Tag: health

TBHQ May Stick You With the Flu, Study Says

Ryan Lau | @RyanLau71R

For years, there has been controversy surrounding the chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Currently, it is in many food products as an antioxidant. Essentially, its function is to extend the shelf life of certain foods. Robert Freeborn, a toxicologist at Michigan State University, recently carried out a study that looked at its effects on the flu vaccine. The results were cause for worry for anyone who has received the shot.

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Human Genetic Modification is Eugenics in Disguise

 Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

We see it everywhere; the crunchy panic around genetically modified corn, peas, and drought resistant lettuce. It makes the news about quarterly. Whenever a company is discovered using fragments of algae DNA for the disturbing crime of pesticide-free crops. The information can be public knowledge or a company secret but it’s always treated as the latter. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) such as beans, corn, and tomatoes pose precisely no threat to human health. But the bigger risk of all of this gene editing in strawberries is that it is starting to move into the realm of human genetics. GMOs are all fine with food products, but when it enters the womb, it smells suspiciously of eugenics.  

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Abolishing the DEA Would be Good for Your Health

By Francis Folz | United States

Like most presidents of the 20th century, Richard Nixon was a statist. His policies reflected this throughout his troubled presidency. This, of course, includes the elimination of the gold standard, the institution of wage and price controls, and the creation of unconstitutional federal programs. Most, notably, Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

A History of Harm

Since he created the agency, it has been the most prominent overlord of personal responsibility. America has a  long-held claim that it is the land of the free. However, the DEA has usurped every American’s sovereignty, spending millions of dollars on arresting and detaining Americans. What for? Nixon and the DEA claimed that “subversive substances” were a public enemy.

Another adverse quality of the Drug Enforcement Agency is their stifling of medical research on prohibited drugs. From cannabis to LSD, they restrict the ability to research clear health benefits. Here are a few examples of how the DEA restrains medical progress, despite the potential to assuage many Americans’ suffering.

Cannabis and the DEA

The United States has recognized cannabis as a medicine since 1996. Despite this, the DEA’s resistance to reefer and science has been robust. While numerous studies over the past few decades have proven the benefits of marijuana, there is still much more ground to cover. 

For example, it took until 1990 for scientists to discover cannabinoid receptors within the human brain. Cannabis’s designation as a schedule one substance since 1971 has been the most formidable obstacle to delving into marijuana’s myriad of health benefits. Interestingly, the state prohibited the drug far before they even knew of these receptors.

All schedule one illicit drugs, according to the DEA, are dangerous for consumption, highly addictive, and possess no medical value. First of all, it is unconstitutional for the federal government to even create a ranking such as this. But going beyond that, it is absurd for them to consider marijuana a schedule one narcotic.

More than half of all states have some form of medical marijuana, and even the federal government holds a patent for medical marijuana. Furthermore, 85% of Americans believe cannabis should be medically legal. Thus, many wonder why the state still refuses to recognize the drug’s health benefits.

Psilocybin Treatments

Though hard to believe, magic mushrooms, like cannabis, have possessed medicinal and cultural merit for quite a while. However, in the 1970’s, Timothy Leary, a prominent member of the 60’s counter-culture movement, conducted a study called the Concord Prison Experiment. In his study, he distributed psychedelic mushrooms coupled with assisted group therapy to prisoners. He then measured recidivism rates to test the effects of psilocybin-induced treatment. Initially, the results were fruitful, reducing the recidivism rate by 50 percent. 

Another trailblazing psilocybin study conducted in the 1960’s is the “Good Friday Experiment”. Led by doctorate student Walter Pahnke, two groups of theology students attended Good Friday service. Pahnke gave one group the mushrooms and left the other as a control. The objective was to assess whether or not psilocybin could deepen the religious experience. 

As theorized, all members of the psilocybin group reported a substantially more profound experience than the members of the control. These results, as well as others, further discredit the DEA’s claim that psilocybin is a dangerous, addictive substance with no health or therapeutic benefit.

LSD: Lost Past and Lost Potential

In 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Holfmann successfully separated the molecule lysergic acid diethylamide while studying ergot in his laboratory. Ever since his bicycle ride home transformed into a trip of a lifetime, scientists have experimented with LSD, eager to learn of its usefulness. Scientists aren’t the only ones intrigued by the compound. Some historians believe LSD may have been at the crux of the Salem Witch Trials. One plausible explanation is that the women may have ingested ergot, a fungus found on wheat, which contains the LSD.

