Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dr. Kevin Patterson on Western Diets and Health

A few readers have pointed me to an interesting NPR interview with the Canadian physician Kevin Patterson (link). He describes his medical work in Afghanistan and the Canadian arctic treating cultures with various degrees of industrialization. He discusses the "epidemiological transition", the idea that cultures experience predictable changes in their health as they go from hunter-gatherer, to agricultural, to industrial. I think he has an uncommonly good perspective on the effects of industrialization on human health, which tends to be true of people who have witnessed the effects of the industrial diet and lifestyle on diverse cultures.

A central concept behind my thinking is that it's possible to benefit simultaneously from both:

  • The sanitation, medical technology, safety technology, law enforcement and lower warfare-related mortality that have increased our life expectancy dramatically relative to our distant ancestors.

  • The very low incidence of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and other non-infectious chronic diseases afforded by a diet and lifestyle roughly consistent with our non-industrial heritage.

But it requires discipline, because going with the flow means becoming unhealthy.

The Non-Emergency Design Emergency

Tomorrow is our final installation day for the DC Design Showhouse. We have almost everything installed except for the custom concrete parsons table (which I've just been informed is non-existent due to it breaking into pieces). SO my assistant and I are off to the design center today in a mad dash to find a replacement table.

Wish us luck that a showroom manager takes pity on us, because we need this piece TOMORROW!

Ps. I truly stand by the belief that there is no such thing as a design emergency. (That is, unless I come home tonight emptyhanded ;)

We'll be twittering during our search today!

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Advertising, paid links and Google

I never paid much attention to discussions about the legitimacy, or otherwise, of paid links. On the face of it, the logic is very simple and straightforward: Google search algorithms use links to rank websites and to decide on their relative importance and keyword relevance so, anybody who wants to exploit that aspect of Google search service by selling or buying links to gain prominence in search results should be banished from web forever. Right? Well, not quite. The issue is much more complex once you think about it – it goes to the heart of the concept of online democracy and liberty to do what you want with your site (without breaking the law of course).

Does the fact that Google uses links in their algorithms to rank relevance give them the right to infringe website owners right to place on pages any links they see fit, whether free or paid? That’s Google’s problem to figure out whether links are relevant or not for their search results – they created imperfect solution in the first place (based on wrong assumptions perhaps?) so, what gives them the right now to behave like “internet police” and say:” No, you can’t take money for placing the links on your site without ‘nofollow’ flag - that’s our rule”? Sure, the size of Google and its dominance give them the power to do that but not the authority to judge and dictate what people can or cannot do. Yes, it is in the interest of small players to follow Google rules to rank high in search results and not be “penalised” but it goes against that basic democratic principle.

I admit, Google has quite a challenge on their hands in trying to decide what’s relevant and what’s not in the ever expanding entanglement of web content. It has been reported that the latest target are “content farms” which Google is trying to eliminate from search results. But content farms are not much different in concept to newspapers or other media companies that provide “topical content” and sell advertising alongside. The likes of DemandMedia may be a bit more sophisticated than traditional media companies in their approach to selecting the topics of interest but does it make them evil?

The fact that someone has a degree in journalism and writes for a masthead that has been around for a while does not mean the content is of much better “quality” than that written by thousands of freelancers. The distinction between quality and rubbish is quite subjective and trying to encapsulate “the rules” in a mathematic algorithm is next to impossible. The issue of links pops up here again. If people do genuinely link to “content farm” pages does it legitimise them and make an authoritative source? And where to draw the line what are genuine links as opposed to those SEO driven arrangements?

It gets even more blurry when you start considering what is advertising, and what is sponsored content, and what is genuine testimonial, and whether money changing hands or not plays any role in the definition… Why these considerations suddenly came to my attention? Well, I want to start accepting advertising on my sites directly form advertisers, without involvement of Google or other intermediaries, maybe even to create my own advertising platform, but that game seems to have certain rules that make me uneasy. Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Google and what they do. I use Adsense and think it’s great for small online publishers (although those 1 cent clicks are puzzling – you can’t buy placements on AdWords nowhere near that price, regardless how unpopular the keyword is!). But those who want to move on to “bigger and better” things suddenly face a lot of intriguing questions with no easy answers…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Soon-take Chang Describes South Korea's Countercyclical Housing Finance Policy

His paper is very interesting.  Section 3 begins:

