Why Your Doctor Is Clueless About Diet

Because, despite decades of government recommendations telling us what kind of diet we should eat (a low-fat, high-carb, grain-heavy one), there is actually very little science to support such claims:

Quoting The New York Times:

“We don’t know what the best diet is,” said Dr. Michael Lauer... When it comes to diet and heart disease, doctors -- and patients -- have been going on hunches. [...]

“Diets are an extreme case of accepting evidence we want to believe,” said Dr. J. Sanford Schwartz, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

That includes doctors, he added, who overlook that the evidence for the low-fat diets they often recommend is the sort “we would never accept in the practice of medicine.”

Those low-fat diets sound sensible -- eat fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meats.  Cut back on salt- and sugar-laden sodas and potato chips.  Cut or sharply limit most fats, including olive oil and nuts.  But such diets have not been tested in the way the Mediterranean diet was tested.

Doctors are in a bind, said Dr. Daniel J. Rader, a heart disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.  When patients ask what to eat, he said, “you have to give them something.”

“Given the importance of diets and given the decades of dietary recommendations we have given to people, you would think we would have had more dietary studies with hard endpoints to get at these questions,” Dr. Rader said.  But the best they have are studies that look at intermediate markers of risk, like cholesterol levels.  In the end, he said, “most doctors just give dietary platitudes.”

Actually, it’s worse than that: because the government decided to start giving out dietary advice before there was solid scientific evidence to support that advice, they now have a vested interest in keeping that narrative going even in the face of evidence against it, since the government can’t admit when it has made a mistake.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Real Cause of Our Health Care Problems (Or: How Bureaucrats Destroy Industries)

Steven Brill just published a long article called Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us.  It’s a good article and worth reading, despite being far too long at 11 pages.  There’s so much repetition that it probably could have been 5 pages instead, and it’d be a better piece for it.

It’s surprising to me, though, that the author fails to identify (or at least, fails to state) what is the clear cause of the outrageously expensive medical bills that he details in the article’s several anecdotes.

He spends a lot of time pointing out exactly how much profit is being accumulated by many "non-profit" hospitals, and how much they are paying to their executives and administrators.  It’s the same as the situation with "non-profit" colleges and universities: the term non-profit is purely a marketing term, and a deceptive one at that, since hospitals, colleges, and universities are among the richest organizations in the country.  They are making tons of profit -- tens of millions of dollars per year in many cases -- they just aren’t structured in a way that it gets distributed to shareholders.

The problem is that medical bills are insanely inflated, and the implication seems to be that the cause is these rich fatcats running the hospitals -- or at the very least, those rich fatcats are evil even if they aren’t actually the cause.

The author correctly identifies chargemaster prices as part of the problem.  He gives many examples of chargemaster highway robbery, such as pills or alcohol wipes that cost several dollars each in the hospital even though their actual price in the free market is pennies each.  And he recounts how administrator after administrator was unable to explain to him exactly where the chargemaster prices come from or why they’re so high.

He also goes into detail about Medicare and private insurance and their strengths and weaknesses, including how a lot of insurance is limited to a few thousand dollars of coverage while medical bills routinely reach tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands.

Despite all the good reporting and detail provided on these many aspects of our health care system, nowhere does the author state the simple economic fact that is at the root of the problem: the decoupling of the customer from the payment.  In other words, the person receiving the service is not the person who pays the bill.

Whenever you insert a third party between a buyer and a seller, whether that third party is an insurer or the government, the result is an interruption of the price signal and a distortion of the market.  In many cases this leads to a bubble, as we’ve seen in housing and higher education.  When "someone else" is paying the bill, the buyer has no incentive to care about the price, which means that the seller -- whose goal is profit, after all -- will raise prices.

So when the government pumps billions of dollars into the housing market to "make housing affordable", the actual result is that prices skyrocket until the market is destroyed.  When the government pumps billions of dollars into higher ed to "make college affordable", the actual result is, again, skyrocketing prices as the bubble inflates.  And "making health care affordable", as Obamacare purports to do, by making it "free" for many people, outlawing copays, etc, will again in fact cause the opposite to occur: it will get more expensive.

There are many problems in the U.S. health care system, but none are more important or more fundamental than this one.  Hospitals, drug companies, and medical device makers can only charge outrageous prices because patients don’t pay them directly.  Further decoupling the patients from the prices will exacerbate the problem, not solve it.

