Why mandatory labelling of GMOs makes no sense


Anti GMO person: Foods containing GMOs should be labelled! I should be able to make the decision on whether I want to eat them and not have GMOs forced on me!

Normal person: So what would happen if a company sells a food product made with GMOs but doesn’t label it as such?

A: The product should be pulled from the shelves and the company fined!

N: And who would do the checking of products and levy the fines?

The TomatofishA: The FDA, of course.

N: OK. So you think GMOs are unsafe?

A: Of course! They’re putting fish genes1 in a tomato! How can that be a good idea?

N: If they weren’t safe, the FDA (and equivalents in other countries) wouldn’t allow them to be sold. They make sure that all of our food is safe. That’s why they exist.

A: I don’t trust the FDA! They’re in the pockets of companies like Monsanto!

N: And you have proof of this?

A: Of course not, the government is covering it up!

N: But it’s the FDA you want to check up on these “non-GMO” labels to make sure they’re accurate?

A: People have the right to choose!


1 – there is no such thing as “fish genes”. Tomatoes and fish share something like 60% of their genes already. There are genes in a flounder that have specific characteristics (a resistance to frost), and scientists are trying to give that same frost resistance to tomatoes by transferring that gene – and only that gene. Tomatoes aren’t going to start swimming or taste fishy. We already cross-breed species with the hope that a desired trait in one breed is transferred to the other, but this is clumsy and error-prone, plus this may transfer unwanted traits as well. This has been going on for hundreds of years and nobody complains. With genetic modification, we can copy only the traits that we want. It’s the same thing only much more precise. GMOs that don’t show the desired traits are not sold – this is not “randomly transfer genes, sell them to the public, and see what happens”.

People try to spin the labelling argument as choice, i.e. let the public decide. But this is misleading. If you we really advocating for consumer choice, you’d be advocating for information on the packaging about which ingredients are genetically modified and the details of the modifications. But they don’t want information. All they want is a “This product contains GMOs” banner on the label. This is not about advocating choice, it’s an attempt to incite fear.

But let’s say I buy the “labelling as choice” argument. People have their preferences, and many would prefer not to buy products with GMOs in them. But I have preferences as well. Personally, I don’t want to eat food grown by people with red hair. I want any foods grown by red-haired farmers to be labelled as such – it’s my choice and I don’t want to feed any ginger-grown garbanzo beans to my family. Where’s the labelling there? What are the red-haired famers afraid of? Can you prove that foods grown by red-haired farmers are just as safe as foods from a normal farmer? GMOs have studies that have lasted a decade or more proving that they’re safe, where are the ten-year studies of red-haired farmers?

The only thing that labelling GMO foods will accomplish is to make people afraid of them. Right now the question is “If GMOs are so safe, why shouldn’t we label them?” but if they’re labelled, in a few years the question will be “If GMOs are so safe, why do we have to label them?”

A page from the diary of Severus Snape


Sept 1

The day I have been dreading for ten years has finally arrived. In a few hours, the students will be arriving on the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter will be among them. Not a day has gone by since that night that I haven’t thought of Lily, and now her son will be one of my students. I can only hope he’s more like his mother than the swine who was his father because I swear, if he comes in here looking like James…

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on the boy; after all it’s not his fault who his father was. And I shouldn’t really blame him for Lily’s death even though she died protecting him. But though I haven’t seen the boy since that night, anger still wells up inside me whenever I think about him. So many “what ifs” – what if he had been born a month earlier or later? Then perhaps the prophesy might have led the Dark Lord to the Longbottom boy or someone else. What if he hadn’t been born at all? What if Sybil hadn’t made the prophecy in the first place? What if Sirius Black hadn’t betrayed Lily?

I imagine I have spent far too much time over the last ten years thinking about these things, but it’s so hard to let it go. Anyway, I will finally meet him later today, and then the real work begins. I have to protect him without looking like I’m protecting him. And if the Dark Lord ever returns, my job gets infinitely harder. I may even have to convince him and everyone else that I hate the boy. But he’s Lily’s son, is it even possible that I could hate him?

Sept 2

I hate him.

