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Thursday, 26 April 2018

The paradox of limiting free speech to defend free speech

On 6 April 2018, the American liberal news organisation NPR published a newsletter with the intriguing heading: Should free speech be limited? Also see this liberal PBS 2013 article. The NPR topics caught my interest. Limiting free speech, in order to defend free speech, appears to be the newest weapon against disinformation, fake news, and hoaxes.

In March 2015, the EU decided to create the East StratCom Task Force "to address Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns". Its website is called EU vs Disinfo and features an article about the Russian (pro-Kremlin) TV broadcaster RT, which may lose its UK broadcasting license.

In February 2018, the flipside of this EU initiative became clear. FT: "The site sparked criticism when it cited articles on the websites of Dutch media groups De Gelderlander, GeenStijl and The Post Online. After complaints by the publishers, Dutch MPs and the country’s liberal interior minister, EU vs Disinfo announced on March 8 that it was removing the pieces from its disinformation database." Also see DutchNews.

Limiting free speech, in order to defend free speech, feels like an oxymoron (eg, jumbo shrimp, open secret). Wiki: "An oxymoron is a rhetorical device that uses an ostensible self-contradiction to illustrate a rhetorical point or to reveal a paradox".

Philosophy (eg, democracy) and Politics (eg, Liberalism) are 2 of the 7 Belief systems. The other 5 Belief systems are Love, Money, Religion, Science and the Truth.

One of the perceived pillars of democracy is free speech.

Developing extreme beliefs is a mere consequence of having beliefs.

An extreme belief like authoritarianism doesn't believe in free speech. It believes in undermining free speech through disinformation, fake news, and hoaxes.

The irony of democracy and/or Liberalism is that advocating free speech will ultimately result in pleas for restricting free speech in order to defend democracy and Liberalism. Perhaps this is why Socrates predicted that tyranny would emerge from democracy (my 2017 blog).

The irony of authoritarianism is that they need democracy to gain power. Once in power, they "use the power [they] won in elections to essentially dismantle the country's democracy" (eg, New Republic-2011). Feel free to identify the relevant countries.

Ironic (1996) by Alanis Morissette - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Artificial sweeteners linked to diabetes and obesity (the Conversation)

"Many countries have introduced a sugar tax in order to improve the health of their citizens. As a result, food and drink companies are changing their products to include low and zero-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar. However, there is growing evidence that sweeteners may have health consequences of their own.

New research from the US, presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, found a link with consuming artificial sweeteners and changes in blood markers linked with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in rats. Does this mean we need to ditch sweeteners as well as sugar?

Sweeteners are generally “non-nutritive” substances meaning we can’t use them for energy. Some of these compounds are entirely synthetic chemicals, produced to mimic the taste of sugar. These include saccharin, sucralose and aspartame. Others sweeteners are refined from chemicals found in plants, such as stevia and xylitol. Collectively, sweeteners are being consumed in increasing amounts with most diet or low-calorie food and drink containing some form of non-nutritive sweetener.

Combating or fuelling the obesity crisis?

Artificially sweetened foods and drinks have become popular largely due to the growing worldwide obesity crisis. As sugar contains four calories per gram, sweet foods and drinks are normally highly calorific. In principle, by removing these calories we reduce energy intake and this helps to prevent weight gain.

Increasingly, however, evidence suggests that consuming artificially sweetened products might be associated with an increased risk of being overweight or obese, although this is controversial. If true, it suggests that using sweeteners is fuelling, not fighting obesity. Research has suggested that consuming lots of artificial sweeteners scrambles the bacteria in our gut, causing them to make our bodies less tolerant to glucose, the main building-block of sugar.

The new research, from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University, looked at some biological effects of sweeteners in rats and in cell cultures. They wanted to know if artificial sweeteners affect how food is used and stored. These are called metabolic changes and the research combined many different aspects of metabolism to build an overall picture.

The team also looked at the impact of sweeteners on blood vessel health by studying how these substances affect the cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels.

The scientists gave rats food that was high in either sugar (glucose or fructose) or calorie-free artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium). After three weeks they saw significant negative changes in both groups of rats. These changes included the concentrations of blood lipids (fats).

They also found that acesulfame potassium, in particular, accumulated in the blood and harmed the cells that line blood vessels. The study authors state that these changes are “linked to obesity and diabetes”. These results suggest that consuming sweeteners change how the body processes fat and gets its energy at a cellular level.