Although the DEA continues to categorize acid as a perilous substance with no benefit, health or otherwise, to our well-being, the scientific community continues to prove otherwise. Acid is infamous for its ability to stimulate the imagination and to make users more creative and insightful. Other studies conclude that LSD alleviates anxiety, especially amongst the terminally ill. 

But perhaps the most appalling aspect of the DEA’s tyrannical stronghold over the substance is that bromine, a compound identical to acid without the psychedelic-induced trip, has repeatedly reduced cluster headaches, which are intensified migraines notorious for their painful nature. However, since bromine closely resembles LSD, researchers are often unable to further tests bromine’s inexplicable ability to relieve the agony of the horrendous headaches, leaving sufferers helpless and in excruciating misery. 

The DEA, through regulation, is a great threat to the well-being and freedom of Americans. Ending this agency, and Nixon’s failed drug war along with it, would bring a new age of research and medicinal gains. Only through abolishing the DEA can we reap these clear health benefits.


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GDP is Dead, and the Social Progress Index Succeeds It

By Craig Axford | Canada

The gross domestic product (GDP) made sense in the 1930s. For one thing, we lacked both the understanding and the tools to effectively track progress in many of the areas that people really care about. For another, we were in the midst of a depression that demanded some means of confirming the success of our efforts to escape it.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the GDP was likewise a useful statistic to measure economic progress in countries that had been ravaged by the conflict. Though it was understood by some, including the economist who developed it, Simon Kuznets, that it wasn’t necessarily an indicator of human welfare, the fact remained that anything like human welfare was impossible to address in nations whose major cities had effectively been reduced to rubble.

The US, for its part, saw only positive impacts from the conflict. The war had pulled it from The Great Depression while two large oceans had made a bombing campaign against cities and industries based on its mainland impossible for either the Germans or the Japanese to practically pull off. Given its unprecedented economic and military position on the world’s postwar stage, America’s decision to use what was then referred to as the GNP to track economic activity and growth almost feels in retrospect like rigging the game to ensure the score always placed it way out in front.

What society measures are an indication of what it values. To Americans, the GDP figure has achieved something like the same status E=MC² enjoys amongst physicists. Donald Trump could hardly contain himself when the last quarterly report indicated America had temporarily achieved greater than 4% annualized GDP growth and felt certain that such growth figures had vindicated everything from his fiscally irresponsible tax cuts to his dangerously ill-conceived tariffs.

The problem, as has been pointed out by figures no less notable than Robert Kennedy, is that the GDP doesn’t distinguish between car accidents and car sales. The GDP “does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.” Kennedy continued, “It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.” Nearly three months after he delivered those words, the GDP measured the amount of money spent to mourn and bury Robert Kennedy after an assassin shot him in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel.

Some will undoubtedly object that Robert Kennedy was being unrealistic. ‘We can’t measure the beauty of our poetry’ they will say, ‘or the intelligence of our public debate.’ What society needs, according to these GDP apologists, is an objective measure of how the economy is doing and, according to them, that’s precisely the role the GDP plays.

But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning, and it’s a big one: the economy isn’t an objective thing, at least not in the sense many economists and politicians mean. There isn’t a family on the planet that thinks that because a loved one’s death took roughly the same financial toll as their last family vacation together these two events are objectively equivalent. There isn’t a soul on earth who thinks that a weekend spent engrossed in a hobby that they truly enjoy or playing with their children is less valuable than a miserable day at work just because the GDP counts the latter as the larger contributor to economic activity. What things cost reflects how much we pay for them, not how much we value them.

In his book, Utopia For Realists, Rutger Bregman demonstrates why the GDP has always been too blunt an instrument to use as an accurate indicator of progress. Output has always been what the GDP measured best. However, automation and other improvements to efficiency are now dulling the GDP to the point that it’s practically useless as a tool for dissecting what’s happening within the economic sphere. Bregman writes:

When the musical mastermind [Mozart] composed his 14th string quartet in G major (K. 387) in 1782, he needed four people to perform it. Now, 250 years later, it still requires exactly four. If you’re looking to up your violin’s production capacity, the most you can do is play a little faster. Put another way: Some things in life, like music, resist all attempts at greater efficiency. While we can produce coffee machines ever faster and more cheaply, a violinist can’t pick up the pace without spoiling the tune.