I saw him at the feast last night and he looks exactly like James. The same round glasses, the same wild hair. At one point, I could swear I even saw the same smug look on his face when he looked at me.

Snape

This is going to be a nightmare. I have to spend the next seven years, maybe longer, maybe the rest of my life, protecting this boy – the child of the woman who I loved more than anything and the man I hated more than anything. As long as he’s at Hogwarts, I have to make sure no harm comes to this boy who reminds me so much of James that I want to give him the old sectumsempra myself. The first potions class is tomorrow, so I guess we’ll see how smart he is then. Doesn’t matter though. Even if I can’t stand the sight of him, I have to protect him, for Lily’s sake.

Thankfully, there are two things about him that remind me that he’s not James. First, the scar on his forehead. It’s a reminder of what happened ten years ago and what he lost. What I lost.

Second, the eyes. He has Lily’s eyes.

Sept 3

Potions classes began for the first-years today. I gave the Potter boy (I almost want to call him the Evans boy so I can remove James from this whole thing, but it’s far too late for that now. Everyone knows him as Potter) the opportunity to impress us all with his knowledge of potions, but he wasn’t up to the task. First off, he started scribbling as I was talking, and then when I asked him some fairly basic questions (about wolfsbane and bezoars and stuff like that), he had no idea. Truth be told, most of the class probably wouldn’t have known most of that stuff (except for that awful Granger girl), but still. If he’s the “chosen one”, shouldn’t he be just a little better than most? This kid has the best chance of defeating the Dark Lord? Really?

Professor Quirrell is a bit of an odd fellow. First he grabs my job as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. That nervous stuttering little man is supposed to teach the students how defend themselves against the most evil forms of magic there are? And a turban? What the hell? He’s been even more odd this year so I’ll have to keep an eye on him.

But it’s not just his weird behaviour, there’s something more. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I sense something. A presence I have not felt since…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILERY review)


WARNING: There are spoilers galore here. If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, you should just stop reading now. Here’s some newlines for those reading on Facebook. Update: The newlines didn’t work so I removed them.

OK, that should do it. Now on with the review.

Here’s a story. Tell me what movie it describes:

We start on a desert planet, where a droid that can only speak in beeps and whistles and yet exudes personality crashes from an orbiting ship. Our hero (who is strong with the Force but doesn’t know it) saves the droid from a small creature who wants it for parts and finds that the droid is trying to find its master, and the hero agrees to help. It turns out that the droid is carrying some very important information that needs to be taken to the leaders of a group of freedom fighters.

The hero meets up with an older man who acts as a father figure. We travel to a bar that features many individuals from numerous species. Eventually we make our way (in the Millennium Falcon) to the villain’s “lair”, which is actually a huge weapon that contains immense destructive power. It’s shown destroying entire planets. The older man and a younger man attempt to rescue the girl who’s been taken prisoner. She’s actually a strong character, not at all the “helpless damsel in distress”. They rescue her but the older man is killed by the lead villain, a man dressed all in black who wears a mask. He is strong with the Force but has turned to the Dark Side and, it turns out, has a family relation with one of the heroes. It also turns out that the lead villain is not actually in charge; he’s the servant of another, who appears as a huge hologram.

The younger man and the girl escape and rejoin the freedom fighters, and then return to destroy the enemy weapon with their X-Wing fighters. The lead villain survives.

Was it The Force Awakens? Or was it Star Wars (A New Hope) with a couple of things from The Empire Strikes Back mixed in? The answer is yes.

Story

When the prequel trilogy was being written, it seems that Lucas thought “Let’s take the Star Wars universe and add a story that’s nothing like the first three!”. This was a decent idea, but wasn’t terribly well done. Personally, I didn’t hate the prequels as many others did, but there was certainly room for improvement. Jar Jar Binks was worse than useless. Darth Maul was a very cool-looking villain but wasn’t as scary or evil as Vader. Vader was introduced as a leader and it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that you found that he wasn’t actually in charge. The way that was done simply made the Emperor’s power that much more impressive – he can even control Vader! In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul was introduced as the apprentice so you never thought of him as being as powerful – Maul was essentially a hit-man. Natalie Portman was good and Hayden Christensen was OK (at best) but I didn’t find the chemistry between them was really there, which was unfortunate since their deep passionate love for each other was the supposed reason for Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. The dialogue was also terrible which didn’t help matters.

