Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Researchers Studying the Aging Brain Have It Wrong

How Researchers Studying the Aging Brain Have It Wrong
"[B.F.] Skinner’s memory and analytical skills were also declining during the years when I knew him. Sometimes he had no recollection of a conversation we had had only days before."

"The sad truth is that even normal aging has a devastating effect on our ability to learn and remember, on the speed with which we process information, and on our ability to reason."- Robert Epstein, "Brutal Truths About the Aging Brain," Discover, October 2012

Epstein began his article by noting how brilliant American psychologist B.F. Skinner was in his younger years. Decades younger than his friend Skinner, Epstein assessed the brain power of the older man based on what his brain capabilities were as a younger man, and on what his own brain abilities were at the time.

The decline of Professor Skinner’s brain, Epstein noted (also in the title of the article) was "brutal." But was that conclusion reasonable?

Others have written about how muddled Albert Einstein became in his latter years, jumping around intellectually as he tried to find the ultimate theory of everything, justifying quantum physics and relativity at once. Einstein questioned and doubted everything, even his own work. He was considered, though a great scientist in his younger years, progressively confused as he aged. Was that fair?

I am not suggesting that we should acknowledge older people for what they accomplished in the past and ignore their apparent cognitive decline. I am saying that younger scientists and writers have very little understanding of the capacity and new abilities of the aging brain.

There is little doubt that older people are not capable of the same skills at the same levels as they were when they were younger. Does that mean that younger writers should consider them goofy old farts because they don’t understand the abilities of the older brain?

Are older people stupider than they were when they were younger, or than their counterparts a generation or two younger? There, that’s as brutally candid as I can make it. Many people believe that, so lets lay it out and examine it.

The reasoning used by younger brain researchers is flawed, just plain illogical. Why? The reasoning is based on an unacceptable premise. To pass the test of logic, we must begin with an acceptable premise.

Do we claim that septuagenarian men dress poorly because they don’t wear the same styles of clothing as teenage boys or twenty-something men? Of course not, that would be a ridiculous comparison. Nor do most of us accept criticism of teenage boys by 70-year-old men that the young ones dress wrong. They each dress to suit their needs.

It’s the same kind of reasoning scientists use to claim that other life forms are not as intelligent as we humans. They begin with the assumption that humans are the most intelligent animals (never giving a first thought to the intelligence of plant life), then compare what other animals can do (more often can't do) as well as humans. The assumption--the premise of a logical argument--is wrong, unacceptable.

Please try this. Name one activity that any animal does--any one at all, for any animal--that a human can do as well. I have asked that question many times, in many places, to many people and not received a reply. Each animal can do what it needs to do to survive. Does survival not show intelligence?

If humans cannot do anything as well as any animal does as part of its normal course of life, does that make humans less intelligent than every other animal? That is the method of reasoning brain researchers and journalists use.

A common test to show memory decline as people age is for the researcher to read a list of 15 words, then ask the testee to say as many of those words as he or she can remember after a break of a few minutes. Who has to memorize random words of little relevant value? High school students. Why should someone beyond the commonly accepted age of retirement need to be able to memorize random words?

If older people ever had any real need to memorize random unassociated words, they haven't needed that skill for decades.

Let's keep in mind something that younger brain researchers tend to ignore. Think about how much a 20-year-old brain has learned and experienced over two decades. A huge amount, right? An 80-year-old brain has learned and experienced, and is somehow expected to remember, four times as much as the younger brain. Four times.

Ask an elementary school teacher how often some facts and skills must be taught and learned by kids in their classroom, because the kids forget. Somehow we accept that. But if someone aged 85 can't remember where he left his car keys, he is considered to be "losing it." In total value to a life, which is more important to remember, an arithmetic skill such as how to add or where someone left their keys? A little value perspective is needed.

Of course the maxim of "use it or lose it" applies as we age. We accept that kids of high school age should be able to memorize random and unassociated facts (usually of no further value after the test), but researchers believe that old people should be able to perform the same tasks as their younger counterparts. Why? No reason.

This is wrong. This is flawed reasoning. It begins with the assumption that older brains have no value other than for what they could do when they were younger. No matter what your age today, it is highly likely that you have forgotten almost everything you learned in high school. In fact, once you pass age eleven, that ability to memorize apparently random and meaningless facts has little value.

Before age 11 you must remember because you never know when you will need to draw on the memory. Kids learn languages other than their mother tongue much easier before age 11. As they learn words, they collect them, eventually assembling them into sentences, thoughts and concepts. Kids very much need the ability to memorize apparently random information. Adults need facts to be relevant, to "fit" immediately.

Would you want to choose, at election time, among candidates who were all in their twenties to be head of state of your country? Of course not. We expect men and women who have lived through a few decades of life experiences to be wiser, to have the ability to think clearly over a wide range of topics. Or to consider a wide scope of information input on a single topic. Young brains can't do that as well.

This is how the human brain works. A 26-year-old woman can stand beside a 66-year-old woman, looking at the same panoramic view, but see things differently. The younger woman will spot distinctive features in the view (a building, a hill, a camel), whereas the older woman will take in more of the full value of the scene (a brown pollution cloud over the city, multitudes of people gathering in a square for a particular purpose, even a sense of general activity or lack of it across the whole scene). Older and younger brains perform differently.

Most people find that time seems to pass faster as they get older. Why? The older brain is able to sustain thought and work on several different subjects within the same time period. Younger people tend to focus their thought and activity on one or two main things at a time. A retired person may be involved with several different activities, turning their attention to each in its time. Even young people learn that time seems to pass faster when they are busy. The older brain, for many people, is always busy.

Generally speaking, we expect an older head of state to provide better guidance to our country than a younger person could give. We value the words of wiser older clerics who speak to us in our places of worship more than we would of younger people. Younger parents will expect tips about raising children from their own parents, who are older and more experienced, more than they will from the teenager next door.

There can be no doubt that some older people are dumb, even dumber than they were when younger. That is practice (atrophy). But look around you at the behaviour of teenagers and young adults to see that they do some pretty stupid things as well. Older people do not dominate when it comes to dumbosity. (Yes, I invented that word and have used it for years because the language needed a word with that meaning.)

B.F. Skinner, at age 70, may not have had the ability to do the kind of ground breaking research he did at age 20. He did, however, have the ability to teach a younger generation how to take his basic research to much greater heights.

Albert Einstein developed his concepts of relativity and gravity when he was young. In his latter years, he struggled unsuccessfully to find a "theory of everything" that would unite his work with that of quantum physics. Yet look at the legacy of work by those he inspired, taking physics far beyond anything imaginable in Einstein's youth. People today are inspired by the older Einstein, not the younger man.

That's how life is supposed to work. The older brain has a purpose the younger brain has trouble conceiving. When a younger person thinks an older person is "losing it," we call that ageism. In my country, discriminating on the basis of age is a criminal offence.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book of solutions and tips that parents and teachers can use to help their children avoid the social problems they see in every community today.
Learn more at




Sunday, November 18, 2012

Now Almost Everyone Has Allergies

Now Almost Everyone Has Allergies
"They’re just allergies."- quote from a Reactine allergy medication commercial

The point of the commercial is that they are not "just allergies." But what are allergies?

Our bodies are set up to fight invasions by foreign bodies that could do them harm. Our immune system does most of the work fighting invaders, though billions of bacteria that live symbiotically with us (primarily on our skin and in our gut) help out considerably.

Generally speaking those good bacteria (we could not live without them) don’t cause us much trouble. They depend on us, we depend on them, and we all get along splendidly. Our own immune systems cause the problems. (Antibiotics kill these good bacteria, by the way.)

Allergies are mostly an affliction of the modern era. In my classroom career teaching young children, which ended a generation ago, I came across only two kids with severe allergies. Both had problems learning because their allergies prevented them from thinking clearly.

One child, that I knew was of at least average intelligence, went through a battery of tests by a psychologist twice in the school year, then was sent the following year to a special education class for children with learning disabilities. I objected strenuously to my principal, but was overruled. I insisted that the tests had been given when the boy suffered most from his allergies, not when he was clear headed. I was not included in the decision. He joined a special class for children who mostly had low intelligence.

The other child, no doubt destined for the same fate, moved out of the community in February. His mother had tears in her eyes when she told me that they had to move, because her son had done so well in my care, but circumstances dictated. I could foresee a similar school track for him.

