Thursday, July 24, 2008

And if you think HIV doesn't cause AIDS, I'll probably laugh in your face.

Apparently the HIV virus is most effective in people of African descent due to genetics.

Add to that the fact that a parasitic worm common in contaminated water sources, like in third-world countries, can increase the effects of AIDS and I am beginning to see why so many people in Africa, and African-Americans, think that HIV was engineered to kill black people.

Think about it-- it targets one race, a race that has a long history of being subjugated simply because they were unlucky enough to live in a region of the world that can't support agriculture and domestication of animals well enough to give them a competitive edge. The people who are most affected by it are Africans/African-Americans, poor people, people who have multiple partners, drug users and homosexuals. It's incurable, only treatable with expensive and complicated drug regimins, and can even pass to children from mothers. Basically, if there was a designer illness made up by right-wing mad scientists (right wing because it targets promiscuity and homosexuals), HIV sounds like a pretty good bet.

Of course, I don't actually beleive it is, for two reasons-- first of all, we already figured out that the original HIV was in monkeys and passed to humans through hunters in Africa handling monkey blood. Second of all, there are major flaws in the design from a mad-scientist perspective. First of all, it's got such a long dormant period. While a certain dormant period is required for a disease to be successful, 10 years just to have the first symptoms is pretty excessive, and in that time people can successfully reproduce, and there's a chance that their kids won't get it-- not a super chance, but a chance. Also, it can ONLY pass through blood or semen, so it's limited to people who are exposed to those things coming from multiple people. Doctors and nurses who handle open wounds and needles are a high-risk group, which doesn't make much sense from a mad eugenicist's perspective because we need doctors and nurses. And because of rapes, many people who the eugenicist probably wouldn't want to wipe out have been dying.

Basically, it's too slow to transmit, too slow to kill, and too easy to affect people you actually want to keep around. Besides, if any government or organization was actually racist enough to commit such a heinous crime they'd probably have it attack Native Americans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, etc as well. Or some up with a different disease to do that.

Still, it's really no wonder why so many conspiracy theorists and even normal people believe HIV is man-made. Oregon State University did a study in 2002-2003 that said 48% of African-Americans believed HIV was a man-made virus, 27% thought it was made by the US government and 15% thought it was designed as a form of genocide. I'm sure this new research will probably only fuel those opinions, and I can understand why they persist, no matter how detrimental they are to public-health campaigns.

I'll go put on my tinfoil hat now...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Delicious, nutritious frankenfruit

And in continuation of my last post... GMOs.

Genetically modified organisms. For consumption. The HORROR!

Actually, I strongly support GMOs for several reasons. First of all, I have no squick factor about eating something that's not "natural," in fact, I hope they come up with lab-grown meat soon. After all, pretty much nothing we eat is remotely close to it's original state unless you are a hunter, or a naturalist. Corn was originally a tiny grain, teosinte. Tomatoes? Bred to be bigger, meatier, and redder. In fact, most of the food we put in our mouths has about as much in common with their untampered ancestors as a pug has with a wolf.

But surely genetic modification is different!

Plant breeding is genetic modification. The only difference with GMO vs. heavy selective breeding is that GMO allows us to introduce gene combinations that we want, rather than waiting for them to appear at random. So if we want a papaya that won't get attacked by a certain fungal infection, and the fungal infection doesn't attack pineapples because the pineapples have a certain chemical in their skins, we don't have to wait for a random mutation in the papaya to protect it, we can simply make the papaya produce the pineapple chemical. Then, we can test the fruit and make sure it's safe and still tastes the same, and if it does, voila, problem solved.

We can genetically modify food so there's much less unusable waste, so it takes up less space, and so it has less impact on the environment. We can make it so it doesn't need pesticides or fungicides. We can even make it more nutritious and grow in poor soils or where there's not much water, so people in third world countries can grow them and thus fight famines.

The only reason we aren't already doing such wonderful things with GMOs is that they are all patented by the corporations that designed them, and what's more, those corporations program their plants with a "kill" gene that makes them die after a year and their seeds useless. As a result, farmers keep having to go back and buy more, which is good for the company but sucky for the farmers, and impossible for poor subsistence farmers.

