We’ve got COOL, now let’s get … TAMS?

As of today, the new COOL (Country-of-Origin Labeling) law goes into effect.  Basically this means that any fresh produce sold in the US must have a label declaring what country it’s from.  The government is giving growers until spring before beginning to fine them, but you should at least begin to see the new labels at stores.  More details about the law and its implementation can be found here.

And that’s great.  I think it will promote consumer awareness and help alleviate some of the worries of food scares and give us a little more information about where our products come from.  But I want more.  I was thinking that I want to know when my organic radishes are from the farmer two miles away and when they’re from Texas.  I want to know where my veggies have been shipped before they came to me, and where they might have stopped in transit, and how long it took them to come.  Ripeness is an issue.  Health is an issue.  Environmental impact is an issue.  I want to track that.

I propose the Tracking and Management System.  I want to know where my stuff went, where it came from – including a little blurb about the farmer – and how long it took to get there.  I want to know details of its shipment, including how far it travelled and at what environmental cost.  Lastly, I want to know the conditions of its transport – was it sent in a refrigerated box?  Was it overheated?  Unintentionally frozen?  I know they’re doing this sort of tracking now with wine, and I know for more commodity items, it’s probably less fiscally feasible.  But still, I want it – and I think it’s something other consumers, even at a more speciality store level which would provide this kind of information, would want it.


Ok, I couldn’t fit this all into a reasonable title, but this is what I wanted for my title:

“[A-Space is] a place where not only spies can meet but share data they’ve never been able to share before.”

Never did I know (before now) that spies were in the business of sharing.  I thought it was about amassing as much intelligence data as possible and deliberately not sharing it with your peers, even if you are working for the same government.  Ah well.  Shows what I know.

i mean, there is something to be said for the various spooks bouncing analysis off one another and hopefully seeing something new from that synergy.  I’m all about the brainstorming.  And I’m not a spy (or am I just telling you that to throw you off-track?), but I do see the necessity of people working across organizations for a common cause.  However, there are other modes of thought on the analysis of data.  Group consensus can keep individuals from picking apart certain ideas they might examine more closely if not shared.  Data analysis in consortium can lead to trends that are hard to break out of, rather than spurring dialogue.  And how much dialogue is inspiring, versus just plain dissension.

And then, there’s always the matter of the classic double agent.  Once you give somebody the clearance to be inside A-Space, what’s to stop them from wreaking havoc?  There are supposed to be controls in place to stop this kind of thing, but again, in such a case, who watches the watchers?

On the whole it’s probably a good tech move, and a good way to share resources and get into real data mining that the people in these agencies need.  But it’s also fun, and funny to the outside world.  To prove my point, I will leave you with a final article quote: “Yes, analysts can collect friends on A-Space the way people can on Facebook. But nobody outside the intelligence community will ever know — because they’re secret.”

Watch out, secret BFF, here I come!

Doctor claims “metabo sounds more inclusive than obesity”

Thanks to Cristen for the link.

The word “obese”, while not as aggressive and hurtful as ‘fat’, still has very negative connotations. There are associated ideas of a lack of health, a lack of self control, and can even be connected with the obtuseness of an individual. Classifying a person as obese, despite the best intentions of healthcare professionals, is a blow to the self esteem. Telling someone they need to lose pound for their own health is a blow, and not always true. But even worse is demanding a reduction in waistlines across the board, which is what Japan is doing currently.

Of course, with obesity on the rise across the globe, and conditions such as metabolic syndrome (metabo) becoming more frequent, there are definite health risks associated with weight. But putting a definite cap on allowable waistlines is fraught with complications. There has already been one death – a jogger who was part of a group dedicated to avoiding metabo and getting back in shape – due to a heart attack. Was the man pushing himself too hard? Or was it just circumstance? While the new guidelines might give doctors the opportunity to talk more easily about prevention of specific diseases like metabo (rather than about obesity generally), a specific waistline goal doesn’t seem to be realistic. A focus on being healthy is more than a measurement, no matter that the government can’t judge such as focus accurately or quickly. Starting a new healthier lifestyle requires more effort, and will always be more complex.

Where’s Burma?

Not long ago, the U.S. was outraged about the lack of aid  and quick relief to one of the more vibrant regions of our country.  I’m talking, of course, about Katrina and New Orleans.  Rebuilding is still going on there, and though the eager life of the city is revitalizing itself, there is till work to be done.  Of course, one of the things that made the area unique was its diverse and strong community, which remains, despite natural disaster.  What happens when such a disaster strikes and area that is not so visible, that is not so well known, or that is already recovering from previous injury or adapting to increasing need?