The Force Awakens

When writing Episode 7, it seems that J.J. Abrams thought “Let’s take the Star Wars universe and add a story JUST like the first three!” While I don’t think this strategy would have worked for the prequels, it did work for this one. There were a couple of scenes that were a little predictable for this reason, but because I’ve watched the original trilogy so many times over the years, it almost seemed like familiarity rather than predictability. It wasn’t that the writing was lazy so you could tell what was going to happen. The writing was good enough that you knew what was going to happen because it was entirely consistent with what you would expect.

At least, part of me believes that. There is a part of me that thinks it is lazy, since they didn’t have to come up with a story, just adapt one. I haven’t decided which part of me I believe.

Having said that, I do agree with some of this review, particularly when talking about the “How do we destroy the Starkiller planet?” scene. The First Order modifies a planet to be able to absorb the entire mass of a star and then use it as a weapon. First of all, not possible. But suspending our disbelief, this kind of terraforming would be centuries of work, and the rebels resistance figures out how to destroy it in about 3 minutes. If that one building is housing the only thing holding the planet together, perhaps it should have been more heavily fortified, or buried a mile underground?

Characters

Rey is a strong lead and given how masculine the original trilogy was (other than Leia, there were only 3-4 female characters who actually spoke and nobody for more than 30 seconds), I think it’s great that they chose a female lead. I also loved how Finn tried to rush to her rescue when he first met her only to find that she was perfectly capable of handling the situation herself. Her mysterious background was hinted at a few times – who were her parents? Is she Han Solo’s daughter? Doesn’t seem like it. Is she Luke’s daughter? Probably not – this would mean that Luke had fallen in love and had a child at some point, and as a Jedi he’s not supposed to do that. Given what happened to his dad when he fell in love, this sounds like a rule that Luke wouldn’t be likely to break. Personally, I hope she’s the daughter of nobody we know. Not everyone who’s really strong in the Force has to be related to the Skywalkers.

Rey & Finn

Finn is an interesting character and while I like him, he’s one of the biggest mysteries of the film. He’s been training to be a stormtrooper for almost his entire life. During that time (15 years? 20 years?), I can’t imagine the brainwashing that would have to be part of their training in order for them to do what they do. When your superior tells you to murder an entire village of innocent civilians or help operate a weapon that’s going to destroy an entire (inhabited) planet and you do it without hesitation or remorse, that’s some strong mind control. So how did Finn escape it? Thousands upon thousands (if not millions) of stormtroopers are under the complete control of the Empire / First Order, and yet Finn simply says “Nah, don’t think so” and escapes it? Nah, don’t think so.

Poe is a talented-bordering-on-cocky pilot who’s no relation to Han Solo but let’s face it, he’s as much the Han Solo of this movie as Han Solo is.

Kylo Ren is a villain who is a bit of a mystery himself. We know his parentage from fairly early on but we don’t know how old he is until Rey gets him to take his helmet off and we find that he’s not much more than a kid who looks like a young Severus Snape. He’s strong with the Force but obviously not that strong, since the untrained Rey is able to see into his mind while he’s trying to look into hers. He’s also not that skilled with a lightsaber since both Rey (still untrained) and Finn (the Star Wars equivalent of a Muggle) are both able to hold their own in lightsaber battles with him. You could even argue that Rey beat him. Yet he’s been able to become one of the top people in the First Order. During his conversation with Han Solo, it looks as if he’s going to give up the Dark Side and go home with his dad. I admit I didn’t foresee what was about to happen (strong am I with the Force, but not that strong) and so I was a bit disappointed that turning him back to good was this easy. Of course, the thing he had to do but wasn’t sure he was strong enough turned out to be something else, and he was strong enough. Han Solo’s death, while something I didn’t see coming and something I’m still not particularly happy about, was absolutely necessary in the development of Kylo Ren as a villain.

