Tuesday, August 21, 2007
When I popped in the Corporation DVD, I anticipated a documentary on the perils of a capitalistic society (which it was). Even though the documentary has an air of anti-capitalistic agenda I found that the concerns in the documentary are very real and should be given a lot more attention than currently given by the mainstream media. The documentary shows how every individual (be it as a customer, employee or investor) is a part of the problem and could be a part of the solution.
As a consumer I thought I was pretty savvy until I watched the documentary. I discovered that a lot of information is withheld from the customers. I was especially alarmed about the rbST (artificially introduced growth hormone) in the milk issue. I will be discussing the rbST issue in depth in the next post.
[Do check your milk cartons for rbST content. If there is no mention of rbST on the carton then there is a strong possibility that the milk you are drinking contains rbST. Milk that does not contain rbST explicitly says so. However the presence of rbST is NOT mentioned on cartons of milk that contain rbST. The potential risks of consuming milks from cows that are treated with growth hormones are not clearly understood. So if you don’t want to consume milk with rbST, start buying all natural or organic milk.]
Although the discussion in this article relates to America, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to state that these issues are relevant to every country. After watching the documentary I realized that I had grossly underestimated the extent of exploitation by large corporations.
Profits over people - Exploitation of employees
We know that giant corporations exist and that they are willing to cut corners to maximize their profits. Wal-mart is an exemplary example of that. I know many people who boycott shopping at Wal-mart altogether. But even if you don’t shop at Wal-mart, no matter which giant retailer you choose, you are still supporting some sleazy corporation which is violating human rights. Everybody has heard about Nike outsourcing jobs to sweatshops in countries like China to get cheap labor. What I didn’t know was that all the other major shoe retailers like Reebok and Adidas also do the same. So unless you exclusively buy shoes from (expensive) stores like Beyond Skin or limit your purchase to the few domestically made lines of shoes from companies such as Converse, you are supporting the overseas exploitation in sweat shops. Same goes for clothes. If you have a pair of jeans from Levis or a shirt from GAP in your closet, you have bought a garment made in some sweatshop overseas. In fact there is a strong possibility that all your clothes were made in some sweatshop, unless the garment has a union label or you only buy clothes from fair trade organizations or employee owned businesses.
The pro-sweat shop argument
The companies that employ cheap labor claim that the people who work in the sweatshops would’ve been unemployed and even starved to death without their business. So in essence, the businesses are doing the sweatshop workers a big favor. In reality the wages are starkly low. The businesses can afford to pay higher wages. The profit margins are absurdly high. The laborers work inhuman amount of hours to make enough money so that they can sustain themselves. Of course if the workers demand better wages, the businesses wouldn’t think twice about taking their business elsewhere.
Exploitation of consumers
The exploitation does not stop at getting cheap labor. The corporations don’t care about the well being of the customers either. Important product information (such as the presence of rbST in milk) is withheld from the customers in the interest of product sales. Here is a clip of Erin Burnett from MSNBC who justifies the sale of low quality (to the point of being hazardous) products. She thinks it is okay to sell children’s toys with lead paint or toxic food-products because it keeps prices low.
Our increasing dependence on modern commodities has fueled a lifestyle that results in detrimental pollution of our environment. It is the price we pay for progress. I regard people who enjoy the comforts and advancements of a capitalist society as hypocrites when they talk about the evils of capitalism without altering their lifestyles. It is silly to try and impede progress. Capitalism is not a bad idea, it needs some tweaking not abandoning. The better strategy is to find solutions to reduce/regulate the toxic waste generation. There are several green earth organizations working towards these goals. Hence my belief was that the best solution was to create awareness about nature conservation and designing protocols for environmentally friendly practices would slowly steer us towards an eco-friendly environment.
Turns out the availability of green alternatives or lack of awareness is not even a main issue with corporations. It is all about money. Big corporations are so ruthless about making profits that they make a risk-benefit assessment for getting caught dumping poisons in the environment in terms of the fines they have to pay. They’d rather take the risk of getting caught and paying fines instead of investing in better practices for sewage disposal. So to control illegal dumping of toxic wastes, we have to find better solutions. Since, the only thing that these corporations care about is money; in my opinion the monetary fines should be raised to a point that the corporations seriously rethink their strategy of dealing with wastes.
What can we do?
As customers we can make many choices to work against bad practices that harm people and environment. It is not going to be easy to make the necessary changes because (a) it requires extra effort and (b) the alternative lifestyle can be expensive. But realizing that the alternative lifestyle is not so much of a choice as it is a necessity should help foster the necessary changes.
