Bagel with Cream Cheese and Fries

It is not my custom to wander into the field of nutrition but Your Secret Big Mac Habit from the DASH for Health website is worth reading. The article asks whether–

you may be unknowingly eating “Big Macs” throughout the week. A Big Mac has 550 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Are you eating foods that have the same calories, fat and salt?

For instance, suppose your breakfast is orange juice and a Dunkin Donuts bagel with cream cheese.

A Dunkin Donuts multigrain bagel has 330 kcal, 6g fat, and 500mg of sodium. Add their small container of cream cheese for an extra 150 calories, 15g fat, and 250mg sodium. So now we’re at 480 calories. If you add an 6-ounce glass of 100% orange juice at 80 calories , it puts you into Big Mac Land at 560 calories.

Or consider my go-to restaurant lunch item, the chicken caesar salad:

[T]he Olive Garden’s Caesar salad with grilled chicken . . . contains a whopping 610 calories, 40g fat (8 of them saturated fat), and 1230mg sodium.

I suppose there are two responses to these insights: be mindful of what you eat, or stop fooling yourself and eat Big Macs with impunity.

Organ Sale?

Last summer’s Law and Ethics class featured a discussion problem on the ethics of selling kidneys.  Currently transplanted kidneys originate either with voluntary living donors, often the patient’s family members, or from cadavers of those who agreed during life to donate organs.  There is no legal arms-length market for kidneys or other organs in the U.S., although I’ve heard that kidneys can be purchased nonetheless. The National Kidney Foundation states in “25 Facts About Organ Donation and Transplantation” that “[b]ecause of the lack of available donors in this country, 4,573 kidney patients, 1,506 liver patients, 371 heart patients and 234 lung patients died in 2008 while waiting for life-saving organ transplants.”  After debating the issue last year’s class rejected the ethics of an organ market. Recently Sue Rabbit Roff, an academic at Dundee University in Scotland, proposed in the British Medical Journal that college students should be allowed to sell their kidneys for roughly $46,000, which is about the average annual income in the U.K.  Roff wrote “[t]his would be an incentive across most income levels for those who wanted to do a kind deed and make enough money to, for instance, pay off university loans.”  In the linked article Ethics Newsline reports the British Medical Association “is strongly opposed to the idea. Some doctors are concerned about potential abuse while others consider it fundamentally unethical.”

Sovereignty over one’s body and being includes the right to donate organs in certain circumstances.  If I can give my kidney to my sister* then why can’t I sell it to a stranger? The problem is that any such market would be abused, with wealthy purchasers and financially-strapped sellers.  Kazuo Ishiguro explored an extreme version of this in Never Let Me Go, in which a class of humans is cloned and raised solely to be organ donors.  (The book is worth reading.  I don’t know if the recent movie version is worth seeing.) One ethical tenet states that people should be valued as ends in themselves and not be used as means to an end.  An organ market turns that on its head.

However, it would however certainly redefine the meaning of alumni giving.

*This is NOT an invitation, Barbara

Catching Up on Podcasts

Last week, after abandoning the audiobook of Richard North Patterson’s relentlessly didactic Conviction–cardboard cut-out characters and dialogue that would be at home in an amicus brief–I turned to my backlog of podcasts.  I’m a binge consumer of podcasts, going months without listening to any and then listening to nothing but for a few weeks. My first recommendation is actually a months-old RadioLab episode titled Animal Minds.  I thought of it again when a friend shared a video of a humpback whale being rescued from a gill net in the Sea of Cortes.  The first story in Animal Minds–a few minutes into the episode, right after the introduction in the church–deals with a similar rescue of a whale in the Pacific off the coast of San Francisco.  The rescue itself is gripping, and the aftermath is incredibly powerful and moving.

More Complicated

A pet peeve of mine–the only one, really, since I’m so accepting of other’s thoughts and behaviors–is blaming every extreme weather incident on global warming and related climate change.  I understand global warming enough to be confident of three things:

  • It exists
  • Mankind exacerbates it
  • Its effects are complicated, nuanced, and not always obvious

So I appreciated the Times’ response to this question:

Q: Can the intensity of this year’s tornadoes be blamed on climate change?

