Archive | June, 2013

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The Good, Bad & Ugly of Obama’s Climate Speech

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Jerry

In a major speech on climate change at Georgetown University Barack Obama showed us the risks that lie in our future.  While hailed as long overdue and somewhat underwhelming but positive, it outlined steps he is taking to reduce climate change.  Some people were enthusiastically supportive.  Al Gore was quoted in his blog as saying the Obama speech was “historic” and “the best address on climate by any president ever.”

His speech should give us pause however to see the political challenge that lies ahead.  He laid out steps he could directly order with his administrative powers.

Among the good things he said was that he would order the following:

  • the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement new pollution standards for new and existing U.S. power plants
  • the Interior Department by 2020 to use public lands and funds to install new green energy power sources that equal the power use of more than 6 million homes
  • the Department of Defense to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases
  • and that a budget be sent to Congress that contains funds to help with community projects and insure that they protect citizens from the negative effects of climate change

These are not the only steps the president has taken on climate change.  Without fanfare he logged positive accomplishments in his first term.  See our past post of 11/1/12 “Obama Stealth Objective: Reduce Greenhouse Gases.”

Among the bad things referred to in his speech were the positions taken by the climate deniers.  He argued, citing the scientific evidence and consensus that climate change is real, that human beings are contributing or causing our climate to deteriorate.  Further he said, “I don’t have much patience for anyone that denies this challenge is real.  We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”

Unfortunately the ugly reality underlying the entire speech is that he does not expect the Republican controlled House of Representatives to allow any legislation to pass that would alter the present course we are on.  In fact, he acknowledged the significant pressure on him to allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.  This pipeline would provide a path for Canadian oil developers to get oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to market.

An article in the July issue of Scientific American entitled “Oil Sands May Irrevocably Tar the Climate” gives an excellent description of the entire project. These Canadian tar sands encompass an area that is about the size of the State of Florida.  Tar sand processing has created vast lakes of toxic water residues, with its bright yellow sulfur, that are so large they can be seen from space.

The article describes the open pit mining of the tar sands, the numerous Caterpillar 797Fs each carrying 400 metric tons of tar sands to conveyors to separation cells.  It explains multiple processes in use to show how it is cooked at high heat to remove carbon and create a hydrocarbon stew or mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to produce diluted bitumen.  Both processes make the tar sand oil liquid enough to flow in the long distance Keystone XL pipeline.

The environmental damage is not the critical issue however.  Physicist Myles Allen with six of his associates calculated in 2009 a “carbon budget” we must stay within in order to keep the worldwide climate change average temperature rise to just two degrees.  This budget sets a one-trillion-metric-ton limit on the amount of carbon human beings can burn by the year 2050.  Since CO2 lasts for centuries in the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what (coal, oil or natural gas) we burn, where we burn it or when it is burned as long as it is before 2050 to affect the budget.

These facts have prompted James Hansen, a retired NASA climatologist, to be arrested multiple times at protest rallies opposing the building of the pipeline.  In an April 2013 op-ed he wrote in the Los Angeles Times he said, “Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon – more than double that of all oil burned in human history.  While only a fraction is considered economically recoverable right now, we humans are genius at finding new and better ways to dig junk out of the ground.”

Further his op-ed stated that “mainstream financial analysis and industry documents….show the Keystone XL is the linchpin for tar sands expansion in the next decade.”  He sums up by saying “The science on climate change has been in for a quarter of a century.  There are no more mixed messages, just catastrophe after catastrophe.  The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history.  Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what’s right by the people, planet and future generations.”

Hansen argues it is time to draw a firm line in the sand beyond which we will not go.  We are fighting the avarice of capitalists we have encouraged.  They admit in private that climate change is real.  Their only hope however is that they can convince us to do nothing long enough for them to profit.  It is time to tell the buggy whip manufactures of our energy industry that their time has passed and they are being left behind by today’s better technologies, their own past plundering of our planet and our present need to insure a positive future for our children.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these subjects:

For a complete transcript of the President’s speech go to http://ens-newswire.com/2013/06/25/president-obamas-climate-change-speech-full-text/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/06/power-politics-obamas-overdue-climate-change-speech.html

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/307695-gore-obama-climate-change-speech-the-best-by-any-president-ever

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=oil-sands-may-irrevocably-tar-the-climate

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-hansen-keystone-obama-20130404,0,3169887.story

 

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Synthetic Biology: Potentially Useful, Weird or Creepy?

Posted on 22 June 2013 by Jerry

A lot of the language of synthetic biology is adopted from other fields, like engineering. This makes it difficult to understand.  It also masks from the rest of us what these experimenters are actually doing.  For instance, what are tunable mammalian oscillators, aptazyme-based riboswitches or double inversion recombination switches?

Rather than focus on developing new alien life forms, this article focuses on a different dimension of synthetic biology.  It deals with the development of predesigned genetic building blocks that use living cells to mimic existing functions that are performed today by common electronic components.  This assumes that someday scientists would be able to order synthetic genetic material from a catalogue for insertion, as a building block to create a new characteristic in a larger segment of genetic code or in a bacterium or another organism.

