Monthly Archives: April 2016

Don’t swat that fly, it may have a conscience!

Are insects conscious? Are they aware of what is going on around them? Apparently some scientists and some philosophers are toying with this idea. It seems that now, the question is not whether these insects have some sort of consciousness, but where does this end. Some scientists believe that there could be various degrees of consciousness.

It is possible that at the basic level there is simply awareness. For example, a robot vacuum responds to information from the external world but it does not feel anything. This basic awareness may be present in the honeybee.

There are strong reasons for this argument. In part of the human brain there is something called the mid-brain and this area of the brain gives someone basic awareness of its surroundings. The insect brain does the exact same thing as the mid-brain in humans, absorbing information of the external world and sending it to the body where it can organize and act.

There could be far reaching consequences if this theory is correct; it would mean that a robot built with artificial intelligence that can integrate sensory data, memory and body awareness would have the capacity for a minimal amount of consciousness.

In the case of the honeybee, it has about one million neurons while plants do not have what it takes for consciousness. The brains of bees and flies have circuitry that is denser than the celebrated neocortex which is central to human thinking. The implication is that the honeybee may have a low form of awareness.

Other scientists thinks that the argument is possible but argue that there could be several kinds of awareness, and that insects may be aware of motion but not for feeling pain, unlike the octopus and the crab.

In short, insects may have a subjective experience of what they area but without ethical considerations. Next time you see a fly, think that it may be pondering what you are, and what that big hand of yours is about to do. Or not. They may simply register an object that is about to land on their head and not connect the dots, that a smack on the head equals oblivion.

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How green are fish farms?

I always thought that eating fish was better for the environment, at least much better than meat. It now seems that in the case of fish farms it may not always be the case. At the very least, fish farms may make fish less healthy to eat as well as having a negative impact on the environment.

The problem is this; the feed given to the fish in these farms is often other fish that had been fished in the wild. Most farmed fish in Canada are fish such as the Atlantic salmon and these are carnivores. The feed given to them is usually other fish as well as fish oil. Many environmental organizations have said that these wild fishes could be used to feed people and that this practice was unsustainable in the long run.

Most scientists would agree that if the feed for these farm fishes come from plant based ingredients it is a good thing, in theory. In practice, the environmental footprint gets larger as the scale needed to furnish those fish farms grow larger.

As a consumer of fish, the worst aspect of this change of diets for the fish is that the healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the fish could be reduced and make fish such as salmon less tasty as well as less healthy.

Now salmon farmers are aware of this problem and are trying to avoid it but for fish that are omnivorous such as Tilapia that already eat more plant material this could mean that they would end up with even less omega-3.

The best advice given to consumers seems to eat a variety of seafood and to demand that the fish that we eat has been fished in a sustainable way, whether it comes from a farm or fished. Still, lets not forget that even if these fish farms might do more harm to the environment, it would still be far less that the raising of livestock such as beef and its heavy demand on water resources. In fact, most people agree that if one industry should be favoured if they use plant-based ingredients in its feed then it should be the fish farms.

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The Panama papers.

By now most people have heard about the Panama papers. For those who have been living in a cave this week here is a summary; someone got into the private accounts of a firm called Mossack Fonseca and took 11.5 million files. It basically shows how the financial elite exploit a secretive system to move money around so that it cannot be taxed using shell companies offshore.

Of course one should be careful as the use of offshore companies is not illegal. What is illegal is not reporting the money to the tax man. At least in Canada, that is how it is. Unfortunately there is the suspicion that if you create an offshore company it is necessarily because you want to evade paying your taxes.

But despite this reminder, should we be surprised that the rich and famous want to evade taxes? We all knew surely that the 1% always played by different rules than the rest of us, the ordinary citizens who pay taxes. And if someone believed that the rich pay taxes like ordinary folks then surely they deserve to be fleeced by the tax man to the highest degree.

Already there has been fallout in the political arena; the Prime Minister of Iceland had to resign when he admitted that his wife had established a shell company in Panama. One would presume of course that it was for both of them. Even David Cameron of Great Britain had to admit that he profited from a fund established in Panama by his late father. He did specify that he sold it in 2010 before he entered politics. There is now a movement on Twitter that asks him to resign. He should. After all, it is quite immoral to profit from this even if one did not set it up. Especially as he himself has railed against these offshore havens.

It seems that the journalists who are poring over these documents have said that more names will come out. The more the better in my opinion. But one must remember that being named in these papers is not as if one is guilty of anything. I assume that the tax man in other democratic countries will be quite interested in those names and will thoroughly investigate them. That is a given. As for those people who live in countries that are not democratic like Saudi Arabia, they will simply continue to siphon off the wealth of their country. Nothing will change, except perhaps that this shaming will make them extra careful in the future.

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Living wage vs minimum wage.

More and more in the news we are hearing a debate between these two ideas; between earning a living wage as opposed to a minimum wage. There is a big difference between the two.

A living wage is defined as the minimum hourly wage that must be earned by two people in a family of four in order to meet their basic needs. This wage only reflects the real cost of living and is based on actual expenses with no extravagant expenses. One cannot plan a retirement on such a living wage.

A legal minimum wage is one mandated by law that forces companies to pay a certain hourly rate irrespective if that hourly rate meets the real cost of living. Obviously, living in a large city might be more costly than living in a small town for example. None of these differences are reflected in a mandated mimimum wage. This is why people sometimes speak about the working poor, people who work at mimimum wage or just above it and yet have trouble meeting their financial responsabilities.

One way to fight poverty is precisely by having workers earn a living wage, one where they just not only survive but one where they can thrive and meet all their financial responsabilities. More and more companies are joining associations that promote the living wage and these companies in turn offer higher wages to its employees voluntarily. No need for coercion by governments using the legislative route.

I for one applaud these initatives. I always feel bad when I enter a fast-food joint knowing full well that the people on the other side of the counter, fellow human beings as I, are paid just barely over the minimum required by law. These companies sell franchises to others but in return the people buying these franchises must respect the rule book of the company. A fast-food worker earning 15$/hour? God forbid….

In my own small way I have decided to chip in; I will not eat in a fast-food joint that operates in the above fashion, by paying people as little as possible and making money of the sweat of these employees. We should all take a stand and if everyone did that companies would react as the bottom line would be adversely affected. Let’s raise the standards for everyone. Because we are all human beings, not slaves.

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