A: Probably not. Over all, the number of violent tornadoes has been declining in the United States, even as temperatures have increased, making it likely that this year’s twister outbreak is simply a remarkable and terrifying — but natural — event. Climate science has long predicted that global warming will cause more weather extremes, however, and statistics suggest that this has started to happen . . . That said, scientists are reluctant to attribute any specific weather event to global warming. And, at least so far, only a handful of studies have suggested that tornadoes are likely to become more frequent or more intense on a warming planet. Frustratingly, it is likely to be a year or two before we get good published analyses of the causes for this season’s strange weather — and it may be decades before science can conclusively demonstrate whether or not human-driven warming is affecting tornado frequency.

This is part of a continuing series titled “It’s a Handy Explanation, But It’s Wrong.”

Survey Says

Recently I listened to a Teaching Company course titled The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy.  The lecturer repeated a statistic I’ve seen elsewhere, that about 50% of Americans believe God created humans within the past 10,000 years.  And, as has happened every time I’ve encountered this statistic, I almost drove off the road.  Put aside for the moment belief in intelligent design–which I consider to be creationism dressed in a new coat–, and belief in theistic evolution, which holds that evolution is God’s instrument of creation.  About 50% of Americans believe the human species was created within the past 10,000 years?  Is it any wonder we lag the rest of the developed world in science and other rational-thinking skills?

“Check out the big brain on Brett.”*

An Ars Technica article titled World’s Total CPU Power: One Human Brain , about the results of research into the question “[h]ow much information can the world transmit, process, and store?” is chock-a-block with fascinating statistics (“Two-way communications handled 65 exabytes in 2007, dwarfed by broadcasting, which sent a whopping 2 zetabytes of data. But, while broadcasting is increasing at a linear rate, the advent of the Internet has given two-way transmissions a big boost, increasing the bytes transmitted by a factor of 29 in just 7 years”) whose import–and meaning, in some cases–I can’t assess.  It ends with this:

Lest we get too enamored with our technological prowess, however, the authors make some comparisons with biology. “To put our findings in perspective, the 6.4*1018 instructions per second that human kind can carry out on its general-purpose computers in 2007 are in the same ballpark area as the maximum number of nerve impulses executed by one human brain per second,” they write.  Our total storage capacity is the same as an adult human’s DNA. And there are several billion humans on the planet.

I have no ability to assess whether that’s even remotely true.  But it’s an awe-inspiring thought.

*Lifetime updates to the Internet Law Casebook to the first person to identify the source of this quotation, without Googling it–in either the trademark or the generic sense.

My Favorite Cephalopod

Did you know that an octopus can carry empty coconut shells to hide in, employ problem-solving strategies, pretend it’s a rock and disguise its motion by creeping across the ocean floor at the same speed as the surrounding water, make mental maps of their surroundings, and play with objects?  I didn’t until I read this Boston Globe article and the accompanying graphic.  They are impressive little critters.

And That’s a Lotta Volts

Yesterday scientists for the first time employed CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to smash protons together to attempt to understand the earliest moments of the creation of the universe.  Everything about the Large Hadron Collider is mind-boggling, from its stated purpose to its $10 billion cost to its 27 kilometer–over 16 mile–circular underground “racetrack” around which protons, in essence, play chicken at over 99% the speed of light.  For some reason, I do not know why, my favorite LHC factoid from yesterday’s 50%-power test is that “[t]he [photon] beams collided with a combined energy of seven trillion electron volts, about 3.5 times more powerful than the previous world record.”  Seven trillion electron voltsSeven trillion electron volts! I just love saying it.  Maybe it was only 6.85 trillion electron volts and they rounded up?  Scientists wouldn’t fudge the number, would they?

I’m seriously considering grading all future course work on the trillion electron-volt scale.