Archive for March, 2011

“Lights” Out

Excuse my logic, but did you ever notice how some people will buy “light beer” or “light cigarettes” and then drink or smoke double the amount they would normally do, the net result being that they still consume the same amount of alcohol or tar and nicotine?

Let me put it to you plainly.  These types of people are the bread and butter for the alcohol and tobacco industries.  The math is simple.  Assume a pack of light cigarettes costs the same or even slightly more than its regular cigarette brand counterpart. If you smoke double the amount of light cigarettes than you would regular you are putting twice as much of your money in the tobacco company’s coffers as you would by just sticking with the full flavored variety.  It’s the same with beer.  A six pack of light costs just about the same as regular.  So if you drink two six packs of light figuring it’s better than one six pack of regular, you will be spending double the money.

The worst part of this twisted equation is the actual “health benefits” companies tout when promoting their “light” brands. 

Let’s start with beer. The reason I start with beer is that the news isn’t quite as grim as it is with cigarettes.  Yet it is nevertheless eye opening to realize how people are being duped by the beer companies.  According to the web site personal-nutrition-guide.com, the first light beer was marketed as “diet” beer but it didn’t go over well with men who are preconditioned to think of dieting as feminine and unnecessary for themselves. Since the men represent the much larger market share of beer sales, the beer companies had to go back to the drawing board and think of a new marketing ploy. They came up with the concept of calling lower calorie beer “lite.”  The beer companies didn’t hawk their new light beer by pitching potential customers that its fewer calories that would keep a man thinner.  They sold men on the idea that since it was “light” you could drink much more of them in a single session.  What beer swilling man doesn’t want to be able to drink more beers in a sitting? 

What "ales" them?

It’s interesting to note that if you consume two 12 oz. containers of light beer you will have ingested approximately 50 more calories and 1.2 percent more of alcohol than if you drank one 12 oz. container of regular beer. 

Now as mentioned, since alcohol contents in beer are much lower than that in “hard” liquor, the news isn’t all that bad.  I have known many people who are big beer drinkers who went on to live long and happy lives.  The main downside is the weight gain and accompanying strain on your heart that heavy beer drinking can produce.  If the average 12 oz. container of beer adds 150 calories to your diet, than a mere six pack represents a whopping 35 percent of the calories suggested for normal daily intake.  Add three average meals to that beer consumption and you may soon be ready for the fat farm. 

Furthermore, the beer companies take great pains to avoid putting calorie totals on the labels so as not to scare you off from imbibing their product.

This brings us to cigarettes, one of the biggest public health hazards ever visited upon mankind.  For several years, in an effort to bring my own consumption of Nicorette gum under control, I attended Nicotine Anonymous meetings.  Personally, I suffer from a condition where my brain’s neurons don’t produce enough dopamine and it has been proven that nicotine enhances dopamine production.  So I will chew Nicorette until I exit this world. However, I can tell you my nicotine consumption is a textbook case of how switching to a lower strength version actually increased my total consumption. When I switched from 4 milligram to 2 milligram, I just ended up chewing twice as many pieces. 

At Nicotine Anonymous, I recall two particularly poignant stories of people who smoked.  One concerned a woman who claimed to smoke seven packs of cigarettes a day.  She was asked how she could actually have enough time to smoke 140 cigarettes in a day.  “I don’t sleep,” she answered.  I wonder if this poor soul even wasted her time eating.

Another heavy smoker related a story of how she used to smoke in bed.  The ceiling above her bed which was white when originally painted turned a dark brown over the years. When she tried painting over this spot it took NINE coats of paint to make it disappear!

I transgressed from the original point of this blog in order to drive home the insidious addictive nature of deadly cigarettes with the two examples above.

"I swear I'll quit tomorrow."

When a human being smokes a light cigarette, there is no appreciable difference from a regular cigarette in the amount of smoke, tar and nicotine absorbed into your system.  When establishing rates of tar and nicotine that a smoker of light cigarettes will take in from their brand, cigarette companies test the cigarette on a smoke machine. This machine is measuring the so-called smoke to air ratio.  The fallacy of these test results is that the machine “smokes” a cigarette in a different manner than a human.  The light cigarettes are manufactured with vented filters and these filters are uncovered when being tested on the smoke machine. The result is that a good deal of the smoke passes out of these vents before it reaches the measuring devices.  A human smoker however will block these vents with pressure from their lips or fingers, meaning that a higher dose of smoke and carcinogens reaches their system than the readings recorded on the smoke machine for this same light cigarette.

