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Indigestible Information

I have come to the opinion that food labels are a detriment to the public’s health.  The average consumer, rather, the overwhelming majority of consumers do not have the knowledge to actually use the information properly and as a result they eat less healthily than they would before the obtained the ‘nutritional facts.’  Many adverse effects stem from the nutritional label: foods that have completely different effects on the body are deemed of equal health-value because they contain the same amount of calories.  Fads begin to determine that some characteristics are healthy and people go scouring food labels looking for the unhealthiest product that still contains “no trans fat.”  How many poor fools woof down a bag of ‘0 trans fat’ potato chips and claim to be on a diet?

The law was passed in 1990 and obesity has risen every year.  I know that proves nothing, it’s a loose correlation at best but I offer it up only to show that we haven’t seen societal improvements in health in the past 20 years.

Could labels help?  Of course labels could benefit us but only if we were capable of weighing and interpreting the information, which the bulk of humanity will never be capable of doing.  I personally don’t make any food choices based on the label because I honestly have no idea how those numbers and percents actually register in my body, that is, what actual effect they will incur.  In fact, I would wager that the people who are actually capable of interpreting that information would know that information regardless of whether or not the food item was labeled with nutrition facts.  If you’re that in the know, you don’t need to be told what the nutrition content is every time you buy a can of green beans.  “What about different ingredients, like salt?”  If it’s salty, you can probably taste it.  If you’ve been eating a food-item and you’ve been feeling bad, bloated or downright ill then you should stop eating that food-item.  Many people, I’d wager, eat foods that their body doesn’t really enjoy digesting.  But because they aren’t explicitly told the food they’re eating may affect them adversely they don’t take that as a possibility.

Having access to information causes an illusion of control and a false understanding in people who lack both.

The manner in which information is conveyed can completely determine how the reader, watcher or listener interprets that information.  The nutritional label is presented as a tool to make us healthier and using it can seem to accomplish just that.  “I know calories are bad” (not necessarily true) “this has fewer calories than that” (actual available information) “therefore this is one is probably healthier!” (not necessarily true) This consumer applies limited information to a problem but because she’s being presented with the “nutritional facts” she believes her current knowledge is sufficient to assess the situation.  We may be better off without the information, left in a certain wonderment at the contents of the food, because then we might feel compelled to actually figure out what foods actually cause health in the body.

This can be applied to many different spectrums, and is a fundamental question for the modern world.  We blindly accept the notion that “information is good.”  We should always remain skeptical of both the information presented and our own ability to truly interpret that information.  Wonder can be a noble and productive feeling.


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A Brief Discourse on Economy, for Mike

To begin: “To make your point about scientists it is unnecessary to slander those who enable your scientist to live.”  – You are correct, that was poorly thought out.

But allow me to speak candidly: I don’t know of a better system of economics but I have begun to look at the capitalist system with greater scrutiny, if only to understand man a little better.

And it is this capitalistic sentiment you offered in your reply that I have begun to question in earnest.

“The ‘slave’ you describe not only has a standard of living that is higher than 90% of the world, but if you include all people who have lived in the past the current unskilled worker has a higher standard of living than 99.9% of all human beings who have ever lived, including Charlemagne. ”

While Americans may enjoy a great amount of material well-being our economy is not limited to Americans.  Our government has decreed that the American worker must have x-amount of value for his work (minimum wage) and must receive x-amount of goods, whether he labor or no (welfare, medicare, any social programs).  And yet, the market will not bestow extra value on labor.  In response to the demand that they overpay their laborers American companies go over seas to find labor cheap enough to keep them competitive in the market.  Our opulence as a nation, and the laws that enforce that opulence, hide from us the fact that our cheapest labor has been exported. We can’t have it back because we’ve lost the will to work it ourselves.  You might argue that the American is willing to work, only the companies have taken the jobs away; but that is false.  The American is willing to work but unwilling to work at the market value for his labor, which is the only actual value for labor.  Remember when unions used to be extremely powerful?  They’re not any longer because all of the ‘dehumanizing labor’ has been exported; they’ve got fewer battle to fight.  Allow me to be clear. I’m not claiming this is evil, per se.  Someone must do it.  I’m just pointing out that even in capitalism there is slave, or near-slave, labor.

