Welcome To BizzaroWorld

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Well, aren’t these some interesting times?

My girls haven’t been in school for two weeks, although this week would be spring break anyway.  They won’t return to school until at least April 3rd.

I haven’t been in the office either. We’re all working from home until at least March 30th, when the company bigwigs will decide whether it’s safe for us to breathe the same air. I don’t mind doing my programming job at home, of course. I do it half the time anyway. But it feels a little weird to be ordered to stay home.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. Part of me thinks we’re committing economic suicide for what will turn out to be little worse than the flu that goes around every year. Dennis Prager wrote a column recently that’s in line with my thoughts on the issue:

Some perspective:

Chinese deaths (3,217) account for half of the worldwide total. If you add Italy (1,441) and Iran (724), two countries where many Chinese were allowed in until recently, that totals another 2,165. In other words, outside of China, Italy and Iran — with 5,382 deaths collectively — 1,018 people have died.

Those numbers have gone up a bit since the column appeared, but keep in mind that the flu – run-of-the-mill flu – kills 30,000 or more people per year in the U.S. alone. The H1N1 swine flu of 2009 killed roughly 12,500 Americans.

Meanwhile, according to this article, 99 percent of the people who died in Italy suffered from previous medical conditions, and most were elderly. The average age of those who died was 79.5 years.

Back to Prager:

The thinking is that we must shut down the Western world to prevent the exponential growth of the virus. If we don’t, our hospital systems will be overwhelmed. Many thousands, maybe more, would die, as doctors have to make grisly triage decisions as to who gets care and who doesn’t. This latter scenario is reported to have already happened in Italy.

Though there is no longer an exponential growth in the United States, they may otherwise be right.

Is this thinking correct? The truth is we don’t know.

We have no idea how many people carry the COVID-19 coronavirus. Therefore, the rates of either critical illness or death are completely unknown. Perhaps millions of people have the virus and nothing serious develops, in which case we would have rates of death similar to (or even below) the flu virus. On the other hand, perhaps not many people carry the virus, but the rates of illness demanding intensive care and of death are much greater than those of the flu.

We can only be certain that shutting down virtually every part of society will result in a large number of people economically ruined, life savings depleted, decades of work building a restaurant or some other small business destroyed. As if that were not bad enough, the ancillary effects would include increased depression and divorce and other personal tragedies.

That’s what concerns me: we may be scaring ourselves into tanking a lot of businesses and jobs. If government officials and news anchors breathlessly reported all the people dying from run-of-the-mill influenza each winter, would we be any less scared? If every fatal auto accident ended up on the news — complete with pictures and press conferences by police describing the deaths -– would you ever want to take a casual drive again? Maybe not, considering you’d be hearing about roughly 100 people dying in their vehicles every day.

I’ve mentioned Dr. John Ioannidis in several posts, speeches, etc. He’s the doctor and researcher who studies the studies on diet and health and points out how unreliable most of them are. He wrote an interesting piece on our reaction to the coronavirus as well. It’s long, but here are a few quotes:

The current coronavirus disease, Covid-19, has been called a once-in-a-century pandemic. But it may also be a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco.

At a time when everyone needs better information, from disease modelers and governments to people quarantined or just social distancing, we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected.

Bingo. You’re probably heard people on the news talking about the infection rate or the death rate. You can ignore whatever numbers they’re citing for the simple reason that we have no friggin’ idea how many people have the virus. An article I read last week quoted a woman who contracted the virus on a cruise ship. How awful was it? It wasn’t. She had a fever for a couple of days and that was it. For all we know, hundreds of thousands of people have already been infected and experienced a few symptoms they wrote off as a common cold.

This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless. Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes. As most health systems have limited testing capacity, selection bias may even worsen in the near future.

The World Health Organization could do their credibility a huge favor by sticking to what they actually know.  These are the same people who told us (with “evidence” that’s beyond laughable) that meat causes cancer.  Hey, WHO: if you want me to listen to you about the threat posed by a disease, don’t lie to me about the threat posed by a hamburger.  You remind me of this headline from the satirical site The Babylon Bee.

Anyway, Ioannidis crunches some numbers and says what while we don’t know what the death rate would be in the general population, he suspects it would be somewhere between 1.0 percent and 0.5 percent.

If we assume that case fatality rate among individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 is 0.3% in the general population — a mid-range guess from my Diamond Princess analysis — and that 1% of the U.S. population gets infected (about 3.3 million people), this would translate to about 10,000 deaths. This sounds like a huge number, but it is buried within the noise of the estimate of deaths from “influenza-like illness.” If we had not known about a new virus out there, and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. The media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams.

Makes sense to me.

On the other hand, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author Antifragile and The Black Swan, made his fortune by understanding and calculating risk. He believes social distancing for a few weeks is exactly the right thing to do.  Maybe, but I hope it doesn’t stretch into months.

It’s been interesting watching the run on food and other supplies at the local grocery stores. I’m not sure why people wait until a real (or perceived) threat is announced to start preparing for a lockdown. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, malevolent hackers, an electromagnetic pulse … there are all kinds of potential threats to the supply chain. Keeping some extra food and supplies around is a good idea in any year.

About a year after we moved here, our part of Tennessee was slammed by The Great Flood of 2010. When we bought the mini-farm, we asked the previous owner how she fared during the flood. The house stayed dry (it’s on a hill), but the creek that cuts through the front pastures turned into a river for about a week. She couldn’t leave the property.

With that and other potential Black Swan events in mind, we’ve made it a habit a keep a good stock of non-perishable foods and emergency supplies on hand. When the coronavirus panic finally ends, do yourself a favor and assume there’s another lockdown on the horizon somewhere.

Stay well, my friends.


Review: Real Food On Trial

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It’s March, so I should probably make good on my New Year’s resolution to write a review of Real Food On Trial, the book about the persecution of Dr. Tim Noakes by the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA). I read the book over the holidays, but as you know if you read my most recent post, I’ve been a bit distracted.