The failure of politicians to understand this most basic economic principle has led to massive damage and suffering in our health care, housing, and education markets.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Obama's Agenda: To Fundamentally Transform America

Quoting Daniel Henninger:

Last year, Mr. Obama began to be criticized by some of his supporters for being insufficiently transformative while holding the powers of the presidency -- this despite passing the biggest social entitlement since 1965, an $800 billion stimulus bill, raising federal spending to 24% of GDP and passing the Dodd-Frank restructuring of the U.S. financial industry.  Naturally an interviewer this week asked Mr. Obama why he hadn’t been more "transformative."  The president replied that he deserved a second term, because "we’re not done."  In term two, it will be Uncle Sam, Transformer. [...]

The question raised by the Catholic Church’s battle with ObamaCare is whether anyone can remain free of a U.S. government determined to do what it wants to do, at whatever cost. ... Anyone who signs up for more of this deal by assuming that it will never force them to fall into line is getting what they deserve.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Inanity of Blaming Your Problems on Businesses

These Occupy Wall Street kids are really upset that, after taking out loans, you have to pay them back; that sometimes the only jobs available pay less than you’d like; and worst of all, that some Americans make more money than you do.  It’s a laundry list of typical far-left complaints, mostly absurd and therefore not worth paying much attention to, except when the complainants flock together and start blocking traffic.

Of course anyone with half a brain can see that it’s all a lot of misdirected hostility:

Quoting Doug Mataconis:

This "corporations run the government" meme has been around since the 1970s, and it’s no more true now than it was then.  As Rick Moran points out, if corporations really ran the government would we have an EPA, OSHA, SEC, the EEOC, the FHA, the Department of Labor, or any of the other number of state and federal agencies that regulate corporate behavior?  If corporations truly "ran" the government, then why would any of these organizations exist?

Corporations do influence the government, of course.  But then so do labor unions, the legal profession, the medical profession, special interest groups based on one form of racial or ethnic grievance or another, and lobbying interests ranging from Iowa corn to Texas oil.  The problem isn’t corporations, the problem is that we have a government that has its fingers in nearly every aspect of the economy.  That means that policy makers have the ability to pick economic winners and losers every day, and it’s only natural that those policies would be of concern to the people that they’re going to impact most directly, the businesses affected by them.  That’s lobbying and petitioning the government for redress of grievances, not "running the government."  This kind of reflexive anti-business mentality seems to be quite common in some sectors of society, but it has little basis in reality and seems firmly entrenched in resentment and envy rather than an honest examination of the country’s political system.

If you’re mad about the bailouts, then you march on the corrupt government that distributed them, not on the businesses that received them.  The too-big-to-fail businesses -- including banks and automakers -- should have been allowed to fail; the fact that they were instead bailed out represents a problem in the government, not in the businesses.  It’s idiocy to expect a failing business to not accept a handout.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Ricky Gervais: I Have No Balls

Here’s Ricky Gervais on the cover of some magazine, attempting to look jaded or tough or something, while mocking Christianity:

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Scrawled across his chest are the words "I have no balls."  Well, he thinks it says "Atheist."  But considering that mocking Jesus is about the safest, most politically correct, and least original thing that anyone could do, it’s clear what the real message is.  Yawn.  Call us back when you grow a pair and start mocking Muhammad.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Normal Condition of Man

Quoting Robert Heinlein:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man.  Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded -- here and there, now and then -- are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people.  Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as "bad luck."

This is worth remembering, as president Obama continues his foolish and dangerous class-warfare rhetoric about how "the rich" aren’t doing their fair share.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Obama's Speech: So Full of Lies

It’s infuriating to hear the president state so many things that are so misleading or outright false.

Quoting Barack Obama:

In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus.  But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts

Tax cuts are not spending.  When you confiscate money from the people, then give a portion of that money back to the people, you haven’t "spent" anything.

Quoting Barack Obama:

To make matters worse, the recession meant that there was less money coming in, and it required us to spend even more – on tax cuts for middle-class families; on unemployment insurance; on aid to states so we could prevent more teachers and firefighters and police officers from being laid off.

When a liberal brings up "cops and firemen and teachers", it means there’s a load of BS coming your way.  By "prevent [them] from being laid off" what he means is "keep them rolling in their outrageously lavish pensions", because the truth is that that’s where the vast majority of the bankrupt states’ money is going: to pensions that they can’t afford to pay, but can’t adjust because of union BS.

Quoting Barack Obama:

This balanced approach asks everyone to give a little without requiring anyone to sacrifice too much.

False.  Half of the country pays ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in federal income taxes, and you aren’t asking them to start paying their fair share.

Quoting Barack Obama:

The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach – an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all.

False.  The wealthiest Americans ALREADY pay the vast majority of the taxes in this country.  But apparently, to Barack "Social Justice" Obama, confiscating anything less than 100% of these evil successful Americans’ wealth means that they are "not contributing anything at all".

Quoting Barack Obama:

We all want a government that lives within its means

False.  The government itself clearly does not want the government to "live within its means".  If it did, it wouldn’t be continually growing, always hiring more government workers, and never firing any of them.

Quoting Barack Obama:

Keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98% of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all.  None.

OK you delusional nutcase, which is it?  Is it "balanced", or are 98% of Americans not going see their taxes increase at all?

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Stimulus for Tax Cheats

In a piece about yet another massive failure by the government, Doc Zero provides this concise observation about the absurd hypocrisy of government spending:

Quoting John Hayward:

It’s funny how spending is always such an urgent business that we can’t even read the legislation, or carefully investigate the individuals and corporations we are compelled to subsidize.  On the other hand, even the smallest spending reduction is an agonizing process which stretches out for months, while Democrats denounce budget cutters as heartless monsters who want to kill as many women and elderly people as they can.

Which reminds me of a bumper-sticker I saw yesterday: "Liberalism: such a good idea, it has to be mandated."

Posted by Anthony on reply

Global Warming Nuts Take a Page From The Anti-Fat Fanatics' Playbook

When you’re wrong on the science, don’t despair; you can always turn to the government to force your views on the public.  Hey, it worked for the anti-fat fanatics.

Quoting Roger E. Sowell:

A group of attorneys using children and young adults as plaintiffs plans to file legal actions in every state and the District of Columbia on Wednesday in an effort to force government intervention on climate change. [...]

The second point, regarding the harm being fairly traceable to the defendant’s actions, is a great sticking point.  Here, plaintiffs must show that increases in CO2 are causing and will cause the dire events that are predicted.  "Fairly traceable" means that there is a direct cause-and-effect that can be discerned.  This will be where the fun begins, as each side trots out their experts and makes their case.  The fact that CO2 has risen over the past 50 years, yet none of the dire events have occurred, surely will not be overlooked by the defense attorneys.  The facts that CO2 continues to rise, and the global and regional temperatures are falling, and the ocean levels are falling, and the ocean temperatures are falling, also will surely be emphasized by the defense attorneys.

Posted by Anthony on reply

What Really Causes Heart Disease

Quoting Chris Kresser:

Let’s just make this crystal clear: 9 out of 10 cases of heart disease are completely preventable without drugs.  With sales of statin drugs reaching close to $30 billion this year with Lipitor alone bringing in close to $14 billion, this might come as some surprise.  But the pharmaceutical companies are, quite literally, invested in people taking their cholesterol-lowering drugs in spite of the complete lack of evidence that lowering cholesterol prevents heart disease.

In order to understand the changes we need to make to prevent heart disease, we have to briefly examine what causes it.  By now you know that the answer is not "cholesterol".  In fact, as I mentioned briefly in last week’s article, the two primary contributing mechanisms to heart disease are inflammation and oxidative damage. [...]

Over the past century we’ve seen a consistent decline in the consumption of traditional, nutrient-dense foods in favor of highly processed, nutrient-depleted products.  The flawed hypothesis that cholesterol causes heart disease has wrongly identified health-promoting foods like meat, organ meats, eggs and dairy products as harmful, and replaced them with toxic, processed alternatives... The average American gets 57% of his/her calories from highly refined cereal grains and polyunsaturated (PUFA) oils.  The #3 source of calories, behind grains and PUFA, is sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.  Refined grains, polyunsaturated oils and sugar are all major contributors to both inflammation and oxidative damage.

Not only do refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils and sugar contribute to inflammation and oxidative damage, they are also completely devoid of micronutrients that would protect us from these processes.  Meats, fruits and vegetables are all high in antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage, and rich in other micronutrients that play important roles in preventing heart disease.

If you only follow one health-related website, make it The Healthy Skeptic.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Why The USDA Dietary Guidelines Are So Screwed Up

Nice piece by Tom Naughton (the creator of the Fat Head DVD) on one of the many failures of big government:

Quoting Tom Naughton:

When government steps in, spontaneous order and the wisdom of crowds is replaced with centralized control.  Imagine what would happen if we were all required by law to shop at Uncle Sam’s Grocery Emporium.  Since space is limited even in the largest stores, there would be endless battles over what Uncle Sam’s should put on the shelves.  The vegans would demand more plants-only foods.  The Weston A. Price fans would demand more grass-fed meats and dairy.  The organic crowd would want organic produce, while the cost-conscious shoppers would protest that organic foods are too expensive.  Lobbyists would make a killing trying to influence Uncle Sam’s management.