A report that originally appeared in the Oxford Journals in 2010 and was released by the National Institute of Health (NIH) hints at answers to the above raised questions.  “The challenges of informatics in synthetic biology: from biomolecular networks to artificial organisms” discusses the three challenges of synthetic biology in silico (in a computer), in vitro (in a test tube) and in vivo (as a part of a larger living organism).  See the link below.

Dissecting this phrase “tunable mammalian oscillators”, an oscillator is a familiar electronic device.  Wikipedia says it “is an electronic circuit that produces a repetitive, oscillating electronic signal, often a sine wave or a square wave.  Oscillators convert direct current (DC) from a power supply to an alternating current signal.”   Simple examples are a clock signal that regulates a computer and the sounds produced by electronic beepers.

In the animal kingdom a circadian clock (aka circadian oscillator) is just such a function.  Wikipedia says it “is a biological mechanism that oscillates with a period of 24 hours and is coordinated with the day-night cycle…. The clock is reset as the environment changes through an organism’s ability to sense external time cues of which the primary one is light.” In other words this is a function defined in the genes of a living cell or organism.

The synthetic biologist then seeks to transplant this capability via synthetic genetic material from one type of organism to another.  This could be a transfer to a new life form or figuring out how to devise a new tool that combines living tissue with inanimate components.

Imagine a future where once inanimate things now have living tissue; a personal computer that has living cells for its clock functions and that provide its memory?  How about asphalt streets that begin a self-healing function when a crack develops or a roof that contains living tissue that perspires when its temperature passes a certain point?  How about robots covered with synthetic tissue that look human (or cyborgs that are a self-regulating integration of artificial and natural systems known as Terminators)?

Beginning chimeric combinations such as these were described in an August 6, 2012 posting entitled “Chimeric Systems: Living and Non-Living Components”.  This article actually showed positive outcomes and hopeful research that could result from synthetic biology.

Do not misunderstand.  I do not oppose either genetic engineering or synthetic biology as potentially useful sciences.  I do think both areas copy that which was learned from observing the natural activities of bacteria and viruses.  I believe what was observed occurred in nature and consequently should not be patentable.

This would go a long way to slow the pace of both sciences by taking them out of the hands of entrepreneurs and putting them back in the hands of scientific researchers.  This would involve only a minor redefinition from what was unanimously defined in a recent Supreme Court ruling that a gene is not patentable. ( http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinions.aspx 6/13/13 Docket 12-398, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.)

I also take the position that both sciences are too dangerous to not have governmental oversight and regulatory restraints.  Today there is no one looking over either science’s shoulder to insure they are not endangering life.  I do not believe self-defined, voluntary industry rules governing experimentation protect us in either area.  Why do people wait until there is a disaster before taking steps to control that which is obviously dangerous?

Lest you think synthetic biology is some obscure science practiced by a few institutions, look at the following list of academic programs in synthetic biology across a whole spectrum of respected academic institutions in numerous countries.   See http://syntheticbiology.org/Graduate.html .

If you want an idea of who is heading these post-graduate programs or what they are working on, look at http://synbio.berkeley.edu/ or at http://bioengineering.rice.edu/Content.aspx?id=277 .  If you ask what is in it for them, see our previous posting of June 13, 2012 entitled “Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit”.  This article illustrates how moving from academic institutions to government and back can benefit and how setting up profit making organizations along side a non-profit lab can be profitable.

Previous posts about synthetic biology looked at its attempt to create new alien living organisms (see 5/17/12 – Troubling Progress for Synthetic Biology and 12/2/12 – Synthetic Biology Continued: Risks or Benefits?).

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19906839 (Select “Free PMC Article” in the middle of the page to access the entire report.)

http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/electronic_oscillator

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/circadian_clock

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~chongw/citeulike/docs/doc14956.html

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinions.aspx See 6/13/13 Docket 12-398, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/us/supreme-court-rules-human-genes-may-not-be-patented.html

http://www.dailycal.org/2013/06/19/uc-professors-express-mixed-reactions-to-supreme-court-ruling-on-gene-patents/

http://syntheticbiology.org/Graduate.html

http://synbio.berkeley.edu/

http://bioengineering.rice.edu/Content.aspx?id=277

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Beyond Animal, Ego and Time: Chapters 14 & 15 – A Human Intervention Imperative and Enhancing the Life Experience

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Jerry

CHAPTER 14

 

A Human Intervention Imperative

 

We explored human uniqueness looking at physical attributes. We observed that advanced development of the prefrontal cortex in some mammals has been shown to be the probable source of self-recognition, empathy, and conscious decision-making. We argued language enables us to vicariously learn another’s knowledge without personal experience, contact, or observation. Finally, we described our ability to identify problems, absorb information, perceive consequences, conceive of options from which to choose, and make conscious decisions.

The fourth imperative is that we must decide to intervene in the course of events and influence or control their outcome. This is how we will assure life is protected from threat, evolution continues, and life experience is positive. Humanity is the key to completion of the evolutionary cycle and the emergence of the future living organism in which we will each participate. Only we can do what is necessary. We must consider the information presented, relate consequence to our personal lives, weigh our options and make a conscious decision to become guardians of life.

It is useful to pause and reflect on what has been presented. We must judge whether the information is credible and factual, if the assumptions and conclusions are logical and consistent. We must determine if the cosmology and resulting philosophy makes sense to a rational mind. We must decide if it is useful to society.

The five most obvious reasons to embrace the cosmology are:

  • It satisfies the genetic human “investigatory reflex”, identified by Pavlov, which drives us to seek a more comprehensive explanation of existence;
  • It resolves our cognitive dissonance by creating much greater consistency between our beliefs and our scientific knowledge;
  • The role of guardian of life is a singularly human responsibility which requires a shared philosophical point of view to insure a coordinated human response;
  • It directs human attention and effort to the most pressing problems of our time;
  • With sufficient time, evolution of a single future life form is possible, probable, or inevitable depending on whether you believe it is a natural evolutionary outcome or we will be effective in altering the future course of events.

Irrespective of which reason is most compelling to any individual, all we need do is decide to make a commitment and find the way to best implement our decision.

Human beings do not develop equally. We exist along a continuum of circumstance. Each of us has a specific set of advantages and/or disadvantages. Each is born with unique capabilities that can carry us only as far as our motivation and circumstances will allow. This means there are levels of consciousness some people are not capable of achieving and others, while capable, will be denied by circumstance. Those of us who are left, who are capable and enabled by circumstance, will achieve insights that vast numbers of human beings cannot and will not see. We will be lonely in our knowledge and yet have a responsibility to share what we know because global challenges require all of us to act.

Problems lasting a thousand years require generations of advocacy, intervention, and vigilance. Not only must we share insights with those around us, we must inform and educate subsequent generations. Evolutionary potential must be explained to those that follow. They must know that the role of guardian entails not only protecting life but also insuring its continued evolution and the enhancement of everyone’s life experience.

For most of us the time horizon in our lives has been limited. Seldom have we had to look forward by decades or centuries. With the survival issues we face and the imperatives we have identified, we are forced to lengthen our time horizon to include many future generations. This too points to our uniqueness within life. While it may not be accurate to say the rest of the animal kingdom is unaware of the passage of time, it is probable we are the only species capable of thinking about the future in terms of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years.

Looking back at the total human experience we see a history of continual and pervasive change. We began as hunter gathers, became farmers and entered the industrial and information ages. We have weathered countless variations of governance, experiencing anarchy, feudalism, theocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorships, and democracy. We have tried capitalism, communism, and socialism. Nothing about how we live is immutable or not subject to change. No options are closed to us. We have the freedom of a flexible response to future requirements.

We know change is inevitable and it begins with each of us. The first change required is the loss of our individual and collective political naiveté. We must stop relying on the politicians whom we have historically trusted to do what is right. If we have learned anything from the past and present it is that politicians are subject to persuasion from numerous sources most of which are motivated by their own gain and not by the greater good. This leads to political rationalization of suboptimal outcomes almost always favoring the few at the expense of the many.

Intervention is an active word. Nothing substantial will happen unless there is collective human action. Collective action is the product of personal commitment by many individuals. It is the determination of people to convince the people around him or her to act with them in a specific way. It is alignment of popular sentiment around issues whose time has come that establishes a political environment where progress can be made.

Each person must participate in the fight to protect life on our planet. At a minimum, each must pick the survival issue you care most strongly about or believe you can most affect and become an activist in that area. We must stop being mere onlookers and bystanders. It is not enough to go out and vote every few years without activism in between. It is not enough to watch a television program and nod to yourself about the issues. It is not enough to tell a friend you agree with them. Passivity convinces no one and is incapable of overcoming the inertia of the indecision of others.

Those who investigate issues, form opinions, and take a stand to change present reality determine future outcomes. Those who convince others rather than are convinced by others will make the difference in the future course. It is the people that join organizations, contribute time and money, attend rallies and conferences, write letters, and walk door to door in elections that create the future. These are the things we must do. When problems resolve, these are the people history will remember and honor.

Each of us must administer personal tests to determine how much is enough? How much time, money, and commitment are enough? Our answer is relative to our circumstances. The issue selected is about survival. It is important and must be reflected as such in one’s behavior. Important commitments are public. When everyone in your circle of influence knows your passion and position on an issue the commitment is declared. We each must expend the energy to move issues forward and incorporate them into our daily lives. They should be a major way we spend our spare time, a way to meet new people and to give our self a sense of accomplishment. When you know your contribution of time and money is forcing a choice between things you care about, you are reaching the level of commitment survival issues deserve.

As we attempt to move forward there will always be suggestions of short-term compromise from government and industry. Undoubtedly compromise will be imposed. Successful activists take the progress that is offered and demand more. Survival issues require dogged determination and sustained commitment. Progress is made with an uncompromising focus on the end outcome and a continuing sense of urgency to get there. We do not have to convince all or even half of the people to make a major change in direction. Supportive political environments are created with a smaller number. To effect change, however, we must reach a sufficient number of people. We will know we have made substantial progress when world leaders feature the survival issues and their world status in their annual reports to their citizens.

Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs & Steel, made a compelling argument that geographical and environmental factors bestowed advantages on people that were greater contributors to their success than racial or genetic differences.131 Just as he argued that the accident of origin was more responsible for success of peoples than their capabilities, we will see that through no fault of their own, the adversity of global climate change will fall on people who happen to be in the wrong place on the planet. There will be physical life crises that rival any in humanity’s past. We have to prepare for the inevitable upheavals and hardships of populations migrating to different territories to avoid the consequences of higher temperatures and shrinking fresh water resources. We must be prepared to help a humanity ravaged by change.

These and other challenges will undoubtedly involve new ways for us to live our lives. Those unwilling to give up the excesses of the past will resist these changes or who are afraid to move to new circumstances. But if the future mimics the past, change will predictably fall somewhere in the middle of our expectations, not as small or distant as we hope or as large or immediate as we fear. And as has been the case in the past, humanity will eventually invest the energy to adapt and weather the change in order to survive and continue to progress. The longer we wait, however, the larger the challenge becomes and the more energy we will have to invest.

We all long for life without cares surrounded by our loved ones where happiness and contentment are shared and each day is filled with optimism about a better future. However, the best we can hope for are days, weeks, months, or sometimes years of relative well being where effort made in the past shelters us from negative consequence in the present and future. This is the fundamental nature of life. It is not without hard work, planning ahead, being mindful of what is truly important and engaging in meaningful and rewarding relationships wherever we can find them. Even so we must anticipate and deal with future adversity.

Looking at our history and human nature, it is hard to avoid pessimism about the future. It is difficult to look at the threats to life just identified, human actions required, and necessary sacrifices and not be daunted by the enormity of the challenge. And yet, with all of this there is reason for optimism. Life is tenacious and insistent. Human beings have a history of weathering and overcoming adversity. We have always figured out a way. We will do no less in the future. We are embarked on an odyssey of change that is far from complete. Human history documents our relentless exodus from our roots in the animal kingdom. Figuratively, we struggle to complete our process of metamorphosis, standing up straight to finally transcend our animal origins. We must not underestimate the change that is possible or the strength of our desire and ability to accomplish it. We must intervene in the course of events and consciously become the guardians of life. We are the chrysalises that will become life’s butterfly.


 

CHAPTER 15

 

Enhancing the Life Experience

 

 

We have discussed the need for human beings to intervene in the course of events and assume responsibility for outcomes as guardians and custodians of life. In addition, we have dedicated four chapters to the Imperative of protecting life and identified survival issues we must resolve. Before we end our investigation we must briefly revisit the other two imperatives, to create an aggregate positive life experience and insure that evolution continues.

The imperative to create positive life experiences recognizes that our combined experience will be integral to the worldview of the future singular life form. We must assume that all contributions are not equal, that as the sensitivity of the sensory system and complexity of a creature’s intellectual ability increases, their relative contribution to future consciousness is magnified. This assumes the contribution of experience from higher life forms, i.e. human beings, is greater than that of lesser forms.

The life experience over which we have the greatest control is our own. This chapter is about how to apply this imperative to everyday life. Further insight on how we should live can be found by returning to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. No one exists exclusively in self-actualization where we are only doing what we were “born to do” and continuously achieve at our full potential. Everyone spends time in multiple levels of the hierarchy each day. We have to breathe, eat and sleep, have shelter, and feel secure.

A key differentiator of one human life from another is the proportion of time spent satisfying physiological and safety needs versus higher-level belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs. Maslow’s hypothesis was we spend our lives seeking to invert his pyramid to achieve a state where the majority of our time is self-actualizing and time required to satisfy lower level deficit needs is minimal. It comes as no surprise that for most people the pyramid has not inverted and daily life is focused on the first four levels of the hierarchy. Nevertheless, humanity’s future global objective must be to minimize deficit needs and maximize the being need of Self Actualization.

Implicit in the Hierarchy of Needs is a time tense. As the individual conquers lower level survival needs, satisfying each successive level need requires a greater amount of time. As an example, those people who go beyond satisfying basic physiological needs for food, water, shelter, etc. find satisfying needs for love, acceptance, and belonging require a greater investment of time because they have to cultivate and nurture necessary relationships with others. Similarly, the Esteem needs of achievement, education, competence and respect all imply sustained effort over an even longer period of time. They also involve identification and definition of conscious goals and objectives.

This implied time tense prompts us to examine where our consciousness is focused, in the past, present moment, or future. Only the present moment is reality. Past moments are but memory. Future moments are but anticipation. While true that only the present moment is real, one of our strengths is our ability to think in all three time tenses; to learn from successes and failures in the past, to be fully conscious of circumstances and action required in the moment, and to identify what must be achieved in the future and channel present efforts accordingly.

There is benefit in the present to minimizing negative influences of the past. As an example, we can all remember negative comments and discouragement from others who told us we were not worthy or were not capable of achievement. These could have been the taunting comments of other children or discouragement from well meaning adults who sought to insulate us from an experience of failure. Unfortunately, we tend to give these memories too much influence on our present lives.

It is always true that past experiences occurred at a different place and time and to a different person, ourselves at an earlier moment. Our memories can be flawed by immaturity, inaccurate perception, and/or misinterpretation. The past must be reevaluated in light of the present. For this reason, we should be very harsh with memories, easily and quickly dismissing those inconsistent with who we now are, that do not contribute to our present and future success, and which do not support the direction we have chosen for ourselves. We should also retain memories that represent the best contribution to who we have become or are becoming.

At the same time we must give witness to the passing of the present moment for it is in each moment the history of our life is written. It is within each moment that we can fulfill our promise to be a good person, to do that which brings pride to those who know us and creates value in our existence. It is also the point at which experience takes place with lessons learned, insights gained, and memories made. We must extract all the value we can from each present moment, savoring the existence of that moment which comes but once for each of us.

Each moment presents us with a choice. We can exist, harvest, or invest in the moment. All living creatures exist in each moment but absent other thought or action mere existence offers the least value. When moments pass without notice the full potential of life is squandered. To harvest a moment is to recognize its passage and extract the fullness of its value. It can be to feel joy at being alive, the pleasure of the warm sunshine on your face or inhaling the fragrance of a flower. It can be laughter with a friend, hugging a child, or kissing your mate. It can be any thought or action that consciously puts you in your moment with full appreciation of its experience and opportunity.

To invest in the present moment is to expend effort focused on enhancing moments that follow. It can be working harder in the present to reduce effort or risk in the future. It can be crafting a solution today to forestall a problem anticipated tomorrow. It can be working to achieve a milestone that gives ongoing and sustainable advantage. Just as it is the bicycling energy of the moment to climb the hill that allows the opportunity to effortlessly coast down the other side, it is the excess returns on today’s invested effort put aside and saved that provides support to withstand adversity in the future. And when the individual creates value in excess of their own requirements, the surplus can be redirected to help others. Investment in the moment for the future is where the greatest value lies.

How we feel can be as important as what we do in the present moment. Not only are feelings a part of our memory and life experience but they also have a powerful influence over what we choose to do. Each of us has experienced days when we knew we had to do something we thoroughly disliked. We could spend the whole day procrastinating, dreading the task and postponing it to the last possible moment. On the other hand we have all also had days when we were looking forward to something we really enjoy. The rush to complete mundane tasks in order to be free to do something we look forward to makes for a very different day. How we feel during the two different days is very important. Knowing how to manage our daily mood can make a significant difference in the quality of our life experience.

While there are many benefits to living in the moment there are hazards as well. We have to recognize that being swept along in the emotion of the moment is one the risks that must be managed especially when the present emotion is negative. We are highly susceptible to our emotions but always have less concern when we are feeling positive.

Our objective must be to remain emotionally centered in a stable, secure, and positive state. Maintaining centered emotions requires frequent mid course correction much as the flight path of an airplane that is buffeted by the winds is continuously corrected to stay true to its destination. A good technique for re-centering your emotional state is contextual reformation. We will look at three techniques to help manage your emotional state to achieve the best life experience.

In the course of daily life we each live in a variety of contexts or interrelated conditions within which we exist. We move from one context to another as the activities of our day progress. For example, a married man with children may begin the day in a husband context when he wakes up in bed next to his wife. He moves to a father context when he sits down to breakfast with his children. As he goes to work he assumes his career context.

Throughout the day each of us moves from one context to another. It is easy to get lost in the daily contexts of our life and lose the centering that is critical to emotional stability and security. For example, when we encounter trouble on the job or difficulties in our marriage, we will tend to focus our attention on one context to the exclusion of all others.

On a more immediate level we can often find ourselves in a stressful or emotion filled situation where we are caught up in the moment and allow negative emotions such as fear, embarrassment or anger to control our reactions. This is an example of how we can lose control of the present moment and our centered emotional stability. It often occurs when we do something we regret.

A way of regaining control, our first technique, is to perform a process of remote projection. Briefly imagine going to a distant place, a corner of the room, where you can look back at yourself. Your objective is to see you in a broader, objective context. Look at your surroundings and situation. Imagine yourself moving farther and farther away. Reposition yourself in the broader context of the world around you. In the first case of one context dominating all other contexts, remote projection enables you to pull back and see all facets of your life and put them once again in proper perspective.

In the second example you are in the middle of a stressful situation and remote projection allows you to back out of an inward looking state and see your experience is transitory in nature. In both examples you can look at how you are reacting and ask yourself if the reaction is warranted. You should try to see yourself as others see you and ask if this is how you want to be perceived and known. If the answer is no, you can extract yourself from the context you are in or alter your reaction so you can be seen in a different way. This is how you can regain control of your situation and restore a centered state.

We all have times when we become discouraged, uncertain or apprehensive about something we are attempting to do. When our mood deteriorates we risk losing the motivation to keep pushing forward. Maintaining optimism is necessary to overcome normal human doubt. A second technique for contextual reformation and mood management is recollection. This technique involves recalling past accomplishments and remembering the positive emotions you felt when you achieved them. You could recall the pride and joy of your graduation from high school or college or the moment you learned you would be promoted. It is best to look back to anytime you achieved something that required significant effort and in some sense the outcome was in doubt.