The first step to make these changes is to learn and research these issues. I did my own research and discovered some websites that offer information and solutions on some of the issues I discussed.
1) Fair Trade Federation This organization stipulates better environment and income for workers and artisans to bypass the exploitative work conditions in sweatshops. The website also states that the FTF marked products don’t cost more than the amount you pay the major retailers. How? The organization works directly with the producers to cut out the middlemen.
2) Sweat shop watch
3) Earth 911
If you have additional tips or quips about the issues at hand I would love to hear about them.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
If this is the state of the scientific thinkers in India then what can one expect from the scientifically ignorant masses? It is no wonder that astrology is so popular in India. The idea that one can predict someone’s future based on the position of the planets in the solar system does not sound ludicrous to a (ridiculously) large number of people. It can be hard to regard astrology as hogwash when you grow up in a society where it is not uncommon to make major life decisions based on astrological charts. Marriages are fixed depending on the position of Saturn. Cars are purchased on the most auspicious days as determined by planetary alignment. A streak of bad luck can be fixed by wearing prescription precious stone (rings) in an effort to woo the planets in your favor or to ward off the cosmic bad vibes.
As with most superstitious beliefs, the faith in astrology is set through personal anecdotes. Once the superstitious beliefs are set in through confirmation bias it is hard to convince the person otherwise. No amount of experimental or statistical evidence that debunks astrology will challenge a believer’s set notion. A handy personal anecdote will void the need for questions or doubt. Questions such as, “how does astrology work?” become irrelevant. It has already been strongly instilled in the minds of the believers that it does not pay to have doubts. Blind faith is regarded as a virtue. The flaw lies in asking questions. So a person who sets his/her beliefs through rational thinking is thought to be close minded (the irony!) to things which have proved their efficacy through personal anecdotes rather than evidence based methodology.
Dawkins butts heads with astrology in his TV series called “the enemies of reason”. He chats with an astrologer who makes a living by publishing horoscopes in a newspaper. Dawkins suggests a simple experiment to test the veracity of astrological predictions. The experiment would be to cut out any one horoscope from a week old newspaper. Tell each individual (irrespective of their sun-sign) that the predictions apply to their sun-sign and then ask them how accurately it predicts what happened to them in the last week. Then calculate the accuracy of the prediction. The astrologer flat out refused to participate in the experiment.
Here is a short video clip of “The enemies of reason”. You can also watch the entire episode here.
Monday, August 13, 2007
The main plot is about lovers and finding love (ugh!). So you should be prepared for a fair amount of lovey dovey stuff piled onto more mush. When I say that the mush quotient is pretty high, I kid you not. There are lines like, “For you my love I would do anything. I would go to the end of the earth and pluck out some stars for you.”
The plot (that never thickens):
Once upon a time there lived a horny young man who wasn’t getting any action in the human world and so decided to try his luck in the magical kingdom which happened to be in the forbidden area across a wall. The man manages to sneak into the magical kingdom and starts checking out the streets of the magic kingdom for prospective mates. As luck would have it, he meets a super horny princess who is chained to a trailer which is in the middle of the busy market. What is a horny princess doing in the middle of a market soliciting strange men? A witch has enslaved the princess with her magic powers and so the princess is bound to the witch's trailer. (Cue: gasp!). But that still does not explain the horniness. Is she under a horny spell? Nope. Hey, women have needs too you know.
Anyhow, since the princess is bound to the trailer, the first order of business would be to rescue her. Nyoooo! There is no time. Well a quick quickie if you insist. Into the trailer they go and nobody comes a knocking when the trailer is rocking. It is wham bam thank you ma'm. The man returns to the human world and forgets about the whole thing. Alas, nine months later he finds a baby at the doorstep. The new daddy takes the news of his fatherhood pretty well by the commitment-phobic-movie-dad standards. He does not even get a paternity test. But that is not as strange as the fact that he does not ever try to get in touch with the woman who bore his son. Maybe they didn't have much in common, other than the son. At this point it is best you lay your questioning mind to rest if you want to enjoy the movie.
The rest that follows is the same old rehash of fairytales. There are two types of women, the smart hence ugly witches. Okay, Michelle Pfeiffer plays a witch, so they aren't all ugly. But all the independent women are evil witches. The other women fall in the category of damsels in distress. The men are busy killing each other when they are not romancing the women...except Robert De Niro who is a closet cross-dresser. Then there is the matter of saving the life of a fallen star (who morphs into Claire Danes on earth) before the witches or power hungry men get to her.
In the end, good conquers evil and the good guys live happily ever after...oops gave away the ending. But you knew that since the story began with once upon a time.
