Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

we sicken you we thicken you

It's raining and I have no books to read. These stories are old but I found them trawling about on the Guardian website. Now it sounds funny and maybe counter intuitive but I absolutely welcome corporate involvement in Government.
In the old days of the cold Eastern bloc dissidents would say " at least we know our news is biased while yours pretends to be objective" and similar. A moderate amount of digging will reveal the unbelievable amount of influence and power that food manufacturers have in the hand of government and policy making. It's got so bad they don't even feel the need to apologise properly "I deeply regret any impression of impropriety"..."impression"??? Or how about this "DR Susan Jebb is the government advisor on obesity SAJ is a member of Scientific Advisory Boards for Coca-Cola, Heinz, PepsiCo, NestlĂ© and Kellogg’s." Susan Jebb through some amazing power of compartmentalisation sees no conflict of interest. Or Kellogs working their sugary magic here. Maybe that's why the NHS says there is no difference between peparami (unilever) and venison or lamb's liver.If only I had a had a peperami for breakfast instead of liver and kidney I would not have exceeded my daily dose of red meat....oh no my colon!
So why on earth would I want more corporate involvement? Because people will finally wake up! If you know, if it is transparently clear, that your governments advice comes straight from independent business interests you will start question it or more likely ignore it and search for alternative sources.
Here is the story and here is the opposition response, two sides of the same shitty coin which is the same on both shitty sides. Here's some great health advice; do the exact opposite of whatever Diane Abott does.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Excuses, excuses

I made the mistake of reading the Guardian newspaper and being rather more involved with mainstream thinking on nutrition this Easter. From the position I now hold on food it is a constant surprise to me to see how far from the "norm" I am and how much of mainstream knowledge is based on total gumpf.
Anyhow in amongst the vegetarian restaurants (we should be vegetarian for eco-political reasons apparently) and recipes for Easter chicken I found this gem...

"There are established studies that argue vegetarians are 50% less likely to contract certain common cancers than carnivores."

Read that to yourself it doesn't actually say anything beyond the fact that humans who eat meat are carnivores! " Established studies, argue , 50%" now to be fair the man who wrote that isn't a vegetarian (any more) but it is an astonishingly weak sentence written by one of Britain's finest cancer doctors. Meat is often associated with cancer which is interesting to me as far as I know it is only linked in epidemiological studies and despite several ward studies no toxic compound has been found in meat itself, a food we have been evovlving to eatin increasing quantities for millions of years . There are ward studies and metabolic pathways for the role of sugar in cancer but naturally everyones favourite food gets an all clear.
You can't avoid cancer in the modern world we are exposed to carcinogens all day every day but you can stack the deck in your favour. Obviously I'm not going to take our wonderful Government's advice.
In Paleopathology at the Origin of Agriculture the authors mentioned the first cancer being detected in a body from the bronze age. Cancer was of course known to the ancients (who named it) and there are pictures of it from the 17th century. Cancer has been around for a long time though at much lower rates than present. Cancer has not been described in any hunter gatherer population and indeed when cancer rates began their dramatic rise in the early 19th century the Inuit among others were studied because of their low cancer rates.
The first excuse is about detection, but this just means that the excuser is ignorant about late stage cancer, google it but be warned it's horrible, then remember that these are people who live by observing nature, they will notice the disease that turns you into a flesh cauliflower.
The second excuse is that cancer is a disease of old age, hunter gatherers died young which explains the lack of cancer in their societies. Acculturated HG people have higher life expectancies and consequently more cancer. This excuse is laid out in this risible BBC article.
As you know gentle reader many hunter gatherers (and horticulturalists who also have low to non-existent cancer rates) live well into their 80's but have a very high incidence of childhood deaths and accidental deaths. The fact is that these populations do have old people no matter how few and that none of them have cancer. Given that cancer affects one in three people we should ,if it is a disease of old age, see people over 65 with some cancer in fact we should see rates at least similar to ours, we don't there is none. Now the article states clearly that 35% of cancer affects those who are younger than 65 so it follows we should see some cancer among younger hunter gatherers but we don't.
So a third of cancers occur in younger people but cancer is a disease of old age but we have populations with no trace of cancer in either young or old but we can discount them because....they have a low mean age at death.
Now I don't have no fancy diploma like you egg heads from back East but if I was told about societies that showed no trace of a medical conditions that directly affects one third of the population I would want to know why. I certainly wouldn't start making excuses and that's what this article is an excuse got in first. Expect to see more.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Exterminator hypothesis

It has taken me a while to work out how to write this piece, I don't really buy the idea that humans had a hand in or were a major cause of the mega faunal mass extinctions at the end of the last Ice Age. I can, however, see the merit in both cases it has therefore been hard to write a damning dismemberment of the "human agent" cause of the mega fauna extinctions at the end of the Ice Age.
The central idea is that humans entering North America encountered mammoths which they then killed and ate in such numbers that either they wiped them out by reducing their numbers to so great an extent that the population became unviable or, in a more moderate version, caused a great stress among the population that led to it being unable to survive environmental shifts. Computer models both prove and disprove the hypothesis which obviously can't be tested for real. There are variants of the theory for Australia and then more recent variants involving island populations being devastated by the arrival of farming peoples.
Like all controversial theories there are believers everywhere and it would appear that the human agent hypothesis is quite well accepted among the general population if not the scientific one. The American and Australian theories both rely on the first peoples arriving on the land mass at or near the time when the mega fauna became extinct. North American archaeology has a fine tradition of people's careers and even lives being ruined as the date for human settlement was put  further and further back into time. Recently DNA evidence from Native Americans has cast the peopling of North America back to the Solutrean some 10-15,000 years earlier than thought.
Archaeologically the first peopling has recently been set back by 800 years with the dating of a dart point embedded in a mastodon bone. Evidence they were hunted, of course, but is it evidence they were hunted to extinction?
"Together, the three sites provide strong evidence for pre-Clovis hunting. "They're incontrovertible," said Waters. "Clearly, people were hunting mammoths and mastodons again and again, playing a part in their ultimate demise." Hunted to extinction over (at least) hundreds and hundreds of years, c'mon.