Once you select an appropriate recollection, imagine yourself once more in that moment. Visualize your surroundings. Remember whom you were with and when and where the event happened. Recall the feelings you experienced and what caused them. This recollection enables you to feel the positive feelings of the past in the present. It reminds you that you can overcome challenges and prevail. It reinforces your ability to accomplish what you set your mind to do. It moves the emotional context of that moment to the present moment and re-centers your emotional state.

Our last technique for mood management is visualization. It helps create optimism about accomplishing something where the outcome may be in doubt. First you identify the major future goal, achievement, or event that you are working towards. Next you itemize the interim steps you need to take to accomplish your goal. Visualize yourself completing these things to get to the end outcome. Anticipate the perfect set of circumstances that would surround the outcome. Project yourself to the moment of successful completion. Imagine the emotions you will feel and the reactions of the people you care most about.

Visualization is a rehearsal for future success. It forces you to think about how you would accomplish your objective. It leads you to anticipate obstacles and conceive of ways to overcome them. Visualization renews the motivation that initially made you choose the goal you wanted to achieve. It increases your confidence in pursuit of it. No accomplishment is possible if you cannot at least imagine and visualize its attainment. The process of figuring it out increases your optimism of its feasibility and moves its reality from unthinkable and impossible to familiar and achievable.

The second area where you can have a direct affect on life experience is your impact on people around you. Your interaction with others and affect on them can often have a greater influence on positive life experience than managing your own moods. Evolution and natural selection have played a key role in shaping the behavior of genetically and biologically related family groups. There has been much study and documentation of interaction between family members with many theories of behavior from Freud and Jung to Watson and Skinner. For this reason our daily interaction with strangers is of more interest in this exploration.

It is important to consider two aspects of interaction with others. The first is that you must actively engage other people. Human beings are social animals who are susceptible to isolation, loneliness, and despair. We all too often move through our day interacting with others as if they are objects rather than people. Too often we relate to others in a perfunctory fashion, lacking real interest and responding in a highly superficial way. These interactions alienate and isolate both people by denying their value in each other’s eyes.

How often have we treated the person behind the counter as not deserving of recognition or worthy of validation? How do we react when people behind the counter treat us as if we are the nuisances? How many opportunities have we missed to break though the barrier of impersonality and actually engage one another? The tragedy is that a genuine personal connection and recognition of another’s existence and value takes only a few moments of attention and effort.

It means we have to pay attention to people and find a topic of conversation that establishes a common ground. We can chat about a shared characteristic, such as describing work you once did that was similar to their experience. It can be complementing them on a job well done. It can be any number of things that will demonstrate you are actually paying attention to them and thinking about their life or situation and acknowledging their existence. This leaves you and the other person with a positive feeling.

The second, and in many respects more important aspect of interaction with others is to actively seek opportunities where you can exhibit unanticipated kindness. While similar to active engagement, performing an unexpected kindness has a more powerful affect on the emotional context of others. It is an unsolicited offer to help someone you do not know and may never see again. The offered act must represent giving up something that is of value to you in time, effort or money. While the kindness benefits the other person, it benefits you as well in that it makes you feel good about yourself. It reinforces your kindness and care for other people. Opportunities for unanticipated kindness are often less obvious and always require more effort.

Actively engaging other people and performing unanticipated acts of kindness are like throwing pebbles into a pond. The beneficial effects will ripple out in ever widening circles affecting progressively more and more people. If what you do makes another person feel valued or that the world is a kinder place than they had thought, it improves their life experience that day. Further, it leads them to similar positive behavior that benefits someone else. Imagine the effect if everyone committed an unanticipated act of kindness each day. Imagine the power of over six billion daily acts of kindness.

When we think about the human condition it is not hard to imagine the cumulative effect of these kinds of actions. All human beings will react similarly when we reach out to them. Our DNA is 99.9% the same from one person to another regardless of ethnicity or nationality.132 Maslow’s hierarchy explains that the challenges we face in living day-to-day are the same. We must believe that the aspirations all people have for the quality of their life experience is similar.

Before we leave the subject of how we increase the quality of the aggregate life experience we must discuss the second largest contributing group, the rest of the animal kingdom. We are not the only contributors to the aggregate life experience. Plants and animals also contribute. Setting aside the assumed small contribution of plants, it is well documented that animals experience many emotions, are aware of pain and suffering, and have memory.

We must recall that at least four species other than Homo sapiens have demonstrated self-recognition.  These are the great apes (other than gorillas), Asian elephants, bottlenose dolphins and the Corvid bird family including magpies, crows and ravens. Anyone who has ever owned a pet or farm animal has seen a range of emotions in their animal’s eyes such as love, fear, happiness, or contentment. All who have read about animal behavior know about the nurturing and protection of the young by their parents.