Most people in the low-carb/paleo/keto diet world probably know what happened to Dr. Noakes, at least in the general sense. It was, after all, big news on social media. I wrote about the trial, and I wrote about the appeal – the HPCSA’s second attempt to by gosh find Noakes guilty of something, despite being slapped down in their first attempt.

Real Food On Trial is the detailed, blow-by-blow version of the trials in all their ridiculous glory. Actually, Part Two of the book covers the trials. We’ll come back to that.

Part One, written by Noakes, is the story of how he evolved from promoting the standard hearthealthywholegrains! and arterycloggingsaturatedfat! advice to becoming an advocate for low-carb, real-food diets high in natural fats.

Dr. Noakes holds the highest rating South Africa can confer on a scientist. Science matters deeply to him. Science is what changed his mind. So early in the book, he takes the reader through both the science and his own experience – which included sending his type II diabetes into remission by changing his diet.

He knew the LCHF diet he now promoted was controversial, but much like the persecuted scientists whose stories Alice Dreger recounts in Galileo’s Middle Finger, he believed he was protected by the evidence itself. After all, scientists are supposed to be rational people only interested in finding their way to the truth. They welcome challenge and debate, right?

When I added these ideas in early 2012, I was certain that they were sufficiently correct for me to risk exposing them to a wider audience. I also assumed that because we live in a mature academic democracy in South Africa, these ideas would inspire a grown-up debate in the scientific community, especially among colleagues at my academic home, the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Of course, the grown-up debate didn’t happen. Instead, several fellow academics at UCT blindsided Noakes with a media assault, accusing him (without citing evidence) of recommending a diet that would kill people. Despite his impeccable credentials as a scientist, they began publicly dismissing him as a “celebrity professor” promoting yet another “fat diet.” He began to realize that he’d committed the sin of challenging a dietary orthodoxy that had spawned billion-dollar industries – and as punishment, he’d been targeted for destruction.

Step one in the attempted destruction was a brand-spankin’-new meta-analysis of dietary studies known as the Naudé Review. Some of the UTC professors who had criticized Noakes were involved, and –- surprise, surprise! — the review concluded that LFHC diets are no better for health or weight loss than diets based on the conventional advice.

Noakes found both the timing of the review and its conclusions somewhat suspicious.

I was mildly surprised, as a meta-analysis of the effects of true LCHF diets had already been published the previous year. In the British Journal of Nutrition in May 2013, Nassib Bezerra Bueno and colleagues showed that people eating less than 50 grams of carbs per day (the diet I was promoting) lost more weight than those eating higher-carb diets. What is more, important health markers showed greater improvement in those eating the low-carb diet. I could not understand why we would need another meta-analysis of the same data. Unless, of course, the study was motivated by something other than the advancement of truth and science.

Say what? Scientists get together to produce a new study, and they’re not objectively seeking the truth?

The study was, of course, motivated by a desperate desire to discredit Noakes, as he learned later during the first trial. And as usually happens when scientists conduct a study to promote an agenda, there were problems with the study.

To make certain that the Banting/LCHF/‘Noakes’ diet had absolutely no hope of coming out on top, they did not even look at the diet that I advocate. Instead, they studied diets with an average carbohydrate content of 35%, knowing full well that the upper limit of the LCHF diet that I prescribe is between 5 and 10%, providing between 25 and 50 grams of carbohydrate per day.

We’ve seen that little trick in other studies. But when you’re attempting to bias a study, sometimes one trick isn’t enough. Zoe Harcombe conducted a deep-dive analysis of the Naudé Review and found it was full of errors, which she documented in a paper. If Noakes wasn’t suspicious before, he certainly was after Harcombe’s analysis.

Designing a study, the result of which is predictable before the study even begins, is not science. Rather, it is the scientific equivalent of match-fixing in sport. And, as in sport, if science is fixed, the question is, who is the ultimate beneficiary?

The answer: the dietitians who were already plotting to file charges against Noakes. They were just waiting for him to give them an excuse – which he did (although it was a flimsy excuse) with the infamous tweet.

On 3 February 2014, Twitter user Pippa Leenstra tweeted the following to me and Sally-Ann Creed, my co-author on The Real Meal Revolution:

@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies??

On 5 February, I tweeted my response:

@PippaLeenstra @SalCreed Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween [sic] baby onto LCHF.

Within a few minutes of posting my tweet, Leenstra received a response from Ellmer, who described herself as a ‘paeds dietitian’:

@PippaLeenstra Pippa, as a paeds dietitian I strongly advise against LCHF for breastfeeding mothers. #notokay

To which Leenstra responded:

@Mellmer80 thx, why do u say that?

Ellmer chose not to answer her question on Twitter. Rather she suggested they take the discussion offline:

@PippaLeenstra Why dont you email me on marlene.ellmer@gmail.com and I will explain. Ps food flavours are definately [sic] passed through BM

As you may recall, when the HPCSA filed charges against Noakes, they claimed his tweet constituted medical advice, and that he had established a doctor-patient relationship with Leenstra. When I first read the charge, I thought it was clearly ridiculous. A reply on Twitter establishes a doctor-patient relationship? Are you kidding me?

I didn’t realize until I read the book that the HPSCA’s charge wasn’t just silly; it was hypocritical in the extreme.

If this were the case – in other words, had I established such a doctor-patient relationship – then Ellmer’s latest tweet constituted supersession. By providing her contact details to Leenstra, Ellmer was seeking to make Leenstra her patient; in effect, she was stealing my patient. And stealing another medical professional’s patient is a breach of the HPCSA’s rules. If I were to be charged for breaching the rules, then the HPCSA would have had to act against Ellmer, too.

But of course, the real fun began when dietitian Claire Julsing Strydom joined the fray with her own tweets.


@ProfTimNoakes @PippaLeenstra Pippa I am a breastfeeding mom of a 4 month old & a RD [registered dietitian] with a MSc in dietetics this info is shocking.

