“The Tale of the Slave”


Via Patri comes Nozick’s “The Tale of the Slave,” a thought experiment that illustrates how a system of democracy is little more than enslavement to a faceless master, the multitude, the majority.

I’ve alluded to this out elsewhere (and been misunderstood, unfortunately; another post on voting). We aren’t comfortable with the idea that we are slaves, and don’t think I’m in any way equating outright slavery as suffered by people throughout history with the part-time slavery of state control. I’m not.

Imagine a spectrum whereby liberty and freedom are on one end and slavery the other. Where on this spectrum do we fall? And is being a slave to faceless mass really any better in the long run than a tyrannical master whose face we know?

I’m not sure.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

    Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.

  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

Keys’ Lipid Hypothesis “Made Out of Whole Cloth”


Gary Taubes (Good Calories Bad Calories) and Tom Naughton (Fat Head) both pointed it out, as have others I’m sure, but Peter’s charts add a nice crescendo to the chorus. What am I talking about? Nothing less than the biased, incompletely used data upon which Ancel Keys built his infamous, notorious, and utterly bogus lipid hypothesis. It’s a solid example of confirmation bias and scientific chicanery reigning supreme.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, just imagine how many people have been sick or gone to an early grave because they were following the resultant bogus advice that comes out of the lipid hypothesis, which is to say nothing of the wealth that has been utterly wasted trying to support both research into a bad hypothesis and the healthcare of an increasingly sick population paranoid about eating fat (While getting fatter every day eating more and more “whole grains”)!

Rant over.

The gist is that Ancel Keys ignored the entirety of a study and handpicked the data that would support his lipid hypothesis. You can read about it in Taubes’ book. You can watch a great, animated snippet illustrating the legerdemain compliments of Tom Naughton (youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8WA5wcaHp4 ) or you can dive into the charts from Peter.

Here’s a snip from the latter:

OK, this is the graph of heart deaths plotted against fat intake, produced by Ancel Keys in 1953. It’s a beautiful curve, utterly convincing to any Congressperson looking to find fame by funding a cure for heart disease:

. . . Slightly less convincing is when the choice of different countries from the same data bases suggests that dietary fat has nothing to do with heart disease and that heart disease is very rare anyway . . .

So let’s stop playing and look at the whole database from which Keys carefully selected his six countries:

OK, there IS a correlation. It’s pathetic, especially compared to the original line swept in by Keys. Of course things get worse if you add in the Masai, the Inuit, the Rendile, the Tokelau and a few others, shown as red dots:

At this point you would have thought that the name Keys would have become a joke and people would simply have ignored him as a self publicising evangelist with scant respect for the truth. But Keys was nothing if not determined.

There’s even more chart-making sleight-of-hand if you’re curious. Sad “science.” We can only hope that one day the verdict of “guilty” on fat is overturned.

Get Your Vitamin D Checked: Why And How?


After my commentary is a nice round-up of Vitamin D benefits from LifeSpotlight (as well as a link to where you can get a test done on your levels).

And now for an obligatory anecdotal “Vitamin D rocks” story:

Just last week my pregnant, dark-skinned (Read: harder to get Vit D) wife came down with a pretty strong cold (and it may have been the flu). For a few days, I seemed to totally avoid it despite taking care of her, sleeping in the same bed, and not taking any particular precautions. About five days into her sickness, I woke up with a scratchy throat and mild congestion. Note: I had previously been supplementing about 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day (Two Carlson Lab Vit Ds plus another 1,000 IU or so from some Calcium vitamins).

On the initial cold symptoms, I immediately upped the dosage to two doses of 10,000 IU per day (So 10 of those tiny little Carlson pills per day total).

Twenty-four hours later, the scratchy throat was still there but it had not gotten any worse. I continued supplementation and after three days of mild scratchy throat and extremely mild congestion, it was gone.

Obviously this is anecdotal, but this has never been the normal progression of a cold for me. The scratchy throat always develops into an all out snotfest within 24 hours and then lasts for days if not more than a week.

So I’m a big believer in Vitamin D at this point. Don’t supplement in these winter months at your own risk.

The clip:

For starters, height and body fat in adolescent girls is affected by vitamin D status:

Approximately 59% of subjects were 25OHD [vitamin D3] insufficient (≤29 ng/ml), and 41% were sufficient (≥30 ng/ml). Strong negative relationships were present between serum 25OHD and … measures of visceral and sc [subcutaneous] fat… In addition, weight, body mass, and imaging measures of adiposity at all sites were significantly lower in women with normal serum 25OHD concentrations than women with insufficient levels. …there was a positive correlation between 25OHD levels and height.