The normal animal cycle of life consists of birth, growth, foraging and hunting, procreation, caring for offspring, aging and dying. While the life of wild animals can include difficult times like migrations, disease, avoidance of predators and starvation, it is possible to imagine that on most days there is a positive contribution to the aggregate life experience. This has been true even through the human development of an agrarian society. Small farmers and ranchers have always had a direct and personal interest in the welfare of their livestock if only as an investment they want to protect.

Most human beings in direct and personal contact with animals feel empathy and treat them with kindness. Pets elicit the stronger emotions of love and loyalty from their owners. Even people who are not pet owners, farmers, or ranchers generally react with concern when they encounter an animal that is suffering and in pain. These are normal human reactions and represent some of the higher states of emotion.

Human reactions change when we depersonalize our relationships with the animal kingdom. Our actions change when we are remote and no longer see or experience the reality of animal existence. We can avoid normal human reactions when animal care is unseen and the responsibility of others. Such is the case when we confine animals to artificial and limited enclosures in zoos, subject them to experimentation in medical laboratories, and turn them into commodities to be managed by big industrial food processors on factory farms.

Setting aside the negative examples of zoo confinement and medical experimentation that are both regrettable, the epitome of our present remoteness with the greatest negative effect is our relationship with the billions of animals in our food chain. The case in point is the treatment of animals under the control of big industrial food processors, the managers of our food supply, who raise and slaughter billions of animals each year in our name.

There is a sizable body of law pertaining to farm animal cruelty. Using the United States as an example, the nation has passed laws requiring humane treatment of livestock immediately prior to and during slaughter.133 In addition, about half the states enacted statutes that also set standards for the slaughter of animals. These statutes were designed to prevent needless animal suffering. They include description of how animals unable to move will be handled. For example they first must be stunned to unconsciousness before they can be dragged anywhere. The law also identifies the four means to be used to render animals unconscious before the actual slaughter which generally consists of slitting the animal’s throat and draining the body of blood. The four ways to render farm animals unconscious are with carbon dioxide administered in a chamber, captive bolt stunners which produce a forceful strike on the forehead, mechanical gunshot, and use of electrical current.135

Counting just cattle, chickens, ducks, hogs, sheep and lambs, and turkeys it is estimated we slaughtered over 4.8 billion animals in the U.S. in 2008. There are no government estimates for the slaughter of other farm animals, such as rabbits and horses.136 There are numerous video segments accessible on the internet that depict farm animal slaughter where humane steps to minimize pain and suffering have not been taken. With the huge number of animals slaughtered each year and the obvious terror, pain, and suffering experienced when they are not rendered unconscious, it is clear the existing law was a necessary first step to protect the life experience of these creatures.

With all the focus on the death of the animals it is surprising there are no national statutes and very few state laws that regulate the handling and living conditions of those same animals prior to slaughter. It is in this area where human beings have failed the animals managed in their name. We have allowed large agribusinesses to open high production factory farms that use business practices that destroy any opportunity for a positive life experience for the animals in their charge. These factory farms treat their animals as commodities with no concern for their quality of life. In fact, with the existing laws when enforced and followed, we are treating the animals more humanely as we put them to death than they have been treated in life.

Examples of their common practices include:

  • Confining eight to ten egg laying hens for the duration of their lives in indoor wire cages, called battery cages, measuring no more than sixteen inches wide and 67 to 86 inches long, about the size of an average filing cabinet drawer. These cages are so small the hens do not have room to fully spread their wings. These cages are in rows and stacked several levels high in windowless buildings that contain up to 100,000 birds.
  • Debeaking chickens, turkeys and ducks by cutting through bone, cartilage and soft tissue with a blade to remove the top half and bottom third of their beaks. This is done to reduce excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen in stressed, overcrowded birds confined in factory farms.
  • Forced molting where egg producers starve their hens for ten to fourteen days forcing them to lose 25% or more of their body weight in body fat, feathers, liver tissue, musculature, and skeleton. This is done to reduce the cost of feeding the hens and produce eggs more cheaply.
  • Producing Foie Gras where birds are force-fed enormous quantities of food three times a day via a pipe inserted in their esophagus. This leads to enlargement of the liver and sometimes causes a rupturing of internal organs leading to infection and a painful death. This process normally lasts four weeks until the birds are slaughtered.
  • Producing “White Veal” where dairy farmers take unwanted male calves in the first 16-18 weeks of life and confine them in two foot wide crates where they are formula fed an iron and fiber deficient diet that results in anemia. The lack of movement and anemia retards muscle development that results in pale, tender meat.
  • Confining breeding pigs for their nearly four-month pregnancies in “gestation cages” which are two feet wide and seven feet long concrete floored metal cages. Once they give birth and their piglets are weaned they are quickly re-impregnated. On average these breeding pigs spend a total of ten months a year in these cages. This cycle is repeated for three to five years until the sows’ bodies have deteriorated to the point it is no longer profitable to breed them, at which point they are sent to slaughter.

