21 May 2007

Rising fanaticism in the US and Middle East are similar

The rise of Christian fanatics in the US and Muslim fanatics in the Middle East is creating a very dangerous situation that must be addressed before we really do wind up in a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. Reversing the trend may be difficult, but not impossible.
One of the features of both the Christian right and Al Qaeda-type Muslims is that they both focus on warring with their religious enemies and use their beliefs to brutalise others, allowing them to combine the joys of righteousness with cruelty – a truly heady mix. Think of all the “Christians” who support the idea of kicking women with children off welfare and all the Taliban-think-alikes who force widows to beg in street rather than work.
To reverse the trend we must figure out what are the chief causes of the increase in fanatical beliefs. In both the US and the Middle East, the rise of fanatical religious beliefs coincided with persistently declining standards of living and increasingly corrupt governments and a general slow loss of faith in the secular state. As people increasingly felt that their governments were more interested in shafting and controlling them than helping, and as making ends meet became harder and harder, people began turning to religion for solace. But it is a bitter, angry solace that seeks revenge. As the bitter interpretation of religion grows it spreads throughout the society.
Currently it is meeting some opposition. In Turkey, the military had to threaten to topple the government, again, if it gave control to the religious fanatics. In the US, the last Congressional election and various scandals have staved off control by the Christian right.
But the rise of the Christian right is especially worrisome in upper levels of the US government. The US is too powerful for senior decision-makers to adhere to religious beliefs that require them to wilfully ignore science. Similarly, the same right wingers are not just villainising science, but journalism too. It is a full assault on the finders and purveyors of truth. I suspect this is because the scientists and journalists aren’t agreeing with what the Christian right wants to believe. Look at the Christian right’s views of global warming. They honestly believe that it’s a great international conspiracy of the evil climatologists, atmospheric chemists and meteorologists against the good and pure oil and coal executives. They manage that feat by wilfully ignoring the scientific evidence and the glaring motives for self interest.
But it is not just the Christian right that has rebelled against science and truth. Muslim fanatics similarly create their own, equally fanciful versions of the truth, although they do tend to have and more hate propaganda of the sort that went out of style in the West after WWII.
Both strains of religious fanaticism are inherently authoritarian, requiring all who follow them to shun earthly pleasures and devote themselves to God. Notably, they also require everyone else around them to play along. Even in the US it seems that most people have been cowed by religious fanatics to the point where they are afraid to say they don’t believe in God lest they be labelled godless unbelievers (and probably liberals). The situation is much worse in the Middle East. Converting away from Islam in Afghanistan is punishable by death, in accordance with the Koran.
The problem is that the longer a society holds lunatic ideas and the poorer the sources of information, the worse it will run, creating a downward spiral of superstition and oppression.
It is high time to start looking seriously at the declining standards of living and education, and reverse them in both the US and Middle East. This means that the elites cannot keep pillaging their societies. In George Bush’s America, it means forcing US companies to compete internationally instead of relying on government gifts and taxing the wealthy to bolster the nation.
For the Middle East, the road is going to be harder because they are starting from a lower base and are generally more religious. However, the remedy is the same.

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09 May 2007

Malnutrition epidemic in UK

British eating habits are not merely sad and revolting, they are lethal as well, according to the Independent on Sunday.
The two most shocking facts in the articles were that malnutrition costs the National Health Service a whopping £7.3 billion, more than twice as much as obesity, and that two-thirds of women (and nearly a quarter of preschoolers) are deficient in riboflavin.
Let’s look at that again: TWO-THIRDS of women are lacking in riboflavin, holy shit!
So I did a bit of research into this to put it into context. Riboflavin, or vitamin B-2, is a water soluble nutrient that is only stored in minute amounts, so we need to be pretty much constantly eating things such as yeast, liver, oily fish, milk, eggs, beans, asparagus, broccoli and spinach to maintain proper levels.
So what, some might say. Well according to http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic2031.htm, “Riboflavin is important for energy production, enzyme function, and normal fatty acid and amino acid synthesis and is necessary for the reproduction of glutathione, a free radical scavenger.” According to numerous sites, the symptoms include:
•cracked lips,
•cracked corners of the mouth,
•sore tongue,
•numbness in the hands
•oily and scaly skin lesions on the scrotum, vulva or between lips and nose,
•premature wrinkles,
•bloodshot and light sensitive eyes, and
•stunted growth in children
In other words, if you don’t get enough riboflavin, you’re going to be a sickly munter.
But the news gets worse. Riboflavin deficiency is a marker for other deficiencies. So if you are deficient in riboflavin you are also deficient in a host of other nutrients. And in 75% of cases, malnutrition is not identified.
One thing to note in this is that malnutrition is not the same as being underfed. I would guess that a lot of people suffering from riboflavin deficiency and associated nutrients are fat.
This is not a blind guess. When I moved to the UK I was struck by how many people in my office had pale, crinkly skin, looked older than their years, had bloodshot eyes and chapped, cracked lips. Just about everyone who exhibited those symptoms was overweight. In the US there would often be one or two sickly people in an office, far from a majority, and in Eastern Europe there would be none. I also watched their eating habits with amazement. Many of them ate nothing but starches, sugar and low grade fats. Typical lunches would include a basket of chips (French fries for North Americans) or a jacket potato (baked for North Americans) with a can of baked beans or corn tipped over it or bread and margarine or canned cheap pasta. There were also a lot of biscuits and sweets (cookies and candy for the North Americans) throughout the day. Since I spent five years with these people, watched them eat lunch every day and went on numerous business trips with them, I got to see a pretty good representation of what they would and wouldn’t eat. I noted a strong correlation between how fat and sickly they were and what they ate. Even in nice restaurants, many would eat all the starches on the plate, but leave all the salad and vegetables.
Outside of the world of defence I’ve seen similar eating habits. I was at a comedy gig a couple of nights ago. One comic ordered a jacket potato with cheese. The person was visibly distressed that there was salad (mixed young leaves with a vinaigrette, it looked quite nice) on the plate. Not only did the comic not eat the salad, the person didn’t eat any part of the potato that had touched the salad. While this comic is thin, the person looks sickly and moves strangely. Going to the gig I was walking behind this person and didn’t recognise the person and thought that they were mentally or physically handicapped from their walk, which may have nothing to diet, I admit.
I have many more observations of a similar nature.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the British have a deeply f**ked up relationship with food and it is actually harming them and their children. Given that the British are constantly mewling about protecting the children, it seems odd that they don’t see that weaning their children on a diet that no proper hog farmer would feed to his pigs, is a form of child abuse. There is a curious blindness in Britain when it comes to food. There seems to be a sort of angry working-class ethic of not complaining or even noticing that the food they’re eating is, well, crap, combined with deep fears and neuroses about anything unfamiliar.

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