@ProfTimNoakes @PippaLeenstra Pippa please contact me on 011 023 8051 or Claire@nutritionalsolutions.co.za for evidence based advice

According to HPSCA rules, Strydom was now also attempting to steal a patient. But of course, she was never charged.

Leenstra, the supposed “patient” in the relationship, tweeted to everyone in the thread she had elected to follow the advice of the dietitians. As far as Noakes was concerned, that was the end of the matter.

As a result, I considered my job done and I disengaged. Leenstra had received the information she had sought. She had made her choice. That is why Twitter exists: to share knowledge and information that allows the interested participants to make their own informed decisions.

But of course, the dietitians now had the excuse for a prosecution they’d been planning all along.

True to her word, Strydom submitted a formal complaint to the HPCSA in the form of an email sent at 08h47 on Thursday 6 February 2014. It read:

To whom it may concern.

I would like to file a report against Prof Tim Noakes. He is giving incorrect medical (medical nutrition therapy) on twitter that is not evidence based. I have attached the tweet where Prof Noakes advices [sic] a breastfeeding mother to wean her baby onto a low carbohydrate high fat diet.

I urge the HPCSA to please take urgent action against this type of misconduct as Prof Noakes is a ‘celebrity’ in South Africa and the public does not have the knowledge to understand that the information he is advocating is not evidence based – it is especially dangerous to give this advice for infants and can potentially be life threatening. I await your response.

Kind regards,
Claire Julsing Strydom

Part Two of Real Food On Trial was written by journalist Marika Sboros, who attended and covered both trials. Reading the detailed account of the trials alternately infuriated and amused me. I was infuriated because the trial never should have happened. As Sboros explains:

From the outset, I found the charge of unprofessional conduct suspect. After all, the HPCSA reserves such a charge for practitioners who have committed really serious offences, such as sexual misconduct, theft, grievous harm or causing the premature death of patients. The HPCSA also does not have any ethical rules governing doctors’ conduct on social media.

Replying to someone who asks you a question on Twitter is hardly in the same category as sexual misconduct or causing grievous harm, wouldn’t you say? And who exactly was the victim here? Leenstra, the “patient,” elected to listen to the dietitians. She wasn’t harmed. Her infant wasn’t harmed (and wouldn’t have been harmed if Leenstra had listened to Noakes instead). So again, who was the victim?

The answer: the dietitians, of course.

When the first attempt of Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to hold a hearing against Professor Tim Noakes rolled round in Cape Town in June 2015, it was easy to spot his supporters. They were dressed in bright-red T-shirts, the colour of the cover of Noakes’s book The Real Meal Revolution. It had sold more than 160 000 copies in its first six months, making it South Africa’s bestselling book ever. It quickly became the ‘bible’ of Banting, as the low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) lifestyle has become known in the country.

As the hearing progressed, it became clear that the book had played a crucial role. Its success had infuriated doctors, dietitians and academics alike. Among them was dietitian Claire Julsing Strydom, who had reported him to the HPCSA in February 2014 for what the public had dubbed the ‘Banting for babies’ tweet. As Noakes’s legal team would later note in their closing argument, these health professionals were furious with him not only because they disagreed with him on the science for optimum nutrition but also because the public appeared to be listening more to Noakes than they were to them. In other words, they were losing influence, and business, to Noakes. The Real Meal Revolution thus appeared to be one of the reasons that Noakes’s critics were so keen for the HPCSA to silence him.

The HPSCA couldn’t prove that Noakes had harmed anyone with his dietary advice – in fact, it’s clear that many, many people have been helped by following that advice. But he was sure as shootin’ harming the reputations of the dietitians. Emails discovered by his defense team (which the prosecution never intended the defense to see), revealed that the dietitians had been gunning for Noakes well before the infamous tweet. Here’s part of one sent to the HPSCA by Strydom:

Just would like to follow up on the Tim Noakes problem – the bashing of the profession continues and we need intervention from the HPCSA as a matter of urgency. As ASDA we do comment, but the HPCSA has a much bigger clout and we are desperate for an intervention.

In other words, We’re not big enough to really hurt the guy, so we want you to do it.

And so they tried. That’s where the whole, crazy affair becomes amusing. (Well, in retrospect. I’m sure Noakes wasn’t amused at the time, since HPSCA was trying to ruin him.) As Sboros recounts testimony and exchanges among attorneys, the prosecution team begins to look more and more like a courtroom version of the Keystone Cops.

For starters, their (ahem) “star” witnesses didn’t seem know what a ketogenic diet is.

All the HPCSA’s witnesses referred to ketogenic diets as if they were synonyms for danger and premature death. All displayed surprising ignorance on the topic, conflating ketosis with ketoacidosis. The former is a natural, benign bodily state. The latter is potentially fatal, fortunately rare and seen mostly in patients with uncontrolled type-1 diabetes.

When Strydom took the stand, she promptly shot herself in the foot:

Strydom’s testimony was incriminating – of herself …. By communicating on a social media platform as a medical doctor, ‘who is trusted and regarded as a celebrity in South Africa’, Noakes had given ‘advice’ that constituted a ‘public health message,’ she said.

Strydom appeared oblivious of the deep legal, ethical holes she was digging for herself and Ellmer. If Noakes had a professional relationship with Leenstra, then she and Ellmer also had one. Both had tweeted far more extensively to Leenstra than Noakes had done. And if Noakes had given medical ‘advice’, then so had she and Ellmer. By Strydom’s own logic, she and Ellmer would also have been guilty of supersession.

Michael van der Nest, one of Noakes’ attorneys, pointed out the hypocrisy during cross-examination:

Strydom had no choice but to concede and Van der Nest pressed the point home: ‘You did not consider [Leenstra] to be the patient of either Professor Noakes nor Ms Ellmer, because otherwise you would have been taking her over as a patient, and that was not what you were wanting to do, correct?’