Macroeconomic instability greatly affected the financial crisis in Korea at the end of 1997. The need for macroprudential supervision in Korea was highlighted by the bursting of the credit card bubble in 2003.
During the credit card lending boom, the supervisory authority did not respond adequately to the growth of household delinquencies stemming from the reckless behavior of credit card issuers.
The authority was not sensitive to systemic distress originating from households because its prudential oversight was primarily focused on the soundness of individual financial institutions (Lee, 2006). This case underlined the importance of placing greater emphasis on detecting early warning signs before the build-up of excessive imbalances continued for too long (Kang and Ma, 2009).
After the credit card bubble burst, there was a new, widespread appreciation of macroprudential policy. Mortgage loans had increased sharply since 2000, which undermined the stability of the overall housing market. The supervisory authority has taken steps to prevent overheating in mortgage lending and to minimize the risk of loan default.
First, the supervisory authority raised the risk weighting for mortgage loans. The authority also raised the minimum loan loss reserve ratios for banks’ household and corporate loans that were classified as normal and precautionary in November 2002 and in December 2006.
Second, in 2002, the authority started to reduce the maximum LTV ratio for mortgage loans, from approximately 75 percent to 40 percent in the Seoul metropolitan area.
The authority imposed additional measures, such as a ceiling of 40 percent on the DTI ratio for certain types of borrowers, as well as other restrictions on granting mortgage loans and maturity extensions on existing mortgage loans for properties in the Seoul metropolitan area. These various restrictions on mortgage lending were imposed on both banks and non-banking financial institutions.

Note that Korea's loan terms were conservative by OECD standards even before the tightening.   But given how well Korea's economy has survived the downturn, they may be onto something.

From The New Yorker: Wisconsin: The Cronon Affair

Wisconsin: The Cronon Affair

I was especially taken with this:

Second, the Republicans seem remarkably fragile. A professor writing a blog post gives them the shivers. It’s a good thing they chose politics, and not the kind of career where the going can really get rough. Professors, for example, teach their hearts out to surly adolescents who call them boring in course evaluations and write their hearts out for colleagues who trash their books in snarky reviews. These Wisconsin Republicans may never have survived ordeals like that. Happily, Cronon has been toughened by decades of academic life. He’ll be blogging—and teaching and writing—long after Wisconsin voters have sent these Republicans back to obscurity.

There are days when I wonder if tenure is an anachronism. The Cronon affair strongly suggests to me that it is not.

Little Victims... Photoshoot Prep

Since Spring isn't really doing its thing quickly enough for me, I am seriously craving green:

I love what plants do for rooms.  Sometimes when I look at magazine rooms and cover up the plants/ flowers in them, they seem pretty lifeless.  There's something about a pretty explosion of green (no matter how small) that I just love.  
Our house looks like a greenhouse right now because I picked up a ton of plants for the DC Design House and some upcoming photoshoots I'm doing with my good friend & photographer, Helen Norman next week.  This little orange tree will sit in a kitchen I recently finished with a vintage-styled green subway tile backsplash & dark walnut cabinets:

I found this cool pot at Merrifield Garden Center and filled it with this pretty little guy (I already forgot his name) for my room in the showhouse:

Love these moss pots:

And this gardenia is staying in my office for a while because it just smells like Heaven:

I picked up a bunch of herbs  & topiaries for another kitchen:

I truly love plants.  But I'm not very good with them.  They tend to die here.  My house is sort of like a plant hospice. 

...BUT...  the other day my assistant Meghan said I had a "green thumb." 
I have played this compliment over and over in my head since then and even relayed it to my husband who argues she must have been being sarcastic. 

I'm hoping I can change.  I'm really trying. 
There are plants in my house that have been here since September.  Yay.

ps- loved all the comments from yesterday about vines.  It's so fun to see that dialogue between the "romantics" and the "practicals."  I definitely fall on the romantic side, but it's sort of like eating cookie dough...  I'm sure once I got my first case of salmonella, I'd be done with cookie dough. 

xoxo, Lauren
If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Christchurch earthquake postscript

Just two days after the 22nd February earthquake the NZ Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) commissioned acquisition of high resolution imagery over Christchurch to assess the damage of the city infrastructure. NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd used Rockwell Commander 690 airplane and Vexcel UltraCam Xp camera to capture 10 cm resolution imagery over the city. This imagery is now available under creative commons licence – total of 19GB. But it can also be previewed on Google Map at

First spotted on: Google Maps Mania

Related post:
Christchurch earthquake

Monday, March 28, 2011

Climbing Vines

I've always wanted climbing vines on my house.  I remember reading a book when I was a little girl that pictured a red brick house covered in ivy and how I wanted it.  Yeah, I know, it's bad for the house, but I love it anyway.  There's something so incredible about a wall of green and vines growing up a home. It blurs the line between the home and the land, which is something that the houses I truly love all have in common.

