Fat Doesn’t Mean Not Fit

Eric “Butterbean” Esch, having weighed 425 lbs at his heaviest, was one of the best boxers of the 1990s. He regularly knocked out his competitors in under a minute. He didn’t look impressive, besides being obese. He wasn’t the best trained nor did he fight with much style. But he was a powerhouse. He could take punches and give them in return. And when he landed a punch, it was devastating.

As with many others, Butterbean’s obesity was not an indicator of a lack of muscle, stamina, and aerobic health. Even in later fights when his power was decreased, he still could hold his own for many rounds. In 2002, he remained on his feet for 10 rounds with one of the greatest fighters of all time, Larry Holmes, before finally knocking him back against the ropes with the fight ending after the referee did a standing 8 count. He expanded his career into professional wrestling and MMA matches, winning many more fights. As late as 2011 in his mid-40s, he was still knocking out opponents and he was still fat.

This is why so few people can lose weight through exercise alone. All that more exercise does for most, specifically on a high-carb diet, is to make them hungrier and so leading to them eating more (exercise on a ketogenic diet is a bit different, though). And indeed, many athletes end up focusing on carbs in trying to maintain their energy, as glucose gets used up so quickly (as opposed to ketones). Long-distance runners on a high-carb diet have to constantly refuel with sugary drinks provided along the way.

Americans have been advised to eat more of the supposedly healthy carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc) while eating less of the supposedly unhealthy animal foods (red meat, saturated fats, etc) and the data shows they are doing exactly that, more than ever before since data was kept. But telling people that eating lots of carbs, even if from “whole foods”, is part of a healthy diet is bad advice. And when they gain weight, blaming them for not exercising enough is bad advice stacked upon bad advice.

Such high-carb diets don’t do any good for long-term health, even for athletes. Morally judging fat people as gluttonous and slothful simply doesn’t make sense and it is the opposite of helpful, a point that Gary Taubes has made. It’s plain bullshit and this scapegoating of the victims of bad advice is cruel.

This is why so many professional athletes get fat when they retire, after a long career of eating endless carbs, not that it ever was good for their metabolic health (people can be skinny fat with adipose around their internal organs and have diabetes or pre-diabetes). But some like Butterbean begin their athletic careers fat and remained fat. Many football players are similarly overweight. William Perry, AKA The Fridge, was an example of that, although he was a relative lightweight at 335-350 lbs. Even more obvious examples are seen with some gigantic sumo wrestlers who, while grotesquely obese, are immensely strong athletes.

Sumo wrestlers are also a great example of the power of a high-carb diet. They will intentionally consume massive amounts of starches and sugars in order to put on fat. That is old knowledge, the reason people have understood for centuries the best way to fatten cattle is to feed them grains. And it isn’t as if cattle get fat by being lazy while sitting on the couch watching tv and playing on the internet. It’s the diet alone that accomplishes that feat of deliciously marbled flesh. Likewise, humans eating a high-carb diet will make their own muscles and organs marbled.

I speak from personal experience, after gaining weight in my late 30s and into my early 40s. I topped out at around 220 lbs  — not massive, but way beyond my weight in my early 20s when I was super skinny, maybe down in the 140 lbs range (the result of a poverty diet and I looked gaunt at the time). In recent years, I had developed a somewhat protruding belly and neck flabs. You could definitely tell I was carrying extra fat. Could you tell that I also was physically fit? Probably not.

No matter how much I exercised, I could not lose weight. I was jogging out to my parent’s place, often while carrying a backpack that sometimes added another 20-30 lbs (books, water bottle, etc). That jog took about an hour and I did it 3-4 times a week and I was doing some weightlifting as well, but my weight remained the same. Keep in mind I was eating what, according to official dietary guidelines, was a ‘balanced’ diet. I had cut back on my added sugars over the years, only allowing them as part of healthy whole foods such as in kefir, kombucha, and fruit. I was emphasizing lots of vegetables and fiber. This often meant starting my day with a large bowl of bran cereal topped with blueberries or dried fruit.

I was doing what Americans have been told is healthy. I could not lose any of that extra fat, in spite of all my effort and self-control. Then in the spring of last year I went on a low-carb diet that transitioned into a very low-carb diet (i.e., keto). In about 3 months, I lost 60 lbs and have kept it off since. I didn’t do portion control and didn’t count calories. I ate as much as I wanted, but simply cut out the starches and sugars. No willpower was required, as on a keto diet my hunger diminished and my cravings disappeared. It was the high-carb diet that had made me fat, not a lack of exercise.

Big Ag and Farm Subsidies

The local Iowa City farmer’s market has been going on this past month. It’s still early in the season and the variety of vegetables are limited, but the meat vendors have plenty of product. I like to shop local and so usually go every week. One of my favorite vendors is Rapid Creek Ranch. It’s a family farm and the owner has been in the business since childhood. I stopped by his table this past Saturday, bought a dozen eggs, and talked to him. He is passionate.

He keeps his cows on pasture. When he moves them to a new field, a few days later he brings in the chickens to eat the flies and scatter the manure. The chickens are transported on a bus that has been converted to a chicken coop. The yolks of the eggs are that deep orange that lets you know the quality, although he has told me that some farmers will create a false perception of nutrient-density by adding substances to the feed that will artificially deepen the color of the yolk.

I’ve been curious about the local farms, as I live in an area surrounded by farmland. It’s nice to know who is raising your food, what kind of people they are, and how they run their operations. This guy loves to explain the details of his farm and the business. His animals are mostly fed on the pasture, other than during the winter. And even in the winter, he says that he seeks the best quality non-GMO feed he can find.

That isn’t a cheap way of running a business, but it does create a quality product and avoids externalizing costs. Keeping animals on pasture improves the health of the soil and captures atmospheric carbon. This is the most sustainable method of farming, as it has been done for millennia. Most of the usable land can’t grow agricultural goods, but is perfect for ranching. And it allows wild animals to make use of the land as well, as compared to the mass slaughter of little critters that happens every time a tractor drives through a field during harvest time.

There are massive subsidies that make farming cheaper, but those doing traditional farming don’t benefit much, if any, from such funding. This rancher is not in the loop of big ag with its high yield GMO crops where nearly all the subsidies go. He pointed out that some large farmers get a million dollars or more on a yearly basis, far beyond what small family farmers can hope to make through their own hard work. I looked into the data and he is correct. Some of the recipients of this government largesse are already billionaires and more than a few are politicians who are members of committees that decide farm policies such as subsidies.

All of us, including small family farmers like this guy, are financially supporting the rich so that they can become even more wealthy. This subsidization of big ag is plutocratic socialism and corporate welfare. We are talking about many billions of dollars. This is our tax money, our hard-earned money.

Keep in mind that what is being subsidized is mostly the chemical-drenched GMO crops, the very food that is slowly killing Americans. I avoid the stuff when possible, which is why I prefer to buy pasture-raised animal foods. So, my diet isn’t being subsidized. I’m paying more for quality while also paying more so that most other people can eat cheap crap produced from environmentally-destructive agriculture and factory farming. There is no financial gain for doing the morally right thing, for doing what is healthy for you and your family, for your community and the earth. All the incentives push behavior in the opposite direction toward externalized costs and public harm.

This isn’t limited to animal foods either. These crops of wheat, corn, rice, and soy are also used to make breads, crackers, chips, veggie patties, fake meats, vegetable oils, and all kinds of other industrially-processed foods; along with ethanol. The same powers that be pushing this big ag agenda are also creating dietary guidelines telling us to eat more of this “plant-based” diet. Not only does all of this cost us in terms of tax-funded subsidies but also in water pollution, soil erosion, and worsening public health.