Harrison Ford nailed Han Solo, which is pretty impressive after 30+ years. Chewbacca was Chewbacca. Maz was Yoda with English lessons. Mark Hamill had second billing and was in the movie for maybe a minute and didn’t speak. Marlon Brando is impressed.

Unfortunately, not all of the characters were that effective. The Supreme Leader was too comic book-y as a non-human hologram. C-3P0 was entirely comic relief and R2-D2 was the deus ex machina – we need the rest of the map and R2 just happens to have it, and just happens to wake up at just the right time after years (?) of sitting in “low power mode”. General Phasma was supposed to be the leader of the stormtroopers but the only difference between her and any other stormtrooper was the fancy uniform.

Other

Not only was much of the story similar to Episode IV, there were a number of spoken lines from the original trilogy repeated in this one. Obviously the biggest were “I have a bad feeling about this” and “May the Force be with you”; inclusion of those was required though I’m surprised the latter was only used once. But there were a few throwaway ones as well, ones that wouldn’t have been noticed if you didn’t realize it was a repeated line but are very cool if you do. While on the Starkiller planet, you can hear a stormtrooper in the background say something like “We think they might be splitting up” which is a direct quote from a stormtrooper in a similar situation in A New Hope. Leia’s claim that “There is still light in him” was another, though I thought that was too similar to Luke telling her that there is still good in Vader. A good one was Maz talking to Rey, and telling her “Find your friend”, reminiscent of when Yoda offered to do help Luke do just that on Dagobah. The next line from The Empire Strikes Back is “I’m not looking for a friend, I’m looking for a Jedi Master!” which is accurate in both movies.

Question: Where did Maz get Luke’s light saber from? His first one fell into the clouds on Bespin when Vader cut off his hand. His second one (that he built himself), he threw away once he cut off Vader’s hand. (Aside: Nobody’s limbs were removed in this one. Odd.) I suppose he could have grabbed it again once Vader killed the Emperor but Maz specifically says that it belonged both to Luke and Anakin / Vader so it must have been the one from Bespin. She also said that how she got it was a “story for another time”, so hopefully that other time occurs in Episode VIII or IX.

Had Han really never used Chewie’s crossbow until now? After at least 30 years together?


I guess I can’t give the movie an A++++ since there were some issues with it. But it was fun, it was exciting, it was funny, it was well written (far more than the prequel trilogy), the bad guy was sufficiently bad, and it was reminiscent of the original trilogy. Everything you’d want from a Star Wars movie.

Only a little over 500 days until Episode VIII comes out!

Share if you agree


I’m a fan of Facebook. I like that it gives people the ability to communicate with friends and relatives around the world, in a much more interesting way than email or snail mail. For example, thanks to Facebook, I know a lot more about my cousins in the UK than I used to. I can see pictures of their kids, they can see pictures of mine, all that sort of thing that was definitely possible before, but took much more work and just never happened.

But to be more accurate, I’m a fan of what Facebook was intended to be. I’m not so much a fan of what it has become, which is a way for some people to feed their ego by gathering likes. I’m certainly guilty of this myself; I get some satisfaction when I post something and people click “Like” on it. Who wouldn’t want to be told that someone likes something you’ve written or a picture you’ve taken?

If you don't click Like, you're a monsterBut there are people who take this to the extreme. People post pictures with pithy sayings on them, hoping for thousands of likes, shares, and comments. Most of them include URLs where you can go to buy their products or simply generate page views for them so they can charge for advertising. There are millions of these pictures floating around Facebook. In most cases the idea is to get you to visit their website but there are lots from people who just want to generate likes and shares. Maybe just getting the likes is the goal here, or maybe people can charge for advertising on their Facebook page itself (I don’t know how that works). But in general the actual content of the image is secondary, or sometimes completely meaningless. And I’m not even talking about pictures containing blatantly false information, though I’ve seen more than my share of those. In this article, I’m just talking about the useless ones.

Here are a bunch of types of images you’re likely to see from these Facebook pages.

