Friday, April 19, 2002

HERE WE GO AGAIN
Back on Febuary 19 a study was released by the Harvard School of Public Health that supposedly proved that more children were dying violently in states with high gun ownership than in states with low gun ownership. This news story was prominantly displayed on Yahoo's news service if one mouse clicked the "Gun Control Debate" category. It was obvious that Yahoo thought it was important enough to bring it to the public's attention.

Now the story isn't to be found on the U.S. Yahoo server. In fact, I had to find the link through a rabid anti-gun website. What caused the change?

It was probably due to the fact that the study was thoroughly debunked in a variety of ways. It seems that the guys at Harvard would carefully pick out the data that supported their idea that kids die when guns are around, and they ignored anything that would throw a monkey wrench in to their plans.

I had a problem with the primary author of the study, a Dr. Matthew Miller. It would seem that Dr. Miller was extremely biased against guns, smoking and alcohol (please scroll down to the entry entitled "INTERESTING IF TRUE").

Now there's a new study that Harvard has released that paints a grim picture for America's women. According to the study 70% of the women murdered in the top 25 high-income countries are killed in the U.S. They go on to hammer the point home (endlessly) that guns are to blame. I suppose that they weren't able to get the right reaction when they talked about children and guns, so now they're trying it with women and guns. I figure puppies and kittens are next.

Our old friend Dr. Miller isn't the primary author this time. Now it's Dr. David Hemenway, who gained the good graces of Harvard by stating that banning gun ownership was a way to prevent suicide (even though he also states that there's no systematic record of suicide causes), that people who own guns have gotten drunk in the past, and that concealed carry laws undermine public safety (even though the record proves otherwise).

I think I'm beginning to see how to get ahead at Harvard. Just link guns, smoking, suicides and alcohol and you're set for life.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
I haven't seen much by the way of commentary in the Blogosphere concerning Dr. Richard Carmona. He's the guy Bush nominated for the post of Surgeon General. He certainly sounds like my kinda guy.

He's a deputy sherriff in Arizona (scroll down to the second item). He is an expert on the weapons terrorists use. He's also a high school dropout, Viet Nam vet, and former Green Beret (are you listening, Sgt. Stryker?).

Frankly, the guy sounds too good to be true. Which means that he probably has a few skeletons rattling around in his closet (don't we all). Still, I'm glad that we might have a Surgeon General that knows how to get things done in the real world.
WHY THE HECK AM I READING THIS?
More on the history of food preservation. Don't say that you haven't been warned.

Napoleon is the guy most responsible for modern food preservation techniques. Not because he actually came up with any ideas, but just because he threw some money at the problem.

The Napoleonic Wars was like nothing seen before. Agriculture and food production had always been very labor intensive, but advances in farming meant that many of the hands once needed could now be used elsewhere. The Industrial Revolution brought about changes in production methods that increased the output of finished goods. Napoleon was one of the first to realize that a small labor force could supply a vast army in the field. This led to his famous Grand Armee, a force originally of 200,000 men in a time when an army of 50,000 was considered huge.

This meant that the soldiers had weapons and uniforms, but it didn't help feed them. Historically armies would simply rob what they needed from farms that they passed and leave the peasants to starve. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars the armies were too big for that, since any food gathered by the fringes of the army would be eaten before it could reach the center of the mass. Food could be carried by the army itself but most of it would spoil before too long.

To find a solution to this problem Napoleon offered a 12,000 franc prize, a fortune in those days (and nothing to sneeze at today). It was collected by Nicholas Appert, a man who found a method of heating food in a container and then sealing it while still hot. Appert sold beef stew in wine bottles because the bottles were going so cheap. Most of the men needed for wine production were off to war and the wineries weren't using the bottles they had. After the supply of bottles ran low he switched to clay jars. The English copied the invention and they used the cheapest material that they had available: tin. (In fact, England's large tin deposits was one of the reasons that the Romans stayed for so long after they invaded).

The development of artificial substitutes for foods was also pioneered by a Napoleon, in this case Louis Napoleon III. He offered a prize for the development of a substitute for butter, and some chemist named Hippolyte Mege-Mouriez claimed it by developing a beef fat-vegetable oil mixture he called oleo-margarine. After the manufacturers switched to an all-vegetable product they dropped the "oleo" and just called it "margarine".

The military has long been obsessed with food, mainly breakfast foods. The U.S. military spent big money developing first a powdered form of orange juice, and then a frozen concentrate. Originally used to preserve penicillin and blood plasma, freeze drying was quickly adapted to preserve food. This led to powdered eggs, which just about anyone who tries them agrees that it's an invention that should have stayed uninvented. To add a little cheese to the omelet the U.S. military came up with processed cheese, which is pretty much regular cheese with gums and oils added to try and help preserve it. MRE's were a great improvement, and the military is justifiably proud of their achievements, but there's still a long way to go.

So why am I interested in this stuff? I used to be an avid camper, and carrying enough to eat has always been a problem. I'm just waiting for someone to invent a Star Trek Replicator or a transporter. That way I could carry a machine to make my own supplies or I could use my communicator and have a restaurant beam me down a pizza.

I bet that would really increase the appeal of the great outdoors.