{Betsy Burnham}

I attemped to grow jasmine vines up a trellis in front of our house last year but they died in a harsh winter storm.

{image from}

Now I'm holding out for an evergreen clematis, which I grew up all over a fence in our old townhome and really took a beating.  I'm having a hard time finding it again though.  The last garden center I stopped at asking for it looked at me like I was nuts.  :(

{image by Cassie Lee}

I would go nutty for this on my front walkway steps:

{image from}

I might try it although I'm not sure if the treads on my stairs are deep enough.

{Image by Galen Frysinger}

Climbing vines give buildings a sense of permanance. 

{image from}

I love it when they completely take over like this:

{image from}

And I cannot get over this ivy-covered turret:

{image via}

And, finally, here's a secret garden:

{image by Gap Photos}

What I wouldn't give for a secret garden.
If I could completely wall in my backyard with hedges & vines, I would.  I'm a pretty social person but I do love private outdoor spaces.  

I am soo ready for March's lion to give way to the lamb. 
It's time.

Come on Spring!

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

NSW election map

Last weekend NSW voters went to the polls to choose the new State government. As was widely anticipated, coalition parties – Liberals and Nationals have won overwhelming majority of seats. The extent of Labor’s defeat can be best gauged by looking at a map which shows electorates coloured according to a winning party. Blue, traditional colour associated with the Coalition, covers almost the entire State of NSW, with only a few islands of red depicting Labor held electorates. The map was created by Sydney Morning Herald to report on the progress of election results.

The map is quite intuitive to use – just move the mouse over the polygon to reveal electorate name and click on a polygon to bring additional information about the electorate in a side panel. As polygons are created from point data they can be highlighted on mouse over. The downside of this approach is that, because of the limit on how many points browsers can handle, developers had to sacrifice the quality of boundary outlines, keeping points to a minimum. The effects are gaps and overlaps in individual polygons when you zoom too close.

As noted in GIS related media, this was the only map used in reporting election results in NSW. Why this lack of interest to commit resources and present “the battlefield” spatially? I suspect that it may have something to do with the availability of State electoral boundary data – a quick search on the Internet did not yield any results. Creating such boundaries from secondary information sources may have proven too big of a task.

First spotted on: Communica

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Randy Tobler Show: Welcome

This morning, I had a conversation with Dr. Randy Tobler on his radio show "Vital Signs", on 97.1 FM News Talk in St Louis. Dr. Tobler is an obstetrician-gynecologist with an interest in nutrition, fitness and reproductive endocrinology from a holistic perspective. He asked me to appear on his show after he discovered my blog and found that we have some things in common, including an interest in evolutionary/ancestral health. We talked about the history of the American diet, the health of non-industrial cultures, what fats are healthiest, and the difference between pastured and conventional meat/dairy-- we took a few questions from listeners-- it was fun.

The show is available as a podcast here (3/26 show), although as far as I can tell, you need iTunes to listen to it. My section of the show starts around 8:20.

To everyone who arrived here after hearing me on the air this morning: welcome! Here are a few posts to give you a feel for what I do here at Whole Health Source:

The Coronary Heart Disease Epidemic

US Weight, Lifestyle and Diet Trends, 1970-2007
Butter vs. Margarine Showdown
Preventing and Reversing Tooth Decay
The Kitavans: Wisdom from the Pacific Islands
Potatoes and Human Health, Part I, Part II and Part III
Traditional Preparation Methods Improve Grains' Nutritional Value
Real Food XI: Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes
Glucose Tolerance in Non-industrial Cultures
Tropical Plant Fats: Palm Oil

It's Time to Let Go of the Glycemic Index

Shani Hilton on Gentrification in DC

Worth reading....

Confessions of a Black D.C. Gentrifier

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Census estimate for the US for 2009 was less than the Count for 2010

The estimate, at 307,006,550, was .6 percent less than the count of 308,745,538.  Yet for the ten largest cities, the estimate was 4 percent higher than the count.  Again, it would be nice no know whether cities were overestimated in 2009 or undercounted in 2010. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mad Hatter & a question

The Mad Hatters arrived today for my room in the DC Design House and I am in love:

{My first Mad Hatter Wing Chair with a taupe velvet in front.. remember flash makes furniture look bad but people look better ;)  }

I had recently seen pictures sent from the factory of the chairs and knew that they looked exactly as planned but didn't know until I sat in them that they'd be exactly what I wanted.  They are sooooooo comfortable...  And they're big and they surround you and make you feel seriously cozy.  (Can you see how tall the back is?? And I'm a tall person.)  You can sit in normally and really easily snuggle up with a kid or pet, or you can turn sideways & pull up your feet and it's perfect. 
Here's the side view which shows off the insanely gorgeous Michael Smith / Jasper Fabric called Grace (in Willow).  (Available through John Rosselli in DC) 
I could take a nap in this chair: 

Our curtains & pillows will come in on Monday and I cannot wait to see the Peter Dunham fabrics!!  I'm also mixing in a few of my own along with some others so it should be pretty collected-feeling. 

