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May 30, 2009

The secret ingredient in Twinkies: Chinese petroleum

What Twinkies can teach us - Los Angeles Times

WHEN I began researching the ingredients for Twinkies, I naively thought that their raw materials were extracted from nuts, beans, fruit, seeds or leaves, and that they came from the United States. I was looking to link places with foods -- along the lines of California wine or Maine lobster, but for thiamine mononitrate. It turned out that I was way off.

Although eight of the ingredients in the beloved little snack cake come from domestic corn and three from soybeans, there are others -- including thiamine mononitrate -- that come from petroleum. Chinese petroleum. Chinese refineries and Chinese factories. And there are other unexpected ingredients that are much harder to trace. So much for the great "All-American" snack food.

. . .

Like many other industries, food additives have been off-shored. No major domestic vitamin or sorbic acid manufacturers remain in the U.S. Our last vitamin C plant closed in 2005 -- in fact, it closed as I was speaking to an employee about a tour -- and most of our artificial colors and flavors come from abroad as well. Our chemical industry is rapidly dismantling its expensive domestic plants and either forming joint ventures with Chinese companies or simply buying chemicals from them. This leads to lower food and pharmaceutical prices, but perhaps at the cost of quality control.

May 28, 2009

Psychiatrists considering bitterness as mental disorder

Bitterness as mental illness? - Los Angeles Times

You know them. I know them. And, increasingly, psychiatrists know them. People who feel they have been wronged by someone and are so bitter they can barely function other than to ruminate about their circumstances.

This behavior is so common -- and so deeply destructive -- that some psychiatrists are urging it be identified as a mental illness under the name post-traumatic embitterment disorder. The behavior was discussed before an enthusiastic audience last week at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Assn. in San Francisco.

The disorder is modeled after post-traumatic stress disorder because it too is a response to a trauma that endures. People with PTSD are left fearful and anxious. Embittered people are left seething for revenge.

May 25, 2009

Mexico City is sinking

Founded on water, dying of thirst | Homero Aridjis | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Mexico City is a prime example of unsustainable use of water resources. A huge percentage of waste and rain water literally goes down the drain, flowing through the deep drainage system, hailed in its time as an engineering marvel, to empty into distant rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. The Valley of Mexico, some 2,200 metres above sea level, is surrounded by high mountains. One fifth of the country's population lives and works here, in one of the world's largest and most populous cities.

About 70% of the city's water comes from the valley's aquifers. To make up the deficit, Mexico City is drinking up two rivers: the Lerma and the Cutzamala. A substantial fraction of the energy generated in the country is needed to pump the water from 120 kilometres away and up 1,200 metres to the city. As much as 40% of the water is lost to leaks in the aging distribution network and at points of use. Much of the infrastructure was built 80 years ago. Meanwhile downtown Mexico City is sinking, as the aquifers are drained. A costly project was recently completed to prop up the Metropolitan Cathedral, an imposing 16th century building on the zocalo, or main square.

May 23, 2009

The death of the Aral Sea

The Aral Sea Disappears: NASA Photos | EcoGeek - Clean Technology

In a series of dramatic photos, NASA has been able to capture the disappearance of the Aral Sea from space. In the 1960's Russia diverted water from several major rivers to irrigation projects for growing cotton and other crops. The result has been the complete destruction of one what was once the fourth largest inland sea in the world.

NASA's ability to document this entirely unprecedented event is not only fascinating, but it's a lesson to how quickly entire ecosystems (and the societies that rely on them) can collapse. The Aral sea was once surrounded by villages that relied on the Aral seas fisheries. Those towns are now all but deserted, and fishing boats sit on dry land.

May 20, 2009

Ida the missing-link fossil has a kick-ass Web site

LOL @ creationists. Revealing the Link - WelcomeIda is the...

Too much cola can be really bad for you

BBC NEWS | Health | Too much cola zaps muscle power

Excessive cola consumption can lead to anything from mild weakness to profound muscle paralysis, doctors are warning.

This is because the drink can cause blood potassium to drop dangerously low, they report in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

They tell of the curious case of an Australian ostrich farmer who needed emergency care for lung paralysis after drinking 4-10 litres of cola a day.

Another example included a pregnant woman who regularly consumed up to three litres a day for the last six years and complained of tiredness, appetite loss and persistent vomiting.