In our race against the machine, it’s only logical that we’ll continue to spend less on products that can be easily made more efficiently and more on labor-intensive services and amenities such as art, healthcare, education, and safety. It’s no accident that countries that score high on well-being, like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, have a large public sector. Their governments subsidize the domains where productivity can’t be leveraged. Unlike the manufacture of a fridge or a car, history lessons and doctor’s checkups can’t simply be made ‘more efficient.’

Policymakers and citizens alike are likely to make better choices when they have a diverse collection of data resources from which to draw. The GDP lumps too much together under the same umbrella, counting money spent on cancer treatment the same as money spent visiting a national park. When GDP growth alone is a nation’s primary public policy goal policies that often increase personal costs yet worsen people’s lives are too frequently incentivized.

Source: Social Progress Index website

Fortunately, there is an alternative to GDP. The Social Progress Index (SPI) tracks a nation’s progress by creating a score for categories and subcategories listed under three main headings: Basic Human Needs, Foundations for Wellbeing, and Opportunity. So, for example, one of the four main categories listed under Basic Human Needs is nutrition and basic medical care. To determine how a nation is doing in this area the SPI looks at a country’s rate of undernourishment, depth of food deficit, maternal mortality rate, child mortality rate, and deaths from infectious disease. The SPI evaluates 50 indicators overall to determine the score for any given country.

The Index aims to be a practical tool that helps leaders and practitioners in government, business and civil society to implement policies and programs that will drive faster social progress. To achieve that goal, we measure outcomes in a granular way that focuses on specific areas that can be implemented directly. The framework allows us to provide not only an aggregate country score and ranking, but also granular analyses of specific areas of strength and weakness which allow change-makers to identify and act upon the most pressing issues in their societies. ~ Social Progress Index methodology

Unfortunately, citizens are not used to thinking about all the particulars that go into creating maximum wellbeing and opportunities for fulfillment, and politicians from across the political spectrum too often seem to like it that way. Political leaders have an interest in keeping their voters focused on a single number rather than having the information they need to identify areas needing improvement within their communities, states, and countries.

The pleasure Donald Trump recently took in reporting a temporary quarterly spike in growth is a prime example of just how toxic focusing on GDP alone can be for a society. Because he had “good” GDP numbers to report the president was able to not only completely ignore the ongoing stagnation in wages but divert the public’s attention away from the slow-motion economic and political crisis that stagnation is creating. In addition, America’s skyrocketing health and education spending actually increase the GDP, incentivizing politicians that associate economic improvement with gains in this single metric alone to potentially make these problems even worse for the average American rather than better.

This laser-like focus on the GDP causes us to lose sight of the big picture. We believe we have an indicator that functions as a kind of grand unified theory of economics. In fact, the data used to generate it comes from too many disparate sources to tell us much of anything about how the economy is really doing. It tells us even less how the people that make up that economy are managing.

The GDP is a kind of life preserver thrown to the status quo. It makes it difficult to impossible to hold government, business, or other civic institutions accountable or to develop plans that target specific problems that are often desperately in need of our attention. The GDP in Flint, Michigan, for example, will probably go up in spite of the lead in its water because increases in health care spending are one of the many unfortunate side effects of lead poisoning. But while Flint’s GDP may rise, its Water and Sanitation and Environmental Quality scores on the SPI cannot. This fact alone should be enough to give those defending the GDP some objective considerable pause.

“Growth for the sake of growth,” the American writer Edward Abbey wrote, “is the ideology of the cancer cell.” We should have started asking ourselves a long time ago what ends all this economic growth was meant to serve. Instead, we lazily allowed growth itself to become the end to which all other aspirations take a back seat.

It’s always possible to convince yourself you’re making progress when you’re measuring how far you’ve moved in the wrong direction. The US does have the largest GDP on the planet, for example, but it also has tens of millions of uninsured and under-insured citizens and an infrastructure that is decaying much faster than current investment can keep up with. The $1.5 trillion in student debt that disproportionately burdens its young and poor all adds to the nation’s GDP as well but at the expense of leaving them feeling increasingly hopeless and angry.

America, along with much of the rest of the world, can keep putting off a great debate about what really matters but sooner or later entropy will demand that debate not be postponed any longer. Climate change, if nothing else, looks increasingly poised to force the issue. The SPI gives us 50 places to start the discussion, but this needn’t represent an exhaustive list. The GDP, on the other hand, represents the “ideology of the cancer cell.” Left untreated we all know where that leads.

