Saturday, 26 April 2014

Looking at life through brown-coloured glasses

I found out I was colour-vision-impaired when i was about 5, and back in the insensitive days it was simply called being 'colour blind'. It wasn't exactly shattering news - I still saw things the way I’d always seen them, just with a new nagging doubt that I was possibly wearing pink pants instead of red and that I’d be disappointed if I ever wanted to be an electrician or bomb disposal expert.

Ignorance is bliss some of the time, but when you look back over your life and recall instances where you (now) realise you must have looked pretty silly – it can be a little unsettling. The time delay probably makes it worse as I sit, shake my head and think "I must have looked like a bloody tool".

Just a few that I remember:
  • The pink/red pants thing actually happened, or perhaps some dickhead was just messing with me. Either way, it was a traumatic day at primary school.
  • That fluro green polo shirt I wore to high school wasn't as cool looking as I thought it was. Kids stopping in their tracks and faking blindness was the giveaway.
  • Thinking the ‘skin tone’ pimple cream actually blended in with my skin tone and didn't stand out like dog's balls. I used that shit for years.
  • Buying a lilac work shirt online, only to be told when it arrived in the mail,  that lilac looked a hell of a lot like pink.
  • Telling people that I own a purple car and then finding out years later it was green.
Hardly life changing tragic events, I know, but I'm guessing there are many more, and I remain blissfully unaware. My wife still asks me if I’ve seen her ‘red’ dress, knowing full well that I have previously thought her red dress to be brown or grey. But that probably says more about female logic than anything else.

My kids are slightly less argumentative and know not to ask me about colours - just because I know the words to the Rainbow song, doesn't mean I know which stripe is purple and which is blue.

As far as genetic afflictions go, it's not really up there with Spina bifida or Bloom syndrome, and a lot more common, but i can attest to it being bloody annoying. I don’t imagine you’d tell someone with cerebral palsy to cheer up because they weren't born with Down ’s syndrome. So telling me I’m whinging about nothing and that I could be totally blind is not really helpful.


apparently there is a "74" in there somewhere
I see a vague "21" in that dot thingy, I only know which traffic light is the stop light due to it being at the top and the tiny little red/yellow/orange lights on anything electrical are completely pointless. Looking at my chilli trees and trying to pick the red from the green gives me a headache. Put them next to each other and it's easy, but in a sea of green leaves it is a total head-truck.

If you say the words turquoise, violet or magenta, you might as well be speaking Japanese, because I have no idea what you're talking about. Some shades of colour are obvious, others are not and depends on the lighting or my immediate care factor as to whether I can tell what colour your eyes are.

Genetically, all this annoyance is my Mum's fault - she gave me the dodgy X chromosome, the selfish bitch. Seriously though, that I wasn't destined to be an interior designer isn't a crushing weight on my mind or outlook on life. I see things a little different to the average person, and the older I get, the less I care whether my socks match my sandals*. 
I can see that this tiger is the colour: "awesome with black stripes"
 *I haven't reached the sock and sandal wearing stage, but it seems it's only a matter of time.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Death by Food Pyramid review

School holidays means a few more minutes each day for sitting and reading for fun - something of a luxury for me lately. While I had a few books to choose from, I decided to read Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger.



I should preface any book review, no matter how amatuerish, by saying that I'm not the type of person who can trudge through any book, no matter how uninteresting, just for the satisfaction of saying "I read it". If a book doesn't hold my attention past the first 10 pages, I simply don't read it. 

To provide an example of my almost-ADHD-mentality, I am familiar with Denise's blog and her widely acclaimed take-down of the China Study. I got through the first one third of that particular post before losing interest, not because it was unconvincing but because I didn't need convincing. If a weird-looking vego is spruiking bullshit, just say so, I don't need the 5,000 words of logic.


I put off buying Death by Food Pyramid (DBFP) because I thought I wouldn't learn much - y'know, the food pyramid is built on lies and corrupt stooges, blah blah blah. And while that theme certainly plays a big part in the story, Denise's determination to convey it in a way that exudes impartiality and thoroughness is refreshing. I like her style of writing and enjoyed learning about the nice people such as Luise Light and also the salivary amylase section.

There is probably something for almost everyone in DBFP, and if I was to be really picky, I'd say she tries a bit too hard to please everyone (including the vegans) with tips on supplementing a nutritionally-void diet and taking things a bit easy on Mr Keyes. In saying that, she is up front about the book not being a 'you must eat this way' type of thing, which is what distinguishes it from thousands of others. 


There does seem to be a few favourable nods to the paleo mob but if you're a hard core low carber looking for confirmation bias, then you may be slightly disappointed. Denise tip-toes on the side of caution when it comes to red meat and digesting lots of saturated fat. In fact she seems to ignore Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diets almost entirely, which I thought was slightly odd. Her comments toward the end about low carb diets and thyroid seemed like an unnecessary afterthought. 

