So, how much free will do we have?

Here’s an email I sent to some of my friends based on an piece I heard on The Naked Scientist:

This group did a study and found that women who were lap dancers and not on the pill (ie they had a normal menstrual cycle) go more tips on their fertile days.  (I can’t imagine the grant application process for that study.  “Yeah, we need to study strip clubs…this is important, somehow….”)

So another group wanted to explore this.  They selected a bunch of women who were not on the pill and told them to wear a t-shirt to sleep during their fertile days.  (No perfume or garlic allowed on those days because it would bias the results.  Also, they had to bathe with non-scented soap)  Then they had to wear a t-shirt to sleep on their menstruation days.  Then they got a bunch of guys to sniff the shirts.  (This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a t-shirt sniffing test in science.  How do they get people to sign up for these???)  After testing their saliva before and after the sniffing, they found that the men had increased testosterone in their system during the women’s fertile period.

So, not only do woman get hornier during their fertile period, they apparently “force” guys into it the same state.  Makes sense from a biological point of view.  Increased changes of offspring.  And, in the modern day, more tips for strippers.  (Well, lap dancers – I think you had to be within sniffing distance) One unintended consequence:  when men sense other men with elevated levels of testosterone, they have an increased chance of getting into fights.  Probably to ensure the female gets the offspring with the best genes.

And here’s some of the response from our good friend, Duffy, a sociology PhD candidate:

The first and most influential study in the field on this now-hugely-popular topic (Simpson & Gangestad, if I remember correctly, somewhere around the hear 2000) actually studied it from the other direction, with olfaction and t-shirt sniffing. They had men wear tshirts instead and found that women can actually pick more symmetrical men (supposedly the ones with better genes who are more attractive) just by smelling them; they can also pick men who have the most complementary Major Histocompatibility Complex to theirs (MHC-1, which is an indicator of genetic compatibility). Again, the pill actually ruins everything and reverses this, them pick the LEAST compatible men with respect to MHC-1.

Also, more fun stuff about the ovulatory cycle — during the fertile phase (compared to the luteal phase) women actually dress to look sexier (e.g. show more skin), prefer men with more masculine features (e.g. a more square jawline), and are more highly skilled at picking up flirting nonverbals. In the luteal phase they dress more conservatively and prefer more babyfaced men. In truth, it’s not all about the best genes — it’s about conditional mating strategies, which I’ll explain when I haven’t already typed out an entire email essay for you, haha.

Which leads me to wonder how much free will we actually have?  At what point are we being controlled by hormones and at what point are we making our own decisions?  I’m dang near 100% sure that those women in the second study Duffy mentions aren’t consciously thinking, “I’m ovulating!  Better dress sexier!”  First of all, most women I know aren’t monitoring when they are ovulating unless they’re actively TRYING to get pregnant.  Second, over the course of a woman’s fertile years, a huge percentage of the time that she’s ovulating she will actively be trying to remain free from pregnancy.  (For example – probably 100% of the time – from, say middle school through the end of college – at least)  Yet there they are behaving in ways that will lead to an outcome they don’t want.  At the same time, no guy is, upon coming close enough to smell a woman, thinking, “Oh man, she’s ovulating!  It’s gonna be so easy to convince her to have sex!”  And, in fact, while his testosterone levels may be elevated, he will not know why he finds himself so attracted to this woman.

So we’re left wondering how much free will this leaves us?  After all, if something as mechanical as a menstrual cycle is dictating how women dress, who they are attracted to that night, and how easy it will be to bed them, where does that leave us?  Of course, it’s not automatic, so we do have free will.  Every day people will find themselves sexually attracted to people and they don’t act on it, but something just seems sinister about the fact that it’s all based on chemicals rather than a person’s personality.  Let’s say in a scenario where two women are equally visually attractive (and with the same general personality), but one is ovulating and therefore is the one the guy ends up with – it could potentially lead to a completely different life if this one meeting led to marriage.  Had the chemicals been reversed, the man would have ended up with the other girl.  This just seems wrong…

Why do donations require special events? (or presents)

Free Software Foundation Member Kit
The trinkets I received for becoming a member of the Free Software Foundation.