So I love GMOs in theory, and I certainly wouldn't hesitate to eat a GMO crop-- they're pretty heavily tested before going to market. But what I think needs to change is the following:

1. Some government funding going from international food aid to developing GMOs that are nutritious, safe, and grow in extremely poor conditions-- and have no kill gene.

2. Require companies that develop kill gene GMOs to pay taxes to go to the above.

3. Regulate, regulate, regulate. Test everything. Not that they don't do this already, but it's still a good idea.

4. Encourage GMO companies to contribute to a pro-GMO public awareness campaign talking about safety etc. They'd do it in a heartbeat, I'm sure.

5. AS much as I hate to admit it... require GMO labeling. If there's GMOs in it, the consumer should know. It's only fair and it makes it look less sneaky and dishonest.

But regardless of the issues, I don't get the anti-GMO crowd. It's not going to kill you. In fact, it might be healthier for you. Get over it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The organic problem...

There are few things I understand less than people who buy organic food when they can't really afford food, period.

Nonaestima is like that. She's currently unemployed and ran through most of her savings, and since she's fresh out of college she wouldn't qualify for unemployment. Ryter is paying her part of the rent, a fairly hefty financial burden, and she can't get on the lease yet because she's not employed. And yet, she insists on eating organic foods only.

Let me clear something up first of all. For people who do not have a history of bad reactions or allergic reactions to pesticide traces, who wash their foods before they eat them, there is NOTHING WRONG with non-organic fruits, vegetables, and grains. There is NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE in health benefits or quality; the environmental impact is slightly better but you're even better off sticking to local and seasonal foods.

Pesticides on fruits and vegetables shipped to or used within the US are tested for safety. The only time non-organic pesticides should be a concern is if you have a small pet, like a rodent or a lizard, that eats the veggies or fruits, because such a small animal might have a theoretical problem from eating foods with pesticides. Do I agree with pesticide use? Not entirely. I don't like many pesticides, as an ecologist. But I also know they won't hurt ME, and that the current organic labeling system is bullshit. So I'd buy organic meats, maybe, and certainly organic liver; organic farmed fish are preferable as well; but for fruits and veggies, I'll buy what looks freshest, what's local, and what's in season (because that means it's not shipped from the Southern Hemisphere).

But I don't fault people who buy organic food in general. It's not my problem if you want to spend more for the same thing with a pesticide derived directly from plants instead of from a chemical derived from a plant or mineral extract. My beef is with people who insist on buying it when they could barely afford the non-organic version.

A can of regular beans is what, 40 cents? Organic beans are closer to a dollar, and almost never on sale. So basically people are deciding to take in half as many calories, but they're "better" calories somehow? Despite the fact they come from the same species of bean, canned in the same way? Sure, many people are overweight and can benefit from eating fewer calories, but in my experience, the poor young professionals who insist on organic-only are also the skinny types who really can't afford to be skipping meals. And in the case of Nonaestima, she's also recovering from abdominal surgery and a recent hemorrhage. Not the time to lower caloric intake.

I've even read about people complaining that the WIC offices don't allow organic foods. Now, I have a few issues with the WIC food lists, namely that as far as I can tell they only seem to include crappy, sugary, heavily packaged foods and a person living on them probably wouldn't get anything near proper nutrition, which is supposedly the point. But ORGANIC foods?

Know the term "beggars can't be choosers?" Call it un-PC, but if you can barely feed yourself normal food, you don't get to be picky. I want to see things like seasonal, inexpensive fresh fruits and veggies included on WIC lists, but it's completely irrational to expect them to let people who clearly need food aid desperately enough to qualify for WIC (and it's not just based on income level, there's a bunch of qualifiers) buy expensive organic foods that really have no difference. And people will refuse food that isn't organic! FREE food! Call me a penny-pincher but I always like free food, even if it tastes like crap. Oy.

Ultimately, I guess if you want to starve yourself rather than eat perfectly good non-organic foods, that's your right. But don't refuse gifts of food, or ask that gifts be organic only, or demand that the government help you pay for your fancy organic food. Because non-organic food won't kill you, and to be honest, most of the time it tastes just as good or better.