Monthly Archives: January 2019

A Sinister Life

I have spent a lifetime as a lefty in a right-handed world. Left-handedness appears naturally in about ten percent of the population across cultures and across time. The minority status of lefties has resulted in several negative descriptors. In Latin, right and left are dextra and sinistra. The Latin word for right gives us dexterity, and the word for left yields sinister. In French, left is gauche which we incorporated into English with a meaning of awkward or lacking in certain skills.

In my lifetime left-handedness has been suppressed by parents or teachers or at least made difficult. Regardless, a right hand dominated world has existed for eons. Cave Paintings dating back tens of thousands of years depict hunters brandishing their spears in the right hand. Going back hundreds of thousands of years, cut marks on bones from sites of human habitation show that the bone was held in the left hand and cut with the more “dexterous” right hand.

As longs as humans have been, well human, there is evidence of dominant right-handedness. Stone tools have been in use for over two million years. Examination of artifacts of tool preparation show handedness. The simplest of tools, a sharp flake of stone used for cutting is produced by striking one stone, the hammerstone, against another to chip off flakes. Archaic Hammerstones show chip marks that indicate the users were predominantly right-handed.

There are advantages and disadvantages to lefties. In both team and individual sports, lefties have an advantage because opponents have less experience playing against left-handers. On the tennis court and even more importantly at table tennis, slams from lefties come from the opposite side. The football spirals out of a left-handed quarterback in the opposite direction of the more common right-hander. Receivers who practice with left-handed quarterbacks have an advantage over defenders trying to intercept a ball spinning in a direction they aren’t used to. Curveballs from left-handed baseball pitchers break in the opposite direction.

Ah, but we aren’t all professional ball players, and that’s where the advantages may end. The disadvantages begin early in life. Every left-handed student knows the problems. The desks are wrong, the binders are wrong, scissors are wrong and on and on. Writing can be particularly troublesome for left-handed children if teachers aren’t sensitive. Many lefties end up with the “hooked” hand where the wrist is twisted clockwise and the grip of the pencil is close to the lead. This uncomfortable style can result in a certain degree of fatigue and even cramping.

More modern devices are no better: the computer mouse and numeric keypad are for the righty. Game controllers? Right-handed of course. Watch faces and even the clasps on bike helmets are right-handed.

More serious trouble occurs when more advanced tools, especially power tools, come into play. The more complex the tool, the greater the danger. Tools and all their safety features are designed for the majority. And safety is a big issue. There are more power tool injuries among lefties compared to righties. Speaking from personal experience, I have cut, bruised, or broken body parts from the use of right-handed tools. Or is it that I’m just gauche?

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

Trump’s Wall is Harmful

The number to undocumented aliens in the United States has been decreasing, not increasing over the past decade. The majority of Americans don’t see a need to spend billions of dollars more on border walls. Yet, the government of the wealthiest nation on the planet is closed for business over arguments to spend money on said wall. What would the harm be to go ahead and spend money on the wall, even if it isn’t necessary nor even wanted by the majority?

Aside from claiming some sort of crisis where none exists, there is the negative impact on the environment. A recent scientific article published in Bioscience and endorsed by over 2,700 scientists lays out the case for opposing the wall.

The border between Mexico and the United states is in total 3,200 kilometers, about 2000 miles. As recently as January 15, William Barr, nominee for Attorney General said before the Senate Judiciary Committee that building a piece of wall here or there will only shift illegal traffic to those locales without a wall. If a wall is to have any effect it must be continuous from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. But even pieces of walls, fences, etc. has a negative effect on the movement of wildlife.

The borderlands region is home to over 1500 species of plants and animals, including 62 species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN.) Construction of any physical barrier entails not just the barrier itself but supporting structures such as roads, lighting, and operational bases. This disrupts the environment, destroys local vegetation, fragments the habitat. The one factor most critical in loss of biodiversity is loss of habitat.

In 2005 the Department of Homeland Security was given authority to override traditional laws protecting the environment, laws such as the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA.) Without these protections wall construction will run roughshod across what is otherwise pristine environments.

Many large mammals normally migrate across the border to and from breeding grounds and overwintering sites. These include both predator and prey species: bighorn sheep, gray wolf, pronghorn antelope, ocelot, and jaguar all have populations on both sides of the border. A wall would isolate and thereby fragment these population to the degree that they may not survive. Even more numerous impacted species are smaller mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and crustaceans.

Millions of acres of borderlands in the United States and Mexico are managed explicitly for biodiversity. Wall construction would disrupt bilateral agreements with Mexico in the Sonoran desert, Sky Islands region, Big Bend, and the lower Rio Grande.

If physical barriers are absolutely needed, they need to take into account the native biosphere. The barriers need to be constructed so that they are somehow permeable to movements of wildlife. Haste in construction is the enemy of biodiversity. Where construction must occur it should be done with thorough planning to avoid negative effects. In some cases it may be necessary to forego any barrier construction.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

Nutritional Supplement Scams

This is the time for New Year’s resolutions and many resolve to do better with their health. Diet and exercise changes are frequently at the top of lists of resolutions. One shortcut to better health may be achieved via nutritional supplements, but do they really work?

In 1994, Orin Hatch, Republican of Utah introduced and got passed the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA.) Before this act, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversaw the regulation of essentially anything sold that made health claims. Oversight was in the form of requiring proof of efficacy – does it really do what it claims to do. Appropriate, properly controlled studies were needed to support any claims of beneficial health effects.

DSHEA created a loophole by allowing a new category of products, dietary supplements, which henceforth would not require any proof of efficacy. Marketers can now define their product as a dietary supplement, not a drug, and thereby escape any oversight by the FDA. Currently, dietary supplements is a forty billion dollar market, growing at five to ten percent per year. Over half the adult population take some sort of dietary supplements.

Claims of effectiveness are made for the supplements generally through testimonials or vague statements of some testing. None of these need be true! When it comes to supplements, caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.” Actually, the Federal Trade Commission does examine claims for truthfulness. Hence, you will see untestable claims like the nostrum “supports” heart health or memory or some such.

One popular dietary supplement, fish oil capsules, are used daily by eight percent of the adult population of the United States. The fish oil market came about with the recommendations of the American Heart Association. The AHA suggested that fish oil supplementation is beneficial for those with existing cardiovascular disease. It was also recommended to reduce the risk of cancer. The fish oil industry took this recommendation and pitched it to the general population as a way to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tested this hypothesis. A prospective, placebo-controlled study with 26,000 subjects over the age of fifty was conducted. After five years there was no evidence of beneficial health effects, neither reduced rates of cancer nor cardiovascular disease.

Another common supplement, the combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate, is used by many for joint pain, especially weight-bearing joints like knees and hips. The evidence of beneficial effects is variable and limited. Dosage and quality of these agents vary from brand to brand and may account for the variance. The American College of Rheumatology does not recommend the use of Glucosamine/Chondrotin supplements.

Literally thousands of supplements are sold, the effectiveness of which is mostly unproven. Marketing via testimonials and improperly or uncontrolled studies can not provide evidence of efficacy. Whereas a healthier diet and more exercise are well proven to improve health, dietary supplements are not.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.

Buffalo River Hog Farm Update

Back in November, many applauded the decision of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to deny the permit which allows the C&H Hog Farm to operate in Mt Judea. The site is just a few miles upstream of the Buffalo National River. The denial of the permit means that the farm should cease operations within 30 days. But not so fast. Everything is back in court, a couple courts actually.

First the briefest of backgrounds. The farm was permitted in 2012 to hold 6,500 hogs and spread annually their feces and urine on a few hundred acres of hay fields adjacent to Big Creek. It drains downstream about six miles to its confluence with the Buffalo National River where every year several million people canoe swim, fish, hike, camp and generally recreate. And there is the problem, can these activities coexist? Yes, we need places to recreate and places to raise hogs, but can’t we figure out how to do these things in separate places? My guess it is a lot easier to move a hog farm than move the nation’s first national river.

The original permit allowing the farm to operate had certain flaws so when it expired the farm had to request a new permit. On Jan 10, 2018, the ADEQ offered up a draft denial of C&H hog farm’s request for a Regulation 5 permit to operate; however, they allowed the farm to operate before a final ruling following a public comment period. On November 19, they formally denied the permit.

C&H then went to a local district judge in Jasper and got a ruling to stay the denial and allow the farm to operate while on appeal. Subsequently, the Judge denied the ADEQ and intervenors to dismiss the stay so the farm will continue to operate while battles continue in the courts. Time will tell if ultimately the ADEQ decision to deny the permit will prevail. We should trust the judgment of the scientists and engineers at ADEQ and its oversight body, the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission which oversees the actions of the ADEQ.

Now enters another player, stage right. Biennial law making starts up next January. Our ledge is quick to take on anything in their purview and they are the lawmakers and budget determiners so just about anything is game. Recall they got into a fight and threatened the budget of the supreme court for a ruling they didn’t like about a ballot issue.

Rumor has it that certain powers are preparing legislation to weaken the requirements for siting Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs.) Legislative mischief in this case could do considerable damage to our natural environment in an effort to keep the farm in business. Other legislation could weaken air and water quality standards which would impact everywhere in the state. Or they may strengthen the “right to farm” legislation so farms could not be regulated to protect the natural environment. Hold on to your hats, or canoes, or hiking boots. The environment of the Natural State may be in for a rough ride.

Agriculture and tourism are the two biggest industries in the state. We all need to work to ensure that both prosper and that neither gets in the way of the other.

Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University