I’ve been wondering about a peculiar aspect of human motivation. Why do we require a present of some sort in exchange for a donation? Let’s take NPR for example. During membership drives a donation will net the donator a hat or tote bag or something like that. But why does there have to be a prize for donation? The point of donation is that you realize some organization or cause needs your money. So why waste some of that money to get a mug? And if you wanted a mug emblazoned with the NPR logo, you could just go to the NPR store and buy it. But getting gifts must entice more people to donate or organizations wouldn’t waste money on it when they could be using all the money to cover their costs.

The same goes for Race for the Cure type events. You get people to sponsor you to give you some set amount of money contingent on you racing. But who cares whether or not you actually race? The people are presumably donating to something they believe in so why does their contribution depend upon you burning some calories?

Part of what got me wondering about this was remembering when I was around 11 years old and I got people to sponsor me based on how many laps I would swim in 2 hours. The money was going to help fund the city pool we swam in. I most got contributions of nickels and dimes per lap, but one family friend agreed to donate one dollar. Well, during the two hours I swam nearly 200 laps. My mother told me I couldn’t ask her for $200 even though she was betting on how many laps I’d do in 2 hours just like everyone else.

As an adult, I started thinking about this. OK – the people who agreed to donate some amount of money per lap must have done some calculation in their head about how many laps I might be able to swim in two hours. That was the upper bound on what they were willing to donate. So why not just donate that money? Why make me swim for two hours? And, if I went way over what they expected me to swim and they weren’t going to give me that money anyway, then why not just donate whatever was the max they were willing to give.

Philanthropy is an interesting human concept. An individual is donating money which, by definition, is giving money without getting anything in return. But they must get something in return whether it’s prestige or an NPR umbrella. And what are they getting in return when they donate based on how much physical activity someone does?

My Pathalogy

According to the latest issue of IEEE Spectrum, I suffer from completism. Completism is when you have to have all of a collection. It’s true I’m always get annoyed whenever I have only one DVD of a Tv series or if I have 9 of 10 DVDs or something. Feel the same way? Now you know what it’s called!

Linux in a surgeon?

Recently you’ve read about Linux in computers, servers, cell phones, Playstation 3, and the Nintendo Wii. But did you know about Linux being put into a surgeon? The Oct 2006 issue of Spectrum includes a story about a team designing a robotic surgeon to allow a human surgeon to do surgery from afar. The thought is for them to deploy this in the battlefield so that doctors don’t have to be at risk of dying and to obviate the long flight to a safe base for surgery. Why did they choose Linux? Well, since they were designing something revolutionary, there probably weren’t Windows drivers for controlling a robotic surgeon. With Linux being open-source, they could see how it works and easily write device drivers for their robot. One reads a lot about stuff like this – experimental robots and automated vehicles tend to use Linux. Of course, it also is available for free and doesn’t require registration for activation. Finally, you can scale it back to just the kernel and what you need instead of the whole gargantuan OS – as in the case of Windows.

Bird Flu

Bush asked Congress to earmark approximately $7 billion to help save us from a bird flu pandemic. I think this is good, but with the regular “plain jane” flu season around the corner, I think we’re going to have a huge problem. First of all. Congress takes forever to take action on Bush’s initiatives, if they take action at all. Remember all that money Bush promised the Katrina-ravaged gulf states? The vast majority of it still hasn’t been approved/sent out to the states that need them so badly. And this is something that has already happened, therefore allowing people to demand action. We usually have a problem getting a large number of people mad about something that may happen in the future, but people can protest really quickly over something that has already happened and is currently affecting them.

I think, and many others will agree with me, that this is clearly a case of too little too late. How long have we been hearing about this bird flu? I can definitely remember hearing about it for the past two years, if not longer. So we have had TWO YEARS to stockpile all the drugs we need and be prepared for this potential pandemic. But I know what’s going to happen – we’re not going to take it seriously until the country starts going to pieces because everyone is dying. Then suddenly the president will begin doing all he can to save whatever is left of the country.

