Curious Reasoning of True Believers

If you believe in magic, come along with me
We’ll dance until morning till there’s just you and me
And maybe, if the music is right
I’ll meet you tomorrow, sort of late at night
And we’ll go dancing, baby, then you’ll see
How the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me

The Lovin’ Spoonful

The illustrious blogger Fandango has posed the question today: Do you believe in magic? Quite a can of worms, isn’t it? This is partly a question of definition and categorization, taxonomy as much as philosophy. What’s just as interesting is the blurred lines between religion, magic, expertise, intuition, evidence, and conclusions without evidence, and how they lead people to take actions that are self-contradictory.

The question was instigated by a recent incident in a Tennessee Catholic school where the pastor removed the Harry Potter series from the elementary/middle school library because: “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

Well, as Hermione might say, Revelio!

The most knowledgeable wizard from Harry Potter. Photo from Warner Bros.

Is it a Natural Law If I Don’t Know it Exists Yet?

But first, definitions are required if we’re going to talk about magic and belief. Belief refers to a personal conviction which can either be backed up by facts or not. Belief can be based on unseen evidence. I believe that antibodies and quarks exist because scientific studies have identified them and described how they work. I don’t have to see them. Belief can also occur without evidence. I believe that people have experienced things not yet explained by science, such as dreaming about things that occur in reality but outside the dreamer’s knowledge.

Magic, according to Merriam-Webster, is the art of producing a result …through human control of supernatural agencies or of the force of nature. Hmmm. So what is supernatural? Beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law. (I’m excluding stage magicians here, who perform amazing tricks through explainable but complicated processes such as hidden doorways or misdirection.) What this definition points out is that magic, in essence, is something that occurs which is unexplainable. Let’s also add: CURRENTLY unexplainable.

Continue reading “Curious Reasoning of True Believers”

Live Longer: Eat Cheese & Do Push-ups

Not necessarily, of course.

Like the rest of the human race, I am always in search of better health. I am an intrepid explorer of the findings of scientists, digging into the abstracts. What were the actual findings? Who was the study based on? How did they know? Was it correlation or just causation? It’s disappointing how often it turns out to be hogwash.

Today, it was the push-ups article in the NY Times. Last week, the cheese. I can’t tell, once I read enough to discover, Aha! I knew it! whether I should feel smug or irritated. Should I blame the scientists or the journalists? Or myself, for continuing to search for the easy fix and the fountain of youth? Could I solve it by combining them, say, to get push-up cheese?

Push-up cheese
Push-ups and cheese, Photo at PackagingNetwork.com

The Pattern

The pattern of scientific study recaps is fairly standard. Headline: Do This! Because a recent study says so. The photo is vaguely related, usually exaggerated. In a reputable paper, the digest of findings is somewhat specific, although it may blur some rather key details. If it’s not a reputable paper, the digest is plagiarized summarized from somebody else’s write-up, with most of the key details omitted or exaggerated. Sometimes, scientists are quoted trying to explain causality, though that’s really guesswork given the nature of studies which can’t control for variables enough to make that connection. Never mind! At the end, there’s a snappy quip, often a nonsequitur. If you read the online comments (but don’t!), people responding seem to completely miss the point. Perhaps it’s just as well. Continue reading “Live Longer: Eat Cheese & Do Push-ups”

Flow, Turkey, Flow

I have family coming up for Turkey Day, so I need to get my act together. Everybody seems to like a good flowchart, so it seemed a natural to create a Turkey Dinner chart for this week’s blog and publish it a few days early. By Wednesday morning, I’ll be deeply involved in planning the tryst between turkey, stuffing, and butter. (Hmmm, should that really be menage?…)

Turkey cooking flowchart
Turkey specific flowchart, by kajmeister.

Clearly, everyone has their own T-day traditions, whether it’s deep-frying the turkey (dangerous but popular) or serving crab (very San Francisco) or canned cranberries (really?). I have aimed to map out the standard meal with the basics: a stuffed turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberries. Our household variation is to brine the turkey–which has its supporters and detractors I know–and to saute green beans and mushrooms, rather than to bake them in a soup. Plus deviled eggs because it’s not T-giving without deviled eggs. By the way, if you don’t waste spend loads of time watching cooking shows like I do, you should know that “sous chef” is my short hand for all the prep work that you do which doesn’t involve heating or freezing the food–chopping, measuring, mixing, etc.

The simplest chart would have only a few steps, and I show it above to use as a building block for what is to come because if I showed you the full, unadultered version at this point, your head would explode.  Bear with me. Continue reading “Flow, Turkey, Flow”

Sweet Sabotage

WWII chocolate bomb
Prototype of a Nazi chocolate bomb bomb, photo by Lawrence Fish at artnet.news.com

Industrial Espionage: Cookie packages shoved, hidden, to the back part of the shelf or hidden on the top by rival cookie suppliers. Supermarket owners bribed not to stock a competitor’s cola. A clone product created with a deliberate shoddy taste and marketing strategy in order to sink a successful new market entry. Chocolate bars spiked with bits of pork so that Muslim customers believe they can’t eat it. People attacked with chocolate…I mean what is the world coming to, if we can’t enjoy our sweeties in peace?!?

Cookie wars

I typically would not write two food columns in a row, but I saw a Facebook post* this week that resonated with me so much, I could not resist. Besides, what better to follow a vegetable post with than one on dessert?

Hydrox FTC complaint against Oreo's
Hydrox has filed an FTC complaint against the maker’s of Oreo’s, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency

You can read the details at JTA above, but, in essence, Hydrox is claiming that Oreo cookie suppliers are moving Hydrox around on the supermarket shelves in order to obscure their packages. Customers have sent in dozens of pictures of random products hung in front of the boxes to cover the labels, packages pushed to the back of the shelf and another Oreo product put in front (even though the label says Hydrox), and other dastardly deeds. Continue reading “Sweet Sabotage”

Eat Your Vegetables!

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of being told I had to finish dinner before we could go to the state fair. On my plate were sliced orange disks which my mother said were carrots but, in fact, were sweet potatoes. I detested the mushy things and knew they were not carrots. I sat there for Hourrrrrssss, with tears streaming down my face, unable to handle the discrimination and oppression of the sweet potatoes. The unfairness! No merry-go-rounds for me! My mother was lying! The adults were in league to ruin my life! The trauma! The unfairness!

Child hates eating carrots
Carrots are NOT sweet potatoes! Photo from Parents magazine

I’m kind of sad now that I never asked my long-dead mother whether this story actually happened, and why, in particular, she would lie and tell me that sweet potatoes were carrots. It seems kind of unlikely now. Also, ironically enough, I now love sweet potatoes and will eat them without marshmallows, butter, or any flavoring at all. (They’re really good stuffed with chili and jalapenos.) Continue reading “Eat Your Vegetables!”