Strydom was forced to concede that there was no doctor-patient relationship.

No doctor-patient relationship. That’s one pillar of Strydom’s complaint effectively demolished. Not that she’d give up easily, of course.

Strydom became flustered and said that she was only concerned about Noakes giving ‘dangerous’ advice to the breastfeeding mother.

Van der Nest pointed out that the HPCSA had not charged Noakes with giving dangerous advice. In effect, Van der Nest told Strydom, she believed that she had a monopoly on free speech. She also believed that if she disagreed with Noakes, then the HPCSA had to prosecute him.

As if they didn’t already look foolish enough, the prosecution team tried to prevent Noakes and his team from presenting scientific evidence that a LCHF diet is safe and often beneficial. Remember, in her letter encouraging the HPSCA to file charges, Strydom called his advice “dangerous.” By gosh, Noakes was giving medical advice that was going to kill babies! And yet at this point in the trial, the position taken by the Keystone Cops prosecution team could be summed up as:

Tim Noakes established a doctor-patient relationship on Twitter and gave dangerous advice. We’ve already admitted there was no doctor-patient relationship, and we don’t want to debate whether the advice is actually dangerous. Now can we please just conduct the Soviet-style trial we expected and find him guilty of something without all this bothersome evidence stuff?

You can imagine how that went over with Noakes’ attorneys.

Noakes had not asked to be prosecuted, Van der Nest said. Noakes had not asked to spend two years under a professional cloud, living with significant stress and having to spend a fortune on his own defence. ‘Dietitians brought the case against Noakes because he disagreed with them,’ Van der Nest said. ‘Because he had the temerity to hold a different view to them, they thought he must be prosecuted.’

Looking directly at [prosecutor] Bhoopchand, a steely Van der Nest said: ‘Do not get upset when you prosecute someone and he puts up a fight. That is the consequence of prosecuting someone for a tweet that was ignored by the so-called patient, Ms Pippa Leenstra. That is why we are here. [Noakes] is the defendant. He is entitled to defend himself to the fullest and he will.’

Fortunately, the committee chair, Joan Adams, agreed.

After an adjournment, Adams ruled that while the charge against Noakes might seem simple, it was complex. It made no sense, she said, for the HPCSA to charge Noakes with giving ‘unconventional advice’ only to deny him the opportunity to give evidence showing that his advice was not unconventional. The committee unanimously agreed, she said, that there was no reason to limit Noakes’s constitutional right to defend himself fully.

To defend himself fully, Noakes called upon three women Sboros dubbed Tim’s Angels:

They weren’t really celestial beings, but there was something scientifically angelic about the three experts who flew into Cape Town from three different continents to defend Professor Tim Noakes in October 2016: British obesity researcher and public health nutrition specialist Dr Zoë Harcombe, US science journalist Nina Teicholz, and New Zealand–based nutrition academic Dr Caryn Zinn.

Believe it or not, the prosecution team tried again to prevent them from testifying. Once again, the objections were slapped down by the committee hearing the case.

It’s easy to understand why the prosecution didn’t want these women anywhere near the courtroom: as Sboros recalls in the book, their testimony on the science was so solid, the prosecution barely bothered with cross-examinations.

You know the outcome: the committee found Noakes not guilty on all charges.

With that, the room erupted. Supporters rose to their feet, cheering, applauding and hugging. Noakes remained seated. He dropped his head into his hands but only for a moment. He later told me that he thought he would cry. Instead, he lifted his head, raised both arms and punched the air with clenched fists in victory, shouting, ‘Yes!’ His lawyers were equally jubilant, reaching over and embracing him and one another, their relief etched on their faces.

That’s when a sane person would decide it’s time to give up the persecution. But as we know, the dietitians didn’t believe they’d shot themselves in foot quite enough yet. They apparently told themselves this dangerous, horrible man who had to replied to a question on Twitter by offering dangerous, horrible advice simply had to be found guilty of something.

Immediately after the ruling, ADSA president Maryke Gallagher gave a TV interview and said that ADSA would not change its advice to the public. She repeated the claim that ADSA gives evidence-based dietary advice. Therefore, Gallagher signalled that while Noakes had won a significant battle, ADSA’s war with him continued.

When the HPSCA decided to appeal and drag Noakes through another trial, I wrote a post titled Dear Dietitians of South Africa: You Look Like @$$holes Right Now. See, that’s the reason @$$holes act like @$$holes: they lack the gene that tells a normal person, Gee, I really look like an @$$hole right now. I’d better stop what I’m doing.

Here’s how you can tell you’re being an @$$hole, even if you lack that gene: people who agree with your advice beg you to stop what you’re doing.

Two days before the appeal hearing, a group of doctors launched an online petition that the influential, US-based Nutrition Coalition immediately supported. The petition called on the HPCSA to ‘stop prosecuting’ Noakes. Before the week was up, more than 31,000 of doctors, scientists, dietitians and assorted others from across the globe had signed … Among the signatories was Harvard physician and nutrition professor Walter Willett. Willett promotes plant-based diets as the healthiest option. He is, therefore, on the opposite end, ideologically, from classic, animal-based low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets. Willet confirmed to me that he signed to signal his support for the right of scientists to express opinions even when they differed significantly from his.

But of course, the dietitians don’t believe in the right to express opinions that differ from theirs. So the persecution continued into a second trial – and the dietitians lost again. As Sboros put it:

The mere fact that the HPCSA was prepared to fork out millions in the prosecution, in a weak case with facts that never merited a second glance, and then fork out a couple of million more on appeal, doesn’t just speak volumes. It shouts volumes about the lengths to which powerful vested interests in food and drug industries and conflicted, captured doctors, dietitians and academics will go to suppress dissent.

That’s what Real Food On Trial is about: powerful interests ganging up to ruin a lone scientist because he dared to tell them (and the public) that their advice is wrong.