Limit your intake

What does this mean for the average consumer of artificial sweeteners? As the study was performed in animals and not humans it would be wrong to draw firm conclusions about what might happen in people. The findings of the study do, however, add to the growing body of research that suggests that sweeteners are not benign alternatives to sugar.

The European Food Safety Authority suggests a daily limit to most artificial sweeteners of around five milligrams per kilogram of body weight, per day. With so many foods including artificial sweeteners now, it is relatively easy to reach this limit.

It is important to note that not all sweeteners are equal. This recent study focused on artificial sweeteners, like most of the research that has identified negative effects. Some sweeteners are associated with health benefits.

Stevia, for example, has been shown to improve blood pressure and glucose tolerance while xylitol has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. This means that choosing the type of sweetener that you use may be more important than choosing a sweetener over sugar.

It is likely that the best advice is the blandest: everything in moderation. There is no such thing as good or bad food, only good or bad amounts. Maybe avoid consuming too much of either sugar or sweetener, especially in drinks."


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The speed-accuracy trade-off

“Alles wat goed is, komt snel” is a less familiar Dutch saying (eg, AD, Proz, SO). In general, "all what is good, comes quickly" usually refers to new (sports) talent. It could also be about decisions on emotional affairs, like a new friendship or love at first sight. There's no similar English proverb.

There is, however, an English proverb that suggests the exact opposite: "All [good] things come to those who wait". The Dutch version is: “alle goede dingen komen langzaam” (DBNL). I used the word suggest as the underlying meanings are not the same. The 2nd proverb relates more to tangible items while the 1st relates to emotions and/or talents, which are intangible.

The 1st proverb also has an inverse: if something (eg, a decision) doesn’t come quickly then our mind isn’t sure whether it feels good. There’s a conflict between ratio (conscious) and emotion (subconscious). Our common solution is delaying, indecision, postponing, and procrastinating.

Both proverbs relate to the psychological phenomenon of the "speed-accuracy trade-off" (eg, Wiki-1Wiki-2Wiki-3Wiki-4). For an explanation, please read the 2014 Aeon article by Stephen Fleming, Principal Research Associate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London: "Forget being boldly decisive, let your brain take its time".

In this speed-accuracy trade-off, emotional decisions (eg, friendship, love, talent) are taken in milliseconds, while decisions on buying expensive items may take days (eg, car) or months (eg, house). Hence, both proverbs do not contradict each other.

The mind must make very many decisions on a daily basis. The volume of decisions requires efficiency and effectivity (ie, speed). The impact of any decision requires that the mind must minimise negative consequences, like regret (ie, accuracy). The trade-off is the mathematical function between speed and accuracy (eg, curve, graph, line).

In this day and age, the speed-accuracy trade-off is under pressure. Aeon-2014: “Whether lingering too long over the menu at a restaurant, or abrupt U-turns by politicians, flip-flopping does not have a good reputation. By contrast, quick, decisive responses are associated with competency: they command respect. Acting on gut feelings without agonising over alternative courses of action has been given scientific credibility by popular books []”.

Aeon-2014: “Crucially, however, this neural flip-flopping is not something to be avoided. Instead, flip-flopping is an overt behavioural sign of the brain’s weighing of evidence for and against a decision. [] The speed-accuracy trade-off indicates that there can be negative consequences from being too decisive. Quicker decisions are often associated with more errors and greater potential for regret further down the line.”

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” A quote by William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist.

Your Decision (2009) by Alice in Chains - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 23 April 2018

Multivitamins are not only ineffective, but dangerous (Big Think)

"For many years, when my doctor would ask what vitamins or supplements I consume on a regular basis, I would reply by saying "a multivitamin." Never once in all those years did she (or he; I’ve bounced around a bit) ask what type of vitamins were included in the cocktail. No question of percentages, minerals, vitamins—just a head nod and a mouse click.

A few years ago I stopped saying "multivitamin" because I stopped taking one, and he (or she) never asked why, recommended advice, anything. They simply unchecked the box.

For more than half of Americans—68 percent of adults over age 65—a multivitamin (among a few, or many, supplements) is part of the daily ritual. Overloading your body with five or ten times the recommended daily allowance of this or that vitamin is treated as folk wisdom. It’s such basic science that questioning it seems like a complete waste of a thought.

Problem is, the National Institute of Health spent $2.4 billion studying vitamins and supplements only to find out they really don’t work. As Pieter A. Cohen writes in JAMA: "During the past 2 decades, a steady stream of high-quality studies evaluating dietary supplements has yielded predominantly disappointing results about potential health benefits, whereas evidence of harm has continued to accumulate."

