Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Hate The Wonder Pets (And Dora Too)

Especially because they are some of my kid's favorite shows.

Wonder Pets is about three caged pets who live in a schoolhouse and sneak out after hours to save baby animals. The show is centered around the theme of working together. After the Wonder Pets save their designated baby animal the parent magically appears to thank the Wonder Pets and they all share a stalk of celery.

The Wonder Pets are contrasted against Ollie the Bunny. Ollie is a rogue individualist who manages to screw everything up 'cause he doesn't understand the enormous value of consensus and eating celery.

In other words, Wonder Pets is collectivist vegan propaganda.

I mean seriously, who enjoys eating raw celery? Great for soups but raw? That's only for vegans and masochists, but I repeat myself.

And then there's "educational" television like Dora or Sesame Street. Educational television is an oxymoron.

No kid is going to learn Spanish or counting by watching Dora the Explorer. My kid is bilingual because he has to interact in English and Czech every day. Interaction being the key component. Television is passive entertainment. Always has been, always will be, it is the nature of the medium. Arguing on the internet is more intellectually challenging than watching documentaries about relativity or evolution.

Actually, there's nothing really wrong with these shows, because they are just entertainment. I don't think Wonder Pets is going to turn my kid into a vegan socialist and I don't think Dora is going to teach my kid Spanish or how to count no matter how hard they try.

But any parent who thinks that it's OK for a kid to zone out in front of the TV as long as they are watching educational shows is seriously deluding themselves. Zoning out in front of the TV has it's time and place but it is always just zoning out in front of the TV.

UPDATE: For a more serious discussion of this see here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mold Attack!

This winter we've all been suffering a sort of continuous low-level cold, and my wife's asthma (which was severe in childhood but all but dissappeared after puberty) has started rearing its ugly head. I figured it was just all the diseases the kid brings home from pre-school.

But perhaps not.

It turns out our tiny bedroom closet was infested with mold.

I had to completely disassemble the built in shelving with my crappy screwdriver, cause my drill is broken, and spray it all down with bleach.

I went really medieval with the bleach.

Then I will repaint it to hopefully seal the masonry. Meanwhile our rather small flat is littered with crap should probably mostly be tossed. How did this much stuff fit into such a tiny closet?

Anyway, hopefully this will clear up the breathing problems my wife has been experiencing. Asthma is such a mysterious ailment. Why did my wife's life-endangering asthma practically disappear with puberty? It seems to be some sort of autoimmune inflammatory disorder, so removing inflammatory things like wheat from diet ought to help. In my mind, at least, it is an overreaction of the immune system but who knows?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quantum Smell, The BBC Misreporting More Science

The BBC makes another hash of an APL presentation.
The theory that our sense of smell has its basis in quantum physics events is gaining traction, say researchers.

The idea remains controversial, but scientists reporting at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, are slowly unpicking how it could work.

The key, they say, is tiny packets of energy, or quanta, lost by electrons.

Experiments using tiny wires show that as electrons move on proteins within the nose, odour molecules could absorb these quanta and thereby be detected. (emphasis mine)

What are these magical quanta you doth speak upon, oh, great BBC science journalist? 

The presentation itself seems interesting, but the reporter's repeated use of quanta annoys the hell out of me. There's a much better term for a "tiny packets of energy, or quanta, lost by electrons", a term everyone knows and loves, and that term is photons.

PHOTONS we are talking about PHOTONS. Why not just come out and say photons? Surely the point of pop-sci journalism is to make things as accessible as possible, not to cloak with jargon.

Ever since that goddamn TV show, every pseudo-intellectual journalist and politician has had a hard-on trying to work quantum into anything they possibly can.

Don't hate me because I'm smug
Here's a news flash, human vitamin D production through sunlight also "has its basis in quantum physics". You see there are all these the "quanta" from the Sun reacting with molecules in our skin to produce cholecalciferol. It's all extremely sciencey and controversial.

Addendum: upon closer look the related paper refers to phonons something which I know nothing about, so maybe I'm totally out of my league and wrong here.  When I hear a mainstream media science reporter referring to energy lost by electrons as quanta I just immediately assume they are just too pretentious or ignorant to write photons. Also, the article is saying that smell could be a quantum phenomena as opposed to the lock and key idea that it is molecular shape that drives smell. Meh, I'm probably totally wrong about all of this, but Quantum Leap still sucked.

Do Cats Make Vitamin D3 From Sunlight

Anyone who's spent some time around cats knows they love to lay in the sun and groom themselves. Is this a vitamin D thing? I've been wondering about this for a while, but a light Google search turned up nothing except hearsay that cat's can produce modest amounts of vitamin D as an oil that they have to lick off their fur. All sounded a bit dodgy to me.

But I managed to find some actual research on this and the answer is no. Or at least in such small amounts as to be completely negligible.
No vitamin D (ergocalciferol or cholecalciferol) was found in the basal diet. The 25-OHD concentration in the plasma of kittens exposed to sunlight declined at a similar rate and attained the same end values as kittens kept inside a building without exposure to UV light (Fig. 1).This observation suggested that cats do not synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D from exposure to UV light to maintain plasma concentration of 25-OHD. As the rate of decline in plasma 25-OHD was not slower in the kitten with the hair shaved than those not shaved, it suggested that limited exposure of skin to UV light was not the primary reason for the lack of effective synthesis of vitamin D. One kitten from the exposed group developed posterior paralysis that was subsequently found to be associated with vitamin D deficiency in cats (Morris et al. 1994).[source]
Given a diet lacking in vit D, even a shaved kitten exposed to sunlight had it's blood concentration decline at the same rate as the unexposed control kittys. The study doesn't mention whether or not it got sunburn.