Furthermore, as I indicated above in my own situation, taking in nicotine increases the production of dopamine.  Dopamine acts on the part of the brain that produces a sense of pleasure.  This is what makes cigarettes so addicting. Who doesn’t crave pleasure? A smoker who became used to the amount of pleasure generated by smoking a pack a day of regular strength cigarettes upon switching to a light cigarette with less nicotine (and admittedly nicotine levels are on average .5 milligrams per cigarette less) will find that he needs to smoke twice as many light cigarettes to achieve the same nirvana.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. The good intentioned nicotine addict who thought downgrading to a light cigarette would decrease his or her nicotine consumption ends up smoking twice as many of these cancer sticks, the net result being that they are still poisoning themselves at the same level as when smoking regulars.   

In conclusion, light beers and light cigarettes are not a panacea for their consumers.  Instead, they are more like a modern day snake oil veiled in the false promise of producing a healthier you.

Copyright 2009; Greg S.

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Heroes and Goats and Double Standards

Excuse my logic but don’t some double standards just want to make you open up your living room window and shout out like Howard Beale did in the 1976 Movie Network “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?”

Admittedly this blog will be somewhat anecdotal, but hopefully it will make its point that we need as a people to apply the same standards for conduct and behavior to everyone regardless of their position in society. Otherwise we will continue to have a dichotomous world that allow reckless celebrities to get a couple of hours jail time for something as serious as DUI while average people who have overdue library books get almost the same or more jail time for a much lesser offense.

Some double standards I have seen played out over and over again are as follows:

A rich person who pinches his pennies is called a “frugal genius” while a poor person who does the same thing is just called “cheap.”  I myself was on the losing end of this double standard several years back while working as a factory laborer.  There was this older man who was going to retire and the staff was chipping in to buy him a retirement gift.  I was experiencing extremely hard times.  Also, I had only been working at this job for about a month and didn’t know this retiree all that well.

So when they passed the hat around the suggested donation was $10 but I politely indicated I could only afford $5.  The next day, I was working in the office section of the factory and I hear this machinist telling everyone that I am a cheapskate. This machinist was making almost triple of what I was earning and he only put in $10 himself, so I ask “who was the real cheapskate?”   And guess what? My boss, who was half my age always went around telling people what a genius this machinist was.

Another double standard along the same lines is that one person who is real aggressive at work or school is called “pushy” while another person exhibiting the very same behavior is called “driven.”  Yes, time for another anecdote, but I am happy to report that at least in this story, I was not the victim.  It happened during a practice session of our high school soccer team.  We were scrimmaging, which means we had a game going between two teams of players, all from our varsity squad.  There was this guy who was a starting fullback when we played actual games. The coach loved this guy big time.  Well a forward is dribbling the ball toward this fullback (the coach’s pet player), fakes him out and gets around him.  The fullback turns, grabs the forward’s jersey by the neck area and yanks him down to the ground!

All of us standing on the sidelines yelled out that this was a foul and shouldn’t be allowed.  In the coach’s eyes, his star fullback could never be wrong.  The coach told us to silence our criticism. He labeled the fullback’s cheating as “good aggressive play.”

If some other player, say a second stringer had done the same move, I guarantee this coach would have had him doing 100 pushups or running laps after practice. 

Then, there’s this double standard, maybe you’ve heard it while applying for a job. It is used quite often on inexperienced job seekers who haven’t yet learned the fine art of having quick comebacks ready for difficult questions or statements. The human resources person interviewing you will exclaim “you’re too experienced for the job. If you’ve ever had this happen, you probably shook your head in disbelief and swore your senses were playing tricks on you. It’s standard HR behavior but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. You need a job. He has a job but he tells you you’re overqualified.  After many a disheartening job interview where I heard this line of bull I often would ask myself “how can you ever be too experienced?”  But, you see, your experience will mandate their paying you more and the job search jungle is filled with booby traps such as this.  They’d rather get someone who is maybe not experienced enough but pay him half of what they would have to pay you or me.

Incidentally as most of us know, this same perverse logic is applied over and over again to older workers.  The older worker has years of knowhow and a wealth of on the job experience.  Yet if the company can find some young naïve person who is willing to work for less at the same job, the older worker is shown the door.

As I mentioned, searching for jobs necessitates a jungle warfare attitude.  A relative of mine had graduated from a very expensive school paid for mostly with student loans.  When this relative interviewed for a job that was paying $11 an hour, the manager asked sarcastically “why would a person like you who went to such and such a school costing $45,000 a year” need a job that only pays $11 an hour.  My relative was skilled at interviews and had the comeback right away. “It was all paid for with loans” she said.  I love it when someone can make a human resources person squirm.

And how’s this for human resources savagery?  A neighbor I know had worked more than 12 years for a company.  You would think corporate headhunters would value such employee loyalty. My neighbor explained to me that many corporate interviewers will turn that loyalty against the job seeker and suggest that they are too complacent.  The interviewer will suggest that the job candidate is too passive and as such not their kind of worker.

Does slow and steady always win the race?