I think it’s very distressing that in our age of technology where we have mastered the fabrication of machines so complicated, the designers much have PhDs and our computers are capable of making billions of calculations per second that we may fall to a pandemic and where we have cured polio and the measles. Usually, when I think of pandemics I think of the Black Plague in THE MIDDLE AGES!

During World War II the government mobilized factories for the production of tanks, planes, guns, and other supplies necessary for the war. They basically went to Ford, for example, and told them the factory was to be used for production of tanks and they would have to wait to sell cars to Americans until after the war. I don’t understand why the Bush Administration can’t simply go to Pfizer and tell them they are to make flu vaccinations and profits be damned! If we all die from the bird flu, there will be no one to buy all their profitable drugs like prozac and tyienol. (And no, I don’t care if another manufacturer makes those drugs – they are for illustration

purposes) Are you telling me that the most powerful nation in the world cannot get enough flu vaccinations? We are not some developing country, this is the United States of America!

During the cyclical pandemics of the 1800s and centuries prior, devastating amounts of life were lost. During one of the Black Plague epidemics, nearly 1/3 of Europe’s population was decimated. This type of loss has profound effects on progress. When so much of a population is lost, no one is left to make new discoveries in science and technology. Additionally, if, in a worst-case scenario for the US, other countries were much more prepared for the pandemic than we were, it could be the impetus for a shift in the balance of power. Say, for example, that the European Union was able to save just one order of manitude more people than the US – we lose 100 million and they loye 10 million – they would be in a better recovery position. Now, while the US plays catchup – birthing more children and waiting for them to grow up and be taught, the Europeans march ahead and we lose our spot on top. And that’s an OPTIMISTIC scenario.

Because the person on top never gracefully steps to the side. Rather, they stage-dive into a pile of spikes, spurting blood everywhere. In other words, the US loses many more people than Europe and instead of watching ourselves slip, we decide to use force to stay on top. That would be even more deadly for the US. Just as in the second Pelponesian where all the other countries turned against arrogant Athens, I fear the whole world, tired of our domination, would turn against us. We can defeat the Iraqis in 1 month, but we cannot fight the entire world – not when our country has lost that many lives.

Bird Flu Vector?

My first 911 call

Today I made my first 911 call ever. Of course, the events leading up to this event were the most surreal of my life. As I was waiting to cross the street into the Gun Hill parking lot, a bunch of cars started passing by, as usual. We have a joke that they purposely come by only when we want to cross. Then, as if out of a Monty Python or Stephen Chow movie, a bicycle rider comes out behind the cars.

Then I thought to myself, “my he’s going very fast,” I turned to tell my fiancee the thought which had just gone through my head along with, “that’s gotta be dangerous.”

I didn’t have a chance to speak because at that moment I heard an explosion and the man on the bicycle was propelled off the bike and onto the floor where he and the bike both rolled. He must have been going at least 20 MPH if not 30! I ran to the man who was still in the middle of the street. He got up and threw himself and the bicycle onto the grass near the street. His rear while had burst – that had been the explosive sound.

“Are you ok?” I asked him. “Do you need me to call 911?” I continued. No answer – not good. “Do you need me to call 911?”

“Yes, please!”

I called 911. “Hello this is 911 what is the situation?”

“Yeah, this guy was riding bike down a huge hill. He was thrown over the front of the bike and he looks like he needs help. His shoulder is dislocated.”

“Ok, where are you?”

“On the hill near Gun Hill Apartments in Ithaca, New York.” I added the last part because I had heard that when one calls on a cellular phone they might not be talking to a local dispatcher.

“They’ll be right over. Can I collect some contact information.”

A few minutes later the police showed up, followed by the ambulance. The man had gashes on his knee, arms, and buttocks. He looked like he was in a lot of pain, but he would make it ok.

I was glad to be there when the accident happened so that I could call for help. Other than my fiancee and I, there were two other tennants there, but I was the first to reach the victim. I’m not even sure the others would have gone if I hadn’t. But I knew what I had to do. Years of emergency training as a lifeguard suddenly came back to me. I knew I had to communicate with the man and ascertain what the problem was. Otherwise, he would have just lay there until someone came and time is the most important thing in an emergency. He wouldn’t die from a dislocated shoulder if he were my age, but this was a pretty old guy. He might have other complications and I had to think quickly. But I was running down there before I even knew what I was doing. And I was glad to have a cell phone so that I could be sure to talk to the dispatchers. It was a great chance to help my fellow man.