In those days, severe allergies were rare. A few kids had allergic reactions to pollen, in season, but only a few. One child suffered from asthma--the only student I had who did, and I only discovered it when the class went on an outing that required hiking in a wilderness area.

Today allergies in the classroom are so common that teachers expect them and classmates expect to be inconvenienced by those who require special treatment. Some teachers today need emergency medical training and training in the dispensing of medication for their kids.

Allergies are the body’s overreaction to a stimulus it doesn’t like. Asthma is, fundamentally, an extreme version of an allergy. Something gets into the body and the body reacts violently to get rid of it.

Just over a decade ago I developed an allergy. After extensive tests, my doctor declared that I had a "mild environmental allergy." Nothing that could be identified, thus avoided. I could either begin taking allergy shots or continue using profound quantities of tissues daily. I chose the latter.

Over the past year, my wife has developed the same allergy. To what? We don’t drink city water, so we do not subject our bodies to the 300,000 chemical pollutants that city water treatment plants don’t remove. But we can’t do anything about the half million pollutants factories put in the air that everyone breathes. All things considered, we decided to avoid wearing chemical gas masks all day long.

I also have an allergy to breathing very cold air. When I walk outside in winter, my sinuses go to work and my nose runs. Inconvenient. But, in doing so, the mucus may continue to warm my breathing passage, preventing them from freezing. This might be an adaptation by body has made to protect itself. In this case, is an allergy an adaptation to the environment?

As well, I begin to sneeze when my body senses a temperature change of two degrees or more. This "allergy" likely has the same cause, but is a side effect of the adaptation. It’s an overreaction by natural functions of my body, as all true allergies are.

These days, asthma is common. Allergies are so ubiquitous that almost everyone has one or more. Some have an allergy that is so common to them and that affects them year round that they don’t even know they have it. To them, it’s "just life as I am getting older."

Science and archeology writer Jeff D. Leach believes, as do many people, including health professionals, that kids and adults develop allergies because their homes are so clean that their immune systems have not been challenged enough. He wrote in the New York Times "the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us."

He quotes research that suggests we reintroduce some dirt into our lives to see a reduction in diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, several allergies and other diseases. Our immune systems were built to fight hard and constantly, and if they don’t they redirect their efforts and work against us.

If this has you scratching your head and doubting, more reading on the subject of allergies will relieve that doubt.

One allergy you likely were not aware of has been shown to cause obesity. It’s not the only cause, but it is one that has been identified through scientific tests.

Here are a few other facts you likely don’t know about allergies.

Thanks to advertisers who want us to live in a "clean" environment, our immune system has fewer enemies to fight. In desperation, it fires on relatively innocent targets such as peanuts and cat dander. Our immune system is designed to fight for our survival throughout our life. When it doesn’t have an enemy, it invents one. Allergy symptoms are the results of a one-sided war.

The National Institutes of Health in the USA estimates that over half of Americans have at least one testable allergy. One of them is an allergy to penicillin, which can cause fatal anaphylaxis. Penicillin, when it first became public, was considered a great saviour against disease.

Food allergies are usually to a protein. A team at Trinity College Dublin, in 2004, injected mice with parasites of the kind that mouse immune systems would fight in the wild. It worked. The mice with previously weak immune systems developed healthy ones.

British entrepreneur Jasper Lawrence walked barefoot near some latrines in Cameroon, in 2007, to get infected by hookworms he believed would defeat asthma and seasonal allergies. It worked. For $3000 a person can receive up to 35 hookworm larvae which they put on a bandage and apply to their skin. Mr. Lawrence has not publicly reported the success rate for his business. (NOTE: this therapy is not legal in the USA.)

Between 150 and 200 Americans die each year from allergies to shellfish, nuts, fish, milk, eggs and other foods. They are serious allergies.

Tick bites you could get from walking barefoot in grass could cause your immune system to produce antibodies to alpha-gal, a carbohydrate commonly found in beef, pork and lamb. Resulting allergies to these meats could be fatal.

As many as 40,000 American women may be affected by an allergic sensitivity to male ejaculate (specifically seminal plasma hypersensitivity) which could result in symptoms from local swelling to systemic shock. Another reason for them to insist on the man using a condom.

An allergy to sex seems unfair. However, some women are allergic to their own progesterone, a sex hormone, developing anything from a rash to full shock.

Yes, pets can be allergic to human dander (cast off skin) as well as people can be allergic to pet dander.

Yes, some people are allergic to the sun. And some couples have to separate because they are allergic to each other.

But wait! A few rare individuals can develop aquagenic urticaria, a rash caused when they come in contact with water. Apparently they do not react to the 70 percent of their own body weight that is composed of water.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers.
Learn more about the book at

[Primary source: Discover, May 2012]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Prime Cause for Obesity No One Expected

Prime Cause for Obesity No One Expected

More than a billion adults worldwide are now overweight--and at least 300 million of them are clinically obese. Childhood obesity is already epidemic in some areas and on the rise in others. Worldwide, an estimated 17.6 million children under five are said to be overweight. "The global epidemic of obesity is completely out of control," the BBC noted, reporting from the first international obesity conference in 2004.
- Morgan Spurlok, American documentary filmmaker, humorist, television producer, screenwriter (b. 1970)

News that over half the population of the USA is overweight, one-third is clinically obese, no longer surprises people. The fact that one-third of school children are obese alarms them.

Few seem aware that obesity is a worldwide problem that affects people even in poor countries. That is, poor people in poor countries may be obese. That goes against the belief by many that obese people simply eat too much.

Our natural tendency with social problems is to blame the behaviour of the victims. No doubt this is true of some obese people. But it doesn’t work for others, which must cause us to look elsewhere.
Overeating and obesity are not soulmates.

Valid research has been done on many possible causes, including additives to prepackaged foods and even chemicals in the air we breathe. Most of the research shows positive results. How could we avoid gaining weight if the cause is something in the air? A genetic component must play a role as not everyone gets fat. Some people must be preprogrammed to be thin. Or others to be fat. Yet how could this be without a family DNA connection, a propensity to become obese?

Advocates of food based theories look back at 150,000 years of human history (as homo sapiens) to claim that we should eat as our previously thin ancestors did for most of that time. However, the fact is that we simply cannot eat the kinds of foods they ate. Almost none of it is available for us to buy or gather. The names of the animals and plants may be the same, but the foods themselves are not as a result of continual agricultural evolution.

Let’s look at when those ancients might have had cause for their bodies to take more than the normal amount of nutrition from the food they ate. In periods when there was lots of food available, they tended to eat so that they could sustain themselves when the famine seasons arrived. Today we have feast times all year long, so our bodies may tend to over-gather nutrition even when we do not overeat (by common standards).

In times of stress, such as when they were chased by a predator, the condition known as fight or flight would kick in. All the body systems associated with short term high anxiety would cause their bodies to fill the gaps in nutrition left from over-exerting themselves. They would not eat more, but their bodies would take more nutrients from the food they did eat.

That condition existed for almost all of the pre-civilization 150,000 years of homo sapiens. But, after all, humans were not being chased by predators every day, so that natural super-saving of nutrients was only temporary.
A recent study done by the University of Waterloo, in Canada, has demonstrated that boredom is stressful. Unlike what would be intuitive, that bored people relax all the time, the study showed that physiological conditions we associate with high anxiety apply exactly to those who are bored. Boredom equates with physiological conditions of anxiety. Which, in turn, means that the bodies of bored people act as if they should take more than the usual amount of nutrients from the food they eat.

But who gets bored? As a sociologist, I maintained for years that only boring people get bored. I had the association right, but the causality wrong. Bored people become boring as a consequence. There is much more of significance to this study.

How do we become bored? The Waterloo study associated a lack of movement of the spine with unusual activity in the orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain, also known as the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The OFC at least partly controls behaviour. It tells bored people that they need excitement.

So people seek thrills, indulge in addictive behaviours as they look for something different in their lives, they drive too fast and fly into rage too easily.
What causes this unpleasant connection of the spine and the OFC? Usually sitting in one position for too long. That could be sitting watching TV at home. It could be sitting at your desk at the office. It could be sitting at meetings (witness videos of politicians falling asleep in their seats in legislative assemblies).

