Thursday, June 28, 2012

I watched Dr. Oz today (briefly)

Today I watched a segment of the Dr. Oz show.

It was about energy drinks (coffee, Red Bull and 5 Hour types, etc.) and how they aren't really miracle producers of energy, that in moderation now and then they're fine, but the high levels of sugar and excessive doses of caffeine are something to be avoided; that B vitamins aren't going to do anything for you unless you're deficient. And so forth.

This was more or less sensible advice. And then Dr. Oz and guest purported to let the audience know about some real "Miracle energy drinks." Which is where the show veered into quackery. The three miracle drinks offered were: Yerba Mate, a protein shake with powdered glutamine added, and ice water with lemon/pineapple/mint.

Look: Drinking flavored water is nice way to stay hydrated, but there is obviously nothing about it is a miracle energy source. In fact, it's not an energy source at all, given water has no calories. However, being dehydrated can effect your metabolism, so the advise to drink a pitcher of water a day is the most sensible thing that the show told the audience. Dr. Oz should have stopped there.

The "energy" from energy drinks is really referring to the stimulant effect of (primarily) caffeine. Which is what is so ridiculous about Yerba Mate being listed, given that it's a caffeine tea-like sort of drink - it would have easily fit in with the energy drinks given at the start of the segment.

Then there's the protein shake with glutamine. This is a nice way to get Dr. Oz's audience to waste their money. First of all, the recipe given for the shake has coffee in it - that is to say, a drink offered as an alternative to coffee has coffee in it. Then there is the glutamine, which the guest said that people really need to be getting _____ amount a day of (I forget the exact amount she said, it's irrelevant.) Unless you're a severe burn victim or have some kind of catastrophic injury/illness there is no reason to supplement with glutamine, something virtually anyone (asides from the malnourished) is going to get plenty of in their diet. Never mind that it will have nothing to do with energy anymore than any other amino acid that can be converted into glucose.

Which gets us to protein and strawberries (included in the recipe): you may as well call a chicken sandwich an energy meal. There's nothing "miracle" about it just because you get some protein and carbohydrates in liquid form. It can be tasty and convenient, certainly healthier than drinking a milk shake, but not a miracle.

Checking skeptical medical blogger Orac's website, I see that my initial impression of Dr. Oz is merited.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hume, on the prospect of death

Towards the end of The Philosophers' Quarrel - a book about the brief friendship and subsequent falling-out between luminary 18th century philosophers David Hume and Jean-Jaques Rousseau - the authors Robert Zaretsky and John Scott relate an exchange between a dying Hume and the visiting James Boswell, who had come to see if the great skeptic had changed his views on religion and an afterlife, being so close to death.

After finding that Hume had not changed his views, Boswell exclaimed, "Does the thought of annihilation never give you any uneasiness?", to which Hume replied, "Not at all, Mr. Boswell. No more than the thought that I had not been."

In this we hear Hume echoing the sentiment of the ancient Greek materialist philosopher Epicurus:

Become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us. For all good and evil consists in sensation, but death is deprivation of sensation. And therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for immortality. For there is nothing terrible in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living. So that the man speaks but idly who says that he fears death not because it will be painful when it comes, but because it is painful in anticipation. For that which gives no trouble when it comes, is but an empty pain in anticipation. So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.
The account of Boswell's interview of Hume can be read in fuller detail in the article that Zaretsky wrote comparing the dignified manner in which Hume and Christopher Hitchens confronted dying. (The article is essentially the same material that appears in the book, minus the portion relating to Hitchens.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sherlock Holmes on execution because of circumstantial evidence

From "The Adventure of the Boscombe Valley Mystery" by Arthur Conan Doyle

I shook my head. "Many men have been hanged on far slighter evidence," I remarked.

"So they have. And many have been wrongfully hanged."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Baleful quote of the day

"Gitmo detainees have now lost virtually every avenue—other than dying in detention—for leaving the detention camp." - Adam Serwer

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Dewey on the corrosive effects of fear and hatred

Via Jeffrey Feldman in Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy:

"Intolerance, abuse, calling of names because of differences of opinion about religion or politics or business, as well as because of differences of race, color, wealth or degree of culture are treason to the democratic way of life. For everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sets and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life. Merely legal guarantees of civil liberties of free belief, free expression, free assembly are of little avail if in daily freedom of communication, the give and take of ideas, facts, experiences, is choked by mutual suspicion, by abuse, by fear and hatred. These things destroy the essential condition of the democratic way of living even more effectually than open coercion." - John Dewey, "Creative Democracy - The Task Before Us"

This is an excellent quote to keep in mind while reading Arthur Goldwag's The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, for, as Goldwag succinctly put it himself, "the New Hate poisons our political discourse and divides us even more than we are already."

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Something you may not have known about Marilyn Monroe

I just finished Myra MacPherson's I.F. Stone biography All Governments Lie (which was excellent; highly recommended for anyone interested in the life story of one of the 20th century's most important and pioneering journalists) and found the following tidbit from the book quite fascinating: Marilyn Monroe, who knew I.F. Stone through her husband playwright Arthur Miller, sent a subscription of Stone's independent newsletter the Weekly to every House member.*

I think that was a quite admirable act, on Monroe's part. (Stone was a fierce critic of McCarthyism, a problem Miller was himself familiar with.)

*DD Guttenplan, author of another Stone bio, says that it was a subscription for every member of Congress; and  Peter Osnos, editor of a collected edition of Stone articles, is also credited with saying it was for every member.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Schoolhouse Rock, post 9/11

This This Modern World strip by Tom Tomorrow has to be my all-time favorite one, as it so simply depicts the perverted conception of "justice" that has become normalized for a generation of Americans coming of age after September 11, 2011.

Friday, June 01, 2012

What you won't be hearing on Fox News

Fox News routinely pushes the myth that a large percentage of poor people pay no taxes (because they are exempt from federal income tax) and therefore need to have their taxes raised.

Here is something you will never hear from the Fox News voices who, in the name of opposing "class warfare," want to reduce the tax burden of the wealthy and increase it for the poor.

A recent IRS report showed that 20,752 households that reported earning more than $200,000 in 2009 paid no federal income taxes. About 1,500 of those tax-free Americans were millionaires.