Still, it is interesting how much cats love their sunlight. And it doesn't seem to be just warmth as they will do it all summer long (indoor cats at least). Perhaps there's another reason, such as the sunlight helps to soften oils that are spread by grooming.

Of course, they also loved to lay on televisions and monitors back before those all got too thin for the job, so it could mean nothing at all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Beginning of A Food Revolution?

Or just a shot in the dark?

Should people be allowed to eat food that hasn't been government approved? A couple of towns in Maine seem to think so.
On Saturday morning, Sedgwick became likely the first locale in the country to pass a "Food Sovereignty" law. It's the proposed ordinance I first described last fall, when I introduced the "Five Musketeers", a group of farmers and consumers intent on pushing back against overly aggressive state food regulators. The regulators were interfering with farmers who, for example, took chickens to a neighbor for slaughtering, or who sold raw milk directly to consumers. [source]
Do I have the right to drink milk from a cow that hasn't been boiled in the proper government-approved manner (the milk, not the cow)? Not according to the FDA, the FBI and guys who like to dress up in body armor, carry assault weapons and shoot puppies.

OK, I don't live in the US but the EU also has it's own perverse fascination with regulating food, although I've not heard of any country using assault rifles to enforce these rules (but it wouldn't surprise me, "Mistakes were made.").

Morgan Spurlock: A Suppurating Boil on The Nether Region of Society

I have to get this out of the way first thing, redheads should never, ever, under any circumstance, sport mustaches.

OK, OK, Robert Redford managed to pull it off in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But that was Redford in his prime, and Spurlock, you sir, are no Redford.

I need more hair gel, stat!
Spurlock made himself a household word, of course, with his vegan propoganda film, Super Size Me. You see, corporations are bad, m'kay, and meat is bad, so fraudulently demonizing McDonald's is the greatest thing one can do (other than bombing a country for peace).

It did have the unintended positive effect of galvanizing Tom Naughton to make Fathead. But Tom's movie didn't make him a household name because it went against the conventional wisdom peddled by Spurlock and his idiotic followers.

Now Spurlock has a new movie out about the evils of product placement, paid for by . . . [RECORD SCRATCH] product placement! This is apparently what passes for clever these days.

I hate this guy.

Apparently, this movie is not just about the evils of product placement but the evils of advertising in general.
Jumping off a point made by academic experts who said advertisers try to make consumers feel they can't be happy without a certain product, Spurlock announced: "I'm 40% happier."  (source)
I hate academic "experts", too. Are these the same "experts" who've been telling us that animal fat is the scourge of society for the last 40 years?

Help, help, the evil advertisers are making me shallow and materialistic! I was once living in perfect harmony with my environment, dining on candy corn smiles and unicorn dreams, but the evil advertisers have made me obsessed with, you know, stuff.

Spurlock has made me 40% more disgusted with smug, hipster, propogandist filmmakers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hey BBC, Religious Beliefs Have Nothing To Do With Physics

Currently the #1 most shared article from the BBC is titled (in the list)  Physics predicts end of religion.
A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.


The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

Nonlinear dynamics is invoked to explain a wide range of physical phenomena in which a number of factors play a part.

I don't care how much nonlinear dynamics you invoke, or if you present your results to the American Physical Society, the Screen Actors Guild or the Lord of the Flies, a study based on census data is not physics. It's sociology or psychology. Full stop.

Last I heard, the speed of light wasn't based on a self-reported census of photons. 

Predicting the end of religion has absolutely nothing to do with physics. Nothing. NOTHING!

Pseudo-science, you shall not pass

Addendum: I just noticed they changed the link to say 'extinction threat' to religion.

Zardoz--A Parable Against Veganism

I'm sure everyone knows Zardoz, the classic film that was the pinnacle of Sean Connery and John Boorman's respective careers. But perhaps not everyone is aware that it is a dire parable against veganism.

In a dystopian future, Zed (Sean Connery with a mustache and pony tail) is a barbarian outlander who invades a stagnate community of effete vegans and eventually opens up a can of carnivorous whup-ass on them.


Because the Vortex (effete vegans) have been exploiting the outlanders, forcing them to supply 'heart-healthy' grains.

Zed gazes in disdain at this buffet of vegan delight

OK, I have to be completely honest, I've no idea what this movie is about beyond the fact that it is a low budget dystopia that has effete vegans and a virile Sean Connery sporting S&M boots and a ponytail.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't Look Behind the Curtain!

Saturated fats are bad children, m'kay?

Richard points to this article in the Daily Mail about meat and pregnancy. Women who had low levels of vitamin B12 during pregnancy were about 8 times more likely to have a colicy baby, perhaps because of B12's effect on nervous system development.

Nothing shocking there.

The article closes with this cautionary advice, presumably from a knowledgeable expert:
But nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston warned: 'Meat comes with saturated fats which can hinder the body's use of essential fats needed for the baby's brain and nervous system development.'
Who is this "nutritionist" with the hyphenated name? Let us take a look behind the curtain shall we?

It turns out she writes vegan cookbooks among other things. Now I can understand newspapers wanting to give a contrary or opposing viewpoint but shouldn't they at least mention that she's a VEGAN nutritionist? If you are going to quote a shill with an agenda, at least mention that they are a shill.

If saturated fat is so bad for a baby's "brain and nervous system" why does human breast milk have so much of it?
Human milk fat has a unique fatty acid composition. It is approximately 45 to 50 percent saturated, about 35 percent monounsaturated, and 15 to 20 percent polyunsaturated. Of the saturated fatty acids made in the mammary gland, up to 18 percent can be the antimicrobial fatty acids lauric acid and capric acid. These antimicrobial fatty acids give the infant fed good quality human milk protection agains lipid-coated viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. [Mary G. Enig, Ph.D, Know Your Fats, pp109]
I wonder if this idiot vegan "nutritionist" advocates replacing breast milk with soy milk?