That’s essentially what’s happening with the USDA Dietary Guidelines now.  The Weston A. Price Foundation is angry because the USDA warns us to avoid saturated fats.  The vegan wackos at The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine are suing the USDA for warning us about saturated without also (I’m not kidding here) telling us specifically to stop eating meat, eggs and dairy products.

Nobody’s happy, and nobody’s going to win.  The battle will go on forever, when it shouldn’t have been fought at all.  But now we have to fight, because the USDA has taken it upon itself to tell my daughters’ school it can only serve 1% or skim milk.  We were even instructed to include a grain food in the lunch my younger daughter brought from home on the day the government inspectors were visiting her preschool.

Pretty please, stop and think about that for a second: a little group of experts in Washington, D.C. is telling a preschool in Franklin, Tennessee what foods the parents must put in their children’s lunches if the school wants to stay out of trouble.  If that doesn’t blow your mind (and scare you just a little), something’s wrong.

Posted by Anthony on reply

A Nation of Takers

Quoting Stephen Moore:

More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.  We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers.  Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees.  Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills? [...]

One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence.  In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment.  It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we’ve gotten.

Most reasonable steps to restrain public-sector employment costs are smothered by the unions.  Study after study has shown that states and cities could shave 20% to 40% off the cost of many services--fire fighting, public transportation, garbage collection, administrative functions, even prison operations--through competitive contracting to private providers.  But unions have blocked many of those efforts.  Public employees maintain that they are underpaid relative to equally qualified private-sector workers, yet they are deathly afraid of competitive bidding for government services.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Quoting George Monbiot:

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami.  The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system.  The reactors began to explode and melt down.  The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting.  Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

My favorite response from the anti-nuclear enviro-wackos is the statement that this is "worse than Three Mile Island."  It’s hard not to be worse than Three Mile Island considering that there were virtually no ill effects whatsoever from that incident.

These plants have survived operator errors and the worst natural disasters because they were designed well -- fifty years ago.  Just imagine how much better off America would be if we could actually build some new nuclear plants, using the newer and much-improved designs, instead of relying on dirty fossil fuels and foreign nations for so much of our energy.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

The Unions vs the Greedy Capitalists

Though it pains me to say it, because I generally find her to be irritating at best, Ann Coulter is right-on in her "Look For the Union Fable" article:

Quoting Ann Coulter:

The need for a union comes down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money?  In the private sector, the answer is yes.  In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.

Government unions have nothing in common with private sector unions because they don’t have hostile management on the other side of the bargaining table.  To the contrary, the "bosses" of government employees are co-conspirators with them in bilking the taxpayers.

Far from being careful stewards of the taxpayers’ money, politicians are on the same side of the bargaining table as government employees -- against the taxpayers, who aren’t allowed to be part of the negotiation.  This is why the head of New York’s largest public union in the mid-’70s, Victor Gotbaum, gloated, "We have the ability to elect our own boss."

Democratic politicians don’t think of themselves as "management."  They don’t respond to union demands for more money by saying, "Are you kidding me?"  They say, "Great -- get me a raise too!"

Democrats buy the votes of government workers with generous pay packages and benefits -- paid for by someone else -- and then expect a kickback from the unions in the form of hefty campaign donations, rent-a-mobs and questionable union political activity when they run for re-election. [...]

Anytime there is the slightest suggestion that perhaps in the middle of a deep recession, public school teachers should pay 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their extravagant health care plans for their entire families, suddenly we get television ads of hard-working men doing dangerous jobs on docks and in foundries while being abused by their greedy capitalist overseers.

The unions must be desperately hoping that no one will notice ... Wait a minute!  WE’RE TALKING ABOUT TEACHERS!  This isn’t the Discovery Channel’s "Dirty Jobs" -- it’s Mrs. Cooper’s seventh-grade "values clarification" class. [...]

But government workers think the job of everyone else in the economy is to protect their high salaries, crazy work rules and obscene pensions.  They self-righteously lecture us about public service, the children, a "living wage" -- all in the service of squeezing more money from the taxpayer to fund their breathtakingly selfish job arrangements.

There’s never a recession if you work for the government.  The counties with the highest per capita income aren’t near New York City or Los Angeles -- they’re in the Washington, D.C., area -- a one-company town where the company is the government.  The three counties with the highest incomes in the entire country are all suburbs of Washington.  Eleven of the 25 counties with the highest incomes are near Washington.