We hung art work today and I've been looking at the photos, wondering if what I selected is too disjointed?  I approached the room as I would have a room in my own home, so instead of choosing pieces that work perfectly together, I went from my gut with pieces that I loved.  Looking over the photos tonight, I can't tell if it looks like a totally crazy person did it or if it has that only-slightly-crazy Alice-in-Wonderland-feel that I love...   I am toying with the idea of swapping out some of the more random pieces for ones that fit a little better (it is a showhouse after all)...  or keeping it real and a bit off the way I typically do in my more personal spaces. 

Any thoughts???

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

To finish the previous post's thought.

The 2009 population estimate for Detroit was 821,792.  The 2010 count was 713,777.

Overestimates or Undercounts? Does this mean Detroit didn't lose quite so many people?

When the 2010 census count for New York City came out today, it struck me as a little light.  So I decided to compare the 2009 population estimates for the ten largest cities in the country againt that 2010 counts.  In all cases expect San Diego, the census count was lower than the 2009 estimate.  The average difference was four percent, which is four years of population growth at the national growth rate.  Here are the numbers: the first column of numbers is the 2009 estimate; the second is the 2010 count.  What is going on here?

New York City8,391,8818,175,133
Los Angeles 3,831,868 3,792,621
Chicago 2,851,268 2,695,598
Houston 2,257,9262,099,451
Phoenix 1,593,6591,445,632
Philadelphia 1,547,2971,526,006
San Antonio 1,373,6681,327,407
San Diego 1,306,3001,307,402
Dallas 1,299,5421,197,816
San Jose 964,695945,942

Move-in Day!

We move into our room at the DC Decsign House today!!  I CANNOT WAIT to see the Madhatter chairs from my new line in person.  (They're covered in the most beautiful Michael Smith floral.)  They arrived at our shipping warehouse this morning at 6:45 AM, just in time.  They are our first prototypes.

{sooo excited}

Our Stark rug is arriving along with the chairs and we're hanging the paintings & prints today.  The custom concrete piece I'm having made BROKE last night when it was being moved at the factory so we're in a bit of a pinch to get it finished in time.  eeeksters!! 

We'll be doing twitter updates today- first time ever so we'll see how it goes- on the process.  To follow, go here. 

Wish us luck that nothing else breaks & have a great day!! 

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Extinction of journalism as a profession

Two bits of information caught my attention this week. The first one was published by AFP and referred to the call by 26,000 strong union of US media workers, The Newspaper Guild, on contributors to The Huffington Post to stop providing free content to the site (!).

"Just as we would ask writers to stand fast and not cross a physical picket line, we ask that they honor this electronic picket line," the guild said in a statement.

"We feel it is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing," the guild said. "Working for free does not benefit workers and undermines quality journalism."
Wow. They must really start to feel like dinosaurs, reverting to desperate measures to defend their journalistic turf. For those who haven’t heard about The Huffington Post, it’s a collection of free blogs, on a variety of topics, that attract a huge worldwide audience which in turn allows monetisation of the content with online advertising – so works on the same basic principle as any newspaper, but in an online environment. It was recently acquired by AOL for $315 million.

Don’t get me wrong. I really feel for the individuals who may have been involved in the industry for many years and now are facing rapidly changing environment to which they don’t know how to adapt. The business model their bosses are running is under extreme threat and it may mean many will have to leave the industry and search for other work. Sad indeed but that’s the price of progress and it happened to many professions in the past.

This news item went relatively unnoticed but it highlights the attitude that media industry, as a whole, has towards other participants in the media/publishing sphere: dividing them into “the real journalists” and the impostors. And again, demonstrating a failure to understand that the changes are the result of globalisation and underlying structural changes - resulting in reduction in profitability and revenue levels in comparison with the past.

Journalism is becoming a bit of a commodity – the word no longer describes an occupation but rather an activity that anyone can do in a spare time. (Anyone who has an opinion! And not necessarily expecting any monetary reward for doing it).

