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So I was bored at dinner and ended up watching a … documentary? Drama? Reality show? It was about the U.K.’s fattest man and the surgery he requires to save his life.

Now in this regard, I’m known by many to be quite ruthless and unrelenting. Yes, I understand there’s a psychological aspect that makes it difficult for people to “stop eating” or get into shape. Difficult, but not impossible. To me, it’s always an excuse. This morbidly (literally – he’s going to die) obese man lies there crying about how he hates himself and how he looks. Hmm. And then he says it’s not his fault he costs tax payers over 100,000 pounds a year in health care costs because “(he was) let down by the health system that allowed him to get so unhealthy”. Wow. Take some damn responsibility. This is why I’m particularly ruthless about health issues. People don’t want to take responsibility. Are you trying to say there aren’t people who have greater hardships than you? That you are the only person in the world who has any suffering, and therefore are excused for your actions? I was in constant pain from stomach cramps when I started cutting by eating only one small meal a day (and I was 98kg), but you don’t see me costing Australia $100,000 a year (or, to use the exchange rate, $151,807), nor crying about it on T.V., and least of all claiming that it’s somebody else’s fault.

Anyway, hate me or agree with me on that part. That’s my little rant. I’m not completely apathetic – I’ve helped a few people get into shape, improve their body image and boost their confidence. I enjoyed doing it because these people took responsibility for their lifestyles and had the motivation to change.

Rant aside, the show itself raised a few things about nutrition that are downright wrong, leading me to believe part of the obesity problem is not just overeating, it’s the fact that nobody knows enough about nutrition.

Now, a lot of this info I’ve said before in previous posts but this is a nice little list to summarise it.

1. Mr. Obese’s caretaker makes him three meals a day of anything he wants to eat. She says “it’s very healthy, hardly any fat in it at all”. Let me get one thing straight: fat is not bad. Saturated fat is bad, yes, but fat usually comes with both saturated and unsaturated fat components. You need unsaturated fat to improve your cholesterol levels.

Let me lay some academia on you. I’ll quote the first line of a Harvard study for you:

It’s time to end the low-fat myth.

Plain and simple.

2. Carbs (especially simple carbs) are your enemy. The full article (mentioned above), which I can no longer find but I used in an assignment for university, put up some interesting statistics. Some time ago (exactly how many decades I cannot remember) the US was consuming a much higher amount of fat but had a very low diabetes and obesity problem. The the whole “low fat” craze kicked in and a lot of fat was removed from the US diet, to be replaced by carbs. Simple carbs. Those of you who have read my other nutrition posts should know by now – simple carbs are practically the worst thing you can eat besides pure trans/saturated fat. Lo and behold, with a decrease in fat intake and an increase in carbs, the US now sits at a significant amount of type 2 diabetes and obesity cases. Why? Because fat isn’t bad. Simple carbs are, and too many calories are. Yes, fat has 9 calories per gram as opposed to 4 from carbs and protein, but you don’t eat as much fat as you eat carbs.

Plus there’s glycemic index to think of and the insulin response. Carbs are particularly responsible for diabetes because of the insulin response. I’ve mentioned this in more detail in another post if you’re interested in reading.

3. This one actually came out of the mouth of the doctor who was meant to operate on Mr. Obese. I don’t know if he was being melodramatic for the camera or genuinely ignorant (let’s hope not the latter – he is, after all, a doctor). Basically, he said that when someone got to Mr. Obese’s size, they couldn’t lose weight because “he can’t get out of bed so he can’t burn any calories and therefore anything he eats will already be too much”.

Let’s get this straight: you are always burning calories. Even when you’re sleeping, you burn calories. In fact, studies have shown that you burn more calories sleeping than you do when being sedentary (such as watching T.V.). I’ve heard people adamantly reject the idea that you can burn calories while just lying still, to which I yell “idiot” and direct them to a basic physics book explaining thermodynamics. Think of it this way, unless you stop every single organ in your body from functioning, they will require energy to operate. Your brain, in fact, consumes about 20-25% of your calories, and some have claimed that “thinking really hard” can increase the amount of calories your brain burns (though only by a little). It is interesting though because there aren’t that many overweight professors compared to skinny ones.

