Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seeing the Obvious

To me, this iconic image of sugar, courtesy of the NY Times, reminds me of the look of Sin City, the cliche-ridden but awesome Frank Miller comic book series turned into 21st century film noir with style and flair but, as par for the course, this blurb is not about Sin City but rather about sugar, the sweet killer that yours truly, and millions of others, are hooked on (though I'm getting better, honest) with consequences too dire to ignore. The telling part of Is Sugar Toxic? centers on metabolic differentials when eating sugar residing as a natural component of food (potato, bread etc.) versus eating it as additive (soda, candy, cereal) and why it matters to human health.

"The phrase Lustig uses when he describes this concept is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.” This means we can eat 100 calories of glucose (from a potato or bread or other starch) or 100 calories of sugar (half glucose and half fructose), and they will be metabolized differently and have a different effect on the body. The calories are the same, but the metabolic consequences are quite different.

The fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. (High Fructose Corn Syrup) is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose.

In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.

If what happens in laboratory rodents also happens in humans, and if we are eating enough sugar to make it happen, then we are in trouble."

When looking at the impact of sugar on the human condition from the perspective of people who have recently gone the McDonald's route, the transformation of healthy lifestyle to that of Super Size Me is rather striking to say the least.

"The second observation was that malignant cancer, like diabetes, was a relatively rare disease in populations that didn’t eat Western diets, and in some of these populations it appeared to be virtually nonexistent. In the 1950s, malignant cancer among the Inuit, for instance, was still deemed sufficiently rare that physicians working in northern Canada would publish case reports in medical journals when they did diagnose a case.

In 1984, Canadian physicians published an analysis of 30 years of cancer incidence among Inuit in the western and central Arctic. While there had been a “striking increase in the incidence of cancers of modern societies” including lung and cervical cancer, they reported, there were still “conspicuous deficits” in breast-cancer rates. They could not find a single case in an Inuit patient before 1966; they could find only two cases between 1967 and 1980. Since then, as their diet became more like ours, breast cancer incidence has steadily increased among the Inuit, although it’s still significantly lower than it is in other North American ethnic groups. Diabetes rates in the Inuit have also gone from vanishingly low in the mid-20th century to high today."

No doubt, the vagaries of crappy food and slothfulness is taking a toll on America the Huge. Another gem from the Magazine Heath Issue of the NY Times titled Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, a provocative piece involving magic underware, body motion and cardiac arrest. It's a good read for sure. 

"His initial question — which he first posed in a 1999 study — was simple: Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight? After assessing how much food each of his subjects needed to maintain their current weight, Dr. Levine then began to ply them with an extra 1,000 calories per day. Sure enough, some of his subjects packed on the pounds, while others gained little to no weight.

“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,” explains Dr. Michael Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher who collaborated with Dr. Levine on the studies. But that wasn’t the case. Then six years later, with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t."

On a personal note, extensive walking, eating less sugar and fidgiting during the Winter From Hell kept the weight off for the first time in 20+ years so, from this very lax adherence to good health, the info presented here sounds pretty good to me. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I've Got My Eye on You

Database Nation, Simon Garfinkle's prescient book, depicts our society as being under constant surveillance, where privacy is but a dream and little can be done to stop it. David Brin's Transparent Society also deals with this issue with the added notion that openness is the only way to maintain freedom because privacy is forever gone and tit for tat is the only viable way to go to keep liberty alive, a position BRT supports without question as we have seen what opacity has done to this country regarding governance, finance and business.

On a personal note, the NYTimes excellent primer titled How to Fix (Or Kill) Web Data About You, provides sound advice on how to limit the damage while trolling on the web.

"If you want to try to manage privacy, the obvious first place to start is with the search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo, exactly where other people will most likely go to check you out. Run keyword searches of your name, address, phone numbers and other identifying data and see what turns up. Don’t stop after the first few pages of search results. While they will be the most influential, the embarrassing or forgotten tidbits can show up on page six and beyond, warns Andy Beal, co-author of “Radically Transparent,” a book about monitoring and managing online reputations, and a consultant who says he has helped people get information removed from the Web.

Also look for online accounts you opened but don’t use anymore, especially on social networks or dating sites where you would have provided extensive personal information. Not only can people dig up details, as the Mashable blog recently did when it posted what appeared to be information about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s online dating life, but the site you entrusted data to could change its privacy practices or be acquired by a company with different policies.

If you’re daunted by this research job, there are companies willing to do the work for you. The privacy software start-up Abine charges $99 a year for quarterly reports detailing the information available about you online."

Because of the ability of sites to siphon information about you is so pervasive, senators Kerry and McCain are proposing a new consumer privacy law that begins to move toward the concept of the right to be left alone.

"Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday made a bipartisan call for new legislation to protect consumer privacy on the Internet.

In introducing the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, Mr. Kerry cited the 107 trillion e-mails that were sent last year and the nearly 600 million Facebook users as proof of how much consumers used the Internet.

“Every single day each of us produces a staggering amount of personal information on the Internet,” Mr. Kerry said in a news conference with reporters. “That journey can be tracked, it can be stored and it can be shared on an almost unimaginable scale.”

The privacy “rights” would ensure that companies that collected data implemented security measures to protect that data. It would also require companies to provide consumers with notice about what data were being collected and allow them to opt-out if they chose."

Whether this will work, "One never knows, do one?" - Fats Waller

IMHO, Tit for Tat is the only valid solution to the loss of privacy as it levels the playing field for those doing the surveilling on those who are being surveilled against. Brin shows how this concept can work in elegant fashion in Transparent Society.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Tax Man

Minority Report, a really good Spielberg film, has been quoted many times in BRT as its view of the future, particularly regarding haptics and interface, is nuanced and well researched but... as par for the course of BRT, the film is not the raison d'ete of this piece but rather acts as start point in looking at the IRS and the incredible waste of time and money we put out in order to do our taxes. The guesstimate to date: a cool $250-300 billion, a rather tidy sum spent on a system that encourages everyone to cheat while providing something of little or no value unless one has a sharp accountant able to bury one's monies with skill and finesse.

"This very elaborate and morally ambiguous law enforcement system is predicated on the government determining what your actions and intentions will be, often before you do. It’s not all science fiction.

A number of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington D.C. are seeking to step up the Internal Revenue Service’s powers, and technology, to essentially audit taxpayers before returns are even filed.

In remarks to the National Press Club last week, an IRS spokesman unveiled the agency’s vision for the “look forward” model in which most of the pertinent reporting information for the average taxpayer (W2, 1099, mortgage interest etc.) would be submitted to the IRS well in advance of the individual deadline."

Sovereign Man goes on, giving the benefit of the doubt to the IRS regarding precognition, a notion I am not sure of, but his analysis of how to do taxes right is spot on.

1) Keep it short. The Baltic countries are a great example of this– the entire Estonian tax code is about 70 pages, roughly 1/1000th the size of the US tax code (which is still prone to so much interpretation). It takes about 15 minutes to fill out an Estonian return, and you can do it online. In the Maldives, it’s even easier.

2) Keep it simple. When you have a tax code that’s so complex it has given rise to a multi-billion dollar preparation industry, you have a problem. There are dozens of different forms at the IRS, and over 20 versions for the 1099 alone! This is a system that is prone to massive flaws and a great deal of contradiction.

Hong Kong is a great example of a simple system. Taxes are levied at a flat rate of 15% based on the “territorial principal” that only income derived from Hong Kong is taxed. There is no capital gains tax, no VAT, no estate tax, etc. And yet, the biggest problem the Hong Kong government faces regarding taxes is how to give away their massive surplus.

3) Keep it low. When you make it easy and painless for people to pay taxes, it removes most of the incentives for them to cheat. In Singapore, tax rates are among the lowest in the world with a maximum rate of 20%. The capital gains rate is zero. The corporate rate varies from 0% to 17% (and keeps falling).

Under these circumstances, why cheat? By keeping rates low, the government is removing any incentive to engage in complicated (and costly) tax avoidance techniques."

If this was done, the army of accountants and tax lawyers needed to do taxes would shrink to insignificance and the cost and agita of sending money to Uncle Sam would go away but the special interests are too powerful to let this happen and besides, we all know who owns the IRS, don't we?

Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake, the famous last words of Marie Antoinette, rings true regarding The Fed and the corrupt financial system it runs on behalf of the banksters that own America.

"Now, following an act of Congress that has forced the Fed to open its books from the bailout era, this unofficial budget is for the first time becoming at least partially a matter of public record. Staffers in the Senate and the House, whose queries about Fed spending have been rebuffed for nearly a century, are now poring over 21,000 transactions and discovering a host of outrages and lunacies in the "other" budget. It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. "Our jaws are literally dropping as we're reading this," says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Every one of these transactions is outrageous."

It get better...

"But if you want to get a true sense of what the "shadow budget" is all about, all you have to do is look closely at the taxpayer money handed over to a single company that goes by a seemingly innocuous name: Waterfall TALF Opportunity. At first glance, Waterfall's haul doesn't seem all that huge — just nine loans totaling some $220 million, made through a Fed bailout program. That doesn't seem like a whole lot, considering that Goldman Sachs alone received roughly $800 billion in loans from the Fed. But upon closer inspection, Waterfall TALF Opportunity boasts a couple of interesting names among its chief investors: Christy Mack and Susan Karches.

Christy is the wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. Susan is the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley's investment-banking division. Neither woman appears to have any serious history in business, apart from a few philanthropic experiences. Yet the Federal Reserve handed them both low-interest loans of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars through a complicated bailout program that virtually guaranteed them millions in risk-free income."

While reading this,  one sees, as per the BRT article titled, This Sentence is False, an indirect connect to the days preceding the French Revolution whereby the ones in power lost the ability to lead and govern, thus causing the bourgeois to revolt and plunge the country into violence and chaos, something that could happen here if the system continues to break down as it has been doing for the past 10+ years with the end result of leaving the middle class destitute while the rich and powerful continue to live high off the hog courtesy of the last remaining MC monies flowing into the US Treasury via taxes paid to the IRS, the vilified entity controlled by the Fed, the cartel protected by government.

Seen above is the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, the queen who lost her head on October 16, 1793

Here's another take on the Fed titled Crony Capitalism from David Stockman, you know, the Voodoo Economics guy who worked for Ronnie Reagan. It seems he has found his senses big time and posted a cogent piece everyone should read concerning an out of control organization that is sending our once great nation toward the abyss of fiscal insolvency.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Our Money at Work

Matt Tiabbi strikes again regarding the complete corruption of our financial system with his piece titled 

But this is par for the course as seen by the 10 corporations who paid NO TAXES last year while receiving bailouts from the Fed. 

Seems we, the middle class, foots the bill while paying taxes and getting screwed by the so called representatives who represent us but hey, according to the supremes, corporations are people, no?

"And so it goes." Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse 5

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Rarely in Isolation

To most people, the sole inventor of calculus was Issac Newton, something not true (Newton disputed this fact bitterly) as great ideas rarely come from just one person i.e., Charles Darwin & Alfred Wallace/Evolution, Alan Turing & John VonNeumann/computing, but rather, in this case, two; Issac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz but Gottfied, the distinguished personage seen above, created something else of some merit,  the binary numeral system, the basis for all things digital, a notion, I'll bet, even the great and irascible Newton wished he had done while writing his great Principia Mathmatica.

Inside Job - Is Now Online

Inside Job is now online, ready to be viewed and commented on. 
After seeing this, one should ask the magic question... 
Why aren't these bastards in jail?!!!