Has a newspaper or other mainstream media ever quoted Robb Wolf as a nutritionist? How about Richard Nikoley, is he a nutritionist? He write a popular blog about nutrition.

But nutritionist Richard Nikoley warned: 'I told you to go ahead and fuck those vegetables.' [Daily Mail, 2066]

BTW, it was exactly a year ago today I posted pictures of my son's birthday meat cake. His brain and nervous system have yet to be "hindered".

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Genetic Components of Exercise Response

A new study shows that just a few genes seem to have a huge impact in our response to aerobic conditioning:
Stepwise multiple regression analysis of the 39 SNPs identified a panel of 21 SNPs which accounted for 49% of the variance in VO(2)max trainability. Subjects who carried 9 or less favorable alleles at these 21 SNPs improved their VO(2)max by 221 mL/min while those who carried 19 or more of these alleles gained on average 604 mL/min. The strongest association was with rs6552828 located in the ACSL1 gene, accounting by itself for about 6% of the training response of V.O2max.
A single snip accounted for 6% of the training response and just 21 snips accounted half of the training response. I imagine Lance Armstrong has all of them. It's kind of surprising, for me at least, that the ability to respond to aerobic conditioning, as measured by VO2 max at least, comes down to just a few genes.

Of course just having both copies of the MSTN gene knocked out would pretty much guarantee a person a promising career as green hypertrophied superhero (except for the green part), so it shouldn't be surprising that exercise response could be the effect of just a few genes.

I hate myostatin!
As John Hawks points out, the study's lead author felt it necessary to add a disclaimer along the lines of, exercise is still good for you, even if you are a genetic couch potato.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why Not Leave Libya Alone?

In for a penny, in for a pound. Another political post.
Muammar Gaddafi has been handed a "non-negotiable ultimatum" by Barack Obama to accept an immediate ceasefire, pull back from Libyan rebel strongholds and permit humanitarian assistance – or face the full onslaught of UN-endorsed air strikes. (Guardian)
Last I heard, it was the US Congress, not the UN, that had the power to declare war on a foreign nation.

UN-endorsed air strikes? What does that even mean? Does the UN have its own planes? Using military aggression on a foreign country is an act of war, regardless of whether it is done by planes, trains or automobiles. For the US to be involved, Congress has to grant approval. Full stop.

Do I think Gadaffi is an asshole tyrant? Yes, of course. But if we are going to be bravely intervening to help rebels maybe we could've started off with Tienanmen Square or even better, the 1956 Hungarian uprising. Where are the UN resolutions against Myanmar and the Congo?

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. -Senator Barack Obama, 2007 (source)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why I'm Still Pro Nukular

Oh boy, this post is going to win me tons of friends.

First of all, the people of Japan have my heartfelt condolences and best wishes. Easy words to say (or write), but what do they mean? For me it means that in this modern world where easy access to information has shrunk us all into a massive village, more or less, a tragedy that happens on the other side of the world has meaning and relevance for all of us. We are, every one of us, in this thing together, despite our differences and conflicts.

Secondly, Paul Jaminet has an excellent post about radiation and iodine that I'd encourage everyone to read.

There's been a lot of hysteria and misinformation about the recent nuclear disasters in Japan some of it naiveté, some of it agenda-driven. The agenda-driven misinformation about nuclear power is unfortunate for everyone, as it is currently the safest and 'greenest' alternative to oil and gas available.

The nuclear disasters in Japan are just that, disasters, caused by a huge frickin' wave taking out the emergency power generators, hence screwing up the electronic backup cooling systems. They weren't accidents caused by primitive technology and operator error such as Chernobyl, any more than the three trains that were swept away, including one high speed train, were train accidents.

There exists a knee-jerk hatred of nuclear energy and it tends to run along right/left fault lines, ie liberals who don't understand it seem to hate it a lot more than conservatives who don't understand it. As a libertarian I consider these fault lines to be a chimera, but that's just me. I was somewhat heartened by the fact that Obama has defended nuclear energy. This might be the most gutsy thing he's said since being elected.

Here's one comparisom of deaths per terrawatt hour caused by different energy sources.

Energy Source              Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

Coal – world average              161 
(26% of world energy, 50% of electricity) 
Coal – China                      278 
Coal – USA                         15 
Oil                                36 
(36% of world energy) 
Natural Gas                         4 
(21% of world energy) 
Biofuel/Biomass                    12 
Peat                               12 
Solar (rooftop)                     0.44 
(less than 0.1% of world energy) 
Wind                                0.15 
(less than 1% of world energy) 
Hydro                               0.10 
(Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy) 
Hydro - world including Banqiao)    1.4 
(about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead) 
Nuclear                             0.04 
(5.9% of world energy)

Now, one can piss and moan about the validity of these statistics, but the reality is that fossil fuels cause way more human and animal death and suffering than nuclear energy on a watt by watt basis. Oil spills are a recurring phenomena that famously cause pristine beaches to become sludgy animal charnel houses. There's also the less obvious damage caused by pollution, inhalation of carbon monoxide and particulates, etc. A person is more likely to die falling off their roof servicing a solar array than from nuclear radiation (all things being equal).

Remember all those fires caused by the Japanese earthquake, and the hundreds (or thousands) of people who tragically perished because of them? That wasn't fairy dust or unicorn dreams burning, it was fossil fuels.

Sure, there is still an ongoing situation with these 40-year-old nuclear reactors in Japan but the hysteria has siphoned off precious attention and resources from less glamorous things like people who are still possibly trapped and suffering and dying under rubble or simple things like adequate supplies of fresh water, antibiotics, and sanitation. Folks in far off lands obsessing about whether or not some Japanese radioactive cloud is going to travel 3000 miles and poison them really need to wake up and smell the carbon monoxide.