Anyway, to be more technical, the bare minimum calories you need to keep your organs operational and stay alive is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). A larger person will have a larger BMR. Therefore, Mr. Obese could lose weight by eating below his BMR, which is likely to be very high anyway. Apparently, he was consuming over 20,000 calories a day (I find that amazing because I was struggling to eat over 3,500 for my bulk). Not only is it annoying that I can’t even afford to eat the kind of food he was eating (for which the government paid whereas I have to work), but the simple medical fact is that if you wired his mouth shut and gave him only water, he would lose weight. Now that’s a bit extreme but the point remains, Mr. Doctor was wrong to say that it was impossible for him to lose weight and that the only possible option was a 50/50 surgery.

Then again, considering Mr. Obese’s personality and aversion to responsibility, it probably would have been very difficult to put him on a diet, especially considering he failed many diets in the past. I mean, it’s probably very difficult to stop a bed-ridden man from eating, right? He can only really reach whatever you lay in front of his face, but, you know.

Sigh.

 

Has anyone else (especially in Australia) noticed that all our milk cartons spontaneously developed “Permeate Free” labels? Seems some genius came up with the idea of labelling their milk as permeate free, to which every single other milk company responded by doing the same. Simple marketing and economics.

However, I disapprove of the entire hype and I’m here to call it for what it is – a load of bull (pardon the pun). The onset of this permeate free craze seems to be fuelled by some sort of misconception that permeates are a cheap waste product that is added to milk. It is not. Permeate comes from the milk itself. What you buy, regardless of whether or not it’s permeate free, is still 100% milk product.

What is permeate specifically though? Well it’s basically a collective term for the lactose, water, vitamin and mineral components of the milk. It is greenish due to the high vitamin B content.

So what was the supposed “scandal”? Milk companies were adding it to milk. Or should I say, re-adding, since it came from the milk in the first place. This process is done for standardisation of nutrient levels. The nutrition table on your milk can only be accurate because permeates are used to keep the milk at that level.

There’s a lot of rubbish about it being a “waste product”. If anything, it’s the healthy part of milk.

To be honest, I was surprised when I found out that people were still taking this seriously. I’m not even kidding. This isn’t my sarcastic, mocking, borderline cynical humour. I really did have no idea that there were people out there who are so … under-informed, to put it nicely. Although, in hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Humans have a capacity for ignorance that seems boundless.

But let’s push away the nonplussed disbelief for a moment and look at this academically. Let’s pretend you’re not a scammer making money off the foolish; let’s just say you really do believe in the doomsday predictions. Here’s why you’d be wrong.

Stone of the Sun

 

Presenting the Mayan Calendar. Wait, no. That’s the Aztec Stone of the Sun! Hmm, so much for credibility. 

The Mayans never predicted a doomsday. So what is 2012 then? Well the Mayans used a few different calendars to mark different things; the “Calendar Round” was a 52 year calendar used to document the approximate lifetime of an individual, while the “Long Count” was a calendar for recording historical events over a long period of time. The Long Count has 5,126 years in it, and began in 3114 B.C. That makes 2012 the end of the first cycle of this particular calendar.

Cue unfounded doomsday predictions.

But what’s the end of a cycle? Think of it this way: our modern calendar consists of 12 months. At the end of our calendar, the 31st of December, we simply go back to January of the next cycle (the next year). Using the Long Count calendar to predict the end of the world is the equivalent of expecting Armageddon every 31st of December.

In fact, the Mayans continue to predict events far beyond 2012. They recorded time in cycles known as “baktuns”; new calendars were discovered recording a cycle of 17 baktuns, the equivalent of about 7,000 years (where 2012 is the end of the 13th baktun).

