Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Confessions Of A Math Addict

I have a confession to make. I am a math addict. My parents introduced me to it when I was about 3, and after I tried it a few times, I was hooked. By the time I was 4, I had moved on to the harder stuff, multiplication and division, and I don't just mean 5x3, I was doing the hard stuff, multi-digit multiplication and division, and I didn't need a pencil or paper, just straight to my head.

When my kindergarten teacher found out, wow! He marched me straight down to the vice principal and interrupted a meeting. Needless to say, the VP was shocked to find such a young math addict in his school. My teachers tried to help me, but I was always a step ahead of them. I was doing exponentiation by 2nd grade, algebra by 5th grade, trigonometry by 6th, it seemed that nothing would stop this addiction.

They kept trying to help me, but I just kept right on doing math. Sometimes my grades would drop because I was bored, or didn't like the teacher. They kept putting me in tougher environments, but I just kept on doing it. In jr high, a friend introduced me to computers. I realized these things could make it faster and easier to do really hard math. You know the story, "Hey Geoff, check this out...."

By the time I got to high school, it was really bad, joined a "math club" and started doing "number sense". And, I was completely hooked on computers. My junior year was the worst, I was taking 3 credits of math, second, third, and 4th period, every day, including "computer math".

I was so addicted by my senior year that when I only got a 760 on the SAT math, I decided to do it again because I should have gotten higher. The second time, I hit 800. I was up to doing AP Calculus, the really hard stuff, and still, no one could stop me. I didn't pay attention in class, didn't do my homework, and yet flew through every test they dropped on me. They couldn't catch me or stop me.

But it all came crashing down in college, the hard math there was only available at 8:30 in the morning, and my brain just wasn't working at that hour. They had me doing stuff called Calc II, Calc III, & Differential Equations, and always timed tests. But it wasn't the math that got me, it was those early hours. My brain just can't handle those early hours.

After college, I cut way back on the hard stuff, went back to the basics, including some prime number theory. But I was working as a computer programmer, so I was doing math at work every day, and usually at home on the weekends. I started experimenting with other types of math, hashing, encryption, compression, you name it, I probably experimented with it. It wasn't hard, but without a computer, it would have been very tedious.

Yes, I've been a math addict for over 40 years now, and I don't think I'll ever quit. Parents beware, introducing your children to math at a young age can lead to a lifelong addiction.

P.S. This is a true story, although some of the details might be exact, it's all from memory.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Too Big To Fail, Never Again

I'm tired of hearing about the "onerous and oppressive regulations being imposed upon the financial services industry". They are specifically referring to the "Volcker rule" that is part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Now, I'm not here to argue the benefits or weaknesses of the specifics of the Volcker Rule. I haven't read it's 300 pages, as I'm not in that industry, it may very well be a flawed piece of legislation.

I'm here to point out that the banking industry has only themselves to blame for this situation. First, they lobbied for, and successfully got key provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act repealed, allowing commercial and investment banks to merge and share assets and liabilities. These provisions were repealed as part of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) in 1999. This was strongly supported by Alan Greenspan, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the financial services industry, and particularly, by Sanford Weill, CEO of Citicorp, which later became the largest bank (Citigroup) when it merged with Travelers Group, and many others in Congress and the banking industries.

After passage and several mega-mergers of commercial and investment banks, they began engaging in the practice of making high risk sub-prime mortgages, funding the "housing bubble" of escalating prices, sold mortgage-backed-securities (MBS) to other investors assigning them a AAA rating, while simultaneously making investments that those MBS would go down in value. In short, they engaged in manipulation of the market for their own enrichment, at a cost of many hundreds of billions to millions of homeowners, and trillions to the overall economy. Only a massive USD$700 billion bailout saved them from bankruptcy.

And then there is the still pending possibility of another financial crisis from the "derivatives" market they created, a crisis that could very well be larger than the problems so far.

So, in summary, they lobbied for deregulation, got it, then proceeded to engage in risky, and possibly fraudulent practices that resulted in a loss of hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars to people who we not part of the investment scheme. And now, they want to complain about the new regulations being imposed upon them. They haven't even admitted fault for causing the problem, and none have been held financially or legally accountable for these practices. They were in effect, gambling with "our" money, and indeed, the entire US and world economy.