But in the end, they did us a favor. When Tim Noakes elected to stand up to these bullies instead of quietly riding off into the sunset, he didn’t just fight for himself. He fought for all of us. He fought for the right of scientists to challenge the consensus, to disagree, to speak their minds. And glory, glory hallelujah, he won. Nothing makes a bully think twice before bullying again quite like being on the short end of a good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

There’s much, much more to the book than I can effectively summarize here, so please, get your own copy.  If you’re like me, you’ll laugh, you’ll gnash your teeth, and you’ll utter words not considered polite.  But you’ll be glad you finally read the full story.


Grief Break Over ‘The Train Man’

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We’re on a grief break. Chareva’s father, Alan Smiley, passed away on Monday evening. Those of you who have been following the blog for a long time may recall he suffered a massive stroke five years ago that put him in a wheelchair. The physical decline was immediate.  The mental decline became obvious over the past year.

Four weeks ago, he complained of pain and discomfort and was taken to a hospital. That’s when the family learned he had cancer in his stomach and esophagus. The cancer was already quite advanced, and the only option was to give him painkillers and keep him comfortable. The doctors said he may last a few months. It was a few weeks. On Monday, Chareva, her mother, and her younger brother were sitting by his bed as he slept, and he simply stopped breathing. He was 77.

It seems like only a couple of years ago we drove to Chicago for his 70th birthday party. The damage from the type II diabetes hadn’t overtly manifested yet, and he was still a lean mean fightin’ machine. I walked around the party with my video camera and asked people to describe Alan in one word.

Ambitious. Energetic. Determined.

One neighbor thought for a second, then said testosterone.

Perfect word. The neighbor meant it as a compliment, of course. In the 22 years I knew him, I never saw Alan become mean or belligerent. But he was definitely a man’s man. He loved tools and machines. He preferred manual labor over sitting at a desk. And he had that drive! drive! drive! that seems oddly absent in so many young men today.

It was drive! drive! drive! – combined with natural athletic ability – that made Alan the star of his high school football team. He was an all-state running back known for his quickness and toughness. Going through scrapbooks in their house some years ago, I found clippings from local newspapers highlighting his accomplishments on the football field. He told me one of his fondest memories was scoring a touchdown at Soldier Field in Chicago during a city championship game.

It was drive! drive! drive! – combined with an entrepreneur’s eye for opportunity – that propelled him from the poor, working-class neighborhood of his youth to a fabulous home in River Forest, one of the Chicago area’s wealthier suburbs. Fresh out of college, Alan already had a wife and baby to support. He was trying to make ends meet as a furniture salesman when he asked himself a question: These large companies buying all this new furniture … what do they do with the old stuff?  Then he asked the large companies. Then he had an idea.

He soon established a business that bought old office furniture and returned it to shiny newness through a process called electrostatic painting. Turned out there were a lot of companies and individuals happy to buy used office furniture if it sparkled like new.  Alan’s business was a success. He bought the fabulous house in River Forest when was he a young man in his thirties.

Later in life, he re-focused his business as an on-site electrostatic painting service. Thanks to the quality of his work — and his drive! drive! drive! – he became known as The Guy to call in Chicagoland if you wanted something made of metal to sparkle or shine.  If you’ve visited any landmarks in Chicago, you’ve probably seen Alan’s work.  He painted metalwork in Millennium Park, the Sears Tower, the Newberry Library, the Art Institute, and the Museum of Science and Industry. He painted the metalwork in Michael Jordan’s townhouse.

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes suggested that we have the relationship between leanness and physical activity backwards. We assume that physically active people are lean because they’re physically active. It could be the opposite: naturally lean bodies don’t like to store energy as fat, so naturally lean people feel a compulsion to move to burn away the energy.

Alan was naturally lean, and he certainly had a compulsion to move. I remember him dancing the legs off of several women at our wedding reception. He’d wear out a dance partner, then go extend a gentlemanly hand to another one. I don’t think he sat down for more than five minutes after the dinner.

Keep in mind, the electrostatic painting was a physically demanding job. Just hauling the heavy paint guns in and out of a job site would qualify as a workout for many people. You’d think the guy would’ve spent his days off sitting in an easy chair.

Nope. Chareva remembers that on his days off, he always wanted to hop in the van and go exploring, or go to a hardware store to buy materials for some building project.

His best-known building project was the Ashland-Iowa Express – the riding train he built around the perimeter of his property, complete with switches to alternate tracks, crossing barriers, and a bridge. He’d always loved trains and decided he wanted his own. So he drove all over creation buying tracks and train cars to fix up. When the train was ready to roll, Alan and his wife threw a big party. We flew in for it. My parents drove up from downstate Illinois. His middle-aged neighbors – doctors, attorneys, CEOs, etc. – lined up to ride on the train along with the kids. Heck, they were smiling like kids. The Oak Park newspaper even printed a story about the guy neighborhood kids called the Train Man.

The video below was taken a couple of years after the party. That’s Sara taking a ride on the train.

The picture below is of Sara, Alana and their cousin Marzhan riding on Grandpa’s train.

Alan was unconscious or incoherent for most of time after the cancer diagnosis, and it occurred to me later I never thanked him for who he was and what he brought into our lives. So I’ll do it now.

Alan, thank you (and your wife) for a wedding and reception worthy of royalty. I know they were spectacular events because you loved your daughter so much, but trust me, my family and friends were dazzled and talked about the wedding for years after.

Thank you for trusting (after some initial doubts) that the standup comedian would take good care of your daughter even if the comedy career didn’t work out.

Thank you (and your wife) for giving my girls all those magical Christmases in that big house with the gigantic Christmas trees that nearly reached the ceiling of the great room. Seeing Sara, Alana and their cousin Marzhan toddle down the big stairway on Christmas morning and crawl under that tree to ooh! and ahh! over the mountain of gifts was simply awesome.

Thank you for moving to Franklin to be near us, even though it meant leaving your hometown of more than 70 years. Chareva and the girls got to see you often these last few years, and that means a lot now.

But most of all, thank you for being the fearless, positive, no-nonsense guy who raised (with your wife, of course) a fearless, positive, no-nonsense daughter. By being the father you were, you blessed me with an awesome wife.

Godspeed on the journey aboard whichever train is taking you to your next existence, Alan. We’ll miss you.


A Big Crowd Of DENIERS!

      22 Comments on A Big Crowd Of DENIERS!

Last year I read The Smear, a highly illuminating book written by a former CBS reporter named Sharyl Attkinsson. As you may recall, I mentioned her in this post and included a YouTube video of her speaking about fake news. She gave this description of Wikipedia:

Anonymous Wikipedia editors control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests. They forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity.

Yup. Like when, say, a vegan editor starts deleting articles about people and films who say animal fats don’t cause heart disease.

In The Smear, Attkinsson explains that much of what passes for major-media journalism today is nothing more than P.R. designed to promote an agenda. She describes the P.R. techniques, including labeling anyone who disagrees with the agenda as a denier or a conspiracy theorist. When you hear those terms, she explains, you’re supposed to just stop thinking about the issue.

Oh, he’s a denier, so he must be wrong. The media says this is a conspiracy theory, so there’s nothing to it.

Just one little problem: throwing around those terms isn’t an argument. It’s not a rebuttal. It doesn’t prove diddly. If CNN says leprechauns are changing votes in voting machines, and I say that can’t happen because leprechauns don’t exist, I may be a DENIER! — but I also happen to be right. If a bunch of tobacco executives testify before Congress that nicotine isn’t addictive, and I say they’ve buried research showing that nicotine is highly addictive, I may be a CONSPIRACY THEORIST! — but I also happen to be right.

When you hear DENIER, you are of course supposed to immediately equate the contrarian with a Holocaust denier. Denier? Has to be kook. Ignore and move on …

So it’s no surprise that defenders of the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! theory have taken to using the terms cholesterol deniers and statin deniers. Here’s an example from an article in The Guardian:

A group of scientists has been challenging everything we know about cholesterol, saying we should eat fat and stop taking statins. This is not just bad science – it will cost lives, say experts.

Wait, timeout. I’ve pointed this out before, but it’s worth mentioning again: whenever a media article includes phrases like say experts, or experts say, or the experts believe, you’re looking at an agenda-driven, biased article. The accurate statement on any controversial issue is some experts say. And of course, other experts disagree. Experts say in an article means this is what I, the reporter, believe and want you to believe as well.

Anyway …

According to a small group of dissident scientists, whose work usually first appears in minor medical journals, by far the greatest threat to our hearts and vascular systems comes from sugar, while saturated fat has been wrongly demonised. And because cholesterol levels don’t matter, they argue, we don’t need the statins that millions have been prescribed to lower them. A high-fat diet is the secret to a healthy life, they say. Enjoy your butter and other animal fats. Cheese is great. Meat is back on the menu.

Heh-heh … notice how she was careful to tells us the dissidents are people whose work usually first appears in minor medical journals.

This is more than bad science, according to leading scientists and medical authorities. It will cost lives. “Encouraging people to eat more saturated fat is dangerous and irresponsible,” is a typical verdict, in this case from Prof Louis Levy, the head of nutrition science at Public Health England (PHE).

Leading scientists and medical authorities … in other words, experts say. And of course, you’re going to tell us exactly why the science is bad, right?

The advice from PHE, the World Health Organization, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Heart UK and other institutions and top academics is consistent. Butter and cheese may be fine in modest amounts in a balanced diet, but the saturated fat that they contain is potentially risky.

Well, there’s your proof. The organizations that have been preaching arterycloggingsaturatedfat! for decades still do so – as opposed to committing organizational suicide by admitting they’ve been giving incorrect and possibly harmful advice. I’m convinced.

When it comes to statins, there is a huge database of research. Since 1994, the Nuffield department of population health at Oxford University, led by two eminent epidemiologists, Collins and Prof Richard Peto, has been amassing and analysing the data in order to figure out how well they work in preventing heart attacks and strokes.

They have published many papers. In 2016, in a major review in the Lancet, they concluded that lowering cholesterol over five years with a cheap daily statin would prevent 1,000 heart attacks, strokes and coronary artery bypasses among 10,000 people who had already had one.

I see. A paper was published in a medical journal saying statins are wunnerful, wunnerful and save lives. So it has to be true. And yet …

Last week’s letter of complaint asked Dr Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of the BMJ, which publishes the British Journal of Sports Medicine, to intervene, saying the journal had run 10 pieces advocating low-carb diets and criticising statins in the past three years and that the reluctance to run the rebuttal showed a bias and lack of transparency.

Wait, you mean a different medical published articles criticizing statins? Hmmm, let’s do the math … a medical journal praises statins … another medical journal criticizes statins … divide by pi … carry the one … okay, I have the answer: the editors of the medical journal that criticized statins are DENIERS!

That’s the apparent (ahem) “logic” of the article. It’s nothing more than hit piece devoid of any actual logic.

Fortunately, the Wisdom of Crowds has been kicking in, whether the statinators like it or not. Check out this article in Science Daily:

A new study has found that patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease cut their risk of a second major adverse cardiovascular event by almost 50 percent, if they adhere to taking a statin medication as prescribed by their doctors.

Wait, timeout. I have my doubts about how they came up with that 50 percent figure, but here’s the phrase that caught my attention: cut their risk of a second major adverse cardiovascular event. That means this study was of people who’d already had a cardiovascular event. To the very slight degree that statins work, they work better in people who already have heart disease.

I’ve mentioned the site called TheNNT, which is maintained by doctors to help other doctors evaluate the effectiveness and side effects of drugs. According to that site, among people who don’t already have existing heart disease and take statins for five years:

  • One in 104 will avoid a heart attack, but
  • No lives will be saved

In other words, the statin will prevent one non-fatal heart attack for every 104 people who take the drug.