Heart Attacks

A study my fiancee shared with me:

A series of epidemiological studies were conducted. The results were as follows:

-Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans
-French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans
-Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans
-Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans

What can we conclude from these results?

-Eat and Drink what you like
-Speaking English is apparently what kills you

the end is here

If you are in a hospital, you will know you’re about to die when your entire family suddenly starts coming in with more and more frequency. My grandmother died today after nearly eight decades of life. I was really close to her and I loved her so much. Ever since I was a little kid we would see her nearly every weekend. On week days my mother would take her to the stores since she couldn’t drive. I remember being dragged along, but now I treasure those moments. That’s back when she could walk and dance and play without pain.

I think that people can feel when they are about to die, though. I don’t think it’s ever a surprise if the person’s already sick. My grandmother pronounced, five minutes before she died, that she was in a lot a pain and that the end was near. But I also believe that people can last as long as they want before dying. She was waiting for my brother and I to show up. She kept asking our mom when we were going to arrive. After we saw her last night, she finally left today.

I’m glad she died because she was suffering so much. In fact, just two minutes before she died, I prayed that God would relieve her of her suffering. The lymphoma was killing her with a ferocity of a tiger killing its prey. Her veins had all collapsed from the IVs and she couldn’t even move on her own. She wanted to go and so she did. I know she’s in heaven reunited, after twenty years, with her one and only husband.

I got pretty lucky with my timing – in fact – I think she was waiting for me to come back. I went down stairs with my father to see a famous church that was a replica of a church in Cuba. Afterwards I went, retrieved my laptop, and went upstairs. Five minutes later, she died.

I think, because of my deep connection with her, I was able to feel her leave. I hadn’t really cried all day long. As soon as I started crying my dad came out, saying she had stopped breathing.

I loved her so much and I’ll post some pictures of her when I get back into town. This might not make sense, but I’m not in a very coherent state right now. I just wanted to get out all my ideas from today.

Proof of God in a commercial?

I was watching a commercial today on MSNBC for a knee replacement technology. The ad had some woman who lives in San Francisco and the infinitely large hills there were just killing her knees because she had arthritis. But then modern medical science gave her: “a replacement knee that, unlike the ones produced by other companies, bends and turns to ALMOST simulate the function of a real knee.” And it continued with the usual disclaimers – don’t elect to have this done if you’re sick, the knee may gain setience and kill you – stuff like that. But what stuck out for me in the ad was the fact that the replacement knee ALMOST was like a real knee. ALMOST. Are you telling me that modern science can put a man on the moon, build a space station, make computers that store so much information that if you would have told the original creators of the computer you would have been thrown in a luny bin, can manipulate NANO objects to build things for them, yet it cannot make a fully functional knee?!? WTF is that?

While this may not be concrete enough for you, for me this is just another proof of God. Or, to generalize, some Divine Organizer of the Universe who I believe is God but you may call Ganesh or Shiva or something like that. (I’m sorry, but I never was a huge student of Eastern religion so sorry if I’m totally wrong because Shiva is god of destruction or soemthing) At any rate, look at it this way: I took a class last semester on the design of CMOS chips. I actually learned the principles used to desgin them and desgined a few on the virtual level with a simulator. These chips are so complex in their behavior that most scientists and engineers only approximate the behavior. The computer you are using to view this page is a wonderful thing. But look at the human body. The knee’s behavior is even more complex than a computer chip. If it were not, scientists would have figured it out a long time ago. I don’t think they have some evil wish to see old people suffer.

So how could we end up with a part of our body which seems to have such a simple purpose, bending the leg in half for walking; sitting; etc, and yet be so complex? Accidentally through all kinds of dice throwing by nature? I think not! Did you know that the eye is mostly water? Except for the most rudimentary explanations, doctors have no idea how the eye actually does what it does.

Again, this may not seem to be enough for you – seeing a commercial for the latest and greatest in technology which cannot even replicate the “simple” function of the knee perfectly – but it certainly makes me think about how complex we are and that some being had to have designed it.

Sad without the sadness…

This week my grandmother will probably be diagnosed with lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. This is one of the worse types of cancer for two reasons. First of all, it is attacking the very part of your body responsible for keeping the body healthy. So this cancer leaves the person extra debilitated as they not only have cancer, but lose the ability to fight off infections. Second, because the lymph nodes can’t be removed like bone or even lung can, there are no surgical procedures which can be performed. The patient can participate in chemotherapy or some of the newer drug therapies.

According to my parents, the average life span for a young, healthy person diagnosed with lymphoma in the early stages is approximately five years. For someone my grandmother’s age, with all of the other medical “baggage” she currently posesses, there is a life span of perhaps a year. Chemotherapy can destory a beast of a man, so imagine what it can do to a frail old lady.

I’m also worried about my grandmother for metaphysical reasons. She’s always been a little on the pessimistic side when it comes to her health. It has been proven anecdotally, if not scientifically, that one of the most important factors in the recession or curing of a person with cancer is a possitive outlook on life. Because the body and mind are so intertwined, depression depresses the body’s ability to heal itself. Optimism, conversely, increases the body’s defenses. Of course this is about a lot more than just being happy while having cancer, it’s about a total life outlook; it’s about finding ways to laugh even when you know it may be the last time you laugh. Prayer also tends to help and she lacks a little in that area too.

Of course, if I may be a little “selfish” with this whole issue, what bothers me more than all of this is my inability to let out my sadness. Of course, I’ve always been one to have delayed reactions to large emotive situations. When my family moved, it took me months to “realize” we had moved and have the reaction. It wasn’t until a year after 11 September 2001 that I first cried for the victims. My psychology just works that way and it really ticks me off at times like this. I want to let loose and be disturbed, but I can’t…not yet. Until then, I’ve got to have a general funk superimposed over my mood. It doesn’t mean I won’t laugh and enjoy life, which is a good thing – otherwise it would be unbearable not to be able to let it out. But, and here’s where being an engineer helps with descriptions, it’s like an AM radio signal: my emotions are the signal content and the sadness is the envelope. So it modulates my everyday emotions so that my highs aren’t quite as high and my lows are much lower.

If I can be “selfish” a little longer, what really gets me on edge about her condition is the uncertainty involved. I really want her to be at my wedding in July. Even worse, I wanted her to be able to interact with my children. It’s not “fair” that she got to be with my cousins’ kids because they decided to get pregnant when they were 19 and 20. But now we don’t know if she’ll be here next week, much less two years from now. Sure, all of life is uncertain; I could die walking to class tomorrow. However, it’s all about probabilities – she has a much higher probability of expiring before I do. I know with very high probabilities what will happen to me this week. The probabilities decrease the further out I go, but I still have things I am certain of – for example Spring Break will come on the 21st of March. And of course, death at the end of my life has probability 1, or 100% depending on how you look at it. But with her, with cancer in general, you never know. She could be alive for a year or she could defy all the statistics and live for thirty more years.

Of course, I also don’t want her to be alive with pain, no one wants that for their loved ones. I would prefer for her to “rest” than to be alive and be in pain every day. I can’t even stand when I’ve got a pain in my neck for a day, so for someone to have chronic, large scale pain is something I couldn’t even wish upon my enemies.

Well, life is always unpredictable, so if you believe in God/Allah/Yhwh, pray for her.

Thanks.

“Please See A Psychiatrist…”

That’s what the computer told my fiancee. “You have been classified as having the symptoms of being bipolar,” it continued. A friend of mine had recently taken an online diagnosis using the school’s health website. I felt it was bogus and told him so, but to drive the point home my fiancee and I decided to take the test ourselves.

