The Alzheimer’s Project

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Last week my wife and I finished watching “The Alzheimer’s Project,” a four-part series on HBO.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it; the episodes are informative and often touching.  You may find yourself moved to tears.

I certainly was, but that’s mostly because I was thinking about my dad, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago and has declined markedly in the past six months.  I always expected to lose my father someday, but not like this.  I thought he’d be here one day and gone the next.  I would say goodbye, grieve for awhile, and miss him forever.  Instead, we lose a little bit of him day by day.

For most of my life, my image of my dad was largely defined by his high intelligence and quick wit.  He left a comfortable corporate job in his mid-30s to buy his own business and did well.  He devoured books and magazines and remembered everything he read.  When we played Trivial Pursuit, he’d run the table in about a half hour, then the rest of us would play on as if he hadn’t been there.  Some friends of his who saw my standup comedy act commented that they saw a lot his style of humor in mine, and they were right.  I tell stories on stage, and my dad was always a gifted story-teller. 

In retrospect, we realize something began going awry in his brain at least a few years before the official diagnosis.  He stopped reading and spent hours vegetating in front of the TV.  His once-competent golf game went south.  He began missing stop signs and making wrong turns in the neighborhood were he’d lived for more than 30 years.  But most of the time, he still seemed like himself.

Nowadays, he can’t follow a normal conversation. He rarely knows what day it is.  He tries to put his legs into the sleeves of his shirt when he’s dressing.  When my parents have friends over for dinner, he’ll tell my mom he’s tired and wants to go home.  In recent weeks, he’s had to ask both my mom and my sister who they are.  I haven’t seen him since the holiday season, and I know the next time I go home to visit, there’s a good chance he won’t know who I am.

I’ve read quite a bit about Alzheimer’s in the past year, and I know now that my dad was a walking bundle of risk factors.  His mother died of the disease, although she was in her mid-eighties, not early seventies.  He took Lipitor for 20 years.  Despite being touted as wonder drug that may even help with Alzheimer’s, the truth is that memory problems are a known side-effect of statins.  Dr. Duane Graveline, a former NASA astronaut, suffered bouts of extreme confusion and memory loss until he identified Lipitor as the culprit and stopped taking it.

(And by the way, Dad still ended up with stents put in his arteries, which were 98 percent blocked.  So much for the wonders of statins.)

Dad was also a heavy smoker until he quit at age 58 – and then, like many people who give up nicotine, he developed a fondness for sweets and starches.  He gained a lot of weight.  He suffered from sleep apnea.  He showed all the signs of someone developing insulin resistance.

Which brings me back to The Alzheimer’s Project.  In one episode, they named insulin resistance as a major risk factor.  Diabetics are four times more likely to develop the disease, and people who are insulin-resistant are at three times the usual risk.  Many doctors are now referring to Alzheimer’s as Type III Diabetes.

I was pleased at that point.  But then some goofy doctor cited a study which demonstrated that people who consume a diet high in sugar and saturated fat produce more insulin than those who consume a diet low in sugar and saturated fat.  I nearly jumped off out of my chair, yelling, “What the @#$% does saturated fat have to do with insulin?!  Fat is the only macronutrient that doesn’t raise insulin!”

This is akin to comparing people who consume a lot of whiskey and carrots to those who consume almost no whiskey and very few carrots.  Turns out the key to sobriety is a low-whiskey, low-carrot diet.  (Don’t order the side of carrots if you’re driving yourself home.)

Meanwhile, as my wife and I watched the scenes that showed Alzheimer’s patients and their families struggling at home, we couldn’t help but notice their meals were a parade of mashed potatoes, pies, cookies, sodas, and other carbohydrates.  This proves nothing, of course; you could step into most American kitchens and find those foods on the table.  But it certainly adds weight to the theory that Alzheimer’s may be a form of diabetes.

Some months ago, we watched another documentary about a woman’s personal struggles dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s. She noted that rates of Alzheimer’s are increasing, and since she grew up in a town polluted with industrial waste, she guessed that pollutants may be largely to blame.

