Carburetor economics

Much of the past 150 years of politics has been about either trying to get all of the resources to the workers or in the alternative to impoverish the workers and make them live in unspeakable conditions and keep all of the wealth with those that are already rich.
 
Neither approach works particularly well.  When there is no reward for striving and investing and taking risks to move the world forward, society stagnates.  Those who would have otherwise been entrepreneurs turn their talents to the black markets that always thrive in purely communist systems or other antisocial activity.   When on the other hand the workers don’t have enough resources to keep the economy going though, it sputters to a halt.  I see that as doing more to create the present economic problems than even the housing crisis.  There is no use producing stuff if there is nobody to buy it. 
 
So here’s an alternative to radical communism and radical capitalism: carburetor economics.  A carburetor makes sure that an engine has the right mix of fuel and air to work properly.  Think of the wealth of the workers as the fuel and the capitalist system as the air.   No fuel and everything stops.  Not enough air and the fuel isn’t used efficiently. 
 
What is the correct ratio of wealth for a system to work properly?  That’s a question of fact requiring experimentation and research and it would be presumptuous to pick a figure.  I do know that where we are now is the wrong place- the wealth imbalance in America is presently as great now as it was during the great depression.  Put in the same inputs and you can expect the same results.  
 
A starting place for where to look for the right balance might be the 1950s or so, when it was possible for a family to be reasonably well off with one income earner in a middle class job and have a house (not a tiny condo) and a car.  I’m not committed to that, and other countries such as perhaps Sweden might be able to show times with an even better balance.  It is something to be looked in to and it wouldn’t happen overnight anyways. 
 
Then there is the question of how to get to such a place economically.  That too is a question of fact that can’t be determined with any certainty a priori.  One place I would look is getting businesses to buy out shareholders.   Shareholders have a legitimate function at the start of a business.  If somebody takes risk and moves society along thereby, I can’t see any moral principle why there shouldn’t be a payoff proportionate to the risk involved.  In the long run though, shareholding stops serving that essential function and becomes a bit of a wank.   The battle is no longer just between business and labor, shareholders have crashed the party as separate entities distinct from the business and with interests that are often inimical to the long term health of the business.  They almost always demand, and usually get, whatever brings short term shareholder value, even if it means doing irresponsible things that bet the whole future of a stable business.   The focus on doing what shareholders want even when it is reckless is a greater danger to business than labor and government regulation combined. 
 
Of course the necessary improvements would require the possibility of a business either without shareholders, which would involve a whole new conception of a corporation, or perhaps a different weighting.   Another might be to reduce the weight of shareholder’s decisions.  In theory, shareholders now have all of the ultimate power in a corporation which is then delegated to their chosen directors etc.  Of course the mechanics in practice are a lot more complicated than that. 
 
One idea  would be to include other stakeholders in what are traditionally meetings run only by shareholders, with representation by both management and labor regardless of whether they own shares, for example. 
 
In one form or another, something like this needs to be done.   If we continue with the same inputs that form corporate behaviour, we will keep getting the same results.

Modern business theory and the Iraq resistance

As Tom Peters has often noted, business leaders often turn themselves into out-of-touch bottlenecks in their organization, preventing anything from getting done.  This is the bane of American business.  Appropriately empowering workers often leads to great improvements as people are empowered to fix problems on the spot rather than stagnating as is the usual practice.  But the principle does not only apply to business.
 
The biggest favor that the US ever did for the resistance in Iraq was capturing Saddam Hussein.  Once the main bottleneck was removed and resistance became more spontaneous and local, that is when things started to get really out of hand. 
 
That is an issue to look at with terrorists and other hostiles generally.  While bigger ticket items may require central financing and organization, an amorphous, self directed organization may be a more serious day to day threat and especially for inherently disorganized and "in the moment" activities like gorilla attacks. 
 
The lack of a central authority can create other problems, such as whom to negotiate with.  A notorious problem with middle east groups is that even when the supposed central command of an organization agrees to a ceasefire, self-directed elements may continue to fight. 
 
Then there is the factor that dead leaders can be martyrs. 
 
This isn’t to say that you don’t take them out if you get a clear shot.  However, it is something to think about.
 
Then there is, finally, somebody commenting on the problem of Pakistan: http://www.newsweek.com/id/148721
 
The elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is the direction of Pakistan.  Anti-American elements are rapidly gathering momentum.  Pakistan may have been a cold war ally but it can hardly be counted on to side against other Muslims.  
 
Further, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and they are apparently a source of national pride.  The biggest objective threat is Pakistan becoming destabilized and Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of jihadists.  All of the American actions in the region since 2001 have increased the probability of this happening. 
 
