Saturday, July 23, 2016

sometimes a black helicopter is just a black helicopter

I am a recovering conspiracy nut.

Like all teenage boys, I was enthralled with the idea that my lack of personal power could only mean that some nefarious force was ruling my life -- and, by extension, must also be ruling the world.

There were certainly plenty of candidates. Americans tended to opt for the Illuminati; Europeans for the Knights Templar or Marxism.

Back then, before the internet provided hideouts for the conspiracy brewers, if you wanted to find a fellow conspirator, you would join the John Birch Society or the Socialist Workers Party. Or, you could do, as I did, work on your own obsession. Mine was with the assassination of John Kennedy.

I read every article and book I could find. Researched original documents. Watched film clips. I adopted more theories (often contradictory) than Hillary or Donald do in their speeches.

Fortunately, I lost the conspiracy bug and learned one of the most important lessons of being an adult: the world is pretty much what you observe. In the case of my Kennedy conspiracies theories, Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of JFK settled the issue. There was no conspiracy; just tragedy.

At least, I thought I had lost that bug -- until today. Now dreams of black helicopters flit through my skull.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Austria yesterday attending a meeting to amend the Montreal Protocol to speed up the elimination of chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerants and air conditioners. In a rhetorical flourish, he equated air conditioners with terrorism: "As we were working together on the challenge of [ISIS] and terrorism, it’s hard for some people to grasp it, but what we–you–are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself.”

Fair enough. It is an election season. And political rhetoric often has enough hot air to require its own dedicated refrigeration system.

I wasn't quite certain, though, how to square Kerry's formulation that air conditioning is terrorism with President Obama's warning to the nation about the current heat wave: "Stay indoors in the air conditioning, drink a lot of water, and be on the lookout for children or animals kept alone in a car."

"Stay indoors in the air conditioning?" Sounds like good advice to me. But isn't that the equivalent of supporting ISIS -- or being ISIS?

As luck would have it, reducing refrigerants to a Kantian moral imperative comes along just as I have started looking at the possibility of installing air conditioning in my bedroom. For Barco, mind you. Not me.

I know. It is a complex world in which we live. Especially when the rhetorical train runs away with our logic.

Last April, I found an article I wanted to discuss with you. And I guess this is an opportune time. It is certainly relevant.

One of my favorite British newspapers, The Telegraph, announced in a headline: "Long term vegetarian diet changes human DNA raising risk of cancer and heart disease." Such headlines are red meat for us culinary and news omnivores.

My first reaction was that it was akin to my 1 April blogs. The good folks at The Telegraph were merely pulling our legs -- just before they bit in.

But, not so. The dateline was 29 March. Not 1 April.

Researchers had long known that vegetarians were 40 percent more likely to contract colorectal cancer than meat eaters. But they had no idea why.

They now have some idea. A research team from Cornell University compared the genomes of people in Pune, India, who are primarily vegetarian, with the genomes of beef-munching residents of Kansas. The result?

The vegetarians had developed a genome that could rapidly break down plant fatty acids. Their digestive systems then turn those oils into an acid that causes chronic inflammation -- the type of inflammation associated with colon cancer and heart disease.

Will that plate of broccoli give you polyps? The study does not answer that question. After all, temporal correlation is not causality.

But it did make me raise an eyebrow three days later when the United Nations issued one of its recurring reports on diet -- with the usual warnings. Eating meat is bad for your health. And it is even worse for the planet.

Face it. Eating that steak is almost as evil as turning on your air conditioner.

I am going to do one of two things to stop the confusion. Either I am going to stop reading the newspaper -- or I am just going to sit out in the sun munching soy beans until my colon flares up.

Or I will just wait for the black helicopters to set down in my courtyard. Maybe they will bring along an air conditioner and a crate of Kansas steaks.

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