Appeal to emotion

The appeal to emotion is huge. Pictures of people (usually children) suffering from some terrible disease get tons of likes. Same for pictures of injured or abused animals. The “let’s give this kid a bunch of likes” is compelling in that if the kid himself sees thousands of people clicking “Like” on his picture, he would probably feel pretty good about it. But if you’ve posted something that’s been shared and re-shared, you don’t just see a caption saying “This picture has 45,302 likes!”, you’ve got to go looking for it. You have to dig through your “analytics” information to find out how many people liked it, commented on it, and shared it, and how many liked or commented on the shares. And that’s assuming that the kid himself or a member of his family originally posted it, which is almost never the case.

Pictures of military personnel get likes from people eager to show their support for people in the military. I have all kinds of respect for people in the military, but liking a picture on Facebook really does nothing to help them. You’ve probably seen the picture with the caption “let’s get 900k likes for this military dog protecting a sleeping soldier at an airport!” As cute a picture as that is, I guarantee you that neither the dog nor the soldier will give a crap about 900k likes. And why 900k? Why is there a specific target?

Others include “Share this picture if you love your daughter/son/brother/sister” with the implication that if you don’t share it, you obviously don’t love your daughter/son/brother/sister, you heartless bastard.

Slacktivism

“Share this picture if you hate cancer!” Why? First off, who doesn’t hate cancer? Secondly, how will it help anyone? This isn’t even useful for “raising awareness”, a concept that is seriously overused in the world of charities.

Save to your timeline

There are lots of pictures, particularly recipes, that say “click share to save this to your timeline”, the idea being that you can retrieve it again later. This is hilarious. Have you ever gone through your timeline looking for something that you’ve shared? In the unlikely event that you have, good freaking luck. If you really want to save a recipe, save the picture on your hard drive or print it. It’s not “click share to save it”, it’s “You should click share so that my sharing stats get bumped and more people go to my website”.

Puzzles

Some of these puzzles are legitimately interesting but most are click-bait. One has a grid of lines and asks “how many squares do you see?” with thousands of answers, all different. Another I saw recently was “Name a CITY that does not have the letter “A” in it. I bet you can’t. ;)” Yeah, this is a toughie. There are thousands of them: London, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Mexico City, New York, Toronto – it took more time to type those than to think about them. This posting had over 118,000 likes, 967,000 comments, and 22,000 shares. I don’t understand how people can see a posting that has almost a million comments on it already and decide to add another one. Do you really think none of the previous million commenters thought of your answer? And who do you think is going to read your comment? Maybe the dozen or so people who comment after you, but that’s it. Either way, why bother?

Also, even if you do the work and figure out an answer (for puzzles that have a single answer), you will likely never know if you’re right. I have never seen the original person who posted the puzzle actually post the answer. And the worst part: if you’re into math or science at all, reading the answers to some of the math ones is likely to depress you. When I see people who I know are adults (and presumably have at least a high school education) posting that 5 + 4 x 0 = 0, I weep not only for humanity but also for whatever school system they went through.

Opinions

People post pictures that contain “opinions” which are almost always either blatantly obvious or divisive (eg. opinions on gun control) and then say “share if you agree”. I saw one recently that said “This Christmas, I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy. Share if you agree.” Who the hell wouldn’t agree? And why specifically at Christmas? I want my friends and family to be happy and healthy all year round.

The divisive ones are good because they will get shares and likes from those who agree and comments from those who don’t. Tell you what – if I agree with something I’ll share it. But telling me to share it is a great way to ensure that I won’t. And telling me “99% of people won’t share this” to try and guilt me into sharing works even less.

That said, I’ve been known to share the odd picture that contains an opinion I agree with (as long as it’s not something as obvious as “I want my family to be healthy”), as well as a few that I don’t agree with and I explain why I don’t. But that’s OK because all of my Facebook friends want to know my opinion on everything. I know they do.

Magic pictures and codes

“Watch the picture and leave a comment and see what happens”. Right, because Facebook spent time and effort adding the ability to post pictures that somehow react to comments left on them. I even saw one that said “Hold your finger on this image and leave a comment and see what happens” which seemed even more ludicrous, but then I realized that a lot of people would be reading it on a mobile device. Pressing their finger on the picture could in theory have some sort of effect, though it’s unlikely. But how are you supposed to hold your finger on the image and leave a comment at the same time?

