Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

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Healthy Living Gone Too Far: The Absurdity of Cleanses

12.10.10

Living in Southern California – where some people literally become obsessed with eating healthy – it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about the various different cleanses that they do to rid their body of toxins and essentially control-alt-delete their homeostasis.  For the most part, I think that these are infomercial gimmicks at best that do very little at actually achieving their stated goals.

The most common for a while around here was the Master Cleanse.  (With a name like that, how could you go wrong?) For those venturing down this road of alternative detoxification, here’s what you do: do not eat anything for the duration of the cleanse except 6-to-12 glasses daily of a truly noxious-sounding elixir of fresh lemons, grade B maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

Yes, you heard it right: lemons, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper will scour clean your insides of those harmful toxins (not exactly which ones, though) and you’ll even lose weight — obviously, since all you’re ingesting is essentially a thick, spicy glass of fruit juice for 10 straight days and taking a daily laxative to make sure all those toxins get truly flushed out.

There will always be disputed evidence as to the effectiveness of these cleanses, but there is nothing truly conclusive that they do anything other than starve you and over-prepare you for a colonoscopy (for those of you trying this soon, do schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist so you can at least assure yourself of one benefit of this starvation trial).

I’ve heard many different outcomes from this regiment and they all fall into two categories:

I Feel Better

Okay, this is just a value statement that I can’t argue against.  If you feel better, that’s great.  But feeling fine doesn’t mean that your internal organs are in magical alignment or that there’s nothing wrong with you. You might still have high blood pressure, dangerous levels of cholesterol, and undigested meat in your gut even if you feel like you could jog up Everest without a jacket.  Since there’s no specific goal other than getting rid of toxins (now being called “free radicals” to make it sound more scientifically valid despite being especially vague) and also losing weight, which brings me to the second item:

I Lost Weight

Of course you lost weight!  You’re subsisting solely on fruit juice for a week and a half — you’re lucky you’re not in a coma. It doesn’t take a dietician to know that starving yourself triggers your body to slow down its metabolism, not speed it up; meaning that while you might be losing some weight, it’s probably just water weight and, if gone on for too long, it might include your own muscle as your body eats itself in order to survive.  Solid!

It turns out that the body is extremely competent at cleansing itself of toxins and harmful substances — your liver, lungs, and kidneys all include this in their daily job description.  And unless you’re overloading it with pure garbage like trans fats, heavily processed sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and other stuff that we know is bad for us but we tend to eat anyway, they’re going to continue to rid you of most of those toxins.

I sense that those organs will do a better job than 10 days of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.  (Nothing quite like subsisting on large amounts of sugar to clean out that pancreas.)


The Reality

If you want to cleanse yourself, just start eating healthy. Eat greens, raw fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and limit your intake of processed foods and products — trust me: you don’t need a laxative if you eat the right natural foods (see: prunes).

That’s it.  That’s the secret.

Most likely if you’re feeling good during/after the Master Cleanse, it’s not because of what you’re putting into your body; it’s what you’re not.

Photo courtesy of fo.ol’s Flickr Photostream and ahockley’s Flickr Photostream.

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Obama’s ‘State Secrets’ a Bigger Threat to Our Free Society than Health Care Ever Will

09.26.10

Those in the Tea Parties like to rally against government getting too big and usually cite the bank bailouts, the stimulus package, and the health care reform as tell-tale signs that Obama and the Democrats are leading us into socialism.

It seems that the size of government, regardless of what those programs intend to do or why they were enacted in the first place, trumps the content of the policy.  It’s a simple numbers game for them.  In their mind, the government has peaked that curve that tips us from capitalism into socialism in their own view of the world and that’s that.

But what about the real issue of government getting too big: the deprivation of American civil liberties. And it’s already been happening.  First under Bush with the warrantless wiretapping and torture of terror suspects and now with Obama’s declared execution of an American citizen without any formal charges or due process:

Obama’s now asserting a power so radical — the right to kill American citizens and do so in total secrecy, beyond even the reach of the courts — that it’s “too harsh even for” one of the most far-right War on Terror cheerleading-lawyers in the nation.  But that power is certainly not “too harsh” for the kind-hearted Constitutional Scholar we elected as President, nor for his hordes of all-justifying supporters soon to place themselves to the right of David Rivkin as they explain why this is all perfectly justified.

What’s a more egregious act of a too-powerful government: making everyone have health insurance or the ability for the president to kill Americans with total impunity?  Why aren’t more people on all sides of the political divide beyond outraged at this?!