Even so, even while our citizens sit propped up by social programs and minimum wages, very few are ‘richer than Charlemagne.’  That’s absurd.  We may have televisions, canned food, homes, etc.  but Charlemagne commanded life and death, was waited on hand and foot and could wage war.  His wealth was displayed in the labor he commanded not only in the possessions he owned.  All true wealth commands labor.  We are more comfortable than people of old, yes.  But material comfort is not synonymous with wealth.  Our poorer citizens aren’t wealthier than the average poor because capitalism has made the pie bigger.  Those citizens enjoy comfort because our industries have other peoples do the dirty work and our govt. ensures a minimum lifestyle of sorts.  One could say the Roman citizen who sometimes spent months at a time watching the fights in the coliseum resembles many of our citizens today.  After all, Rome was a vast empire that extorted vast amounts of labor from numerous peoples to fuel public well-being.

The only hope of ridding the world of slave labor, sweatshop, etc. is the mechanization of those jobs.  I doubt this will ever completely occur.  After-all, someone needs to make and run the machines, but hopefully that will require fewer men.

“Aside from capitalism the only other institution that has brought about leisure is slavery.”

This is roundly false.  Every civilization has possessed thinkers and consumers who do not labor for material goods themselves but command the labor of others.  Every feudal lord, ancient king academic or philosopher enjoys leisure.  They enjoy the labor of other men for the consumption of their material needs and can focus their labor on other matters.  Every society has a leisure class.

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The Boyfriend Pillow

Essentially, it’s a pillow shaped like a man’s torso and arm and the girl snugly fits in the middle.  The pillow is supposed to offer physical and emotional support.  Pretty hilarious.

My favorite line: “It keeps holding me all the way through. I think this is great because this does not betray me.”

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A Community of Learning

Last week my Algebra II class utterly failed at completing their homework assignments.  I reminded them of the harm their grades were suffering and how much worse it would get if they weren’t prepared for the test, but nothing seemed to get through to them.  Neither John nor Liana completed a homework assignment all week.  Well, they’re obviously not extremely interested in Algebra, but at the same time they aren’t overly concerned whether I approve of their actions.  It has been my experience that many times I push myself in the class because I want the approval of a teacher whom I respect.  I don’t see many ways I can really gain the students’ respect in the same way that my St. John’s professors gained my respect.  My kids only see me as a guy at the chalkboard and not as a member of a community.  If the students don’t like the subject, they write it off altogether.  I used to act in a similar fashion during high school but changed upon attending St. John’s.  At St. John’s and on a few rare occasions in high school, I would first seek the approval of my teacher and thus I would work hard at the subject he taught.  Soon enough I would begin to see the significance of the subject or develop a personal reason for working hard but often the respect for my teacher had to come first.

Respect must exist in the classroom, whether it can be gained solely through classroom performance remains a question for me, maybe it can.  What I do know though is that it definitely can come from the teacher’s presence within the student’s community.  When the student sees the teacher in the community he becomes a social figure as well as an academic figure.  Most kids will not become inspired through simple academic ability, but will more likely respond to social ability.  The connection will be vague but somewhere in their heads a teacher in good social standing, liked by many, will appear to the students to teach an important subject.  It’s in no way a necessary connection, I know.  Yet, I also know that the way high school kids gain their respective interests and passions isn’t a rational process.  I can look back and see how I gained my interests, and I can promise you it wasn’t because I was seeking out logically relevant interests.  I don’t even know if interests can be logical.  In any event the teacher must get his students interested in their subject.  Of course he should be able to explain the relevance of his subject, and this should offer sufficient grounds for interest.  But this doesn’t always happen, even if the subject taught is extremely important and one would profit greatly by mastering it.  My point is this reasonable method won’t always have the desired effect. A teacher could gain respect that way but he can also gain the respect of his students by having a respected position in the community.  Of course, if he were a respected member of society but a shitty teacher, he would soon lose the respect of his students.  But oftentimes a good teacher may lose the attention of his students because they don’t care about his subject.  A good social standing could work to heighten the interest of the students even before they enter the classroom.  (I realize I’m considering some possible assertions against this idea but not all possible problems.  Elizabeth disagreed with this notion yesterday and I’m trying to cover the grounds of her complaints.  If you have any, feel free to fire away.)

So my first assertion is: Teachers who live in the same community as their students and who enjoy respect in the community, will quickly gain the respect of their students.

My second assertion is: A teacher will necessarily enjoy a more prominent position in a community where learning and education are highly valued.

