster, it is reported that “there were no injuries or adverse health effects from the Three Mile Island accident.” Yet people continue to think of it as a disaster instead of just an ultimately what it really was, an innocuous failure.
  • During the Fukushima disaster, while 19,000 people were killed by the tsunami that wreaked havoc on the nuclear plant located there, the nuclear plant killed no one—its fail-safes having largely done their job. Despite the media’s constant focus on the nuclear plant, the killer was mother nature.
  • From 2006 to 2012, there were 375 people killed mining for coal alone. That means that in a seven-year span, 12.5 times more people were killed bringing coal energy to market compared to a 28-year span of bringing nuclear energy to market. Specifically, a worker is 4,000 times more likely per kilowatt-hour, to die bringing coal to market, than nuclear energy.
  • The reactors used at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima were all outdated reactors. The Chernobyl reactor, a relic of the communist Russian government at the time, which was infamous for its poor quality products. The reactor’s shortcomings were so vast that it would be laughable if it had not resulted in so many deaths, and affected the livelihoods of many more. As such, it seems almost unfair to use it in an argument against nuclear energy—no one in this modern era would build such a reactor.
  • Burning coal, oil, gas, and other carbon-based fuels produces carbon dioxide, something that by all accounts is deemed bad for the atmosphere—global warming or just pollution-wise. Nuclear reactors however produce water vapor, and an incredibly low amount of radioactive waste that has been safely stored for decades without incident.

    Nuclear Power Plant Emits Only Water Vapor
    Nuclear Power Plant Emits Only Water Vapor
  • In a recent 12-month period from October 2012 to October 2013, solar power produced only 8.6 megawatt-hours of energy (0.21% of America’s usage). This means we would have to take all the solar panels in the United States and multiply them by 476 times to convert to a fully solar-powered nation.
  • Wind power produced a more respectable 164terawatt-hours, which is still only 4.06%. We’d need twenty-five times more windmills around the country to rid ourselves of fossil fuels.

But here’s the catch with solar and wind, they’re all currently in locations where the wind or sun is most abundant. If the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, they don’t work. There’s no current “super-battery” for them to store energy for later. (Update from May, 2015, there is a super-battery in the works for this issue.) So multiplying them by twenty-five, in reality, is not as viable as the number suggests.

Wind Mill Farm
Wind Mill Farm

While I am a libertarian, and many Republicans generally support nuclear energy, many Democrats often do not. Although this is one issue Barack Obama has broken from his party and supported to his credit, I’ve always found this curious as Democrats claim to be the party of science, often painting Republicans out as flat-Earthers. So if it’s not the science, what is it that Democrats have against nuclear energy?

The environmentalist movement is largely composed of those who are anti-nuclear, and are also traditionally Democrats. Their party simply can’t afford to upset their base, nor do they want to. But the truth is, this is not a matter of opinion that should be subject to political agendas, this is science where there is only right and wrong. The film Pandora’s Promise breaks from this tradition following some prominent scientist/environmentalists who were anti-nuclear until they decided to do look at the science themselves. I highly encourage you to watch it.

Am I suggesting we abandoned renewable sources? Of course not. As money investors know, putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea. Even the best solar cells only convert about 20% of the sun’s energy that hits them into electricity leaving significant room for improvement. But even if these technologies do improve (and they will), we cannot assume our energy needs will remain static as our population continues to grow. As such, we will likely still need alternative energy sources like nuclear.

Government must make it as easy as possible for nuclear technology to grow in a free market, by regulating based on science instead of fear. With the promising technology of thorium reactors, small modular reactors (SMR’s), and the older idea of breeder reactors, a reactor that reburns its spent fuel to avoid creating nuclear waste, that have been abandoned in large part due to the regulatory climate against them, America could be energy independent, or even start selling energy, if we got behind this great power source.

Much like most Americans feel about guns, we must have a great respect for nuclear instead of an irrational fear of it—our energy independence very likely depends on it.