Sorry, but until they take responsibility for their actions and the damage they've done, anything they say about how "onerous and oppressive" these new regulations are will fall on deaf ears. They've demonstrated that they aren't trustworthy to self-regulate, nor hold themselves accountable for their manipulations. I, and I suspect most of the US public, have no sympathy for them, and no trust in their categorization of these new regulations.

Many of the primary backers of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, including Alan Greenspan, Sanford Weill, and others have since said it was a mistake, that "the big banks should be broken up", that "too big to fail" is too big a risk to the economy and the country, and that self-interest and self-regulation can not be relied upon in keeping the industry in line.
“I was an advocate of the deregulation movement and I made -- along with a lot of other smart people -- a fundamental mistake, which is that deregulation works fine in industries which do not pervade the economy,”
- Retired Federal Judge Richard Posner
"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organisations, specifically banks, is such that they were best capable of protecting shareholders and equity in the firms ...."
- Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999 and he supported it's repeal, testifying to Congress on the banking crisis in Oct 2008.
“What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking,” Mr. Weill, the former chief executive of Citigroup, told CNBC. “Have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not going to be too big to fail.”
- Sanford Weill, former CEO Citigroup and one of the primary advocates for the passage of GLBA, quoted in the NYTimes article below.
They created this situation, now they have to deal with the consequences. And until they accept responsibility for it, nothing they say about the new regulations carries any weight. If and when they take responsibility for, or are held accountable for, their actions, there will be room to discuss what level of regulation is appropriate and necessary. But until then, they're simply not believable.

I'll conclude with a quote from a NYTimes article:
"In 2009, John S. Reed, who with Mr. Weill forged the megamerger that created Citigroup, apologized for creating a lumbering giant that needed multibillion-dollar bailouts from the government. Philip Purcell, the former chief executive of Morgan Stanley and David H. Komansky, the onetime leader of Merrill Lynch, two other main figures in the fight to repeal Glass-Steagall, have echoed similar concerns about deregulation."
- NYTimes
Update: 2015-10-17
Banks (including investment/financial services) occupy a special place in an economy. They have a unique capacity to boost, or collapse entire economies, based upon the actions of a few. It's fundamentally a risk to everyone to allow a private bank to become a significant part of any economy/market. For this reason, the restrictions on banking should be even more limited than anti-trust/monopoly laws for other industries, but the same principles should apply. See my post about free-markets for some thoughts on limits on market share in general, keeping in mind that more stringent limits should be applied to banks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Corporations Still Aren't People

In light of today's Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) decision to not hear arguments in Western Tradition Partnership v Atty Gen of Montana, it's time to review, and reiterate why corporations are not people, and how SCOTUS erred in both Citizens United v FEC and the current case.

I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is my analysis and opinion. I'm exercising my right as citizen of the USA to criticize my government, and demand that they follow the US Constitution.

First, you may want to review my previous post Corporations Are Not People on this topic. In today's post, I'll strengthen the case by highlighting some key differences between people and corporations, including previous SCOTUS decisions that clearly indicate they are not entitled to the same protections as "natural persons".

Second, it's important to note that the SCOTUS decision in both cases was split 5-4, so it's clear that even among the justices, there are significant differences of opinion on these cases. Clearly, this matter is not settled.

Let us begin with a definition of "corporation":
"corporation n. an organization formed with state governmental approval to act as an artificial person ..."
Note the definition states "artificial" person.

Differences between corporations and people:
  • Corporations are artificial entities created by the sovereign state(s). People are not, they exist independently of the states.
  • Corporations can be owned, bought, and sold. People can not.
  • A corporation's owners are shielded from liability for the actions of the corporation, and the officers can be shielded from liability. A person is not shielded from liability for his actions, nor for those for whom he/she is legal guardian.
  • Corporations can not hold elected office. People can.
  • Corporations can not be imprisoned. People can.
  • Corporations can legally be killed, at the whim of the owner(s). This is not considered murder or homicide. Killing people is homicide. If it's without justifiable provocation, it's manslaughter or murder.
  • Corporations can live indefinitely. People die.

