The Science of Food and Energy

I wonder what the anti-GMO crowd will have to say about vegetables grown in space. The Independent reports that “Astronauts on the International Space Station will sit down to a very special meal tomorrow as they become the first people to ever eat vegetables grown on the station itself.” NASA scientists in charge of the Veg-01 experiment believe that growing and consuming fresh produce in space will confer both physical and psychological benefits on the astronauts, and they also see implications for improving “urban plant factories and agricultural practice designed to use electrical light sources and practice water conservation.”

Physical and psychological benefits of consuming healthful food? Don’t tell that to scientists recently funded by Coca-Cola. The soft-drink company reportedly donated $1.5 million to start the Global Energy Balance Network, an organization led by exercise scientists and dedicated to promoting the view that exercise is more important than diet in avoiding obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Hmmm. “Really virtually”? And he also had to add an “in fact” to the sentence? I think the Coca-Cola funded scientist doth protest too much.

Sugar is well known to be detrimental to human health. This recent article, for example, counts on readers to understand that, when scientists say that soybean oil is even worse for you than sugar, this is something you should heed. I have been blessed with a good metabolism that has allowed me to consume carbs with relatively little effect on my weight (thanks mom and dad!), but even with my metabolism I see that what I eat has much more of an effect on my weight and energy than does the amount of exercise I get. And that says nothing about the effect of carbs, particularly sugar, on the body’s all-too-precarious and little understood, in my opinion, balance of hormones and other life-sustaining chemicals (adrenals, thyroid, etc., etc.).

There may be some truth to the group’s assertion that many Americans are too fixated on the number of calories they consume, and that many would be healthier if they got more exercise. But if their message is, “Don’t worry, enjoy your sugary sodas. You can exercise it off,” then they are doing everyone a disservice. Not only is sugar bad for the body, but so is the type of exercise many use to burn it off: steady-state cardio. (See this article, which explains how steady-state cardio exercise, such as running, depletes muscle, tricks the body into retaining fat, and interferes with proper thyroid function.)

I have never been a big soda consumer, particularly in recent years as I’ve come to understand the effect of both sugary and reduced-calorie sodas on my health. Still, I’m somewhat sympathetic with Coca-Cola’s plight. Why? Because the company’s primary motivation for funding the Global Energy Balance Network is government intervention:

This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.

“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

This is one of many instances in which we can agree with the position that governments are taking on an issue, while at the same time maintaining that government has no place interfering. (Gay marriage, anyone?)

Speaking of being out of place, how about the group of 29 U.S. scientists who took it upon themselves to write a letter to President Obama praising the Iran “deal”? In a News Sandwich, I am supposed to deliver only one bad news story on a particular theme, but this is another example of scientists acting, not in service of human life, but against it. The letter, reports the New York Times, “praises the technical features of the Iran accord and offers tacit rebuttals to recent criticisms on such issues as verification and provisions for investigating what specialists see as evidence of Iran’s past research on nuclear arms.” Only tacit rebuttals, because these scientists are not able to refute arguments by, e.g., the Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo, that the content of any “deal” with Iran is meaningless because this regime, a leading sponsor of terrorism controlled by totalitarian theocrats, cannot be trusted.

I’d much rather see this group of 29 top nuclear scientists working on ways to provide us clean, plentiful, inexpensive nuclear energy. I’m still waiting for my Coca-Cola-can-sized, residential nuclear reactor that will free me of dependence on government-imposed monopolies. But while many of us work to change the culture to one that will legalize true energy innovation, we will have to be content with those technological advances, made possible by science, that are still legal.

Here’s one for which entrepreneurs will, no doubt, find numerous applications: iSkin, which is

A skin-worn sensor that turns the human body into a touch sensitive surface for controlling mobile devices has been developed by scientists in Germany. iSkin is made from biocompatible silicone rubber with pressure-sensitive sensors that are stuck to the skin of the users, allowing them to use their own body to control mobile devices.

One of the scientists “also hopes that it could one day be possible to incorporate an energy-harvesting system that would power iSkin via the wearer’s body.”

I wonder if the iSkin scientists could team up with Coca-Cola’s scientists and see if they can suck out the calories we consume in sugary soda? Would that qualify as “sustainable energy”?

I’m off to write my Patent Application now…

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The Use of Innovation to Improve Human Life–and Those Who Would Prevent It

A new invention reported by the New York Times this week promises to save us time, money and sanity. LiquiGlide “makes the inside of the bottle permanently wet and slippery,” so that their contents slide out easily. No more struggling to get ketchup out of the bottle–only to have it splatter on your clothes. No more precariously balancing the old bottle of liquid hand soap on top of the new one, for hours, in hopes of transferring the last bits of remaining soap that the dispenser pump could no longer reach. No more drinking tea that is lukewarm due to the minutes it took to extract the last teaspoon of honey from its bottle.

As described in the article, the technology works by means of a

“lubricant [that] binds more strongly to the textured surface than to the liquid [contained in the bottle], and that allows the liquid to slide on a layer of lubricant instead of being pinned against the surface, and the textured surface keeps the lubricant from slipping out.”

LiquiGlide, originally developed to solve “larger-scale industrial challenges, like preventing ice formation on airplane wings and allowing more efficient pumping of crude oil and other viscous liquids,” promises to save consumers quite a bit of money—assuming, of course, that it’s not too expensive to implement:

“Tests by Consumer Reports in 2009 found that much of what we buy never makes it out of the container and is instead thrown away — up to a quarter of skin lotion, 16 percent of laundry detergent and 15 percent of condiments like mustard and ketchup.”

I’ll be interested to hear more about the “edible” version of the lubricant that will be used on the insides of bottles containing food and condiments (its ingredients have not yet been disclosed). But in the meantime I look forward to trying out the technology in what is likely to be its first consumer application: Elmer’s glue, with whom LiquiGlide has signed an exclusive agreement.

In other news, unfortunately, a group of scientists are planning to use the “moral authority” of the United States to delay the use of potentially life-saving technology. At issue: “a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited.” According to The New York Times, the technique, which could erase genetic diseases, such as certain forms of breast and ovarian cancer, “has already been used to edit the genomes of mice, rats and monkeys, and few doubt that it would work the same way in people.”

And yet a group of biologists published a paper last week in the journal Science, calling for scientists worldwide to hold off on clinical application of the technology in humans—progress in some countries, recall, is not hampered by an FDA—“until the full implications ‘are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.’” (The inventor of the technique is the lead author of the article. A similar article, discussing the use of a rival genome-editing technology, recently appeared in the journal Nature.) Their concern is that, in addition to the probability of eradicating genetic diseases, the technology might be used “to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence.” Many ethicists, no doubt the same ones who will dominate the discussions in the “approved” scientific and governmental organizations, believe this genome-editing technology should not be used for either of these latter purposes.

My answer to them: then don’t use it. These biologists are hoping to buy time to “educate” the public about how bad it could be, and thereby to instigate worldwide calls of “there ought to be a law!” so that governments will regulate the use of this technology and prevent its use for “unethical” purposes like—gasp!—the enhancement of beauty and intelligence.

So long as there is no fraud or other rights violations committed by the doctors who implement this technology, we should let the free market decide for what purposes it will be used. It is always evil for government to initiate force against citizens so as to prevent them from benefiting from the fruits of their labor or enhancing their lives. (And yes, this includes preventing the use of genome-editing technology to enhance beauty.) But it is particularly evil to contemplate preventing, to hope to prevent, by force, the enhancement of human intelligence. Given that our rational faculty is our primary means of survival, the potential to enhance human intelligence carries with it the promise of more innovation, more productivity with less effort—in other words, more enjoyable lives for everyone. How dare a group of scientists try to arrogate to themselves the right to make this decision on our behalf?

The good news is that, while we work to change the culture to one that will, at least for the most part, embrace the opportunity to enhance human intelligence and beauty, we can at least avail ourselves of new medical treatments overseas via “medical tourism,” albeit at considerable expense and some inconvenience. While many around the world will be cowed—or coerced—as a result of whatever “consensus” is reached by the “scientific and governmental organizations,” others will likely begin to exploit this technology and offer patients the opportunity to live longer, healthier, happier lives.

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A Ted Cruz 2016 News Sandwich

(For those who are not familiar with the News Sandwich format, my goal is always to sandwich some bad news between at least two items of good news. Read “About,” above, for more on this blog.)

Yesterday Ted Cruz delivered this speech

in which he formally announced that he is running for President in the 2016 election. Cruz gave us ample reason to continue to believe that he is the best option we have in the field, reiterating his intention to sign legislation repealing every word of Obamacare and every word of Common Core; to abolish the IRS and have us file our taxes–which would be levied at a flat rate–on a postcard-sized form; to unapologetically stand with Israel and prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon; to protect our privacy, and more.

The date Cruz chose to announce his candidacy could not have been more perfect. He reminded us that, 240 years earlier, Patrick Henry delivered his legendary “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech in a church about 100 miles away; and that 5 years earlier, Barack Obama had signed Obamacare into law. Anyone in whom there remains a glimmer of appreciation for what the United States once was–as Ayn Rand repeatedly said, the most moral and most noble nation on earth–could see the evidence of decline in that single snapshot. And Cruz who, as usual, came across as earnest and knowledgeable (speaking, as many have noted, entirely without teleprompter), is offering us the promise of taking significant steps towards returning this country to what it once was.

I wasn’t surprised that Cruz–a religious man speaking from Liberty University–promised to do some things that would, in my view, violate individual rights: restrict (perhaps even ban–Cruz was a bit vague here) a woman’s right to abortion, as well as gay marriage. What was surprising is that, immediately after promising to repeal every word of Common Core, Cruz spoke of a “fundamental right to education,” something that, to my knowledge, has not yet existed at the federal level. (Many states, in their own constitutions, purport to guarantee such a right, but our federal constitution leaves education as the province of the state governments.) Hearing that, I fear that Cruz, were he to succeed in his plans, might create more freedom in education in the short term, but only at the price of having a bigger federal government takeover of education down the road. I am eager to hear more details about his plans.

Another thing that has not surprised me is many Objectivists’ reluctance to support Ted Cruz because of his religious views. As I reiterated on my show last night, my support for Cruz is a contextual decision, based on my judgement that he is likely to be the best candidate in the field–substantially better than any other–and that our country’s situation is dire enough to take a chance on a good, albeit religious, candidate.

What has surprised me is the vehemence with which many who purport to be limited government conservatives have criticized and, at least so far, rejected Cruz. Assuming these conservatives agree with most or all of Cruz’s policy positions, why the vehemence? I fear there are a couple things that might be going on, and neither bodes well for the future of this country.

First, I fear that many reject Cruz for the same reason that Greg Gutfeld and others have criticized him: that Cruz is, at least to some extent, selfish. In Gutfeld’s terms, “Cruz is in it for himself.” Cruz has twice, on the floor of the Senate during filibuster-type speeches, cited Ayn Rand. Once, during his Obamacare “filibuster,” he went so far as to name Rand as “one of my all-time heroes,” and urged people to read her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. As I’ve said repeatedly on my show, I think the difference that has made the difference with Cruz is his genuine appreciation for Ayn Rand and his earnest and surprisingly successful attempt to integrate her view of rational self-interest with his religious views. Could it be that many conservatives reject Cruz precisely because of this fact? As Rand demonstrated in her novels and nonfiction works (e.g., The Virtue of Selfishness), it is the morality of rational self-interest that provides the only defensible philosophical foundation for the right to the pursuit of happiness. If many of those who are supposed to be the proponents of limited government reject the ideas on which it rests, tyranny is closer than we think.

The second thing I fear could be seen as a variation on the first: that the thirty-plus years that have passed since we elected Ronald Reagan–thirty-plus additional years of progressive education and inculcating dependence via the welfare state–have taken their toll on the American sense of life. The principle of individual rights and the goal of restoring limited government are, for many, no longer ideas grounded in reality, but fantasies to be achieved “someday.” “The country isn’t ready for a Ted Cruz,” many of these critics say, choosing instead to embrace the milquetoast alternatives of Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, even Scott Walker.

Of course there is no such thing as “milquetoast” when we’re talking about moderating the protection of individual rights. And with Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion becoming more entrenched by the day, the FCC’s recent takeover of the Internet, and much more, the situation is becoming dire. So it baffles me that so many who say they are for individual rights and limited government, so vehemently reject the only candidate who seems to be offering a clear path toward achieving both. Let’s hope that Cruz wins over critics like these over the next 18 months. The support of some talk radio heavyweights–Limbaugh, Beck and Levin–will no doubt help in this.

In the meantime, I thank those who participated in the chatroom during last night’s show for helping me formulate my four-question interview for Ted Cruz, should he ever accept my standing invitation to be interviewed for my show:

1. What would you tell limited-government atheists who would like to support you, but worry that you will ban abortion and prohibit marriage among homosexuals?

2. You say that, on the one hand, you would like to repeal Common Core, but that you would also like to recognize a federal “fundamental right to education.” Don’t you think the latter would create a dangerous new precedent, which would someday invite something even worse than Common Core?

3. During your announcement speech you didn’t mention the Federal Reserve or the vast debt our country has accumulated. Do you have particular plans for those?

4. Rawls or Rand? You have expressed affinity for both thinkers, but they held contradictory views. Can you explain?

Over the next 17 months or so I will do what I can to get these questions before Cruz. Let me know if you can help. And, if you like this post, and would like to see me get this interview, please share with your friends and followers. Thanks!


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