If that’s not enough to assuage your fears, let’s take a look at what exactly people think is going to happen.

Nibiru:

This doomsday hypothesis (and I say hypothesis instead of theory because there’s a big difference between the two) stipulates that a “Planet X” will collide with Earth. First of all, that’s just ridiculous because there’s no way a planet would be flying through space free of all gravitational pulls. Why do you think the Earth hasn’t floated out of our solar system and crashed into another planet? Because that’s not how gravity works.

Plus there are thousands of astronomers all over the world constantly watching the sky. At least one of them would have noticed a gigantic thing speeding towards us. The gravitational distortions of such a thing would have been sending warning signals for thousands of years.

Finally, what the hell are you doing believing in crap like this anyway? What possible reason could you have to believe something like this would happen? Let’s get something clear: the Nibiru  idea was first raised by Nancy Lieder, who describes herself as someone with the ability to receive messages from aliens via an implant in her brain. Does that sound like a reliable source? No. But there’s more; she predicted Nibiru would sweep through our solar system in 2003. Wrong. So why is it that people are bringing up this old garbage again?

Solar Flares:

This doomsday scenario claims that solar flares will erupt from the sun. Well, that’s true. But guess what? That’s completely normal and happens all the time. A solar storm hit on March 8th this year. Did you know that? Probably not because it doesn’t wipe out planets. It just messed with electronics on Earth.

Planetary Alignment:

So this scenario is the alignment of planets with the sun, causing catastrophic tidal effects. Well, unfortunately there is no alignment scheduled for December, and even if there were, there’d be practically no effect (Don Yeomans, 2012). The only two bodies in the solar system that can affect Earth’s tides are the moon (due to close proximity) and the sun (due to size and proximity). Incidentally, the moon and sun align quite frequently, yet we’re still here.

Magnetic Pole Shifts:

Again, a natural occurrence, though it takes around half a million years to happen and the process of actually shifting takes thousands of years. But even then, there’d be no problem if it happened, except that we’d have to recalibrate compasses and perhaps more beached whales, which would be sad. That’d be more a doomsday prediction that whales are worried about rather than humans though.

Conclusion:

If you’re one of the gullible that are fixated on the end of the world, don’t quit your jobs (if you have them) and definitely don’t start sending money to people that claim they’ll save you. You’ll just be falling prey to scammers. 21st Dec 2012 is just the end of one Mayan calendar. It’s their 31st of December. They predicted things far into the future and never made doomsday predictions.

All of the doomsday predictions put forth are false. They have absolutely no basis for existence.

That brings up an interesting point though; it’s probably the most disappointing one for me. Never mind the happy coincidence that the Mayan Long Count ends its first cycle this year, or that scammers are picking on those that don’t know any better. What really disappoints me is that this still demonstrates that people can’t grasp the concept that humans thousands of years ago did not know as much as we do today. You could apply this to a lot of things, including religion, but seriously, do you think the human race has been stagnant for two thousand years? That we’ve learned nothing during the transition from carving symbols into stone and having rockets that can send rovers to Mars?

The absolute scientific ignorance of society is shockingly highlighted every time some pseudoscience or garbage like this becomes widespread. I completely sympathise with people like Neil deGrasse Tyson whose life goals are to rekindle an interest in science, because without it, we just resemble a bunch of babbling idiots.

P.S. The Mayans didn’t know about timezones. Since I live in Australia, the 21st will come where I live before it gets to most of the rest of the world. I’ll be waiting at midnight to say “hah, told you so”.

Another religious post? I’m on the verge of being an atheist bully here aren’t I? Well, suffice to say I just like poking holes in incorrect logic and it has nothing to do with my own beliefs (which are not really atheist anyway).