The US will find it nearly impossible to get Pakistan to publicly eliminate its nuclear arsenal.  It is probably politically impossible for the leaders to go along with it, at least publicly.   If it could be convinced to eliminate its nuclear weapons quietly though, that would be a major achievement.

What Labour Party?

 
It has recently been alleged that Britain has a labour party and that they may be facing defeat after 11 years.  I must have missed something.  I was under the distinct impression that for the past 11 years Britain has been run by right wing apologists who think that it is ok to kill people of different ethnic backgrounds if there is enough oil involved.  Can’t get much more right wing than that.
 
Now, it is important for politicians to be able to adapt to reality and not be so inflexible as to refuse to change on a position when they have to as was traditionally done.  That is changing a position because of a principle and the truth has to supercede any unsustainable policy from any quarter. 
 
However when changes are made from pure expedience the effect is the opposite although the appearance may be similar.  In their desire for immediate votes they are seduced by the mushy side of the force and go to a place where there is no reality, just the expedience of  the moment. 
 
Such deviations can be temporarily rewarding but fatal for a party in the long term.  In British Columbia, the formerly socialist party, the New Democratic Party, took power for nine years with a fairly pragmatic focus.  For a while it worked as people figured out that they weren’t mad socialist hordes that were going to wreck the place. 
 
But there can be such a thing as taking moderation to far, to the point where you stand for nothing but being in power.  If the New Democrats did anything that was even vaguely socialist or progressive during their nine years in power, I missed it.   They lost track of their reason for being.  Then they lost an election, and now I don’t see them coming back into power any time in the next ten years unless the ruling party implodes. 
 
The present ruling party in BC, the Liberals, are moving to the center and the left in the right kind of way.  I don’t support them but what they are doing makes a lot more sense than what the New Democrats did.  They are promoting environmental responsibility and have introduced a carbon tax.  They are altering their brand to make it more attractive to the general public without destroying the basic brand conception of what they are all about. 
 
The more successful left leaning parties in recent years have taken what can be considered a brand destroying approach in recent years.  This can win the odd election, especially if there is dissatisfaction with a ruling party, but I don’t see it as having any future.  If the public is only given a choice between a right wing party that is forceful and a washed out version of the same thing that doesn’t really know why it exists, the bad carbon copy is going to lose in the long run. 
 
The left did need to change but it has headed off in two opposite but equally futureless directions.  One direction is morons with bullhorns with little insight into the problems that anybody outside of their interest group may be facing.  The other is those who become pale carbon copies of the right wing, aping the right wing’s approach to a degree to get brief stints in power.
 
I think that it is possible to be moderate and still forcefully stand for things.  The first thing to recognize is that business and labour are best when they are symbiotic.  When the workers have too small a proportion of the GDP the economy tanks.  If business is marginal on the other hand, jobs are threatened.  Just because the interests are not identical does not mean that business and labour have to be enemies.   Further, as noted in the Tom Peters book "Thriving on Chaos" and similar business literature, the businesses that properly empower their workers are the ones that will be better equipped to improve in the future.  The people that best know how to improve things on the factory floor are the people that are on the factory floor, not people that went straight from Harvard Business School to the boardroom without ever seeing a factory.   The Japanese have apparently used this principle more than Americans and that is one of the reasons that they are more efficient and build better products. 
 
The left does not need to be an enemy of organized religion.   There is no need though to take the approach of the right wing in trying to force the views of particular religious minorities on everybody.   More consistent with the left approach is to emphasize tolerance and that religious rights will be protected.   Marginalize the religious crazies instead as the enemies of everybody including the faithful. 
 
I think that there is lots of scope here for shifting focus to pragmatism without sacrificing core values in the process.  Most important is something that is desparately needed but lacking, the willingness to stand up to crazies of every political stripe.  Somebody has to do it. 

The Latino benefit to demographics

Among several problems that will lead to economic devastation in the US, the most easily controllable is the demographic bulge with the baby boomers.  This if left alone will cause problems with additional health costs and other cost relating to the aging boomers. 
 
Demographics are easy to fix because immigration can be tied to demographics.  Let more people in that fill out the demographic curve and bingo, end of problem.
 
When you add that to the factor that many people would pay to be citizens in the US or Canada, we could actually have people pay us to fix our problem.  How often does that happen in real life?  This could assist with the deficit as well. 
 
The only thing getting in the way of fixing America’s simplest problem is right wing racial hatred.  It may be that sufficient non-whites will have to be let in to fill out those demographics.  I don’t see that as a problem- I frankly like latinos better than whites.  We hear a lot of noise about latino gangs and other problems but the vast majority of them are great people and a joy to be around.   This is a case where we are suffering over our own prejudice.  This is a rare situation where the problem implies the solution- filling out age demographics isn’t going to happen by magic, it can only be with people from other countries- and the only thing standing in our way is our own pig-headedness and racism.

