I Can Watch This All Day

I came across this video a few months back, so I know that it is not new. However, in case some of you have not seen it before I’m reposting it now, because it’s just one of those things that mesmerizes me. You’ll need both video and sound to fully appreciate it.

 

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated by scenes from documentaries on the production of marbles, or crayons, or whatever, when they are all siphoned into channels in a machine and systematically move through the machine to be boxed, or painted or whatnot. This video combines this bizarre fascination of mine with an excellent tune. I want to shake the hand of the guy who invented and built this machine. I am deeply impressed.

I’m Spoiling Myself This Year

I’ve told you before that I spent a good two years at this job without taking virtually any vacation breaks. But this year, with a paper in the works, I’m spoiling myself. We’ve sent our revised manuscript back to the reviewers and now, as I wait for their reply, I’m on holidays again. For four weeks. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. I haven’t had this much time off since Junior year in high school.

Unfortunately there will be no exotic or far distant travels in the cards this year. Today, I’m off to Italy to spend two weeks by the beach, which is just fine with me. Then I’m back to Germany, and it’s in the car to pop down to Romania to visit my boyfriend’s family in the countryside of Moldovia. I think I’ll be just fine.

And first on my relaxation list is this little beauty, that my colleague gave me as a submission/oh-my-god-youre-finally-going-on-vacation present. She knows me so well.

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I’ve been telling people for years, since I was 17 actually, that coloring is one of the most relaxing and therapeutic things there is. The only problem is that coloring books for children are often far too easy for adults, so they can become understimulating, boring and thus the therapeutic quality of it turns into frustration. What we need, I would say, is a coloring book for grown ups. And here it is.

It’s a marine inspired one too, because she knows my pet passion is marine biology. Aw bless. I might have to dedicate this one to PZ Myers when I’m through with it.

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But I’m definitely starting with this one.

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So many tiny little shapes. I’m so excited.

I Hadn’t Heard That Part of the Story…

A while back, video hit the internet of a police officer dragging a student out of her chair in class, throwing her across the room and handcuffing her. I had heard about it, heard the usual back-and-forth about how difficult it can be to make teenagers behave and sure but since when do we call cops to settle talking back in the classroom, and then waves of police brutality stories kept coming and this particular case was no longer in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

But then I came across this video released by the ACLU. It turns out, there was an extra level of gross to that story.

 

It turns out, the girl in the video was not the only one arrested in that classroom that day. Another classmate of hers spoke out, said “Y’all can’t do this!” and for that, she was also arrested and kept in jail that day. Arresting kids for misbehaving in schools, for misdemeanors as innocuous as “being obnoxious” and for children as young as seven, is now a thing in South Carolina. To say I’m disgusted is an understatement.

That black kids are arrested and criminalized for perfectly normal behavior at far higher rates than white kids goes without saying. But when it comes to how to fix it, to where to go from here, I honestly am drawing a blank. I can’t understand how it got to this point in the first place. The concept of arresting kids for talking back, that a culture could accept this, that any teacher would ever call in the police for such a thing and not be immediately fired and ostracized from their community, is all so alien to me that I don’t even know where to begin unpacking this mess.

Share the video and ask the ACLU how they plan to tackle this. As for me, I’m just going to make sure I never end up raising kids in South Carolina.

More Vegan Controversy Out Of Italy

Given the recent news regarding the potential criminalization of vegan parenting in Italy, I was hoping to get my father’s take on the whole thing when he called me last night. “By the way Dad”, I said, “Have you heard about this controversy in Italy about veganism?”

“Oh”, he replied, “So you heard about the thing with the dogs in Maccarese?”

Uhm, no. What?

So it turns out, there is another, entirely different vegan controversy going on in my country, and at the small beach town right outside of Rome where I usually spend my holidays at that. Apparently, the owner of a certain dog-friendly beach club is in a battle with the local animal rights group. The reason is he is a devout vegan, and he is so convinced in his veganism that he is also feeding his dogs an entirely vegan diet. The animal rights group says no, you can’t do that, and are trying to either convince him to start feeding his dogs properly, or to take them away from him. If your lifestyle, they say, makes it impossible to properly take care of your pet, whether because you live in a tiny apartment in the city, don’t have the money or time to care for them, or because you can’t bring yourself to purchase any animal products, you lose your right to care for that animal.