My third assertion is: To learn a student must be inspired, and fear of the teacher is the beginning of learning the teacher’s subject.

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These are photos I found while reading the news. I thought they were amazing and wanted to share them with you guys.  They were entered into a Wildlife Photo Competition sponsored by the BBC.  The picture of the wolf won.

Song Bird Conflict

A Wolf Hunting

Get off my territory!

Flea Navigates Ice Crystals

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A New Gym Enters the Axis of Evil

My gym pulled a fast one on me this week; they moved.  I show up to get a work out in and there is a little sign on the door “We’ve moved to La Plata Fitness.”  Granted, I didn’t go to the Gym last week because of Bob, but seriously, you think I would’ve seen a sign or someone would’ve told me like a month in advance?  Well, I wasn’t too distraught because I knew La Plata Fitness was just down the road.

Except when I arrived the sign did not simply read “La Plata Fitness” it read “La Plata Fitness, For Women.”  What the hell?  You have got to be kidding me! (these were my thoughts at the time)  I figured they maybe just haven’t changed the sign yet. So I walk on into the facility and it is nice, brand new machines and probably three times as large as my old gym.  I make my way to the front desk to make sure that this is in fact where I’m supposed to be.  At this time I am beginning to notice the complete lack of dudes on the gym floor.  The front desk clerk (quite manly in appearance) preempts any questions I have, “you one of those old Fit-Life people?  You go next door.”

Well, next door happens to be the La Plata Fitness “coed facility,” and it blows. I kept telling myself “separate but equal, just because they’re lesbians doesn’t make them better than you,” unfortunately the state of my surroundings screamed otherwise.  I can’t begin to describe to you the state of the men’s locker room, let’s just say the sign on the door stating “under-construction” was an understatement.  I’m pretty sure some poor sap moseyed on in and stepped on a land mine.  The guy who showed me the locker room calmly explained, “those will be lockers.”

I put my stuff on the concrete floor, changed into my workout clothes and got to work.  I will admit this little gym does have more equipment than my other gym, its just the décor is terrible, the music is slasher-metal (I don’t actually know if that’s a genre) and there is little rhyme or reason behind the placement of any given machine.

Exasperated I got through my usual work-out but couldn’t help noticing the pleasing aroma and delight to the eyes offered up by the Chick-fil-A right next door.  It really didn’t help my focus during the workout, I just kept yearning to taste that smell.  But I resisted and had my salad and tuna back at home…  It really tasted wonderful, I promise.

This is going to be one interesting semester at the gym, I guess you can’t win them all.

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Awkward Conversation at WaffleHouse

So while I was home this week I spent a couple hours one night at the local Wafflehouse.  I went there to read and recuperate from the day’s stresses and activities, but I only went once during my time there because I had one of the most awkward conversations imaginable.

I was sitting in my little booth reading away.  A couple booths over one of the waitresses was trying to get a game of spades going with some weird guy I had never seen before and a cute girl who I had seen a couple of times.  While we were playing we had a normal conversation, talked about who we were, what we did, etc.  Well, the pretty girl at one point exclaimed “you know, I just want to start having more intellectual discussions.  I get so tired of always talking about people’s social life.”  I agreed, and we went ahead and finished the spades game.

Well, after the spades game I went back to my table and got back to reading.  Ten minutes later pretty girl comes and plops herself down in my booth.  At this point I was pretty happy, because she was attractive, a psychology major at JMU and supposedly intelligent.  At the time I was reading the bible so she began by asking if I was Christian, and I followed up by asking if she believed in God. (and thus begins the conversation’s downward spiral.)  She answered my question with the following “I believe in science.”  The remainder of the conversation consisted of her staring at me blankly, maybe piping in now and again to say “oh, that’s interesting.”  Or, “well at least your not like other Christians, they’re so close minded”  (you can tell I held back very much of my opinion, and she assumed that just because I seemed intelligent, that I must be liberal)  In any event, it was terrible and awkward.  I couldn’t get her involved in the conversation, no matter how trivial I tried to make it.

The worst part is she wouldn’t leave!  It would’ve been very awkward if I had gotten up and moved to another booth, or asked her to leave so I could read again.  She just sat there blankly smiling and making an inane comment from time to time.  Finally I made up some excuse about going to see friends and just left.  How sad, she was very pretty.

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