So I’m sure many of you have heard of the “absolute morality” argument posed by theists. In fact, it’s almost inevitably brought up by any professional debate (many of which you can watch on Youtube – it’s fun listening to how people construct logical arguments). The crux of the argument is that without (a) god(s), we cannot have absolute morality. The arguments leads on to say atheists have no absolute morals because they cannot know that their morals are “absolute” without god telling them that it is. Therefore, the existence of absolute morality (such as an aversion to murder) is proof of god’s existence.

Again, I don’t wish to insult any of my theistic friends, but this argument is absolute codswallop. Unfortunately, I always get the feeling that other debaters fail to properly dismantle this “argument” (maybe because Youtube comments usually lack intelligent input). So I’m going to lay it out, step by step.  Again, this is mainly directed towards Christianity – as it is the largest religion and thus the one I pay attention to most.

Let’s approach this as if a theist has proposed absolute morality as evidence of god. I will proceed to do something I love – flipping an argument back on somebody with logical principles. Let’s begin:

Without (a) god(s) there can be no absolute morality.

1. Then are you accusing all atheists of being immoral?

Yes – Then you are “playing god” by judging someone, which is god’s job. “James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbour?“. If you attempt to argue against the negative implications of playing god (which most Christian ethicists are in agreement on as a sinful thing), then you must re-examine a whole range of other issues such as euthanasia and abortion, as well as accepting the fact that you are in direct defiance of the bible (including the verse I included above, as well as others).

Further, you are not only at odds with your own holy scripture and beliefs, you would be objectively immoral for being arrogant enough to claim superiority over another human being based on their beliefs. You cannot say “yes, all atheists are immoral” because that’s tantamount to saying “I, playing the role of god, judge all atheists to be inferior people”.

No – This is your only acceptable answer due to your own theistic beliefs.

ButAtheists are only moral because god gave them morality, regardless of whether or not they believe in god. That’s one possible argument, but here’s why it’s wrong. First, if atheists are moral then atheism is not a sin, which means the rejection of god’s existence is not wrong, which suggests that it is correct or that god doesn’t give a damn. Both are quite likely, but that would raise questions about the validity of religious organisations and holy scriptures, which implicitly and explicitly say otherwise.

Further, all of that is moot anyway because this argument is circular reasoning (a logical fallacy in case you guys forgot). The purpose of bringing up absolute morality is to prove the existence of god. God has not yet been proven so you cannot say that god gave atheists morals yet. You can only accept that atheists either have or do not have morals. If, at the end of this debate, you prove the existence of absolute morality, then you can say you have proven god’s existence (based on this argument – which is not comprehensive), and then after that you can say that god gave atheists morals, which returns you to the first problem I proposed in this paragraph.

But Atheists have no basis for objective morality. They cannot know that a moral is objective without the existence of god. This is the most common route taken. If you watch atheist-religious debates, you’ll often hear the argument follow down this path. If you’ve paid attention to the previous steps, you’ll realise that the reason why (or part of the reason) this argument always turns to this option is because the above options are not viable. No theist can answer any of the above alternatives without breaching their own belief system, as well as that of society and of logic.

Here’s where the fun begins. If atheists are moral but they reject the existence of god, that means that they do not get their morality from god/religion. Again, you cannot argue that they already have morality from god because that takes you back up to circular reasoning. This is tantamount to saying that atheists are intrinsically moral. That means that atheists act morally for the sake of being moral, and not for anything else. However, theists believe that their morality is given to them by god, therefore it is in fact morality given by authority (which, by the way, is not objective). By now, some of you may already see what I’m getting at – but let’s not spoil the surprise.

One of Sam Harris’s examples come to mind, though he used this example to prove a different point. Imagine a classroom scenario. If the teacher tells a child to hit the child next to him, the teacher – as the authority figure – is giving the child an authoritarian imperative. This act would not be immoral in a classroom scenario (yes, the teacher would get in trouble, blah blah – think of a closed system or this example will just get bigger and bigger, but still end in the same result). As the act is not immoral and has come from an authority (if it helps, think of the teacher as a pseudo-god), the theistic child will go ahead and beat up his classmate. The atheist, however, would not. Why? Because the atheist’s morality is not dependant on authoritarian edict. It is intrinsic, as I have said.