For decades now, the Democrats have had a good gig buying the votes of government workers with outrageous salaries, benefits and work rules -- and then sticking productive earners with the bill.  But, now, we’re out of money, no matter how long Wisconsin Democrats hide out in Illinois.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Unions Guarantee Good Jobs for Bad Teachers

Quoting The Wall Street Journal:

The steep deficits that states now face mean that teacher layoffs this year are unavoidable.  Parents understandably want the best teachers spared.  Yet in 14 states it is illegal for schools to consider anything other than a teacher’s length of service when making layoff decisions... "Fourteen states have these rules but about 40% of all teachers work in those states, and they’re the states with the biggest budget deficits."  In addition to New York, the list includes California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The unions that support these laws insist that seniority is the only "fair" way to reduce the teaching work force... [but] "only about 20% of the teachers who have the least seniority are also among the least effective teachers in a district.  About 80% of the time, there’s a teacher who’s worse that you could have laid off but didn’t because they had more seniority."

Suck the taxpayers dry, and screw the kids.  It’s the union way.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Hipster Qaddafi

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Hipster Qaddafi comes with everything you see here!!

Actually wait, is that Qaddafi, or is it Bono?

Posted by Anthony on reply

Public-Sector Unions: the Definition of Corruption

This is another one of those concepts that modern Democrats just can’t seem to grasp, whereas their liberal heroes from decades ago understood it quite clearly:

Quoting James Sherk:

"It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government."

That wasn’t Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul, or Ronald Reagan talking.  That was George Meany -- the former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O -- in 1955.  Government unions are unremarkable today, but the labor movement once thought the idea absurd.

The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create.  Government workers, however, don’t generate profits.  They merely negotiate for more tax money.  When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers.  F.D.R. considered this "unthinkable and intolerable." ... Public sector unions insist on laws that serve their interests -- at the expense of the common good.

Public-sector unions are a clear-cut and blindingly obvious case of conflict of interest.  The government is supposed to provide services to the people in a cost-effective way, providing what’s necessary while extracting the least possible amount of money out of taxpayers.  The goal of a union is precisely the opposite: to extract as much money as possible out of the organization that it feeds on.

In the private sector, unions actually do work to some extent, because there is a built-in check on the union’s power: namely that the business or industry in question will go bankrupt when the union gets too greedy.  But in the public sector, the organization that the union is feeding on is the government itself -- funded by the taxpayers, the very people whose money they’re supposed to be spending frugally.  The union goal of enriching its members is in direct opposition to the government’s goal of not bankrupting the taxpayers and the nation.

Of course, bankrupting the nation is precisely what these public-sector unions are currently doing.  Cities and states nationwide are drowning in hundreds of billions of dollars of debt and unfunded liabilities, consisting largely of absurdly generous and entirely unrealistic public pensions.

The other reason that private-sector unions can (in theory) work is that the two parties in the negotiations are actually two separate parties with opposing goals: the union wants to consume as much of the company’s profits as possible, whereas the company wants to give the union as little as possible.  In contrast, public-sector unions consist of government employees negotiating with... other government employees, all of whom want to increase their pay as much as possible at the expense of the taxpayers, who have no voice in the negotiations.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Obama's Brilliant Economists

Quoting Victor Davis Hanson:

In 2009, brilliant economists in the Obama administration -- Peter Orszag, Larry Summers and Christina Romer -- assured us that record trillion-plus budget deficits were critical to prevent stalled growth and 10 percent unemployment.  For nearly two years we have experienced both, but now with an addition $3 trillion in national debt.  All three have quietly either returned to academia or Wall Street. [...]

The public might have better believed the deficit nostrums of former budget director Peter Orszag had he not retired after less than two years on the job to position himself for a multimillion-dollar billet at Citigroup -- itself a recent recipient of some $25 billion in government bailout funds.

Because it’s not enough to destroy the economy and blow up the national debt; to be a truly successful politician, you’ve got to take advantage of the situation and derive millions of dollars in personal profit from it.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Eating Fat Is Not Bad For You

This is one of those things that’s seemed vaguely obvious to me for a long time.  It never made any sense when so-called experts -- who generally turn out to be government stooges -- released grand statements claiming that natural foods like meat, eggs, milk, and butter were unhealthy.  The other day I came across a video that kind of pulled it all together.

The video is called Big Fat Fiasco (that link goes to part 1; you’ll see links to the subsequent parts after it’s over) and it was very interesting and informative.  The video’s creator, Tom Naughton, explains how the whole eating-fat-is-bad-for-you concept was created largely by a single scientist named Ancel Keys.  Keys had to throw out most of his data in order to reach the conclusion that he had previously decided was correct -- that eating fat is bad and causes heart disease.  But then, study after study failed to substantiate his theory, so naturally it was discarded the government got involved.

Quoting Big Fat Fiasco:

This [low-fat] diet, this [lipid] hypothesis, was failing over and over in clinical research ... What could have possibly kept such an unscientific, discredited, and possibly even harmful idea alive? ... A government committee.

Dr. Robert Olson: "I have pleaded in my report, and will plead again orally here, for more research on the problem before we make announcements to the American public."

Senator George McGovern: "I would only argue that senators don’t have the luxury that a research scientist has, of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in."

So the "heart-healthy benefits" of a low-fat diet became national policy because senators don’t have time to wait for all the evidence to come in.

The McGovern Committee’s report -- written by a vegetarian, of course -- recommended that Americans eat less fat, and started the government’s decades-long propaganda blitz telling us we should avoid fat and eat lots of carbohydrates, leading to the obesity epidemic that we’re in today.

Naughton goes on to point out the "French Paradox," which is that they eat twice as much saturated fat, four times as much butter, three times as much pork, and 60% more cheese than Americans, yet have only one-third as much heart disease.  There is also the "Swiss Paradox:" they have the second-highest intake of saturated fat, yet the second-lowest rate of heart disease.

You should check out these short videos on Naughton’s site; they’re pretty funny and they shoot down some of the anti-fat hysteria that the government has been pushing for decades.  They also point out how the "Super Size Me" video -- I can’t bring myself to call it a documentary -- was essentially BS, and the creator, Morgan Spurlock, appears to have lied about his caloric intake during the time, and has refused all requests to release his food log.  I’m no fan of McDonald’s, but nor am I a fan of anti-meat/anti-capitalism propaganda.

Gary Taubes also has a good article and a couple books on the subject, and somewhere on one of these guys’ sites, I read a comment that really made sense to me.  It said that eating a low-fat diet actually causes your body to create and store more fat, because your body interprets a lack of dietary fat to mean that it’s in a food-scarce environment, and thus it adjusts your metabolism accordingly, storing more energy in order to survive the period of famine.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Bar Stool Economics

By: David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics, University of Georgia

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100.  If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.  ’Since you are all such good customers,’ he said, ’I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.  Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected.  They would still drink for free.  But what about the other six men - the paying customers?  How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ’fair share?’  They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33.  But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.  So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before.  And the first four continued to drink for free.  But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

’I only got a dollar out of the $20’, declared the sixth man.  He pointed to the tenth man,’ but he got $10!’

’Yeah, that’s right’, exclaimed the fifth man.  ’I only saved a dollar, too.  It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I!’

’That’s true!!’ shouted the seventh man.  ’Why should he get $10 back when I got only two?  The wealthy get all the breaks!’

’Wait a minute,’ yelled the first four men in unison.  ’We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!’

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him.  But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important.  They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works.  The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction.  Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore.  In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics, University of Georgia

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.


Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Teachers Unions Prevent Education

How long will America allow teachers unions to fail its children?

Quoting Jerry Pournelle:

In Los Angeles, where the teachers unions have the most favorable contracts I know of from a large school district, the District, forced to cut back, chose to do so by laying off teachers from the 3 worst performing schools in the district.  The American Civil Liberties Union promptly went to court to upset this, saying they couldn’t solve their problems on the backs of students from schools for the poor.  In theory the lawsuit was to protect the students, although what they are being protected from isn’t clear.  Apparently they have a right to be taught by ineffective teachers?  But the ACLU and the school district reached an agreement in which the District will be able to lay off teachers using complex rules that have some concession to teacher effectiveness rather than strict seniority.  The LA teacher union, predictably, threatens court action.  Solidarity forever.  The student be damned, bad teachers have rights.  Students don’t.  Students have no right to an effective teacher: the purpose of the student is to justify the payments to their teachers, and teacher effectiveness must never be considered in school management.  So it goes.