I saw one recently that told people to take the last 3 digits of your cell phone number, plug it into some formula, and post the resulting “code” as a comment to get your cell phone’s name. WTF? Do people really think that (a) your cell phone has a “name” and (b) Facebook has integrated a mechanism to retrieve that name into its comment feature? Why on earth would either one of these two things exist?

Contests

I’m amazed at the number of people who think that a company is going to send them a gift card or an iPad or something just for liking their page (and usually sharing and commenting as well). Facebook rules prohibit promotions that require you to share a posting to enter, so anything that asks you to do this is bogus. Read the postings closely as well – would Disney really use the name “Disney World.” (with a period at the end) as the name of their page, or have obvious spelling or grammatical errors in their postings? Apple makes bucketloads of money from people buying iPads and iPhones. Why would they give hundreds of them away?

Challenges

There are lots of pictures of people saying that something good will happen if this picture receives some number of Likes. You’ll see a picture of a kid holding a sign saying “My mom will stop smoking if I get a million likes”. So your mother will not stop smoking if you, her loving child, ask her to, but she will if a million strangers ask? Right. The one that inspired the image above was a picture of a child in a hospital bed with tubes all over him, saying “If we get 100 shares, this kid will get his heart transplant for free!” Now, we all know that anyone can be fooled, so it’s hard to say that you’d have to be stupid to fall for this kind of thing, but if you think about this even for a second or two you should realize that it’s ludicrous.


I realize that people aren’t going to stop sharing or liking these types of pictures. For the most part, it’s not a big enough problem for Facebook to do something about it, and you could even argue that other than cluttering up your timeline, it’s not a problem at all. All I ask is that before you share or like that image, give it a few seconds of skeptical thought first – is this thing true? Is it helpful? I know that not everything has to be helpful but if it’s utterly meaningless, maybe the fact that it’s already been shared 20,000 times is enough.

On the upside, these images do give me something to rant about. And you all want to hear my rants. I know you do.

Fix our own problems first


When other countries have financial hardships, governments of the richer countries frequently offer to send money or other aid to help them out. Some countries spend billions of dollars in foreign aid every year. Currently, there are thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and looking for shelter in the US, Canada, and many other places, and providing shelter for all of these people will cost millions of dollars as well. But there are thousands of people here in Canada who are living in poverty. There are people struggling to make ends meet because they can’t find a job. I saw a posting recently about homeless veterans. Does it make sense to send this much taxpayer money overseas or spend it on non-Canadians when there are people here in Canada that are in trouble?

(Note that I’m specifically talking about Canada here, but it applies to the US and probably many other countries as well.)

I say no. We should cancel all foreign aid and fix our own problems before helping the rest of the world with theirs. I generally agree that if you have the chance to help someone who needs help, you help them, end of story. Of course, it’s rarely that simple, and when you’re talking about sending hundreds of millions (or more) of taxpayer dollars overseas, that’s just far too simplistic. As long as there are Canadians with problems that can be solved using taxpayer money, it is our responsibility to help them rather than sending that money out of the country. Fix our own problems first.

First we need to define what “problems” we’re talking about. The ones that come up most often are poverty and unemployment, but we can also talk about everything from healthcare to crime to drugs and many others. How many of these problems need to be solved before we will help other countries? Maybe we could just pick the most important two or three. But if we did that, there would still be Canadians who need help with the ones we decide not to solve. Are those people less worthy of help than those who we’ve already helped? Of course not, so we can’t stop with some of these problems, we must tackle them all.

Another question is how completely the problems need to be solved before we’re willing to re-establish foreign aid. Say we have 5% unemployment and inner city poverty is a real problem. After implementing some of the plans we will have come up with for eliminating problems like poverty and unemployment, we have 1% unemployment and have cut the number of people living in poverty by 75%. That’s pretty good, huh? Things are definitely better than they were but even with that improvement, there still are Canadians in poverty and Canadians looking for jobs. The problems aren’t solved. There are still Canadians who need help – again, what makes these people less important than the ones we did help? We can’t stop yet, not until all the problems have been solved. We can’t be satisfied with just improving the situation or reducing these problems, we have to eliminate them. Fix our own problems first.

All we have to do is completely eliminate all problems in Canada, including poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, substance abuse, and crime. We have to do this quickly and without raising taxes. Once that’s done, we’ll have lots of taxpayer money that we will happily use to help others around the world who are in need of it.

So I’m sorry, people living in squalor and dying of dysentery or starvation, and people hoping not to get murdered by rampant terrorists or your own corrupt government. We have people in Canada selling expensive drugs to rich teenagers, and we need to put a stop to that. Also, some people with medical issues have to wait months for an MRI, and we need to cut that way down.

Once we solve all of our own problems completely, we’ll have the perfect society and then we’ll be happy to help you out financially, though you and your children will probably be dead by then. That’s unfortunate, but we have to fix our own problems first.

Blue Jays season is over but they still lose big


I haven’t written a baseball posting on this blog in over four years. I didn’t even write anything about the Jays when they clinched the postseason for the first time in 22 years, or when they came back to win a 5 game series when down 2 games to 0, or when finally succumbed to a very good Kansas City team in the ALCS. But what happened today is so mind-boggling that I can’t not write about it: Alex Anthopoulos is not returning as the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. The timing of this announcement is as telling as it is puzzling.

Anthopoulos became the GM of the Jays in 2009 and spent the next six years building the team into the 2015 AL East division champions, a team two wins away from the World Series. And as soon as he breaks the Jays’ 22-year streak of missing the playoffs – the longest of any team in any major North American sport – he decides it’s “no longer a good fit”? No, there’s something else going on here.

But perhaps the timing makes sense after all. During the season, the Jays hired Mark Shapiro to replace Paul Beeston as President of the team at the end of the season and according to one report, Shapiro “scolded” Anthopoulos for trading away too many prospects. Other reports say the contract they offered AA meant that if he had stayed, Shapiro would have had final say on any moves that he wanted to make, effectively making AA the assistant GM. If either of those is true, the Jays should be ashamed because they forced the best GM they’ve had in decades out and in the process, shot themselves in the foot, in a couple of ways.

AA not only brought the Jays back into the playoffs, he put them back in to the hearts, minds, and wallets of the city. Toronto hasn’t seen this much sports excitement since the last Toronto Rock championship the 1993 World Series. Yes, he traded away prospects but you don’t pick up the best 3rd baseman in the game and likely AL MVP, one of the best shortstops in the game, and one of the best starting pitchers in the game without giving up prospects. If he traded away prospects for older players with one last kick at the can, then they’d be right to complain. But those prospects brought in 29-year-old Donaldson, 31-year-old Tulo, and 30-year-old Price, and those three (among others, most of whom were acquired by AA) brought the Jays to the ALCS. He’s set the team up not only to be great this year, but for years to come.

And now he’s gone. This will not sit well with many fans, who see AA’s departure as a virtual firing rather than him just moving on. Make no mistake, the majority of fans couldn’t care less who the GM is and as long as the Jays do well next year, they won’t bat an eye. It’s not like I’m going to boycott the team either, but if deals are made in the off-season that appear to weaken the team in any way, if David Price signs somewhere else and isn’t replaced with another stud starter, or if the Jays don’t compete next season, well, I wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Shapiro’s shoes. And to add insult to injury, Anthopoulos was named the Sporting News Executive of the Year, and was informed of this just moments before the press conference where he announced that he wasn’t returning.

AA

So the Jays may have shot themselves in the foot with the fans, but just as importantly, it’s possible they’ve done the same thing with the players. This whole event doesn’t look good for the Jays, and I only hope it doesn’t have an effect on their ability to sign and trade for players. David Price seemed happy playing for the Jays, but what if he was a fan of AA and doesn’t like the way this played out? He’s a free agent and is going to get top dollar offers from a bunch of teams, and staying in Toronto may not have the draw it did just a week ago. God help us if Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista demand a trade.

