Causes and symptoms- the role of sport in good health.

14 Aug

Throughout the Olympic process, much was made of the “Olympic Legacy”- the idea that the pervasion of sport in the media and boosts in funding would lead to an uptake in sport participation amongst children. There’s also been a lot of talk about sport in schools- Boris Johnson advocates two compulsory hours per day, whereas Cameron’s position is a bit murky, but he certainly seems to favour pushing competitive sport in the curriculum.  I find the unbiquity of the notion that sport is essential to healthy living somewhat disquieting. The way I see it, it really isn’t.

First off, a definition. “Healthy”, for the purposes of this post, means not at increased risk of cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and other serious health concerns, as well as having a body that’s basically in good enough shape to be functional- obviously, disabilities and (genuine) accidents can deny this, but those aren’t preventable.  A well-developed musculature and stretchy hamstrings are not required to be healthy- they are luxuries for those that want them, not necessities.

With that in mind, what are the lifestyle choices that affect this state? I think most people would come up with the following list-

1: Sobriety. Putting a lot of toxins into your system is, of course, going to be detrimental in the long run, so not drinking excessively, smoking routinely, or taking any other drugs, is good for you.

2: Nutrition. You should ensure that you get all the substances you do need. So this means getting enough food overall, as well as getting the right vitamins and minerals (although people stress over this too much- take suplements only if you know you’re medically deficient in something, not because “more is better”!). Likewise, you shouldn’t take in too much fat, sugar, or salt, with the emphasis on “too much”. I doubt many people would suggest that a total cut-off is prudent, or at all feasible.

3: Exercise. Obesity is avoided by burning your excess energy, so that your body doesn’t store it as fat and clog up your blood vessels.

My phraseology probably made the next step in my reasoning entirely obvious, but here it is anyway. Not following points 1 and 2 is objectively, unconditionally, unheathy. If you drink too much, you’ll be at risk of alcoholism and sclerosis of the liver. There’s a whole range of malnutriotional disorders to which one could be exposed by failing to abide by point 2. Eating too much, or a disproportionately fatty diet, will cause you to put on weight, the dangers of which are well documented. What happens if you fail to perform number 3? You’ll gain weight, but only if you have excess fat to burn.

In other words, sport attacks the symptoms of bad health, rather than causing good health- it’s only important on the condition that you eat more than you should and factors in your day to day life (travel, fidgetting, warming up your body) aren’t able to make up the difference. People should feel free to enage in sport in an attempt to maintain a good BMI, but they should be aware that doing so is strictly as a replacement for making other lifestyle changes, and may be much less convenient or require greater willpower to follow through on if it isn’t actually enjoyed. Bringing it back to sport in schools, this is a move that would combat infant obesity rather than prevent it, and the government should, perhaps, be focusing on the latter.

That didn’t turn into the most profound of posts, but there you have it. It’s just what I happened to be thinking about today.

As ever, thanks for reading.

With great noblesse comes great obligation- a take on the GM debate.

11 Aug

A while back, when protesters picketed the open air test site for an aphid-repellent wheat strain at Rothamstead, the BBC ran a debate between a leading figure in the anti-GM movement and a man who is in charge of public understanding of science for either Oxford or Cambridge. It’s fair to say that the opposition guy did a much better job- he made a salient attack (that there is very little demand amongst UK farmers for GM crops) and pressed it, whilst the beleaguered science guy made some pretty shaky counterpoints that didn’t gain him any traction.

He wasn’t looking at the issue from the right angle, for his side of the debate. We in the occident have the luxury of choice in our approach to agri- and horticulture. My father, who grows vegetables in the garden, merrily blasts them with whichever pesticide he so chooses. However, someone in the same position who was not comfortable using such chemicals could choose not to and use alternative methods of pest control, likely also being succesful in their efforts. Even if their crop were to be destroyed by errant invertebrates, it would not be particularly cataclysmic. Likewise, at the industrial level, both certified organic and non-organic farms have access to effective methods of pest control and fertilisation. Essentially, no-one except for the well-resourced are reliant on a succesful crop.

This is not so in the developing world, where food supply is a serious concern, large sections of the land are uncultivable, and the only fertilizers available are the sort that punch holes in the ozone layer and/or give the soil a bad acid trip. This is where gene technology has application, and demand- being able to grow cereals in inhospitable climes, or having crops that defend themselves against phytophages, would legitimately save lives down the line. And we don’t just know it’s a possibility- we already know precisely how to do it.

It doesn’t answer every fear harboured by the opponents, but it is an argument that muddies the waters by giving what is seen by many as an unnecessary risk some unquestionably necessary rewards.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to disagree, with great vigour.

Standing on the shoulders of giants doesn’t mean you’re small.

10 Aug

I was going to write about whatever I saw on the news tonight, but the best runners running quickly and dressage being dressage didn’t seem particularly stimulating, so here’s a short post about Isaac Newton instead.

At some point in the fairly recent past, I was sung a litany of praise for the man by a friend of mine. This covered what one would expect of this, admittedly niche, genre- universal gravitation, differential calculus, the laws of motion, and how he was an incomparable genius and modern scientists might as well just be sitting around researching which kind of Fanta is the tastiest, compared to the greatness that was Newton (it’s Fruit Twist). The famous, meme-birthing video of Neil deGrasse Tyson contains pretty much the same content, as do any number of discussions on classical music, literature, philosophy and so on. Essentially, any field in which the old guard are venerated as vastly superior to the new.

My issue with this view is that it often hinges on the idea that laying down “the fundamentals”, be they the laws of motion, or of robotics, or euclidean geometry, makes the innovator in question inherently superior to all those who use said fundamentals. There are two flaws here- firstly, we cannot assume that the ingeniuty required to come up with “the rules” from scratch is necessarily greater than the ingenuity required to make significant interpolations within them. For example, is “The Great Train Robbery”, a film of 1903 known for its then pioneering cinematography, necessarily a greater opus than any of the embarrasment of “greatest films of all time” released since then (Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, uh… Terminator, whatever)?

The second flaw is a simple one. Consider this: Universal gravitation can only be discovered once. Who knows how many scientists since Newton were talented enough to make the observation? If Newton being the first makes him smarter than all who follow, then it looks like nobody will ever be graced with greater survivalist genius than the prehistoric culture that first discovered the synthesis of hunting and gathering.

Thanks for reading,


The Olympics- Vangelis, Geographical Inaccuracy, and Vexillophilia.

8 Aug

So obviously, the UK news media have been covering the olympics with all the heart and soul they can scrape together- even on the 24 hour channels, we’re presented with something like an 8:2:1 ratio of the games, Syria and House of Lords reform, respectively. The unusual level of focus placed on a sporting event has brought up a couple of annoyances which are normally kept mercifully scarce (if one avoids the sports section of newspapers, etc., of course). So, I’m going to complain about it for a bit.

As a disclaimer, I personally don’t care much for the Olympics. Partly because I don’t see any kind of racing as a suitable spectator sport, and partly because everyone else gets excited about it, which is positively venomous to an insufferable contrarian such as myself.

Anyway, grievance number one of two is the constant, overbearing nationalism. I will accept that people root for athletes from their own country, although I personally think the practice is absurd (that doesn’t sound very accepting, but whatever). All I ask of the throngs of people cheering on our finest in sports to which they normally pay not the blindest bit of attention is that they do it in a way that is not so overbearingly tacky. The phrase “Team GB” is thrown around like confetti in an explosion at a confetti factory, and aside from being inaccurate (even a fairly generous definition of “great britain” does not, to the best of my knowledge, include Northern Ireland or the crown dependencies), it just sounds childish to me, and, in a way, presumptuous. If I were a competitor, I would resent the implication that I was interested in winning “for my (?)country” any more than for my own sake.

Of course, the really visible element here is the massive overabundance of union jacks visible in every venue. I haven’t seen so many british flags since, frankly, birth. I searched for “BNP march” on google images and didn’t see anything close to such a concentration. Now, the union jack isn’t quite the same cultural phenomenon as, say, the stars and stripes. In my experience, you don’t really see it much outside of extremist political groups, gaudy clothing and potentially inebriated fans at international football matches. Well, it seems everyone has decided that “drunken football fan” (or possibly “right wing extremist”)  is exactly what they want to be until everyone packs up and leaves.

Those who’ve watched a few events will likely have noticed the music from “Chariots of Fire” playing during literally every medal ceremony. Whilst I would profer that this is egregious enough on its own merit, it’s really just a line ruled under a grander source of irritation, namely this- the media badly, badly wish that sports in real life worked just like they do in heartwarming films about an underdog athlete claiming the prize against all odds. Reporters will tell us , for example, that the oarsmen, buoyed by the support of the crowd, pulled through in the last stretch of the race, when in all probability they were simply slightly faster, more endurant or better paced than their opposition. Descriptions of athletes who claim gold range from overblown (“tears of ecstasy”, ect.), to the messianic levels of hero worship that erupt upon the appearance of Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton and so on. Prolific foreign athletes are, of course, met with significantly less fanfare.

Well, that’s my own personal olympic rant. I’d imagine there are plenty of those going around at the moment, though I haven’t checked. For the sake of maintaining some semblance of a reasonable length I’ll not go into the Badminton controversy, the relative weightings of the different sports and so on. I’m sure my positions on those can be extrapolated from the wall of whine above.

Thanks muchly for reading (?).


An Inaugural Post

6 Aug

Well then- a bit about myself, to begin with.

I’m a british student (though I also have an American citizenship on a technicality), and am currently at the ripe young age of 19, an awkward spot at which I have neither legitimacy in society nor the privilege of abdicating responsibility for my own wellbeing. I’m going through the motions at university, which is probably a topic best saved for its own post, as I’ve more than a few choice (used here in its traditional sense as a euphemism for bitter and unreasonable) words on the subject of education.

I chose to start a blog for a few reasons.

  1. I was unreasonably pleased with the wordplay for the title.
  2. Ranting into thin air is not as cathartic an experience as I had hoped.
  3. I enjoy writing, but can’t really see myself indulging the interest in a more professional capacity. A minor blog is about right.

I’m something of a perfectionist in terms of grammar and choice of words, so any like-minded readers should feel free to nitpick savagely. Fans of irony may appreciate the preposition left hanging out in the cold in the very first sentence.

As the blog’s title suggests, my aim here is to discuss current affairs from a position of perhaps less than total earnestness. I indulge in the standard range of nerdy hobbies, which may also creep in from time to time if I feel particularly fervent about a given issue. Naturally, all posts will be wildly opionated- a good shouting match is far healthier and more enjoyable than a round of mutual agreement, after all.

I’ll try and avoid any fallacious arguments unless used for “comic” effect.

I’ve no real aspirations here save for getting to stretch my typing fingers and maybe being read by a few people, so here’s to that, I suppose.