We answered all of the questions from her point of view, but we didn’t do this in a, “let’s mess with the system” sort of way; we genuinely filled out the answers. I knew the diagnosis would be less than perfect when it simply consisted of multiply choice questions like

  1. I sometimes do this
  2. I always do this
  3. I do this every full moon

I don’t know about you, but when given surveys like that, none of the answers seem to fit me well. I always have to go with the “best fit”. And usually it’s more of a second order approximation. So, anyway, the computer told her she had better see a psychiatrist because she was displaying symptoms of bipolar. No one knows her better than me, except maybe her parents, and if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that she is NOT bipolar. She is definitely consistent in her moods, desires, and wants – as consistent as any “normal” human being.

The important thing to remember whenever you use a website such as www.mayoclinic.com or www.webmd.com to self-diagnose you have to remember that there is no good substitute for a doctor. Look at it this way, a doctor goes to school for quite a number of years beyond undergraduate before being able to open up a practice. Even then, the doctor is mostly guessing at what is wrong with you based on your symptoms. Many times it takes a few diagnosis before the doctor can know what’s wrong with you because nearly every disease has the same symptoms. Take it from someone who’s been a “victim” of these websites, use them only for researching a disease a doctor has told you that you have. Don’t use it to try to see what’s wrong with you or you will go crazy. Seriouly, you could have flu symptoms and it will look like you’re dying of ovarian cancer, even if you’re a guy. 😉 So how could a web page survey do much better at diagnosis? It cannot look for symptoms you don’t know to tell it about. A doctor and observe you and see what’s going on. A web site relies on your answers and biases. If you are a person who believes your are ill you will answer more negatively than a person who believes everything is alright.

And, of course, there are the weird algorithms because none of the answers we entered should have signalled bipolar. They were all consistent and normal.

Bottom line – don’t get freaked out for no reason until you see a doc.

Welcome to your Lucid Dream

Yesterday I was doing looking for the website to Wikipedia and came across Wikibooks, which happens to be run by the same group, The Wiki Media Foundation. Since I knew what Wikipedia was, I decided to see what Wikibooks was. Well, the same way that Wikipedia attempts to be an encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to, Wikibooks is like a library written by everyone online. I’m not so sure if I will ever use Wikibooks in the near future, but Wikipedia is a pretty good resource to use.

It just so happened that this month’s featured book on Wikibooks was a book called Lucid Dream. This caught my eye for one reason only: in Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise’s character, David, orders the Lucid Dream package from the cryrogenics company. (DO NOT CONTINUE UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE AND/OR DON’T CARE ABOUT SPOILERS!) As you know, the whole point of the movie is that everying occurring in the movie after the club scene is just a movie of sorts playing in David’s head. He thinks it’s real because the mind cannot tell the difference between a dream and reality. But why was it called the Lucid Dream package? When I saw the movie I was so caught up in the revelation that a full quater to (maybe) half of the movie had not even ocurred and was just a computer glitch that I didn’t even think twice about the Lucid Dream. Even the second and third times I saw it, I was busy trying to catch the foreshadowing and really trying to figure out what the movie was about. Like a good piece of art, the movie is up for interpretation. It was purposely made to have a vague ending. When David wakes up, we once again hear “open your eyes” and are unsure of whether he was dreaming the whole thing, had woken up in the lab, or had restarted his dream. It was both frustrating and beautiful at the same time. (END OF SPOILERS)

So what IS a Lucid Dream? I only read the introductory section of the Wikibook, but the practive of Lucid Dreaming is dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. It’s something you can become awesome at instead of it just happening every once in a while. I don’t know about my readers (and you are free to use the comments feature of the blog to enlighten me) but I have unintentionally had lots of lucid dreams. It used to happen a lot more often when I was a young child in elementary school, but I remember controlling parts of my dream down to the last detail, even “rewinding” my dreams and redoing certain scenes if I felt they could be improved.

It still happens to me, but it’s very rare nowadays since I usually don’t get enough sleep either due to school work or because I stay up with other pursuits, such as writing a blog. However, when I do get to sleep until my body wakes itself up, independent of alarm clocks, fiancees, or other external stimuli, I find that the last half hour to hour before I wake up, I’m usually lucid dreaming. I’m usually in a state somewhere between sleep and wake and am able to control certain aspects of the dream. As I progressively wake up, I’m able to control more of the dream, but I am also less asleep and more awake just daydreaming. Finally, just before I wake up, I’m basically just daydreaming and waiting to get ot a part of the dream where it bores me and I feel like getting out of bed.