Despite DBFP being a good read, there were some negatives, the first (very picky, I know) being the foreword. I've learned a lot from Chris Masterjohn and I think he's a very smart man, but his foreword was awkward. I don't think I've ever read one that spent so much text explaining to the reader how much schooling he's done and how many websites he writes for. The word "I" is written 18 times and "my" 20 times. 
Not a great way to start a book.

The second negative - when a book I'm reading brings up Apolipoprotein E4, I get a little excited, especially if i wasn't expecting it. But to be brutally honest, I was disappointed by the flippant way Denise treated the subject. I'm not sure why she bothered if all she was going to do was repeat the same guess work and vague caution of so many others. 

The reason she brought up ApoE in the first place was due to genetic factors playing a role in which diet suits us best. A logical topic to discuss, however the general idea she seemed to be conveying was that if you were in possession of one or more E4 alleles, then you should probably take it easy on saturated fat.

I don’t agree with that but I concede that she may be correct because no one really knows the truth with any certainty. But she doesn't sound convincing when she references Yadong Yang et al for her statement; "And worse, some human studies-albeit observational- support the idea that a high saturated fat intake may increase heart attack risk for ApoE4 carriers, especially for folks stuck with two copies of the allele".

Given her considered explanation of how to read a science paper, I was puzzled. Maybe I'm just suffering from a bad case of Dunning-Kruger, but Yang et al just reads like one of the thousands of papers that equate 'higher' LDL cholesterol with increased risk of heart attack. 

Yang et al kept an eye on a few thousand Cost Ricans (some who'd had a heart attack and an equal amount who hadn't) and tested their cholesterol after putting them under headings of "low saturated fat diet" and "high saturated fat diet". Details of how they actually kept track of diet composition was sadly lacking but despite this all-too-typical exclusion, that the "high saturated fat diet" people had higher cholesterol should not be surprising to anyone. 

But if you're on the "I don't believe in the lipid hypothesis but I still base my beliefs on numbers on a lipid panel" team then you may also note they also had lower triglycerides and higher HDL. 

If you're on the "so fucking what?" team, then you may be as baffled as I was. If they'd actually recorded cardiac events or deaths, then fine, but they didn't. Exactly how they calculated "risk of myocardial infarction" is beyond me, but comments such as "well-established association between saturated fat-intake and risk of MI" didn't fill me with great confidence of their non-bias. 


That Denise is so thorough in pointing out faults in studies but thinks we should accept this as a good one is bizarre. I just didn't get it at all.

Denise also says “folks carrying at least one copy of ApoE4 have significantly higher rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s” “as well as notably higher LDL levels”. The references being:

HanniaCampos, Michael D’Agostino, and José M. Ordovás, “Gene-Diet Interactions andPlasma Lipoproteins: Role of Apoliporpotein E and Habitual Saturated Fat Intake,”Genetic Epidemiology 20, no. 1 (2001)

and

Full text of Campos et al is not available to poor people but the abstract suggests they studied 420 Costa Ricans, of which 6% (about 25) had E4. They divided them all into two groups - low saturated fat diet (8.6% of energy) and high saturated fat diet (13.5% of energy). The high(er) fat diet didn’t do the E2 people any favours but the E4s had lower VLDL and higher HDL and also larger LDL particles.

I’m not sure why those results are a bad thing for E4s.  

Song et al is a meta-analysis, and not a particularly good one in the opinion of Anoop et al, who wrote “However, these data were observational and confounding biases might have affected the pooled estimates. There are potential chances of argument toward the fact that the true genetic effects of APO E genotypes on CHD cannot be quantified from any pooling or meta-analysis of studies with heterogeneous samples.”


Anoop et al concluded “Several studies have established the APO E ε4 allele as a risk allele for cardiovascular diseases while others do not find any association.

Look, I could just be extremely biased and desperate to hold on to my fantasy that people with Apolipoprotein E4 are not born to be vegans, but the references and the statements from Denise on this topic appear to be quite feeble.

Due credit goes to her for stating “Even if you carry the ApoE4 gene, it doesn't mean dietary cholesterol and fat are cruel substances out to kill you”, but that brief message gets lost and seems completely at odds with her commentary.

“It may well be that ApoE4 carriers do best on diets that emphasize leaner animal products”. I honestly don’t get these types of comments. Very smart people who say them are on the one hand suggesting that the diet-heart hypothesis is pure dribble and then turning around and saying “oh, but if you have ApoE4, it’s totally true”.

Am I missing something? Correlation doesn't equal causation unless you’re an E4 club member? Honestly, if you don’t know why E4 plays a role in AD and CVD (and no-one seems to), then just say so.