Legal basis:
Perhaps the strongest legal evidence that corporations are not people comes from the Supreme Court itself:
...the Supreme Court has held that the Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination extend only to "natural persons." The Court has also held that a corporation's custodian of records can be forced to produce corporate documents even if the act of production would incriminate him personally.
Thus, previous SCOTUS decisions make it clear that the protections of the US Constitution don't automatically apply to "artificial persons". From this, we can determine that either none of the protections of the US Constitution apply to corporations, or that only certain rights apply. If it's certain rights, then we must define which ones, something that should be defined by law, not by court precedent.

Corporations are created by the sovereign states, not the federal govt, therefore, the SCOTUS has no business telling Montana that state laws limiting corporate contributions are invalid. The corporation is created by the state, and it derives it's rights from the state. The Federal govt only has jurisdiction over corporations engaged in interstate commerce.

A state has no right to grant corporations any rights in national elections as this would create unfair power for states that grant such rights to corporations. A state has the power only to grant, or deny the corporations rights in state elections and rights and privileges under state law. Thus it's untenable to claim that corporations can make any contribution to federal election campaigns, much less "unlimited" contributions.

This isn't a new concept. Montana has limited their contributions since 1912, and even President Theodore Roosevelt knew it over 100 years ago:
Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly.
Corporations are protected by state laws governing their creation, liabilities, rights, and dissolution, not the rights guaranteed to people by the US Constitution, those rights come from a different creator. The Citizens United decision is wrong, and today's ruling is wrong. They're wrong under the US Constitution, they're inconsistent with previous SCOTUS rulings, they're inconsistent with common sense, and they're wrong ethically. It was wrong in 2010, and it's wrong today.

In light of the recent SCOTUS decision in Sebelius/Burwell vs Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods, where the court again mistakenly applied the 1st Amendment, specifically religious rights, to a corporation in a 5-4 split decision, I'm adding additional references and commentary, including the dissenting opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the actual dissent begins on page 60 of the above link to the SCOTUS decision, this link is just a few key points from the dissent).

Related Links:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mess With Your Mind Monday - Volume 001

Welcome to the first of a new series of posts that I call "Mess With Your Mind Monday" (MWYMM). The intent of these posts is to get you thinking and asking questions, not necessarily to give you answers. I plan to post something new on this series every Monday, but I may occasionally skip a week. The topics will vary, just about anything is fair game if it will mess with your mind and make you think. Here's a permanent (or at least semi-permanent) link to the MWYMM posts. Now, on to the first post.

Today's topic is math (it's a good topic for messing with your mind). Specifically, I'm going to look at some oddities involving imaginary numbers, complex numbers, and transcendental numbers.

You probably know that the square root of any negative real number is an imaginary number. The base unit of imaginary numbers is the square root of -1, an imaginary number we call "i". i² = -1.

You might even know that ℯ^(π*i) = -1 (Euler's identity). This one still blows my mind because ℯ (Euler's number) and π (pi) are both transcendental numbers. Yet somehow, ℯ raised to the power of pi*i = -1. How does a transcendental number raised to an imaginary transcendental power yield a negative integer? But that's not really one of today's MWYMM questions.

What is the square root of i ?
There is an answer. In fact, like other square roots, there are two answers, one with a positive real component, and one with a negative real component (e.g. sqrt(4) = 2 or -2, with the positive root being the implied answer in most cases). So that you can ponder it for a while, I'm not going to give the answer here. Instead, here's a link to the answer along with an explanation.

In case I haven't messed with your mind enough, here's one more.

What is i to the Power of i (i.e. i^i) ?
Now, we're raising an imaginary number to an imaginary power. Any guesses about the answer? Let me warn you now, this one may completely blow your mind. Again, I'm only giving a link to the answer here, but here are a couple clues; there is more than one answer, and the answers are real numbers.

I hope you've enjoyed pondering these questions as much as I've enjoyed messing with your mind. Check back for next week's installment of MWYMM.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Great Imposters

According to conventional wisdom, there are three things you should never talk about in polite company, sex, politics, and religion. I'm about to address all three. I'm not going to be coarse, crude, or offensive, but I will be direct. Some readers may not like what I have to say, and a few might even take offense. Know in advance, that is not my intent, and read on if you choose.

