Tag Archives: america

The making of

The topic of unconscious or ‘well, it’s not gonna kill me, is it?’ acquisition of hazardous substances through food has been around for a while. Most of us eat fertilizers and pesticides on our fruit and vegetables, pop a few genetically modified bits in-between and then just do hormones and antibiotics in the steak. To focus on meat, why are hormones and antibiotics used so widely in the production of meat, should we be careful about consuming them, and if so, how can we avoid them in our food?

As much as I don’t want to get activist here, but I can’t help posting this video from Pleix. It may not be new, but it’s quite to the point…

Sex hormones are often used in animal diets because they are an easy way to increase the animals’ production of muscles and fat without having to give them more feed. Although the amount of hormones acquired through meat consumption cannot be measured in an accurate manner, as by the end of the processing one cannot tell the difference between the animals’ natural and artificial hormones, there is a lot to think about when it comes to having those extra amounts of hormones floating in our bodies. Oestrogen has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and to fertility problems in men. Progesterone has been shown to increase the development of ovarian, breast and uterine tumours in laboratory animals. And testosterone has been linked to prostate cancer in men. There have also been concerns about the acceleration of breast development among children in countries that allow hormone use in dairy production. Another concern is that hormones administered to animals could be passed with their feces and as a result have an effect on water and plants. Hormone use in meat production has been banned in the EU and does not allow imports of such meat into the area.

Like hormones, antibiotics make animals gain weight and therefore increase the meat industry’s profits. They are commonly administered sub-therapeutically to increase the weight of the animals and also to preven the diseases that the conditions of factory farming can bring on. Some antibiotics administered to animals are also used to treat human illnesses. Long-term usage of such antibiotics can effectively make the bacteria within the animals immune to the antibiotics. If a person ingests such bacteria with the meat and gets ill, the bacteria will continue being antibiotic-resistant. Another larger-scale concern here is the arms race between bacteria and drug innovation that can lead to us having around diseases that we cannot treat appropriately. So far the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in meat has been banned in several countries in the EU and imports of such meat are not allowed into the UK.

The UK seems a fairly safe zone for both hormones and antibiotics in meat, but the US continues a much more robust use of these substances in their meat production. I guess the safest bet is to buying organic or going vegetarian.

The frenzy continues…

The iPhone is just about all you can see and hear about on TV in the States…well, maybe plus Paris Hilton. As I was nervously picking out my new laptop in the Apple store (yes, I’ve been a member of the Apple congregation for years now), I couldn’t help but notice the shop assistants’ t-shirts with ‘the wait is almost over’ on the front. What the wait was for, I wasn’t really quite sure at that point, but after seeing the iPhone on every commercial break on TV, watching David Pogue rave about it, and finally hearing about lines of people in front of Apple stores, it finally hit me – the iPhone was coming out and everyone wanted one. Even today, I found my darling glued to an AT&A window shop after closing hours…

Finally, last Friday, the frenzy climaxed and the iPhone was out – literally out – no shop had any in stock after the day it went on sale. It touched even the uninvolved with my in-laws stuck in a restaurant waiting to be served for over an hour while everyone else in the half-empty restaurant was entranced by another customer’s iPhone. What a day. Anyway, if you’d like to follow up on the ups and downs of the iPhone and get to know what went wrong on the big day and thereafter, feel free to follow up on your Apple conversion here…

On the other side

Hi everyone, I’m back and this blog is officially still being written! I made it through the hellish few too many trips from Budapest and am now recuperating from yet another case of bronchitis. I took a train from Budapest to Krakow to see my parents, a day later another train up to Warsaw where I saw my dear brother, a day later a flight to Amsterdam, and a dose of antibiotics later yet another flight, this time an 11 hour one to the heart of Texas. I’ve really come to not expect too much upon boarding a plane or train. It’s kind of like getting into a really long tunnel with high traffic – you just hope you get out in one piece, when becomes a little less important.

I shall keep y’all (as they’d say it here) up to date with my ‘adventures’ here…

Evolution all over again

Just thought I’d link this article to my blog…


DAVID BROOKS: The Age of Darwin


Standing on a hill in East Jerusalem, amid the clash of religious and political orthodoxies, stands a musty old museum devoted to human progress. When you walk into the Rockefeller Museum with its old-fashioned display cases crowded with ancient pottery shards and oil lamps, you can begin by looking at the stone tools of early man. Then you proceed room by room through the invention of agriculture and cities, winding up finally with the statues and reliquaries of the medieval era.

What you’re really looking at is a philosophy of history. The museum was set up in 1938, when scholars still spoke confidently of mankind’s upward march from primitive culture to higher civilization. History is portrayed here as a great, unified story, with crucial pivot moments when humanity leapt forward — when people first buried their dead, when they moved from animistic faiths to polytheism, when they learned to cultivate reason and philosophy.

These days, historians hate those kinds of unifying grand narratives, and the idea that history is a march of progress upward to the present. Yet I have to confess, I loved the Rockefeller Museum. Though it’s dense and dry, it rekindled the University of Chicago flame that lingers in every graduate’s soul and got me thinking all sorts of Big Thoughts. I also had the sensation — which I used to get during those sweeping old Western Civ courses — of seeing my own time from the outside, from the vantage point of some ancient spot.

