March 31st, 2009
Edited to add: Not safe for work due to swearing.
March 31st, 2009
Edited to add: Not safe for work due to swearing.
March 31st, 2009
A commenter left me a link to a short podcast (just over 10 minutes long) that is directly related to the problem I discussed here regarding the person I know who is seeking CAM treatments for an almost-certainly terminal disease. I listened to it and thought it was really thought provoking and interesting. If you are interested, check it out here.
March 30th, 2009
This recipe is not my own – it is from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen cookbook.
To begin, get three good sized garlic cloves or four smaller ones, unpeeled, and two jalapenos:
Now toss those little bastards into a dry pan on medium heat. The goal is to soften the insides while blackening the skin. Shake the pan every couple of minutes or so to get all sides of the peppers and garlic blackened. It’s going to take around 10-15 minutes:
While that’s cooking, get a white onion and chop it in half. Save one half for something else, and start slicing:
Make it into fine dice:
Then put the dice into a mesh strainer and rinse them under cold water. Shake off the excess and put the onions into your bowl. Then grab a nice bunch of fresh cilantro:
And chop it up. You want to end up with a loose and generously heaped cup of cilantro. I used the entire bunch and didn’t really bother measuring. Add it to the bowl with the onion and combine.
When the garlic and peppers are done they will look something like this:
Take them off the stove but leave the heat on. When they are cool enough to handle, slip the garlic out of their skins and toss the cloves into your food processor (you could also do this in a mortal and pestle). Chop off the stems of the jalapenos and discard. I bisect the peppers and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and webbing, which is where the heat is. You can leave it in if you like. Toss the jalapenos into the processor, add a generous pinch of salt (about half a teaspoon), and blend until you get a coarse puree.
Now put about a pound of ripe red tomatoes into the dry pan. This will be two large or three medium, roughly. Once again you want to blacken the skins. Really this step should be done in a broiler for best effect but I don’t have one, so stovetop it is! In this picture you can see me holding the tomatoes in a line on their sides to get blackening on areas other than the very tops and bottoms, which is the only place they will probably rest on their own:
When they are black all over (or as all over as they get before starting to fall apart), take them out, remove the stems, roughly chop, and put into the processor with their liquid. Mine aren’t really black enough but I got impatient!
Now process everything for a brief time. You don’t want a liquid but rather a still-chunky texture. Mine got a little too processed while I was taking the picture, alas:
Pour the processed mixture into the bowl with the cilantro and onion. Stir. Add another teaspoon of salt:
And voila! Very simple and just stunningly delicious.
March 30th, 2009
Tonight I made the best salsa I have ever made. And I have made a lot of salsa. Primarily this is because of my enduring love affair with tortilla chips but that aside, the sad truth is I have never been able to produce salsa any better (or even as good as) the stuff in the deli at Safeway. But! Oh bountiful heavens but! Tonight I made salsa to weep over. It was so good I hunched over the bowl and ate it with a spoon, so hesitant was I to dilute its fabulousness with something as sullying as a mere chip.
Then I used it all up in a rice dish I made (which was very good thanksforasking) and now I have to go back to the grocery store to buy more supplies to make more salsa to eat more of it with a spoon.
But because I love you I will be posting pictures and the recipe, in case you would like to become my spiritual sibling and eat along with me at home. It’s really surprisingly easy. You’ll like it!
Check back later…
March 30th, 2009
So, since we were talking about promoting a naturalistic worldview, here is a problem I had recently and am seeking your advice on.
I know someone who is seriously ill, and it is a virtual certainty that the result will be death much before his time. This is a terrible situation (obviously) and things are very hard for him and his wife these days. So recently I had dinner with this friend, and it came out that in addition to the usual medical treatments, he is having a lot of naturopathic and other sorts of woo treatments. And my friend is quite convinced that it is those latter treatments that are responsible for his recent rallying.
And this is the question: what would you have done there? I was really uncomfortable and spent a lot of time twisting my napkin around and trying to think of whether it makes me an enormous asshole if I say something about how absurd it is to credit an upswing to acupuncture. In the end I didn’t say anything like that at all, merely expressed my gladness that he is feeling better and that I hope the trend continues. But this felt very unsatisfying and also disingenuous, because I really think the woo treatments are a waste of time and money and not responsible for his improvements in any meaningful way.
Here are the factors I was considering:
1. He is getting proper medical treatment, so it’s not like the woo is replacing anything. Merely adding (so to speak).
2. I wasn’t overtly asked for my opinion, though sort of I was in that my friend spoke at length of the woo treatments he was getting and explaining how this helped him, so I was in a conversational sense expected to render a judgment (expecting agreement and encouragement, of course). Any time you are invited, overtly or covertly, to agree with someone, it is implied that disagreement is also possible. Though maybe not welcome. Am I making sense here? In other words he started it.
3. Is it wrong to take hope away? Or to challenge the basis of that hope and then maybe alienate your friend, who really doesn’t need to be fighting or losing friends at the moment?