This includes clinical trials showing that vitamin E, once promoted as heart healthy, actually increases your risk of heart failure and prostate cancer. Multivitamins do not prevent cancer and heart disease; St John’s wort will do nothing for your depression; Echinacea is no match for the common cold. In smokers, beta-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer.

A large part of the problem is how comfortable we are swallowing pills with no understanding of what they contain. Whenever we feel slightly off we immediately imagine the pill that will alleviate the distress. Pain, however, is a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring the signal doesn’t solve the problem, it only prolongs the agony.

Since multivitamins have predominantly been marketed as healthy or, at the furthest end of the spectrum, benign, we’ve overlooked the fact that many are, in the long run, damaging. No vitamin or mineral is without effect. Because we don’t exactly understand how these pills operate should not mean we want to pop as many of them as possible.

Cohen points out that while vitamin and supplement bottles must include the standard “not evaluated by the FDA” jargon, most eyes pass right over the small print, instead focusing on unproven health claims scripted in bold, bright letters.

This has caused a number of researchers to remind us that we get all the vitamins we need on our plates. Even those eating a “Western” diet— which is the culprit of America’s obesity epidemic—achieve the basic requirements our bodies require. There is simply no proven track record showing that the isolation of certain vitamins from the foods that contain them is beneficial.

This is not to say some people don't require certain vitamins or minerals for a variety of issues. That's a different case from overloading your body with a flood of them hoping something works.

As Marjorie McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, is paraphrased in the NY Times: "It’s possible that the chemicals in the fruits and vegetables on your plate work together in ways that scientists don’t fully understand—and which can’t be replicated in a tablet."

Physician Paul Offit agrees. In study after study Offit shows that cancer and heart disease rates increase with the consumption of vitamins and supplements. A few examples:
  • A 1996 study in Seattle of 18,000 people showed that people exposed to asbestos who were taking megavitamins with large doses of vitamin A and beta-carotene were 28 percent more at risk of developing lung cancer and 17 percent more at risk for developing heart disease. 
  • A 2004 study in Copenhagen conducted 14 randomized trials with 170,000 people and discovered that those taking large amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene were more likely to develop intestinal cancer. 
  • A 2005 study at John Hopkins School of Medicine performed a meta-analysis of 19 studies with over 136,000 people. Those taking megavitamins were at an increased risk of early death. 
  • Another 2005 study of 9,000 people published in JAMA found increased risks of cancer and heart disease in those taking large doses of vitamin E. 
  • A 2011 study at the Cleveland Clinic involving 36,000 men found a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer in those consuming vitamin E and/or selenium.
Regarding the antioxidant craze—and certain levels of them are healthy—Offit notes that oxidation is required to “kill new cancer cells and clear clogged arteries.” Overloading on antioxidants reduces your body’s ability to do this.

Fruits and vegetables contain many other ingredients that appear to, as McCullough mentions above, boost the efficacy of vitamins. Offit continues: "Half of an apple has the antioxidant activity of 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C, even though it contains only 5.7 milligrams of the vitamin. That’s because the phytochemicals that surround vitamin C in apples enhance its effect."

American regulatory bodies have been too lax in their policing of vitamin and supplement manufacturers. Many are either blatantly lying or ignorant of the science behind the products they’re selling. The dietary supplement industry raked in over $32 billion in 2012, most of which profited from junk science, or at best, unproven claims. That’s great business for those companies. Unfortunately, it’s terrible for us."


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Lazy Sunday (Afternoon)

Lazy Sunday (Afternoon) (1968) by the Small Faces - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Wouldn't it be nice to get on wiv me neighbours( da da da do)
But they make it very clear they've got no room for ravers

They stop me from groovin', they bang on me wall
They're doin' me crust in it's no good at all

Lazy sunday afternoon, I've got no mind to worry, close my eyes and
Drift away, Close my eyes and drift away

Here we all are sittin' in a rainbow(da da da do)
Gor blimey hello missus Jones hows your old Bert's lumbago?
He mustn't grumble, Tweedle dee bite
I'll sing you a song with no words and no tune
Tweedle dee bite
I'll sing at your party while you souse out the moon, oh yeah

Lazy Sunday afternoon, I got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away, Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away

Aroo de de de do
Aroo de de de dido

Theres no one to see me theres nothin' to say
And no one can stop me from feelin' this way

Lazy Sunday afternoon I've got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Money as a Belief system - an example

FT title: Sudden loss of wealth raises risk of earlier death, study shows

"People who rapidly lost 75% of assets found to be 50% more likely to die within 20 years"

"People who suddenly lose most of their wealth die significantly younger than those who hang on to their assets, according to a large US study relating health to financial changes during middle and old age.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that people who lose three-quarters or more of their total wealth within a two-year period are 50 per cent more likely to die in the next 20 years.

This rise in mortality risk “is similar to the increase associated with a new diagnosis of coronary heart disease”, said Alan Garber, professor of health policy at Harvard University.

“We found losing your life savings has a profound effect on a person’s long-term health,” said Lindsay Pool of Northwestern, the study’s lead author. “The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth.”

There is a large body of evidence showing poorer people suffer more illness and die younger than their richer counterparts. But little was previously known about the long-term health consequences of what the researchers call “negative wealth shocks”, such as a sharp fall in value of a home or investment portfolio or a business failure.

They analysed data from 8,700 participants in the US National Institute on Ageing health and retirement study. This follows the health and financial circumstances of a representative group of Americans aged between 51 and 61 when the project started in 1992.

As far as possible the authors excluded factors likely to trigger a sudden loss of wealth, such as pre-existing illness, loss of employment or marital disruption, in order to isolate the health impact of the wealth shock itself.

The likely causes of the increased death risk fall into two categories. One is the direct health impact of rapid impoverishment, such as increasing stress hormone levels, loss of psychological balance, and excessive drinking and other substance abuse. The other, particularly applicable under the US healthcare system, is no longer being able to pay for adequate medical treatment.

“These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss as well as pulling back from medical care because they can’t afford it,” said Dr Pool.

Doctors need to be sensitive to patients’ financial circumstances, she added: “It’s something they need to ask about, to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk.”

The researchers will now investigate the mechanisms that can turn a big financial loss into a killer, asking “why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk”, Dr Pool said."


Friday, 20 April 2018

La Casa de Papel

I have waited writing this review until the very last episode of season 2 of La Casa de Papel a.k.a. Money Heist (#8.8 in IMDb). I just couldn’t imagine that this Netflix series would not ultimately disappoint. It did not. La Casa de Papel might be one of the best TV series ever. This week Netflix announced that the worldwide success of this series warrants a new season 3.

Initially, I ignored this series based upon its description. It seemed just another crime story. I was sold after having watched episode 1. The filming is rather slow and sucks you into the captivating story of a bank heist on the Spanish Royal Mint, where they print Euro bills.

The object of the heist (ie, the Mint) allows for philosophical arguments whether its theft or not: nothing existing will be stolen. The heist also allows for political arguments on the bailout of European banks by the European Central Bank (ECB) through printing new money. The heist is most of all about the psychological cat-and-mouse game between the police and the “thieves”.

There is a resemblance with one of the best crime movies ever: Heat (1995, IMDb). Both main characters are experts in meticulous planning of their jobs and also denounce violence. The psychological warfare between Al Pacino (police) and Robert De Niro (thief) in Heat, resembles the fight between the Professor and the female Spanish police inspector.

There’s also a resemblance with another superb heist-like movie: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999, IMDb). This resemblance is about the romantic interest between Pierce Brosnan (gentleman thief) and Rene Russo (insurance detective).

La Casa de Papel does not decide who is bad and good. Characters on both sides are bad and good. My empathy was shifting according to the hourly developments in the heist (eg, betrayal, treatment of hostages). My empathy towards the Mint director was shifting many times. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. Characters are clearly not 1-dimensional.

The meticulous planning of the heist does not take into account human relationships, like in real life. They do, however, develop and threaten the Professor's plan. The Stockholm syndrome creates additional relationships between thieves and hostages.

Similar to the movie Heat, the tv series La Casa de Papel is not about gun violence, despite the incidental shootings and the Heat like finale. The sympathy of the Spanish population for the thieves is crucial in their plan; violence is not. This ingredient is also part of their political views: losers against winners.

Until the end of season 2, the Professor remains a mystery (eg, fragile youth, martial arts, meticulous planning, Russian language, Serbian comrades). Season 3 might explain who the Professor really is. La Casa de Papel is extraordinary good and a must-see.

My Life Is Going On (2017) by Cecilia Krull - OST La Casa de Papel (lyricsvideo)

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise