Archive for August, 2012

An alert reader sent me an email today informing me that Fat Head was on YouTube – again.  I believe that’s somewhere around a dozen times I’ve had to notify YouTube to take it down.  I run searches for it now and then, but somehow missed this one.  It had been online since May.

If anyone reading this has uploaded Fat Head or is considering it, let me point out a couple of things:

First off, it isn’t your film.  It’s mine.  Uploading it so others can watch it for free is stealing my work, period.  I realize some of the younger folks out there have grown up believing it’s somehow okay to share anything digital with a few thousand of your closest friends, but it isn’t.  It’s theft, pure and simple.

The latest bozo to upload the film even put FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY in the description.  As opposed to what, bozo?  Commercial purposes?  Naw, you wouldn’t want anyone to use my work for commercial purposes… that would be stealing.  Idiot.

Secondly, despite what some goofballs commenting in cyberspace believe, I didn’t receive funding from McDonald’s or anyone else.  I worked long hours as a programmer and financed the film myself.  By the time I paid for post production, animations, music, news footage, insurance, digital masters, etc., I had invested more than $100,000 in this project.  A good chunk of that was borrowed, and I carried the debt with interest for two years — not exactly what I had expected, since we had two distributors waving optimistic sales figures in front us when I signed with them.

As some of you may know from reading the comments, our original DVD distributor went bankrupt last year and never paid us what they owed.  It was rather a lot.  For some reason, the accounting department continued sending us quarterly reports until the company went belly-up.  Very nice of them … when you screw over an independent filmmaker, you want to put an exact dollar figure on it.

The money they collected was supposed to go in account with my name on it, but obviously they used the proceeds from Fat Head (their top seller) to fund their day-to-day operations while they were mismanaging themselves into failure.  Apparently they thought they’d catch up at some point, but never did.  I appreciate all of you who bought copies from Amazon and other vendors when the film came out, but we never saw a dime from those sales.

Meanwhile, our international (ahem) distributor has turned out to be a den of thieves.  Despite the many TV airings overseas early on, they kept claiming large and mysterious losses on their reports.  Oddly, those supposed losses increased by $24,000 last year, despite no new sales and no apparent effort on their part to make any sales.  I guess they must be paying horrendous rent somewhere to store a half-dozen digital master tapes.

For reasons I can’t figure out, they refuse to relinquish the rights.  Given the supposed large and growing losses, you’d think they’d want to dump the film before it sinks the whole company, but nope … they won’t let it go.  They’ve also refused to send me an accounting of what expenditures produced the mysterious losses.  They’re in Canada, I’m in the U.S., and (as I found out after spending $7,000 in legal fees) there’s pretty much nothing I can do to them unless I want to pony up another $25,000 or more to sue them in Canada.

(Perhaps someday I’ll post a couple of emails I exchanged with the den of thieves to elaborate.  When we were still engaged in legal maneuvers, my attorney said that would be a very bad idea.  Now I don’t much give a @#$%.)

Get the picture?  I produced a popular film, financed it myself, worked ungodly hours to finish it, and then two distributors used it to either fund their failing enterprises or line their own pockets while claiming bogus losses.  That’s why we started selling our own DVD version through the blog.  Our first DVD sale through the blog was also our first income from the film.  We never saw a check from a distributor until Gravitas (an honest distributor) released Fat Head on Hulu and Netflix.

The last thing I need after paying interest on much of the production cost for two years is for a bunch of bozos to give Fat Head away for free online.  If you want to see the film, buy a DVD or watch it on Hulu.  If you think other people will benefit from watching it, buy DVDs for them.

If you upload my film, you’re not stealing from some millionaire producer.  If I’d made a million dollars on the film, I wouldn’t still be working as a programmer.  And frankly, even if I had made a million dollars on Fat Head, point number one would still apply:  it isn’t yours.  Don’t be a thief.

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I’m busy tonight trying to fix an issue for a software client.  I’ll post something over the weekend.

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After the USDA ordered schools to further reduce the fat and calories in school lunches, they were left with a teensy little problem:  kids don’t like the meals and are throwing them away.  Duh.  Never fear … according to an article a reader sent me, the feds have come up with a solution to fix their last solution.  Let’s examine the rampant stupidity at work.