So, what is actually a definition of journalism? Webster’s dictionary defines journalism as: “the work of gathering, writing, editing, and publishing or disseminating news, as through newspapers and magazines or by radio and television”. The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language has a very similar definition. Webster follows the same pattern. Australian’s Macquarie Dictionary is no different… But Collins English Dictionary puts a slightly broader perspective on the term: “1. (Communication Arts / Journalism & Publishing) the profession or practice of reporting about, photographing, or editing news stories for one of the mass media”. That means, if we stretch the definition of mass media to include the internet, journalism can relate to online publishing as well.

And that broader view of journalism is gaining recognition at the highest levels, at least in Australia, which brings me to the second news item of significance. As reported by Mumbrella, The House of Representatives backed laws that will ensure that anyone involved in the production of news – regardless of where they work – can seek to avoid a source being identified. In other words, “shield laws” will give bloggers and tweeters the same rights as professional journalists to protect their sources. And most importantly, the news has been welcomed by the journalists' union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, as “groundbreaking”. We may be “down under” but on top in terms of progressive thinking. It is an indication that the local industry seems to be much better in tune with the emerging environment than their overseas colleagues. It also raises some hope that the local media sector has a good chance to adapt to the new market conditions and to find a profitable business model to ensure its long term future. True, with the recent acquisition of holiday accommodation booking portals Fairfax may have overreached a bit in its quest to diversify into transactional services (ie. what does accommodation booking has to do with journalism?) but at least they are actively trying different ideas to find the right model for a sustainable media business.

Related Posts:
Writing is still a good business
Big media waking up to opportunities

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Safflower Oil Study

A few people have sent me a new study claiming to demonstrate that half a tablespoon of safflower oil a day improves insulin sensitivity, increases HDL and decreases inflammation in diabetics (1). Let me explain why this study does not show what it claims.

It all comes down to a little thing called a control group, which is the basis for comparison that you use to determine if your intervention had an effect. This study didn't have one for the safflower group. What it had was two intervention groups, one given 6.4g conjugated linoleic acid (CLA; 50% c9t11 and 50% t10c12-CLA) per day, and one given 8g safflower oil. I have to guess that this study was originally designed to test the effects of the CLA, with the safflower oil group as the control group, and that the interpretation of the data changed after the results came in. Otherwise, I don't understand why they would conduct a study like this without a control group.

Anyway, they found that the safflower oil group did better than the CLA group over 16 weeks, showing a higher insulin sensitivity, higher HDL, lower HbA1c (a marker of average blood glucose levels) and lower CRP (a marker of inflammation). But they also found that the safflower group improved slightly compared to baseline, therefore they decided to attribute the difference to a beneficial effect of safflower oil. The problem is that without a control (placebo) group for comparison, there's no way to know if the improvement would have occurred regardless of treatment, due to the season changing, more regular check-ups at the doctor's office due to participating in a study, or countless other unforeseen factors. A control group is essential for the accurate interpretation of results, which is why drug studies always have placebo groups.

What we can say is that the safflower oil group fared better than the CLA group, because there was a difference between the two. However, what I think really happened is that the CLA supplement was harmful and the small dose of safflower oil had no effect. Why? Because the t10c12 isomer of CLA, which was half their pill, has already been shown by previous well-controlled studies to reduce insulin sensitivity, decrease HDL and increase inflammatory markers at a similar dose and for a similar duration (2, 3). The safflower oil group only looked good by comparison. We can add this study to the "research bloopers" file.

It's worth noting that naturally occurring CLA mixtures, similar to those found in pastured dairy and ruminant fat, have not been shown to cause metabolic problems such as those caused by isolated t10c12 CLA.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

German Favorite Antiques

This weekend I headed to one of my absolute favorite antique stores- German Favorite Antiques in Leesburg, VA-  with my best friends from college visiting, to pick up some items formy room in the DC Design House.

{Gorgeous wooden angel...  not in the DC Design House room }

They have the most interesting things- many of them found in Germany & sent over by the container.  I picked up an incredible antique drop-leaf table with the most beautiful patina to sit in the showhouse room along with some paintings, etchings and books.

{There're always interesting collections of every day objects a German Favorite Antiques.}

Most items in the entire DC Design House will be for sale with a percentage of the proceeds going to Children's Hospital.  All of the items from German Favorite Antiques in my room will be for sale.

I found the cuckoo clock for my baby Justin's nursery @ German Favorite Antiques:

And his old mushroom chart:

..And honestly waaaay too many things for me to recount.  I love this place.
Evelyn is always in to help you pick out that perfect something:

...And if you're in Leesburg shopping (which is such a fun day in this nice weather!) check out the restaurants!  I always forget the name of this one but it's one of our favorites.  It's something like Old Leesburg Inn or Pub or something like that. (If anyone leaves it in the comments I'll be sure to update :) 

{me & my "cheeses" as we refer to one another because we love each other as much- no definitely more- than cheese: muenster, chedda (me), feta and prov}

I'm not sure it gets better than best friends, shopping (without paying... the items are on loan) and eating.  (Our husbands & my kiddos were with us too...  and all were very patient.)  I had one of the best weekends I've had in a long time and I'm still laughing thinking about its ridiculousness.