We have one example in Myanmar, where the strong arm of the military junta has oppressed various groups of people (such as the Karen) and regions for decades.  Now that oppression has been exacerbated by tornadoes in the delta region, killing tens of thousands and causing flooding, bridge damage, and crop loss.  People are being left to rot on the ground, as fuel is limited – the living need everything they can get to survive.  What’s more, due to the junta’s fear of international criticism, they aren’t allowing any aid workers or volunteers into the country.  They have only let one plane bearing food in, though arrangements are being made for others.  Worse, as flooding continues, even aid within the country is having a hard time reaching those in need.

While the international community has been very outspoken against the actions of the junta, now could be the perfect opportunity for reconciliation.  Let’s help people.  Let’s help people, regardless of what country they’re in, or who they’re governed by, or how.  Let’s make a start at differentiating between control and genocide, between political expediency and political necessity.  Let’s at least try and move ina  different direction.

Sludge the Poor

ABC news reports yesterday indicate the EPA and various research initiatives did not follow up on studies initiated to show industrial and human waste could be beneficial in reducing lead poisoning in low-income households.  Federal money in East Saint Louis and Baltimore started programs in which several low-income households were given food stamps in return for allowing sludge to be tilled into their yards and then replanted with grass.  The minerals in the sludge were then thought to bind to lead ingested by children and prevent lead poisoning.  This way, when kids in the neighborhood eat the dirt, they have less risk of lead poisoning.  In addition, researchers did not disclose that the sludge could be potentially dangerous.  As one researcher says, ‘composting, of course, kills pathogens’.  Hm.  Must be one of those facts known only to those in the realm of science.

The thing that really gets me though, is the sham-science of these supposed ‘studies’.  The way the scientific method is supposed to work involves the testing of a hypothesis.  Testing the hypothesis that phosphate and iron in sludge can bond to lead and other dangerous chemicals is one thing, but it’s the kind of hypothesis that can most readily be tested in a lab.  Testing whether or not the sludge makes the ground less dangerous generally to humans in particular requires entirely different tests, possibly the consumption of sludge and lead poisoned dirt combinations on lab rats or other animals, before any results are released.  The idea that results were released saying that the sludge made the eating the dirt safe for children, when no studies were done on the actual effect of ingesting the dirt, and absolutely no part of the survey took participant’s health into account either before, during, or after the study, is ridiculous.  We might as well go back to quack docs and superstition if what science gives us is such shoddy research.  I mean seriously – have you had your magical sludge tonic yet today?

I can accept that research is somewhat politically and somewhat popularly motivated.  I can accept that research is sometimes skewed by personal interest or ambition.  What I refuse to accept is research like this that so intensely disregards both the moral intent and basic methods of science, namely, to ameliorate the condition and understanding of modern man through the application of the scientific method.

Even More Bad Things about Water

So, though previous posts didn’t have as much to do with current and breaking news, it both amused and frightened me this morning to read this article of recent studies into the trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water.  Evidently the badness of water is on the rise, amusing me with the image of water-as-villain.  Also amusing me was the name of one of the men interviewed for the article: Benjamin Grumbles.

There are issues of legitimacy associated with the report, of course.  All the compilation of data was done by the Associated Press, with an angle to prove…something.  At least with the idea of supporting a story.  And what headline would break: Trace Amounts of Prescriptions in Water Found Harmless to Humans?  Still, I think the idea merits further review.  Could trace amounts of a wide variety of prescriptions be damaging to our long-term health?  Could these same trace amounts have a negative impact on wildlife, or come back to haunt us once they’ve completely penetrated our aquifers and surface water?  How long do these medicines remain in our system, and could they build up in higher organisms (i.e., do animals eating many plants with trace amounts build up a higher dose in their bodies, and what effect might this have?)  Also, if trace amounts are getting through our water purification system, are there ways to modify the system to eliminate these trace amounts?

Ultimately these are questions that need to be answered by a mostly impartial group of researchers.  Which brings us to other questions.  Who will research it?  What should be done?  And most important, who’s going to bankroll the whole thing?  Obviously not the pharmaceutical companies, and not the water treatment organizations (many of which refused to be tested for the article).  The government?  I would guess that ultimately, you and I will be paying, one way or another.