And it occurred to me that while we postmoderns say we detest all-explaining narratives, in fact a newish grand narrative has crept upon us willy-nilly and is now all around. Once the Bible shaped all conversation, then Marx, then Freud, but today Darwin is everywhere.

Scarcely a month goes by when Time or Newsweek doesn’t have a cover article on how our genes shape everything from our exercise habits to our moods. Science sections are filled with articles on how brain structure influences things like lust and learning. Neuroscientists debate the existence of God on the best-seller lists, while evolutionary theory reshapes psychology, dieting and literary criticism. Confident and exhilarated, evolutionary theorists believe they have a universal framework to explain human behavior.

Creationists reject the whole business, but they’re like the Greeks who still worshiped Athena while Plato and Aristotle practiced philosophy. The people who set the cultural tone today have coalesced around a shared understanding of humanity and its history that would have astonished people in earlier epochs.

According to this view, human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along genetic code. We are driven primarily by a desire to perpetuate ourselves and our species.

The logic of evolution explains why people vie for status, form groups, fall in love and cherish their young. It holds that most everything that exists does so for a purpose. If some trait, like emotion, can cause big problems, then it must also provide bigger benefits, because nature will not expend energy on things that don’t enhance the chance of survival.

Human beings, in our current understanding, are jerry-built creatures, in which new, sophisticated faculties are piled on top of primitive earlier ones. Our genes were formed during the vast stretches when people were hunters and gatherers, and we are now only semi-adapted to the age of nuclear weapons and fast food. Furthermore, reason is not separate from emotion and the soul cannot be detached from the electrical and chemical pulses of the body. There isn’t even a single seat of authority in the brain. The mind emerges (somehow) from a complex light show of neural firings without a center or executive. We are tools of mental processes we are not even aware of.

The cosmologies of the societies represented in the Rockefeller Museum looked up toward the transcendent. Their descendants still fight over sacred spots like the Holy of Holies a short walk away. But the evolutionary society is built low to the ground. God may exist and may have set the process in motion, but he’s not active. Evolution doesn’t really lead to anything outside itself. Individuals are predisposed not by innate sinfulness or virtue, but by the epigenetic rules encoded in their cells.

Looking at contemporary America from here in Jerusalem and from the ancient past, it’s clear we’re not a postmodern society anymore. We have a grand narrative that explains behavior and gives shape to history. We have a central cosmology to embrace, argue with or unconsciously submit to.

Keep walking

Of course Amazon never called back within the next hour (as they said) or day for the matter. I’ll just have to re-tell my story to yet another person on the phone tomorrow. Can’t wait!

As yet another thing to boggle my mind, I finally got my new credit card for which I registered last week. My trip to the bank was short, but not because things were straightforward. The lady at the desk saw my passport and said she wasn’t familiar with my passport and so asked if I had a Texas ID (which I don’t have since I’m not an American citizen…). To continue the registration she took my name reading it out from my passport and somehow came up with Pamela Melinda for Paulina Marta. Once I corrected that and she printed the final documents my name was still Paulina Maria, so I retured the documents and pointed it out. Well, I got the letter with the card today and Paulina Maria it is!

Through Amazon we go

You know, not many things in this world upset me to the point of wanting to jump out the window, but when I get on the phone with a person working for customer service, yet not knowing anything about it and speaking in an unfamiliar accent – well, that just about does it for me. And I sit there on the phone wondering – is what I’m saying unclear, is it my English, or is it just the people on the other end of the line not having a clue about what they’re doing?

Two weeks ago, when flying from NY to DC, my grandfather-in-law calls Delta to find out what’s happening to my flight – ‘the plane arrived on time, sir’. This man is 81, waiting at an airport, and they’re holding me on tarmac for 4.5 hours to get me into DC 8 hours late. No information anywhere – the flight ran smoothly according to all systems except that one thing was missing – the plane itself. In fact, not a single airplane had landed in DC or any other airport in that state that morning – the fog just wouldn’t go away.

Today I attempted to return a Christmas gift, which was purchased through Amazon. I tape up the box, put the relevant stickers on, read the online returns policy and get ready to go. Before dropping it off I call the returns centre to make clear where the refund should go and that the person who purchased the gift should not be informed. Half an hour later I get an email from the friend who got the gift with an Amazon email to her ‘your account has been credited with the return refund’. And so it goes, I’m still waiting for them to call me back – they’re ‘investigating’…

Brazos Bend and such

I’ve been to the States three times now and my two previous trips consisted of Texas exclusively, but I can’t say I’ve seen that much of it. Despite being a city animal, I am also a huge nature lover and have finally gotten to see Brazos Bend, which I had heard of so much before. The landscape was swampy and crowded with trees that cast reflections in the swampy waters. On the banks of the walkways aligators would be sunning and not making much of your presence. The place had lots of views of birds of all kinds as well and in general was a wonderful walk.

Christmas was great and soon after we left to go to Austin and visit an uncle here. We took a walk through downtown and I finally got to see how cute this town is in daylight. We’re setting off to go to Waco in a couple of hours and will spend New Year’s Eve there. I didn’t bring my camera on this trip, so no pictures from this one…