*Author’s note: The original measurement of economic activity was known as the gross national product (GNP). The US switched to the GDP in the early 1990s. Since the criticisms raised in this article apply equally to both means of measuring economic activity, the relatively minor differences between these two methods have been intentionally ignored. With one small exception, I chose to apply the contemporary term “GDP” throughout the article for consistency’s sake.


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What Canada Can Teach America About Peace, Order & Good Government

By Craig Axford | United States

According to the Canadian historian John Bartlett Brebner, “Americans are benevolently ignorant about Canada, while Canadians are malevolently well informed about the United States.” When my wife and I initially began contemplating a move up north the first half of Brebner’s statement certainly applied to us.

We had visited Canada two or three times, so we were confident that culturally and linguistically most of the country was similar enough to ensure adapting wouldn’t be too difficult. And of course, there was single-payer healthcare. Like every other American we had an opinion on that topic. In our case, it was a favorable one. If affordable healthcare wasn’t going to come to us, we were willing to try going to it.

But beyond a very basic understanding of its healthcare system and the fact that most of the country spoke English, we lacked even a fundamental knowledge of Canadian history. The cultural attitudes that made something like universal healthcare possible north of the 49th parallel while it remained maddeningly impossible below it was even more of a mystery. After living there for seven of the last eight years we are still figuring that out. Now, as we prepare to return to Canada again after a year in the United States, we are looking forward to continuing our field research.

The decision to move north can best be described as prompted more by a push than a pull. Political discourse had already deteriorated in the US by the time we left 2010. In spite of the wave that brought the Democrats back into control of Congress in 2006 and the financial crisis that helped propel Obama into the White House in 2008, getting a debate on proposals such as a public healthcare option remained impossible. In addition, the Tea Party movement was tightening its hold on the Republican party and public figures like Donald Trump were actively promoting crazy theories about things like President Obama’s birthplace.

I had been working for the DNC as a party organizer but felt frustrated as attempts to hold the party’s “big tent” together consistently translated into watered down messages that everyone could more or less agree on but no one could get excited about. The vision once so eloquently and proudly expressed by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy seemed increasingly unlikely to return in my lifetime.

I was tired of hearing bold ideas being consistently dismissed as “impractical” by Democrats and attacked as “socialist” by Republicans. If other developed countries had managed to implement successful programs that few US politicians were willing to seriously consider, then it seemed a safe bet that these nations must necessarily have some cultural or political advantage the US lacked. Canada was the closest, most convenient, and most affordable option available under the circumstances.

Shortly after our arrival in 2010, I returned to school as a student at the University of Victoria. Among my first courses was a class in Canadian government. My understanding of the parliamentary system at the time is best described as a vague impression formed by American high school history courses that focused on the Revolutionary War period and included some antipathy for the monarchy. In the years since I had gotten a glimpse now and then of question periods in the British House of Commons that left me wishing C-Span’s congressional coverage could be as entertaining but unconvinced having a prime minister was necessarily preferable to having a president.

The acronym POGG is so familiar to Canadians that it never occurred to the professor teaching my Canadian government class that she should actually use the full phrase once or twice for the benefit of uninformed students like me. To the only American in the room, POGG sounded like a children’s toy or a game rather than the acronym for a phrase found in the British North America Act of 1867.

Peace, order and good government (POGG) was, it turned out, a line commonly inserted by the British Parliament throughout the 19th century into laws granting colonies greater autonomy from London. In Canada’s case, it was written into section 91 of the British North America Act. Section 91 describes the extent of the Parliament of Canada’s authority. As you might imagine given there are 90 sections that precede it, it lacks the lofty rhetorical quality that America’s founders successfully achieved in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the US Constitution.

“It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces; and for greater Certainty, but not so as to restrict the Generality of the foregoing Terms of this Section, it is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say, [a list of 29 enumerated powers follows]

But in spite of its placement deep into the pages of the British North America Act and the context, Canadians have given the phrase “Peace, order and good government” roughly the same status Americans give to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It was upon realizing the emphasis Canadians place upon POGG that many of my own frustrations with the United States became clearer.

I came of age during the Reagan years. During most of my lifetime “good government” has been something American conservatives have been willing to consider a possibility only if it comes in a very small package. Ronald Reagan liked to refer to the sentence “I’m with the government and I’m here to help” as “the nine most terrifying words” an American could hear. Some of us are convinced to this day that it was his administration’s primary mission to prove it.

There’s a significant qualitative difference between a debate about the minimum a government can/should do and one about the maximum. The former involves deliberating about the question of how low it’s reasonable to go while the latter is contemplating how high it’s possible to climb. For all the current talk about making America great again, its reach exceeding its grasp has never been in its problem.

Obviously, there are many millions of people living in the United States that don’t share the Republican conviction that government can’t be a force for good or that it’s relative smallness matters more than function. The difference between the US and Canada isn’t that one country has people that have faith in their government while the other doesn’t. The primary difference appears to be that in one country the debate about government’s responsibility to be a positive force is still raging while in the other all the political parties, including the Conservative Party, start every policy debate with that as their premise.

Canada is an evolutionary culture, not a revolutionary one. As such, it’s no surprise that the phrase it so strongly identifies with is less stirring than “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and can be affectionately referred to by its acronym without the slightest hint of disrespect. Moving to Canada made me conscious for the first time that I prefer evolution to revolution and gave me the reason why. Adaptation means allowing people time to reflect upon the society they want and to make the necessary adjustments. Revolution, on the other hand, involves a sudden reactionary change that leaves the details to be worked out later. America is often referred to as an ongoing experiment in democracy precisely because more than two centuries after its successful revolt those details are still being worked out.

Of course, the words “Peace, order and good government” are not by themselves a panacea. Like “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the aspiration is left to each citizen and generation to define. Canadian governments, like their American counterparts, have been guilty of promoting systemic racism and other injustices. Both church and state forced generations of indigenous children into residential schools in an effort to “civilize” and “Christianize” them. The effects of this practice continue to be felt within Canada’s native communities and were the subject of a truth and reconciliation commission whose findings the country is still working to implement.

But that there’s been a truth and reconciliation commission at all is a reason for hope. In contrast, the United States has strenuously resisted launching any similar effort to reconcile itself to its history of slavery and the genocidal atrocities committed against its own native population. Exceptionalism and rugged individualism remain very much a part of the American myth and both of those beliefs keep getting in the way of a true reckoning with the injustices of the past.

The name Canada derives from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” which means “village” or “settlement.” In a very real sense that it took a village to raise a child was never nearly as controversial there. On our first Canada Day in British Columbia, we noticed that the country’s annual celebration of its autonomy had a more communal feel to it. As we traveled into downtown Victoria to join the throngs gathering to celebrate people broke out into choruses of Oh Canada! on the bus. On the lawn of BC’s parliament, citizens gathered to listen to the performers on the large outdoor stage and dressed in red and white t-shirts to compete with other major cities across the country to form the largest human Canadian flag.

This was a city coming together to celebrate their country in a way we had rarely if ever seen in the United States. It was a day of organized chaos that included everything from browsing at the booths merchants had set up along the waterfront to watching street performers and drinking beer on the outdoor patios of local pubs and restaurants. I was used to family get-togethers on the 4th of July, but not such large community ones. This was as much a commemoration of humanity and cosmopolitanism as it was of Canada. Village or settlement indeed.

In August of 2017, we encountered a visa snafu. Somewhere along the line a box that should have been checked wasn’t or one that shouldn’t have been was. As a result, my application for a new student visa was denied and I needed to leave the country. My entry into a master’s program at Royal Roads University was deferred for a year while we worked it out. In a few days we’ll be crossing the border into Canada again at which point we’ll know for sure whether we have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed. This time, we hope, everything is in order. We have preliminary approval so we’re optimistic.

It’s not that we don’t love the United States. We do. But we like having a parliament with members from five parties instead of a Congress with members from two (Bernie Sanders and Angus King notwithstanding). Nor will we miss the gridlock that has come to define US politics and which divided government is literally designed to perpetuate. America’s ongoing debate about the role of government has once again devolved into a tribal partisan battle that challenges the value of even having democratic institutions in the first place.

Canada isn’t perfect, but as far as we can tell it has at least put many of the fundamental questions that America continues to wrestle with behind it. That’s not to say Canada is immune to the same undemocratic populist sickness that currently infects its southern neighbor, but it does have a stronger immune system.


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