Bill Gates has financed studies that strongly indicate that we could double the effectiveness of our school system simply by firing the worst 10% of the teachers.  Just fire them.  You needn’t replace them.  Send the students to other classes.  Yes, that would raise class sizes: but our cups overflow with evidence that class size is a far smaller influence on education success than teacher effectiveness.  That has been known since the Chapman report.  (Good luck on finding the report; I probably don’t know how to look, but I can’t.  It was done prior to 1972, and is hardly the only data, as for instance Debunking the Class Size Myth: How to Really Improve Teacher Effectiveness.  It’s easy to find more.  I bring up Chapman to indicate that we have known all this for a long time.)  The point is that almost everyone who has studied the problem understands that the first and most cost effective move we can make would be to fire bad teachers, and that we have known this for forty years, and that it is harder to fire bad teachers now than it was in the days of "Why Johnny Can’t Read".  One might suppose that children have a right to be taught effectively, but that is not the case: what they have a right to is the teacher with the most seniority without regard to that teacher’s abilities.  The entire system exists to assure bad teachers that they will always be paid.

Destroying the educational and employment prospects of huge swaths of future generations is bad enough, but that’s not all the teachers unions do: they’re also a primary cause of the pension disaster coming soon to cities and states near you.  Because making kids stupid isn’t enough; they ought to be bankrupt, too.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Even Worse Than a Waste of Time and Money

Bruce Schneier on airport security:

A short history of airport security: We screen for guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters.  We confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their sneakers.  We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids.  We confiscate liquids, so they put PETN bombs in their underwear.  We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge.  We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces -- the level of magical thinking here is amazing -- and they’re going to do something else.

This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.

It’s not even a fair game.  It’s not that the terrorist picks an attack and we pick a defense, and we see who wins.  It’s that we pick a defense, and then the terrorists look at our defense and pick an attack designed to get around it.  Our security measures only work if we happen to guess the plot correctly.  If we get it wrong, we’ve wasted our money.  This isn’t security; it’s security theater. [...]

Exactly two things have made airplane travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back.  Everything else has been a waste of money.

Unfortunately it’s worse than merely wasteful, because the TSA’s latest bit of security theater involves them seeing you naked via x-ray machines whose safety has not been proven and which may in fact be quite dangerous:

Quoting Jason Bell:

These questions have not been answered to any satisfaction and the UCSF scientists, all esteemed in their fields and members of the National Academy of Sciences, have been dismissed based on a couple of reports seemingly hastily put together by mid-level government technicians or engineers.  The documents that I have reviewed thus far either have NO AUTHOR CREDITS or are NOT authored by anyone with either a Ph.D. or a M.D., raising serious concerns of the extent of the expertise of the individuals and organizations evaluating these machines with respect to biological safety.  Yet, the FDA and TSA continue to dismiss some of the most talented scientists in the country...

With respect to errors in the safety reports and/or misleading information about them, the statement that one scan is equivalent to 2-3 minutes of your flight is VERY misleading.  Most cosmic radiation is composed of high energy particles that passes right through our body and the plane itself without being absorbed.  The spectrum that is dangerous is known as ionizing radiation and most of that is absorbed by the hull of the airplane.  So relating non-absorbing cosmic radiation to tissue absorbing man-made radiation is simply misleading and wrong.  Of course these are related and there is over-lap, but we have to compare apples to apples.

Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body.  According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow.  So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues.  Of particular concern is radiation exposure to the testes, which could result in infertility or birth defects, and breasts for women who might carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.

There are plenty of other experts who believe the TSA is either wrong or lying about these devices, for example:

Quoting U.S. Rep. Rush Holt:

Earlier this year, the Congressional Biomedical Caucus - of which Holt is a co-chair - hosted a briefing by Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University on the potential health effects of "back scatter" x-ray devices.  According to Dr. Brenner, the devices currently in use and proposed for wider deployment deliver to the scalp "20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry."  Dr. Brenner has pointed out that the majority of the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 percent of the 800,000 cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the United States each year develop.

According to Dr. Brenner, excessive x-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate multiplier, which is why Holt has urged the government to investigate thoroughly the potential health risks associated with this technology.  In August, Holt wrote to the House Committee on Appropriations calling for a freeze in funding for any further full-body scanning devices employing "back scatter" technology until the GAO completes its examination of the technology.

But aside from the fact that all of this nonsense doesn’t make us any safer, and may in fact be giving us cancer, there is the simple issue of the obvious conclusion to this path we’re on: namely that terrorists who wish to blow up airplanes will put the explosives in the only place left: up their butts.  (It’s happened before.)  At that point, by the TSA’s logic, the response must be either full medical-style x-rays, or anal probes, for every passenger.