4. How to be politely supportive without endorsing the woo? I tried to do this by focusing on his outcome rather than the process that landed him there but I don’t know if it really worked.
5. Every person has the right to do what they want with their body and spend their money on whatever they want. It’s not my job to police other people’s choices. But… do they know what the research on that stuff says? How do you inquire about this under such circumstances?
I just don’t know what to do here. I guess one factor for me is being uncomfortable with his illness – I don’t know what to say about it or how to help, and I’m nervous about voicing my opinion when it is so opposed to theirs – and amounts to a “you’re wrong.” And the placebo effect is real – who knows, maybe the woo really made some difference, at least in the short term.
As someone with strong feelings about the validity of complementary and alternative “medicine” it didn’t sit right with me to stay silent. As someone who cares about her friend and tries to understand the desperation that might lead someone to that stuff, I have a lot of compassion for them and their search for something to help. I want to be a good friend.
What would you have done?
March 30th, 2009
So did I tell you I went to SkeptiCamp on Saturday? I did. It was cool. I admit I had pretty low expectations – when any jackass can sign up to do a presentation, there has to be a certain amount of useless piffle and uninteresting ranting, yes? But no. It was uniformly good. Some of the presentations were stronger than others, but overall I was very pleasantly surprised at the caliber of the talks. In particular I enjoyed the presentation by an artist who did a demonstration with an assistant of how faces imprint on fabric and why the shroud of Turin is, shall we say, suspicious. And then there was the glowing, smoking pickle, which totally blew my mind, having never done any lab sciences or other work that would expose me to glowing pickles. (You would think I am solidly in the majority here but at Skepticamp there were lots of “oh yes the old glowing pickle”s which lets you know about the level of nerdiness in the room!)
So the reason I have tossed my decision to scrap potentially contentious material is mainly to do with Puck’s presentation. It was about social media and blogging and how these can be used to thoughtfully and effectively spread the message about science, critical thinking and reason, by interested individuals. After spending a day with some very interesting and thoughtful people, all talking about these topics, I found it very inspiring to hear Puck deliver that message.
I have been thinking more about this and have come to the following conclusions:
1. I like writing about the stuff I write about.
2. I dislike argument, though I enjoy debate.
3. I hate fighting with people, particularly people I know in RL.
And this leads me to the second inspiring message I got on Saturday: Mel said to me, very patiently (the way one speaks to an errant five year old), “You know, you don’t have to respond to every single comment you get. It’s okay. It’s your blog, you can do what you want.” Obvious! Yet it had not been obvious to me before. I think I’ve had this idea that it’s merely polite to respond to folks who take the time to comment here. But Mel said, “If you were on the Skytrain and some crazy person tried to talk to you, you’d give a one word answer and turn away.” And yes! She is a genius.
I’m not saying I think you’re crazy (well, most of you aren’t). I am saying I can pick my battles. So I haven’t decided to stop talking with those of you who want to comment here, because I do like it generally speaking. But I have decided to stop giving in to the urge to address point by point every comment I disagree with, think misunderstood me, or otherwise address. Really, why did I do that?
Anyway… I hate these stream of consciousness posts but since I made such a fuss about quitting this stuff I thought it would be useful to explain the sudden change of heart. Thank you for bearing with me as I figure this shit out.
Contentious topic up next: save the gay baby whales for Jesus!
March 29th, 2009
Yesterday I had a great day which involved an abrupt about face revision of my stance on potentially argument-provoking posts, which I will tell you all about of course, but for now I will only say this brief comment before heading off to another social engagement:
I AM NEVER DRINKING AGAIN.
I know you don’t believe me. I know you are thinking, yeah sure, until next time! Chortle chortle! But I am serious. You see, I have past actions on my side: last night I had three drinks, the most I’ve had except for one other three drink night about a month ago I believe, in about a year. Did that make sense? What I mean is my alcohol consumption has been trending strongly down since about age 27 and I see no reason to fight it. What with all the vomiting (sorry to be indelicate). So I don’t doubt me and you shouldn’t either.
Yesterday I attended SkeptiCamp 2009 here in Vancouver. This is a participant-content-generated mini-conference where people do short presentations on a topic related to science, skepticism, critical thinking, or related issues. I didn’t present (too shy this time) but Husband and I both enjoyed our experience as attendees quite a bit. After the conference we all went out for dinner, then to Joe and Mel’s for socializing, which was the site of the scandalously out of control three drinks I had.
Cut to this morning and me lying on the bathroom floor whimpering, wondering if it would be better to stick the hangover out or just kill myself and be done with it. Of course I went with the former (less messy) and now here I am, firmly resolved to NEVER DRINK AGAIN.
Because gah, this is horrible.
March 27th, 2009
I am pretty sure I will be restricting myself to posts of an exclusively personal nature from now on. This is because I loathe confrontation and every time I post something to do with anything other than my personal life (ie vegetarianism, religion, science, ethics, anything) I manage to irritate someone and half the time I end up in an argument which almost certainly wouldn’t happen in real life but people are more obnoxious online, including me. And then I say, What the fuck am I doing this for? The recipe never comes out right. This is supposed to be fun and when it isn’t, and I remember no one pays me for this, I realize I have made a stupid choice.
I don’t mean to insult you but arguing online is very boring. Also I get very nervous about it and tie myself in knots trying to explain myself when really, probably no one but me cares about my explanations. I have noticed that when we disagree in comments, it seems to always end up as the two parties talking past each other without actually engaging, so to speak. So what is the point of that?
And, like I said, I don’t like to argue. This is a personal failing, one of many which I possess, and recently I talked about it with a friend over dinner and she made some very good points to do with not being so weird about it. In my real life I have rededicated myself to not being a wilting flower in the face of a differing opinion, but seriously, we all have our limits. I have discovered I am not interested in being a leader or trying to change minds or anything of that ilk if it requires dealing with pissed off people, which is the reaction I seem to regularly provoke. I don’t know how I do it but it is undeniable, I do. I know the rest of the internet takes this in stride but I am not the rest of the internet. I am sensitive and I don’t like it.
Also, I don’t have enough friends that I can run around arguing with them all the time. Disagreements here have affected my real life and that is just so incredibly not worth it I can’t even begin to tell you. Well you have friends, you can imagine.
So that’s what I have to say about that.
March 26th, 2009
This morning I tossed up a quick post about a recently published study which looked at consumption of meats and certain bad health outcomes (including death). Someone asked, and I paraphrase, Why should I care about this? It’s a correlational study – it can’t prove anything!
It’s a good question, and a fair one. Husband and I are drafting a response which will provide a summary and translation of that paper’s findings for my audience which may not be interested in tackling an academic article in its raw state. But before we can look at that, we need first to determine why we should listen to correlational studies, why we can find them so powerful that it becomes rational and justifiable to change how we live our lives based on them.
When the strength of a correlation is high, we can infer causation. This is how the field of epidemiology (the study of the spread of diseases and other health markers in populations) works. The strength of a correlation is measured against five markers:
-temporal precendence. The alleged cause comes before the effect in time.
-there is a graded response; the more of the alleged cause is present, the more of the measured effect is present.
-the relationship between alleged cause and the effect is consistent when observed in a variety of settings and with different populations.
-there is a plausible mechanism to explain the relationship.
-the risks of the effect happening to you are higher when the alleged cause is present than when it is not.
Based on those markers, we were able to infer that smoking causes cancer – BUT to date the research which has been performed on that link is correlational, NOT experimental. This means we have not proven that smoking causes cancer according to the strict “correlation is not causation” position – but of course this doesn’t mean you should all rush out and buy a pack of smokes. The strength of the correlation between smoking and cancer is authoritative. It’s just that the tools and applications of statistical correlations are much more sophisticated than they may initially seem.
Oh bother, I just found a little article online which says what I’ve just said… only with diagrams. Go here to see it.
Anyway… how this applies to the article I linked to is coming soon. I hope this begins to address concerns with the form of this paper, but it’s not the last we’ll have to say on the topic.
Thanks for reading!
March 26th, 2009
Just going to work so not much time to polish this, but I wanted to get it out before I head out the door:
Have you all read the new study on the hazards of eating meat? I’ll save you the suspense: it’s bad for you. Death, cancer, heart attack, stroke. EAT PLANTS! (Link to study at bottom.)
This study compared several eating patterns, including red meat, white meat, and processed meat as separate categories, and sorted by amount eaten. It then measured health outcomes: general mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke). This is the single biggest and probably most important study ever done on the effects of eating meat and it is enormously important for people to understand it.
The study is impressive for its sheer size – over 500,000 individuals, which is astronomical (and has the advantage of cancelling out a number of interependent variables). Also it was a prospective study, so the hypothesis was generated before hand and watched for rather than post hoc fitting the findings to some newly generated hypothesis. And those half million people have been being followed for a decade and they’re still going.
The only type of study more powerful than this would be a randomized controlled trial, where people are assigned to conditions or controls – but it’s not possible to do this sort of study when it comes to eating habits in the real world. In the real world, it’s much more useful (and also practical) to study people’s actual habits, which tend to stay stable. The confounds here are, for example, what elements are also associated with red meat eating that could cause death (the study authors note smoking as a potential confound). But this is the beauty of the huge n study – many confounds will be cancelled out due to enormous breadth of participants.
The hazard ratios (the multiplier of getting a certain disease outcome because of exposure to a certain risk factor) are broken down by disease, gender, and level of consumption – very informative! For example, if you are in the top 20% of red meat eaters and a woman, you are 1.2 times more likely to die of cancer than someone in the bottom quintile (20%). 1.2 times might not sound like a lot but it amounts to a 20% increase over a population, which is enormous! And what if you’re in that 20%? And that’s just the top meat eaters.
These numbers would almost certainly be even higher (I am guessing) if they had had a “control” group of strictly non-meat eating people.
You can read the actual study here: