Drink milk, glow green… what?

I saw an ad for Devondale long life milk on TV recently which really bothered me. You can watch it on Devondale’s YouTube here. It features a young girl, with a fluorescent green glow going about her daily activites at home and school. At the end of the ad, we are supposed to believe that she’s somehow taken on this green glow through drinking milk which contains preservatives.

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I think it’s very misleading, and it makes me uncomfortable for a number of reasons.

  1. The prevalence of glow-in-the-dark radium/phosphorus products around 100 years ago has cemented the ‘green glow = radioactivity’ myth into popular culture. In fact, radium alone does not emit the green glow, it must be mixed with phosphorus and when the radium gives off alpha particles, it stimulates the emission of light from the phosphorus atoms. ‘Radiation’ (alpha and beta particles and gamma rays) is actually invisible. Most importantly though, NONE OF THIS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH MILK OR PRESERVATIVES.
  2. Devondale are piling on the parental guilt in this ad with the line “what are you feeding your kids?”  As if parents don’t get enough guilt trips from the media and society already, now Devondale want to scare them off letting their kids drink milk? Of all the drinks available for kids (or anyone) to consume, milk is probably the second healthiest option after water.
  3. Milk sold in Australia, including long life varieties, DOES NOT EVEN CONTAIN PRESERVATIVES!
  • The shelf life of milk is extended by increasing the temperature at which it is pasteurised, and the environment in which it is packaged. By heating to a higher temperature, and packaging in a sterile environment, there is a huge reduction in the amount of organisms in the milk which over time contribute to its ‘going off’. Long life milk products do not contain preservative additives to extend the shelf life.
  • I’m not an expert on the food standards code but my interpretation of the relevant section is that antioxidants and preservative additives are permitted in milk, so long as they are included in the ingredients list on the container. I conducted a small survey at a local supermarket of long life milk products, and none of them listed any preservatives. Whether they are not used because they are simply not required (due to the high temperature treatment), or consciously excluded due to consumer concerns is something that can only be answered by the dairy industry.

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I do feel for the independent dairy producers, given the ongoing pillaging of their industry by the  supermarket milk wars, but this, and the ridiculous permeate marketing ploy, is a dishonest way of advertising their product. Not cool Devondale, not cool.


Think Inc 2011: My Thoughts and Summary

Sunday, September 18th saw several hundred rationalists, free thinkers, skeptics and atheists attend the inaugural Think Inc conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Morning Session

The first speaker of the day was Australian of the Year and Climate Change Commissioner Tim Flannery. Flannery took the audience on a journey through computer modelling, evolution by natural selection and the ubiquity of society and civilisations amongst species in the animal kingdom.

The content, although interesting, was perhaps not the best way to kick off and get the audience excited about the day and I think it would’ve been better to begin with Cristina Rad.

Rad was a self-deprecating and endearing speaker, and confided in the audience that Think Inc was in fact her first invited speaking engagement. It was her assertion that the reason why it is so taboo to question religion, is that religion is so inexplicably intertwined with culture. While I am not so sure I agree with this, it was an interesting perspective nonetheless and possibly more relevant in Eastern Europe.

For the second half of her talk, Rad focused on the decriminalisation of drugs and prostitution. While this is something I’ve never spent a lot of time thinking about, or have strong feelings for, my guard was up straight away as she started off this section with a leading question, asking the audience to raise their hands if they didn’t think drugs should be illegal. This type of question of course biases the responses, as everyone who is too embarrassed/lazy/apathetic to raise their hand is counted along with those who genuinely have. A minor gripe, I know.

I am aware that anecdotally, the Portugal experiment has been a success and even if this is true, I am not sure about her assertion that if it worked there, why not adopt it in all countries. I think this is a logical fallacy but I am not yet experienced enough in all the logical fallacies to name which one.

Following Cristina Rad was a Skype link up with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in The States. I have huge admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I when she visitedAustralialast year, touring her book Infidel, I thought she was so amazing and inspiring. However, I felt the ‘3 world futures’ scenario her talk was based was a bit lazy and derivative. The Q&A section was so much better than the talk itself.

I’ll award poet Shane Koyczan the prize for second best one-liner of the day, with the line from one of his poems – ‘Heisenberg says nothing is fo shizzle’. I’ve never seen a poet live before, and I often get teased for not being emotionally affected by ‘the arts’ (I never cry in movies) but I was surprised at how moved I was by some of Koyczan’s performance. It was quite an experience.

Lunch

I was extremely fortunate to win a ticket to Think Inc, and I would like to thank the organisers for this. Possibly down to the fact that I didn’t shell out money for a ticket, I didn’t read the fine print and was completely oblivious to the fact that delegates were expected to buy their own lunch within the MCEC/South Wharf precint. I’m willing to accept that this was my fault and don’t expect any sympathy that it was a pain in the arse, but one of the key things about these types of events is the socialising/networking component and where the experience of shared meals/snack time is taken aqway, socialisng is made that much harder. As someone who went on my own, and didn’t know anyone going, this was an important point for me. Next year organisers, chuck an extra 40 bucks on the ticket price and give the punters a bite to eat.

Afternoon Session

First up after lunch was the speaker I was most looking forward to, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. It was clear from the conversations around me and the number of cameras and recording devices that come out during his talk that I was not the only one. I was really surprised with how funny he was, what a fantastic speaker! His talk focused on the importance of science literacy and numeracy in the general public and examples of specific failures in the media. Tyson also placed a lot of emphasis on his use of twitter as an outreach tool. Tyson consistently used the word ‘data’ in its correct plural form which always gives me a little warm and fuzzy feeling.

