May 13, 2011

Diet for a Sick Planet

Recently my tinfoil hat was having reception problems. Signal-to-noise ratio very low, static on the line, garbled transmission, et cetera. Thus, I twisted the top of the hat into a long, tight spiral and leaned out of an upper floor window, at night so as to lessen sunspot interference.

What I then heard was astonishing. While the messages arrived piecemeal, the gist of the communication took this form: Americans have been systematically deceived and defrauded into buying metric tons of statin drugs, blood pressure meds and a whole host of other worthless crap, all at tremendous cost, on the strength of a set of carefully controlled and protected lies. The central lie is as follows: Americans, 32% of whom are obese (body mass index greater than 30) and 64% of whom are overweight, have these problems because of an excess of dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, such as found in anything that tastes good. Thus, Americans have become mordibly rotund, with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type-II (adult onset) diabetes. The message concluded with a simple directive: Read Gary Taubes.

So I read Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories. The first book is the shorter version of the second, and was written by Mr. Taubes (a science writer, not a PhD or M.D., and thus is authoritative only in the sense that he's right and lacks the motivation to lie of Big Pharma or the American Heart Association) in response to the requests of sympathetic cardiologists, diabetologists and nutritionists who wanted something they could give their patients other than the encyclopedic history of metabolic research contained in Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is a fascinating exploration of how the American public has been bamboozled into becoming perfect subjects for massive, ruinous drug interventions.

To put it simply, the sickness in American society is caused by the over-consumption of refined carbohydrates, leading to too much insulin secretion, leading to too much implacable fat storage, leading to the insulin resistance of metabolic syndrome. The statement of the problem isn't really all that complicated, although the underlying metabolic science is very complicated indeed.
However, beginning in 1977 with the publication of Dietary Guidelines for America, a work primarily influenced by the anti-dietary fat crusader Ancel Keys (for whom K-rations were named), the U.S. has systematically emphasized that the problems of obesity and heart disease and diabetes (a disease of carbohydrate metabolism) were caused by excessive consumption of saturated fat. Thus, a diet should consist of about 60% carbohydrates with the balance of 40% as some mix of proteins and fats, the percentages varying depending on fads. Sometimes 20-20, sometimes 25-15, whatever.

Americans responded to this advice. It sounded right, as if, when one eats a Big Mac, the globules of saturated fat simply travel from the gut to the arterial wall, or to the belly, with the McDonald's logo still attached. The power of plausible imagery. Thus, during the period of roughly 1980 to the present Americans reduced their fat intake, both in terms of absolute calories and as a percentage of total intake, year after year. The result has been the American obesity epidemic. Obesity is now increasing at the rate of about 1% per year, or about 3 million people per year crossing the line into the danger zone of diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, high low-density ("bad") cholesterol, atherosclerosis and premature death.

Attempts to explain the obesity solely in terms of sedentary behavior or increases in total calories consumed do not hold up to detailed statistical analysis. Let us remember that the march toward Fat Land America was accompanied by the fitness crazes of jogging, aerobics, bicycling and many other activities, and that the concept of the exercise gym, which was pretty much Jack La Lanne and a couple of other guys in the 1960's, became a huge industry. Yet by keeping the problem complex, Big Pharma and the AMA could continue making billions selling Lipitor, Plavix, hypertension meds, and the rest of the obesity-related drugs, and doctors' offices could be kept full of patients seeking completely unnecessary treatment. What wasn't to like?

As an experiment of one, I tried what Mr. Taubes recommended. I was a fitting subject, bordering as I was on a number of the metabolic syndrome parameters. Borderline triglycerides, borderline Stage I hypertension, overweight, et cetera. I began eating the Flintstone diet. Protein with every meal, lots of leafy green vegetables, plenty of eggs, protein shakes (cavemen would make these in earthen jugs with sabre-toothed tiger's blood), a little fruit. Water and green tea to drink, mostly, after the morning cup of joe. What I gave up: bread, pasta, scones, Danish, bagels, bearclaws (the pastry, not the paleolithic kill), alcohol, potatoes (French fries, chips, any other way), and over-consumption of fruit. I never cared for dairy anyway, so you can add ice cream and sugared yogurt to the list, but I didn't really have to give them up. No soft drinks at all, including those laced with high fructose corn syrup.

The results have been dramatic. In slightly over 3 weeks, I have lost 10 pounds, two inches on my waist size, my BP is at 121/78, and I have far more energy, which I find I can only burn off through exercise. Therefore, it seems that diet and exercise are mutually reinforcing. If you eat poorly, you're lethargic and don't want to exercise. If you eat well, you're energetic and practically have to exercise.

There are about one billion obese people in the world. 100 million of them (10%) live in the United States. Thus, with 5% of the world's population, the U.S. is over-represented by a factor of two. Most of the health care debates regularly recite that America spends "twice" per capita what other industrialized countries spend with inferior results. Gee, any ideas how that might be the case? Maybe it's because American citizens just aren't taking enough Lipitor.

May 09, 2011

Muslim Soul On Ice

Naturally, it's a titillating suggestion that the "take out" of Osama bin Laden was a hoax. (I do love the way non-combatant politicians and bureaucrats, such as Leon Panetta, quickly gravitate toward tough-guy lingo. I heard Panetta talk about the decision to "blow the chopper" to keep it from falling into Pakistani [our trusted allies] hands. I always thought Leon looked more or less exactly like a character actor from a 1950s sitcom, maybe a pharmacist on "Dobie Gillis." The real grunts must get a kick out of these guys in the wool suits and colorful Hermes ties talking about "blowing choppers" and "taking the target out.")

Anyway, I was personally halfway convinced OBL was already dead, relying upon such noted tin foil hatspeople as Donald Rumsfeld, General Tommy Franks and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan as sources. It did seem the most likely explanation for his complete disappearance. Iran's government seems a lot more than just "halfway convinced."

Conspiracy theories usually fit within the interstices of a consensus factual pattern. Here, the Obama Administration has been most helpful in throwing fuel on the fire by (a) refusing to release photos of the dead man, (b) setting a world record for DNA matching and (c) dumping the body into the Arabian Sea before the body could get cold(er). Or thaw out more, depending on whom you believe. The most popular conspiracy theory making the rounds now, advanced by the always stable and reliable Alex Jones of Austin, TX, is that bin Laden died as the result of U.S. action in Tora Bora, in 2001. The American military retrieved the body, froze it and waited for an opportune time to use it. Like a week ago Sunday.

One thing I would say: the above version of supposed events is only slightly more unbelievable than the Official Story, which is that Osama bin Laden lived more or less openly in the Paki equivalent of West Point, in a large house, and undoubtedly received routine medical care and visitors at the house for over six years. All without detection, or leaking of his whereabouts to the United States, despite the $25 million price on his head. You cannot escape the conclusion that the Pakistani government was protecting bin Laden with the full complicity of its political and military institutions. In fact, Pakistan rescued bin Laden from the Americans. What other way is there of looking at the situation realistically?

Well, other ways, of course, because the Washington chattering classes have to find other ways to describe this obvious, broad-based betrayal for one simple reason: Pakistan possesses the Muslim Bomb, that guarantor of American deference and even diffidence. This is such a hairball one might think that Mr. Obama himself might want to buy into the conspiracy theory and say, Dallas-and-Bobby-Ewing-style, that it just never happened. Bin Laden was always dead and Pakistan just never had to hide anybody.

I doubt that, and so do you, probably. There have been massive hoaxes on the American people, even involving complicated events requiring complicity and cooperation from large numbers of people. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was probably the most notable example. On August 2, 1964 the U.S.S. Maddox (above), an American destroyer, came under attack in Vietnam's Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Many rounds of ordnance were fired by both sides but the Maddox remained afloat. Two days later, on August 4, the Maddox supposedly came under attack again by torpedo boats. This is where the hoax began: there was no second attack, but the Johnson Administration wanted to use the "series" of attacks as a reason to escalate the war from advisors and materiel support to the South Vietnamese government to a full-scale ground war using U.S. troops. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress (with Senator Wayne Morse, D-OR, famed iconoclast, casting one of the two dissenting votes), gave Johnson the authorization he wanted. The tragedy of the Vietnam War then followed.

Nixon and Kissinger also bombed Cambodia in 1970 and falsified bombing reports and maps to conceal the expansion of the war, all with the cooperation of commanders in place in Vietnam. So such large-scale, complicated hoaxes can be accomplished with enough dishonesty and political motivation.

In the present case, it's hard to see how it really matters. Bin Laden is dead either way, either for a decade or since last Sunday night. The story told by the Obama Administration regarding concealment of the photos and the disposal of the body also has a surface plausibility, and anyway, if the photos were revealed and the body preserved, it would not put an end to the conspiracy theories. You can never put an end to a good conspiracy theory. My own guess is that the "shooting of bin Laden" is just not worth faking to the powers that be. There are too many ways the truth could come out: a Navy SEAL on the mission lets something out, a disgruntled Bush Administration member mumbles something off the record about bin Laden already being dead, et cetera.

On the other hand, how the hell did the United States fake a sea battle in 1964? That's taking the "fog of war" stuff a little far, it seems. More validation for the Vacillating Prince's dictum that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than dreamt of in our philosophy.