So, putting aside the sending vegan parents to jail for a minute, can we all at least agree on no vegan cats or dogs?

It is true that dogs have evolved a lot alongside humans, and thus have picked up a few mutations that have allowed them to shift from a carnivorous diet to a more omnivorous one compared to wolves. This means that dogs will survive longer on a vegan diet than cats will, who have remained obligate carnivores. However, dogs are still carnivores. They still have a very high protein requirement, a very low coefficient of fermentation (i.e. the indicator of how well they can digest plant matter), and they require nutrients which are not found in plant matter like our old favorite vitamin B12. Dogs fed on a vegan diet will be lethargic, develop fur problems, and will not survive long without very careful and artificial tinkering with their food, and even then they will likely not live healthily. A kitten fed on a vegan diet will die before adulthood. Animal abuse is punishable by law in Italy, and people who do not care for their pets appropriately will have them removed from their custody and, if the abuse is severe, they will face criminal charges. Once again, this animal rights group is seeking to demonstrate that malnutrition qualifies as animal neglect and thus are trying to remove this man’s dogs from him.

Personally, I find his position extremely ironic. Killing animals is wrong, for any reason, no matter how humanely. In fact, humans are capable of killing animals in a far more humane way than any predator will, which usually terrifies and disembowels its prey before eating it. But the slow torture of his “beloved” pets? That’s fine. That’s not unethical.

If you can’t bring yourself to contribute to the meat, egg or dairy industry in any way, get a rabbit. Or a guinea pig perhaps. I think that owning a pet is a privilege, not a right, and no one should keep any animal if they are not capable of giving them the comfort they deserve. I adore pigmy marmosets, for example, but I would never keep them as pets, because I cannot provide them with the quality of life that they would have in the wild. I also love dogs, but I do not have the space, time or home life stability necessary to ensure their happiness. I do not contribute to the seahorse pet trade either, despite their beauty. I find it incredibly selfish when humans try to twist their pets into something they are not just to satisfy their own egos, whether it is the creation of severely unhealthy breeds of dogs, ripping the claws and canines out of kittens because you don’t want them to scratch up your precious furniture (also illegal in Italy, by the way), chop off the tail and ears from your pitbull because fashion, keep a boa constrictor in a tiny tank because you’re so macho, or feeding carnivores a freaking vegan diet.

So, shelving the jail time for vegan parents for a moment. Can we all agree on this, for the time being? Stop feeding carnivores a vegan diet?

Condescending Quiz, But Fun

When I was challenged to take a quiz asking whether I could identify 19 languages by glancing at one phrase, I had to take it, even though it had the condescending title of “If You Can Identify 75% Of These Languages On Sight, You’re Probably A Genius”. I know it was meant to be clickbaity rather than condescending, but it still irked me some. Genius has nothing to do it, but rather how privileged you have been to have either been very international, or very educated in languages.

Still, I had to take it.

I got 16 out of the 19 right, which is 84% and technically makes me a genius by Buzzfeed’s standards. Obviously their standards are quite low.

So, anyone else want to test their language prowess? Tell me how you did!

Challenging False Masculinity

At the beginning of this video, I was a little worried, it starts off with a martial arts school for boys which teaches boys “what it means to be a man”. That phrase is usually followed up by disaster. In this case, however, it was followed by something that lifted my spirits enormously.

 

There was no “toughen up”, “don’t be a baby” or any of that such toxic masculinity nonsense. Instead, it is a martial arts school which offers emotional support, does not shame boys for having feelings but rather teaches them how to embrace them and express them in a healthy way, all on the backdrop of physical fitness and martial arts. There is no false dichotomy in this world between tough emotionless fighters and soft, cheesy pink bunny rabbit-style pushovers. A boy who is not ashamed to cry can also be tough. A boy can find a supportive community in the context of martial arts. Boys can bond with their fathers in a healthy way, both physically and mentally.