We’ve given the TSA about a decade, and I think we can all agree that by now they’re at or near the pinnacle of suckitude.  It’s time we start exploring other, more realistic methods of airline security.  I’ll propose a couple ideas to get things started: first, instead of having just the two options of strip-search or groping, we should expand the list to strip-search, groping, or kicking a government official in the face.  Second, in terms of the bigger picture, it’s well past time that we seriously consider the nuke the moon option.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The TSA Hands Victory to the Terrorists

Quoting Marco Arment:

So, to summarize: With no supporting evidence whatsoever that it will make anyone any safer, and in response to absolutely no credible threats, the TSA has decided to implement a policy, that nobody asked for, in which every passenger must allow TSA agents to either see or touch their genitals before boarding a plane.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Income Inequality, And Other Assorted BS

John Gruber is perplexed with the state of affairs regarding last week’s elections.  He quotes Nicholas Kristof:

CEOs of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001.  Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.

And then Gruber opines:

Step back and (for the moment) avoid passing judgment on whether this state of affairs is good or bad.  What’s fascinating is that against this backdrop, last week’s election went to the Republicans, who admit that their top priority is passing large tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans.  I know much has been written about this, but I think it defies easy explanation how economic policies that benefit so very few enjoy the support of so many.

I can see how this would be confusing to a liberal guy like John, whose primary exposure to conservatives and conservative ideas is probably through the caricatures and straw-men presented in the dominantly-liberal mainstream media, and their smear-merchant allies on sites like Kos and Media Matters.  So let me clear this up.

First, the reason most Americans voted against the Democrats is that the Democrats have taken several gigantic steps that the majority of Americans opposed, in particular the passage of ObamaCare, the bailout of the auto-makers auto unions, the bailouts of the "too big to fail" banks, and the attacks on Arizona for attempting to enforce immigration law and secure its borders.  Americans are also appalled at the way in which the Democrats went about many of these issues, passing bills that are thousands of pages long, failing to post the bills online several days before voting on them, as they had promised to do, and failing to even read the bills themselves.  So in this mid-term election, Americans weren’t so much voting for Republicans as voting against Democrats: you just can’t pack that much unpopular BS into two or three short years without the American people throwing you out.

Next there’s the issue of "passing large tax cuts for the rich."  This is a straw man wrapped in a pile of spin.  It’s not new tax cuts that are proposed, it’s new tax increases.  Taxes are currently at a certain level, where they’ve been for about a decade, and Democrats want to increase them for some people, whereas Republicans don’t want to increase them for anyone.  Conservatives (i.e. most Americans) oppose Democrat-led "soak the rich" schemes like this, for two reasons.  First, because such schemes are wrong in theory: confiscating 40% of the earnings of some Americans, while nearly 50% of the country pays no income tax at all, is simply unjust.  And second, because such schemes are wrong in practice: increasing taxes on the rich results in less tax revenue, not more, for the government to devour, while simultaneously damaging the economy as a whole by driving people and businesses offshore, and reducing hiring and growth.

Finally, let’s be completely clear about the implications of the term "income inequality," namely that it is some kind of problem that needs to be solved.  The obvious "solution" would be income equality, which is just about the most un-American concept there is.  Many liberals seem to have a utopian vision of pure equality, but there is no such thing, nor should there be: the truth is that free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.  Americans grit their teeth when they hear terms like "income inequality" and "social justice," because they recognize the kinds of people who traffic in that terminology, and they recognize that the ultimate effect of those people’s ideology is to punish the most productive citizens in order to subsidize the least productive.

So no, these elections really do not defy easy explanation: most Americans simply reject the Democrat agenda.  They disagree with it philosophically, and they sure as heck don’t approve of the effect it is having on the country.  And I can’t decide whether it’s funny or sad that liberals, within the government and without, are eternally confounded by the fact that most Americans reject the notion that the government knows what’s best for them.  It’s just so darn inconvenient for the ruling class when us stupid Americans refuse to recognize their superior intellect and refuse to accept their ideas about the size and scope of the government.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Rally to Restore Sanity

Quoting Doctor Zero:

Nationalizing industries is crazy.  Passing thousand-page bills based on deliberately falsified deficit projections is crazy.  Passing those bills without even reading them is crazy.  Racking up a $13 trillion national debt is crazy.  Accepting 10% unemployment as the "new normal" is crazy.  Dropping gigantic tax increases on a recessionary economy is crazy.  Fleeing Washington without even voting on those tax increases is crazy.

Paying serious attention to a rally "Oprahturfed" by billionaire entertainers and liberal activists, as if it represented some outpouring of popular support for the lunatic agenda of this President, would be completely nuts.  Enjoy your afternoon on the Mall, Mr. Stewart.  There will be a much bigger Rally to Restore Sanity on November 2nd.

Posted by Anthony on reply
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