The demarcation line of “sufficient” is quite low as well, so no telling what we’d see with people that have levels in the 40, 50, or 60 ng/mL range.

It’s been found before that higher levels of vitamin D correlate with better breast cancer outcomes. Now we know why: Vitamin D Found To Stimulate A Protein That Inhibits The Growth Of Breast Cancer Cells

Calcitrol, the active form of vitamin D, has been found to induce a tumor suppressing protein that can inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells

Athletes, muscle power is increased by vitamin D (at least for girls).

After controlling for differences in the girls’ body weight, the girls with the highest vitamin D levels had the highest jump speeds, jump height, power and force.

Want to think clearly in old age? Get enough vitamin D

The study found that as levels of Vitamin D went down, levels of cognitive impairment went up. Compared to those with optimum levels of Vitamin D, those with the lowest levels were more than twice as likely to be cognitively impaired.

And if you want a cold or the flu, keeping your vitamin D levels low will help.

In the largest and most nationally representative study of the association between vitamin D and respiratory infections, people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu. The risks were even higher for those with chronic respiratory disorders, such as asthma and emphysema.

Here are a few more peculiar things vitamin D supplementation has done for Dr. William Davis’ (of The Heart Scan Blog) patients.

Blogging Thesis Progress (On power law distribution)


I’m pretty sure I already knew that hyperlinks and web traffic followed a power law distribution, but Brian’s explanation is clear and worth saving down for future reference.

Another possibility is that the Internet might not be so egalitarian after all. To understand why this would be, it’s necessary to reflect on the structure of the web. The element tying one web page to another is the hyperlink. Clicking a hyperlink is what allows an Internet user to “browse” from one web page to another. Across the web, hyperlinks follow a power law distribution . A power law distribution is highly inegalitarian; this means that a small number of web sites are the destination of the vast majority of hyperlinks.

The distribution of traffic to web sites also follows a power law. To understand why this should related to the hyperlink structure, it’s necessary to think about the ways Internet users discover web sites. If a user already knows about a web site, they can visit it directly. If they don’t, they can discover it via a hyperlink from a site they already know about or by using a search engine like Google. Both of these methods favor the discovery of highly linked-to sites. When browsing the web, the more hyperlinks there are to a site the more likely a user is to come across one of them. When using a search engine, most users only visit web sites on the first page of results. The release of search data for over 600,000 AOL users showed that 90% of clicks went to the results from the first page, 74% of clicks went to the first 5 results, and 42% of clicks went to the first result. This is significant because search engines’ rating algorithms give heavy weight to the number ofhyperlinks a site receives. Although the exact algorithms vary from search engine to search engine and are often secret, search engine result ordering is barely distinguishable from simply ordering web sites based on the number of hyperlinks to them.

Why You Got Fat (Fat Head Review)


Richard Nikoley recently received, watched and reviewed Tom Naughton’s documentary (mockumentary?) Fat Head. I had a very similar general take on the movie to Richard’s, so I’m going to echo his comments by way of blockquote:

It’s really two movies in one. In the first part, he thoroughly discredits that lying, opportunist bastard, Morgan Spurlock. Tom Naughton also goes on a fast food diet for a month, but a sensible one, keeping total calories to about 2,000, and total carbs to 100 grams (400 calories, so 20% of total kcals). He loses about 8-10 pounds, as I recall, and most of his blood work is improved.

The second half (the best) is about the awful state of nutrition science and dietary advice in America. Naughton even employs an evolutionary basis, as seen here.

Just to expound on this review, I found the second half of Fat Head to be much more interesting and compelling than the first half (even though Naughton does a plenty thorough job debunking Spurlock, I just didn’t really care — I never saw Super Size Me!).

The particular clip from Fat Head Richard posted in his review was one of the best parts of the movie as it humorously explains the relationship between blood sugar, fat cells and insulin. Check it out:

One other clip from the movie that isn’t available for preview online talked about the glycemic index and visually displayed how certain foods digest into whatever equivalent amount of sugar.

Richard gives an example of this conversion with regard to a soda:

Consider this: for the average person with normal blood glucose levels, you have about the equivalent of one single teaspoon of sugar circulating in your entire body. One. Single. Teaspoon. So, what that means is that when you drink a regular Coca Cola at 27 grams of carbohydrate . . . you are ingesting . . . over 5 times the amount of sugar as is contained in your entire body. How about an 8 oz. glass or orange juice? Same thing (26 grams). Now, consider that as you go throughout your day. Look at food labels, and divide the amount of carbohydrate by 5 to see how many times your total blood sugar you’re ingesting all at once.