Perhaps so.  But I think it’s more likely that the rise in Alzheimer’s is being driven by the same factor that’s driving the rise in obesity and Type II diabetes:  high-carbohydrate diets.  Nature simply didn’t intend for human beings to rely on high levels of insulin to smack their blood sugar down several times per day. 

The last episode, which was presented in two parts, featured some brilliant and dedicated researchers who are working to develop drugs to stop the disease.  They believe they’re close. That’s good news, but if Alzheimer’s truly is Type III diabetes, then prevention is (as always) the best medicine.  That means ignoring the stupid advice we’ve been fed by the USDA , the FDA, and countless other nutrition “experts,” and getting off the sugar and the starch.

I just wish I could go back in time and warn my dad.  I’d also like to tell him I love him a few more times without having to explain who I am.


Dietary Confusion at MSNBC

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I know I’ve made fun of nutritionists and health writers in the past, but I have to admit most of them possess an unusual skill: they can listen to a true-life story about weight loss and hear exactly what they want to hear, instead of what actually happened.

That skill became apparent after I read this story on the MSNBC web site and watched the accompanying video clip from The Today Show. Before we get into the details, let me summarize the how the story was covered:

“Today we’re talking to Cindy Dominick, who lost 130 pounds and went from a size 24 to a size 6. Cindy, how did you lose such an amazing amount of weight?”

“I walked a lot and cut all the sugar and starch out of my diet.”

“Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen … proof once again that a low-calorie diet and exercise will make you thin!”

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Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad. Cindy Dominick didn’t state directly that she’d given up sugar and starch, but it’s pretty obvious if 1) you listen to her describe her new diet and 2) you have a functioning brain. But as usual, whoever wrote the story managed to pound a round peg into a square hole and blame fatty foods for causing obesity. Take a look at this quote:

At 285 pounds, Cindy was certainly aware of her size, but felt hopeless about controlling her eating habits. She never felt satisfied by three meals and she’d often catch herself snacking on fatty fast food like fried chicken, McDonald’s fries or take-out pizza. She’d then top it off with a king-size Snickers bar.

Are those fatty foods? Yup. But they’re also loaded with refined carbohydrates.

If you eat a 12-inch pizza (which isn’t difficult for a fat person; I’ve done it many times) you can easily consume 200 grams of starch. A large order of fries delivers 25 grams of fat, but more than 60 grams of carbohydrates. Fried chicken isn’t particularly starchy, but if you snarf down three pieces of KFC extra crispy, you can still end up consuming 50 grams of starch from the batter.

And I found this part of the quote rather illuminating:  She never felt satisfied by three meals …

I can assure you from both personal experience and from the research I read while producing Fat Head that anyone who isn’t satisfied with three meals is almost certainly consuming a lot of carbohydrates. The insulin spike that results from a high-carb meal causes your body to store calories, either as glycogen or fat. With the calories locked in storage, you soon run out of fuel and feel hungry again.

This doesn’t happen with meals that are mostly protein and fat. Or as Dr. Mike Eades put it during our first interview, “Nobody ever binges on steak. Nobody ever binges on eggs.”

This quote was also interesting:

Soon she was taking medications for blood pressure, asthma, cholesterol and acid reflux. Tired from being overmedicated – and concerned after her home state had been named the fattest in the nation – Cindy put on her sneakers and started walking.

Let’s see … high blood pressure, asthma and acid reflux.   What could possibly cause those conditions?

Acid reflux can have a number of causes, including food allergies, but sugar and starch will do the trick for a lot of people. In fact, starch alone can cause reflux. When I was a starch-eating vegetarian, I didn’t consume sugar at all (I at least knew that was bad for me), but I still had acid reflux now and then. I also had asthma, which disappeared – along with the reflux – when I cut back on starch. And chronically high insulin is known to cause chronically high blood pressure, along with a host of other horrors.