You're welcome to agree or disagree and leave comments. Comments are moderated, but as long as the comments are civil (no name calling, insults, blaming, or demonstrably false information), I will allow them whether I agree with them or not. Remember, this is my soapbox, and your right to free speech does not mean I have to allow you to use my soapbox to say it. Be civil, or it won't be allowed here.

Let me start with I've never been a member of any political party. My views are most closely aligned with the Libertarian Party, but not completely because most Libertarians actually want (in my view) too little government. However, given that the nature of government is to grow, take more power, take more money, and become too intrusive, I welcome people fighting for "too little" govt as it helps counteract the natural tendency of bureaucracy. But this post isn't about the Libertarian Party.

This post is about the modern Republican Party, the GOP.

Most of my life, I've tended to side with the Grand Old Party on many issues, in large part because, despite the existence of several minor parties, most offices have don't have a minor party candidate running, so the choice is often between a Republican and a Democrat. On many issues, the GOP has been more closely aligned with my beliefs than the Democratic Party. That's not to say that I haven't supported and voted for numerous Democrats and more than a few minor party candidates, I have. I have always voted for candidates, not political parties.

Once upon a time, the GOP actually stood for some good things. See, many years ago, they actually believed in less government and individual liberty. According to Wikipedia:
American conservatism of the Republican Party is not wholly based upon rejection of the political ideology of liberalism, as many principles of American conservatism are based upon classical liberalism.

Founded in Northern States in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, modernizers, ex-Whigs and ex-Free Soilers, the Republican Party quickly became the principal opposition to the dominant Democratic Party...

"Free labor" referred to the Republican opposition to slave labor and belief in independent artisans and businessmen. "Free land" referred to Republican opposition to plantation system whereby the rich could buy up all the good farm land and work it with slaves, leaving the yeoman independent farmers the leftovers. The Party had the goal of containing the expansion of slavery, which would cause the collapse of the Slave Power and the expansion of freedom.

The GOP supported business generally, hard money (i.e., the gold standard), high tariffs to promote economic growth, high wages and high profits, generous pensions for Union veterans...
Classical liberalism is the philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets.

Once upon a time, they had sound fiscal policies, and fought for individuals, and less government, and small business, and farmers. That Republican Party no longer exists. The current Republican Party bears little resemblance to that GOP. They call themselves conservatives, but that's only a half-truth, they're reactionaries.

The Republicans' attempt to write religious beliefs into law at the federal level is a full fledged assault on the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That guarantee of freedom of religion, also guarantees everyone else freedom from your religion. That applies to the current assaults on access to birth control, abortion, homosexuality, marriage, and others. Your rights end where they start to infringe on the rights of others. If you don't understand and honor that concept, you are not qualified to hold elected office in this country.

If you're opposed to using birth control, abortion, modern medicine, modern electric/electronic conveniences, or working on the Sabbath (whichever day you consider that to be), you have a right to hold that belief. Likewise, if you believe in abstinence only as "sex education", no pre-marital sex, and the teaching of creation (in church or church schools), that is your right. If you're an atheist or agnostic, that is your right. What you do not have a right to do is force others to abide by those beliefs.
"Frankly, one of our political parties is insane, and we all know which one it is." - Bruce Bartlett, former Economic Advisor to President Reagan.

The fundamentalist Republicans' attempts to outlaw abortion, or to make it more traumatic (it's already very traumatic for the woman) for women, attempts to make birth control harder to obtain, attempts to teach creation in public (e.g. taxpayer funded) schools, animosity toward and denial of benefits to homosexuals, and other such attempts to force their religious views on everyone are unconscionable. They have simultaneously abandoned all compassion and offers of aid to those in need (in direct violation of the teachings of the Bible they cite as their guide), while citing that same Bible as "proof" of the moral superiority of their views on these topics. They have perverted the Republican Party into an instrument to impose their religious beliefs on everyone. This faction of the Republican Party (which includes much of the leadership of the GOP) is not morally superior, they're morally bankrupt.

If you believe in the things this country and/or the Republican Party were founded upon, then search your conscience and see whether or not you can allow these imposters to continue to distort everything this country and the GOP were founded to support.

This power grab by the fundamentalists has been going on for far too long. I have fought against it, I have denounced it, and in some ways, I've overlooked it, while hoping it would improve. I'm sorry I waited so long. I can no longer tolerate this corruption of our government for their own purposes, and I can no longer grant them the use of the term Republican Party.