I don’t know if it’s being back in academia and having my mind stimulated, the excitement of having this new blog, or what, but I feel like I’ve been blogging on a level that I haven’t done in months. As a quick reminder I’ll probably be saying daily for a week or so, don’t forget that this blog will go inactive when my server goes down, but you can continue to read my blog at blog.ericsbinaryworld.com and once I get my server up at the new site, I will migrate my blog over to this server.

Safety and health are here…at a price

I’ve recently begun to notice a disturbing trend: anything that’s good for you will cost you more. The most serious infraction comes from the food supply. When I go to buy ground beef, cheapest of the beef products, there are three tiers of product available for me to purchase. The cheapest product is ground beef with the default amount of fat. Since ground beef is already among the scrap left from a cow, this fat content can be pretty high. Since I eat ground beef fairly regularly, about once every two weeks or less, this is unacceptable. So I can choose 95% lean ground beef or 97% lean ground beef. However, these products are more expensive. In other words, economics would tell me to eat the meat that was worse for my body. However, I am a rational human being who is not a slave to any theorems of economics; I choose to buy the expensive 97% lean ground beef. Of course, if I really want to get a leaner beef product, I can go from ground beef (where $5 will feed me many times) to filet mignion (where $16 will feed me twice – max). Not only will it contain more vitamins and less fat, but the tenderness of the meat is also healthier for my digestive system, and, to a trivial degree, my teeth.

Ok, what about other foods? Consistently throughout the market anything that is good for me costs more money. For a week’s worth of tomatoes I usually spend about $15 on a cheap week. By contrast, a week or two’s worth of potatoe chips is $3 when it’s not on sale. Even among fruits, those laden with pesticides and (potentially, though not yet proven) harmfull pesticides are cheaper than the organic, locally grown fuits and veggetables. It IS a proven fact that the closer to the original source of the food you are, the less preservatives in it, meaining the food is more valuable to your system as usable fuel. This is why microwaveable food is crap and really not worth eating because it’s just processed stuff that the body just throws out, while a home cooked meal will result in a healthier body.

Moving to automobiles, what examples of this behavior do we have? It is the higher end vehicles which have more airbags to protect the passengers in the event of an accident. Even beyond that, I recently saw a Lexus commercial touting that the new filters on their cars don’t let pollen or other pollutants into the car. So are we saying that it’s ok for people who can’t afford a Lexus to breathe in pollution while those who have them enjoy healthier lungs?

This is all amounting a a very subtle form of class discrimination. If tomorrow someone was to say that the cure for cancer had been discovered, but only rich people could use it, there would be public outcry. In fact, riots or even revolutions would occur. Why are we allowing the same things to happen in other realms? For example, the current grocery prices force poor people to eat unhealthy foods. If they have to decide between having a place to live or eating healthy, they will certainly select to have a place to live. I am not a communist, I believe that those who have worked hard deserve to have their perks. However, there is a difference between perks and health. I don’t think it’s unfair if a poor person has to watch tv in a smaller tv than a rich person. Tv is an extra. Being healthy is not an extra it is a fundamental right of all humanity. Especially in the United States, the most modernized of all countries in the world, we should not be tolerating this.

Is there an easy solution? Yes there is an easy solution. Currently the government pays farmers subsidies in order for them to purposely plant less crops. Due to supply and demand principles, this artificially inflates the prices of produce. You may be thinking to yourself, “no don’t do that to the poor farmers!” But in reality, ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, there has been a steady decline in the independent farmer. Currently a VERY large percentage (I think 80% or more, but don’t have solid figures) of farming is done by HUGE companies that own most of the land and pay their workers minimum wage. In fact, there aren’t even too many workers now that most of it is mechanized. With the cars, there are two solutions. 1) mandate that all features relating to health must be included in all cars without significantly raising their price 2) subsidize the cheaper cars (eg ford focus) so that poor people can afford to breathe without Asthma.

Be certain that if I ever make it to Congress, these items will be on my agenda.