Richard’s rule of thumb for conversion is great because I can visualize a teaspoonful of sugar. Take a bowl of Raisin Bran. A serving has 45 grams of carbohydrates, 7 of which are fiber, so net 38 grams plus the 12 grams from a cup of milk. 50 grams of carbohydrates converts to 10 teaspoons of sugar in your bloodstream. That’d be a nice pile of sugar.

This mental picture conversion of carb-heavy foods to teaspoons of sugar is a powerful way to help people connect the dots between “ingesting lots of sugar is bad for you” to “ingesting lots of carbohydrates is bad for you.” Even as this is an oversimplification of a more complex macro-nutrient problem, it’s still a better way to guide your eating behavior as compared with our current, asinine low-fat-equals-health insanity.

Ron Paul on Real Time w/ Bill Maher 02/20/2009


I’m not a huge fan of Bill Maher. I find his style of commentary irritating.

Regardless, I enjoyed this clip of Ron Paul being interviewed by Maher. It illustrates how Ron Paul, more than any other politician I’ve seen, has an ability to find common ground even with people with whom he has some extremely different perspectives. Herein he finds common ground with Maher on reducing the global occupation (the American Empire) and repealing the drug war. He does this after whiffing (in my opinion) on explaining why our current system of “capitalism” is anything but “free markets.” But hey, its hard to be 100% on all the time.


Food: African Beef Stew


Just a beef stew recipe that reads tasty (and worth trying in the dutch oven). Via Peter of HyperLipid.

1 lb diced beef
Tin tomatoes.
Medium carrot, sliced.
Medium onion, chopped.
50-75g butter, depends on how fatty the meat is.
50g peanut butter.
About 200ml water, to just cover meat.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Fresh root ginger, however much you like.
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch Cayenne pepper
Pinch ground cloves
Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice.

Place all ingredients in a casserole, bring to boil, stir well, cover, place in oven at gas mark four for 2-3 hours until meat melts in the mouth. Stir every half hour.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “Bankers Designed Banks to Blow Up”


Just watched a fifteen minute interview by Bloomberg of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan). In the interview Taleb discusses the current crisis, robust systems, nationalizing the banks and the fallacy of using narratives of history to guide present-day policy/response.

Below are some quotes from NNT, which I’ve organized into like-nuggets of wisdom:

  • Looking at biology, things that survive have redundancy . . . we have spare parts, which is the exact opposite of leverage. . . . We have diversity and nothing is too big. Things fail early. . . . Banking is organized in a completely opposite way. . . . Complex systems have properties that banks don’t have. And biological systems have survived.
  • [We have an] Illusion of stability and then blow-ups are larger. Imagine if half-country was fed by one restaurant it’d be okay except one day people would starve.
  • Bad news travels immediately . . . This environment won’t tolerate the smallest mistake . . . I don’t know the system can allow for too much leverage.
  • People can invest in real things – they don’t have to invest in paper. . . .
  • What we have is a system of deposit where people buy a company, they borrow against it, and buy another company. . . . If that disappears we have less growth but it would be a more robust economic system.
  • The government is neither nationalizing the banks nor letting them break.
  • [With regard to banking,] separate the payment system from the risk taking system.
  • It looks like we have no control. The government has no control over what the banks are doing. The banks aren’t in control of what they are doing.
  • The press reports everything except the important stuff. September 18th . . . we had the run on money market funds and the government had to step in.
  • The situation is not comparable to the Great Depression. The situation is very different.
  • This crisis is not so much a Black Swan to me. It’s like saying you’ve got a pilot who doesn’t know about storms. . . . The Black Swan for me would be to emerge out unscathed and go back to normalcy.
  • We should be very careful when we make a historical analogy like the Great Depression because the world is not like it was in the Great Depression.
  • Capitalism is you let what’s breakable break fast.

Bloomberg also ran an article on the interview with Taleb, but it is spartan as far as quotes or insights from the actual interview.

From what I can tell, it seems Taleb views bank nationalization as similar to taking out plane hijackers. It’s an interesting, more palatable way to look at nationalization in that it frames the situation as one where the public will be harmed unless someone (in this case the government) steps in and takes drastic action.

Having said that, I don’t get the impression that Taleb is a proponent of long-term nationalization. NNT would prefer banking be structured similarly to a biological system where there are redundancies and fragile things “break early.” This system wouldn’t foster as much leverage and therefore would slow growth, but it would be considerably more robust.

This is more or less what I believe, as well. A free market is an organic, naturally forming system that is decentralized and redundant. It’s robust because market actions failing apart at any micro level will not break the entire system.

How do we get there from here? Good question.

(H/T to Jesse)