In the words of Anoop et al – “apo E remains enigmatic to date and needs to be explored further in order to elucidate its precise role in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.”

Summary

While I've blabbered on about the ApoE stuff, I've probably blown it out of proportion given that it represents just a few pages of the book. Overall I think Death by Food Pyramid is well worth the money and time. Entertainment, an engaging story and impartiality is what you’ll get, strong opinions and a clear directive as to what you should eat is not. If the latter is what you want, you'll be disappointed.

Rating - 7/10 

A nice quote - "The burden is on our own shoulders to stay educated, informed, shrewd,
critical, proactive, and unyielding in the face of the Goliaths that loom before us."

Disclosure - my care factor (zero) prevented me from actually reading the bits on "staying healthy when animal foods are off the menu" and "plant-based diets".

Monday, 14 April 2014

The agony of parenthood

The good things that come from parenthood outweigh the bad things by at least 10 to 1, however there are times when that one thing is particularly unpleasant.

Case in point - we thought it would be a good idea to take the kids to see the latest animated movie during the school holidays - Mr Peabody and Sherman. 

The quality of animated movies over the last 10 years has been surprisingly good so I figured it wouldn't be that bad, even though I'd never heard of P&S.

Huge mistake.

It was painfully bad. 

For 92 minutes.

  • the jokes and puns were stupid.
  • the story line was idiotic.
  • the characters were extremely unlikable.
  • it was boring.
  • the fascination with things popping out of anuses was puzzling.
  • i hated it.
  • my wife hated it
  • my kids thought it was good, but I'm pretty sure they were lying to be nice and because they were high on snakes and maltesers.

If you think the whole premise of Turbo is insanely stupid - you will be amazed by P&S.

That the 'experts' seem to love it, is further proof that experts in anything are not worth listening to. 

Listen to me - do not take your kids to see this movie. Do not even waste your bandwidth by downloading it from anywhere.

You're welcome.
as the most hated cartoon character, I assume





Thursday, 3 April 2014

Stock markets are rigged. How surprising is that?

Of course the answer is - not very.

Michael Lewis was once a bond trader with Salomon Brothers and is now a writer. He wrote Moneyball that spawned the movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (he also wrote Blind Side, which I thought was shite, but that was probably Sandra Bullock’s fault). He’s also responsible for other excellent books such as Liar’s Poker and The Big Short.

Michael is a talented writer and has excelled at bringing some of the finance industry’s nasty unknowns into the mainstream arena. That’s not to suggest that his writings are without flaws, but to a person like me who is constantly amazed by society’s acceptance of corruption and scandal, he at least shines a public light on the darkness that is Investment Banking and the politicians that let them do as they please.

Michael recently released another book – Flash Boys; a Wall Street Revolt, and it has caused a bit of noise, even in mainstream circles. The book is about the emergence of ‘high frequency traders’ (HFTs) on stock markets, firms who are in the business of buying and selling stocks thousands of times a day, all at lightning speed and with the aim of skimming small profits from daily trading activity. Michael has been doing the rounds promoting his book and suggesting that the ‘flash boys’ are effectively rigging the markets in their favour. The HFTs have responded by suggesting that what they do is providing more liquidity to the stock markets and that everyone should just chill out because they’re doing everyone a big favour.

My opinion is that we hardly needed more proof of investment markets' brokenness. As I’ve said previously, finance and nutrition have some things in common. One of those things is that whatever is written in the press is usually mindless bullshit. Whether the journalists actually believe what they write, I’m not sure, but I do know that anyone who truly thinks that central banks, particularly the US’ Federal Reserve, can miraculously pull a few strings, buy shitloads of bonds and ‘save’ us all from financial oblivion is deluded or stupid, possibly both. 

If you need any evidence that mainstream economics is total voodoo and about as convincing as naturopathy, then you just have to read a few articles from supposedly intelligent people who think that this is exactly the sort of omnipotent power that Central Banks have - that the solution to debt and poverty is to massively increase your debt. That you should maintain deregulation of a system that is controlled by people who pay themselves insane amounts of money to trade against their clients. That breaking windows and digging and refilling holes will solve unemployment.

Similarly with the HFT thing, if someone truly believes that this sort of activity is all ok and above board, nothing anyone says is going to convince them otherwise. Regardless, will anyone in power do anything about it? I doubt it.

Maybe everything is under control and I'm just not smart enough to understand the 'science' of economics and stock markets. This nice German fella seems to understand it all. Wordy bastard, but his opinions are more believable than most.

I will probably buy Michael’s book and read it out of interest sake, but I'm guessing it'll just make me angry at the outrageous scumbaggery that is allowed to go on. 

If it is one more straw on the zombie camel’s back, then that’s a good thing. But I'm not holding my breath in the hope of the wider community realising it is just one small part of the whole dysfunctional, broken system.