I Did Not Know That

Local columnist John Kelly asked readers to tell about “common knowledge” that they somehow missed.  Some examples:

A reader named Andrea said she was raised in Upstate New York and didn’t visit Washington until she was 21. Growing up, she would hear about artifacts that were being put “in the Smithsonian.”

Wrote Andrea: “I had always thought that the Smithsonian was that tall pointy thing that I had seen pictures of in textbooks — you know, the Washington Monument — and wondered how it all fit in there. I’m not sure when I was disabused of this idea, but to this day I almost always accidentally call the Washington Monument the ‘Smithsonian’ in my head before pointing it out to people — and identifying it correctly — out loud.”

A reader I’ll call “Jan” has had her driver’s license for 35 years. “I understand how cars work and am a good driver,” she wrote. “However, I only learned from my husband a few years ago what those little white lights on the rear of a car were: the back up lights. . . . I keep wondering what else I don’t know.”

Frederick’s Annie Hughes confessed that until about five years ago, she did not know that thunder is the sound lightning makes. “I am very embarrassed to admit that fact,” she wrote. . . .

Laurel’s Charlie Goedeke calls himself “a highly trained modern engineer” who has always enjoyed classical music. “For years I listened to and appreciated the music of Chopin — as in ‘Chopping,’ with a silent g — on recordings,” Charlie wrote. “At the same time I was vaguely aware of the existence of another composer, ‘Showpan,’ heard often on the radio. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s, when a friend was asked to play a Chopin piece on our piano, that the connection between the two finally clicked.”

Annandale’s Jane Pacelli said that she was baffled for years by two words that seemed to have similar, if not identical, meanings: “The word ‘subtle’ (presumably pronounced SUB-tul) was often seen in print but never heard in conversation,” she wrote. “Its twin was pronounced SUTT-el (and presumably spelled ‘suttle’) and never seen in print.” . . .

One day when he was in his 10th-grade biology class, Germantown’s Vince Opperman listened to the teacher answer a student’s questions about blood transfusions and how important our RH factor is when getting blood.

“This seemed odd to me, not having done my homework,” Vince wrote. “So I asked: ‘What does our age have to do with it?’ Brought down the house.”

via Day 2 of ‘I Did Not Know That’: So-called common knowledge – The Washington Post.

We’ve been kind of serious around this blog for awhile, and a jolt of humility is good for all of us.  Under the anonymity of the internet, what are some things like these that you should have known but just didn’t?

Antibiotic woes

In today’s scientific livestock industry, cattle are often given antibiotics. Not as medicine but “to fatten them up.”  Apparently the drugs kill beneficent bacteria in the animal’s digestive system that causes them to put on weight.  Now the light has dawned in the minds of some medical researchers.  Could the heavy use of antibiotics among human beings be a factor in our obesity problems?  Are we fattening ourselves up like drugged cattle in a feed lot?  See Early use of antibiotics linked to obesity, research finds – The Washington Post.

In other antibiotic news, a “superbug“–a strain of bacteria completely resistant to all known antibiotics killed six people at the National Institute of Health’s Clinical Center.  The linked article estimates that 6% of American hospitals are infested with this thing.  (This doesn’t seem to be a case of what scientists have been worried about, bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotics because of their overuse and evolved into something that cannot be killed.  [That wouldn't be evolution, by the way, just natural selection, which I don't think anyone denies.  Faster animals outrun predators, animals adapt, and the fittest do survive.  What Darwin did was insist that natural selection eventually turns one species into another.]  Anyway, this superbug is normally one of those friendly bacteria that inhabits our bodies, but when a person’s immune system goes wrong, it turns into a monster.

The great soda grants

George Will describes how a stimulus program that became part of Obamacare shelled out millions of dollars worth of grants to lobby lawmakers against soft drinks:

Because nothing is as immortal as a temporary government program, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a creature of the stimulus, was folded into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working through the CPPW, disbursed money to 25 states to fight, among other things, the scourge of soda pop.

In Cook County, Ill., according to an official report, recipients using some of a $16 million CDC grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” According to a Philadelphia city Web site, a $15 million CDC grant funded efforts to “campaign” for a “two-cent per ounce excise tax” on SSBs. In California, an official report says that a $2.2 million CDC grant for obesity prevention funded “training for grantees on media advocacy” against SSBs. A New York report says that a $3 million grant was used to “educate leaders and decision-makers about, and promote the effective implementation of . . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.” The Rhode Island Department of Health used a $3 million grant for “educating key decision-makers to serve as champions of specific . . . pricing and procurement strategies to reduce consumption of” SSBs. In government-speak, “educating” is synonymous with “lobbying.”

Clearly some of the $230 million in CDC/CPPW anti-obesity grants was spent in violation of the law, which prohibits the use of federal funds “to influence in any manner . . . an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.” But leaving legality aside, is such “nutrition activism” effective? . . .

Research indicates that overweight individuals have “reasonably close” to accurate estimates of the increased health risks and decreased life expectancy associated with obesity. Hence the weakness of mandated information as a modifier of behavior. A study conducted after New York City mandated posting calorie counts in restaurant chains concluded that, while 28 percent of patrons said the information influenced their choices, researchers could not detect a change in calories purchased after the law.

Other research findings include: A study of nearly 20,000 students from kindergarten through eighth grade found that among those with easy access to high-calorie snacks in schools, 35.5 percent were overweight — compared with 34.8 percent of children in schools without such snacks. Nutrition policy is replicating a familiar pattern: Increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco mostly decrease consumption by light users, not the heavy users who are the social problem and whose demand is relatively inelastic.

The robust market in diet books, weight-loss centers, exercise equipment, athletic clubs, health foods — between 1987 and 2004, 35,272 new food products were labeled “no fat” or “low fat” — refutes the theory that there is some “market failure” government must correct. But as long as there are bureaucrats who consider themselves completely rational and informed, there will be policies to substitute government supervision of individuals for individuals’ personal responsibility.

As the soft paternalism of incentives fails, there will be increasing resort to the hard paternalism of mandates and proscriptions. Hence the increasing need to supervise our supervisors, the government.

via George Will: Why government needs a diet – The Washington Post.

Another thing, besides it being illegal for the government to fund efforts to lobby the government.  Who is getting these grants, and how are they spending that $15 million?  Educating  policymakers should require some handouts, a PowerPoint set up, and maybe some coffee and doughnuts.  How could that cost $15 million?

A stolen Cranach painting has been recovered

Lucas Cranach’s painting “Madonna under the Fir Tree” is one of his loveliest works.  It hung in the Cathedral of St. John in what was then Breslau, Bohemia, which later became Wroclaw, Poland.  During World War II, what with allied bombing and the predations of the Red Army, which essentially destroyed the city and razed the Cathedral–just two days before the armistice ended the war!–the population went to great efforts to protect the painting.  But after the war a priest who was also an art expert hired to restore the painting switched it with a forgery and made off with the original painting!   It eventually fell into the hands of an anonymous  Swiss collector who recently died, bequeathing it to his local church.  Anyway, this was all uncovered just last March and the painting has been given back to Poland and installed in the rebuilt Cathedral.   The whole tale reads like a novel and it’s summarized here:    The History Blog » Blog Archive » Cranach Madonna stolen by priest returned to Poland.

Thanks to Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren for alerting me to all of this.

But just look at this painting:

http://cyberbrethren.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Screen-Shot-2012-08-23-at-10.16.29-AM.png

And just look at this detail of the face of the Mother of Our Lord gazing down at her Son:

http://cyberbrethren.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Screen-Shot-2012-08-17-at-7.29.50-AM.png

 

 

The Akin fiasco

So Todd Akin, a six-term Congressman running for the Senate in Missouri, defended his belief that abortion should not be allowed for rape.  He told the TV interviewer that pregnancy from rape is very rare and went on to cite a bit of lore that the very trauma of rape makes pregnancy less likely, saying in a “legitimate rape”  “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

This comment has produced a huge amount of outrage.  He is saying there can be a “legitimate rape”!  Rape is a means of birth control!  Rape isn’t so bad!

Now he didn’t mean any of that, and he hastened to explain, to take back his clumsy comment, to apologize for seeming insensitive.  He was probably completely wrong about the effect of trauma upon conception, but that would surely be a mistake of fact, rather than a pro-rape, anti-woman conviction.

But the statement played into the media narrative of the Republican “war on women.”  Then the Democrats pounced.  Jumping from what Rep. Akins said to what all Republicans supposedly believe, Democrats have been saying that Republicans are anti-woman.

Whereupon Republicans turned against their own candidate!  The Republican National Committee stopped funding Rep. Akin’s campaign.  Republican leaders are pressuring him to step down.  Mitt Romney is leading the charge.

Republicans really need a Senate victory in Missouri if they want to win a majority in that governing body.  And the Romney campaign is scared of the fallout.  The Republican platform endorses the Human Life Amendment which would prohibit abortion, saying nothing about exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother.  Liberal pundits are now calling that the “Akin amendment.”  The pro-life conviction that since life begins at conception, the child should not be executed for the father’s crime, is twisted and ridiculed.

So what do you think about this?  Is Akin being treated unfairly, or is what he said evidence of an anti-woman ideology?  Is the Republican Party feckless in not defending him and in trying to throw him under the bus?  Or does Akin need to be sacrificed for the good of the party?  Or what?

via Mitt Romney urges U.S. Rep. Todd Akin to quit his Senate race | Nation/World | Detroit Free Press | freep.com.

We waste 40% of our food

Our food supply is so cheap and abundant that we can afford to throw 40% of it away.   Then again, it’s not so cheap and abundant everywhere and for everyone.

Each year, about 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten. It’s just tossed out or left to rot. And that’s a fairly large waste of resources. All that freshwater and land, all that fertilizer and energy — for nothing. By one recent estimate, Americans are squandering the equivalent of $165 billion each year by rubbishing so much food. . . .

1) Farming: Roughly 7 percent of the produce that’s grown in the United States simply gets stranded on fields each year. Some growers plant more crops than there’s demand for, to hedge against disease and weather. Some produce goes unpicked because it doesn’t meet standards for shape and color. At times, perfectly fine crops go unharvested after food-safety scares, such as the FDA’s salmonella warning in 2008. Fluctuating immigration laws in states like Georgia can also create shortages of farmworkers, which can leave food unpicked.

2) Post-harvest and packing: After crops have been gathered from the fields, farmers tend to cull produce to make sure it meets minimum standards for size, color, and weight. “One large cucumber farmer,” the NRDC report notes, “estimated that fewer than half the vegetables he grows actually leave his farm and that 75 percent of the cucumbers culled before sale are edible.” If there’s a culprit here, it’s our high aesthetic standards for food.

3) Processing and distribution: Plenty of food gets trimmed in the manufacturing stage, though much of it is inedible anyway. Still, there’s also a fair bit of avoidable waste. Technical malfunctions in processing and refrigeration are one big factor. Food can sometimes sit too long at improper temperatures and spoil. Another issue is that stores often reject shipments — and it’s often difficult for distributors to find a new taker. After all, it’s not as if food banks can always find a home for a truckload of rejected beets.

4) Retail and grocery stores: Grocery stores are another huge source of rubbished food — with the USDA estimating that supermarkets toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone each year. But waste is also seen as the cost of doing business. Stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out the remainder than look empty. Supermarkets will also winnow out produce that’s in subpar condition, since few shoppers want to buy an apple that’s all bruised up.

There’s also the issue of “sell by” expiration dates. The report cites one industry estimate that each store throws out, on average, $2,300 worth of food each day because the products have neared their expiration date. Yet most of this food is still edible. In many states, it’s still perfectly legal to sell food past its expiration date. Many stores would just prefer not to — it looks bad. “Most stores, in fact, pull items 2 to 3 days before the sell-by date,” the NRDC report observes.

5) Food service and restaurants: About of all wasted food comes from households and food-service establishments. In restaurants, a good chunk of food is lost in the kitchen. And, on average, diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten. The report notes that portion sizes are a big reason for this, as portions have ballooned in the past 30 years. Restaurants also try to keep more food than they need on hand to make sure that everything on the menu is available. What’s more, chain restaurants have inflexible rules that require perfectly good food to be tossed. McDonald’s, for instance, requires fries to be thrown out after seven minutes. About one-tenth of fast food gets junked this way.

6) Households: This appears to be the big one. According to various estimates, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost the average family between $1,365 to $2,275 annually. A big factor here, the NRDC report notes, is that food has become so cheap and readily available. So, most people reason, what’s the big deal if some of it gets tossed? The report also notes there’s a great deal of confusion around expiration labels, which tend to be confusing and often prompt people to throw out food prematurely. (The British government has recently moved to revise these standards to make them less perplexing.)

7) Disposal: Not all discarded food is equal. The report estimates that only 3 percent of thrown-out food in the United States is composted. Most end up in landfills, where they decompose and release methane, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas. In fact, about 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions comes from landfill food. Composting or even technologies to capture methane could reduce that.

via How the U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year.

Is our practice of wasting so much food a sign of prosperity or decadence?  abundance or irresponsibility?  Wasting things has always been seen as a vice.  What if that 40% were put to use?  If vegetables aren’t pretty enough for the grocery shelves, maybe we could at least make ethanol or something out of them!


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