Is it because Anwar Awlaki – an American citizen – is an alleged (not even accused, because there haven’t been formal charges even) terrorist and traitor?  Unfortunately it seems that a large swath of Americans – including most, if not all, of the GOP – feel that once someone is deemed a terror suspect, they lose all human rights — as evidenced by the support of torture, rendition, and imprisonment for indefinite amounts of time without trial, even for American citizens.

How anyone could be in favor of smaller, less intrusive government yet support any of these powers that the President has given to the executive branch lacks any and all intellectual honesty.  It’s downright baffling and oxymoronic.

It must be problematic for those on the right because their fostered hatred for all things Islam has them believing that all Muslims are “the other,” they’re not truly American – even if they are U.S. citizens – which lets them be okay with this because, after all, it’s not like Obama is attempting to assassinate Bubba Joe Thompson from South Carolina or something.  It’s Anwar Awlaki from New Mexico.  With a name like that and the government saying that he’s a terrorist, well, that’s all the evidence I need!

Sigh.

It’s all good when the President is using those extra-constitutional powers to get the bad guys when the bad guys aren’t you.  But what happens when some radical in your social, ethnic, or religious group ends up doing something awful and all of a sudden you’re lumped in with them and targeted by the government?  What then?  By then it’ll be too far gone to stop.

This is why it’s so dangerous to conflate Islamic, murderous radicals with all Muslims, of which they constitute a tiny minority.  We get these knee-jerk reactions that toss away our civil liberties that we fought so hard to gain centuries ago, all under the guise of security and safety and protecting the American way of life.

Unfortunately, it seems that by having Obama – who was elected to clean up government and end these atrocious violations of the Constitution – continue and expand them, it may be too late to change already.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Lea Steele.

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Why We Shouldn’t Stop Rev. Jones’ Quran Burning Party

09.08.10

Rising from the still-smoldering debate over the legitimacy of the Park51 community center is the Rev. Terry Jones’ proposed “Burn A Quran Day,” scheduled for this Saturday, September 11th.  Just like the name implies, from six to nine in the evening, people will gather to set copies of the Islamic holy text ablaze to show their opposition to the faith held by the radicals who attacked New York City nine years ago.

Jones’ plans have been met with considerable opposition of their own by just about everyone in the State Department and even from the military — General Petraeus warned that this very act could harm our efforts to control Afghanistan, even endangering our troops.

This hasn’t deterred Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center church.

Jones, who has about 50 followers, gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his small church declaring “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Quran-burning scheme attracted wider attention… The Quran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.

Religious freedom sure is an odd thing, isn’t it?  People want it when it suits them, but want ways around it when it doesn’t.  It’s part of the freedom’s brilliance and why it’s so vital to our Constitution.  Just like the Muslims have the right to build their mosque near Ground Zero, Jones and his own crew radicals have the right to burn some books.  Freedom of expression, of speech, of religion, however you want to slice it: they have the right to do this.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it an effective, worthwhile use of time.  Combating extremism with more extremism isn’t going to work.  Not to get all squishy, but you can’t beat hate with more hate.  You can’t beat ignorance with more ignorance.  You beat brutality with civility.  You overcome oppression with freedom.  You trump prejudice with acceptance.

What people don’t want to realize is that conflating all Muslims into radical terrorists is the same fallacy as Muslims condemning all Americans as infidels.  So, by blaming the entire religion of Islam for the terror attacks, Rev. Jones and his followers are responding to the mentality with which they disagree by adopting that exact mentality themselves. There’s very little in the way of logic going on here — it’s simply an “I’m right, they’re wrong” line of thinking.  No rationality required.

Another paradox is that these 50-odd people and their inflammatory plans for Saturday really could’ve just come and gone without much notice from anyone, except the media exploded this thing to the point where all levels of government voiced their opinions, it’s all over the news, all over the blogosphere.  It’s everywhere.  We could’ve all ignored Jones and his followers’ sad, unfortunate response to tragedy and they would’ve faded away without much of a whimper — no television stories for people abroad to see and misinterpret.

Although, that’s never going to happen — nor should it necessarily.  It is a news story, after all.  But does it require the amount of national exposure that it’s receiving?

People wonder why others hate Americans and then when snippets of news of Americans burning Qurans flood the airwaves, it’s not hard to see why they might be too fond of us.  Because just like how we only catch glimpses and read certain stories about what kind of people they are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and Palestine, you have to figure that people in those countries only catch glimpses and read certain stories about us, too.  And who knows what is being passed off to them as representative of Americans as a whole. Odds are that if there’s video footage of a bunch of Floridians burning Qurans gleefully, claiming that the entire faith is of the devil (remind you much of Ahmadinejad calling America the “Great Satan” at all?), that will make it over to those Islamic nations with which we’re firmly entrenched overseas.

While we can’t stop the Dove World Outreach Center from their Quran-burning plans, we can do our part to embrace our diversity and focus on remaining rational in the face of these highly emotional times.  Let them burn their books.  Because when has that ever changed people’s minds?  The beliefs aren’t in the books; they’re in people’s minds and hearts. They won’t accomplish anything good with their pointless, crude event, so why give them a soapbox any bigger than they already have?  Our efforts are best served doing something else, something productive, something positive.

If we continue to do more and more things that promote tolerance, acceptance, rationality, and – ultimately – positivity, we can outshine any blaze by the loud, radical outliers.

Image courtesy of Sydney Lea Steele — All Rights Reserved.  And no, it has nothing to do with this post other than it makes me happy.  And we need more of that in the world, right now especially.

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Religion: Anachronistic Perhaps, Yet Still Valuable

08.25.10

Andrew Sullivan:

If you see the world as something to be understood, you will seek to understand it through many voices, idioms and perspectives. To dismiss all religion as mere anachronistic bunk is a closure of the mind, not an opening.

While I agree, I don’t know that I agree in the same way that Sullivan means it.  I haven’t used that precise term – anachronistic – to describe religion before, but it’s relatively close to my feelings toward it.  I don’t know that my issue with it is that it’s old-fashioned so much as that the rigid structures of religion are itself closed-minded, ignoring new evidence and thousands of years of human development, ingenuity, and discovery in favor of some ancient texts.

At least, that’s the case for the Abrahamic religions.  One could argue that since their texts are so old, that they must be relevant and worthy if people are still worshiping them after all these centuries of new ideas and new religions have come to pass.

The same can’t be said for new faiths like Mormonism or Scientology.  Those followers intrigue me the most, especially the latter.  To think that people subscribe to a set of beliefs that include some pretty out-there sci-fi babble in an age where we have so much scientific evidence showing that there’s no way the universe is trillions of trillions of trillions of years old stuns me.

So where do I agree with Sullivan?

It’s precisely because those people stun and baffle me that these religions are worthy of studying and investigating.  We’re all so different yet we all have so many traits in common.  Why am I not religious while others are extremely devout?  Why do certain cultures tend to embrace such different faiths?  Or is it their faiths that determine different cultures? These religions, and the human race’s constant desire to believe, offers all kinds of information that we can dissect and study from sociological, anthropological, and psychological perspectives in order to learn how our minds and cultures evolve and function.

Just about everything involves religion.  Just glance at the news and try not to incorporate Islam, Judaism, and Christianity t0 understand what’s going on.  From the two wars we’re fighting in the Middle East to the already-existing mosque near Ground Zero in NYC to award speeches, it’s impossible to separate humans from religion.

And even for those like myself who follows no religious institution, my doing so is notable because of my lack of religious desire.  I admit that I frequently dismiss the concept of religion as anachronistic bunk, as Sullivan says, but I don’t dismiss its impact or its intellectual worth when it comes to understanding our world.   In that sense, I don’t see my beliefs as being a closure of the mind at all because one doesn’t need to give credence to religious faith in order to investigate our world so much as accept religion’s existence and how it affects people, places, and things.

I just keep it in its place along with other myths, legends, and fables that speak volumes about ourselves as self-conscious beings and human nature than they do anything related to defining our existence or explaining the afterlife.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Booyabazooka

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What Do Canada and Mexico Have that the United States Doesn’t? Equality

08.13.10

For being the self-proclaimed “land of the free,” the United States sure has gone out of its way to deny freedoms to a minority group of Americans with so many states pushing legislation to ban same sex marriages.

I understand that a lot of that comes from traditional values associated with religious beliefs; but, being founded on religious freedom and purposefully not having any state-endorsed faith, it seems that of the countries legalizing gay marriage, the U.S. would be one of those few.

Quite the contrary.  And much of the reason that we’re not comes from those religious beliefs being favored over civil freedoms — see the Mormon Church spending millions to help pass Prop 8.

The reality is that religious belief and civil marriage equality can co-exist.  One doesn’t negate the other.  Case in point:

Our neighbor to the south: Mexico legalized gay marriage.

Mexico? Really?  A country whose population is over three quarters Roman Catholic — a faith whose leader has assailed against gay marriage as even being a threat to creation.  A country that has more Catholics than any other country in the world, except for Brazil?  That’s fascinating.