To her credit, Joy Bauer of the Joy Fit Club pointed out the high amount of sugar Cindy Dominick consumed when she was 130 pounds heavier. But of course, she also had to bring out the butter sticks to demonstrate the high fat content.

Fat doesn’t make you hungry. Fat makes you feel full – unless you mix it with carbohydrates, which causes the fat to be stored instead of burned for fuel. 

(I always wonder what they do with the butter props after they tape a segment like this. Since the hosts seem to think butter is the nutritional equivalent of a loaded gun, I’m pretty sure they don’t take it home. One of the kids could find it and suffer a tragic butter incident – like taking a bite and realizing it’s delicious.)

Fortunately, Cindy Dominick herself provided a clue to the real cause of her admirable weight loss when she described her current diet as “grilled and green.” Unless she’s grilling bread and potatoes, that means she’s living on a low-carb diet. Her insulin levels have surely plummeted since the time when she was filling up on pizza and French fries, so when she takes those long walks, her body can burn fat for fuel.

Too bad nobody at MSNBC or The Today Show managed to figure that out. The readers and viewers might’ve learned something useful.


Calorie-Count Menu Laws – A Load Of Bologna

In my last post, I mentioned that several states have recently enacted laws that will require restaurants to list the calorie counts of everything they sell – right on the menu, or on the menu board in the case of fast-food joints.  These laws are, of course, being promoted as a tool to help battle the obesity epidemic.

This menu is supposed to help cure obesity.

This menu is supposed to help cure obesity.

Confronting people with calorie counts isn’t going to make them lose weight, and I’ll explain why shortly.  But first, I want to talk about the politics behind these idiotic laws.  I usually save my political opinions for my other blog – I’m perfectly aware that people who share my beliefs about nutrition may be annoyed by my libertarian political beliefs – but I can’t help it in this case.  We are, after all, talking about politicians trying to legislate behavior.

So if political discussions aren’t your cup of tea, skip down to the END OF POLITICAL RANT and pick up the nutrition discussion from there.


As a libertarian, I believe government’s primary function – one of its few legitimate functions – is to prevent people from harming each other, whether by force or by fraud.  (This was also the clearly-stated belief of The Founders, by the way.)  But in the past century, this beautiful, freedom-promoting concept has become so mangled, people now believe government’s job is to force other people to give them what they want.

If a restaurant doesn’t share nutrition information with you, you are not being harmed – you’re just not getting what you want.  If you believe you can’t make healthy choices without that information, you are free to take your business elsewhere.  The restaurants know this, so it’s in their interest to keep you happy. That’s why nutrition information is easily available online and in pamphlets – because enough customers demanded it, not because politicians did.

But most customers are not clamoring to have the calorie counts shoved in their faces when they visit McDonald’s … and that’s exactly the problem:  the nutrition nannies have realized that – gosh darn it! – many people don’t care about calorie counts and don’t bother to look at them, no matter how little effort it takes.  So now the politicians want to force you to view the calorie counts, whether you like it or not. 

In other words, while this battle is usually presented in the media as a case of the caring politicians cracking down on the evil, calorie-hiding restaurants, these laws are not actually aimed at the restaurants – they’re aimed at you.  They’re nothing more than an attempt to control your behavior.  The restaurants are simply the tool of control. 

Meanwhile, these laws force sit-down restaurants with large menus to conduct a lot of expensive lab tests on their food to determine all the calorie counts, which will drive up prices.  The end result:  you’ll pay more for your restaurant meals …  and fat people will still be just as fat, long after these laws take effect.  But gee whiz, the politicians will get to feel good about themselves, and that’s all that really matters.


These menu laws aren’t going to make us any thinner, because they’re based on a theory that simply isn’t true:  if you just cut back on calories, you’ll automatically lose weight.  With this theory embedded in their busy-body brains, here’s how the politicians and the nutrition-nannies believe those calorie-count menu boards will make us thinner:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh!  I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal!  I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer is satisfied with this low-calorie meal and, thanks to the menu board, begins eating low-calorie meals at restaurants from this point forward.
  • Fat Customer loses weight, as do millions of other fat customers.
  • The obesity epidemic is solved.  Rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes plummet.  Medicare expenditures drop by 50 percent. 
  • Millions of formerly-obese citizens march on Washington to express their gratitude.  Hallelujah, hallelujah!  All praise the wise and wonderful politicians and Kelly Brownell and CSPI for saving us from our ignorance and gluttony!
Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less.  Please note hes obviously obese.  Why doesnt he simply eat less?
Kelly Brownell, the obesity expert at Yale, who thinks these menus will make you eat less. Please note he’s obviously obese. Why doesn’t he simply eat less?

The trouble with this happy scenario, of course, is that calorie-restricted diets have been a colossal failure.  They lead to long-term weight loss about 1 percent of the time, and many people actually end up fatter after trying them.  Here’s why:

Fat people don’t eat “too much” because they’re unaware of how many calories they’re consuming, nor because they’re gluttons.  They eat “too much” because if they don’t, their bodies run out of fuel and begin to starve at the cellular level.  In fact, from an energy-balance standpoint, they’re not eating too much at all – they’re eating exactly the right amount.

Most fat people are insulin-resistant, so their bodies have to produce a higher level of insulin to keep their blood sugar down.  Unfortunately, the elevated insulin also commands their bodies to store calories as fat, which means those calories are not available as fuel for the muscles and organs. 

As a result, fat people have to eat more to avoid running out of fuel.  If they simply eat less, their cells begin to starve.  The urge to eat eventually becomes overwhelming – that’s Mother Nature doing her job, protecting the organism.  If fat people ignore this powerful, primal urge, their bodies respond by slowing down their metabolisms, which means when they finally give in and eat more, their bodies will store even more fat than before.

Still with me?  Good.  Now let’s return to that calorie-count menu board and predict what will actually happen when we harass a fat person into eating less:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh!  I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal!  I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer eats the lower-calorie meal.
  • Fat Customer’s chronically elevated insulin causes his body to store a disproportionate share of the Filet-O-Fish calories as fat.
  • Fat Customer’s cells run low on fuel and send a telegram to his brain that reads:  “Dear Ass#%&*:  WHAT THE @#$% ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, KILL US?!!  WE’RE @#$%ING STARVING DOWN HERE!!  EAT SOMETHING, YOU DUMB @#$%!!”
  • Fat Customer stops at 7-11 on the way home for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a pint of Chunky Monkey, which he consumes in front of the TV within minutes after walking through the front door.
  • Feeling disgusted with himself and depressed, Fat Customer watches a re-run of Oprah and learns from Dr. Oz that he’s overeating because he has unresolved issues from childhood.
  • Fat Customer swears he will eat less tomorrow.  He does, and his cells soon run low on fuel.  They send another telegram to the brain, but Fat Customer grits his teeth and ignores the message. 
  • Fat Customer’s body protects itself from starvation by lowering his body temperature and slowing his metabolism.
  • Still hungry and still fat, Fat Customer yells at the kids and kicks the dog.

Here’s an even more likely scenario:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “I don’t give a @#$%.  I’m famished, and I want the Double Quarter Pounder value meal.”

So how can the restaurants help us lose weight?  They can’t, and it’s not their job anyway.  It’s ours.

Last week, my wife and I had dinner with Drs. Mike and Mary Dan Eades at a lovely restaurant high in the hills near our home.  We had crab-stuffed mushrooms for appetizers, salads, steaks or fish for our main courses, with steamed, buttered asparagus on the side.  (There may have been one or two adult beverages in there, too.)

We said no thanks when the dessert tray came around.  But I’m guessing if we’d loaded up on insulin-spiking bread or potatoes, those desserts would’ve looked pretty darned tempting.

It was a big, delicious meal.  So how many calories did I consume?  I have no idea; I didn’t ask, and the restaurant didn’t tell me.  I also don’t care.  Despite the high calorie count, this was not a fattening meal, because I didn’t consume any sugar or starch.  I kept my insulin down and therefore didn’t send my body into fat-storing mode.

That was my choice.  If everyone made the same choice, there would be far fewer obese people and far fewer health problems.  But you can’t legislate people into making those choices – and the politicians should stop wasting their time and our money by trying.

p.s. – You can look up nutrition information for hundreds of restaurants on this web site, which somebody took the time to create without any interference by politicians.


The Labelizers – Bonus Clip

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A restaurant sells the burger you see pictured here at a minor-league baseball stadium in Michigan. Naturally, this has a wing of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life very upset. I mean, look at that thing! It’ll kill you!

Oh, yeeeaaaahh!!

Oh, yeeeaaaahh!!

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants the restaurant to label the burger a “dietary disaster” that will cause heart disease and cancer. Boy, that’ll help with sales.

Well, actually, it won’t help with sales … which is the whole point. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is 1) a vegan activist group, not a bunch of concerned doctors, and 2) comprised of annoying, self-appointed nutrition-nannies who think it’s their job to tell the rest of us how to eat. (Dr. Mike Eades wrote about them recently on his blog.)

Like their brethren (and sestren?) at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, PCRM believes people eat junk food because they’re too stupid to realize they’re eating junk food. But by gosh, slap a warning on that artery-clogger and people will gratefully order something more appropriate for a ballgame, like a cup of sprouts.

When I saw this photo, my first thought was that I’d love to take in a game at that park and split one of these monsters with a couple of friends. It’s a $20 concoction that includes five burger patties, five slices of cheese, a cup of chili and some chips and salsa. Yuuuuummmmeee!

And yes, if you ate one of these every day, it could give you heart disease. But if you tried it once, you’d probably just have to drive home with the windows down.

PCRM’s demand for a warning label reminded me that new laws are about to take effect in several states that will require restaurants to list the calorie counts of everything they sell — right on the menu board. No more asking you to do something insanely difficult, such as walking a few feet to read the nutrition chart posted on the wall, or flipping over your placemat to read the chart printed there.

Nope, the high priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life are convinced that if you are confronted with calorie counts, whether you want to see them or not, you’ll finally stop eating so darned much.

There’s a whole lot wrong with this theory, which I plan to dissect in another post soon. But for now, I decided to piece together a video editorial of sorts, using some extra interview footage, some footage from the film, and some schtick that we cut from an earlier draft.



The Lap Band Still Plays On

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I received this email today from fellow comedian and blogger Josh Goguen:

Hey, Tom –

I have satellite radio and they have a channel called Doctor Radio. I happened to be listening when they had a LAP BAND/Gastric ByPass doctor on and I couldn’t believe the things they were saying. She made it sound like something that’s just so great and easy and, aww come on, you’re not going to diet, who are you kidding?

Then she rattled off all these benefits of losing weight (diabetes relief, lower cholesterol, etc.) while completely glossing over how restrictive the diet is or how risky surgery itself is. It almost seemed sadistic. I could almost picture POWs being returned, emaciated while their captors say, “Yes, we did starve our prisoners, but if you look at their triglyceride levels, you’ll see they’ve benefited tremendously.”

Not one person who called in compared it to a forced diet and asked if a person skipped the surgery and just ate the post op food if they’d lose the same weight. It was recorded early in the week, so the opportunity wasn’t there for me to do so.

It seems as if a segment of the medical community isn’t interested in actually educating and helping people help themselves but rather just devising new means to “effortlessly” fix a problem. I wonder what will happen to these people should government healthcare takes effect.

Honestly, if that happens, I believe we can say good bye to the hopes of the lipid hypothesis overturned. I wrote a blog based off of it, but I couldn’t help but share this with you via e-mail.

Josh Goguen

Josh Goguen

Josh’s blog post on the topic, in which he creates his own miracle diet plan, is spot-on.  (And I recommend adding his blog to your reading list, because he covers a nice variety of topics and makes a habit of being spot-on.)