The best case scenario is fine, in which it makes no difference and the team competes again next year. But the worst case is terrible. Price signs elsewhere. Other free agents don’t want to sign here. Trades to Toronto get blocked by players. Existing players want out. The team doesn’t compete next year. Attendance drops like a rock. The city forgets about the Jays like they did for much of the last two decades. This is admittedly extreme and thus unlikely, but it’s not a scenario you want to even envision, let alone make possible. When you have a young talented GM who’s done as good a job as Anthopoulos has, and loves the team as much as he does, you keep him at all costs. And if that means the new president has less power, that’s just too damn bad for him.

Another great quote from twitter: “Anthopolous [sic] being declared exec of the year during the conference call about his departure is the most Toronto sports moment of all time.”

A&W and steroids


We had lunch at an A&W a little while ago, and were inundated with more of their talk of how their beef is raised without any added hormones or steroids. They actually state this on their website as a “guarantee“. They’ve been saying this for a while now, including “man on the street” interviews in their commercials, where people are all impressed at this great decision that A&W has made.

(We’ll ignore the fact that a steroid is a hormone, so talking about “hormones or steroids” is redundant; you could just say “hormones”. But not everybody knows that (I just found out while researching this article), so we’ll chalk that up to “if we just say hormones, people will ask about steroids so we say both” and let it go. I’ll just use “hormones” in this article to mean both.)

But does it matter? Or is this yet another example of boosting sales and therefore profits through fear mongering?

This “guarantee” implies, but does not state, one of two things:

1. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones change the beef to make it taste worse or be less nutritious.

OR (this is kind of a special case of #1)

2. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones make it into the beef, and the amount of extra hormones in beef has a non-negligible effect on the health of a human who eats it.

I don’t know if either of these things is true but the implication is that beef with added hormones is less healthy than beef without. But where’s the science to back that up? Nowhere on the A&W web site, I can assure you of that.

Maybe a little too much

But do they need science to back it up? What is it they need to back up? Their web site states many times that their beef is raised “without added hormones or steroids”, and that they’re the only Canadian burger chain that can say that, but they make no other claims. Nowhere do they say that their burgers are healthier because of it. They don’t really need to prove their burgers are healthier, because they don’t claim they are. If you read that into what they’re saying, that’s up to you. Clever.

They also talk about their impact on the environment and sustainability, but again it’s all implication. They don’t claim that anything they do is more environmentally friendly.

However, on an agriculture blog, we see that if growth hormones were not used on cattle, we’d need 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, 4% more water, and 7% more fuel and fertilizer to produce the same amount of beef. (These numbers come from the Beef Cattle Research Council) Removing hormones is hardly contributing to sustainability.

The amount of hormones we’re talking about here makes you wonder if the whole argument is really meaningful anyway. Actually, it doesn’t make you wonder at all. The answer is clear: No, it’s not. Once again, we find that just like with all other so-called “toxins”, the dose makes the poison. First off, all beef contains hormones. 500g of beef without added hormones contains 5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of hormones (specifically estrogen). 500g of beef with added hormones contains 7 nanograms. Yes, that’s 40% more, but when you consider that 500g of white bread contains 300,000 nanograms and a pregnant woman creates 20 million nanograms in her body every day, reducing your burger hormone intake from 7 to 5 seems rather meaningless. The bun contains ten thousand times more hormones than the burger.

The A&W web site also states that their chicken is raised without antibiotics. On the same page, they state “Antibiotics are typically injected into the egg and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent disease within the chickens and to promote health.” So they are proud that they are not attempting to prevent disease or promote health in their chickens?

On their “Eggs FAQ” page, A&W states that the hens that lay the eggs they use are fed a vegetarian diet and that “Their feed has also been enriched with vitamins D, E, and B12, as well as folacin.” Vitamin D is both a hormone and a steroid. They seem just as proud of giving hormones and steroids to the chickens that lay their eggs as they are proud of not giving any to the cows that provide their burgers.

I think this is misleading advertising and I would call for a boycott of A&W, except for the fact that I like their burgers so I probably would boycott the boycott anyway.