Friday, November 21, 2008

Clever countries

Small countries throughout history have really had two choices -- be clever or become a province of some bigger country. In world history, that's meant everything from marrying off the daughters to every conceivable ally to "Hi, I'm NEUTRAL!" to "You know this drug/spice/dried leaf I just got you hooked on? If you conquer my country, you won't get more of it..." 

They're all clever strategies. (Ethical... well, that's for another day.) 

Big countries needn't (but really should be) clever. They'll endure without much help because the momentum and mass just keeps rolling. But small countries have to work harder. This may explain the Netherlands' 17th and 18th century dominance of European trade; and England's late 18th and 19th century. 

It's kind of like being the kid in school who gets picked upon -- the kid can get violent in return, get cheeky and survive through wit (when the bullies are laughing, they can't hit...), or become so abject a target that there's no point bullying. 

I just realized how very sad it is that the world really can be equated to a 4th grade classroom...

And another email that annoyed me...

The original message was incomprehensible code... always fun. Sigh.  I can't copy-paste from Snopes, so read the original here.

It's about the Eid stamp. I didn't send this response because I didn't get around to editing the message, just banged out my grr response, felt better, saved the draft and went on with my life.

Here's my response:

I have no idea what that message was about -- well, not true; I can guess. It came through as nothing but code, incomprehensible to me. 

However, from the topic, I suppose it's about the Eid stamp. The text is here:

So bloody what? The US Post Office has offered Eid stamps (not Christmas) for seven years (They were introduced Sept 1, 2001). 

It's not a Christmas stamp -- how stupid was the person who initiated this? "They don't even believe in Christ and they get their own Christmas stamp" is wrong on so many levels I just want to find you and thump you. Don't worry, I can't cause brain damage on those unequipped. Really, my cat is smarter. First, Muslims do believe in Christ -- they just don't think he was the final prophet. They're on board with his message. Second, It's not a Christmas stamp -- It's a holiday stamp. Guess what! Christians don't have a monopoly on holidays! (That's the greeting card companies.) Sometimes, Eid does fall around Christmas, but the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, so it shifts. In 2008, it ended in September. So this message -- not relevant anyway! Look, Initiator, I know it's difficult, but can you try not to be an imbecile?

Eid celebrates the end of Ramadan, which is a month of fasting -- no food or drink between dawn and sunset. Ramadan also focuses on charitable works, self-sacrifice, avoiding worldly affairs, feeding the poor and hungry, seeking forgiveness for sins, praying for guidance and mending quarrels. I don't see anything wrong with this -- I think it's amazingly commendable. I don't see many Christians taking a month out of their lives to fast, be charitable, ask forgiveness and mend quarrels -- while still going to work, serving the nation and all of the citizens. Why don't you try it, and then ask yourself, hey, don't they have a reason to celebrate, too? 

Why get worked up about it now? It's not like you're forced to buy them. You can get the ones with the flag or the bell (I recommend those, since they'll be good forever and you'll never have to buy 2 cent stamps again) or whatever atrocity they inflict at holidays -- they're always ugly. 

Six million Muslims live in this country. The sale of the Eid stamp does nothing but support the post office -- there's no money that goes anywhere except back into getting the junk mail and bills to your door. You have to ask for the stamp -- so your boycott? Kinda useless. Considering the poster boy for the Religious Right, the *Resident of the White House, G. W. Bush, has extended official greetings and participated in Eid celebrations, what right do you have to get worked up? If he can suck it up and recognize that the world is not all Christian, all the time, so can you. Get over yourselves and stop acting like you have Komfortable, Kozy, Klean sheets in your closet. Good grief, people -- Grow up. Stop being xenophobic, racist, intolerant assholes and start living in the real world. 

Because out here, in the real world, people do bomb and kill. Sometimes they're Muslim -- and just as often over all, they're Christian, and Jewish, and Buddhist and Hindu and not out for religious ideology but to make a buck somehow. There is intolerant voilence going on all over the world. When you make an issue out of this stamp that doesn't even affect you, you encourage the violence by saying "My faith is better than yours." Guess what? You won't know that til you're dead. And you might be wrong. 

Here's the thing -- I don't have a dog in this race -- I'm not Christian, I'm not Muslim and I'm not Jewish. I'm not Buddhist, I'm not Hindu, I'm not Taoist. I honestly don't care. I think you've all got something good to say and I think you all abuse the power you invest in your faith. I think any religion that says it's okay to hurt others in the name of a god is wrong -- and that means Christians are equally at fault. Christians in this country abuse their children in the name of driving out evil spirits or as "correction". Christians in this country believe it is perfectly acceptable for a man to beat a woman because she happens to have made the mistake of marrying him. Christians believe murder is an acceptable means of stopping a legal, necessary and safe medical procedure that no one ever wants, but frequently have to have. And Christians in this country think it's perfectly acceptable to tie a young man to a fence naked in the middle of winter and beat him until he dies for merely not being straight. Jesus would be appalled to have those acts attributed to his church. 

I know the "Christians" referenced above are the extremists. But the more liberal Christians don't get off scot-free. You can say, "But I don't do those things, I don't believe they're right." Congratulations -- you can think and empathize. But what are you doing to stop the extremists? Does your church send money to activities that support any type of violence? Then you need to stop giving your church your money because you're supporting the problem. When Fred Phelps and his band of nutsos picket a funeral, where's your church? Do they release a statement saying "Fred Phelps is wrong and we do not support him?" Are they helping the mourners? Or are they just quietly nodding, standing back and agreeing? When Women's health clinics are threatened or bombed, are you there saying, "I may disagree with your choices, but you have a right to make them and I will defend you until the breath leaves my body. It's is God's right to judge -- not mine. And anyone who murders is not an avenging angel but a sinner who shall not be defended nor redeemed." Or are you saying "There's one more down." ? If the latter, you're part of the problem. 

Here's the challenge, Christians: Clean your own house first before you complain about other faiths. Take a cue from your leader -- attend the beam in thine own eye before attending the mote in thy brother's. When you can claim that Christianity is indeed a peaceful, charitable, welcoming religion based on faith, love and hope, then you have the right to complain about others. Right now, your faith is not based on peace, love, hope, or charity. It's based on brutality and violence and intolerance because in the words of your own founder, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethern, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40) Or in modern English -- how you treat others, strangers and even your enemies is how you treat Jesus. As a group... well, you're not doin' so hot...

Note: On this one, I disabled comments. I'm just not interested in your stories of faith, your pressures to convert me, or your flames. I have better things to do with my life.

On baby carrots

I received this in email: 

Baby Carrots you buy in the Supermarkets - Good to Know 

The following is information from a farmer who grows
 and packages Carrots for IGA, METRO, LOBLAWS, etc. 
The small cocktail (baby) carrots you buy in small plastic bags are made
 using the larger crooked or deformed carrots which are put through a machine which cuts and shapes them into cocktail carrots . most people probably know this already. 
What you may not know and should know is the following: once the carrots
 are cut and shaped into cocktail carrots they are dipped in a solution of water and chlorine in order to preserve them (this is the same chlorine used your pool) since they do not have their skin or natural protective covering, they give them a higher dose of chlorine. 
You will notice that once you keep these carrots in your refrigerator
 for a few days, a white covering will form on the carrots, this is the chlorine which resurfaces. At what cost do we put our health at risk to have esthetically pleasing vegetables which are practically plastic? 
We do hope that this information can be passed on to as many people as possible in the hopes of informing them where these carrots come from
 and how they are processed. Chlorine is a very well known carcinogen. 
Please let us make this information available to as many people as possible. If you care about your family and friends, pass it on.

Here's my reply:

Everybody -- take a page from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Don't Panic. The message about baby carrots is wrong on pretty much every point. Whoever wrote it knows nothing about chemistry, produce production or water sanitation. (Yes, that's my way of saying whoever wrote it originally is an idiot.) Unfortunately, the ignorant sometimes sound plausible so here's the real information. 

Chlorine CAN be a carcinogen, but it depends on the type of chlorine. Chlorine is a gas -- you will never find a chlorine rock. Being a gas, it reacts well with everything, but there are two types of chlorine -- ionic and covalent. Covalent chlorine has the normal number of atoms on its molecule which means it can bond to stuff -- it's like a burr or sticky tape. It likes hydrocarbons especially -- and fats are hydrocarbons -- everything from rice oil to canola oil to that extra ten pounds we're hauling around. So if you get dosed with covalent chlorine -- you take a bath in Agent Orange or breathe aerosolized dioxin or spend a lot of time around a chemical plant producing PCBs (photo-processing, metalworks, electrical anything, chemicals, plastics, that kind of thing) you're toast. Covalent chlorine will invade your tissues and hang out in your fat and that'll cause cancer eventually if something else doesn't get you first. Covalent chlorine is very nasty stuff and is why we have a Superfund (or used to) and most of what people mean by toxic waste.

Then there's ionic chlorine. It has an extra atom on the molecule. It's strong, it's secure. It doesn't bond. It's very safe -- it's the stuff that makes table salt and seawater (remember -- salt is one atom of chlorine and one atom of sodium). Ionic chlorine is not a worry. Household bleach is an ionic chlorine. It's caustic -- don't drink it! The concentration is WAY high -- but it can't attach to your fat cells. We've been using it for well over a century and we know exactly what it does. There is NO question about the safety of ionic chlorine and things which contain it.

When they make baby carrots, yes, they cut up larger ones and remove the skin, then rinse them, just like anybody in a kitchen does when we make our own carrot sticks -- they're just doing it on a MASSIVE scale. The rinse they're using is sodium hypochlorite -- household bleach. Baby carrots are dipped in a 100 to 150 ppm (parts per million) chlorine solution. It's pretty much a 1% bleach solution -- 1 part household bleach to 99 parts water. (Household bleach is 3-5% sodium hypochlorite depending on brand and age -- it oxidizes and becomes less effective with storage.) Anybody who has ever worked in a restaurant, a hotel, a daycare center, a hospital or anyplace where you have a "Sanitizing spray" is familiar with this solution. We use all the time in kitchens. It's really not a worry -- again, don't drink it straight but a few molecules won't hurt you, unlike a few molecules of dioxin or Agent Orange. What your municipal water supplier uses to clean your water is 12%; shock treatments for pools are 20% and you can drink pool water -- it's not tasty, you might get the runs because your intestinal flora die off, but it won't kill you or give you cancer in 20 years.  

You want chlorine in your water before it comes to you -- when we don't have it, that's when we get cholera, dysentery, and all the other water-borne illnesses that used kill half of all children before the age of 5, and meant 40 was a ripe old age. You can filter tapwater chlorine out, but you really don't need to do -- chlorine evaporates and oxidizes very fast -- a 1 liter pitcher of tapwater that's been sitting on the counter for an hour has virtually no detectable chlorine in it. A Brita filter just does it faster and without the chance of other microbes getting in.

So that's bleach. Not meant to flavor a martini, but safe and very, very useful. Now on the carrots. It's not just baby carrots -- it's every bit of produce you eat -- organic or not. Believe me -- you WANT the producers to do this. The bleach kills e. coli, listeria, giardia and a lot of other nasty bacteria and microbes. No person, anywhere, anytime is ever perfectly clean -- it's not possible -- and if you're going to eat food, you will be exposed to microbes. Some microbes think making us very sick is an excellent strategy for reproduction. We don't like being very sick -- and sometimes dead -- so we want to stalemate this battle against the microbes. We're never gonna win and we don't want to do because we need them, but we can keep the nastier ones where they belong -- which is not in our bodies. That's what bleach in food processing and in the water does. It's our best weapon against water and food-borne illness.

Here's why you don't have to worry that your carrots ( or your apples or lettuce or spinach) are going to cause cancer: 1) they're rinsed again in regular old tap water after they're cleaned in the bleach solution. 2) The bleach solution oxidizes very quickly -- probably shortly after the bag of carrots is sealed closed and well before it reaches your grocery store. 3) You're exposed to far more and more deadly chemical contaminants when you walk across a new carpet or stand on a busy street corner. The 100 ppb (part per billion) of ionic chlorine left on the water on the carrots is not a problem. The carrots themselves have more ionic chlorine. And it's ionic -- it doesn't react badly. Unless the carrots are grown on top of an old ammo dump or chemical factory, they won't have the bad, covalent chlorine. 

As for the white blushing on baby carrots -- it doesn't matter if the carrots are washed in bleach solution, vinegar solution (some producers use vinegar) or otherwise treated. It's not the chlorine that causes it -- it's the oxygen in the air. It will happen. It's a natural process that happens as the peeled surface of the carrot dries out. Cut apples turn brown, cut carrots turn white.  That's why baby carrot bags usually have some moisture inside. You can see this in yourself -- take a regular, unpeeled carrot, peel it and leave it in the fridge for a couple days. It'll blush. It's normal. It's not as pretty, but it's safe. And it's safe before it blushes, too.

For further reading, if this hasn't reassured you, here are my sources:

 And the USDA. 

For information on covalent and ionic chlorine, if you don't want to slog through your old organic chemistry text again (and I wouldn't) then I recommend Neal Stephenson's Zodiac. It's an SF novel, it's very fun, but it's a good, quick education on chemicals and the health and environmental aspects of chemicals. 

If you've already forwarded the previous email to someone else, please feel free to forward this one, too. We have much bigger problems in the world than worrying that our fruits and veggies are gonna kill us. They aren't -- but not eating them will.