Rating: Blah with some giggles
Thursday, August 09, 2007
As I made myself comfortable in the office chair I wondered why I wasn’t on the couch instead. No this is not about the logistics of moving my couch. I am asking why doesn’t a single mainstream/popular channel give a live feed of the shuttle launch. Look at the popularity ratings of all the crappy reality shows. I am sure that a TV show on astronauts would do well. Not that it would be a crappy show but I think it would still be appealing for the masses.
Am I the only one who thinks that this is one of the most exciting events? Dare I say it is even more exciting than the World Cup or Superbowl. Sure, there are folks who follow shuttle launches closely but it is nothing compared to the hysteria a game or ever Harry Potter’s fate has managed to generate. Maybe my nerdiness prevents me from understanding the lack of enthusiasm for such events. So I am going to build a case for shuttle launch friendly channel(s). I predict that a reality show on astronauts will have a good demographic provided TV channels join in to create hype.
I mean we follow the dreams and aspirations of models (America’s next top hoochy mama) and Southwest air-hostesses (Airline). So why not astronauts and space shuttle launches?
What are the things that have a good following?
1) People who do crazy things (usually for money)
3) Magic, paranormals, psychics
4) Science fiction based shows
5) Celebrity related shows
(1) It is no secret that reality TV shows cast people who are crazy (for the drama and cat fights). If they are looking for kooky characters, I am sure there are plenty of those at NASA (remember the diaper wearing astronaut lady who, not surprisingly, got a lot of media coverage). Let’s face it, to be an astronaut you have to be a little crazy. Who in their right minds would volunteer to sit in a vehicle that is attached to a massive fuel tank that burns a million liters of fuel in less than ten minute? (Fear factor…phooey!)
(2) The shuttle travels at 17,180 mph for some part of its journey. Talk about zero to 60 in a fraction of a millisecond. NASCAR fans…hello?
(3) If David Blaine can dazzle the audiences using cheap tricks, space technology should be able to woo the audiences. Like Arthur C. Clark said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
(4) I can’t imagine this being a hard sell to audiences that love watching science fiction shows.
(5) This would be a great publicity stunt. Put one of the celebrities on a shuttle launch. There are quite a few adrenaline junkies in show biz and they can certainly afford to pay for the ride.
Wouldn’t the HP fans (who waited patiently for three years to figure out the fate of little Harry Potter) want to know what is to be of these valiant muggles who are about to float in space? Look no magic!
It isn’t a stretch to imagine a star wars and star trek fan camping out in front of Cape Canaveral for all of last week. I haven’t watched star wars and so I am not sure if it is accurate to deem the fans as folks who would appreciate space related technology.
From the popularity of action movies I would guess that there are a lot of folks who enjoy watching stuff blown up. When was the last time you watched a million liters of fuel burned up in 8.5 minutes?
The movie channels could pitch in with a day of space movies like Apollo 13. News channels that seem to have a dearth of news stories and spend air time covering local hot dog competitions and stories of women who want to go to jail to quit their compulsive smoking habits (Bah!) should be happy to do an in depth coverage on the shuttle launch. It is not a hot political issue that their sponsors might have objections to.
At least for one day we could ‘space out’ from the regular mind numbing programming. Interview the astronauts, do a short film on what kind of training these astronauts go through, what would they achieve from this mission, what kind of food they eat on the shuttle, how they shower (or not), what kind of difficulties and odds they have to surpass for a successful mission. It is a physically and mentally challenging ordeal and a once in a lifetime experience. Aren’t more people interested?
Wait…don’t answer that.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
In his latest venture, Dawkins is making a series called ‘The enemies of Reason’ which is to be aired on TV on 13 August, 2007. In this series, Dawkins takes on practices such as astrology, tarot, psychic readings and the topic we recently discussed, homeopathy. I quote from the Sunday Times review on Dawkins’ series:
As Dawkins says: “There might be bad scientists, but that does not mean the methodology of science is bad.” For him the acid test is forever and always: “Test it!” This is a principle totally lacking, he charges, at the Royal London Homeopathic hospital, recently refurbished to the tune of £20m, including £10m from the cash-strapped NHS, and with a plaque certifying the endorsement of the Prince of Wales. (His title for episode two of The Enemies of Reason is The Irrational Health Service.)
What is undisputed is that homeopathy derived from an early misunderstanding of the principle behind vaccination: that like cures like. But actually a real vaccine stimulates the body’s own immune system to fight the disease. What makes homeopathy so truly absurd in Dawkins’s inexorable logic is the idea that a substance becomes more powerful the more it is diluted. The idea, widely believed though totally unproven, is that water retains a “memory” of the molecule, though if it did he points out – as the people of Gloucester might nowadays bear in mind – it would also “remember” the salt, mud and urine it once contained. He cites the statistical probability that “one molecule in every litre of water drunk once passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell”. Hardly reassuring for royalists.