It's time we demand that these imposters stop calling themselves Republicans. The party leaders and beliefs they espouse are a disgrace to the legacy and beliefs of the founders of the Republican Party, and to the founders of our country. I don't know what I'll call them, perhaps we should just call them "The Great Imposters".

Reform the Republican Party, or end it, but don't let this faction destroy everything it once stood for, and what this country stands for.

A brief note: From a strict constitutional perspective, states may have the power to make laws regarding religion, however, they have that power only by agreement of the residents of that state, it's not an inherent power of the state. I am personally opposed to granting states that power, yet there is nothing in the US Constitution to prohibit it. Perhaps there should be, but it's not there now. That's a subject for another discussion. See the NYT Op-Ed in the related links section below.

Related links:

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Black Eye For Pink Ribbons

When I first heard Susan G Komen for the Cure (Komen) was disqualifying Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PP) from future grants, I was disappointed. I've been a supporter of both organizations, and I respect the work Komen has done to bring awareness, education, and research to breast cancer. I've sponsored people in the 3-Day and I've bought "Pink" products. I've always been a vocal supporter of their work.

I also respect and value the work of PP and do not wish to see their funding cut. They provide access to valuable sexual health services, information, and education for more than 3 million of people annually. Let me state that I am not in favor of abortions. However they are legal, and I believe they should be legal in most of the circumstances where they are now legal. You may hold a different opinion, but I invite you to read on. This post isn't about abortion.

I did a lot of research the past couple days, here's what I found:
  • Despite claims to the contrary, abortions represent only 3% of the services PP provides and only ~10% of their patients. 97% are non-abortion services and 90% of PP patients do not receive an abortion. PP isn't just about abortion, it's about all those other services.

  • The grant from Komen to PP affiliates was for less than $700,000 annually. It's less than 1% of the budget of either organization. It's less than the combined salary of the Presidents of the two organizations (more on that later). Given the size of these two organizations, it's not really worth arguing about. It's a tempest in a tea pot.

If it's not worth arguing about, then why am I bothering to write about it? Because I found out a lot more:
  1. Because of the publicity around this, PP raised more than an extra $1M in 48 hours, completely offsetting the annual loss from Komen in 2 days. In reality, PP doesn't need any funding from Komen.

  2. PP was using those dollars to provide additional breast examinations. A lot of examinations. Komen grants paid for approximately 170,000 of 4,000,000 breast exams performed by PP over the time that Komen has been giving grants to PP. 6400 of those resulted in a referral for Mammogram. That's a lot of exams, and a lot of lives that may have been saved. So, by any measure, I think it was worth the money.

  3. In FY 2008 and 2009, PP spent 16% of it's revenue for management, general, admin, and fundraising expenses (non-service expenses). 1% for international family planning services. 17% for domestic non-medical services. The remaining 66% went for providing medical services those who need it. In FY2008, PP and it's ~ 100 affiliates had total revenue of $1.1B (revenue for just the national office was $106M).

    The President's compensation was $384,295 (based in NY with a high cost of living).

  4. In 2007 Komen spent 60.3% of revenue on (grants for) research, education, and treatment of breast cancer. That means 39.7% went for admin, fundraising, office expenses, travel, and other overhead. In 2008, it was worse, less than 49% went to (grants for) research, education, and treatment, over 51% went for overhead. In 2008, only 40% of the revenue went to research.

    Komen had total revenue of $159M. The President's compensation was $558,607 (based in Dallas with a much lower cost of living).

That's right, only around half the donations to Komen went toward the very things they're raising funds for, and less than half actually goes toward finding treatments or cures.

How can the President of Komen face families and friends of breast cancer patients and ask them for their time and money, knowing that she is earning more than 10 times the national household income, knowing that she earns 5, 10, or 20 times as much as the very people shes asking to donate money, while it's those very donations that pay her salary?

To me, that is unconscionable. She may fit in with the wealthy donors and large corporate donors, but I can't see how that's at all consistent with the mission of Susan G Komen for the Cure. I've been a business owner, I know you need to hire quality people, and you may have to pay more for them, but the discrepancy between the pay of the Presidents of these two organizations highlights how inefficient and cavalier Komen has been with our donations.