It also can be children who are forced to sit quietly in their desks in their school classrooms, for long periods of time. Teachers have long been aware that kids who get distracted easily tend to make the most trouble in a classroom. Bored kids get distracted.

Now we have children who are well behaved, who sit quietly at their desks, getting bored. And fat. Simply because they can’t move around enough.

The Waterloo study showed that people who did the most repetitive work, such as on production lines in factories
or data processing, were much more interested in their work if they could move around every few minutes than if they had to remain in place for long periods of time.

Our whole concept of boredom needs to change as a result of this study and its applications to schools, workplaces and home life.

Boredom produces conditions of high anxiety. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive. High anxiety creates body conditions whereby the digestive system takes more nutrients from food than is necessary. That results in weight gain.

Think about people you know who sit in one position for extended periods of time, no matter what the reason. Chances are their personalities are fairly boring. Chances are they are in the process of gaining weight, eventually to be classed as clinically obese, or at least overweight.

In an age when many jobs are more stressful than jobs of previous generations, we now have people who must stay in the same places for long periods of time. The reasons don’t matter. The body reacts to conditions that are not stimulating by becoming bored. Boredom means anxiety, which results eventually in weight gain.

I have no research to support this theory. The whole concept just recently presented itself to me over a
short period of time. But if human history means anything, we may have the major cause of obesity at hand. Science supports each step of the reasoning.

The solution may be as simple as moving around every few minutes. Studies have already proven that this kind of activity increases production of employees.

Now we may have the clue that it will also prevent obesity.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems. Yes, obesity is a social problem. Yes, the book and Bill’s many online articles address them all, including increasing use of drugs and rising crime rates.
Learn more at

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Killing Ourselves with Cleanliness and Trusting the Untrustworthy

Killing Ourselves with Cleanliness and Trusting the Untrustworthy

"But raw milk from a Jersey cow is a totally different substance from what I'd thought of as milk. If you do not own a cow or know someone who owns a cow, I must caution you never to try raw milk straight from the teat of a Jersey cow, because it would be cruel to taste it once and not have access to it again. Only a few people in America remember this type of milk now, elderly people mostly, who grew up with a cow. They come to the farm sometimes, looking for that taste from their childhood."
Kristin Kimball, American writer, farmer city-refugee, from The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love

Perhaps the worst thing that has happened to food in the modern era was the creation of pasteurization for milk, by Louis Pasteur.

In 1862, heating raw milk to eliminate most of the germs (pathogens) seemed like a great idea. After all, people were dying all over the world from mysterious illnesses that Pasteur identified as microscopic organisms, which we now know as bacteria.

We know much more than we did in the mid-1800s about bacteria. Back then was a time when cleanliness was a matter of removing dirt from your hands before coming to supper and bathing once a week (or a couple of times a year, in some cases) to stop the body from smelling bad (if you couldn’t afford perfume, which was invented to cover bad body odour). Surgeons didn’t even wash their hands or butt out their cigarettes before dipping their hands into the bodies of patients on their operating tables.

When Pasteur invented the process that came to be named after him, he was hailed as a hero. He killed germs. Pasteurized milk and other foods would be "clean."

We now know that our bodies are not composed only of our own cells (and invading bacteria and viruses that sneak in). We have some twenty times as many good bacteria living inside us as we have of our own body cells. These bacteria are so important that we could not live without them. Most are in our gut (they help us digest good) and on our skin (where they protect us against invasion from the environment). In lesser numbers, good and critically important bacteria appear in many other places on and in our bodies.

Milk was, at one time, called "the perfect food" because it contained so many nutrients and beneficial elements (we now know as good bacteria, vitamins and minerals). Now, thanks to pasteurization, our milk is mostly white water, with any goodness being added manually at the dairy, such as vitamins.

Pasteur was so influential on the topic of human health that our ancestors accepted that all microbes were "germs," bad for us by definition. We came to believe that if we couldn’t see it and it was living, it was bad.

We now know that by killing off so many of the good bacteria that aid our health, we have made ourselves unhealthy. Milk, "the perfect food," is now perfectly useless for our health, except for the vitamins added after the cow and pasteurization.

We use mouthwash to make our mouths perfectly "clean." Our mouth is another of those first lines of defence against disease invasion. With a "clean" mouth, our bodies are open to disease against which we have no protection. Clean, but vulnerable.

We use electric toothbrushes to remove that terrible plaque that supposedly causes decay and destroys our health. Many of us spend many minutes each day brushing far longer than a dental hygienist spends cleaning our teeth. This does not make sense, but it delights dentists. Patients keep coming back to their offices when they have weak dentin and super sensitive teeth, for which they must use a special toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Not necessary. Sensitive teeth were almost unheard of among our ancestors.

We suffer pain, have no protection against disease invasion, but our mouths are "clean" according to the advertisers. Who profit from our ignorance and reluctance to learn what we should know.

Speaking of "clean," a TV commercial shows CLR efficiently removing calcium, lime and rust from devices in our homes. Then we can just flush it down the drain. "Clean" homes. But sewage treatment facilities do not remove chemicals from waste water, nor do water treatment plants remove them from incoming water before communities downstream of our chemical waste drink "treated" water that has biological pathogens removed, but not chemical waste. Somebody is drinking water with chemical components that are strong enough to dissolve rust.

Back in the days of our grandparents and earlier, kids got sick. Sometimes regularly. Sometimes parents with large families caused all their children to be infected with diseases like measles, just so they would all gain immunity at once. As adults, they got few diseases because their immune systems had been built up in childhood. It’s commopn today for adults to be off work several times during the year because their weak immune systems allowed them to invaded by some pathogen.

Today we have children who must, in some jurisdictions, take as many as 48 vaccinations (with documented evidence to prove it) before they will be allowed to enter school. Their parents may be forced to home-school if they refuse to subject their kids to these vaccines.

And what is in the vaccines? To avoid legal ramifications, I will let you do some research yourself. But here is a quote from

"Suspicions have been confirmed for those wary of vaccinating their children. A recent large study corroborates other independent study surveys comparing unvaccinated children to vaccinated children.

"They all show that vaccinated children have two to five times more childhood diseases, illnesses, and allergies than unvaccinated children."

What kids in school have these days are "asthma, reoccurring tonsillitis, chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, allergies, eczema, ear infections, diabetes, sleep disorders, bedwetting, dyslexia, migraines, hyperactivity, ADD, epilepsy, depression, and slower development of speech or motor skills."

But schools rarely have cases of chicken pox or measles. Vaccines look after that.

Now in my senior years myself, I sometimes face a new medical professional (such as in a lab) who asks if I brought a list of my medications with me. I say I don’t take any. Some don’t believe me until I insist that I don’t take medication because I don’t need any.

They say I’m lucky. I know that luck has nothing to do with it. I am very attentive to my health and that of my wife. I have studied and learned.

That requires commitment to learning what is real about health claims and what is fraud. Or even what is dangerous to human health, even if proposed by a family doctor or in advertising by pharmaceutical companies.

Most people have no interested in doing that much work. The older they get, the more they suffer. They just consider that they have bad luck. They refuse to consider that they were lazy or ignorant in their younger years.

I was born with two autoimmune diseases (technically they are called syndromes) that were in both sides of my family. I studied and learned how to minimize their symptoms and maximize my own potential. Sure, I have problems sometimes, mostly during stressful periods. But my problems are manageable, which can’t be said by many with autoimmune diseases.

Many people consider me lucky. A few know how hard I have studied to learn what I need to know to safeguard my health, without having to depend on doctors and medication. On the rare occasion I pay a visit to a doctor’s office, I come prepared with a description of my symptoms, what I believe causes them and what the doctor might do to help. Rarely do I leave without the doctor agreeing with me.

That’s not luck.

There is no reason why you can’t control your health as well. The internet is filled with health advice. Some is trash, others are treasures. As you are a reader, you can read it and make your own choices. Don’t wait for someone else to provide the best solutions to good health on a platter.

You can make your own luck when it comes to your own health. You don’t need to depend on professionals who earn their living from people who are chronically unhealthy. Or who refuse to learn.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers. Yes, bad health is a social problem. You catch it by listening to advertising.
Learn more on this subject at

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Are We Really the Most Intelligent Species?

Are We Really the Most Intelligent Species?
Intelligence is not only difficult to define, some people claim that it is a construct with no validity in nature. Albert Einstein himself claimed that all babies are born geniuses, then we overcome that potential in the following years of childhood.
- Bill Allin, Intelligence and Unhappiness: Likely, But Not Inevitably Linked

Depending on the literature you read or the media sources you use, you may find yourself assaulted a few times each week by statements claiming that humans are the most intelligent species on the planet. I say "assaulted" because they happen so frequently.

We are brainwashed into believing that we are the most intelligent species. But are we?

The sources of this information are ourselves. Our sources never give evidence because none actually exists. It’s a tautology: we are the most intelligent species because we are the only species that can say we are.

Speaking of saying, we partly determine the intelligence of other animals according to the number of human words they can understand or speak or otherwise communicate. How many words (or other method of communication) of another species of animal do you speak (or concepts can you communicate)?

For that matter, what can you do better than any other animal does as part of its regular life habits? Pick an animal, any animal, think about something it does, then consider if you could do it better. The answer inevitably is "No." We can’t do anything that any other animal does that is not part of regular human experience.

Science generally agrees that dolphins are very intelligent. But not quite as intelligent as us, most say. They can’t carry on a conversation with us. But then, we can’t carry on a conversation or any other form of extended communication with dolphins either. But we claim we are smarter.

Dolphins live in a water environment, yet breathe air as we do. We can swim under water, but only briefly. At this point, we are incapable of living in any environment that lacks air, or even lasting for more than a few minutes. [NOTE: It is technically possible for our lungs to take oxygen from water, but it’s not something you should attempt.]

We understand that ants and bees have their own forms of intelligence. But we excuse them from the intelligence competition because they are exclusively a social species--their collective intelligence is shared among all members of the hive or nest. According to science, shared intelligence is different from individual intelligence. Why? Because it’s convenient for us.

Now, about individual intelligence. Are humans intelligent as a species, or is it true that just a limited few are as intelligent as we claim our species is as a whole? Remember, it’s only the most highly educated and (likely) those with the highest IQ among us who claim our superiority.

Next time you go to a supermarket, stop for a few minutes and observe people shopping in the aisles. Or looking for a parking space in the lot. Or trying to find their car in the lot after they have finished shopping. Did any of those people have anything at all to do with the organization or the technologies they use in those situations? Some need to use their remote devices to make their car horn sound just so they can find their vehicle.

When it comes to IQ (Intelligence Quotient, the most common measure for human intelligence), does it seem right for us to claim intelligence as a species because a few of us excel at taking IQ tests, or at publishing university study papers?

Though we still hear about IQ once in a while, the concept has little recognized value these days (unless you happen to be a member of or qualify for membership in Mensa). The Stanford-Binet test of IQ was written by educated white men of the middle class, where questions that applied best to the lives and experiences of educated white men of the middle class could best answer them.

Lo and behold, when the test was administered to everyone else, including those from different cultures and with different forms of education and people whose first language was not one in which the test was created, they performed at lower levels on the scale. This served the racial prejudice of educated white middle class Europeans in the early 20th century well.

In general, the form of intelligence evaluation preferred by any one person tends to be one composed by the same language and cultural group as that person. And they stick to it as if were religious gospel or political idealism. In other words, my way is best; other ways are not as good way is best.

Those who perform well on IQ tests give little credit to EQ (Emotional Quotient intelligence) or any of dozens of other forms of tests of personal knowledge, talents or skills because the test which gives them the highest scores is their favourite. That includes tests for happiness, on which highly intelligent people tend to score lower than some other groups (who often have lower IQ scores).

In conclusion, those with the highest scores on any test of intelligence will be among the group into which fall those who composed the test.

[Side note: I just asked my cat about which is the most intelligent species. She told me to get back to work cleaning her litter box and vacuuming up the fur she left on the furniture where she slept. Of course I obeyed, isn’t that what the most intelligent species would do?]

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents, anyone who wants kids to grow up without experiencing anti-social problems.
Learn more at

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Canadians Are Different from Americans

Why Canadians Are Different from Americans

Canadians are generally indistinguishable from Americans, and the surest way of telling the two apart is to make the observation to a Canadian.
- Richard Staines

As recently as the 1970s, many Canadians could name almost no differences between Canadians and Americans. Except one that stands out. They knew they were Canadians, not Americans.

That is a credit to nationalist pride, pride in one’s homeland. But what else?

Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.
Marshall McLuhan (Canadian who worked for many years in the USA)
[Canada and Canadians have clear identities among people elsewhere in the world, even if they are not clear about their own identity at home. They are too close to see what the identity is.]

Canada and the United States of America have very different histories. That, more than anything of importance today, has made Canadians distinctly different from Americans.

A few centuries ago, Britain was the mightiest nation in the world. At one time it controlled fully one-quarter of the land mass of the planet. English merchants viewed North America as a massive natural resource with the potential to provide massive wealth to the home country and those who controlled its economy. So did the French.

The Seven Years’ War settled their difference of opinion. While England and France were driving themselves into poverty through
long periods of war with each other, English General James Wolfe (a major general in North America, while still only a colonel in England) defeated French General Montcalm (a real general and leader of New France), at what is now Quebec City. North America was then English, for the most part.

France had nothing left to give to New France, so defeat at Quebec was mostly a damage to its pride. England had nothing left to give to New England. But a thriving economy among English merchants in the New World became an attractive and lucrative resource for the impoverished homeland. This thrilled the English merchants in England, but greatly troubled the English merchants in the New World.

The two groups of English settled their differences with the War of Independence (aka Revolutionary War), which established the United States of America, in 1776, out of 13 existing English colonies.

There were now, in effect, two English empires, one centred in Washington, the other in London. As the London based empire faded, the one based in Washington took over as the most powerful nation on the planet. Set their respective histories of the period side by side to see how similar the attitudes and styles of economy and approach to the wealth to be gained through war by the senior merchant class to see how the USA became the British Empire, Part 2.

The separation and succession
of empires was not without precedent. The ancient Greeks, who could not unite in Greece due to what amounted to tribal conflicts, formed the Roman Empire, which later morphed into the Byzantine Empire, which in turn lasted for another 1000 years while Rome and Europe entered the Dark Ages. Both the Roman and the Byzantine Empires were essentially Greek empires.

The northern part of England’s New World colonies, what much later became Canada, bolstered by what had been New France and the English Loyalists who migrated from the USA north into territory still held by the British, gained its own identity. It did so partly because it had to survive on its own, with little assistance from the motherland.

While the USA had much of its legal system formed with the help of formerly Scottish immigrants, its political, economic and religious systems remained basically copies of the English ancestors. The English in the USA held control. They gained that control through war.

Canada gained its foundation, its legal system, its ethical system and its work force from the Scots and the Irish who came under the umbrella term "British." Canada’s first Prime Minister was Sir John A. Macdonald, who brought his Scottish accent with him when he immigrated from Scotland with his family, as a child.

As some American comedians like to put it, Canada, unlike the USA model, gained its own independence from Britain by asking nicely. This suited the Canadians because they were tired of war. Canada settled its differences with the native Indians through a series of treaties (which the Indians upheld, while the Canadian government kept nary a single promised, but that’s another story).

Canada settled most of its differences with its French speaking citizens by giving the Province of Quebec the legal system (which is different from that in any other Canadian province) it wanted and control of most of its own destiny. Some Quebeckers (known as Québécois) have still not recovered from the shame they felt from the loss by Montcalm, and still demand independence for Quebec from the rest of Canada, but most Quebec Francophones prefer to remain with the larger and wealthier Canada. They don’t want to fight.

That still does not quite explain the major differences between Canadians and Americans today.

Canada is not the British Empire, Part 3. It is not a melting pot, as the USA claims to be. Instead of trying to assimilate immigrants from almost every other culture on the planet that have come to make their homes in Canada, it has encouraged immigrants to retain the best of their home cultures and add them to the greater Canadian culture, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Canada is officially multicultural. It is still officially bilingual, retaining the two founding languages, English and French.

There is one more major influence on Canada today that
even most Canadians do not recognize. It’s an influence that the USA never had, or at least never recognized because it insisted on integrating and assimilating every cultural group in the nation. Canada had (and still has) the Acadians.

While relatively small in number in Canada today, the Acadians must have had a huge influence on what Canada became out of its somewhat confusing past. I won’t go into the history of Acadians in Canada (and Cajuns subsequently in the USA), because it is too extensive, though fascinating. You can learn more about the Acadians here.

Ask 100 Canadians what they take pride in about their country and the way it is known to the world (or ask 1000 people of other countries their opinions about Canada). Then look at the values of the original Acadians, the values that guided their lives, their social structure, their culture, who were in what became Canada when it was taken over by the British, and you will find shocking similarities. Canadian values today are essentially Acadian values, the two match up that closely.

The Acadians of Canada, although a colony of New France, were not really a significant part of New France, which was centred in Quebec, the part that was at least a bit supported by France before Wolfe and Montcalm. The Acadians were originally French, but not from the part of France that held the power in Paris. They were mostly farmers sent from northeastern provinces of France to populate New France. Almost immediately the Acadians were left on their own to fend for themselves with very little support financially or militarily (for defence).

The Acadians settled, survived, and thrived, again and again despite many efforts to get rid of them or to assimilate them. Ask 100 Acadians from Canada today what they are proud of about their Acadian heritage and culture and the answers will be very similar to what you got when you asked the other 100 Canadians a couple of paragraphs back.

All Canadians today know about the Acadians and their storied history. Few know how much they influenced the culture of Canada today. Today’s Acadians seem blissfully unaware of the remarkable similarity of the values by which they live their lives to the core values of the nation their ancestors came to 400 years ago.

How typically Canadian.

If you want to know what makes Canadians different from Americans today, read some history of Acadians in Canada. Canada adopted Acadian values. Canadians today proudly think of them as clearly Canadian values.

Here are a few more quotes about differences between Canadians and Americans:

A Canadian is sort of like an American, but without the gun.
- Anonymous
[Recent studies show that Canadians own more guns per capita than Americans, but have only a tiny fraction of the US murder rate.]

Canada has never been a melting-pot; more like a tossed salad.
- Arnold Edinborough

Canada is probably the most free country in the world where a man still has room to breathe, to spread out, to move forward, to move out, an open country with an open frontier. Canada has created harmony and cooperation among ethnic groups, and it must take this experience to the world because there is yet to be such an example of harmony and cooperation among ethnic groups.
- Valentyn Moroz

Canadians have been so busy explaining to the Americans that we aren't British, and to the British that we aren't Americans that we haven't had time to become Canadians.
- Helen Gordon McPherson

I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
- former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, From the Canadian Bill of Rights, July 1, 1960

In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.
- former US President Bill Clinton

The Canadian is not an American - at least, not entirely, not yet.
Alistair Horne

You look at the history [of Canada] -- the aboriginal people welcomed the first settlers here with open arms, fed us and took care of us ... that continues today, we welcome people from all nations to come in and share.
- Peter Stoffer

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for solving social problems that plague cities and countries around the world today. It’s a simple and effective plan that will work.

Learn more at

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cause for Rampant Afflictions Our Grandparents Never Had

Cause for Rampant Afflictions Our Grandparents Never Had
"I have never met a parent willing to sacrifice their child for the good of the herd. The vaccines have become more important than the child. It is time to stop allowing our children to be used as pharmaceutical pincushions. It is time to demand transparency in the tight relationship between pharmaceutical profits and government vaccine mandates."
- Allison MacNeil

If you mixed mercury, aluminum phosphate, ammonium sulphate, and formaldehyde, then got a syringe and injected it into your child, you would be arrested and sent to jail for child endangerment and abuse. Then why is it legal for a doctor to do it? And why would you let them [inject your child with a vaccine that contains these elements]?
- Facebook anti-vaccine poster
Almost everyone has opinion about why children need to get so many vaccinations these days--one count says 49 inoculations of 14 different vaccines
in one area, others say more--and those are before a child enters the first grade of school. Most centre around two claims:

(1) Each vaccine prevents a child from getting a disease;

(2) Each vaccine helps the pharmaceutical company that made it increase its annual sales exponentially
(customers) and to provide capital to develop more health vaccine safeguards (companies).

In a sense, both are correct. Yet both miss the most important point about childhood vaccines. Vaccines are meant to tweak the immune system, gently, to produce antibodies that will ward off attack by their respective diseases in the future.
In trying to protect our children from having any harm come to them, we overprotect them. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them. Harm happens anyway, but not in ways we expect or understand.

We don’t allow our kids to go out with other children on the streets because we believe it’s too dangerous out there. So we keep them home, give them video games, iPads and television to keep them busy because today’s parents don’t have any more time to devote to playing with their kids than parents of previous generations. In some areas it’s even illegal for kids to play in the street.

We watch them get fat. We don’t see them fail to develop social and emotional skills children always did by playing with other kids. We focus on the intellectual and physical development we know more about.

We see them--some of them--develop autism, allergies their grandparents knew hardly anything about, diseases such as asthma that were extremely rare a couple of generations ago, and put it down to modern life in the city.

Families of some school children have been told to not feed peanuts or peanut butter to the kids in case they touch a child with a dangerous peanut allergy, at school, and that child dies. One news story even had a US school banning kids who have eaten peanut butter in case the child breathes on another child with a peanut allergy.

We don’t understand why our children become obese (about one-third of them), why they don’t have interests we had as kids or why they develop health problems that we rare or almost unknown until recent decades. And why they have more problems getting along with their peers than any previous generation.

One thing that affects each of us every day of our lives is our immune system. Yet we know so little about it. We take the word of our family doctors that we should protect ourselves--flu and other vaccines for adults and dozens of vaccines for our kids--so that we will be protected from terrible diseases.

Setting aside the great debate about whether or not these vaccines do more harm than good, let’s look at one of the fundamentals of our own bodies.

Our immune systems protect us from diseases and help to cure us when we get one. Do we actually protect ourselves by getting needles? Remember, many of us believe those commercials that tell us we should rid our mouths of "germs" (bacteria and other microbes), despite the fact that good bacteria in our mouths are our first line of defence against disease. Does that make sense? We do the same thing with our immune systems.

The whole purpose of a long childhood for humans--far longer than the development periods of most other animals--is to prepare us for adulthood. We need that long to prepare. That includes our immune systems.

Our immune system, like other body systems, is not designed to be eased into adulthood. We don’t gain strength by pushing open swinging doors and pulling on our socks, but by working our muscles, sometimes very hard. We don’t gain intellectual strength by spoon feeding our brain with facts and ideas from television, but by forcing ourselves to think our way through difficult problems.

And we don’t develop a robust immune system by easing it along with regular vaccinations. In the past, our ancestors got sick and their immune systems had to work extremely hard just to help them recover. They did, and in the process they became stronger, more immune to disease attack, and overall healthier.

Yes, some children died. That’s the hook pharmaceutical companies use to get us to buy their vaccines. We don’t want our kids to die, so we administer all sorts of chemicals we know nothing about, hoping to save them. School age kids didn’t die in huge numbers in the past, as we have been misled to believe by Big Pharma.

Immune systems that are fed regularly in childhood with vaccines never have to work very hard. Without thinking about it much, that seems lovely. When we examine it, an easy life for the immune system in childhood means a major body function looking for work has nothing much to find.

So what does it do? For one thing, it develops allergies so it has some work to do. It develops asthma, which is basically a form of allergy. Allergies are, in effect, the body attacking itself. It doesn’t have diseases to fight, so it fights itself. Like a cat chasing its own tail, only the cat knows enough not to bite hard. Our immune system is not allowed to develop enough to learn that.

Our bodies are designed to work hard. When they don’t, they find other ways to work. Muscles that don’t have much physical work to do, as those of our ancestors did, find themselves having to tote around far more body weight than in the past. Some of that comes from increased height, some from more fat.

Young brains that find themselves understimulated by lockstep lessons in school find other forms of stimulation, such as with drugs and video games. They want excitement, which is the brain’s backup plan when other opportunities for stimulation don’t present themselves.

Adults that have relatively safe and anxiety-free daytime lives may have overly exciting dreams. Even the brain needs to work hard, at something useless at night if not something productive or dangerous during the daytime.

While it is certainly true that some children died from childhood diseases in the past, was that not a form of natural selection, the process by which those with certain weaknesses or inability to adapt to certain environmental conditions die out? Yes, that seems harsh, but it may be true.

By feeding young children so many vaccines, we may be condemning them to a lifetime of weak health. Of dependence on doctors and medicines. Yes, medicines made by the very same companies that convinced us and our governments and education systems that it was the healthy thing to do to give our young children vaccines.

By feeding our kids dozens of vaccines, pharmaceutical companies develop lifelong customers. A close examination of the health care industry shows that their plan is working. Today’s parents raise patients, not healthy young children.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow healthy children, not mentally and physically health-hampered kids.
Learn more at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What’s The Real Cause for Climate Change?

What’s The Real Cause for Climate Change?
"Wasted milk in the U.K. has the same carbon footprint as emissions from 20,000 cars"
- study by the University of Edinburgh, published in Nature Climate Change

We have a natural tendency to blame everything that goes wrong, first of all, on the behaviour of others. A look through human history at sacrifices and executions shows that if someone were not killed because others believed the person’s blame for something, people believed that the behaviour of actually sacrificing a life would solve the problem.

We want someone to blame. When weather patterns began to go screwy, with winters being cold enough to kill people and summers hot enough to cause others to expire, we looked around for someone to point the finger at.

In the case of climate change, as it came to be known after we gave up on "global warming" because some places got colder, the first cause was deemed to be "greenhouse gases" and the greatest emitters vehicles driven by us.

While generally speaking people know more about weather today than people before us did, what we know little about is the history of weather and how climate changes. We--many of us--assumed that climate and weather had never changed radically before in history.

Those of us who believed that were mistaken. Barely 160 years ago the northern hemisphere ended a period referred to in history as "the Little Ice Age." That had lasted for 400 years.

What would you expect to happen at the end of an ice age? Of course, the northern part of the planet warmed up. It’s still warming. Climatologists (the honest and older ones) will tell you that climate cycles back and forth over the years, it never remains the same.

We can blame the warming on vehicle emissions and the Industrial Revolution, but ice ages have always ended by themselves, without human intervention, including with tail pipes.

Vehicles that burn fossil fuels do emit greenhouse gases into the air. This accounts for about 10 percent of what we add. Car manufacturers work to improve the fuel consumption in their vehicles. But why? To satisfy regulations in places such as the state of California.

I recently bought aftermarket (and "exotic") air filters for two cars. I tested both and found dramatic improvements in fuel consumption, meaning I have to buy gasoline less often and the cars emit less greenhouse gases. Have such filters ever been found installed on stock vehicles right from the manufacturing plant? No.

Jet airplanes account for almost as much greenhouse gas in a year as all the cars (about 8%). No government has suggested grounding planes.

Among the worst contributors to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are power generating stations, many of which are owned by governments and all of which fall under government regulations. They add about 25% of all the gases. While there has been much talk of closing the coal-fired stations, the worst emitters, few have actually shut down.

In Japan, where most of the power used in the country before the tsunami came from nuclear generating stations, virtually every station has been closed since the tragedy at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear station. Nuclear power generation produces almost no greenhouse gas emissions.

Getting back to the wasted milk in our opening quote, that "wasted" means milk that was never used for anything to do with food consumption. Down the drain, so to speak. The study says that 360,000 tonnes of milk is wasted in the U.K. each year. Wasted.

Yet greenhouse gases resulted from use of fertilizers that produced the food to feed the cows and the cows themselves contributed a shocking amount of methane (far worse than carbon dioxide) into the air, plus there was fuel needed to transport the milk to the drains it eventually went down.

The study, titled "Global agriculture and nitrous oxide emissions," also claims that if the British were to reduce their consumption of chicken to the level of the Japanese (26 kg down to 12 kg per person per year), that would dramatically reduce nitrous oxide emissions (emitted by soil and fertilizers) by 20%.

"Eating less meat and wasting less food can play a big part in helping to keep a lid on greenhouse gas emissions as the world's population increases," according to study leader Dr. David Reay.

Meanwhile, as the effects of the Little Ice Age ending fade and those who know about it die off, we can expect to be blamed for climate change according to our behaviour.

We can also expect to hear very little about the 300,000 chemicals that industries pour into public waterways each year. And the nearly half a million chemicals that industries chuff into the air we breathe. Who would tell us? Not the industries themselves.

As we learn about dramatic increases in diabetes, COPD (and other lung diseases) and allergies in our children, we must remember that those industries provide jobs. They could provide even more jobs if they stopped putting poisons into our air and water, but we shouldn’t count on hearing much about that either.

We are told that greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible for the warming of the planet by a tiny amount. We are not told that industries are poisoning our air and water, harming our health and causing drug manufacturers to make fortunes every day.

As individuals, we can’t do much about the rising temperature of our atmosphere. Industries know that. We could do something about the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. They know that too. But they don’t want us to know.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents to help grow kids who will contribute to their communities instead of bringing them suffering and harm.
Learn more at

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What's In A Cloud? More Than You Think

What's In A Cloud? More Than You Think

"The amount of microbial life present in the cloud droplets that
make up a winter storm is amazing."- Gary Franc
, microbiologist and plant pathologist at the University of Wyoming, in
The Clouds Are Alive
-clouds/?searchterm=%E2%80%9CThe%20Clouds%20Are%20Alive%E2%80%9D> by
Douglas Fox, Discover, April 2012

Here's an easy question. At what temperature does water freeze or
If you answered zero Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) you would be with the
majority. If you are savvy enough to know about salt water, such as in
oceans, you will know that sea water may remain liquid down to -4C. And
salt on icy winter roads will melt down to -4C. That puts you in a
If you answered anywhere between -40 (C or F, they coincide at that
temperature) and +10C you would be technically
correct--"technically" because even though this is true in
nature it's not a fact you would want to argue in court, or even
with your mother. It's not simple.
Water in the stratosphere has been found still liquid at nearly -40 and
ice crystals have been seen forming at +10C in some clouds. No, I am not
lying to you. Keep reading so you will learn how these are possible.
First of all, what do you think clouds are made of
-clouds/?searchterm=%E2%80%9CThe%20Clouds%20Are%20Alive%E2%80%9D> ?
Water droplets, yes. (Not steam, which is water as a gas, and that is
technically invisible.) Water droplets tend to form around dust
particles in the air. Generally speaking, when you get smacked in the
face with rain drops each one has at least one particle of dust in it.
Who cares about the dust? Maybe you if you realize that the dust may
have travelled the world more than you have. A dust particle in a
droplet of water in a cloud in North America could well have come from
Africa's Sahara Desert. Or from China's Gobi Desert. Or, who
The well read among us will know that "foreign" dust could have
brought along with it microbes from its land or origin. These microbes,
blown in the wind, hitchhiking on dust, might deliver infectious disease
right to your nose without your ever owning a passport.
True, the likelihood of your dying of a disease blown from a different
continent than your own, on dust, is small. But microbes in the air are
far more prevalent that you may imagine. As our quote at the beginning
said, the air is full of microbial life.
Most of it will do you no harm. But so little study has been done on
this subject that we have no way to know today what diseases and
afflictions we and those we know may get that may have begun thousands
of kilometres away from our home. We may accept that SARS and swine flu
are delivered peer-to-peer by human travellers, but not that other
diseases might be brought to us in the air. From a distant continent.
Kimberley Prather <> , an atmospheric
chemist who heads her own research group at University of California San
Diego, is not shy about getting up into the clouds (even rumbling ones)
to find out what is going on inside. What she has learned is enough to
make your jaw drop.
Think about it: what makes ice form from water, other than the obvious,
ambient temperature? Why do some clouds drop rain while others
don't? The answer in both cases is microbes.
Bacteria, algae and fungi get swept up by wind at ground level and make
their way into the air as high as jetliners. "There's a whole
ecosystem going on in the clouds that's largely undefined," says
Gary Franc.
Two million tons of bacteria, 55 million tons of fungal spores and an
unguessable (at this time) quantity of algae make their way into the
atmosphere each year. Never mind pollution in the air, this is nature in
action. A great deal of study will be needed to determine what effects
these have on our weather, on next year's harvest, even on our
personal health.
Ice will form by itself from water (so far as we know today), but this
happens very slowly (like ice cubes in your fridge freezer). How can
this happen so quickly in the atmosphere when ice crystals form and snow
falls to the ground?
Professor Prather and others have shown that the bacterium Pseudomonas
syringae has a gene in its DNA that prompts ice to form from water
droplets. You read that right. At least one variety of bacteria can
cause water to freeze into ice by activating a gene in its body.
Why is this important? Ice crystals are heavier than water droplets. Ice
falls, delivering water (as it melts) to the land below. If cloud
seeding silver iodide were loaded up with P. syringae bacteria when
sprayed into clouds, drought-dried land could be persuaded to become
fertile again.
That means more food to feed the seven billion (and growing) of us on
the planet today.
It also could mean new ways to control the spread of diseases that seem
mysterious and stubborn to us now.
Stay tuned, the most populous life form on the planet, bacteria, have
much to teach us.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for
Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and
parents who want to raise well balanced children who can have good
lives, not just good jobs.Learn more at

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why Cancer Deaths Have Dropped

Why Cancer Deaths Have Dropped

When you smoke you inhale up to 4000 chemicals [that do not naturally occur in tobacco].
- Canadian Cancer Society

Deaths in Canada from almost all kinds of cancer have decreased dramatically over the past decade or two. Both organizations that address cancer as their main mission and individual doctors with a direct interest in oncology attribute this drop to two main causes:
(1) a precipitous drop in the number of Canadians who smoke tobacco (except in the 16 to 24 year age range) in recent years;
(2) better testing, of more patients, that detects cancer in its early stages, making treatment and recovery highly likely.
A few years ago, the Canadian Cancer Society published a postcard sized handout that listed some of those 4000 chemicals that tobacco companies add to cigarettes. Some you would recognize, some may be new to you. You will likely wonder why it’s necessary for tobacco companies to add these to their products. You should. One thing for certain, we won’t learn the answers from the tobacco companies.
Please read the list carefully. Imagine anyone ingesting these chemicals every day of their life:
- acetone (paint stripper, poisonous, dangerous when inhaled)
- mercury
- lead
- benzene
- dimethylnitrosamine (a known carcinogen)
- nicotine (world’s most widely used addictive drug)
- cadmium (used in car batteries)
- carbon monoxide
- benzopyrene (carcinogen, even present in the cheapest forms of olive oil)
- vinyl chloride (makes PVC)
- hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical warfare, interferes with the body’s ability to utilize oxygen)
- aminobiphenyl (carcinogen)
- urethane (modern form of varnish)
- toluene (industrial solvent)
- arsenic (poison for white ants)
- dibenzacridine (listed as a hazardous material in workplaces)
- phenol (listed as a hazardous material in workplaces)
- DDT (insecticide)
Those who ingest these chemicals in effect are committing a slow form of suicide. Yet tobacco remains legal and little has been done by governments to force tobacco companies to remove these harmful additions from their products.
Along with earlier testing of patients for cancer, paid for in Canada by provincial health care programs, everyone in the medical community has actively encouraged patients to have the necessary tests.
In my personal case, my family doctor recommended a colonoscopy when I was in her examination room for another purpose. Subsequently, procedures by two gastroenterologists removed four slow growing tumours from my colon. My wife would have become a widow within a decade had the tumours not been removed.
I was informed that my tumours meant that my children should be examined similarly when they reach age 40. Colon cancer can run in families.
In turn, I encouraged my wife to have a colonoscopy. Over the past few months she has had two fast growing tumours removed from her colon. Without encouragement from me (and prior to that from my doctor to me), I would likely have become a widower within one year. One year.
My sister and parents all died years ago of cancer, almost certainly caused by smoking and in my mother’s case from inhaling second-hand smoke over many decades from my father, a heavy smoker. My sister became a heavy smoker during her failed marriage. Addictions of all kinds take hold in people who can’t cope with the constant stress and anxiety they experience.
My wife and I have encouraged her siblings to have colonoscopies soon. My wife’s father died of cancer many years ago. He did not smoke, but he did have a colon. At that time it was not considered wise for doctors to discuss cancer with the families of cancer patients (and victims), especially colon cancer because it happened in a part of the body nobody wanted to discuss openly.
We consider ourselves very lucky to have learned about this one kind of cancer in time.
A very close friend is dying of colon cancer as I write this. He didn’t know about getting tested in time. Even if he did, he likely would not have been tested because he believed that cancer hits others, but would not strike him down. It did.
This brings us to cancer prevention and cures. A cure is what a medical professional or other consultant does for you. Prevention is what you do for yourself. My mantra is: don’t concern yourself with fixing it after it’s broken, prevent it from happening in the first place.
Our bodies come already primed with up to 150 specific micro-locations in which cancer can grow. Most of them, in most of us, never blossom into full blown cancer. Why does it happen in some of us, but not all? As cancer takes many different forms in our bodies, we may assume that, like the common cold, it is almost impossible to stop. We may be wrong.
Most of us non-chemistry-loving folk have a clue about what acid is. Vinegar, for example, is an acid. So is the liquid in lead-acid batteries, as evidenced by clothing I have had to discard in the past because it developed acid holes from my careless handling of car batteries. We can consume some mild acids, while others will kill.
Ordinary drinking water is mildly acidic. Our bodies, being mostly composed of water, tend to be mildly acidic unless we undertake measures to counteract the acidic effects of water.
Cancer cells tend to develop and reproduce in an acidic environment.
Fruits and vegetables tend to be slightly alkaline, the opposite of acidic. We have been told to eat fruit and veggies for their nutrition and their anti-oxidant effect. Anti-oxidants float around our bloodstream corralling little buggers called free radicals, that left on their own will find cancer starting places and tickle them until they grow into cancer cells.
Cancer cells do not thrive in an alkaline environment. In fact, they tend to shrivel and die when our body is slightly alkaline. [The internet abounds with anecdotal examples of consuming alkaline substances curing cancer.]
In general, our bodies function in a more healthy manner when they are slightly alkaline. That is, when our pH level is slightly below the even or balance mark of 7 (on a scale from 0 to 14).
I will leave it to you to google the subject of pH (Potential Hydrogen, the way acidity or basicity is valued). As to possible alkaline therapies or body maintenance, only people in extreme need of immediate pH correction (“Help, I’m dying of cancer and don’t know what to do to save myself”) need to adopt unusual measures. Everyone should eat fresh fruit and veggies.
Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda (not baking powder) are known to be alkaline if you are looking for places to start searching.
In conclusion, I leave you with one thought about your health: if you are not in control of your own health by being fully informed about what you eat, drink and breathe in, you leave your health and your life in the control of large corporations that make pharmaceuticals that supposedly cure you and chemicals that poison the food you eat.
Ignorance is not pretty. It’s comforting for a while, but it never ends well if adopted as a lifestyle.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to raise children with enough life skills to help them survive a world filled with harmful influences.
Learn more at

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Einstein’s Physics Crumbling Like An Old Building

Einstein’s Physics Crumbling Like An Old Building

If he had stuck with the Machian approach, Einstein might have attained the all-encompassing “theory of everything” that consumed the last decades of his life. He might have produced a version of his theory of gravity that would not conflict so fundamentally with quantum mechanics,” Barbour notes. But Einstein had lost his nerve.
- Zeeya Merali, in “Gravity off the Grid,” Discover, March 2012

Never has science been so devoted to praising a physicist as it has been over the past half century with Albert Einstein. Science’s love affair with Einstein was so pervasive that his philosophical thoughts about life were embraced as if heaven sent.
“e=mc2” may be quoted these days by everyone from school children to factory workers.
As everyone knows, “e” refers to energy, “m” to mass and “c” to the cosmological constant. That constant happens to be the same as the speed of light (in case we have trouble remembering, 186,000 miles per second or 300,000 kilometres per second). It was so easy to remember, only hard if you actually had to do the math for any calculation.
Here’s the catch. Light does not travel at exactly the same speed all the time. Therefore, the “constant” is not constant. Well, bear with me.
Who cares? The Bare Naked Ladies likely won’t change the lyrics of their song that is the theme for the TV series “The Big Bang Theory.” “Nearly 14 billion years ago” might not be accurate any more, but viewers will still keep watching as it’s (arguably) the best sitcom ever.
When Einstein devised his theories (special theory of relativity published first, then general theory of relativity) most people thought that space had nothing in it. It was even called a “vacuum.” The “ether” that was once considered to be out there, that accounted for the odd movement of planets in the earth-centred Newtonian universe, was more imagination than reality.
There was nothing out there, supposedly, between the planets and stars. But that didn’t work with the physics. Einstein’s theories wouldn’t work in nothingness. Then someone figured there must be dust from the original Big Bang, and neutrinos charging around as well. Still not enough.
Einstein must be right, so along came Dark Matter to patch up the theory. Still not enough. Cosmologists calculated that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, which didn’t fit with the theory. Let’s throw in Dark Energy. With the matter science knows exists, plug in Dark Matter, that left Dark Energy to make up 85 percent or more of the rest of the known universe, so that Einstein’s theory would work.
After all, as almost everyone agreed, Einstein was a genius--indeed “Einstein” and “genius” came to be synonyms--so any amount of creative imagination to make his theory work must be acceptable. Science hates it when religions tell people to “have faith” but it happily asked the same of people for its creations of imagination so that Einstein could continue to be the ideal of genius.
Here’s where it gets messy. Einstein’s theories depended on a fourth dimension, called space-time. Light--part of the “constant” remember--bends around large objects, just as river water bends around rocks in its way. Does light have to speed up to make up the extra distance required to divert around large objects, or does it slow down, thus throwing off calculations?
Time, as Einstein told us, is flexible. In relatively empty space, it speeds up, whereas in denser stuff such as galaxies it slows down. If light (the constant) travels at 186,000 miles per second and the length of a second can change depending on where it is being measured, what can be constant about the constant?
How accurate is the widely accepted belief that our universe is 13.7 billion years away from the Big Bang? That number was calculated based on the rate that supernovas great distances away were moving. The light from those supernovas bent around galaxies and changed speed as it travelled through larger ones. These were not considered in the calculations.
David Wiltshire, a New Zealand physicist at the University of Canterbury, claims that if the age of the universe were calculated based on light travelling through empty space, the age would be 18 billion years. If the light travelled at the speed it does passing through galaxies, the age would be 15 billion years.
Wiltshire’s “older” universe age results from his beginning from a different set of physical assumptions than those physicists who calculate it at 13.7 billion years.
Assumptions, you say? Exactly. Physical calculations change depending on which set of assumptions you begin with. What then should we believe?
To make things more awkward for Einstein’s legacy, CERN, the European Space Agency’s huge facility for studying super particles, recently reported that it had timed neutrinos travelling faster than light, a phenomenon that does not fit with Albert’s theories. While a few scientists search diligently for weaknesses in the CERN report, there is no doubt that many are still trying to find a way to travel faster than light. Like many other scientific marvels that came out of the original Star Trek classic TV series, time travel and faster-than-light space travel seem destined to come to pass some day.
I still believe in Albert Einstein, though his assumptions might have been inaccurate. I still believe in gravity, though no one at this point has any idea what it is or why objects attract each other--anyone who says he does is overconfident about his guess.
I am not certain what to believe about the age of our universe. Flexible time may be a problem. An undependable constant is troubling. Flexible space is still hard for me to wrap my head around.
Of one thing I have great faith. My wife has just called me to say that supper is ready and if I try to stretch time too much before completing this writing, my supper will be cold. I have confidence in that constant.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book of big but simple ideas about how to change the material taught in our schools so we can all live longer, healthier and safer lives.
Learn more at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Truth, Lies and Real Life

Truth, Lies and Real Life

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, and poet (1803-1882)

Apart from a few notable twists of truth in my childhood, to avoid punishment (deserved) for my misdeeds (my lies never succeeded in fooling my parents), I have always been a great supporter of telling the truth.
That has had me facing trouble when it was revealed (some said I should have kept quiet). However, trouble inevitably follows lies as a bad smell follows a skunk. Telling the truth allowed me to work my way through unpleasant consequences, where necessary, to find clear sailing beyond. The consequences were of shorter duration, requiring less subterfuge, when I was able to face them and work through them.
That sometimes had its own downside. People I worked with, or for, found themselves having to cope with someone who told everything "as it is." I avoided exaggeration and meanness, but my truth made them uncomfortable. The reason is that my truth often brought to light their own misdeeds or avoidance of fulfilling their own responsibilities.
Sometimes that meant that workmates avoided me for some period of time. Sometimes it caused me to have to look for a new job. They covered their failures and inadequacies and expected me to do the same with my own. To them, pretending was preferable to bringing the cold hard truth to light and having to face others who were upset by it.
It avoided forcing them to change.
We have this nebulous term "white lies." One dictionary I consulted described the meaning of this term as "an unimportant lie (especially one told to be tactful or polite)." I question the value of the "unimportant lie."
A standard joke of comedians tells of the husband who, when asked by his wife if the dress she has just put on is too tight or looks good and will make her look fine at an event they are about to attend, replies (when he fears she might burst a seam) "Of course dear, you look great, as always." This, we are told, is an acceptable white lie.
Let’s lay this one out bare. The woman knows the dress is too tight or she would not have asked her husband for an opinion. The husband knows the dress is too tight but doesn’t want to make his wife feel bad. Problem solved, for the moment. Then the couple attends the event where every women who sees the wife can see she obviously is wearing a dress that is too tight--or simply that she has gained weight she doesn’t want to admit to.
That situation, we are asked to ignore, to claim that no one at the event will notice the too-tight dress. I submit that every woman at the evident would notice, and many men as well. Moreover, the penalty she will suffer for her social faux pas will be much greater than if she had simply faced the truth (or been told the truth by her husband) and changed to another garment before leaving home.
No one at an event wants to tell a woman that her cosmetics are smeared, as that might embarrass her. So she moves about advertising her messy face to everyone until she later sees herself in a mirror in the ladies’ room. Again, the embarrassment she feels when she realizes that so many others have seen her with messy makeup is far greater than what she would feel if someone had told her sooner.
By the same token, a man might emerge from a public washroom/restroom with his shirt tucked inside his boxers at the back and the waistband of the boxers advertised to the world until the next time he visits the washroom. Is a feeling of great shame in private any less significant than a slight embarrassment when something is revealed in public?
White lies and slight perversions of the truth to help someone avoid embarrassment "to be tactful or polite" always come out. The consequences are always worse later than they would have been at the time.
A white lie is simply a way to delay a worse consequence.
What is the attraction of a lie? Often a lie will produce exactly the results in a person that the person wants to have.
Lies are beautiful, in the short term.
An example that keeps thumping in my brain is the concept of the character of God. Every religion has a God (some, like Buddhism, are technically philosophies of life). Every religion admits that we have no way of knowing anything about God. Yet there are people in every religion who will happily tell you all manner of warm and comforting things they believe about God. Where did these things originate? In lies. Well meaning lies, I admit. Tell them what they want to hear.
Oddly, most religions grant a male gender to their God, yet the characteristics given by those with ready answers about their God almost inevitably fit better someone of female gender, a mother. Why? Those who do not feel personally secure want to feel that their God cares for them the way a mother would.
For some, it works. For a while.
Getting back to our original quotation by Emerson, I question just how beautiful most people find truth. Truth in nature, for sure. As the saying goes, truth is beauty and beauty truth. Even the truth of a natural disaster, when viewed after the fact and from a distance, can be seen as beautiful, in a way.
If we judged the truth of Emerson’s statement about truth and lies based on our own culture, we would have to say that we immerse ourselves in lies. Almost nothing we see on television or on the stage is true, the exception being documentaries (though some of them have political or social agendas with carefully edited "facts"). Virtually everything in every commercial or print advertising is a perversion of the truth (massaging truth to make it look better, making us want what we mostly don’t need).
We live in houses that convey a certain social status we may not have in reality, wear clothes that tell strangers we are something we may not be, drive cars or trucks to make others believe we can actually afford them.
Put simply, lies are more attractive than the truth. There are those among us who want to believe our lies so much that they actually come to believe them. Where is the truth? We expect others, even strangers, to "have faith" that the message we are trying to convey is the truth.
The hidden request is to "trust me."
No matter how many times we say a lie, it is still a lie. But we can believe the lie. That’s life. But is it really better than the truth?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want their children to be able to cope, without fear and lies, with the world they will one day enter as adults.
Learn more at