In my previous post about the Lap-Band surgery, I mentioned that a friend of mine had gastric bypass surgery and now regrets it.  So imagine my surprise when I poked through some bariatric-sugery literature available at our family doctor’s office and found that this same friend is mentioned as a surgery success story.  This is what the literature said about her:

[Her name] is a size 4 today after losing more than 100 pounds from her peak weight of 230.  A mother of three, her drive was to be able to be active with her youngest, the way she used to be.

Before her surgery, she had diabetes, sleep apnea, and was on heart medication.  That’s all in the past.  Today she and her husband and the kids play golf and tennis together.

Why, doesn’t that just sound fantastic?  So I emailed her to ask if she knew she was being used as an example of the wonders of weight-loss surgery.   Her reply:

Had I done it your way, I truly would have been a success story. Glad they’re excited about cutting out 20 feet of intestines and subsequently yanking out my gallbladder and keeping me in a constant state of vitamin deficiency.

But gee whiz, she can play tennis now and wear size 4 clothes …


It’s the Carbs, Not the Calories

A new study presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity concludes that Americans have gotten fatter as the result of eating too much, and not from exercising too little.

I expect most people and nearly all of the media will file this under “Duh, do you think?” I can already hear Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Kimmel delivering a punchline along the lines of, “So we’re fat because we overeat? Well, thanks for explaining that to us, Doctor Obvious.”

But this is one of those cases where the “obvious” explanation doesn’t actually explain much of anything. Read this statement by Boyd Swinburn, the lead researcher:

“There have been a lot of assumptions that both reduced physical activity and increased energy intake have been major drivers of the obesity epidemic. This study demonstrates that the weight gain in the American population seems to be virtually all explained by eating more calories.”

If that’s true, then it certainly supports Gary Taubes, who raised quite a few academic eyebrows (and some well-toned hackles among fitness gurus) when he said exercise has little effect on weight loss.

But it also raises a hugely important question that the high priests of The Holy Church of Accepted Advice For Living A Long and Healthy Life can’t seem to answer:  Why, after so many generations, did Americans suddenly decide to start eating too much in the 1970s?

Or, asking the same question from another angle, why didn’t our grandparents eat themselves into obesity? The word “leftovers” certainly existed back then, so it’s not as if they didn’t have enough food to make pigs of themselves.  Were they blessed with some kind of Greatest Generation self-discipline that enabled them to leave the dinner table while still hungry? Given what I remember about my grandfather’s smoking and drinking habits, I’m going to guess “no” on that one.

The explanation offered up by people like Morgan Spurlock and Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, is that we found ourselves living in a “toxic food environment.” The evil food producers and restaurants started offering us bigger portions and so, mindless sheep that we are, we ate more simply because we could.

But in order to swallow this load of bologna, you have to believe that eating and hunger are only somewhat related.  Sure, people eat when they’re hungry, but they also eat just because the food is available – in other words, because they’re gluttonous.

One of the insights Gary Taubes presented in Good Calories, Bad Calories is that hunger doesn’t begin in the brain or even in the belly – it begins at the cellular level, when our tissues run low on fuel. If you haven’t seen it already, check out this clip from Fat Head:

Now look at where we’re getting all those extra calories the experts are so worried about:

We don’t eat too much because we’re more gluttonous than our grandparents. We eat too much because in the 1970s the McGovern committee convinced us we need to live primarily on low-fat grains and other starches. We eat too much because our insulin levels are too high. We eat too much because we’re storing too many calories as fat.

In other words, we eat too much because we’re too damned hungry.

And we’ll stay hungry as long as we continue living on foods that spike our blood sugar several times per day. But as usual, the experts have the cause and effect confused:

From a public policy perspective, expectations regarding what can be achieved with exercise need to be lowered and emphasis should be shifted toward encouraging people to eat less, Swinburn says.

No, from a public policy perspective, emphasis should be shifted toward encouraging people to drastically reduce their consumption of carbohydrates; do that, and the “eating less” will take care of itself.  But in a country where sugar, wheat and corn are all subsidized by the taxpayers, I don’t expect this kind of policy shift to happen anytime soon.