Now here's the requisite picture of Godzilla:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Another Sad Victim of a Low Fat Diet

I think Lureen's wheat belly and angst speak for themselves.

And Loweezy, don't look so smug, your pancreas is not long for this world.

Evolutionary Health, It's Still A Rarefied Wold

I've found myself pretty surprised lately at how many intelligent, well-read people I've come across who blindly accept the fat-makes-you-fat-and-clogs-your-arteries dogma. Since all the health blogs I read take for granted that the diet-heart hypothesis is false, it is easy to forget that most people have never even thought to question it, even if they are the type to question many other commonly held beliefs. It's also easy to forget that the paleo/primal/etc-osphere is still on the fringe of things. The funny thing about all this conventional dogma is that there are actually several false hypotheses at work, stting with the diet-heart hypothesis (that SFAs cause heart disease) and the fat-makes-you-fat-hypothesis (eating fat makes you fat).

Unlike the diet-heart hypothesis or the lipid hypothesis (high blood cholesterol leads to heart disease), the fat-makes-you-fat hypothesis has never even been a serious consideration in the quagmire that has been nutrition research for the last 40 years, at least as far as I know. And then there's the eating-cholesterol-causes-high-blood-cholesterol hypothesis (also fairly easily disproved).

So what we are really looking at with the conventional are four different hypotheses, listed here from most to least plausible:
  • Lipid hypothesis - High blood cholesterol leads to CHD
  • Diet-heart hypothesis - Dietary saturated fat leads to CHD (probably by raising blood cholesterol)
  • Eating cholesterol causes high blood cholesterol hypothesis
  • Eating fat makes you fat hypothesis (especially animal fat)
Combine all these together and you get the conventionally accepted conglomerate "truth" that fat-makes-you-fat-and-clogs-your-arteries-and-so-does-cholesterol-cause-they-are-the-same-thing-so-go-eat-a-carrot-damnit.

What's strange about all of this, for me at least, is:
-how prevalent it is among intelligent people
-what a jumbled mix-up of misguided hypotheses the conventional "wisdom" really is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grass Powder--Its Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

Saving the world, one VW at a time
My old trick of avoiding sales pitches by claiming not to speak Czech has been totally backfiring lately. A while back some Mormon missionaries approached me on the street, speaking Czech. "I'm American, I don't speak Czech." Well, they were American Mormon missionaries, of course, who'd recently arrived and were feeling a little dazed and confused. A couple of nice girls who were on a mission from God. So then it was, "How long have you been here?", etc, etc. Despite my penchant for internet rants, and the fact that I don't actually like people (well most of them), I don't go out of my way to be discourteous to people who don't deserve it, so I was 15 minutes detained, and I didn't mention Christopher Hitchens once. Yeah I know, slings and arrows and all that.

Well, this morning it backfired again. Whilst stopping at the local organic food store to buy some high-fat Austrian Alps grass-fed milk for the kid, my, "I don't speak Czech," ended up with me drinking reconstituted grass powder. Yes, dear readers, I go extreme so you don't have to. The woman at the promo table didn't speak English very well, and was quite enthusiastic about the grass powder, so it was long and tedious, but the silver lining in the back of my mind--I'm totally going to mock this on my blog.

What I actually consumed wasn't simple grass powder, it was young barley grass powder from the mountains of Utah mixed with what I can only assume was fair trade, locally sourced, 100% organic water (I forgot to ask). Something like this, but actually this. All I can say is that it tasted as bad as it sounds. But besides being chock full of vitamins and minerals, it detoxifies the body, it kills bad bacteria and feeds the good kind, it beats up minotaurs blindfolded and causes supernovas to quake in mortal terror. It is the Tim Ferris of food, at least according to the sales pitch.

And what is up with 'detoxifying' the body? [insert Charlie Sheen joke here] It has to be the most vapid, idiotic meme floating around the health world--hence its guaranteed immortality. Personally I love toxins, love them! [Full disclosure--I receive substantial "consulting fees" from the Toxic Waste Producers Cabal (TWPC)] Eating grass to 'detoxify' the body is like bombing a country to promote world peace.

And I haven't even gotten to the best part.

Grass powder is healthy, according to the sales pitch I got, because it contains live enzymes. Wait, did I say detoxing the body was the stupidest health meme ever? I take it all back.

Enzymes are simply chemical catalysts. They speed up reactions. They don't come close to fitting any of the criteria for life such as responding to stimuli, reproducing, hating that song from Titanic, etc. And even if they were once alive, would they still be after drying them out, grinding them up, and shipping them halfway across the world and mixing them with water? Keith Richards would have a hard time surviving all that.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hormesis vs Going Hog Wild

 A little while back Kurt Harris wrote about hormesis, and vegetables:
Hormesis is when a small stress induces a healthy response in an organism, such that the organism is healthier than without the stress exposure. Any stress that we have defenses for, that we would expect to encounter on an evolutionary basis, is a candidate to be hormetic. Think of this as a necessary, but not sufficient, set of conditions, though.
The perfect example of hormesis is exercise. Exercise creates oxidative stress, and resistance exercise in particular literally destroys muscle tissue. Hormesis explains the “paradox” (which is no paradox at all) that marathon running and other extreme endurance sports could be quite bad for your health, but that more moderate exercise is much better than no exercise at all. This explains why I write posts like this and this, yet I continue to run about 8-10 K per week in addition to strength training twice a week.
I was scarfing down some of my ridiculously too hot chilli garlic sauce and started wondering why we (some of us at least) torture ourselves like this, or by running marathons or ultra-marathons. If Dr Harris' hypothesis is correct we are optimized for a certain amount of hormetic toxic stress from foods like vegetables. And we might also be designed to crave this hormetic stress. Just as we are designed to crave the hormetic stress from exercise (I believe this is built into all of us, but is often disconnected by metabolic syndrome).

So is chilli addiction and exercise addiction a craving for hormetic stress? Or is it simple endorphin addiction--as is often posited? Or is it both, or are they the same thing? All wild speculation of course, but interesting.

Isn't capsaicin a plant defense mechanism? I dunno, that's what I always thought. On the other hand, what is the point of having a seeded fruit like a chilli pepper if you don't want animals to eat it? This reminds me of another (apparent) defense mechanism that I love, caffeine. According to Wikipedia, "Caffeine is found in varying quantities in the beans, leaves, and fruit of some plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants." Kills insects by causing them to speed their tits off, that is. And who doesn't enjoy slamming down five double espressos? I love it, I just don't love crashing, or having my eyeballs twitching out of their sockets.

Chilli, hormetic craving or masochism?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Wisdom of Bloggers

The academic community is more likely to suffer from mass delusions than the general public. I don't know exactly why, but I suppose it's always been the case. -John Dos Passos, interview, 1969.
 Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one. -Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841.
... much of what we've seen so far suggests that a large group of diverse individuals will come up with better and more robust forecasts and make more intelligent decisions than even the most skilled "decision maker." -James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, 2004.
The smartest groups, then, are made up of people with diverse perspectives who are able to stay independent of each other. Independence doesn't imply rationality or impartiality, though. You can be biased and irrational, but as long as you're independent, you won't make the group any dumber. -James Surowiecki, Ibid.

The basic idea in Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds is that, contrary to the old cliché, crowds are very good at prediction, that they are basically less delusional (in the sense of being closer to reality) than a panel of 'experts', but that this can be famously derailed with groupthink. Surowiecki gives a lot of examples of the crowd functioning both superbly and going terribly wrong.

I've been thinking about this for a while, but the always eloquent and funny Tom Naughton recently brought it back to mind. I was planning to write an inspired thesis on why the internet, and bloggers especially, represent crowd wisdom--which, as Tom points out, dovetails nicely into the myth of 'experts' that Sowell and others talk about. But that inspired thesis never popped into my head Athena-like, so I'm just going to sort of ramble on about it.

First of all, there's nothing wrong with experts. Let's get that out of the way. As Daniel Tammet points out, a bunch of chess players weren't able to beat Kasparov. On the other hand, was Kasparov vs the World a game that really fit the crowd wisdom paradigm or the groupthink one? It was a close game regardless.

Collusion is the main thing that can really mess up a group with Death by Committee Syndrome (DbCS), and I would argue that the 24hr move interval in Kasparov vs the World, along with the discussion forums (which Kasparov admitted to lurking) allowed for plenty of DbCS. Too much collusion is what causes market bubbles, along with other things.

OK, so is the paleosphere (or healthosphere) suffering from groupthink or is it an example of crowd wisdom? Sure there's goupthink to a certain degree but I would argue the latter is overwhelming.

Now here's the money question: health bloggers collude, so why would their collective opinion be any better than the world's greatest expert in nutrition?

And in just framing that question we come to the obvious answer: who's the world's greatest expert in nutrition? Chess is a very precisely controlled environment, with simple clearly defined rules. Nutrition, and life in general, is not so clearly defined. This is the reason computers are so bloody good at playing chess despite the fact that they don't think and never will (at least not the algorithmic types we are currently using).

If nutrition were a simply defined game like chess where all the rules were known, the Queen replaced by insulin, the Castle replaced by leptin, etc, then it would be pretty easy to find the world's greatest nutritionist. Instead it is a quagmire. And out of this quagmire there has arisen a spontaneous order of bloggers who generally agree on a lot of things, and bicker like hell about a lot of other things. This is the very essence of crowd wisdom in my opinion.

And now, apropos of nothing, here's a picture of my extremely cute kid skiing yesterday (skiing is some bizarre, masochistic ritual Europeans often obsessively engage in).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What's Up With Mark Sisson's Crappy Food Photos?

Mark Sisson is about to release a cookbook, and I honestly hope it does well. But am I the only one who thinks his food photos suck ass? This is 2011 after all, digital cameras, photoshop, and tutorials are all ubiquitous. Why do Sisson's, or more specifically Worker Bee's food porn shots all look like they were taken with with a circa 2002 camera phone?

Take a look at this shot from the latest recipe post pushing his upcoming cookbook:

As Fat Bastard would say, "That's crap."

Let's compare that pot shot to this typically amazing photo from an early post from 2006 shall we?

When I first came across François-Xavier's blog back in 2006 or 2007 the photos were simply stunning. François raised the bar for everyone, then he just disappeared. He's like the Jim Morrison of the food blogging world. Nowadays it's, well not common, but not unusual to see some quite amazing photography on food blogs that aren't even trying to sell something.

C'mon Mark, even I can manage a half decent fork-in-your-eye perspective shot, and I suck as a food photographer.

Addendum: ok, this was pretty obnoxious, Mark is great, of course, especially when he's writing satire. But he and his staff really ought to step up their game on the food pics.

Fake Grilled Filet Mignon

Ok, for those of you with an actual honest-to-goodness outdoor grill, move along nothing to see here.

I've been fake grilling steaks and salmon for quite a while, perhaps five years. But quite honestly I suck at it. Or I did. The thing about cooking I'm finally starting to figure out after about ten years of taking it semi-seriously is that there is a huge difference between getting it almost right and getting it right. This is the first time I've gotten close to perfect with a fake grilled steak.

The process itself is beguilingly simple. Salt the steak, wash off the salt and pat dry. Heat an iron skillet until it glows and drop on steak. Flip. Put in oven if it's a thick steak and track temp with thermometer.

Ahh, but the devil is in the details. Too much salt, overcooked, undercooked, caring for the iron skillet, I've messed this up every way possible.

One of the biggest variables is the quality and thickness of the steak. Here in Prague the typical sirloin (rostěna) cut from the butcher is pretty mediocre. Good cuts in general are not easily available at the local butcher. This effects all sorts of things like how long the steak should be salted, cooked, etc. Cooking temperature can be measured by a good thermometer, but many other variables are more subtle and I feel like I'm just barely getting a handle on them.

Ok, so this was a mignon, the best cut there is. I didn't want to screw it up. Also it's fairly thin, thickness is an important factor. Higher quality cuts absorb salt at a faster rate. I salted this for 8 minutes which might've been a bit too long, but was pretty close. Meanwhile the iron skillet was on full flame.

Wash the steak off and pat dry then toss onto the iron, *sizzle*.

After five minutes give it a flip. Yeah I know it's a small cut dwarfed by my tongs, what do you think, I'm made outta money?

Side one, crispy, onto side two.

After another five minutes, put on a plate cover with tinfoil (or aluminiumianian foil as the Limeys and their colonists say) and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

Crunchy on the outside, bleeding in the middle, perfect for such a quality cut of beef.

Dobrou chut'

Oh yeah, and I've finally figured out, more or less, how to maintain an iron skillet, wash it gently with water and a soft brush while still hot, never apply soap. This tortilla skillet is only used for fake grilling meat and fish but it beads up like teflon (well close) after washing up.

So many variables, so little time . . .

Friday, March 11, 2011

Carbo Cult Syndrome

I'd like to formally introduce this neologism into the English language. I just googled it and didn't see anything, although there is nothing new under the sun so who knows. Anyway, feel free to use this term as often as you see fit. For example if you see Dr Oz acting (as Jan's SO so eloquently puts it):
Like a Moonie facing deprogrammers: fast talking, defensive, unable to stand still long enough to let Gary get a word in edgewise, he bounced all over the place like a cranked up drug addict.
I think carbo cult syndrome is the best way to explain this sort of behavior.

The term term cargo cult is used to describe confusing correlation with causation. Or to differentiate pseudoscience, going through the motions, from the real thing. As Wikipedia puts it:
The inception of cargo cults often is defined as being based on a flawed model of causation, being the confusion between the logical concepts of necessary condition and sufficient condition when aiming to obtain a certain result. 
[. . .]
The term as an adjective is perhaps best known outside of anthropology because of a speech by physicist Richard Feynman at a Caltech commencement, wherein he referred to "cargo cult science", and which became a chapter in the book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. In the speech, Feynman pointed out that cargo cultists create all the appearance of an airport right down to headsets with bamboo "antennas", yet the airplanes do not come. Feynman argued that some researchers often produce studies with all the trappings of real science but which are nonetheless pseudoscience and unworthy of either respect or support.
They produce studies with all the trappings of real science but are actually pseudoscience? Gee, where have I heard of that before? Paging Mr Taubes . . .

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pig Knee

Pečené vepřové koleno (roasted pork knee) is a really classic Czech pub dish. It is typically served with horseradish and mustard. They even make a special serving holder for it, which could easily double as a medieval torture device for small animals (if you're into that sort of thing).

Although at €120 I'll go ahead and give it a miss.

First thing to do, marinate in beer and stuff, typically dark beer. I chose Krušovice because it was the only dark beer at the local shop.

Added salt, an onion, peppercorns, four or five bay leaves to the beer and marinate in the fridge for a few hours or better yet overnight.

Two hours in the oven at 165°C (330F) and here was the finished product. Unfortunately not quite what I was hoping for. The meat was good but the skin was rather more rubbery than crispy like this. Cook at higher temp? Have to research this some more.

And though I like to joke about it, we actually do eat vegetables. Here my wife boiled some brussel sprouts and tossed them with pepper bacon, pretty tasty.

Dobrou Chut'

Addendem: I cooked the koleno for another hour or so this morning at 200C and it was much better.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Heart Rate Variability

Tim Huntley has an excellent and well-researched post on this topic, something I'd never heard of before. I'd encourage anyone who's curious and not a huge fan of cardiac arrest to check it out.

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

Can we just quit bitching about Big Pharma?

Wait, let me rephrase that, there's nothing wrong with bitching about Big Pharma, they suck, of course. What I've got a big problem with is people (extremely intelligent people in the health blogosphere) wanting to lay the blame and responsibility of things like statins at the feet of Big Pharma.

I've already banged on about this but I just can't help it. No one (yet) is forcing anyone else to take statins or any of that other crap that buys into the diet-heart hypothesis. Especially in this day and age, with all the information readily available for free, there's no excuse not to educate oneself before taking a prescription drug, or doing anything else that involves one's health. "My doctor recommended me to go on Lipitor, plus I saw a commercial for it." And if your doctor recommended you eat your own head, would you do that also?

Five years ago, I created the Wikipedia page on pyelectasis. Why? Because the page didn't exist and  a doctor wanted to draw an amnio sample while my son was in utero (thereby raising the risk of a miscarriage) because pyelectasis is a "soft marker" for Down's. After reading everything I could find out about it, I concluded that a single soft marker for Down's didn't warrant the risk of the procedure. After doing all the research I wrote the Wiki page to help other parents make more hopefully informed decisions. Am I a doctor? No, not even close. I just don't like to take anyone's word for anything, especially if it involves the health of myself or my loved ones.

If a doctor tried to prescribe me statins I'd laugh in his or her face. HA! HA HA! If a doctor wanted to prescribe me something else, I'd damn well find out everything I could about it before I even considered taking it.

Big Pharma has simply responded to the diet-heart hypothesis that has long been accepted and propagated by governments and "science" journalists.

