Road Rage & Sacred Cows

13 Jul

Tech note: YouTube seems to want to present this in a letterbox format here, but it is not a letterbox video. If that bothers you (it bothers me), watch it directly on YouTube. (The little button on the lower right that says “YouTube”.)

I shot this video several years ago. I gave a copy to the police to help catch the driver of the car (that’s me yelling out the license number on the audio track – twice) and they released it directly to the media even though it was copyrighted footage. Somebody else uploaded it to YouTube (and that’s the link I’m posting here – I never really felt the need to post it myself; I could always prove it is mine by providing the original .avi file, after all), where it got tons of hits; it appeared on all kinds of national and international news media and I had a heck of a time trying to track the appearances down to tell the programs and networks nicely that they owed me money. In the end I made more money off this eleven second video than any single project I ever did in my whole career as a professional photographer. (I wrote about this here.)

What is my point here beyond bragging about this video that I was lucky enough to catch? Because it was a combination of luck (right place, right time) and skill (taking the camera with me when I investigated the noises we were hearing, having enough practice with it to be able to use it immediately, and most of all, thinking about using it in the first place), but anybody who was lucky and had their camera ready could have taken a version of this.

But where it got really interesting to me was the comments on YouTube; there were a lot of people who said the video is obviously a fake because the only way you could get a video like this is to set it up, to stage it. It made me realize how much we are at the mercy of group thought, and it gave me a real glimpse into how conspiracy theories can get started and then keep going. How much of what we believe we believe simply because everybody else also believes it: things like the idea that eating fat will cause heart disease (after it makes you fat), that grains are good for you, that doctors always know best – these are all ideas that seem sensible to us because we grew up with them, and yet they are all wrong.

How many other sacred cows do I believe in that could be slain? Well, there’s the problem, because since I believe in these cows I can’t see them; these are animals that must not be seen to be believed, to rephrase N. Scott Momaday. Currently, I’m reading Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, and it’s made me wonder if there isn’t another sacred cow I wasn’t aware of, one that has to do with the relationship between antibiotic use and the proliferation in our society of all sorts of conditions: weight gain, autism, allergies, celiac disturbance, GERD, schizophrenia, and lots more. To me, the sacred cow here is the idea that antibiotic use does not cause problems. But it is the default belief in our society right now for most people. You can see why I’m nervous about endorsing Blaser’s idea; if it is correct, it is huge. I don’t think Blaser makes a complete case for the overprescription of antibiotics (and their use in farm feed) as the root cause of these things, but I do think he mades a very good case for it being at the least a contributing factor.

But he also points out that this idea is one that you will have a very hard time selling to the rest of the country. That’s where it gets tricky. You can already see people lumping this idea with the anti-vaccine movement, the homeopathy and Christian Scientist crowd, and maybe even the Abominable Snowman groupies or the crystal-gazing Lemurians. It’s so easy for us to dismiss things that seem to disagree with what we already “know”. I mean, maybe there really are Lemurians under Mount Shasta.

I know that I shot that video. Some of those YouTube commenters “know” that it was a fake, but I bet that even if I met them in person, showed them the Canon A540 camera with the video still in it, they would be able to tell me how I faked the video. After all, if I faked it, I can hardly admit that, can I? And wouldn’t I have prepared a bullet-proof explanation? It’s an argument that nobody can win. Except…except that the police believed the video, and what’s more, they tracked down the driver of the car with it and he admitted it (even in the stream of YouTube comments, if I remember right – I’m not going to go back and reread them all again).

When the evidence is strong enough sometimes you have to take a stand. I don’t think we have the luxury of believing that these antibiotics are completely harmless despite all the known good they do; that’s a stand I think we need to take as a society. And it’s a hard one to figure out how to implement, because what is a busy doctor, badgered by a parent with a child who has just caught a cold (colds are viral; they don’t respond to antibiotics) supposed to do when the parent wants some amoxicillin anyway? The doctor is already overworked; it’s just a lot easier to give ‘em the prescription than argue.

I think the first place to start is with the use of antibiotics in animal feed; this is part of industry’s effort to both increase animal size/growth rate and avoid raising the animals in healthy conditions. In other words, this is about money. And the first thing you will hear from them if you talk about legislating anything that concerns this (the first thing beyond the words “nanny state”, anyway) is the argument that food will cost more. Well, it might cost more for them, that’s correct. They will certainly pass the increase on. But won’t that just start to level the playing field a bit for the guys who are already out there trying to do the right thing?

Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that there is another sacred cow out there: cheapest is best. This is the industry supported view, and it’s wrong. It leads to attitudes like the one that believes that we should irradiate our food rather than grow/raise it in safe conditions. Just live with the fuckups and correct ’em later, right? Not acceptable. Get rid of the pesky vermin problem by engineering crops that will kill the vermin. Wrong. Cook everything until the bacteria die. Not acceptable! All of these are arguments that shift the responsibility for food safety away from the industy that produces it to the consumer, and that for-profit view has got to change. We have to start seeing profit as something that we own – our health, for example. I think we have a right to profit from our health and that industry should be there to help us do it; it doesn’t work the other way around…except that right now, that’s exactly how it works. And that’s wrong.

And that’s also why I’m tagging this post as a rant, LOL. Because otherwise it’s just too disheartening, and they win. And one of the most effective ways they do this is by simply wearing us down. But that can wait for another rant.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Health, Music/Video


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10 responses to “Road Rage & Sacred Cows

  1. Kenny

    July 13, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Fascinating. Sometimes I wonder why people are so angry out on the road. I attribute it to being hopped up on coffee, energy drinks, other caffeine drinks, and of course, a poor diet that contributes to lower peace of mind and tolerance. That’s just my best guess.

    I know I used to get much angrier out on the road. Now I focus on getting myself safely to where I want to go and avoid the nuts out there, even it they cut me off dangerously. And something a good friend said has stuck with me. You don’t know what their situation really is, maybe they have an emergency you don’t really know about. Not an excuse, but perhaps a reason to cut them some slack–as long as they don’t really harm you or anyone else.

    On the antibiotics issue. One, it was just chosen as the Longitude Prize, as the problem to solve so maybe there will be a way out of this.

    Two, why are so many people getting sick in the first place to need to go to the doctor who then prescribes antibiotics? My thinking is that we’re not dirty enough and don’t get exposed to enough germs early in life to build up our immune systems. I forget at the moment where I got these ideas (This American Life? RadioLab? infecting yourself with tapeworms?, fecal transpants?) The too clean environments with all their antibacterial soaps and surfaces, that sort of stuff might be leaving us overly vulnerable.

    I’m thankful that I have not had antibiotics in over 30 years and rarely get sick.

    • tyrannocaster

      July 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

      Your second issue may be recursive; perhaps people are getting sick more often precisely because they have been exposed to too many antibiotics. The hypothesis that we are too clean is discussed in Blaser’s book, but he doesn’t buy it. Here’s what he has to say in the introduction:

      The most popular explanation for the rise in childhood illness is the so-called hygiene hypothesis. The idea is that modern plagues are happening because we have made our world too clean. The result is that our children’s immune systems have become quiescent and are therefore prone to false alarms and friendly fire. A lot of parents these days try to ramp up their kids’ immune systems by exposing them to pets, farm animals, and barnyards or better still by allowing them to eat dirt.

      I beg to differ. To me, such exposures are largely irrelevant to our health. The microbes present in dirt have evolved for soil, not for us. The microbes in our pets and farm animals also are not deeply rooted in our human evolution. The hygiene hypothesis, as I will show you, has been misinterpreted.

      After reading the whole book and thinking about it I think he may be right, or at least mostly right. I see why our maniacal efforts to sanitize everything may come with a cost and I’m pretty sure that exposure to various kinds of dander, pollen, etc., may well help our immune systems (provided that they are functional) but as he points out, our gut biome isn’t that of a dog, and the dog exposure may not be doing as much for your kids as you think. But because, on general principle, I think we shouldn’t be trying to sanitize everything, I agree with his aim if not necessarily how he got there. I think the book is decidely worth reading; I had thought about trying to write a review of it but when I googled the title +review I found so many already out there that I figured one more not-too-insightful review wouldn’t help anybody. I would just say that whether you agree with him completely or not his ideas are worth hearing and I believe a lot of what he says makes very good sense.

      As for that guy in the car and why he was behaving that way…he was drunk.

  2. Kenny

    July 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

    “I beg to differ. To me, such exposures are largely irrelevant to our health. The microbes present in dirt have evolved for soil, not for us. The microbes in our pets and farm animals also are not deeply rooted in our human evolution. The hygiene hypothesis, as I will show you, has been misinterpreted.”