So how did this happen?  Opponents can’t argue that it was purely judicial activism — it was legalized in Mexico City by the legislature.  Only this week did the Supreme Court uphold the law and also required all states to recognize the marriages that are only currently performed in the capital city. And the vote wasn’t even close, either : 9 – 2, in favor.

So, what’s our excuse?

Sure we’re not so liberal as Canada, who also has legalized marriage equality.  But we’re also not so homogeneous in our beliefs as Mexico, either.  (Although if all you do is listen to the current vitriol from the conservative groups, one might forget that America has no official religion.)  Why have we instead gone the completely opposite direction in creating laws that ban same sex marriage?

If Mexico, with it’s overwhelming number of Roman Catholics can elect a legislature that rules in favor of equality, then why in the world can’t we?

Photo courtesy of Sydney Lea Steele

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Girls Gone Wild Uses “She Was Asking For It” Defense, Wins

07.24.10

In the latest legal woes for Joe Francis and his “Girls Gone Wild” pornglomerate franchise, he’s actually gotten off scot-free.

There’s been quite the backlash for the St. Louis, MO jury that ruled against a 26-year-old woman – known only as Jane Doe – who was filmed topless at a bar back in 2004.  I have not seen the video, but apparently Doe can be heard saying “no, no” when asked if she would take off her top; she only bares her breasts when someone comes up from behind her and pulls down her top.  The jury argued that she gave implicit consent by being in the bar during the taping.

Jury foreman Patrick O’Brien:

“Through her actions, she gave implied consent. She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing.”

Perverts, gropers, and rapists around the country rejoice!  All you have to do to get away with what would normally find you arrested for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or even attempted rape — all kinds of stigmatized offenses that could haunt you forever  — is to just bring a camcorder with you.  Yeah, that seems fair.

Looks like the whole “she was asking for it” defense still works after all.  Unreal.

(H/T Jezebel)

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5 Ways to Deal with Facebook’s Privacy Policy

05.13.10

Many people are up in arms about the new Facebook privacy policy that defaults to making your information public.  This puts the onus on you to go through the dozens of options and select for yourself the level of transparency you want for your different personal info.

I do not understand this public outcry.  Look: social media is about transparency.  It’s about putting it all out there, letting it hang loose, and saying, “Hey, this is me.  Deal with it.”  It stems from a push against traditional media and advertising that forced people to fit into some sort of predetermined box of expectations.  This move toward transparency is liberating, not stifling. And if you don’t want to participate, no one is forcing you to post potentially embarrassing photos from last night’s party on your Facebook Wall when you know full well that you’re friends with your boss and other colleagues from work.

It comes down again – like so many current hot-button topics in American life right now – to personal responsibility.  We’ve become a society that is unhappy with virtually everything yet rarely accepting the fact that we are to blame for, if not the issue itself, then with not doing something about it ourselves to fix it.  Don’t like the idea of the world reading your status updates or knowing your birth date?  You have a few options:

  1. Spend fifteen laborious minutes that you’d otherwise be spending playing FarmVille and go through your privacy controls and make them fit your comfort level;
  2. Don’t put up anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want the world to see;
  3. Bitch and moan;
  4. Design your own non-evil Facebook clone called Diaspora*.

Or just pull the plug altogether and go off the grid, John Connor-T3-style — which I don’t recommend unless you want to be one of those people who complain about “those damned kids and their Internets” and get laughed at by those damned kids for being completely out of touch.

I’d say choose either #1 or #2.  If you’re programmingly inclined, give those guys at Diaspora* a call and get on that bandwagon.  Please, though, stop with #3.  Seriously.  You give far more sensitive information to companies around the world every single day and there’s no outrage.  You give your phone number to the local grocery store to get those in-store discounts.  You punch in your secret code every time you grab money out of your ATM.  You hand over your Social Security Number to apply for a credit card so you can afford to buy things from Amazon.com which stores all of your billing and shipping information and keeps track of all of your recent purchases so that it can suggest to you what you might end up liking to buy on your next visit.  And let’s not even start with Google’s GMail…

The truth is, you want people to comment with an “LOL!!!OMG!!” next to that photo of yourself doing a kegstand on Spring Break.  You want people to flood your Wall with “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!” on your special day and send you little digital gifts.  You want people to chime in on your latest genius observation of the world that you posted as your status update.  That’s the whole point of Facebook and social media in general.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t even have an account; you’d just have a big tackboard at home on your wall where you’d keep all of these gems to yourself for your own amusement.

And it looks like that’s option number five.