These animal cages and crates severely limit animal mobility. Intensively confined animals are denied the ability to exercise, fully extend their limbs, or simply turn their bodies. They cannot perform integral, instinctual, and natural behaviors. For example birds cannot respond to their basic nesting instincts. Cages with wire flooring deprive them of the opportunity to express normal foraging, scratching and dust-bathing behaviors. They also prohibit hens from perching and roosting and do not allow comfort behaviors, such as stretching and wing flapping.

It is not possible to imagine a world where people do not consume or need to consume animal protein in their diet. While we cannot envision a world of strict vegetarians, we can imagine one where each person significantly reduces their animal protein consumption. Nevertheless we have an imperative to increase positive life experience. The life experience of a significant portion of the animal kingdom has been allowed to deteriorate to an unspeakable and unacceptable level of sustained cruelty. We must end the torture of these poor, defenseless living beings.

There has been a small, dedicated group of advocates who have made steady progress in this fight to end farm animal abuse and give all animals a chance to have positive life experiences. These compassionate people have succeeded in passing the laws regulating the slaughter of animals. In addition they have made progress in a handful of states that have passed laws that variously eliminate veal crates, gestation and battery cages, and the production of Foie Gras.

A forward-looking piece of legislation was the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act passed in California in 2008. This law was to “prohibit the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”137 It specifically protected all covered animals which meant “any pig during pregnancy, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen who is kept on a farm.” It passed in what can only be considered a resounding victory carrying a 63% majority.

The rest of us must join this small band of advocates to build the political will to extend this protection to farm animals everywhere. We must demand tougher penalties for violating animal cruelty laws. We must fund more pervasive monitoring of animal welfare to insure these standards are fully enforced. Finally, we must raise our children to understand the importance of creating a positive life experience for all living creatures. We must help them develop the empathy that will guide them to fight animal cruelty in all of its forms.

The fight against animal cruelty is as much about us as it is about the animals. Treating animals with the respect and care in life that they deserve is a significant way we can fulfill our responsibilities. Cruelty to another living creature is an example of the worst possible human behavior and is unworthy of the human species. As guardians of life and beneficiaries of the aggregate life experience, we must fulfill the imperative to enhance all life experience.

 

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Genetically Modified Sexual Aptitude

Posted on 02 June 2013 by Jerry

Comparison between genetically modified and natural salmon.

Comparison between genetically modified and natural salmon.

Scientists are afraid of a genetically modified new species that disrupts the natural ecology by crowding out and starving competing species.  One that grows faster than a wild organism, becomes bigger and breeds indiscriminately spreading its aggressive characteristics.

Rather than promoting diversity which science shows is good for evolution, it significantly reduces variety.  It increases ecological dependency on a single species creating greater risk if something were to happen to that newly dominant species.  This is how we have population crashes of a species and the collapse of its ecology.

This risk, the viability of the fishing industry, and human health are major reasons over 59 retailers selling natural fish in over 4660 stores announced they will not sell the genetically modified AquAdvantage® Salmon even if approved by the Federal Drug Administration.  These grocery chains include well-known companies such as Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, H-E-B, Giant Eagle, and Meijer.

These and other retailers are now also reacting to a new Canadian study recently released by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society.  Reporting that AquAdvantage® Salmon easily breed with brown trout and they also show the salmon hybrid’s “competitive dominance” over other, natural, brown trout.  This would indicate that both natural brown trout and Atlantic salmon are at risk of declining stocks due to this aggressive genetically modified hybrid.

While AquaBounty, the company responsible for the GM fish, indicates it will only raise sterile fish even the FDA admits that up to 5% of the fish will be fertile.  When discussing future large-scale production, which AquaBounty hopes represents millions of fish, this 5% will be tens of thousands of fertile fish.

We have been following the AquAdvantage Salmon developments in various posts on this blog for months.  The significance of this salmon is that if the FDA approves it for human consumption and sale, which appears likely, it will be the first genetically modified animal to itself be introduced into the food supply.  All previous genetically modified foods have been largely plants that have been mainly modified to be impervious to various manufacturer’s herbicides or pesticides.

There is high certainty that if this fish is approved, many other genetically modified animals for which FDA approvals will be sought will follow it rapidly.  Besides concerns there is no labeling requirement to identify these GM foods, the FDA unfortunately is in dire need of a significant updating and modernization.  The FDA is today operating under animal drug requirements designed for the testing and regulation of feed additives and animal vaccines.  Their required testing is not designed to study the long-term effects of human consumption or the ecological damage that genetically modified animals can cause.

The present reality of genetically modified foods, plant and animal, must be recognized.  The long-term ramifications to our ecology and health must be studied before further GM organisms are taken out the lab and introduced into our food supply and environment.  The risks are too big and far-reaching to not be studied.  While not popular with businesses, environmental impact assessments in other situations protect the environment and human populations.  A comparable study methodology must be imposed on these newly proposed GM products.

Use the following links to obtain further information:

http://www.foe.org/news/blog/2013-05-no-room-on-our-plates-for-genetically-engineered-sea

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/ge-salmon-the-promiscuous-fish-who-knew-not-the-fda/

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1763/20131047.full.pdf+html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/20/major-us-supermarkets-boycott-gm-salmon

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2013/05/meijer_joins_major_retailers_i.html   

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