Morality can only be morality if it is done for the goodness of its own sake, not because it was given by an authority figure. Therefore, atheists are more moral than theists. The fact that – as the theist puts it – “atheists have no basis for objective morality” is in fact evidence of the atheist’s superior morality. If you want to argue otherwise, you go back to point number one, which will lead you back down to here.

*     *     *

That argument is what I think of as a “logical trap”, in which you force your “opponent” down a path that results in a conclusion suiting your own argument. There are, however, much shorter ways of debunking the whole “where did morality come from” thing.

If you remember Occam’s Razor and Rationalism, you’ll know that god – as the highest possible level of complexity and inexplicableness – is always the last option. Logically, if you have any other explanation, it will be more likely than the existence of god which cannot be explained at all. Fortunately, science not only has explanations, it has very likely ones.

The first I’ll point out is from Richard Dawkins. Morality is evolutionary. That is a fact. It is the reason why moral paradigms have changed over time – even amongst religious peoples. We no longer oppress women as much, nor do we put down the disabled or mentally retarded. Torture and execution are no longer as commonplace, nor is homosexuality as strongly opposed. But most of all, think of this: if murder was not immoral, do you think we, as a species, would have ever come to inhabit large cities? No, that would be stupid. If morality was not part of the evolutionary process, our species would not exist in its current state. Natural selection weeds out the unproductive traits. Even past religions that included human sacrifice were weeded out due to the evolutionary stupidity of such actions – their followers could not propagate because their populations were limited by human sacrifice, and eventually they died out.

The second is one that appeals more to reason than any specific science. Do you really think that if tomorrow we proved that the bible was fraudulent, theists around the world would start killing everyone they see? And if any theists are reading this – do you think that if your own beliefs were disproven, you would revert into an out-of-control sinner? If you do, I feel sorry for you. Your identity and morality should not be that fragile.

As usual, I hope this post hasn’t offended anyone religious. The goal was really just to demonstrate logic at work.

I honestly don’t know how some of these myths are persisting so I’m here to bust them. Let’s hope Mythbusters doesn’t mind if I provide some additional firepower to the whole stupid myths thing.

  1. Your heart stops when you sneeze. FALSE. Holy crap could you imagine if it did? I’ve even heard university anatomy tutors claim this is true. It is most certainly not. Nor will your eyes pop out if you manage to keep them open. A sneeze begins with a tickling sensation that sends a message to your brain that something needs to be expelled from the lining of your nose. Your chest tightens from taking in a deep breath, your eyes close, your tongue presses against the roof of your mouth and you blast air out of your nose with an amusing sound that is unique to the person.
  2. Osmosis (basically water absorption) is the cause of the wrinkly, prune fingers that you get from staying in water for too long. FALSE. Surgeons discovered centuries ago that cutting a certain nerve would prevent prune fingers, suggesting that osmosis was not the cause. A bit more recently, scientists determined that the wrinkles were an adaption to provide better grip in wet conditions (S. Karger AG, Basel, 2011).
  3. The Coriolis effect (caused by the Earth’s rotation) is responsible for water draining down the sink in a certain direction. FALSE. The Coriolis effect does affect long-lasting vortices, but this is on the scale of things like hurricanes. Your sink, bathtub and shower are not significant enough to be affected by this force (which is a very small force indeed when you consider that the Earth makes one rotation a day, whereas your sink will make a rotation in seconds). The direction your sink drains in is determined by the vortices introduced whilst washing, the way the sink is filled and even the shape of the sink.
  4. A human in the vacuum of space without a space-suit will pop, explode, implode or anything else dramatic like that. FALSE. If the person exhales before exposure (to prevent lungs from bursting), that person could survive around 30 seconds before dying of asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).
  5. Dropping a penny from a very high building will kill a pedestrian below. FALSE. A penny is not aerodynamic enough to pick up enough speed to kill somebody. Its terminal velocity and weight aren’t sufficient to produce enough impact to kill – in fact it would just sting if you got hit by it.
  6. Lightning does not strike the same place twice. FALSE. In fact, it’s more likely to strike in the rough vicinity of the first strike because of the way lightning bolts are formed. I won’t get too deep into this (at least not for this post) but lightning is formed after a path of ionised air (known as plasma) is created between the cloud and the target (known as a step leader). Because plasma is more conductive, electrical current will flow along this path to neutralise the charge separation, shooting lightning back up into the clouds. While we’re at it, tall objects do not always get hit by lightning. True, they are closer to the cloud and thus there’s a higher chance for the step leader to create a path to a tall object rather than low ground, but the path of lightning is very unpredictable. For the purpose of this myth, just remember that if lightning strikes near you, then there’s a conductive path of ionised air going up from there and you are most definitely not safe because lightning is a goddamned beast and will strike wherever the hell it wants (probably close to an existing conductive path because electricity will obviously flow through the path of least resistance).
  7. You can’t create gold from other metals. FALSE. This might come as a surprise to many, since alchemists have tried for so long to accomplish this, but scientists are already capable of turning lead into gold. Glenn Seaborg, 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was apparently the first to succeed in transmuting a minute quantity of lead into gold. I’ve lost the academic paper that I originally read so I can’t be entirely certain, but I remember it was through a process of adding/removing particles or electrons or something else subatomic from the molecular structure of lead. Unfortunately, the cost of creating gold is not worth the value of the gold created, but there were insider reports (from Proctor and Gamble I think) that they predict the process will be refined to a profitable state within the next 50 years. Incidentally, these days the transmutation of elements is no big deal. Particle accelerators do this every day.
  8. Evolution always brings about improvements. FALSE. You may think that evolution is the process of improving a “lower” life form into a “higher” one, but in actual fact it’s dependent on environment and circumstance. Natural selection does tend to weed out weaknesses, but certain environments may have changed or remained the same over time, causing living creatures in those environments to require or not require evolution, respectively. Alligators, fungi, sharks, some fishes, and mosses are examples of creatures that have remained relatively the same over time, because they are so well adapted to their environments that they do not require improvement. The “strength” and “survivability” of a creature is almost entirely dependent on its environment.
  9. There is no gravity on the moon (or in other parts of space). FALSE. If you were to draw vectors in space to represent the influence of gravity, it would be a chaotic mess. Every stellar mass’s gravity in the universe will be influencing you with a force dependent on the distance between you and the core of that mass. The calculation of this, in a multiple body system, stumped Newton, causing him to become religious at the end of his days. Ironically, his problem was solved later through further study into perturbation theory and Newton’s own calculations by someone whose name I’ve forgotten and can’t find with a quick search on Google. I believe he was a French or Swiss scientist who also belonged to some church. Hit me up if you know who I’m talking about. Anyway, considering the calculation of this baffled one of the greatest minds in history, let’s just talk about gravity on the moon. Yes, you are being pulled towards the moon and earth (because Earth’s gravity is far stronger), but because the moon is orbiting the Earth, you are also travelling “sideways” enough so that you can stay airborne (or spaceborne?) for far longer than on Earth.
  10. Christopher Columbus discovered that the Earth was round. FALSE. Navigation systems were already based on a spherical world by Columbus’s time, and he failed to reach his original destination and discovered America instead. Pythagoras was actually the first to propose a round Earth. He died around 495 BC, around 2000 years before Columbus.

There’s heaps more interesting “facts” that are wrong, but I’ll leave it at these for now. It’s getting hard for me to think of any more at the moment. Some of this info was pulled off the internet but I can’t remember where so I’m not going to source them. In any event, it’s all in my own words so no biggie. It’s not like I’m claiming a huge discovery, these things should be well-known but aren’t, which is where the problem is!

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