I love this. More of this please.

A Real Role Model in the Olympics

The other day, I posted about the unfortunate rash of quackery that has infiltrated swimmers competing in the Olympics. Today, however, I want to talk about someone whom, I hope, will become a role model and inspiration.

Outrage ensued on the internet when people saw that Mexico sent Alexa Moreno to compete in the Olympics in gymnastics. Was it perhaps because she said something outrageously offensive, racist or homophobic? Was it because she was endorsing some form of quackery, or was found to be taking performance-enhancing drugs? No, of course not. It was because she looks like this.

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And no, the problem was not that she has some badass muscles. According to the internet, she’s too “fat” to be a gymnast, and so she was bombarded with haters and trolls.

I’m glad to see that Twitter (of all places) fought back against the body shaming. The criticisms were of course groundless, she was good enough to qualify for the Olympics for heaven’s sake, that means that her body type did not stand in the way of her talent. Instead, I’m ecstatic that she qualified and competed, because it means that there is finally someone out there who shows everyone that developing curves does not mean the end of your dreams.

I was never into gymnastics growing up, but I had a few friends who were. They all started before puberty, and they all loved it. However, when they started to reach that crucial age, a couple of my friends were developing a chest and hips. They were all quite short, all at the same level of talent, if anything one of the girls who was becoming curvy was slightly better than the rest. However, when their trainers saw that they were not going to remain slender framed for the rest of their lives, they were told that, most unfortunately, they did not win the genetic lottery on this one. They were told that their curves would make them most ill-suited to continuing gymnastics, regardless of their muscle tone, and that they really should consider exploring other sports. One of my friends was devastated as she watched her slight teammates continue without her. She might have been the only girl I ever met who disliked having breasts as a teenager, when most other girls were stuffing their bras with toilet paper and eying her with envy. It took her years into adulthood to finally accept and be proud of her (by most standards excellent) figure.

When I look at Alexa Moreno, I think of her, and of how many other girls will look at her and know that puberty does not necessarily mean the end of their dreams. They might not all end up Olympians of course, but most children don’t in any sport. The simple fact that they have someone to look up to, and that maybe they will not feel so ostracized, or be excluded just because they develop hips and breasts, and can continue doing a sport that makes them happy, that’s already a huge positive to come out of these Olympics.

So, if you want to emulate someone in these Olympics, emulate Alexa Moreno for defying stereotypes, and not those silly swimmers for covering their backs with unnecessary bruises.

Vegan Parenting and an Italian Controversy

I don’t think there is any way to post about this subject, and my thoughts on it, without getting into trouble in the comments. Oh well, here goes.

Recently, an member of the very conservative Forza Italia party proposed a law that would sentence parents to 1-2 years in jail for not providing a balanced diet to children under 16. As the article I found written in English phrases it:

Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party wants to see parents who feed children under 16 a vegan diet jailed for up to a year.

That sounds both hilarious, and a little extreme. So, I went in search of a more detailed article from Italian news outlets, and found a decent article on the subject in La Reppublica. I feel that a little clarification is needed before I comment on the topic.

First of all, the law does not specifically mention veganism. The wording of the proposal is as follows:

[la legge] rende penalmente perseguibile chi “impone o adotta nei confronti di un minore degli anni 16, sottoposto alla sua responsabilità genitoriale o a lui affidato per ragione di educazione, istruzione, cura, vigilanza o custodia, una dieta alimentare priva di elementi essenziali per la crescita sana ed equilibrata del minore stesso”

Translation: [the law would] render punishable by law those who “impose or adopt for a minor under 16, who is under their parental responsibility or to them entrusted for reasons of education, instruction, care, vigilance or custody, a diet lacking in essential nutrients for the healthy and balanced growth of that same minor”.

While the law itself does not refer to veganism in particular, but rather to any diet which would lead to malnourishment, it is clear that the politician in question has her sights set on veganism. When asked about it, she talks about “radicalized” parents who impose diets which are far too restrictive to the healthy growth and cognitive development of their children, and mentions the essential nutrients often lacking in a vegan diet as her prime example. While she has no objection to informed adults making their own decisions, she says, it is a different matter entirely when those decisions impact the health and safety of children.