There will be more whole grains on school lunch menus this year, along with a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and other healthy options.

Whole grains?  I thought we were talking about healthy options.

The challenge is getting children to eat them.

Well, that’s part of what makes kids so darned frustrating:  they want to eat what they like, not what committees in Washington think they should eat.

“We don’t want healthy trash cans. We want kids who are eating this stuff,” said Kern Halls, a former Disney World restaurant manager who now works in school nutrition at Orange County Public Schools in Florida.

Ms. Halls, it’s nice to know your reach exceeds your grasp, but aim for the realistic goal:  Go for the healthy trash cans.

At a School Nutrition Association conference in Denver this summer, food workers heard tips about how to get children to make healthy food choices in the cafeteria.

Translation:  government food workers are learning how to talk kids into ordering meals they don’t like.

The problem is a serious one for the nation’s lunch-line managers, who are implementing the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years.

The problem became more serious after the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years, since those guidelines call for removing the last vestiges of flavor from school food.

New Department of Agriculture guidelines taking effect this fall set calorie and sodium limits for school meals.

Brilliant.  So when they leave school craving fuel and salt, the kids will run out and help support their local 7-11.

Schools must offer dark green, orange or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, and students are required to select at least one vegetable or fruit per meal.

Kids are required to select at least one vegetable or fruit per meal?  How exactly is that rule going to be enforced?  What if Little Johnny tells the cafeteria worker he doesn’t like the fat-free broccoli or the peaches in heavy syrup?  Does he have to stay after school?  Does a cafeteria enforcement officer put the vegetable on his plate and “invite” him to eat it in the same way the governments “invite” businesses to follow federal regulations?

Flavored milk must be nonfat, and there’s a ban on artificial, artery-clogging trans fats.

I see.  Since too many kids are overweight, we’re going prevent them from consuming any appetite-controlling fat when they drink that appetite-stimulating sugar in the strawberry milk.  Once again, the local 7-11 or other nearby snack store thanks you.

At the conference, Halls demonstrated some healthy recipes for curious cafeteria managers, joining White House chef Sam Kass to prepare a veggie wrap using a whole-wheat tortilla.

And afterwards, the curious cafeteria managers went out to restaurant for some real food.

Halls’ main mission, though, was not pushing new recipes but teaching cafeteria managers marketing strategies used to great success by private-sector restaurants and food producers.  The first step, cafeteria workers were told, is to stop thinking of lunchtime as a break from academics, but a crucial part of a child’s school day.

When I was in grade school, we thought of lunchtime as a time to eat lunch.  That worked out pretty well, actually, because our moms packed lunches we liked.

“Your job is not to serve kids food.”

Mission accomplished.

“Your job is motivate kids to be adventurous and healthy eaters,” said Barb Mechura, head of nutrition services at schools in Hopkins, Minn.

Translation:  your job is to harangue kids into eating low-fat crap they don’t like.

Her school district recruited parent volunteers to be elementary-school “food coaches,” touring cafeterias and handing out samples of fruits and vegetables. The food coaches would also demonstrate eating them.

The feds have finally figured out why kids don’t eat fat-free vegetables:  they don’t know how.  Once they see a demonstration by a coach, that will all change.

“Look, Billy!  We’re supposed to put the dry broccoli in our mouths and chew it!  Wait until I go home and show this to my mom!”

Food coaching may seem silly …

Do ya think?

… but kids who have had chicken only as nuggets or patties may not know how to eat bone-in chicken and need to see how a grown-up eats it before trying it themselves.

I’m pretty sure the average kid could figure out how to eat a chicken leg without a lesson from a coach.

As the kids graduate to middle and high schools, and grown-ups in the cafeteria aren’t as welcome, schools can tap student ambassadors to be food coaches …

School paper headline of the future:  SCHOOL LUNCH AMBASSADOR FOUND STUFFED IN TRASH CAN.

… perhaps asking the baseball team or a popular student athlete dish out veggies.

If the popular athlete wants to stay popular, he won’t go around telling other high-school kids to eat their vegetables.

Or, high school seniors might give underclassmen samples of a new vegetable coming to the cafeteria.

Upperclassmen have been known to hand out samples to incoming freshmen, but trust me, it’s not that kind of vegetable matter.

School cafeterias also are using cutting-edge market research. They’re filming what kids eat, test-marketing new products before they go on the line and doing menu surveys to find out exactly what students think about a dish’s taste, appearance and temperature.

Is This tastes like @#$% an option on the survey?

You get the idea.  Since pushing low-fat milk and healthywholegrains for the past two decades has demonstrably failed to make kids leaner, the USDA has of course decided this merely proves we need to do it again, only bigger.  Hmmm, this is sounding more and more like a perfect federal program:  complicated, expensive, based on bad ideas and therefore doomed to fail.  Since the stated goal here is to turn the tide on childhood obesity, perhaps we should hop in a time machine and visit one of my grade-school teachers.  After all, we didn’t have a childhood obesity problem in 1966.

(Buzz.  Whir.  Buzz.  Zing.  And other time-machine noises.)

“Mrs. Owens!  Mrs. Owens!  Hey, it’s me, little Tommy Naughton.”

“Well, hello, Tommy.  Funny, I don’t remember you being bald.”

“Yeah, that came later.  Listen, I need your advice.”

“Stay in school and keep studying math.”

“I did that, thanks.  What I need to know now is what you’re doing to keep all these kids so skinny – well, except for Brett Collins, of course.”

“Poor Brett.  I wish you boys wouldn’t call him The Seal.”

“He seems to like the nickname.  Anyway, what’s the secret?  How are you, as a school official, keeping these kids from becoming overweight?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Well, I mean, the school must check our lunches and make sure we’re not consuming too much sodium or too many calories, right?”

“Why on earth would we do that?  These are growing children.”

“But you at least watch our fat intake, right?  Skim milk and all that?”

“Skim milk?!  If we started serving skim at milk time, the parents would stop giving the children their milk money.  I wouldn’t want to be at the next PTA meeting if we made these kids drink skim milk in school.”

“So what’s your secret?  What’s the protocol for school lunches?”

“Well, it works like this, Little Tommy.  We stop classes for 45 minutes.  The kids eat lunch. Then we start classes again.”

“And you don’t do anything to ensure that the kids don’t become fat?”

“Of course not.  This is a school, not a diet center.”

“Sounds like an excellent program.”

When I was in grade school, nobody thought about how many calories we were consuming.  Nobody watched our fat intake.  Nobody ordered us to eat whole grains or a serving of fruit or vegetables.  We just ate lunch.  And yet somehow, nearly all of us (Brett Collins notwithstanding) were skinny kids.

Asking the USDA to solve childhood obesity is like asking the guy who cleaned out your bank account for financial advice.

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Last week I wrote about the latest Eggs Will Kill You! study conducted by Dr. David Spence, who seems to be making a career of anti-cholesterol and anti-egg hysteria.  (I’m sure the fact that he’s funded by statin-makers has nothing to do with that.)  When I wrote about the study, I only had access to the abstract and some media articles.  A reader in the research community later sent me a copy of the full study.  There are some interesting bits in there.  Let’s start with a paragraph from the introduction:

The underpinning of what used to be the step 2 diet and later became the diet recommended for CHD risk reduction by NCEP ATP III was a diet low in saturated fat (<7%) and dietary cholesterol (<200 mg). This diet if strictly applied tended to drive the consumer towards a more plant based diet with other potential advantages in terms of CHD risk reduction. In addition to saturated fat in meat (especially red meat) and full fat dairy products, eggs were also restricted due to their significant cholesterol content.

Right away we’ve got bias creeping into the text.  Notice how “tended to drive the consumer towards a more plant based diet” is simply assumed to be a potential advantage in terms of CHD risk reduction.

Currently, however, serious doubts have been expressed over the relevance of these dietary components to cardiovascular disease.

That’s because they’re not relevant.

In the case of cholesterol much of the debate has been focused on the lack of clear consensus on whether egg consumption consistently raises serum cholesterol or impacts negatively on postprandial events, including vascular reactivity. Most importantly the association of egg consumption with CHD events in cohort studies has been inconsistent.

Well, there’s a reason the association of egg consumption with CHD has been inconsistent:  eggs don’t cause heart disease.  If they did, the association would be consistent.  If the evidence supporting a hypothesis isn’t consistent, a good scientist assumes there’s something wrong with the hypothesis.

Here’s the description of how the data was collected:

In earlier years, data on smoking and egg consumption were recorded by patients into a lifestyle questionnaire at the time of referral. Since 2000, when our referrals were scheduled on an urgent basis soon after transient ischeamic attacks or strokes, a more limited set of lifestyle questions were asked at the time the history was obtained. These data were entered, along with the history, medications, physical examination and recommendations into fields in the database, from which clinic notes were generated.

Hmmm … so the study participants were people who’d been urgently referred to a clinic after suffering a heart attack or stroke.  Not exactly what I’d call a random sample of the population, or even a random sample of the elderly population.  And if egg yolks cause cardiovascular disease, why were the study participants who consumed less than one egg per week referred to a clinic for people who’ve had a heart attack or stroke?  Seems to me they should have been out playing golf and enjoying their plaque-free health, not seeking an urgent referral.

The responses for smoking and egg yolk consumption were used to compute pack-years of smoking (number of packs per day of cigarettes times the number of years of smoking) and egg-yolk years (number of egg yolks per week times number of years consumed). This was not done for alcohol consumption, licorice intake or exercise, because the textual responses were mainly not quantifiable (e.g. “quit drinking six years ago”, “plays golf twice a week”).

I guess I’ll have to ask my Canadian pals:  Why is licorice intake considered a potential confounding variable in Canada?  Do you eat enough of it to skew health outcomes? Granted, it’s been a long time since I did standup comedy tours in Canada, but I don’t remember noticing a lot of people up there chewing on licorice.  Nobody ever walked up to me after a set and said, “Great show, eh!  Can I buy you a licorice?”

As for not being able to figure alcohol intake or exercise into the data, I’d consider that a serious matter.  Later in the study, we also learn that waist circumference wasn’t included in the calculations.  In other words, we have no idea if we’re looking at more plaque in people who simply eat more eggs, or in fat people who never exercise and also eat more eggs – the folks Dr. Mike Eades calls non-adherers and I call people who don’t give a @#$%.

After a Results section describing the association between egg-yolks years and plaque I covered in the previous post, there’s a Discussion section calling for (surprise) a reassessment of the possible role of eggs yolks in heart disease.  Sure, the association is inconsistent, as we admitted earlier in the study, but since we managed to find one, it’s time to scare people away from eggs all over again.

My favorite paragraph in the study was this one:

The study weakness includes its observational nature, the lack of data on exercise, waist circumference and dietary intake of saturated fat and sources of cholesterol other than eggs, and the dependence on self-reporting of egg consumption and smoking history, common to many dietary studies.

Yes, those are weaknesses.  Big ones …  even bigger than not accounting for licorice intake.  But after noting in the full text that the observational nature of this study is a weakness, Dr. Spence ran out and told media reporters he’d demonstrated that egg yolks make plaque build up faster – cause and effect.

This wouldn’t be such a lousy study if the lousy scientist who conducted it didn’t jump to lousy conclusions and share them with media reporters who wrote lousy articles about it.

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Chareva and I watched an excellent documentary over the weekend.  Farmageddon is a look at how our federal and state governments are beating up on small farmers who sell real food directly to the public.  If you still believe the fiction that we live in a free country, this film should change your mind.

Farmageddon was released in 2011, but I somehow missed it.  I became aware of it last week only because Passion River Films, which is placing Fat Head with schools and libraries, sent me a proof of a promo sheet that included both films.  Intrigued by the description, I asked them to send me a copy.

The film was written and directed by Kristin Canty, who wondered why it’s legal to buy processed junk food for her four children, but often illegal to buy real, fresh, unprocessed food directly from a local farmer.  As she put it:

“I decided I needed to tell this story. My goal was to let these honest farmers using centuries old farming practices tell their side of the stories. So, I set out to make a film. Farmageddon is in no way meant to convince anyone to drink raw milk, or eat grass fed beef, but rather an argument to allow those that want to make those choices to do so. It is simply about freedom of food choice.”