Tyson devoted a significant portion of his talk to atheist themed issues, and said that he was throwing us a bone by doing so, and that he usually reluctant to talk about such things. A few minutes into this part I remember thinking, ‘gee, for someone who doesn’t talk about this stuff very much, he’s doing a stellar job’ (pun intended). When Michael Shermer followed, he outed Tyson as a frequent speaker about atheism!

Michael Shermer gave the audience something of a Skepticism 101 type talk. Trained as a psychologist, and on the plug for his new book, he talked about how the brain is evolved to recognize patterns, and how illusions can help us to understand how the brain works. I found it quite funny that he ended his slot with some evangelical style preaching for the cause of skepticism. For Science! For Reason! Praise the Lord!

Christopher Hitchens was scheduled to appear via video link, but did not show up and the organizers are yet to hear from him or his management. This is a shame, and I know everyone hopes he is OK.

The final part of the day was a discussion panel consisting of all the live speakers as well as Father Bob, who I think was scheduled to give his own talk at one point so I’m not sure what happened there. Possibly the best one liner of the day came from Cristina Rad during this time who stated that ‘religion is philosophy’s retarded cousin’. Microphone wranglers amongst the crowd made the mistake of not holding on to the mike several times, allowing questioners to crap on unnecessarily but overall the standard of questioning was high and added a lot of value to the discussions. All in all this was an interesting and varied discussion but it dragged on for too long, extending the day more than half an hour over the scheduled finish time.

So, that’s my wrap up of Think Inc 2011, see you at Think Inc 2012! (As long as the world doesn’t end before then…)


When I Was Seventeen…

The following is a piece I wrote for my Year 12 English class. I can’t remember exactly what the assignment was, I’m pretty sure it was either to write a humourous piece, or to write about a contentious  issue  in the local community. Either way, here it is. It ended up being published in the school newsletter which I was pretty stoked about, even though the majority of my classmates were too dense to get it and teased me about it being ‘boring’. I think it shows that I’ve had an inkling of a skeptical streak for at least 10 years, even though I have only recently become familiar with the label and the ‘skeptic community’.

The future of farming is upon us. As technological advancements in agriculture such as genetically engineered crops become common, it is vital that possible repercussions of this dangerous new technology are understood. Crops are genetically altered by biotechnologists in an attempt to render the plants disease and pest resistant. But what’s to stop these plants interbreeding with the attractive, long stemmed dandelion from outside the paddock to create a crop of powerful, super resistant and sexy killer commando warrior weeds?

Imagine the turmoil when the hybridised monster plants begin to interbreed with all kinds of crops – seducing them with their alluring leaves and voluptuous petals. Fields across the globe will become contaminated with variations of the cross bred devious dandelions. Orchards will be overrun with troops of terrifying tracheophytes that do not hesitate to invade meadows without warning. These horrifying mutated crops will see the end of vegetarianism. Humans will be forced to live entirely on animals, as there is no way these super plants are going to five themselves up for human fodder. Only the sick and old are left behind to be salvaged for salads.

As the situation worsens, the plants gain more power. What were once peaceful pastures are not colonies of super crops with resistance to not only pests and diseases, but also bullets, grenades, nuclear weapons and everything that humans can possibly think of to eradicate them. The plants are taking over. Homo sapiens are no longer the dominant species at the top of the food chain. They hide in their homes living in fear of dangerous dandelions that could break down the door at any moment. The super crops begin to farm humans – changing their genetic makeup to replace their feet with roots.

Once the only purpose for human life is as a food source for the carnivorous mutant plants, acres of farmland across the globe are planted with root-footed humans. The world’s leaders become sunflowers and entire countries are run by genetically modified soybeans. By now the situation is beyond control and the efforts of the CIA, SAS and TRG combined have no effect upon the dynamic rule of the plants.

It has now gone beyond just vegetables fighting on the dinner table or your salads changing the channel when The Naked Chef is on. Genetically modified crops could become out of control and their use must be halted immediately. The consequences could be drastic.


George Hrab Hits Melbourne with Styrofoam

On Tuesday November 30th, George Hrab, of the Geologic Podcast and Philadelphia Funk Authority played the Melbourne leg of his Styrofoam tour at the Clyde Hotel in Carlton. I arrived a few minutes after the show was due to start as a result of an extended attempt to find a parking spot (I am not that familiar with the inner North), grabbed myself a soft drink from the bar and got settled seconds before Geo began his performance.

I have listened back to the recording of ‘Far’ a few times now and each time I found myself grinning a dopey dorkfaced grin of reminiscence. Like a puppy looking at a picture of a puppy having puppies… or something.

The overwhelming feeling I got from George’s performance was that he was really enjoying being there and performing in front of the enthusiastic audience. In addition to singing a bunch of his songs, accompanied by acoustic guitar, there was also an ‘Ask George (woof!)’ session, some spoken word and a totally cool iPhone beatbox thingo (you had to be there for that one).

I came away from the night with an ‘I heart Hrab’ badge, and a signed copy of the tour poster. I chose the one on which George had written ‘FIZ!’, which kind of appealed to the chemist in me for some reason…

 

 

It was great to see that a free, fan-organised gig could go off so fabulously well. I must extend heartfelt thanks to George, for making the trip down to Melbourne, and all those who helped to organise the event, in particular Catherine Donaldson and the Young Australian Skeptics.