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is Inside Job correct about the corrupting influence of money on the economics profession?

I think it may be, but not in the way implied by the movie.  Charles Ferguson makes a big deal out of the fact that Glenn Hubbard, Frederic Mishkin, Larry Summers and Martin Feldstein were paid well by financial institutions and governments who wound up becoming major contributors to the crisis.  HIs implication is that all of these well-known economists ignored the danger signals arising from financial deregulation because they were well paid to do so.

I really doubt this is true.  I say this because I remember thinking at the time it was passed that Gramm-Leach-Bliley was on net good policy, because is was (1) necessary in order to allow New York to compete with London and (2) I thought people at places like Goldman Sachs (especially Goldman Sachs) were smart and competent and would protect their franchise.  I was, at the time, very impressed with Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin.    I had no financial stake at all in any of these beliefs, other than the fact that I wanted my kids' college fund and my wife and my retirement fund to do well.

And by all indications, the economy was doing well.  Unemployment fell to historically low levels, the employment to adult population ratio hit its zenith, and low wage workers were seeing increases in income.  I even remember walking to work in Madison in 1999 or so, and thinking to myself, "could the economy get any better than it is?"  I am thus in no position at call to complain about others having the same view.  All this said, Ferguson was spot on when he called for economists to disclose financial interests that might in any way be related to their research.

But the problem, I think, is far more insidious.  For people who are both successful and reflective, there must often be an undercurrent of doubt as to whether the success is "deserved:" is it a product of virtue or of luck. The neoclassical paradigm allows successful people to feel good about themselves.  It is not much of a leap to infer from it the proposition that people in a neoclassical world can make their own choices, and that when they make "good"choices, they are rewarded, and when they make "bad" choices, they are not.  The number of important choices available to us are, however, limited.  I try to remember that I did not get to choose the country where I was born, I did not get to choose that I had loving, well-educated parents, I did not get to choose that I grew up in a safe community, and I did not get to choose that I have never been seriously ill.  The problem with economics, I think, is not the money people take from various countries and companies, but a broader lack of reflection on the circumstances that produce outcomes.

To me the most disturbing aspect of Inside Job is not the revelation of consulting relationships, but the fact that the economists interviewed by Ferguson seem not to have changed their view of the world even a little.      Feldstein's statement that he had "no regrets" about AIG was the ultimate expression of this.    

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Ancestral Diet Review Paper

Pedro Carrera-Bastos and his colleagues Maelan Fontes-Villalba, James H. O'Keefe, Staffan Lindeberg and Loren Cordain have published an excellent new review article titled "The Western Diet and Lifestyle and Diseases of Civilization" (1). The paper reviews the health consequences of transitioning from a traditional to a modern Western diet and lifestyle. Pedro is a knowledgeable and tireless advocate of ancestral, primarily paleolithic-style nutrition, and it has been my privilege to correspond with him regularly. His new paper is the best review of the underlying causes of the "diseases of civilization" that I've encountered. Here's the abstract:
It is increasingly recognized that certain fundamental changes in diet and lifestyle that occurred after the Neolithic Revolution, and especially after the Industrial Revolution and the Modern Age, are too recent, on an evolutionary time scale, for the human genome to have completely adapted. This mismatch between our ancient physiology and the western diet and lifestyle underlies many so-called diseases of civilization, including coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, epithelial cell cancers, autoimmune disease, and osteoporosis, which are rare or virtually absent in hunter–gatherers and other non-westernized populations. It is therefore proposed that the adoption of diet and lifestyle that mimic the beneficial characteristics of the preagricultural environment is an effective strategy to reduce the risk of chronic degenerative diseases.
At 343 references, the paper is an excellent resource for anyone with an academic interest in ancestral health, and in that sense it reminds me of Staffan Lindeberg's book Food and Western Disease. One of the things I like most about the paper is that it acknowledges the significant genetic adaptation to agriculture and pastoralism that has occurred in populations that have been practicing it for thousands of years. It hypothesizes that the main detrimental change was not the adoption of agriculture, but the more recent industrialization of the food system. I agree.

I gave Pedro my comments on the manuscript as he was editing it, and he was kind enough to include me in the acknowledgments.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, George Will and Paul Krugman

I haven't blogged in awhile, so I am catching up a little....

