The first chef

Because my mind wanders frequently to random things, I occasionally wonder about cooking. Specifically, who came up with cooking? When you really stop to think about the average recipe or the foods that we all take for granted, it seems very strange that they exist.

Take break as an example.

Who the hell thought up the concept of ‘bread’? What was the process? One day, did someone just wake up and say, “You know what? I bet if I took that wheat, ground it up, threw in some yeast, baked it over a fire…you could eat it.” That seems like a very, very random thought for someone to have had. But how else does one invent bread?

images (3)

It’s not like bread happens by accident. It seems very unlikely that, one day, all of the separate ingredients for bread just happened to be knocked over into a mixing bowl, kneaded, and then it fell into an unattended oven for just the right amount of time. At some point in history, someone invented bread on purpose. I just wonder what the hell the thought process behind it was.

Some things were obviously accidents. Take booze. Fermented fruit? Totally possible and even likely once you invent agriculture and start to store large quantities of fruit. I could see how cheese and yogurt could also have been created by accident.

But there remain some things that I can’t help but wonder about. Like, who was the first person to cook meat? And why? For thousands of years people ate it raw, and then one day someone decides to stick it over a fire. Because something. I’m intensely curious to know how these things, these foods and these cooking processes came to be!

If anyone out there has their own theories and can shed some light on this, I would be most grateful. Now, if you’ll all excuse me, it’s time for lunch.

Read my lips: empty words on the campaign trail

I received a voter pamphlet in the mail today. It wasn’t for anything huge, mostly school board and water commission stuff. But, as most of you know, the political machine for national candidates is already in full swing. Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and a host of others have already declared their presidential candidacy for 2016. It seems that the election process in this country is never ending. Someone is always campaigning for the next election, no matter how far off it is.

This local election, though, brought something to light that I think is problematic in all politics here in America. I’m the type of voter who reads everything in the pamphlet. They printed it and sent it to me using my tax money, so I might as well get my use out of it. But I read every single word in regard to a bill or a candidate before voting, all of the “for” and “against” arguments and all of the endorsements, everything. Prior to today, I felt like that was a good way to stay informed and to get a better sense of the candidates than the political attack ads run on TV.

I opened the pamphlet and began reading up on the candidates. And then I noticed something that I’d never noticed before. It looked something like this:

politics2

I had never noticed that little text at the bottom of the page before. And it was underneath each candidate. Here it is close up:

20150503_134357

Oh? Is that so? Well, then why the fuck do I bother reading these? Apparently anyone who runs can pay to have whatever the hell they wanted printed, and nobody is going to check to make sure any of it’s true. I could run for office here and just completely make up my education, job history, and other qualifications–just totally pull them out of thin air–and nobody would ever know.

And that got me thinking about the national elections. Just like the printed ads in the pamphlet, political candidates will do anything to get elected. They’ll make promises, pledges, whatever. Those are empty promises most of the time, just like the words on the page of the pamphlet apparently.

All of those presidential debates, congressional townhall meetings, they’re all worthless. It’s simply a chance for candidates to pay you lip service. No politician can do even a quarter of the things they promise, because in the real world there are a multitude of factors in play that make it impossible.

But that’s what people get elected on, isn’t it? What they’re going to do. It’s all about what they can do for you in the future. Well, considering that they can promise whatever they want, how are you supposed to pick a candidate? Well, there’s a simple solution: look at what they’ve already done.

Ignore the promises and rhetoric. It’s meaningless, literally. But if there’s an incumbent in the race, you can certainly take a look at their voting record. That’s really the only measure you have at whether this person is representing your interests. And there’s a lovely site that I recommend every single person in America take a look at come election season:

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes

Using that site, you can see how every single member of congress voted on any particular bill. If they voted how you wanted them to, keep ’em in office. if they didn’t, elect the other guy or girl. Simple as that.

But what if the election is between two novices with no prior political experience? Well in that case it’s kind of a crap shoot, isn’t it? The political process is largely trial and error, for better or for worse. You pick the person who you think will do the best job (although what you’d base this on anymore is anyone’s guess. You may as well flip a coin with all the propaganda and rhetoric out there) and then when it’s time for the next election take a look at their voting record. Did they adequately represent you and your interests? If yes, keep ’em and if not throw ’em to the curb.

But I would urge people to run off the TVs, close the magazine articles, change the radio station, and avoid the stump speeches. They don’t tell you anything. Try actually participating in your democracy and actually look at how your representative votes on your behalf.

Give your species a little more credit

A long time ago, I wrote a piece about how my brother loves that show Ancient Aliens, on “The History Channel.” I use quotations because over the last few years, the channel seems more concerned with Bigfoot, pawn shops, and aliens than it does with actual history. But, suffice it to say, I don’t really care for Ancient Aliens and other similar shows. It’s not because I don’t believe that aliens exist, or even that I don’t believe aliens may have visited the earth. No, it’s because the arguments and “evidence” used on the show are absolutely ridiculous.

My brother and I were watching one such show the other day. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was hosted by the doofus with the spiked hair and goofy name from Ancient Aliens. You may recognize him from all of the memes out there that celebrate his bias toward aliens.

9148130

That guy.

Anyway, he was on some sort of expedition exploring the ruins of Puma Punku in South America. This place is home to some amazing architecture and construction…which obviously means that aliens did it. Duh. And that seems to be the fallback argument for all of these shows: “These structures are too advanced for ancient man to have built.” Here are some examples what was “too advanced for ancient man.”

Puma-Punku-Wall Puma_Punku_carvedrock_3

Here, the show provides some pretty stupid arguments about why ancient man couldn’t have built these:

1) The angles are too perfect.

2) The stones are too huge and there aren’t any trees around to move them via log rolling.

3) The natives didn’t even have a written language back then! How could they have built these?!

Let’s address these points, shall we?

As to the tree dilemma, the answer is fairly simple: just go get some goddamn trees. It doesn’t take much. You just have to, you know, walk down the hill and cut some down and then drag ’em back up. You know where else there wasn’t an abundance of trees? Egypt. You know, where the pyramids were built. They just imported them. Finding trees isn’t hard.

They didn’t have a written language? Oh, heavens! I guess it would impossible to draw out instructions. You know, like a blueprint. Seems pretty simple to me. In fact, we still do that. If anyone has ever assembled Ikea furniture, you know that all of their instructions are diagrams.

And that leads us to the first point. The stones are “too well crafted.” The bullshittiest argument of them all. You hear this a lot in these kinds of shows. Something is too advanced for ancient man to have done. They didn’t have the knowledge or the tools or whatever.

To listen to these shows, you’d think that 1,000 years ago people walked around blowing spit bubbles and smearing their own feces on cave walls, totally inept and devoid of any logic or critical thinking. Obviously, that’s not true. And anyone with a modicum of intelligence and the most basic of education would know that.

People 1,000 years ago were no different than you or I, biologically speaking. Same thing if we go back 10,000 years. No difference. They had the exact same brain capacity that we do now. They were capable of the same complex thinking and problem solving that we’re capable of today. There’s zero reason why they wouldn’t have been able to understand or innovate when it came to math, architecture, construction, astronomy, or anything else. They were functionally no different than any human being alive today.

In fact they had some advantages that you and I don’t have. For one thing, time. Back when Puma Punku was built, people didn’t sit around all day watching cat videos and playing video games. They actually spent time outside, in nature, doing things, understanding how it worked.

A prime example of this is the recent discovery that the Egyptians built the pyramids simply by using wet sand to drag the large stone blocks. See, it didn’t take aliens to build the pyramids, just good old fashioned human ingenuity. How do we know that this how the Egyptians did it? Because there are freaking hieroglyphics depicting it. See, pictures can be just as powerful for instructing as a written alphabet.

Another advantage they had back then: zero light pollution. They knew a lot about astronomy because they could see a lot more of the night sky with the naked eye, not because aliens gave them star maps or whatever bullshit these dumbasses on Ancient Aliens believe.

night-sky

I guess ultimately what I’m trying to say is that ancient human beings had the same sense of curiosity, industry, and ability to reason that we do today. There’s no reason to suspect they were simpletons because they didn’t have modern hydraulics or the internet or telescopic observatories. In order for these ancient astronaut theories to work, the human beings living in the pre-modern world would have to have been complete morons. Unfortunately for spiky haired guy and others like him (I’m looking at you, Von Daniken), there’s zero evidence to support that, and all the evidence to support the idea that ancient humans were basically the MacGyvers of their day.

Denial disguised as skepticism

I’ve noticed a new trend. There have always been people who have flat out denied science for one reason or another. Take your pick–evolution, global warming–a lot of well established scientific theories have their vehement and vocal deniers. But I’ve been taking a course on vaccines in order to improve my practice as a public health nurse, and it’s here that I’ve really seen this new trend blossom. And that’s denial masquerading as skepticism.

Denialists have no evidence to support their beliefs. Let’s get that straight right out of the gate. If there was any credible evidence against an established scientific theory then you could bet scientists would be all over that. So what do you do when you have an unsupportable belief? Well, you make your belief sound smarter. And crying “skepticism” is what a lot of these people are doing now. It’s fairly simple. A lot of people who deny the safety and efficacy of vaccines were confronted in the discussion forums of this class, and the results were…well, they went along the lines of, “I’m just saying we need to question the science. I thought skepticism was healthy in science.”

See, by couching their beliefs in skepticism, it makes their position sound more grounded, almost rational. After all, questioning things is indeed a hallmark of science. But not blind questioning.

Skepticism doesn’t come from the gut, it comes from contradictory evidence.

There’s a mountain of data and evidence going back more than fifty years that crosses all ages, all places across the globe, gender, race, etc. that says vaccines are safe and effective. This same pile of data makes it very clear that chronic diseases and things like autism are not the result of vaccination.

You could say the same thing to people who claim to be “climate change skeptics.” Mountain of evidence on one side, zero evidence on the other side. There’s no reason to be skeptical of these theories other than personal bias or misinformation, period.

I’ve screen captured some of the discussion board happenings in this class that I’m taking in order to better illustrate what this new ploy looks like. I’ve blacked out last names for the sake of respect and privacy–my responses have the name blotted out in green:

vaccine debate 1

You’ll notice in this first example that Cheryl talks about “possibility.” The old “How can you be reeeeeally suuuure?” canard. Because there’s no evidence to support your position, Cheryl, and all the evidence to support mine. Ironically, I even get called out for NOT just considering one possible cause. When I originally suggested looking at other environmental factors that have recently changed, that’s the scientific approach. But no, apparently it’s “common sense” to single out one thing and then just run blindly with that. Don’t even think about other possibilities–thinking about the big picture isn’t common sense to people who live in Cheryl’s world. But just that first bit there, introducing “possibility” into the mix, is a much gentler and pseudo-reasonable way to introduce denial.

vaccine debate 2

In this example, we get this lovely fallacy: not all experts know everything, and not all laypeople are idiots. Fair enough, but that doesn’t change the evidence, which Jenette doesn’t seem to understand. You hear this nonsense with climate change and evolution, too. “Well, not all the experts agree.” Fine, but fact isn’t dependent upon universal consensus. To be fair to Jenette, she does admit that she’s here to learn the science of vaccines, which is a step in the right direction. But there’s still this attempt to introduce denial by way of making both sides of the argument equal. The media is guilty of this sort of thing. Cable news will have Bill Nye and some congressman debating climate change on a split screen. Well, when you see a climate change denier side by side with Bill Nye, it kind of sends the message that both sides are equally legitimate. Despite the overwhelming amount of data and evidence that one side has and that’s missing from the other.

vaccine debate 3

And lastly we come to my favorite excerpt. I’ve circled Andre’s problematic statement at the top of the picture. Science does not work like Amazon customer reviews, which is the lovely analogy Andre gave us. I don’t think I really need to explain why this is wrong and patently stupid. The important point here is trying to elevate denial to the same level as established science. It’s steeped in “research.” Do your own research sounds a lot less like philosophical dislike of something. Even though, if one were to do actual scientific research, they would arrive at a conclusion different from Andre and all of the other deniers in this class: vaccines are safe and effective.

When deniers talk about “research” what they’re really talking about is watching Youtube videos from “whistleblowers” or combing through a Google search or reading a book published by someone with their own agenda. Which, obviously, is not scientific research and data. But, to another person who isn’t well versed in how science works, hearing “I did some research” might sound legitimate. It certainly sounds better than “I just feel that…”

But at the end of the day, that’s really all these so-called “skeptics” have to fall back on: feelings. Paranoia about industry and government. Anecdotal stories from third parties. Maybe they have a “study” done by a non-peer reviewed entity or person. But it doesn’t amount to anything close to actual data or evidence. They “just know” the truth. They’ll make it sound, though, as if denial is healthy. As if skepticism and denial are the same thing. Make no mistake: denying something is not the same thing as being skeptical or critical.

What does it take to change something?

Frequently as we go through life, we find things that we want to change. And I’m not talking about dropping a few pounds or switching careers. I’m talking about big, systemic issues–racism, politics, the environment, etc. The problem with those big issues is that, well, they’re so big!

Many times we look at some huge issue and think that because it’s so large, because the odds of success are so long, or because the obstacles are many, that it will take a big huge explosive thing to affect change. How many times have you heard someone say, “Yeah, ______ really sucks, but what can I, one single person, do about it?” Or have you ever thought that yourself?

But do all big problems respond only to solutions that are equally as big? I’d say no. I think we get stuck in this mindset, “Go big or go home,” that colors our view of which actions affect the biggest changes. Naturally we tend to equate “bigger” with “better.” But a big change doesn’t have to happen as a complete one-eighty, about face. A big change can happen slowly, over time, incrementally.

I like to think of systemic changes like asteroids.

Say we have an asteroid hurtling through space toward earth. The problem is big–the asteroid itself is the size of Manhattan. What do you do? Well, you could try to blow it up–use an equally big, radical solution. But all that will do is create a bunch of smaller debris that’ll still hit the earth. Now you have more numerous, albeit smaller, problems on your hands. The best way to deal with an asteroid is with a nudge.

A tiny, itty bitty nudge to change the trajectory of the asteroid by only a degree or two, causing it to miss the earth completely. Crisis averted, and all using a comparatively tiny amount of effort and force. So, too, is it with systemic problems. They don’t require some jarring, enormous solution. A simple, strategic approach–a small nudge–will often produce the biggest changes. All pearls start with a single grain of sand, do they not?

pearlformation