“I say to doctors who use homeopathy: if you can identify this you’d have discovered a whole new force in physics. Either there is no effect, in which case you shouldn’t be charging people money, or there is an effect, in which case you should prove it and win the Nobel prize.”
The fact that homeopathic doctors and patients do claim there is a benefit he puts down to the human body’s power to restore itself when given the psychological boost of someone else’s concentrated concern and attention: the average half hour to an hour, rather than the typical eight-minute NHS GP consultation. “There was a time when old-fash-ioned family doctors used to hand out placebos but now they aren’t allowed to because it’s against medical ethics. Now it’s only the homeopaths who are allowed to benefit from the placebo effect.
“Homeopathy started out about 200 years ago at a time when conventional medicine was considerably more dangerous. At least they weren’t applying leeches.” Dawkins insists that phenomena including religion, myths, superstition and science need to be seen in their historical context. He quotes the science fiction author Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law, “any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
“But you can’t simply reverse that and say that because it calls itself magic now it must be future science.”
I am happy that finally such initiatives are taking place and being broadcast on national television…albeit on Channel 4.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
This game had the most scenic and awesome looking routes. Amongst the rides, you can choose to drive a school bus and the kids will yell when you drive recklessly. It was a riot.
(10) Prince of Persia
This game used to stress me out with the super long jumps and guards sneaking up on you. Never made it to the princess. If only it was a prince I was rescuing, I would've tried harder.
(9) Bejeweled 2
Mildly addictive for me but it used to annoy me to no end when a PC voice would declare loudly at the end of every failed level, "No more moves." I know that!!
(8) Mortal Kombat
Finish him...flawless victory! Still cracks me up. I have no idea why I enjoyed playing this game. I am not a big fan of combat games but this one was pretty entertaining. I even liked the movie and I had nightmares of the Scorpion character. Anything that moves in a snake like manner and shoots snakes through its palms is creepy!
(7) Street Fighters
I loved the fact that there were female characters to choose from. There was no blood and gore and every character had a different combat style. So I loved this game.
(6) Mario brothers
Who doesn't love Mario brothers? Even my mom would play this game and she had the tendency to lean in the direction of the jump. Okay I did that too.
(5) Minesweeper/Pearl Hunter
It took me a while to actually get the game but once I did there was no stopping me. But it is not as exciting once you figure it out. Nevertheless a great game to learn while growing up.
(4) Word racer
(3) Text twist
Oh man! There was a time when my entire lab was addicted. All of us would gather around a PC and play this game obsessively. The highest score ever was in the 200 thousands.
(2) Cubis 2
Love this game! It is something like Rubik's cube but not exactly. I have finished all the levels so I am hoping that yahoo games will come up with Cubis 3. Come on people!
(1) Guitar hero
You have to play it to believe it. It has to be one of the most addictive games ever. I was hooked after playing it just once. I actually bought Playstation 2 to be able to play GH!! I know it is nerdy to have guitar-controller skills (and no skills whatsoever when it comes to a real guitar). But it is the best simulated rock star experience money can buy. Plus it is a good insight into how complicated it really is to play a real guitar because the controller is the super simplified version of a guitar and it is still challenging.
None of the Wii games made the list because I haven't had the chance to try it out yet. But that be my fav list and now you know.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
The way that menstruation was seen during the 1700s was as a way of the body to get rid of impurities. So when menstruation ceased during menopause, what was thought to happen was that the blood remained within the body, clotting and stagnating ... The logical solution was the application of leeches — to a woman's genitalia, to her back, or to the nape of her neck, to try and remove this excess blood. — Dr Marilys GuilleminOuch! The good old days seem not so good anymore.
Okay so if you were a woman from the 18th century your options were (a) get a blood sucking leech stuck on your crotch or (b) eat two sugar pills (or whatever form they sold their sugar pills then) a day. I am sure that the woman without a leech stuck upon her crotch reported that she felt healthier than her leech therapy availing counterpart. So it wasn’t a surprise that homeopathic treatments became immensely popular.
Hahnemann came up with treatments based on the “laws of the similar”. It is something akin to ‘it takes a thorn to remove a thorn’. He came up with the idea that if you give the patient an extremely small amount of the substance that is causing the disease then you will get better. So if you were suffering from malaria and you go to the homeopath, s/he would give you an extremely diluted (no not plasmodium!) 18th century version of the causative agent of malaria. By extremely dilute, I mean that the substance is diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. In other words pure water.