When predators are introduced to an eco-system there can be considerable turmoil while a balanced state will be achieved this can include massive reductions in some animal populations, increases in others and changes in the flora too. Indeed Elephants are considered to be creators of Savannah environments. Due to the massive rate of tree consumption the loss of mammoths from an ecosystem would cause widespread disruption and even possible extinctions. This gives us a mechanism for the mass extinctions at the end of the Ice Age in North America. If the creator of an ecosystem goes then so does the eco-system the lions, camels, giant sloths, horses etc.
In Australia the mega fauna extinction is co-incident with charcoal deposits left presumably by the first Aborigines to reach the land mass. The list of animals is smaller and their disappearance co-incides with non climate caused changes in vegetation. A later arid spell may have finished many off, but it is thought that the Aborigine practice of setting fires could have changed the environment to the point where the larger animals would have died off. As far as I know there is no evidence of direct predation. Again there are proponents suggesting that climate change caused by glaciation was the cause and that the change in vegetation was because the mega fauna disappeared not the cause of the disappearance.
So there we have the only theory that really makes sense is mass floral eco system disturbance causing a catastrophic disruption  of the whole ecosystem. Large animals are far less resistant to environmental degradation and are the usual candidates for extinction in any mass extinction event. The agent could be either climate change or human predation of animals which create eco-systems. There are numbers of variants of all theories and computer models galore.
It is interesting to me that in Europe at least the idea of climate caused extinctions is not that contentious. Humans co-existed with mega fauna for immense periods of time in the old world, sometimes hunting them (neanderthal) sometimes not (sapiens in W.Europe). There is little evidence of active predation across Eurasia though some evidence of possible consumption in eastern Europe and almost certain consumption (through scavenging) in Siberia. In western Europe at least there is no evidence of mammoth being on the menu with ungulates and other large herding animals being the prey items of choice. Mammoths are supposed to have become extinct through environmental changes at the end of the ice age with late survivals in the UK.
This to me is the main problemflaw in the human agent hypothesis, that mega fauna populations collapsed world wide in areas where there were humans hunting, not hunting or even not being present. I think that the human agent hypothesis is anthropocentric and myopically ethnocentric. I don't mind if you think me romantic or accuse me of having "rose tinted" glasses the evidence ,or lack thereof speaks for itself , there are few if any  hunter gatherer models for animal extinction from modern scientific descriptions or historical accounts. There are plenty, plenty and plenty more from agricultural populations and the industrial revolution has proven a veritable animal holocaust.
This in my view is the central point of the human agent hypothesis, our culture has a long history of hunting animals to destruction. The wolf has hung on by the skin of it's teeth as has the bear, tiger etc. The auroch is long gone as is the Tasmanian wolf, passenger pigeon, and scores of others. The last hundred and fifty to two hundred years saw a massive extirpation of wildlife in the continental United States and this surely has coloured the view of the mega faunal mass extinctions.
Guilt, cultural guilt is,to me, the father of the human agent hypothesis, established,diverse balanced ecosystems utterly destroyed and replaced by a sterile monoculture, moreover it is the cultural guilt over the genocide of the indigenous peoples. The human agent hypothesis is strongest and most emotionally charged in the two countries which saw a systematic,and ruthlessly executed genocide of the indigenous people by the current dominant culture.

"We may have wiped out the passenger pigeon but they killed all the mammoths."

It does not really matter if the paleoindian or the Aborigine or even the Ice Age European did wipe out the mega fauna, I wrote this post as I was really angered by a comment someone had made on a youtube film about Inuit cooking "it's 2012 stop eating animals save the world go vegan". The Inuit lived and live in balance with their environment, life was hard we might not wish to live like that but even with their extraordinary reliance on animal resources the traditional culture was totally sustainable and could have continued in that ecosystem forever. Steffanson was concerned in 1906 that the rifle would destroy them (as it made hunting too easy) but it appears not. The Hadza are not causing the scarcity of game (for which they are blamed) in Tanzania and again could continue to live there forever unlike the onion farmers who are chopping down trees and ploughing up the land. The Indian may have wiped out the mammoth but the land Europeans described when they came to stay and farm was a land of unparallelled natural abundance compared to the man made deserts they had left behind.
This is the story of the human agent hypothesis, like all predators humans may kill beyond their need  and have a dramatic affect on their ecosystem stories of the proto-environmentalism of hunter gatherers never really stand up to scrutiny. The difference is that they do achieve equilibrium, a balance with the ecosystem. The continued rapacious destruction of ecosystems and fauna is the legacy, indeed the need, of agriculture.


Farming hates wildlife, in the UK there was an all out war against the wolf, woods and wastes were burnt and all manner of financial incentives were used to achieve their destruction. The last wolf in the UK was killed in Scotland in about 1746 it took well over 1000 years to do this. The part of the country with the least land under cultivation, wild and barren the Scottish mountains appear to be a veritable Serengeti compared to much of the UK mostly due to the hostility of the land to arable farming. Steffanson put the survival of the boreal north and the Indians there down to its hostility to agricultural. The plains were too fertile so the buffalo and indian had to go. Now the plains are fertilised by petroleum derivatives and the topsoil silts up the rivers, paradise lost.