This attitude also does not come out of the blue. Veganism is definitely on the rise in Italy, and with it there have been many children hospitalized for malnutrition. One pediatrician in Rome saw three babies hospitalized for severe B12 deficiency in the past year alone. A two year old in Belluno was hospitalized for severe malnutrition, including calcium and B12 deficiency. A three year old girl in Genova had to be resuscitated after she was hospitalized, once again, for a severe B12 deficiency. I personally know someone who’s child almost died from a B12 deficiency. Of course, veganism is not the only kind of diet that can lead to such a severe impact on the health of children, but it is certainly something that is causing a lot of talk in Italy, given that the vegan fad is such a new arrival to the country.

So, here’s what I think about it. I have a controversial statement to make on the topic. As hard as it may seem to accept, the fact of the matter is, veganism is not the ultimate healthy diet. I’ll say it again.

Veganism is not the healthiest diet for humans

[Read more…]

Quackery Is Everywhere

I’ve been going on a bit of a quack-binge in my posting recently, with a few more to come I think. Yesterday I talked about how, sometimes, you shut up rather than keep arguing for science-based medicine, particularly when faced with someone who is terminally ill.

But then I come across this article in the Guardian, and my blood starts to boil again. Quackery really does infect everyone, including the Olympics.

 

Why are so many Olympians – mostly members of Team USA – sporting big red circular marks on their bodies? The simple answer is that they are fans of “cupping” – an alternative health technique that involves pressing hot jars on to the body. This creates suction, which is claimed to increase blood flow to those areas. The swimmers and gymnasts who use it say it helps relieve soreness in their battered bodies.

It would certainly help relieve overburdened wallets, but there is no evidence it does anything else. Eating jam out of those jars would probably have a more significant physical impact, though it might not be the most nutritionally savvy strategy.

 

Oh for Heaven’s sake. This is really a testament to how pervasive woo is in our society. That these athletes, who have access to top medical professionals, would also be taken in by this alt-medicine garbage, just makes me sad. Not to mention the fact that their circular burns are lending cupping a lot of legitimacy: if the Olympians are all doing it, and they have access to such excellent health care, there must be some benefits to it amirite?

The Guardian article, eventually, takes the stand that there is really little harm done. It is an innocuous procedure, and if it helps them get over the immense stress that invariably accompanies participating in the Olympics, then who are we to judge?

Personally, I don’t love this attitude, but I also don’t want to put too much responsibility on the athletes for educating the public. They are lending legitimacy to the practice, yes, but I do not think it is their job to parent the masses in the benefits of science-based medicine. Rather, I don’t like the Guardian’s attitude for two main reasons. First of all, I disagree that there is absolutely no harm or pain to cupping. Any unnecessary burns and bruises are preferably avoidable, and on some occasions the procedure can go wrong. But mainly, I think that the bilking of money from anyone, Olympians or otherwise, for a placebo is dishonest and should be called out more strongly.

I have posted before on the harm of the placebo effect. I mentioned the point of perpetuating lies from a medical doctor’s standpoint, but I want to also address this from the practitioner of the placebo’s standpoint as well. Often I’ve been told that real homeopathic “doctors”, or real and responsible chiropractors or cupping therapists, would never tell their patients to seek their alt-medicine treatment for serious conditions, i.e. conditions that won’t improve with a placebo. Essentially, that the proper alternative-medicine types kind of sort of know that their stuff is mostly working through the placebo effect. Well, isn’t that almost worse? You are charging a fortune, often far more than the cost of the real medicine version of the treatment, for a sugar pill or a hot jam jar to the back. If I decided to make little glass bottles filled with water, and got rich selling them online as a headache remedy, wouldn’t all of you call me out and tell me I’m a dishonest fraud? Or will you write articles saying “Well, if the Olympians are taking it and it helps them be less stressed, then no harm done”. Fuck that! I am cheating these athletes out of their money, that is harm done!

Then again, that’s my opinion. According to the commenters on the article itself, the piece was too dismissive and harsh.