Paul Krugman writes two blog posts about rail, one of which I like, and one of which I don't.

This one is, I think, correct:

Oh, boy — this George Will column (via Grist) is truly bizarre:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.

And there’s the bit about rail as an antiquated technology; try saying that after riding the Shanghai Maglev.

But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.
Will nowadays seems to get the vapors over anything like a public good.  Air travel is indeed the alternative to rail, and it really is awful. The Acela in the Northeast is often prefrable to air travel, and my understanding is that it is profitable.  Perhaps similar quality service from, say, San Diego to Ventura County, along with a few other high density corridors, would work (I am skeptical about the ability of high speed rail to compete with Southwest Airlines, but let's leave that for another time).  Cars, moreover, do indeed produce environmental damage and congestion that is not priced properly,  European gas taxes and Singaporean congestion fees make lots of economic sense.  One could even use the revenue to hold low-income people harmless from the increased cost of auto transporation.

But in his next blog post, Krugman says:

And don’t get me started on how much more freedom of movement I feel in New York, with subways taking you almost everywhere, than in, say, LA, where you constantly have to worry about parking and traffic.
Well, trains take you almost everywhere on the West Side of Manhattan.  The trains are also mostly radial lines into Manhattan--try going from someplace in Queens to someplace in Brooklyn, and you will see that trains are not so wonderful.  Look, I think the New York City Subway System (and Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road and Path), are great things, but I am not sure how "liberating" it is to live in New York is you can't afford to live in Manhattan. My daughters lived in Brooklyn last summer, and getting around was not a walk in the park for them (except when they walked through a nearby park).

So I decided to look at American Community Survey Data (click on the spreadsheet) comparing the benighted among us who live in LA with those liberated New Yorkers.  The mean travel time for workers in Los Angeles County is 29 minutes.  In New York County it is 30 minutes.  In the four boroughs outside of Manhattan, it is 42 minutes in Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties, and 41 minutes in Bronx County.  In metropolitan Los Angeles, 11 percent have a one-way commute of more than one hour; in metropolitan New York, almost 20 percent have such a long commute.  

[Update: in response to Minka's comment, I looked up the average one-way commute in metro San Francisco--it is the same as LA.  As for LA being a cultural wasteland, anyone who would say that after living here is willfully ignoring the music, theater and restaurant scene here.  LA is also far more diverse than San Francisco, which for me makes it a more interesting city.]



Mike Lea and Tony Sanders diss the 30 year fixed rate mortgage

They do so in a paper.  I think Mike and Tony are smart guys.  But I think their reasoning is flawed here..

They basically argue that Fannie and Freddie were responsible for the 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and that they have been a catastrophe, and that therefore the 30-year fixed rate mortgage was a catastrophe.  But had FF done two things--stuck to prime 30-year fixed rate mortgages and matched the duration of their liabilities to the duration of their assets by using callable debt--they almost certainly would not have imploded.

FF imploded because they invested in AAA tranches of low quality mortgages (which were originated and securitized in the private sector) and Alt-A mortgages, and because they had to roll over too much short-term debt in 2008.

Lea and Sanders also argue that there is "nothing special about housing finance."  I am not sure I agree.  It is the one method households have to take on large amounts of leverage, and households are not in the position to hedge risk (not that our financial institutions proved to be particularly good at hedging).  

Happy St.Patrick's Day!

I bought these shamrocks (above) a week or so ago from Trader Joe's and they're hanging in there!  I covered the dirt in reindeer moss which I can't get enough of.  (It doesn't die...  Or maybe it's already dead??  anyway, love it.) 

We sent the boys off to school today in my favorite color:

And I attempted to work on the split pea soup that my husband & mom started yesterday...  And the bottom dropped out of the blender which made my pup, Ashby, very happy.

{"Happy St.Pattie's Day to you too Mommy!!!"}

On a related note, the new cabinets are painted now:

I taped the fabric to the backs of the panels because we couldn't find our staple gun.  (The sad part is that now that they're up I have no incentive to search for the staple gun.)  Now I need to get that drywall handled and switch out the plywood top for a stone one. 

But plywood'll work for a little St.Pattie's Day bar tonight. 

Hope you have a great one!! 


xoxo, Lauren

ps- Thank you so much to everyone who made it out to Apartment Therapy Night last night!!  Desire @ Sukio was an awesome host it and was a lot of fun. Will post some pics on facebook soon!!

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Geospatial Revolution

If you are having any doubts that geography, geospatial technologies and all those spatial concepts developed throughout the centuries underpin almost every aspect of our everyday life, please have a look at this series of short videos. Produced and released by Pennsylvania State University under the banner of the Geospatial Revolution Project.