Much of the film is exactly that:  small farmers and co-op owners telling their own stories — often augmented with video footage they shot while being raided by government agencies.  Those stories ought to horrify you.  They did me.  Imagine hearing a noise in your kitchen downstairs, taking a peek down there, and seeing some burly guy dressed in black pointing a gun at you and ordering you downstairs.  (That particular farmer believed for a moment that a serial killer had broken into her home.)

In raid after raid documented in the film, police and government agents showed up in SWAT gear, guns drawn.  The raid on Rawesome Foods, which I wrote about in a previous post, was one such raid caught on video and included in the film.

I always wonder why raiding a co-op or small farm compels these government thugs to pack enough heat to take down a Central American drug cartel.  What do they think the farmers are going to do?  Hurl gallon jugs of raw milk at them?  Slap them with some unwashed spinach?  Splatter fresh eggs all over those cool SWAT uniforms?

Before anyone protests that the farmers who were raided must have been breaking some laws (we’ll set aside the stupidity of those laws for now), in many cases they weren’t.  In what struck me as the most outrageous episode documented in the film, federal agents seized and destroyed a flock of milk sheep from a family farm.  The family had legally imported the sheep from Belgium and New Zealand and jumped through a number of federal hoops in the process.  So did the feds raid the farm because the family was selling raw sheep milk illegally?

Nope.  The USDA decided – based on zero evidence – that the sheep might be carrying Mad Cow disease.  Rather than do something legal and logical, such as testing the sheep, they seized the flock and destroyed it.  When the family demanded the results of tests the feds had conducted after killing the sheep, they were told (for months on end) that the results were pending.  They only learned later, in court during a lawsuit they filed, that the results were negative and the feds had known as much almost immediately.

Since this was a government operation, the idiocy didn’t stop with destroying expensive sheep.  No, the feds decided the entire farm might be contaminated and also seized valuable equipment – they even carted away the hay that the sheep had been eating.  The feds claimed the hay had to be destroyed in a special facility to avoid the risk of spreading Mad Cow disease.  The farm husband became suspicious, followed some feds who took away his hay, and saw them dump the stuff in a nearby landfill.

When it became clear that the federal agents had destroyed a family’s livelihood to prevent a non-existent threat, the USDA expressed its deep regret by offering the family a fraction of what they’d spent to import the sheep.

And you wonder why I’m a libertarian?  As George Washington put it, Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force.  Force and the threat of violence should not be employed to prevent willing sellers from making voluntary exchanges with willing buyers.  It always amazes me how many people can’t wrap their heads around that simple idea.

On my other blog, I’ve been debating a big-government lover I knew when I lived in Los Angeles.  In one round, I sent him a link to an article about a raid on a farm-to-forks dinner, during which the food cops destroyed all the farm-fresh food.  Since admitting that government regulations can be wrong would cause his head to explode, he of course immediately replied that for all we know, the uninspected food would have made people sick.

Yes, whenever you sit down for a meal (whether the food has been inspected or not), there’s a small risk you’ll eat something that will make you sick.  Whenever you drive, there’s a small risk you’ll be killed by an oncoming vehicle.  Whenever you jet ski, or play football, or hike in the woods, or do pretty much anything besides lie quietly in bed, there’s a risk you’ll be injured.  The point is, you should be allowed to take those risks if you choose.

I can choose to smoke cigarettes, drink 44-ounce glasses of Coca-Cola, buy a pint of bourbon and chug it or have unprotected sex with strangers, and no armed authorities will try to stop me.  But if I want to buy raw milk from a farmer who certainly knows it would be bad business to make his customers sick, suddenly it makes sense to some people to send in men with guns to stop us.  Amazing.

And let’s be honest here … these raids aren’t about protecting the public from the horrors of raw milk or unwashed vegetables.  They’re about protecting large producers from the small farmers whose food more and more consumers are coming around to prefer.

Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation makes several appearances in the film, as does Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and an attorney who’s battling to give consumers the right to buy real food from real farmers.  Let’s hope he wins those battles.  As Thomas Jefferson said (quoted in the opening of Farmageddon):

If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.

This is an important film, and I urge you to find a way to watch it.

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I did a podcast interview yesterday with Brooks Rembert, who created the JB Primal blog a few months ago to share his experiences going paleo.  He must be a quick worker, because he already had the interview posted by the time I went to bed last night.

You can listen to the interview here.

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