From junk science to bulk science

 
So another piecemeal attempt at stopping a disease has failed. 
 
Eliminating the sticky brain gunk apparently has not stopped the problem.  It was worth a try.  One of the problems that I have though with traditional science even when it is real science is that it is often too piecemeal.   The focus is too narrow.  Time may be lost as treatments are attempted in series. 
 
One thing that I would like to see happen is what I think of as the massive correlator project.  Put together as many people as possible with their genetic information, family health backgrounds, what they eat, where they came from, do blood tests and see what is their levels of various things, everything from hormones to contaminants, and put all of that information together in a monster database and see what pops up.
 
Correlations don’t necessarily imply a cause and effect relation.  They can be effect-effect relationships with a common cause, only slightly related or completely random.  There can be intervening causes in a chain reaction.  A correlation just tells us that something is worth a look.  But that can give a lot of starts.
 
With altzheimers for instance, the gunk that covers the brain is a correlation with the disease (although if it is defined as a characteristic of the disease, we have to beware of a circular definition).   A high correlation between this gunk and a certain level of dysfunction is unlikely to be random, the doctors have figured that out.
 
But then there is some other gunk that is generally found too, creating what is called brain tangles. 
 
So here is a completely ad hoc hypothesis which I am not necessarily saying is true.  Suppose that the reason for these two types of junk on the brain is that certain things leak out of brain cells.   Suppose that Alzheimers is not the gunk, but the leak.  Other substances get out through the leak as well, depleting the brain cells of nutrients, or whatever, and the result is that the brain cells don’t work properly because they are missing something.  Suppose that the reason that they can’t find the presence of whatever causes Alzheimers because what it is, is the absence of something. 
 
This is why complete tests are necessary.  Not just what is there, but what is not there, both on the large scale where we can see gunk and at the cellular level to see if there is too much of something or too little of something and that may give rise to more specific theories.   At the very least I think that we need to find one more correlation to figure this thing out.  It could be related to a contaminant.  It could be genetic.  It could be genetic vulnerability exploited by a contaminant.  It could be related to damage by a virus- or a bacteria, including one that may have run its course and been run out of the body, in which case we’d have to run a full check on antibodies and possibly do genetic tests to see what might have been altered by a virus. 
 
If you stop an effect-effect correlation, you will probably wind up stumped and wondering where you went wrong.  The first question that came to my mind when reading the article is that the article doesn’t answer the question fully about where the gunk comes from, how it happens to be there.   Figure that out and you probably get closer to what the disease is.  That there are two types of gunk out of control in the brain really makes me suspect a common cause.  Even if they cause the symptoms, the real disease is whatever leads to their buildup, whatever that might be. 
 
I’d also note in passing that the behaviour reminds me somewhat of prions, another poorly understood disease where the brain fills with crap.   In the case of prions, I’m inclined to agree with the viral theorists as opposed to what might be called the voodoo theorists who now think that proteins can replicate themselves through some magical process.  Sounds neat, but it falls to Oakham’s Razor at this point.   We already know that viruses can reprogram the body to self destruct, there is no reason to guess that there is some mysterious process that contradicts everything that we know about microbiology. 
 
While I’m on prions, I suspect that such things are common in the animal kingdom and I’m unconvinced at this point that the same agent causes the same disease in cows and humans.   The "proof" of this as far as I can see is quite hypothetical.   It may well be true, say if there is a virus that works in both cows and humans, but we must beware interests that pervert science for economic advantage.  Whether the connection is correct or not, the real function of these amazing discoveries in animals is for economic advantage.  Nobody cares if the science is good if it means that an economic competitor is placed at a disadvantage.  Look at the mass hysteria around beef- one infected cow lead to an extension of the ban of Canadian beef from the US.  This discovery came mysteriously at the same day that some American panel or other was considering reopening the border to Canadian beef.  When there was a lawsuit to resume trade, who was the foremost opponent to trade resuming?  Montana cattlemen.  Not the government, not scientists, but an economic competitor. 
 
The sad thing about this apart from the descent into junk science in the cattle matter is that if real science were done on all related matters, it could increase understanding.  It could be, while studying prions for example, that somebody has a stroke of brilliance that goes a long ways to solving the problem of Alzheimers or some other disease that involves the mangling of the brain processes.  Alzheimers is associated with an amyloid problem, prions are associated with an amyloid problem.  It could be that they are related in some way or another.   It could be that they are completely distinct as well.  But there are lots of things to look at here and the focus should be broadened before it narrows into specific lines of enquiry.

calories vs science

 
A calorie is defined as the amount of heat necessary to raise one gram of water 1 degree celsius.
 
We usually speak of burning calories because the number of calories of a thing depends on the amount of energy that it gives off when you burn it- literally.
 
For those of you that were born with the unfortunate feature of having a bunsen burner in your body, you had best watch your calories very carefully. 
 
For the rest of us, if we choose to diet it should be on the basis of science and the physiology that we actually have.
 
In around grade 9 or 10, we get taught that the way that the body prefers to store energy is that when the blood sugar rises, insulin is secreted and the body converts the sugar into fat. 
 
Apparently when you go to medical school they try to tell you that this is all wrong and that isn’t how it happens, so you should eat lots of carbs to get skinny and stay away from fat.  Problem is, the science is behind what we learned in grade 9 or 10 and the contrary material that people’s heads get filled with later is just junk science.
 
A big part of this junk science is the calorie.  The one legitimate point about calories is that they represent the potential energy of an item.  What this means is that if something has few calories that may actually be meaningful.   The more calories a thing has, the more ambiguious it is what that means.  Many calories will not be processed at all and pass directly through the body.  Many other calories will be processed into the bloodstream but pass through the urine.  Some other calories go into the body and are returned to the digestive tract for expulsion via the liver and gall bladder.  A small portion are lost to sweat and probably a small portion to breath as well.   The latter point has to be true at least of alcohol.  The reason that blood alcohol content can be measured by breath is that if you have alcohol in your system you will exhale some of it.
 
Then there is the issue of what different calories do to your physical condition.  If you don’t get enough calories into the system, you slow down and the body takes steps to preserve the fat.  If you eat the right foods and have a healthy lifestyle on the other hand, the metabolism will speed up. 
 
Where the calorie issue gets us into the most trouble though is with fats.  Fats have the most calories, and so for those morons that think that selecting diet is an exercise in math rather than biology, cutting fats becomes the logical solution for them.
 
There are a host of problems with this approach.  The real science out there is that fats are important to the metabolism and that training the body to burn fat helps you get thin.  The presence of fat also slows the entry of sugar into the bloodstream so that the blood sugar doesn’t go as high and so less of it will be stored as fat. You do want the right fats and not processed junk, but if we damn all fats just because the artificial junk that industry creates is bad for us, we are making a serious mistake of conflation and that is bad science. 
 
The metabolic consequences of having diets low in fat are not fully known, I think.  When carbs are too high a proportion of intake there are nasty results like hardened arteries and the like, much higher cholesterol, etc.   There is one area that is particularly important that is known though, and that is that fat is necessary to feelings of well-being.   The absence of fats can cause clinical depression which our idiot doctors will then try to treat with debilitating drugs that are expensive and addictive.  Tell people that feel depressed with no obvious cause to take borage or evening primrose oil.  If the depression is caused by a deficiency in fats- I am not saying that it will work in every case as there are likely various causes- you may be surprised how fast this will work.   I’ve seen it work very quickly on those I’ve recommended it to.
 
A higher proportion of carb intake on the other hand is highly correlated with depression.  That may be in part due to metabolic disturbance and in part due to giving the nervous system too much fuel.
 
I suspect that part of the problem is the old food pyramids that used to be even taught in school in America, something that ought to be criminalized since it teaches people to eat in a way that will destroy their health.    The base of the traditional pyramid is grains.  I suspect that the reason behind this was probably to probably to try to promote the sale of products in a way that would assist American and Canadian farmers as an obvious policy motive.  Whatever the motive was, it wasn’t health and there wasn’t any science behind it.   I like the way that one writer put this- when we want to fatten up cattle we feed them lots of low fat grains.  The same process works equally well with humans.
 
And so this makes me a little queasy about the New York law requiring calories to be posted on menus.  It may serve some function- if you eat things with low calorie content the amount that they can fatten you up is limited- but at the same time this perpetuates the disinformation that is spread through what might be called calorie culture.  Partial truths can be dangerous.  They will work in some cases which will appear to be confirmations but not in others, and the disconfirmations are usually dismissed.   They can serve as a substitute to the truth and stand in the way of it. Partial truths are more dangerous that positions that are clearly wrong.
 
Some of the other popular ideas, such as about the importance of fiber, are actually premised on certain calories being unavailable and making other calories unavailable.   Fiber has calories but we can’t digest it properly, so it passes through and helps push other material with it.  That something has calories doesn’t necessarily mean that the only function it has is to burn as fuel.
 
I’d like the so-called scientists to get back with the scientific program instead of promoting old wives tales as science, because I think that there will be a lot of useful work to do once they get beyond square 1.   One problem that I’ve got for instance is that if I follow a diet somewhere between Atkins and the Zone, with supplements per Dr. Colgan and consistent with my blood type per the Eat Right For Your Type diet, I can get my weight to an ideal level and be in excellent physical condition, but I don’t seem to have enough fuel for my brain to work.  If I eat enough carbs for my brain to move at a reasonable speed, I put on wieght rapidly.   I am not particularly happy with either trade off.   The scientists above are among the few that have gotten past square 1 into real science, but their works have different areas of focus.  I find that integrating them all together for maximum consistency between the programs, which are mostly consistent, has the best result for health generally but as far as I know nobody is doing the same thing at a scientific level, putting together all of these separate insights into an organized program that integrates the strength of each. 
 
At some time in the future, good things will start happening in this direction.  When, I don’t know.  But there is money to be made there.  Once there is integration with other areas such as genetics there will be room for health coaches that are to a degree individualized, in a manner that will inherently labour intensive if it is done properly and the reason why it will happen is money.   Highly labour intensive and specialized work that involves the most valuable commodity in the world, health, equals potentially lots of money. It also has the potential to save lots of money, another incentive.  The present system of MacHealth seems to focus on moving people through in reaction to problems with expediency paramount and for people with unusual difficulties that don’t fit the general case, the present system is quite inadequate.   The focus is on quick fixes such as pills, not so much on figuring out what is really wrong.  The results of this expediency are less than expedient- costs balloon over time with this piecemeal and reactionary approach to health.   Better to spend the time up front figuring out an individual patient’s health issues than having a stream of brief appointments and quick fixes that don’t allow getting at underlying problems in any depth. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Afghanistan

 
The problems in Afghanistan may be worse for precisely the reason that the US was more successful in installing a hand-picked puppet there.  The first choice for Iraq, a man of highly dubious character, didn’t work out and that was probably for the best.   Those now in government in Iraq may not be as easy to control as the hand-picked puppet, but they will have a lot more credibility. 
 
The US has to make a choice in cases such as this.  Is it more important to have "your man" obstensibly running the place with nobody listening to him, or to have peace and stability in the region? 
 
One thing that the US ought to be doing is dealing more with Muslim clerics.  We are used to more of a separation of church and state here and so it may not occur to people to involve the clergy as much, but we have to look at the reality of the region.  Their separation between church and state can wait until later. 
 
It is worth noting that the Muslim clergy seem to be for the most part staying out of the whole mess.   We hear a lot about the fanatics being motivated by religion but the silence from their religious leaders speaks for itself.   If they saw the whole business as being one group of maniacs fighting another group of maniacs that would not be wholely without merit. 
 
If they are silent, that means that they are there to be won over. 
 
It need not be a ringing endorsement.   A simple statement from religious leaders that there is no Jihad could be devastating.
 
At the political level, unless the US wants to be in Afghanistan for 100 years, it has to back somebody that can actually win and get popular backing.  Somebody that the Muslim clergy would endorse would be the best bet. 
 
If the Jihadists are faced with the prospect of going against their own church they will falter and fail. 
 
But we have to change our western way of thinking and especially get over our media propaganda BS.   One of the defects of propaganda is that it tends to infect strategy and lead to a loss of objectivity.  I hear that the Taliban are the insurgency.  Nonsense.  The insurgency is the group which is barely able to run the place with the backing of american soldiers.  Without US troops they would fall in two days.   Disparaging the government deposed by the US as an insurgency is Orwellian doublespeak.   The Taliban are pond scum, but they were at one time the government and they haven’t been replaced by anything that is viable without foreign intervention.   Referring to the dominant native force in Afghanistan as an insurgency shows a profound misunderstanding of the situation.    Something else that rival them in influence has to be cobbled together and have religious support- take the Taliban’s main crutch, religion, away from them and give it to somebody else.  And unless there is an amazing mass conversion to Christianity, it will have to be a more moderate Muslim affiliated or supported movement.
 
There was an interesting occurrence when the recent talks in Iraq fell through.  The Iraqi that the US was negotiating with went to the country’s head cleric and then went to the Americans and said there’s not deal.   That tells you a lot about the power structure.  It may have been better to dispense with the middle man and deal directly with somebody that it appears has some influence over the decision.   It might even be best of all to have our religious people dealing with their religious people in brokering a deal.   A Muslim cleric would probably look down at a military man or one of Washington’s political creatures as beneath him, and not without reason.    Maybe they should see if the Vatican could assist on that.