"The mission of the Project is to expand public knowledge about the history, applications, related privacy and legal issues, and the potential future of location-based technologies.

Geospatial information influences nearly everything. Seamless layers of satellites, surveillance, and location-based technologies create a worldwide geographic knowledge base vital to solving myriad social and environmental problems in the interconnected global community. We count on these technologies to:

* fight climate change
* map populations across continents, countries, and communities
* track disease
* strengthen bonds between cultures
* assist first responders in protecting safety
* enable democracy
* navigate our personal lives..."

The videos are a great testimony to the power of geospatial technologies, today at fingertips of almost any individual with access to the internet, mobile phone and/or GPS receiver. Whether used for your personal convenience or in business, maps are so much more than just pretty pictures... If you have a problem to solve, think maps for a better perspective!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gluten-Free January Survey Data, Part II: Health Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet

GFJ participants chose between three diet styles: a simple gluten-free diet; a "paleo light" diet diet that eliminated sugar and industrial seed (vegetable) oils in addition to gluten; and a "paleo full monty" diet that only included categories of food that would have been available to our pre-agricultural ancestors. The data in this post represent the simple gluten-free diet group, and do not represent the other two, which I'll analyze separately.

To get the data I'll be presenting below, first I excluded participants who stated on the survey that they did not adhere to the diet. Next, I excluded participants who were gluten-free before January, because they would presumably not have experienced a change from continuing to avoid gluten. That left us with 53 participants.

For each of these graphs, the vertical axis represents the number of participants in each category. They won't necessarily add up to 53, for several reasons. The most common reason is that for the questions asking about changes in health conditions, I didn't include responses from people who didn't have the condition in question at baseline because there was nothing to change.

Question #1: What is your overall opinion of the effect of gluten free January on you?

Participants had a very positive experience with the gluten-free diet. Not one person reported a negative overall experience.

Question #2: Did you note a weight change at the end of gluten free January?

And here are the data for people who described themselves as overweight at baseline:

Two-thirds of people who were overweight at baseline lost weight, and only one person out of 37 gained weight. That is striking. A number of people didn't weigh themselves, which is why the numbers only add up to 37.

Question #3: Before January 2011, did you have a problem with intestinal transit (frequent constipation or diarrhea)? If so, did your symptoms change during the month of January?

Responses are heavily weighted toward improvement, although there were a few instances where transit worsened. Transit problems are one of the most common manifestations of gluten sensitivity.

Question #4: Before January 2011, did you have frequent digestive discomfort (pain, bloating, etc.)? If so, did your symptoms change during the month of January?

Digestive discomfort was common, and the gluten-free diet improved it in nearly everyone who had it at baseline. I find this really impressive.

Question #5: Before January 2011, did you have acid reflux? If so, did your symptoms change during the month of January?

Acid reflux responded well to a gluten-free diet.

Question #6: Before January 2011, did you have a problem with tiredness/lethargy? If so, did your symptoms change during the month of January?
Lethargy was common and generally improved in people who avoided gluten. This doesn't surprise me at all. The recent controlled gluten study in irritable bowel syndrome patients found that lethargy was the most reliable consequence of eating gluten that they measured (1, 2). That has also been my personal experience.

Question #7: Before January 2011, did you have a problem with anxiety? If so, did your symptoms change during the month of January?

Anxiety tended to improve in most participants who started with it.

Question #8: Before January 2011, did you have a problem with an autoimmune or inflammatory condition? If so, did your symptoms change during the month of January?

Autoimmune and inflammatory conditions tended to improve in the gluten-free group, although one person experienced a worsening of symptoms.

Question #9: If you ate gluten again or did a gluten challenge after gluten free January, what was the effect?

Just under half of participants experienced moderate or significant negative symptoms when they re-introduced gluten at the end of the month. Two people felt better after re-introducing gluten.


I find these results striking. Participants overwhelmingly improved in every health category we measured. Although the data may have been somewhat biased due to the 53% response rate, it's indisputable that a large number of participants, probably the majority, benefited from avoiding gluten for a month. At some point, we're going to compile some of the comments people left in the survey, which were overwhelmingly positive. Here's a typical comment in response to the question " In your own words, how would you describe your January 2011 experience" (used with permission):
Amazing! I would recommend the experiment to anyone. I felt completely more alert, and less bloated. When I ate some gluten at the close of the experiment, I felt gross, bloated, and lethargic.
I think it's worth mentioning that some participants also eliminated other starches, particularly refined starches. Judging by the comments, the diet was probably lower in carbohydrate for a number of participants. We may try to assess that next year.