Some of you might say that nobody with a sound mind would treat severe diseases like cancer or malaria with homeopathic medicine. From my personal experience, I know that people don’t always make the right call given the choice between Western medicine and herbal (no side effects) treatments. When I was about six years old, I got malaria and my father decided that I should take homeopathic treatment for the fever. I ended up with malaria so severe that I had to be admitted to a hospital for several days. Thankfully I was able to recover completely after I was taken to a proper doctor. But even so my father still gets homeopathic prescriptions for many of his illnesses.
When people resort to homeopathic medicines for conditions that are chronic or not treatable by Western medicine I deem it the same as praying. Although the medication does not make the patient better it also does not make the condition worse. However, there are also people who rely solely on homeopathic remedies and succumb to the disease when they could’ve made a recovery with allopathic treatment. I knew one such woman, who lived in my neighborhood and died of jaundice because she decided to take the homeopathy pills (solely) instead of allopathic medicine.
This is one of the many examples of the gullibility of the masses that blindly follow arcane ideologies. People don’t bother to assess the authenticity of the treatment that they choose. If it is popular it must work. The quack doctors who practice this stuff are licensed by government institutions giving B.H.M.S. and D.H.M.S. degrees to sell sugar pills to the sick that are in need of some real medicine. It is no wonder that homeopathy is not regarded as the quack medicine that it really is.
Many of you might even know people who swear by the benefits of homeopathic treatments…people who have recovered by taking homeopathic pills where allopathic treatments failed. These folks have simply experienced a placebo effect or have recovered as a result of the natural healing process of the body. Like they say, “If you take medicine to cure a cold it would take a week and if you don’t take medicine it will take seven days.” Our body is a complex system that has evolved with an arsenal of defense mechanisms to combat the myriad of bugs on its own. Most of the time, we are successful in warding off these menacing diseases without any medication. The amount of recovery time varies and sometimes people take homeopathic medicines after an initial round of allopathic medicine. The allopathic medicine can reduce the burden of pathogens and give the body a chance to recuperate and sometimes the recovery time is long. So although the relief was primarily due to the allopathic medicine, since the patient’s full recovery happens while taking the homeopathic follow-up treatment, the patient’s belief in homeopathic medicine is re-iterated.
Some people in developing countries also lend credibility to homeopathy because of its popularity in the West. This kind of thinking comes from the common misconception that the Western world is made up of (scientifically) progressive thinkers. Even though most of the cutting edge research comes from developed countries, the majority of the Western population is superstitious and largely ignorant about science.
The popularity of homeopathic medicine is such that it is accepted as a branch of major hospitals (affiliated with research centers). The problem with this is that its association with research hospitals is giving it undue credibility. Unlike the extensive research that backs all the allopathic drugs before they hit the market, most of the homeopathic medicines have not even been tested, partly because it is impossible to test something that doesn’t even exist in the final prescription as a result of the incredible dilutions. The few studies that claim to test homeopathic medicine do so without proper controls, statistics or scientific methodology or protocols. Batra hospital and research center is one such hospital in New Delhi that offers alternative medicine in addition to allopathic treatments. Here are some of the quotes from their website that advertises the benefits of homeopathic treatment.
Homoeopathy: Magic of minimum dose:
Homoeopathy has a unique approach for preparation of drugs in which the end result will contain only the ‘dynamic curative power’ of drug substance, devoid of any original crude substance. By a special mode of preparation called ‘potentization’, over 2500 homeopathic medicines are prepared from sources such as vegetables, animals, minerals, chemicals, etc. Hence homeopathic remedies with its ultra minute doses are non-toxic, absolutely harmless and bring about SAFE CURE.
Of course it is harmless, you are prescribing water!
Homoeopathy offers wonder treatment for Viral infections:
Viral infections such as common cold, influenza, measles, Chickenpox, mumps, viral hepatitis (jaundice), viral meningitis etc. are very well treated with homoeopathy.
Now this is where it gets scary. If they were selling drugs to treat common cold it would be nothing more than fraud. But they are making false claims about curing diseases that can be fatal if left untreated. They are murdering people.
So in a nutshell, homeopathy is a large scale fraud operation that needs to be thwarted by educating people and not associating such quack therapies with hospitals and research centers. The government needs to take an active role in condemning such medical malpractices instead of certifying these mass-murdering witch-doctors.
If you are interested in reading more about why homeopathy is quack medicine check out this article called Homeopathy: The ultimate fake by Stephen Barett M.D.
If you would rather watch a video then check out “Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural” by Brian Brushwood
(Also crossposted at my new blog for science writing)