    Maybe I should read the book, but the above statement is wildly off-base to me. How does he think he knows this? that such exposures are irrelevant?

    We are not separate from our environment, never have been. Humans used to eat food right out of the ground, not cleaned. The microbes are not “evolved for soil, not for us”. That makes no sense. It’s an eco-SYSTEM that we’re part of. Our waste and other animals waste and decay make up significant elements of the soil, or at least they used to.

    And why can’t it be both? Gut biome and hygiene? Our gut biome is also not separate from everything else around it, pets, foods, other people, dirt, etc. The digestive tract is in some ways not “inside” us at all, but a passageway through us.

    Obviously, the gut biome is important and a useful addition to what we need to consider for overall health. But it has the ability to change much more quickly it seems to me than our immune systems can.

    • tyrannocaster

      July 13, 2014 at 11:49 am

      Well, he has spent several decades working with these organisms – it’s not like he’s just some blogger making it up. His credentials are pretty solid, unless you don’t trust people who work for the CDC. I don’t think it’s wildly off base, since he does present a ton of material in the book to back up his claim. The part which you quoted, especially, does not seem “wildly off base”. But look – you have just demonstrated what I was talking about in this article; you have this idea that he is challenging and your first reaction is to defend it; fine, but you shouldn’t judge the book’s arguments by reading two paragraphs which I’ve excerpted here. I am no substitute for his words.

      Having read the book, I think there is a lot to agree with in his ideas. That doesn’t mean that I go for everything he says, but my caveats are mostly in the form of wishing he had more specific data to back up his overarching argument and a little less data on experiments with mice, which I got tired of. That said, there is a lot of worthwhile material in the form of studies (not on mice) as well as meta studies.

      >Why can’t it be both? Gut biome and hygiene?

      Exactly, and this is why I say that I’m not totally convinced by his arguments even though I think there is a lot of validity to them. If the antibiotics-weakening-the-biome theory were 100% responsible for the conditions which he lists in the book then how could wheat be such a culprit? But…if the antibiotics have weakened our systems so that wheat is only a trigger for people with compromised systems then his argument starts to make a lot more sense. Don’t forget that in this country every baby gets a course of antibiotics immediatlely after birth because of the lingering fear of venereal disease. That means I got one decades ago, you got one decades ago, and who knows how many I have had since then. In my case, I have a history of sinus infections, for which doctors have often given me antibiotics. According to his figures in the book, we have all been exposed to more than we would guess:

      In 1945 an article in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Investigation reported on the great efficacy of penicillin in treating sixty-four patients with pneumonia. Such treatment, on that scale, produced almost miraculous results. But by 2010, health-care providers prescribed 258 million courses of antibiotics to people in the United States. This more than a millionfold difference in scale amounts to about 833 prescriptions for every thousand people across the country. We don’t know if every course was taken, but probably most were. Family practitioners prescribed about a quarter of the antibiotics, followed by pediatricians and internists. Dentists prescribed 10 percent, about 25 million courses a year.

      The highest prescription rate was for children under the age of two: 1,365 courses per 1,000 babies. This means that the average American child received nearly 3 courses of antibiotics in his or her first two years of life. They go on to receive, on average, another 8 courses in the next eight years. Extrapolating from the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, the data suggest that on average our children receive about 17 courses of antibiotics before they are twenty years old. This is a big number, but it is in line with prior studies in the United States and other developed countries.

      Young adults in their twenties and thirties receive, on average, another thirteen courses of antibiotics. This means that our young people are taking thirty courses of these potent drugs before the age of forty. This is the average. Some people take more, some less. But the implications loom large. Many of the young women will be mothers of the next generation who will be providing initial microbiomes to their children.

      It’s not really fair to the book to quote too much from it; I think he has a valid argument, especially in light of what else he has to say backing it up. Perhaps you might read some of the reviews that are online and find some which are more into summarization than I am; I find it very difficult to do well so I tend to try to avoid it, I’m afraid.

      • Kenny

        July 13, 2014 at 12:14 pm

        Sorry for messing up the threading. I missed the correct reply button.

        I’m challenging him because in his introduction he’s already showing his deep confirmation bias and reductionist attitudes. I’ve had it with observational and epidemiological studies, that supposedly prove this or that. Scientists need to show the mechanisms and stop using statistics to try and prove their points. It doesn’t work. Population incidence is not equal to individual risk.

        I’ve no doubt he’s an esteemed scientist. Just to claim microbes have evolved for the soil, not us, as if that’s some environment separate from us seems ludicrous. Maybe he backs off that in the book, but it’s not a good summation then.

        Dismissing the hygiene hypothesis so out-of-hand at the very beginning seems like the very example pushing his own sacred cow. That’s why I’m challenging his beginning.

        Oh well, not really trying to start anything here. Keep the interesting posts coming.

        And about sacred cows, the answer is simple but not easy. Empty your mind.

        That’s why they’re called Zen MASTERs. 🙂

  3. tyrannocaster

    July 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    So do you disagree with his statistics (actually the CDC’s statistics) on incidence of antibiotics use? If you disagree, do you have more convincing statistics which show markedly lower use? If you do not disagree, and you accept that antibiotics kill not only “bad” bacteria but “good” ones as well (the evidence on that really isn’t in doubt), where does that leave you? I don’t think he can be dismissed that easily.

    I think that confirmation bias is a slippery charge and I don’t like to use it myself; it’s too much like invoking Godwin’s law, which has an undeserved (IMO) ability to bring a conversation to a screeching halt. But as I mentioned recursive logic in my first reply, let me come back to that concept; one can have confirmation bias with respect to having confirmation bias. 🙂 Another reason to be skeptical about everything, but too much of that leads to inaction. The Firesign Theatre was right almost 50 years ago when they said “Questions, questions, troubling the mind of today’s concerned young adult.”

    • Kenny

      July 13, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      We Kill Germs at Our Peril
      ‘Missing Microbes’: How Antibiotics Can Do Harm
      APRIL 28, 2014

      “The discerning reader should not forget that the research he discusses is largely his own; we hear no dissenting voices or contradictory evidence, although much of the narrative remains scientifically hypothetical.”

      Blaser just sounds very much to me like we “know” that fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. Dean Ornish and McDougall are certain of it. Blaser might be right, probably so, but we need to be skeptical because we’ve been fooled before.

  4. tyrannocaster

    July 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I have to point out that you didn’t answer the question I asked in that first paragraph, LOL. The one that starts with “So do you disagree..”

    If Ornish, et al, claim that fat and cholesterol cause heart disease and they are wrong, then what the medical profession (and we, too, as a society) are doing is causing harm. Where is the harm in trying to reduce the use of antibiotics? I get that you disagree with Blaser’s presentation of data – we should always work with science that is verifiable and repeatable. But be careful that you don’t end up getting backed into supporting the industry view that “since this hasn’t been proved we are not going to accept it and we’re not going to act”. To me, it seems that if Blaser is wrong we have lost nothing by trying to restrict the use of these drugs, and if he is right (which I happen to believe, at least largely) what is the downside? You just can’t say that about Ornish, who I wish would drop off the map; I bet Steve Jobs might have a thing or two to say about him too, if he could.

    BTW, thanks for taking the time to comment on this issue, which think is an important one. I think it merits discussion.

    • Kenny

      July 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Okay, I’ll answer it since you insist. 😉

      I have no quibble with the CDC’s data on the overuse of antibiotics or that they kill good as well as bad bugs. My question is whether Blaser can actually prove this causes the modern plagues he asserts it does. I think there may be many causes, not just our gut bacteria being periodically wiped out. My point about epidemiology is that it cannot really determine cause and effect, only generate hypotheses that should then be tested.

      What have we got to lose by restricting the use of these drugs? People that could be cured from them will have less chance of getting them. So some may suffer more while we try to fix the larger problem of overuse and growing resistance.

      That may be a fair tradeoff, and the wise way to go.

  5. tyrannocaster

    July 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    The book does contain suggestions for ways to deal with this – it’s not just doomsaying. One of them which he advocates is targeted antibiotics to replace the broad spectrum drugs we now rely on, but as he points out, there is not as much profit incentive for pharma there, which is depressing. A lot of the roads to our present situation were paved by the pharmaceutical industry and I think this is one area where Blaser’s book shines.

    Also, consider this: Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were in something of the same place that Blaser is now when they tried to interest people in their idea that maybe ulcers could be treated with antibiotics, and we know how that turned out (Nobel prize); the conventional wisdom (or “sacred cow” as I have put it here) WAS wrong, just as it is with respect to LCHF. It’s interesting how Blaser talks about both edges of that ulcer/antibiotic sword in his book, too.


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