Oh, what a giveaway! That's what I'm on about! Did you see Big Pharma repressing me? You saw them, Didn't you?

Ron Swanson Rocks

I consider Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock the two funniest shows on American television, or even in recent memory. 30 Rock often takes the edge with its dialogue ("I never sleep on planes, I don't want to be incepted"). But the most recent episode of P&R has cemented libertarian meat-lover Ron Swanson's place as the greatest TV character ever.

Ron doesn't put anything in his body but meat and whisky and his favorite dining establishment is Charles Mulligan's Steak House ("The best damn steak house in the damn state").

"I have taken a picture of every steak I’ve ever eaten there."

"June 2004, Porterhouse medium rare, Béarnaise sauce. January 2000, they call this one ‘The Enforcer’. February 1996. The steak, rib-eye. The whisky, Lagavulin 16. The lady next to me, a bitch. Specifically my ex-wife Tammy. Ok this is the first time I ever went there . . . look at me, just a kid"

Unbeknownst to our meat loving hero, calamities are soon to strike, not just one but in whole battalions. 

Mulligan's steakhouse has been closed due to a health code violation.

And what Rob Lowe is grilling at home is not steak but Portabello mushrooms ("A healthier option, organically grown").

This double onslaught of tragedy causes Ron to go weak in the knees.

Eventually, Ron goes to a diner, and after sending back a mediocre excuse for a steak, delivers these soon-to-be classic lines in perfect deadpan:
"Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have.

Wait … wait.

I worry what you just heard was: 'Give me a lot of bacon and eggs'. What I said was: 'Give me all the bacon and eggs you have'. Do you understand?"

As the waiter turns away, Ron clenches his fist and furrows his eyebrows in pain and despair at having to live in a world where grilled Portabello mushrooms can be considered an entree.

Ron Swanson, you are my hero.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Photographing Cows Soon a First Class Felony in Florida

Try saying 'first class felony in Florida' five times really fast.

Some brilliant state senator wants to ban the photographing of farms. That way those evil folks at PETA can't put up YouTube videos of animal abuse. And he wants to make it a first class felony, no less. People like this senator really ought to have their organs immediately removed and given to someone who could put them to good use.
Simpson, president of Simpson Farms near Dade City, said the law would prevent people from posing as farmworkers so that they can secretly film agricultural operations.

He said he could not name an instance in which that happened. But animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Animal Freedom display undercover videos on their web sites to make their case that livestock farming and meat consumption are cruel.

Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, said the state should be ashamed that such a bill would be introduced.

"Mr. Norman should be filing bills to throw the doors of animal producers wide open to show the public where their food comes from rather than criminalizing those who would show animal cruelty," he said.
Can we get Mr Kerr a Harumph?

Personally, I'm all for transparency in the food industry, as are most people, I imagine. 

Here's the best part:
Simpson said he doesn't think that "innocent" roadside photography would be prosecuted even if the bill is passed as introduced.

"Farmers are a common-sense people," he said. "A tourist who stops and takes a picture of cows -- I would not imagine any farmer in the state of Florida that cares about that at all."

That's a great idea, Norm. In fact, why don't we just make EVERYTHING illegal, but only lock up the people who violate someone else's common sense? Wait, I think Pol Pot (and countless others) already tried that.

It reminds me of the people who are adamant believers in free speech, you know, as long as it's not offensive.

Logic, what's that all about?

On a side note, Frank Herbert/David Lynch fans shouldn't miss this Dune: The Movie coloring book. "Mommy, what color do I use for dead people?"

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Hitler Was Not A Vegetarian!!!

After making a joke comment about Hitler being a vegetarian I got curious about the subject and actually looked it up. Turns out a surprising amount of ink has been spilled on this, and it even has its own Wikipedia page which contains this hilarious highlighted quote:
"Hitler was in no way an ethical vegetarian," Berry asserts. He believes that it is important to counter the assertions of scholars that the chief Nazi abstained from meat "because nonvegetarians tend to use the Nazi issue to discredit vegetarianism in general."
Wow. That's a pretty stunning amount of stupid. The reductio ad Hitlerum argument is so ridiculous, why would anyone bother to take it seriously, let alone actually write a book to prove (by any means necessary!) Hitler wasn't a vegetarian (and didn't love animals)?

Oops, there I go again, underestimating the human race's (and especially vegetarian activists') capacity for stupid.

You know who else used to breath air? Hitler!!!

Rynn Berry wrote a book about all of this, Hitler: Neither Vegetarian nor Animal Lover, not because he's got a blind agenda bordering on the fanatical, but simply because he's a vegetarian historian. A historian who happens to be a vegetarian but doesn't have an agenda. What I mean to say is that despite serving as historical advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society he's all about the truth at any price.

About his (completely un-revisionist) book Rynn writes this blurb:
I think it is important that people be made aware that the vegetarian movement has a venerable history behind it. It didn't spring full-blown from the head of a flower child in the 1960's. It really begins with Pythagoras in the West in the 6th century BC and has reasserted itself periodically ever since.
Rynn, Rynn, Rynn, you poor, ignorant, undernourished fool. Vindicating vegetarianism with Pythagoras is not a good idea. If you'd done the slightest bit of research you might have discovered that Pythagoras and his followers were likely a bunch of whackos. And there is plenty of evidence that the famous theorem that bears his name had been around long before the 6th century BC. Whether or not Pythagoras was even a vegetarian is even in dispute. What does seem clear is that they were a bunch of nerds living together on an island apparently obsessed with mathematics. So they probably all sat around consuming the 6th century BC equivalent of Cheetos and Coke, while doing the 6th century BC equivalent of quoting Monty Python. Great guys to know  if you wanted to hack a triangle, but not someone you want to take dietary advice from.

So much for a venerable history.