Among people who have existing heart disease and take statins for five years:

  • One in 83 will avoid a fatal heart attack
  • One in 39 will avoid a non-fatal heart attack
  • One in 125 will avoid a stroke

In that major review in the Lancet, statinators Collins and Peto claim statins would prevent 1,000 strokes and heart attacks for every 10,000 people who take them. That’s one in 10. Look at those numbers from TheNNT again and tell me how that’s possible.

And keep in mind, the figures cited on TheNNT were compiled from the studies that were published. As we all know, drug companies used to just bury the studies they didn’t like.  Now they have register their clinical trials ahead of time.

Anyway, back to the Science Direct article:

While that’s good news for patients, the bad news, however, is that researchers from the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City found that only about six percent of patients are in fact following the statin regimen given to them to lower their cholesterol, negating any potential cardiovascular benefits.

Only six percent of people prescribed statins are taking them as directed? Why would people stop taking such a wunnerful, wunnerful drug?

Researchers also found that 25 percent of patients never filled their statin prescription in the first place, and 25 percent didn’t fill their second one.

Again, why in the heck would so many people quit this wunnerful, wunnerful drug after just one prescription?

This article from Healthline about the same study offers some clues:

No drug comes without potential side effects, but the most frequent one experienced with statins is reasonably minor compared to the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

“Myopathy, which is muscle weakness, is the most frequently reported complaint, and severe myopathy (rhabdomyolysis) only occurs in about 1 in 10,000 patients,” Dr. Victoria Shin, a cardiologist with Torrance Memorial Medical Center in California, told Healthline.

That figure is, of course, absolute poppycock. One in 10,000? According to TheNNT (again, using figures from the studies that were actually published), one in 10 people who take statins for five years are harmed by muscle damage.  Not a bit of weakness. Actual damage. So Dr. Shin is only off by a factor of 1,000.

I recently watched an excellent Netflix series titled The Pharmacist, about a pharmacist (duh) who began raising hell about the opioid crisis and pill mills nearly 20 years ago. In one episode, we learn that Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, insisted that less than one percent of people taking the drug become addicted. I’m sure they had (ahem) “research” to back that claim. But does anyone believe that figure is even remotely accurate? OxyContin didn’t become known as Hillbilly Heroin, with a huge trade on the black market, because only one percent became addicted.

The percentage of side effects reported by Big Pharma in their own trials are pure fiction. See if you can find 10 friends or relatives who’ve tried statins. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) at least three of them experienced muscle pain and weakness. In fact, I recently came across this study of statin side effects:

AIM: We investigated the incidence of adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in patients treated with statins for cardiovascular (CV) risk among the United Arab Emirates (UAE) population.

CONCLUSION: The incidence of ADRs among statin users was 42.6%, and frequent ADRs (49%) were noted in patients with high CVD risk.

Hmm, let’s see … in pharma-sponsored research, the most frequent side effect is muscle weakness, but by gosh, it only happens in 1 in 10,000 patients. (Well, severe myopathy, anyway. How weak and sore do you have to get before they label it severe?) Meanwhile, in a study published just this year, 42.6% of people taking statins reported adverse drug reactions.

And it’s not just muscle pain and weakness. Here are some quotes from a recent article on the BBC news site:

“Patient Five” was in his late 50s when a trip to the doctors changed his life. He had diabetes, and he had signed up for a study to see if taking a “statin” – a kind of cholesterol-lowering drug – might help. So far, so normal.

But soon after he began the treatment, his wife began to notice a sinister transformation. A previously reasonable man, he became explosively angry and – out of nowhere – developed a tendency for road rage.

Then one day, Patient Five had an epiphany. “He was like, ‘Wow, it really seems that these problems started when I enrolled in this study’,” says Beatrice Golomb, who leads a research group at the University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Golomb, by the way, has been running her own research on statin side effects. She says the incidence of side effects is waaaaay higher than one percent, or five percent, or whatever the latest nonsense figure promoted by Big Pharma is.

Over the years, Golomb has collected reports from patients across the United States – tales of broken marriages, destroyed careers, and a surprising number of men who have come unnervingly close to murdering their wives. In almost every case, the symptoms began when they started taking statins, then promptly returned to normal when they stopped; one man repeated this cycle five times before he realised what was going on.

I hope he didn’t kill five wives before figuring it out. Now I’m wondering if Henry VIII was taking statins back in the day.

According to Golomb, this is typical – in her experience, most patients struggle to recognise their own behavioural changes, let alone connect them to their medication. In some instances, the realisation comes too late: the researcher was contacted by the families of a number of people, including an internationally renowned scientist and a former editor of a legal publication, who took their own lives.

Why are so few people actually following their doctors’ orders to take those wunnerful, wunnerful statins?

Because in the internet age, people experiencing the nasty side effects of statins can go online and find out yes, the statin is to blame. Back when my mom had joint and muscle pains from taking a statin, she didn’t know statins were the cause. (Neither did her doctor, who simply prescribed pain pills.)  Nowadays she, or someone she knows, would likely learn online that statins cause muscle and joint pains.  People share articles like the one above on Twitter, Facebook, etc.  The Wisdom of Crowds does what it does.

The statinators want us to remain ignorant and dutifully take the drug. Sorry, but that’s not going to happen. There’s no stopping or denying the Wisdom of Crowds … even if we’re a bunch of DENIERS!


Don’t Take This Sitting Down

      35 Comments on Don’t Take This Sitting Down

I call them The Anointed. Nassim Nicholas Taleb prefers the term The Intellectual Yet Idiot, but they’re the same people. Here’s part of his description:

… that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

We can now add 6) how to pee to the list.

Nearly 25 years ago, fellow comedian Tim Slagle and I produced a libertarian radio show (which ran on, I believe, one station) titled The Slagle-Naughton Report. In one episode we reported that in the interest of gender equality, a new had been passed that required men to sit down to pee. But as I’ve mentioned many times, the problem with parodying the loony left’s Grand Plans is that eventually reality catches up to the parody.

In a recent post of leftover news from 2019, I quoted from an article in the Huffington Post:

Male representatives on the Sormland County Council in Sweden should sit rather than stand while urinating in office restrooms, according to a motion advanced by the local Left Party.

Known as a socialist and feminist organization, the party claims that seated urination is more hygienic for men — the practice decreases the likelihood of puddles and other unwanted residue forming in the stall — in addition to being better for a man’s health by more effectively emptying one’s bladder, The Local reported.

While going through my OneNote files this weekend, I was reminded that this issue isn’t isolated to loons in Sweden. According to an article in the U.K. Telegraph, it’s worldwide:

There are many ways to remove a man’s dignity. One of the foremost, however, has got to be forcing him to urinate sitting down.

According to the Vancouver Sun, the Swedes are even attempting to indoctrinate little boys at nursery, drumming into them the message “be a sweetie and take a seatie”.

If I had a young son, I’d teach him to reply with Be a dear and kiss my rear.

But Sweden is not the only country to be contemplating such a radical lavatorial intrusion.

Feminist groups in France and Holland have been campaigning on the issue under slogans like “laissez tomber votre pantalon, et asseyez vous!” (lower your trousers and sit!), and “toch niet weer een vieze plas op MIJN badkamer vloer!” (not another filthy puddle on MY bathroom floor!).

I assume this strategy was spelled out in a feminist essay titled How To Take Whatever Support You Have Among Men And Piss It Away.

The Germans are even more militant on the issue.

That’s a shock.

In 2004, a company called Patentwert produced the WC Ghost, intended to shame men into sitting to deliver. Costing £6, the gadget was attached to a lavatory seat. When it was raised, an automatic voice was triggered.

“Hey, stand-peeing is not allowed here and will be punished with fines, so if you don’t want any trouble, you’d best sit down”, it barked, in a voice modelled on Gerhard Schroder.

They modelled the voice on a former Chancellor of Germany? For a device attached to lavatory seats? I wonder how Mr. Schroder feels about that. Seems a wee bit disrespectful.

I’m going to suggest Patentwert avoid using Donald Trump’s voice for the American version. Some people I know would not only fail to sit down in time, they’d wet themselves before unzipping their pants.

Apparently Patentwert had other ideas anyway.

A prototype intended for American production featured a Texan drawl saying “Don’t you go wetting this floor cowboy, you never know who’s behind you. So sit down, get your water pistol in the bowl where it belongs.”

I’m sure that will go over reeeeeaaal big in Texas.

“Don’t you go wetting this floor cowboy, you never know … (glug, glug, cough) … hey, stop pissing on me, cowboy!”

For the British market, Patentwert planned to create voices imitating the Prime Minister and the Queen.

The Queen?!

“Do be a deah, my good man, and kindly remain standing while (glug, glug, cough) … hey, stop urinating on me, Andrew!”

This entire issue is beyond silly. And yet according to another article in the Independent, a German court even got involved:

For millions of German men it is masculinity’s last domain. But for their wives, girlfriends and partners, it is often the perennial bane of their domestic lives. The question is now: does a man have a legal right to do what comes naturally and pee standing up?

In Germany, the issue is certainly no matter for jokes.

Um … yes it is.

Lavatories in cafés, cinemas and even in private homes are often equipped with red light or “no entry” stickers ordering all male users not to pee im stehen – standing up. They often come complete with graphics showing men exactly how to manage the task of sitting urination.

Well, thank goodness for that. I’m told sitting down to pee is entirely different from sitting down for other business. For example, when sitting down to pee, there’s no reason to grab a magazine first.

Cartoonists have gone further and depicted men interpreting the “not standing” rule all too literally by lying on their backs on the floor while desperately trying to pee into the lavatory bowl.

I did that once, but I was in college and there was alcohol involved. My memory of the incident is fuzzy, but I believe I was thinking that if I stood up to pee in my wobbly condition, there was a mild-to-moderate risk I’d drop my beer.

Men have hit back with the term sitzpinkler, which implies that any man who urinates sitting down is a less of a man.

What a perfect word. I’m going to start calling certain people sitzpinkler on Twitter and see how long it takes them to figure it out. Maybe I’ll start with that South African doctor who’s always trolling Tim Noakes.

But today a German court finally answered the question that has caused strife in Teutonic households for decades. It ruled that men can indeed enjoy the privilege of peeing standing up even though, as the male judge put it: “They must expect occasional rows with housemates.”

This is why battles over judicial nominations are so bitter: put the wrong judges on the bench, and you can end up with laws telling men they have to pee standing up.

But that’s how The Anointed operate. They want to control every aspect of your life … what you eat, what dietary advice you offer (and whether you’re allowed to offer it at all), what kind of vehicle you can drive, what kind of light-bulbs you can buy, what you can say without being de-platformed, and now even your bathroom habits.

Let’s not take this sitting down. I say stand up, men … and piss on ‘em.


Go Fund Me

      5 Comments on Go Fund Me

I seem to be one of the few paleo/low-carb filmmakers who didn’t use crowd funding to cover the expenses ahead of time. For both Fat Head and Fat Head Kids, I was a crowd of one, doing as much of the work myself as possible and paying the production costs myself as they came up.

Well, maybe I should have thought that one through a little better …

We recently had some late and unexpected bills show up for Fat Head Kids. I was sitting there grinding my teeth and thinking, Damnit, I should have started a GoFundMe campaign to cover stuff like this when we were working on the film.… and then I thought, Well, who says I can’t start one after the fact?

So do me a favor and think of it as the official campaign to get Fat Head Kids produced — only the guy in charge was disorganized and filed the paperwork very, very late. Let’s hope he doesn’t do that with his taxes.

Here’s the donation page.