Why is our government promoting wasteful and destructive practices in this way? Well, big biz means big profits. It’s that simple. Whatever good intentions there may (or may not) have been originally, at this point it is simply about the alliance of big biz and big gov, what some call corporatocracy in being a ‘softer’ variety of fascism.

* * *

Agricultural Subsidies
by Chris Edwards, Downsizing the Federal Government

The federal government spends more than $20 billion a year on subsidies for farm businesses. About 39 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms receive subsidies, with the lion’s share of the handouts going to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.1 […]

All of these subsidies ensure that farm incomes are much higher than the incomes of most Americans. Farm programs are welfare for the well-to-do, and they induce overproduction, inflate land prices, and harm the environment. They should be repealed, and farmers should support themselves in the marketplace.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs more than 60 direct and indirect aid programs for farmers. This section summarizes the major ones.

Most of the direct aid goes to producers of a handful of field crops, not to livestock producers or fruit and vegetable growers. In the three largest farm subsidy programs — insurance, ARC, and PLC — more than 70 percent of the handouts go to farmers of just three crops — corn, soybeans, and wheat.7 […]

Subsidies Redistribute Wealth Upward. Farm subsidies go mainly to high-earning households. The average income of all farm households was $117,918 in 2016, which was 42 percent higher than the $83,143 average of all U.S. households.26 The same year, the median income of farm households was $76,250, which was 29 percent higher than the U.S. median of $59,039.

Farming incomes are down somewhat in recent years as crop prices have dipped from unusually high levels between 2011 and 2013. But the ratio of average farm household income to the average income of all U.S. households has been trending upward since at least 1960.27

Those income measures are for all farm households, but Congress delivers the bulk of subsidies to the largest and wealthiest farm households. A recent analysis by AEI scholars found that 60 percent of subsidies from the three largest programs (insurance, ARC, and PLC) go to the largest 10 percent (by sales) of farms.28

The AEI scholars found that the largest farms were more intensely subsidized than smaller farms. Looking at the crop insurance program, for example, they found that the top 10 percent of farms received subsidies of $29 per acre, compared to an average of $12 per acre for all crop farmers.

The high-end concentration of farm payments has increased over time. A recent USDA study found that “in 1991, half of commodity program payments went to farms operated by households with incomes over $60,717 (in constant 2015 dollars); however, in 2015, half went to households with incomes over $146,126.”29 The study found similar increases in the high-end concentration of crop insurance subsidies and conservation subsidies.

Politicians often claim that farm aid helps alleviate rural poverty. But farm aid goes to farm owners, and they have relatively high incomes. Just 2 percent of farm households fall below the poverty line, compared to 14 percent of all U.S. households.30 Also, USDA data show that while less than one-third of farms with revenues of less than $100,000 received federal subsidies, three-quarters of farms above that threshold did.31

At the top end, many billionaires have received farm subsidies over the years. Looking at the period from 1995 to 2014, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 50 people on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans received farm subsidies.32 Today, the largest pot of subsidies is channeled through insurance companies, which hides the identities of recipients, as noted.33 However, the Government Accountability Office found that at least four recipients of crop insurance subsidies have a net worth of more than $1.5 billion.34

Why do taxpayers subsidize rich farmers?
by Tamar Haspel, The Washington Post

Late last year, the USDA released a report with some household income data — the first I’ve seen. The report doesn’t include all farm bill dollars, but for most of the programs it does include, about half the money went to farmers with household incomes over $150,000. That means billions of dollars, every year, go to households with income nearly three times higher than the median U.S. household income, which was $55,775 that year. […]

If we look just at commodity payments, which farmers get when either crop prices or farm income goes below a particular level, payouts in 2015 (the last year included in the report) were just over $5 billion — $2.5 billion of which went to $150,000-plus households. […]

I asked Clark what he’d tell the owners of the mom-and-pop grocery store, a couple making $75,000 a year (the median income of self-employed households). Do you expect them to be okay with using their tax dollars to subsidize a family making 10 times what they make?

“It’s an uncomfortable conversation,” he admitted — both between him and me, and among his membership.

Former USDA chief economist Joe Glauber acknowledges that farmers face huge challenges, and some deal with real hardship but pulls no punches about the argument over a means-test at an income level that is farcically unrealistic for most Americans. “There was nothing like the teeth-gnashing that went on when they reduced the [subsidy eligibility] cutoff from a million to 900,000,” he said of the political fight over the last farm bill. “But then you have a knockdown drag-out over whether you’ll give SNAP payments to someone earning $26,000 instead of $25,000. Give me a break.”

Overhauling the Farm Bill: The Real Beneficiaries of Subsidies
by Daniel Imhoff, The Atlantic

It’s one thing to support a family farmer. It’s quite another to subsidize the expansion of a mega-farm operation that puts family farmers out of business.

One problem is the lack of practical limits on how much a single farming operation can receive in subsidies. Thanks to numerous legal loopholes, lax enforcement, and loose definitions of what it means to be actively engaged in farming, essentially no caps currently exist. Farmers and landowners creatively form complex family partnerships with associated limited liability companies that find new ways to get on the subsidy gravy train. Lawyers and accountants exploit these loopholes, offering “payments limitations planning” services that stretch the legal definitions of “actively engaged in farming.”

Under the 2008 Farm Bill, direct payments were capped at $40,000 for an individual or twice that for a married couple where both spouses are actively engaged in the farming operation. (Counter-cyclical payments are capped at $65,000/$130,000.) However, the vague and largely unenforceable regulatory standard for “actively managing” farm operations foiled even these attempts to target subsidy payments to working farmers.

Mapping The U.S. Farm Subsidy $1M Club
by Adam Andrzejewski, Forbes

Since 2008, however, the top 10 farm subsidy recipients each received an average of $18.2 million – that’s $1.8 million annually, $150,000 per month, or $35,000 a week. With the median household income of $60,000 a year, these farmers received more than 30 times the average yearly income of U.S. families.

It was never the intent of Congress to create a new class of millionaires through federal farm subsidies. Yet, the subsidies continue to flow. Last year alone, a very fortunate 400 entities, including farmers, corporations, and agri-businesses, harvested between $1 million and $9.9 million each in federal farm subsidies. […]

For years, federal farm subsidies have been plagued with problems such as deficient accounting controls, policy corruption, and waste. For example, even billionaire businessman Glen Taylor – the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA team – received $116,502 in subsidies in 2017. Does Mr. Taylor, No. 350 on the Forbes 400 list, really need taxpayer funding for his egg and dairy farm in Iowa?

Consider these 10 fast facts regarding the harvesting of farm subsidies:

  1. Very expensive mistakes: The Dept. of Agriculture admitted to $3.7 billion in “improper payments” processed since 2004. Just in the past two years, $650 million in subsidy overpayments were shelled out to farmers. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service reported that $1.1 billion was paid to 172,801 deceased farmers over a six-year period.
  2. Not the traditional family farm: The top five recipients reaped between $18.6 million and $23.8 million apiece since 2008. Additionally, subsidies of over $10 million apiece flowed to 18 individual farming entities.
  3. The rich got richer: Over $11 billion in farm subsidies flowed to just 6,618 lucky recipients who received at least $1 million since 2008.
  4. Subsidies flow to urban areas where there are no farms: Between years 2015 and 2017, more than $626 million flowed to recipients in America’s urban areas – cities with over a quarter million residents and no farms.
  5. City slicker farmers: Residents living in America’s five most populated cities received $18 million in farm subsidies. These cities included Chicago ($7.7 million), Houston ($5.8 million), New York City ($2.8 million), Los Angeles ($1.6 million), and Philadelphia ($309,000).
  6. Welfare to wealthy farmers: One out of every four dollars in farm subsidies went to someone who received $250,000 or more that year.
  7. The Beverly Hillbillies et al: Prosperous people living in the nation’s 150 most affluent ZIP Codes cleaned off nearly $5 million in farm subsidies last year. Residents living in these areas included 90210–Beverly Hills, CA ($15,488); 10022–New York City, NY ($83,169); and 96750–Hawaii County, Hawaii ($230,697).
  8. Uncle Sam’s teat: Two-thirds of all $1 million farm subsidy recipients are located outside of the “bread basket of the Midwest.” This area is defined as the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Colorado.
  9. Uncle Sam’s farming cousins: Even government entities are harvesting the farm subsidy largess. The Montana Dept. of Natural Resources & Conservation received $15.8 million and the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources received $8.9 million since 2008. The state universities in Arkansas, Minnesota, and Arizona each received over $1 million in subsidies.
  10. Subsidies to not farm: Last year, taxpayers even forked over $1.8 billion to pay farmers not to farm their land. Through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), farmers received rental payments in exchange for not farming their land – and these contracts can last 10 to 15 years.
  11. Bonus! The nation’s food supply is not in jeopardy: The U.S. is the world’s largest food exporter and produced more food than the entire European Union combined last year.

Why hasn’t Congress reined in the largess and stopped farm subsidy abuses? Well, our auditors found 12 members of Congress collected up to $637,059 in subsidy payments last year alone.

In fact, members crafting the policies on the agriculture committees are, many times, large recipients of their subsidies. The list includes Reps Doug LaMalfa (CA-1) with $1.3 million, Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) with $20,420, Robert Gibbs (OH-18) with $7,660, and Sens Charles Grassley (IA) with $58,210, and Debra Fischer (NE) with $16,190 (payments between 2015-2017).

This summer, the U.S. House and Senate each passed respective versions of a new farm bill. Not surprisingly, loopholes allow non-farmers — such as congressmen and billionaires — to reap big benefits.

Farm Bill Shows Republicans at Their Worst
by H. Sterling Burnett, Inside Sources

From 1995 to 2014, the various subsidies and payouts for crop insurance—premium support and actual crop loss payouts—disaster relief, and income-support programs have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $322 billion, according to the Environmental Working Group.

For decades, U.S. farm policies have not simply provided a “safety net” protecting farmers from significant crop losses caused by drought or late-season snow storms. Instead, they have ensured the large, tremendously profitable agribusiness industry receives added support­­, just in case it fails to hit expected profit targets.

As Daren Bakst, research fellow in agriculture policy at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in a recent article, “If farmers have record production, they can get a government handout. If the weather is perfect for growing a crop, farmers can still receive a government handout. The reason is simple. The existing system provides handouts regardless of whether there’s any crop loss. If agricultural producers simply don’t reach revenue targets, they can get handouts.

The largest, fastest-growing subsidy for farmers is the crop insurance program. The federal crop insurance program is now expected to cost taxpayers as much as $88 billion from 2017 to 2026.

Under the federal crop insurance program, taxpayers subsidize farmers’ purchase of crop insurance through pre-approved private insurers. The federal government currently pays 62 percent of the cost of premiums, on average. When you buy a home, car, life, or business insurance, or when doctors and lawyers buy malpractice insurance, taxpayers don’t pay the monthly premiums. But when farmers buy crop insurance, taxpayers pay nearly two-thirds of the tab. It must be nice to have taxpayers cover this burden!

To add insult to taxpayers’ injury, the federal government even reimburses private crop insurance companies for their “administrative and operating” costs, amounting to 22–24 percent of total premiums. And because private crop insurance companies are guaranteed a 14 percent rate of return, when they suffer a loss, the taxpayers cover it.

The government also subsidizes water use by farmers by selling water to farmers at below-market rates, sometimes for as little as 10 percent of the full market cost. Because farmers are often charged a flat rate based on the amount of acreage served rather than the amount of water delivered, they have little incentive to conserve water—as long as someone else is paying for it.

Don’t be fooled into thinking small family farms are reaping most of the rewards of the farm bill. In fact, the largest 10 percent of farms receive 70–90 percent of farm subsidies. In 2015, just 210,000 of the country’s 2.1 million farms received 70 percent of the government commodity payments and 78 percent of federal crop insurance indemnities. Many of these farms make more than $1 million in annual income, and the vast majority of them top $250,000 in yearly revenue. By contrast, 80 percent of farmers, including most small family farms, receive little or nothing from the government each year.

Aside from the cost to taxpayers, farm subsidies also harm the environment. To reap greater profits, farmers respond to subsidies by increasing production. To increase production, farmers exploit land more intensely, increase inputs of fertilizers and pesticides, and/or expand crop production to marginal lands. Chemically laden water runoff also pollutes the nation’s waterways, which ends up costing taxpayers even more money. For instance, contaminated waterways in the Everglades, largely attributed to fertilizer usage stemming from sugar farming, has resulted in a massive restoration effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers $10.5 billion by 2035.

U.S. dairy subsidies equal 73 percent of producer returns, says new report
from RealAgriculture

Support, in its various forms, equaled 73 percent of U.S. dairy farmers’ market returns in 2015, according to a report published by a Canadian trade consulting firm on Thursday.

The 588-page study by Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates — commissioned by Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) — says the American government contributed around $22.2 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to the dairy sector in 2015. […]

Based solely on the USDA’s national average farm-gate price and national average costs of production, Clark says American dairy farmers lost money every year from 2005 to 2016.

The report figures support granted to U.S. dairy farmers in 2015 represented approximately C$0.35 per litre — almost three-quarters of producers’ revenue.

The calculations include government expenditures outside of dairy programs, such as subsidized irrigation water, nutrition programs and government loan programs. For example, the benefits of state and local irrigation programs are estimated at $2.1 billion. […]

The report follows similar analysis conducted by Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates in 1990, 1998, 2003, 2005 and 2010. In 2010, the firm found U.S. government support equaled 62 percent of American dairy farmer returns, totalling nearly $20 billion.

Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag
by Benjamin David Steele, Marmalade

Southern California saw further waves of Southerners. Besides earlier transplanted Southerners, this included the so-called Okies of the Dust Bowl looking for agricultural work and the post-war laborers looking for employment in the defense industry. A Southern-influenced culture became well-established in Southern California. This was a highly religious population that eventually would lead to the phenomenon of mega-churches, televangelists, and the culture wars. It also helped shape a particular kind of highly profitable big ag with much power and influence. Kathryn Olmsted, from Right Out of California, wrote that,

These growers were not angry at the New Deal because they hated big government. Unlike Eastern conservatives, Western businessmen were not libertarians who opposed most forms of government intervention in the economy. Agribusiness relied on the government to survive and prosper: it needed price supports for stability, government dams and canals for irrigation, and state university research for crop improvements. These business leaders not only acknowledged but demanded a large role for government in the economy.

By focusing on Western agribusiness, we can see that the New Right was no neoliberal revolt against the dead hand of government intervention. Instead, twentieth-century conservatism was a reaction to the changes in the ways that government was intervening in the economy— in short, a shift from helping big business to creating a level playing field for workers. Even Ronald Reagan, despite his mythical image as a cowboy identified with the frontier, was not really a small-government conservative but a corporate conservative. 110 Reagan’s revolution did not end government intervention in the economy: it only made the government more responsive to the Americans with the most wealth and power. (Kindle Locations 4621-4630)

This Californian political force is what shaped a new generation of right-wing Republicans. Richard Nixon was born and raised in the reactionary heart of Southern California. It was where the Southern Strategy was developed that Nixon would help push onto the national scene. Nixon set the stage for the likes of Ronald Reagan, which helped extend this new conservatism beyond the confines of big ag, as Reagan had become a corporate spokesperson before getting into politics.

The origins of this California big ag is important and unique. Unlike Midwestern farming, that of California more quickly concentrated land ownership and so concentrated wealth and power. Plus, it was highly dependent on infrastructure funded, built, and maintained by big government. It should be noted that big ag was among the major recipients of New Deal farm subsidies. Their complaints about the New Deal was that it gave farm laborers some basic rights, although the New Deal kept the deck stacked in big ag’s favor. Early 20th century Californian big ag is one of the clearest examples of overt fascism in US history.

The conservative elite in California responded to the New Deal similar to how the conservative elite in the South responded to Reconstruction. It led to a backlash where immense power was wielded at the state level. As Olmsted makes clear,

employers could use state and local governments to limit the reach of federal labor reforms. Carey McWilliams and Herbert Klein wrote in The Nation that California had moved from “sporadic vigilante activity to controlled fascism, from the clumsy violence of drunken farmers to the calculated maneuvers of an economic-militaristic machine.” No longer would employers need to rely on hired thugs to smash strikes. Instead, they could trust local prosecutors to brand union leaders as “criminal syndicalists” and then send them to prison. McWilliams and Klein suggested that this antiunion alliance between big business and the courts was similar to the state-business partnership in Hitler’s Germany. 104

But these growers and their supporters were not European-style fascists; they were the forerunners of a new, distinctly American movement. (Kindle Locations 4134-4141)

Still, it was fascism. In The Harvest Gypsies, John Steinbeck wrote that, “Fascistic methods are more numerous, more powerfully applied and more openly practiced in California than any other place in the United States.”

The development of big ag in California was different, at least initially. But everything across the country was moving toward greater concentration. It wasn’t just California. Organizations like the Farm Bureau in other parts of the country became central. As in California, it set farmers against labor, as organized labor in demanding basic rights came to be perceived as radical. Richard McIntyre, in his essay “Labor Militance and the New Deal” from When Government Helped, he writes that, “Groups representing farmers outside the South, such as the Farm Bureau, also supported Taft-Hartley because they saw strikes and secondary boycotts as limiting their ability to get crops to market. The split between labor and various kinds of farmers allowed capitalists to heal their divisions” (p. 133).

It was also a division among farmers themselves, as there had also been agricultural traditions of left-wing politics and populist reform. “From its beginning in Indiana the Farm Bureau made it clear that the organization was composed of respectable members of the farming community and that it was not a bunch of radicals or troublemakers” (Barbara J. Steinson, Rural Life in Indiana, 1800–1950). By respectable, this meant that the haves got more and the have-nots lost what little they had.

Even though big ag took a different route in regions like the Midwest, the end results were similar in the increasing concentration of land and wealth, which is to say the end of the small family farm. This was happening all over, such as in the South: “These ideals emphasized industrialized, commercial farming by ever-larger farms and excluded many smaller farms from receiving the full benefit of federal farm aid. The resulting programs, by design, contributed significantly to the contraction of the farm population and the concentration of farm assets in the Carolinas” (Elizabeth Kathleen Brake, Uncle Sam on the Family Farm). Those excluded from farm aid were the typical groups, minorities and poor whites.

This country was built on farming. It’s the best farmland in the world. That means vast wealth. Big ag lobbyists have a lot of pull in the federal government. That is why fascism in this country early on found its footing in this sector of the economy, rather than with industry. Over time, corporatism has come to dominate the entire economy, and the locus of power has shifted to the financial sector. Agriculture, like other markets, have become heavily tied to those who control the flow of money.

Diabetic Confusion

There is been a lot of data coming out about diabetes. Obviously, it gets heavy focus from researchers. Rates have been worsening for the entire 20th century and into the 21st with the majority of the American population now being diabetic, prediabetic, or insulin resistant. But recently, there is some evidence that the rise is finally leveling out, maybe even dipping down a bit.

One could argue that the emerging public debate about and popularity of low-carb diets might finally be having an impact. On the other hand, the data is mixed. Diabetes is getting worse for the young. And it is happening earlier in life. That is the strange part. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult onset diabetes. Yet this condition, once rare among children and young adults, has become increasingly common. And type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile diabetes, whereas it is presently found in 42% over the age of 30.

A distinction between these two types is that type 1 diabetes was assumed to be primarily genetic. If that were true, we wouldn’t be seeing the pattern of diabetes increasing the most in type 1. It turns out that we’ve found that both types respond to dietary changes and lifestyle interventions (incidences of type 1 diabetes fell by 60% during WWII because of food scarcity). Many with the genetic predisposition of type 1 diabetes aren’t getting it until late in life, which indicates that what triggers the predisposition might be dependent on other factors.

This confusion can cause further problems. The two types can be mistaken for the other. Children with type 2 diabetes sometimes get misdiagnosed with type 1 and vice versa for adults with type 1. That can harm the patient, since how they are treated is different. Further complicating the situation is the realization that insulin resistance also plays a role in Alzheimher’s, what some are now calling type 3 diabetes.

As with the other two, diet and lifestyle have been proven to improve or even reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms. The same changes that are useful for treating all types of diabetes are also useful for nearly every health condition imaginable. So, despite all the uncertainty and disagreement, we do know this much. A low-carb diet will probably be healthier for anyone. And if you don’t have diabetes, a low-carb diet might help prevent it.

First Systematic Study Of The Advice People Would Give To Their Younger Selves

If I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d first tell myself that this society is shitty and evil. Acknowledge it and accept it, but don’t dwell upon it.

Don’t waste your energy on useless fights. Relax. You’re not going to save the world. We are all doomed, civilization is likely to collapse, and so do the best while you’re here. Try to be a good person and try to be kind, but don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re only human. The deck is stacked against you. You will fail again and again and again. Don’t worry about it. Lower your expectations. Keep it simple. Stay focused. Figure out what matters most and what doesn’t. Do what you can and ignore the rest.

Prioritize what is within your power, such as diet. Ignore the authorities who are either ignorant or lying to you. Go straight to a ketogenic diet. Cut out the industrially processed foods with refined carbs, added sugars, industrial vegetable oils, and long lists of additives. All that crap is slowly killing you. And, yes, sugar is an addictive drug. Instead, eat as much nutrient-dense foods as possible. Spend your money on quality food.

Also, exercise. Get outside. Feel the sunshine. Go for long walks. Enjoy nature. Breathe the clean air. Take care of yourself. Avoid stress and, when necessary, find means of escape from your problems. Don’t worry, your problems will still be there tomorrow. If you’re not healthy, everything else will be much worse. If you don’t feel good in your own body and mind, all of life will be a constant struggle. Take care of the foundations before attempting to build upon them.

Last but not least, find good friends and, as with family, hold onto them. Know who you can trust when everything goes wrong, know who will have your back, know who will help you when no one else will. A trustworthy relationship is of immense value. It’s impossible to get by without help from others. Gather your tribe around you. Prepare for the long haul.

All in all, life isn’t always that bad. Keep your mind open. Let curiosity and wonder be your guide. And never be afraid to look into the darkness. The world can be an amazing place, often in ways unexpected. Don’t let suffering close down your heart. Remember that others are suffering too. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Do what good you can do in your small corner of the world.

Oh, by the way, ignore all the bullshit advice from so many others. It will fuck you up in the head. Quickly learn to be discerning.

Research Digest

ByChristian Jarrett

The question is an old favourite – if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self? Yet despite the popularity of this thought experiment, no one has, until now, actually studied what people would tell themselves.

Reporting their findings in The Journal of Social Psychology Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University have done just that in two surveys of hundreds of participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website. Their findings show that people’s advice to their younger selves is overwhelmingly focused on prior relationships, educational opportunities and personal worth, echoing similar results derived from research into people’s most common regrets in life. Moreover, participants who said they had followed the advice they would give to their younger selves were more likely to say that they had become the kind of person that their younger self would admire. “…[W]e should…

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On Health or Lack Thereof

Millennials’ health plummets after the age of 27: Study finds the generation has unprecedented rates of diabetes, depression, and digestive disorders
by Natalie Rahhal

  • After age 27, all major measures of health start to decline sharply for millennials, according to a new Blue Cross Blue Shield Report
  • Millennials have higher rates of eight of the top 10 most common health conditions by their mid-30s than generation X-ers did at the same age
  • As their health continues to decline, millennials stand to cost the American health care industry and economy steep sums

It's all downhill from here: A depressing graph shows steep health decline that begins after age 27 and continues until death for millennials
It’s all downhill from here: A depressing graph shows steep health decline that begins after age 27 and continues until death for millennials

Effect of Dietary Lipid on UV Light Carcinogenesis in the Hairless Mouse
by Vivienne E. Reeve, Melissa Matheson, Gavin E. Greenoak, Paul J. Canfield, Christa Boehm‐Wilcox, and Clifford H. Gallagher

Isocaloric feeding of diets varying in lipid content to albino hairless mice has shown that their susceptibility to skin tumorigenesis induced by simulated solar UV light was not affected by the level of polyunsaturated fat, 5% or 20%. However a qualitative effect of dietary lipid was demonstrated. Mice fed 20% saturated fat were almost completely protected from UV tumorigenesis when compared with mice fed 20% polyunsaturated fat. Multiple latent tumours were detected in the saturated fat‐fed mice by subsequent dietary replenishment, suggesting that a requirement for dietary unsaturated fat exists for the promotion stage of UV‐induced skin carcinogenesis.

Therapeutic benefit of combining calorie-restricted ketogenic diet and glutamine targeting in late-stage experimental glioblastoma
by Purna Mukherjee, Zachary M. Augur, Mingyi Li, Collin Hill, Bennett Greenwood, Marek A. Domin, Gramoz Kondakci, Niven R. Narain, Michael A. Kiebish, Roderick T. Bronson, Gabriel Arismendi-Morillo, Christos Chinopoulos, and Thomas N. Seyfried

Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive primary human brain tumour that has resisted effective therapy for decades. Although glucose and glutamine are the major fuels that drive GBM growth and invasion, few studies have targeted these fuels for therapeutic management. The glutamine antagonist, 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine (DON), was administered together with a calorically restricted ketogenic diet (KD-R) to treat late-stage orthotopic growth in two syngeneic GBM mouse models: VM-M3 and CT-2A. DON targets glutaminolysis, while the KD-R reduces glucose and, simultaneously, elevates neuroprotective and non-fermentable ketone bodies. The diet/drug therapeutic strategy killed tumour cells while reversing disease symptoms, and improving overall mouse survival. The therapeutic strategy also reduces edema, hemorrhage, and inflammation. Moreover, the KD-R diet facilitated DON delivery to the brain and allowed a lower dosage to achieve therapeutic effect. The findings support the importance of glucose and glutamine in driving GBM growth and provide a therapeutic strategy for non-toxic metabolic management.

Writer’s block
by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

Anyway, to return to the main issue here, which is that medical science may now be incapable of self-correction. Erroneous ideas will be compounded, built on, and can never be overturned. Because of a thing called non-reproducibility.

In most areas of science, there is nothing to stop a researcher going back over old research and trying to replicate it. The correct term is reproducibility. In every branch of science there is currently an acknowledged crisis with reproducibility.

‘Reproducibility is a hot topic in science at the moment, but is there a crisis? Nature asked 1,576 scientists this question as part of an online survey. Most agree that there is a crisis and over 70% said they’d tried and failed to reproduce another group’s experiments.’ 2

This is not good, but in medical research this issue is magnified many times. Because there is another in-built problem. You cannot reproduce research that has been positive. Take clinical trials into statins. You start with middle aged men, split them into two groups, give one a statin and one a placebo. At the end of your five-year trial, you claim that statins had a benefit – stopped heart attacks and strokes and suchlike.

Once this claim has been made, in this group, it becomes unethical/impossible to replicate this study, in this group – ever again. The ethics committee would tell you that statins have been proven to have a benefit, you cannot withhold a drug with a ‘proven’ benefit from patients. Therefore, you cannot have a placebo arm in your trial. Therefore, you cannot attempt to replicate the findings. Ever.

Thus, if a trial was flawed/biased/corrupt or simply done badly. That’s it. You are going to have to believe the results, and you can never, ever, have another go. Ergo, medicine cannot self-correct through non-reproducibility. Stupidity can now last for ever. In fact, it is built in.

When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes
by David Epstein

Even if a drug you take was studied in thousands of people and shown truly to save lives, chances are it won’t do that for you. The good news is, it probably won’t harm you, either. Some of the most widely prescribed medications do little of anything meaningful, good or bad, for most people who take them.

In a 2013 study, a dozen doctors from around the country examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade—2001 through 2010—that tested a current clinical practice, from the use of antibiotics to treat people with persistent Lyme disease symptoms (didn’t help) to the use of specialized sponges for preventing infections in patients having colorectal surgery (caused more infections). Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced; 138 articles supported the efficacy of an existing practice, and the remaining 79 were deemed inconclusive. (There was, naturally, plenty of disagreement with the authors’ conclusions.) Some of the contradicted practices possibly affect millions of people daily: Intensive medication to keep blood pressure very low in diabetic patients caused more side effects and was no better at preventing heart attacks or death than more mild treatments that allowed for a somewhat higher blood pressure. Other practices challenged by the study are less common—like the use of a genetic test to determine if a popular blood thinner is right for a particular patient—but gaining in popularity despite mounting contrary evidence. Some examples defy intuition: CPR is no more effective with rescue breathing than if chest compressions are used alone; and breast-cancer survivors who are told not to lift weights with swollen limbs actually should lift weights, because it improves their symptoms.

A separate but similarly themed study in 2012 funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, which sought to reduce spending on needless procedures, looked across the same decade and identified 156 active medical practices that are probably unsafe or ineffective. The list goes on: A brand new review of 48 separate studies—comprising more than 13,000 clinicians—looked at how doctors perceive disease-screening tests and found that they tend to underestimate the potential harms of screening and overestimate the potential benefits; an editorial in American Family Physician, co-written by one of the journal’s editors, noted that a “striking feature” of recent research is how much of it contradicts traditional medical opinion.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. The 21st Century Cures Act—a rare bipartisan bill, pushed by more than 1,400 lobbyists and signed into law in December—lowers evidentiary standards for new uses of drugs and for marketing and approval of some medical devices. Furthermore, last month President Donald Trump scolded the FDA for what he characterized as withholding drugs from dying patients. He promised to slash regulations “big league. … It could even be up to 80 percent” of current FDA regulations, he said. To that end, one of the president’s top candidates to head the FDA, tech investor Jim O’Neill, has openly advocated for drugs to be approved before they’re shown to work. “Let people start using them at their own risk,” O’Neill has argued.

So, while Americans can expect to see more drugs and devices sped to those who need them, they should also expect the problem of therapies based on flimsy evidence to accelerate. In a recent Stat op-ed, two Johns Hopkins University physician-researchers wrote that the new 21st Century Cures Act will turn the label “FDA approved” into “a shadow of its former self.” In 1962, Congress famously raised the evidentiary bar for drug approvals after thousands of babies were born with malformed limbs to mothers who had taken the sleep aid thalidomide. Steven Galson, a retired rear admiral and former acting surgeon general under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, has called the strengthened approval process created in 1962 the FDA’s “biggest contribution to health.” Before that, he said, “many marketed drugs were ineffective for their labeled uses.”

Striking the right balance between innovation and regulation is incredibly difficult, but once remedies are in use—even in the face of contrary evidence—they tend to persist. A 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association papercoauthored by John Ioannidis—a Stanford University medical researcher and statistician who rose to prominence exposing poor-quality medical science—found that it took 10 years for large swaths of the medical community to stop referencing popular practices after their efficacy was unequivocally vanquished by science.

Science institute that advised EU and UN ‘actually industry lobby group’
by Arthur Nelson

An institute whose experts have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels is, in reality, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity, according to a peer-reviewed study.

The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”.

But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence-peddling.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Sarah Steele, a Cambridge university senior research associate, said: “Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.”

The New Faces of Coke
by Kyle Pfister

Of the 115 individuals Coca-Cola admitted to funding, here’s a breakdown:

By sector, 57% (65) are dietitians, 20% (23) are academics, 7% (8) are medical professionals (mostly Doctors), 6% (7) are fitness experts, 5% (6) are authors, 3% (3) are chefs, and 1% (1) are food representatives. I was not able to identify sectors for two of the funded experts.

Kellogg Paid ‘Independent Experts’ to Promote Its Cereal
by Michael Addady

Kellogg paid council experts an average of $13,000 per year, according to emails and contracts obtained by the Associated Press. The payment was for expert to engage in “nutrition influencer outreach” and refrain from offering their services to products that were “competitive or negative to cereal.”

Outreach usually meant one of two things: Experts would claim Kellogg was their favorite brand on social media, or they would tout the cereal during public appearances. Kellogg’s spokesperson Kris Charles told Fortune in a statement that the experts’ association with the company was disclosed at public appearances.

Additionally, the experts’ connection to the company may have affected some of their published work. For example, an independent expert was involved in publishing an academic paper in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that defined a “quality breakfast.” Kellogg had the opportunity to edit the paper and even asked that the author remove a suggestion about limiting added sugar (something the sugar industry has also been accused of doing with heart disease research).

FDA: Sampling finds toxic nonstick compounds in some food
by Ellen Knickmeyer, John Flesher, and Michael Casey

A federal toxicology report last year cited links between high levels of the compounds in people’s blood and health problems, but said it was not certain the nonstick compounds were the cause.

The levels in nearly half of the meat and fish tested were two or more times over the only currently existing federal advisory level for any kind of the widely used manmade compounds, which are called per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances, or PFAS.

The level in the chocolate cake was higher: more than 250 times the only federal guidelines, which are for some PFAS in drinking water.

Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Tara Rabin said Monday that the agency thought the contamination was “not likely to be a human health concern,” even though the tests exceeded the sole existing federal PFAS recommendations for drinking water.

Why smelling good could come with a cost to health
by Lauren Zanolli

About 4,000 chemicals are currently used to scent products, but you won’t find any of them listed on a label. Fragrance formulations are considered a “trade secret” and therefore protected from disclosure – even to regulators or manufacturers. Instead, one word, fragrance, appears on ingredients lists for countless cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. A single scent may contain anywhere from 50 to 300 distinct chemicals.

“No state, federal or global authority is regulating the safety of fragrance chemicals,” says Janet Nudelman, policy director for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “No state, federal or global authority even knows which fragrance chemicals appear in which products.”

Three-quarters of the toxic chemicals detected in a test of 140 products came from fragrance, reported a 2018 BCPP study of personal care and cleaning brands. The chemicals identified were linked to chronic health issues, including cancer.

Inherited Learned Behavior

There is what we inherit from our parents and there is what we learn from our own experience. The two are distinct, right? Well, actually no they are not separate. This was further demonstrated by a Princeton study (Danger avoidance can be genetically encoded for four generations, biologists say):

“Moore and her colleagues investigated whether C. elegans can convey this learned avoidance behavior to their progeny. They found that when mother worms learned to avoid pathogenic P. aeruginosa, their progeny also knew to avoid the bacteria. The natural attraction of offspring to Pseudomonas was overridden even though they had never previously encountered the pathogen. Remarkably, this inherited aversive behavior lasted for four generations, but in the fifth generation the worms were once again attracted to Pseudomonas.”

This is not an entirely new understanding. Earlier research has found similar results in other species. The study that always fascinates me had to do with rodents. The scent of cherry blossoms was emitted in their cage and immediately following that the bottom of the cage was electrified. Unsurprisingly, the rodents jumped around trying to avoid the pain. The rodents learned to begin jumping merely at the presence of the scent, whether or not any electric shock followed. The interesting part is that their rodent descendants, even though never shocked, would also jump when they smelled cherry blossoms. And this lasted for multiple generations. A very specific learned behavior was passed on.

Of course, this isn’t limited to worms and rodents. Humans are harder to study, partly because of our longer lives. But researchers have been able to observe multiple living generations to discover patterns. I’m not sure if this exactly fits into learned behavior, except in how the body learns to respond to the environment. It’s similar enough. This other research found that the children and grandchildren of famine survivors had higher rates of obesity that had nothing to do wasn’t caused by genetics or diet. It is what is called epigenetics, how the genes get set for expression. The same genes can be switched on or off in numerous ways in relation to other genes.

I find that fascinating. It also makes for much complication. Almost no research ever controls for multigenerational confounding factors. Epigenetics has been largely a black box, until quite recently. To be certain that a particular behavior was directly related to specific genetics in a population, you would have to be able to follow that population for many generations. To fully control for confounders, that would require a study that lasted more than a century. It might turn out that much of what we call ‘culture’ might more correctly be explained as population-wide epigenetics.

* * *

As a side note, this would have immense significance to dietary and nutritional research. Many of the dietary changes that have happened in modern society are well within the range of epigenetic involvement. And the epigenetic effects likely would be cumulative.

We have an ongoing and uncontrolled experiment going on. No one knows the long-term consequences of the modern industrial diet of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, highly processed vegetable oils, food additives, farm chemicals, microplastic, etc. It’s a mass experiment and the subjects never chose to participate.

Definitely, we have reasons to be concerned. Francis M. Pottenger Jr. studied the dietary impact on feline health. He fed some cats a raw food diet, others a cooked food diet, and a third group with a diet mixed of raw and cooked. The cats on the cooked food diet became sickly in the first generation and were entirely infertile after a number of generations.

This is not exactly similar to the human diet of industrial foods. But it points to how results play out across generations. The worst effects aren’t necessarily seen in the immediate generation(s). It’s future generations that have to deal with what those before them caused, as true for epigenetics as it is for national debt and environmental destruction.

Erosion of the Bronze Age

I’ve previously made an argument about the development of large-scale agriculture in the late Bronze Age. It may have helped cause a psychological transformation that preceded the societal collapse. The late Bronze Age empires became too large to be sustainable, specifically according to the social order that had developed (i.e., Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind).

Prior to this, the Bronze Age had been dominated by smaller city-states that were spread further apart. They had some agriculture but still with heavy reliance on hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering. It would have been a low-carb, high-fat diet. But growing populations, as time went on, became ever more dependent upon agriculture. This meant a shift toward an increasingly high-carb diet that was much less nutrient-dense, along with a greater prevalence of addictive substances.

Agriculture may have had other impacts as well. The appearance of a more fully agricultural diet meant the need for vaster areas to farm. The only way to accomplish that was deforestation. Along with the destabilizing of psychological changes, there also would have been the destabilizing forces of erosion. Then a perfect storm of environmental stressors hit in a short period of time: volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, flooding, etc. With waves of refugees and marauders, the already weakened empires fell like dominoes.

Erosion probably had been making the farmland less fertile for centuries. This wasn’t too much of a problem until overpopulation reached a breaking point. Small yields for multiple years in a row no doubt left grain reserves depleted. Much starvation would have followed. And the already sickly agricultural populations would have fell prey to plagues.

This boom and bust cycle of agricultural civilizations would repeat throughout history. And it often would coincide with major changes in psychology and social order. Our own civilization appears to be coming near the end of a boom period. Erosion is now happening faster and at a larger scale than seen with any prior civilization. But like the archaic bicameral societies, we are trapped by our collective mentality and can’t imagine how to change.

* * *

Trees, the ancient Macedonians, and the world’s first environmental disaster
by Anthony Dosseto and Alex Francke

Recently, we have studied sediments from Lake Dojran, straddling the border between Northern Macedonia and Greece. We looked at the past 12,000 years of sediment archive and found about 3,500 years ago, a massive erosion event happened.

Pollen trapped in the lake’s sediment suggests this is linked to deforestation and the introduction of agriculture in the region. Macedonian timber was highly praised for ship building at the time, which could explain the extent of deforestation.

A massive erosion event would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture and pasture. Interestingly, this event is followed by the onset of the so-called Greek “Dark Ages” (3,100 to 2,850 years ago) and the demise of the highly sophisticated Bronze Age Mycenaean civilisation.

Weight Watchers’ Paleo Diet

I know someone on Weight Watchers. She was on it before, as was her mother, but like so many others they fell off the Weight Watchers’ wagon. Since they now live in the same town together, she decided to join Weight Watchers again in order to motivate her mother to do the same. It’s a social bonding experience, as the social component is central to Weight Watchers — their dieting support groups sound like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

This person and I were talking about diets. One thing that came up was the points system with some foods listed as zero points. I’d heard about how fruits are considered zero points on the Weight Watchers’ plan. This is absurd from a low-carb perspective, but to be fair the diet does recommend to eat such things as fruits in moderation. It seems odd to call them zero points, in that case, since the point system is what is supposed to help people to maintain dietary moderation.

The original Weight Watchers had both fruit and vegetables as zero points. The purpose was to encourage people to eat more “whole foods” in place of industrially processed foods. As with so many other diets, Weight Watchers ended up severely restricting refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and seed oils. That is the reason almost any diet will lead to at least short term health benefits such as weight loss, even if the diet isn’t healthy in the long term such as lacking optimal nutrition.

Anyway, the restrictions increase over time. As one loses weight, one is given fewer points to use on a daily basis. This steadily shifts the person toward eating the zero point foods. It’s a simple form of behavioral modification, simple enough for almost anyone to follow, assuming they have the willpower to do so, albeit a major assumption to make and the typical reason why such diets have high rates of failure.

The purpose of the social support and social pressure is to keep the individual on board with the protocol, the reason almost anyone turns to a support group for any problem, from addiction to mental illness. Being around those of like mind or rather of like problem allows for commiseration and understanding. The lady I was talking to said this is the main attraction for her and I do see the value in it for many people.

What is interesting is that the zero point foods are basically part of the core of a paleo diet. Hunter-gatherers tend to eat limited fruit, although there are examples of traditional diets with higher amounts of fruit. The focus on high intake of vegetables, though, is particularly paleo.

There is a newer version of Weight Watchers, what they call the Freestyle plan. Along with fruits and vegetables, a much larger list of foods are now deemed zero points. This includes a wide variety of lean meats, something that was prioritized among many early paleo diet advocates and still is followed by many, although fattier meats have become more common in the paleo crowd. Also included are eggs and seafood, which likewise are well within the range of the paleo diet.

There are a few zero point foods that aren’t paleo. These are corn, tofu, and nonfat plain yogurt. There are also legumes, but they are eaten by some hunter-gatherers, if typically more limited in amount. But more important is what isn’t zero points, such as high-carb foods that were key to the rise of agricultural societies: potatoes, rice, grains, etc. Most dairy foods also have points and so are restricted. As one loses weight and loses points to spend on these foods, one’s diet increasingly falls in line with the paleo ideal.

I find that amusing. It might be simpler to go straight to a paleo diet and get the same results without all the complicated fuss and the unnecessary costs. Maybe that is why popularity of Weight Watchers is on the decline and popularity of the paleo diet continues to rise. But if Weight Watchers helps you move toward a healthy paleo diet, then more power to you.

Finnish Municipal Socialism

“Finland is the only EU country where homelessness is falling. Its secret? Giving people homes as soon as they need them – unconditionally.”

Finland, simply put, is socialist.

In the good ol’ days here in the United States of America, this is what used to be called sewer socialism or municipal socialism, what some would now prefer to more safely brand as social democracy but it’s the same difference. It was famous in Milwaukee, having lasted for almost three quarters of a century, from the Populism of the 1890s to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. This pragmatic socialist city was known all across the country as one of the most effectively governed at the time, praised during the early Cold War even by those who weren’t socialists.

Did you ever wonder why the citizens of Milwaukee were so happy in the tv sitcom Happy Days? It’s because they were living under this local form of democratic socialism, one of the few governments in U.S. history that literally was “of the people, by the people, for the people”. It truly was a good time to be a citizen of Milwaukee. The People had faith in their government and their government honored that faith by serving the public good. To put it far more simply, one might just call it democracy. What a crazy idea! Democracy, we should try it again sometime here in this country.

The sewer socialists were called such because they were the earliest American government to fund major public health projects. It was meant to be derogatory in the hope of dismissing their achievements as a mere obsession with sewers, but the socialists took it as a point of pride in it being a major advancement in dealing with the pollution of industrialization and the diseases of mass urbanization. Instead of only building sewers for the rich, they ensured all members of the community had hygienic living conditions and clean water, something that was novel during that period. Everyone was guaranteed to have basic needs met, including a public-owned-and-operated bakery. On top of this, they cleaned up organized crime and political cronyism. They were social and moral reformers.

Their success became the precedent that all other US cities followed and has since become standard all across the developed world. We now take this sewer socialism for granted since it has become central to every major country, either at the national or local level. Government municipalities are seen as a basic function of any well-functioning political system, but that wasn’t always the case. That was a profound change in the public perception of government’s role. Any country that lacks such basic amenities are presently judged as backwards or even as “third world”, as it is considered a sign of some combination of poverty, failure, and corruption.

Most important, sewer socialism is proven to work, proven again and again and again. It turns out improving the living conditions of the poor improves the living conditions of all of society. For those who have heard of Jesus Christ, you might remember him saying in no uncertain terms that, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Now consider this — as of 2010 in Finland, “church attendance is just 1.5 percent in the capital city region” (Nina Mustonen, Church Attendance Falls; Religion Seen as Private). So, why did it take the capital city in one of the most secular countries in the world to follow a central Christian dictum?

American Christians might want to contemplate that. All of us, Christian and otherwise, should rethink socialism, maybe rethink our entire society.

* * *

‘It’s a miracle’: Helsinki’s radical solution to homelessness
by Jon Henley, The Guardian

Housing First costs money, of course: Finland has spent €250m creating new homes and hiring 300 extra support workers. But a recent study showed the savings in emergency healthcare, social services and the justice system totalled as much as €15,000 a year for every homeless person in properly supported housing.

Interest in the policy beyond the country’s borders has been exceptional, from France to Australia, says Vesikansa. The British government is funding pilot schemes in Merseyside, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, whose Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, is due in Helsinki in July to see the policy in action.

But if Housing First is working in Helsinki, where half the country’s homeless people live, it is also because it is part of a much broader housing policy. More pilot schemes serve little real purpose, says Kaakinen: “We know what works. You can have all sorts of projects, but if you don’t have the actual homes … A sufficient supply of social housing is just crucial.”

And there, the Finnish capital is fortunate. Helsinki owns 60,000 social housing units; one in seven residents live in city-owned housing. It also owns 70% of the land within the city limits, runs its own construction company, and has a current target of building 7,000 more new homes – of all categories – a year.

In each new district, the city maintains a strict housing mix to limit social segregation: 25% social housing, 30% subsidised purchase, and 45% private sector. Helsinki also insists on no visible external differences between private and public housing stock, and sets no maximum income ceiling on its social housing tenants.

It has invested heavily, too, in homelessness prevention, setting up special teams to advise and help tenants in danger of losing their homes and halving the number of evictions from city-owned and social housing from 2008 to 2016.

“We own much of the land, we have a zoning monopoly, we run our own construction company,” says Riikka Karjalainen, senior planning officer. “That helped a lot with Housing First because simply, there is no way you will eradicate homelessness without a serious, big-picture housing policy.”

The Boy Crisis

There is a recent C-SPAN talk with Warren Farrell about his book, The Boy Crisis. Although mostly focused on the US, I imagine it would apply to some other countries, as he does briefly mention ISIS recruits. American boys and girls have the same suicide rate at age 9, but in the years following that it goes up for boys only. Overall, the mortality of boys is declining in recent years, even though mortality of girls remains the same. I don’t know if the book is insightful or not, as I haven’t read it, but the issues the author brings up are important. I’ve made similar observations about gender divides. Let me make my case, although my thoughts here are tentative and so I’m not entirely attached to them. No doubt my own biases will slip in, but let me try my best to be clear in my position, even if I’m not perfectly right.

The difficulty is gender inevitably is mixed with culture, not that gender is merely a social construct, but gender identity and perception does have a powerful influence. I’d argue that, in certain ways, girls get more of a certain kind of attention. My nieces have received immense help for problems they’ve had such as social training, therapy, etc and been given many opportunities such as signing them up for social events, activities, etc. But what I sense is that my nephew who has serious problems has mostly been ignored, such as no one apparently helping him with his learning difficulties, despite his obviously needing more help than his sister and female cousin who are natural learners. The attitude seems to be that boys will be boys, that boys should suck it up and take care of their own problems, that boys aren’t sensitive like girls and so don’t need the same help, that boys are naturally aggressive and disruptive and so troubled behavior should simply be expected or else punished. Boy problems are to be ignored or eliminated, a Social Darwinian approach less often applied to girls, so it seems to me.

There is also something physiological going on, something I feel more confident in asserting. Boys and girls do seem to deal with health issues differently. Girls, according to some research, have a better ability at dealing with stress (or maybe just less acting out their stress in ways that distress others, similar to how female-profile aspies might be better at socially compensating than male-profile aspies). Some of the aggressive and impulsive behaviors from such things as lead toxicity can be rationalized away as the extremes of otherwise normal boy behavior. The same goes for autism, ADHD, etc — simply not taken as seriously when seen in boys (e.g., autism explained as extreme male profile). This is complicated by the question of whether girls are being diagnosed less, a complication I’ve written about before but won’t be explored further in this post because it goes into difficult issues of the psychology and behavior of personality as filtered through culture.

Dr. Leonard Sax also speculates that something in the environment or diet is causing developmental issues (and this is where much of my own recent thinking comes in). Over time, girls are reaching puberty earlier and boys later, which causes an inequality in neurocognitive development and educational achievement, resulting in boys dropping out at higher rates and girls attending college at higher rates. He suspects it might have to do with estrogen-like chemicals in plastics (then again, it could have to do with food additives, increased soy consumption, hormones in dairy, a high-carb diet, etc or else any number of a slew of environmental toxins and other chemicals, some of which are hormone mimics; others have observed that boys today seem to have more effeminate features such as less square jaw structure than what is seen in photographs of boys from the past and from hunter-gatherer tribes). He also makes a slightly different kind of argument that typical boy behavior is less tolerated in schools with stereotypical girl behavior being the ideal of a good student — that of sitting quietly and calmly, rather than running around like, well, little boys which is an issue as free playtime and gym classes have been among the first to be cut in the new push for teaching to the test (of course, this would also impact girls who don’t follow stereotypical female behavior). Not all of these arguments necessarily fit together.

Most likely, it’s dozen of major factors that are overlapping (and one senses the terrain covered with landmines of confounders). Throw in some reactionary right-wing backlash to mix it up, along with partisan politics to polarize the population. The paranoia about boys being emasculated turns into a moral panic and there is the fear on the other side about the return of theocratic patriarchy or whatever. There is no doubt something to worry about for all involved, but the water gets muddied up with ideologically-driven fearful fantasies and identity politics of every variety. Similar moral panics were seen before WWI and earlier before the Civil War. Societies have a tendency of getting militaristic and violent toward other societies, in the hope of toughening up their boys and often the rhetoric and propaganda becomes rather blatant about this. It is madness that leads to madness. Meanwhile, the real problems facing boys mostly get ignored by the political left and right, until a few generations later when the unresolved problems erupt again as moral panic returns.

Society goes through cycles of ignoring boys and obsessing over them. Girls typically never get the same kind of extreme attention, positive or negative (which one could argue leads to other problems for girls). There is a lot of social pressure in being a boy and a lot more judgment for perceived failure and inadequacy, which surely would relate to the higher rate of suicide and self-destructive behavior, including suicide by cop. That isn’t to say life is easy for girls either, but many of the measurements seem to be improving or at least remaining stable for girls in a way not seen for boys where in important areas worsening is apparent. There is a growing disparity that needs to be explained. Why would mortality be worsening for boys while not for girls? Why would more girls and fewer boys be attending college? Why are there more homeless men on the streets? In a society that is historically patriarchal with certain male privileges, this is the complete opposite of what one would expect. And this resonates with life expectancy and well-being (e.g., drug addiction rates) getting worse for rural white men and middle class white men, even as most other demographics aren’t seeing such declines, indicating that even among males it’s particular populations being hit the most.

The awareness of this problem, a sense of something severely wrong, is the kind of thing driving too many Americans to support someone like President Donald Trump. The populist outrage is real, if misdirected in a way that will make everything worse. Authoritarian nationalism promoted through xenophobic scapegoating, chest-pounding, and war-mongering is not going to save our boys. Yet one can feel that so many people in power are itching for mass violence to enforce social order again and that means enforcing nostalgic notions of ultra-masculinity. Nurturing children, all children, and ensuring public health and the public good for all… well, that is less exciting than lamenting the decline of Western civilization or whatever. It’s not about gender wars, about boys and men losing their position in society or it shouldn’t be about that. We need to find ways to help children where they are at, to create equality of opportunities not only in theory but in reality. We are a society out of balance with gender being one expression among many others.

Improving the lives of girls should be a priority, as is true for other historically disadvantaged demographics and populations. But it is severely problematic if improvement in one area of society seems to be coming at the cost at worsening conditions elsewhere, such as for boys. Even if that isn’t exactly true, in that one can’t be directly or fully blamed for the other, we shouldn’t be so naive as not to realize that is how it will get portrayed. We can’t afford to dismiss the real harm and suffering caused to part of the population, especially at a time when the entire society is under stress. Identity politics turned into dysfunctional demographic tribalism can’t lead to a happy result. This situation isn’t feminism in a fight against the men’s rights movement. These boys have sisters, mothers, and aunts. And these boys will grow up to be husbands and fathers. We don’t live in demographic abstractions for we are part of personal relationships that connect us. Our problems are shared, as is the good we seek.