The last double standard I would ask you to consider involves college educations. 

Many years ago, recently married, I had been out of work for a good six months. I just couldn’t land a job. I tried every way I could but couldn’t find work.  So my wife asked me to apply for food stamps.   Simple enough procedure I thought.  After several weeks, I finally got a face to face with a social worker.  She goes into a tirade on me exclaiming “you’re a college graduate!  You should have a job!  I can’t offer you any help.”  “Excuse me?” I asked incredulously. She repeated her ridiculous assertions.  I replied that if she had a job to offer I would consider taking it. That kind of shut her up, but in the end I didn’t get any food stamps.

In the end I concluded that there are people who out of fear or envy will try to belittle you for having graduated college.  In the 30 plus years I have been out of college I have seen many instances of people using my college education as ammunition to dis me. It is as if they want to show that they didn’t even have to go to college to be smarter than the guy who did. It has happened to me so many times that I am now familiar with it. Now when I see one of these types of persons leading down the path toward their ambush, I shrug it off and hearken back to the words of Bob Dylan. “Well I would not feel so all alone. Everybody must get stoned.”

Copyright 2009; Greg S.  

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So You Think We’re Alone?

Excuse my logic but with all the possible planets and other celestial bodies scattered about the various galaxies that make up the universe, isn’t it a bit narcissistic of us humans to believe that we are the only planet to sustain life?  It never ceases to amaze me that some people I meet pooh- pooh the idea and state categorically that they don’t believe in UFOs, life on other planets, etc.

 One possible explanation of these naysayers insistence is that there was a time when if you said you believed there were extraterrestrials and the like you faced the possibility of being locked up in the nut house.  Even today, people are afraid to acknowledge the possibilities of what exists in area 51 for fear of being labeled crackpots.

Another reason some people dismiss the idea of life beyond Earth can be a simple matter of fear.  Most of us fear the unknown.  We’d rather just ignore it and hope it goes away.  It’s like the person who fears they have a terminal disease but refuses to seek medical help. Their fear of knowing for sure that they are ill actually induces them to avoid finding out.  Most normal people in their right mind don’t want to be told they have cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and the like.  So they shun the doctor rather than face the truth.

Like it or not, some day we may be visited upon by beings from another planet.  Right now, there is no documented case of this having happened.  However when considering the possibility of life on other planets, I like to call to mind a phrase I once heard that goes “If you put a thousand barking dogs together one of them is bound to be singing Beethoven.”

Our solar system is just a tiny fragment of the universe in its totality.  A recent news story appearing on the internet indicated that the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy alone estimates that there are 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.  That’s just our galaxy alone.  Scientists estimate that there are 100 billion galaxies.  These numbers are almost beyond comprehension.  Already, William Borucki, chief scientist for NASA’s planet hunting Kepler Telescope has identified 1,235 candidate planets with 54 in a so-called Goldilocks zone where life could possibly exist.

NASA's Kepler Telescope

 

Consider this possible scenario.  Someone tells you that there is not one diseased cell in your entire body. With all the billions of cells that make up our body, and the vast milieu of illnesses that befall humans, only a Pollyanna would dare make the claim that their entire body is disease free.  Now invert this.  Scientists are telling us in essence that there exist trillions of planets and we think we are the only one with life?  If I were a betting man, I know which side of these odds I’d make my wager for.

Look around on our own planet. Anaerobic bacteria can grow and thrive without oxygen. Plants live on Carbon Dioxide.  Furthermore, an April 7, 2010 Article on the website Science Daily heralded the discovery of small animals living their entire lives at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea without any oxygen and surrounded by “poisonous” sulphides.

If organisms can live on our planet without oxygen and in the total darkness you would find at the bottom of the Mediterranean, what makes us think organisms can’t exist elsewhere, perhaps in even seemingly hostile environments?

Also worthy of consideration are factors of age.  Many scientists believe that the universe is infinite. The question is asked “if the universe is finite, what would be on the other side?”  So let’s say the universe is infinite. Might it not follow that it has existed infinitely?  Maybe, yes, maybe, no.  Whatever your belief on that question it goes without saying that there are many planets that may actually be older than the Earth, ie. existed before our planet did.

As such, these planets have had greater life spans and time to evolve into habitats that would sustain life

To sidetrack a little but keeping the subject at hand in mind, I have often heard people ask “what would it take to bring peace on Earth and solidarity amongst all its peoples?”  I always answer this question in the same manner. One, if God were to appear in the sky and warn us to change our ways, peace on Earth is a distinct possibility.  The other is if beings from other worlds possessing the capability of annihilating our planet were to threaten such an action, the Earth’s varied peoples may finally put aside their differences and work together against an enemy greater than one another.  A sobering thought in one way but one that could finally bring out the goodness in all of us.

Copyright 2009; Greg S.  

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