It is quite telling that in the Wikipedia page, the section "Questioning Hitler's vegetarianism" is longer than the section presenting all the solid evidence that Hitler was not only a vegetarian, but a big softie when it came to  animals of all stripes ("How can you eat zat poor chicken, vat about it's family, it's friends?). I can at least console myself with the fact that it is low enough on the radar not to have been completely hijacked by vegan activists like the Wikipedia China Study page.

Gary Taube$

Finally got around to listening to Jimmy Moore's latest interview (and here) with Gary Taubes. And I have to say I was pretty damn impressed. I've not really been keeping up on the various factions and Potemkin village detractors, so I'm sure this has all been covered somewhere else in a much better fashion, not least by Gary himself in the interview, but I'm going to throw my two rubles in anyway.

So let's get this Taube$ bullshit out of the way.

Anybody who writes Taube$ as some sort of ad hominem criticism of Taubes' work is a naive idiot (at best). They apparently believe that the billions of dollars, pounds, marks, etc doled out to Re$earcher$ (lookit, Mom I'm clever) by governments already convinced of the diet-heart hypothesis are as nothing compared to the money Taubes has piled up by so nakedly prostituting himself with GCBC. Gary Taubes had the temerity to dilly-dally away seven years of his life on GCBC in order to produce a massively researched tome designed to rake in as much money as possible by imitating The DaVinci Code.

The bastard.

Unlike the venal Taube$, the tireless, faceless, non-biased, state-funded, worker bee scientists who heavily influence nutrition policy (and not vice-versa! never vice-versa!) only make simple honest mistakes and their research is never skewed by distorted incentives. The same goes for the tireless, non-biased, government workers who hand out these massive research grants. Isn't that what science is all about? Making simple honest government funded mistakes?

Hey Taube$ians, pull your head out of your ass and learn some basic economics. And some basic science while you're at it.

Artichokes--Awesome Fat Delivery Tool

Vegetables are a great way to help us get plenty of healthy fat in our diet. But is there a vegetable that can exceed the artichoke in this? Each leaf forms a tiny bowl whose only purpose is to be filled to the brim with lots and lots of healthy butter. It's like that time peanut butter and chocolate were finally brought together in a set of highly improbable circumstances.

Since it surpasses all other vegetables in its fat delivering capacity, I hereby dub the artichoke the Queen of Vegetables!

Also, my kid really digs them.

Kids need a lot of SFA in their diet, even crypto-veganist mainstream media outlets like the BBC will reluctantly admit to that (I may have coined the term crypto-veganist, but I'm too lazy to google it and find out). My kid is probably crazy about artichokes because of the whole process of eating with his hands and spilling butter everywhere. It's an excuse to make a lovely mess. Whatever, as long as he gobbles down a bowl of quality butter I'm happy and he's happy.

Plus, artichokes might have some stray vitamins or minerals in and of themselves. I haven't looked it up, but I think I heard somewhere that vegetables are supposed to be healthy, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't here. If indeed vegetables have some sort of intrinsic value, and I can neither confirm nor deny this, I'm pretty sure it is supposed to be the dark green ones that are allegedly healthier.

Alright, kid, you're cute, now quit mugging the camera.

Addendum: Off the top of my head I would put mashed potatoes as second best for fat delivery, you can pack a lot of cream and butter into a bowl of mashers.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

1)Monkey With Cymbals 2)... 3)Profit!

I was just looking at my Google stats and monkey with cymbals is my number one search term. Seriously. This blog is ranked 6th in Google images for the term because I stuck it at the end of a post about heavy cream. Hooray!

I will soon conquer the world with my monkey and cymbals. And they said I was mad, MAD, to put up that picture, but look at me now!!!

Now all I need is a Peter Fonda Harley.

"We're going to a place where the sun never sets, the size of your wallet matters, and actors and actresses slave all day."   

Homemade Chilli Garlic Sauce

Being transplanted from New Mexico to Prague has left me with a decided lack of access to the almighty chilli. The only fresh chillis I can buy are these crazy hot little Thai chillis (and super expensive canned jalapeños). I decided to make some chilli garlic sauce. Removing the seeds would have helped, but I was too lazy to do that, I figured I would just dilute it with some bell peppers. In retrospect that was a big mistake.

I've made Pace style salsa before using canned jalapeños and it turns out quite well. In my opinion, the secret to great salsa is tons of cilantro. Of course, the homemade stuff has the advantage of not having crap like sugars, cornstarch, etc.

Anyway, here's my chilli garlic sauce. First cut off the stems from the Thai chillis. If you aren't lazy like me, it would be a good idea to remove the seeds by cutting in half and scraping with a spoon. On the other hand, the seeds provide fiber, FIBER, and we all know how important it is to eat indigestible stuff.

Then have a helpful assistant grind them up in the spice grinder.

I was careful that he wasn't exposed to this because it could be seriously dangerous if not overseen by a highly trained expert (that means I had the windows open and the vent cranked up). But I ain't wearing no gloves like that wimp Alton Brown.

Actually, latex gloves wouldn't have been a bad idea but I don't have any and I don't wear contacts so I lived dangerously. Which is a great film, by the way.

All ground up.

this picture almost melted my camera lens
Add a head of garlic.

I broiled a couple of bell peppers to char the skin for removal.

Throw it all together.

Add a 1/2 cup of vinegar

And about a 1/4 cup of salt.

And let it simmer on low for a while, maybe 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, a couple of bell peppers weren't even close to enough to take off the edge so I added a half liter of tomato sauce (unadulterated) and hit it with the immersion blender, ended up with this:

I let it sit out on the counter a couple of days to let the flavors meld and it has a nice taste to it even if it could be about 80,000 Scovilles milder. My wife, who despite being Czech, is more of a hot freak than I am gave it the thumbs up.

Dobrou Chut'!