Why Komen was wrong:
Two days after it started, Komen put out a video explaining their position and reasoning. They had adopted rules that prevented people or organizations that were under investigation from applying for new grants. While that sounds like a prudent way to protect funds of the charity, there is a serious flaw. An investigation does not mean any law or policy has been broken, it just means some official agency has started an investigation. In this instance, one Senator started an investigation of PP based upon pressure from anti-abortion groups.

PP has not been accused of or charged with a crime, much less been found guilty. And that is the major flaw with Komen's new policy. PP was being punished without even being accused, charged, or given a chance to defend themselves. Innocent until proven guilty, and they should at least remain eligible until they've been formally charged with a crime.

The Future:
Today, Komen reversed their decision and will be revising their new policy. But for me, it's too little, too late. See, I've already done the research, and I don't like what I found. I can no longer support Komen, they're too wasteful with donations. They also appear to be driven by political factors rather than by the needs of the patients. That's not what I expect from an organization who claims to be "for the cure".

Another problem with Komen is that we no longer need to raise awareness of breast cancer. You can't drive down the street, or walk through a store without seeing pink ribbons and other pink products. We're all very aware now. It's time to cut back on the advertising and awareness, and focus the money on research and treatment.

Komen has been the center of several other recent controversies. So called "pinkwashing" - putting a pink ribbon on unhealthy products, and threatening other charities and organizations over using the phrase "for the cure" or "for a cure".

This incident has shined a light on the darker aspects of Komen. If they "clean up their act", get the overhead costs down to a reasonable level, including significantly reducing the pay of the President and other officers or board members to be in line with other such organizations, then I'll reconsider. I'm still in support of finding effective treatments and cures for all types of cancer, including breast cancer, but until I see a major change, Komen is off my list of charities that I support.

Komen did the right thing, for the wrong reasons:
Numbers 3 and 4 above point to a fundamental problem with charities funding charities. Komen takes 40%-50% for overhead, and PP will have another 16% overhead. The result, only about 40% of people's initial donation is actually going toward these breast cancer screenings. Even if the percentages are smaller, you're still going to see double overhead. For that reason, and that reason alone, Komen should deny future requests from charities, including PP. PP can perform their own (more efficient) fundraising, making even more money available for patient care.

Update 2014-01-06:
Komen has changed many executives, slightly lowered pay for the replacements, but they're paying $475K/yr to their new CEO. Still very high compared to PP and most other large charities. They also had 22% lower revenue.

Related links:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When You Eat Is As Important As What You Eat.

If you lived in the USA most of your life, chances are that most of your eating habits and most of what you have learned about eating and nutrition is flawed. It's at least incomplete, if not outright incorrect. We have an obesity problem in this country, and it's literally killing us. It also contributes dramatically to our health care costs, and diminishes our enjoyment of life.

I had gotten tired of all of it, so several years ago, I began researching diet and nutrition for myself. What I found may surprise and shock some of you, to others, it may help explain why you are/aren't overweight despite following or not following the nutrition guidlines from the US gov't.

The first thing to know about the gov't guidelines is that they're created by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), an agency created to help farmers grow crops, and raise livestock. Just think about that for a minute. While "food safety" is one of the tasks assigned to the USDA, nutrition and public health are not part of it's charter. There is an obvious conflict of interest in supporting the food producers and promoting healthy (not over-weight or obese) food consumers.

I'm not claiming any kind of conspiracy here, much of the information about what constitutes a healthy diet has been revised in the last 30 years, so guidelines created in the '50s-'70s won't be the best. The current USDA "My Plate" guidelines are definitely better than their earlier guidelines, so they have been improving. However, research on nutrition for how to raise livestock for food (i.e. reach maturity and size as quickly as practical) does not directly apply to keeping humans healthy for 70-100 years. And because consumers eating less food isn't in the charter of the USDA or the best interests of food producers, you should always be a bit skeptical about nutrition and eating guidelines from the USDA.

What about diets?
There are thousands of "diet" plans marketed: rapid weight loss diets, crash diets, low-carb, ultra low-carb, fat-free, low-fat, high-fat, high-protein, low-calorie, low-glycemic index, vegetarian, vegan, fasting, "cleanses", "detox" plans, organic foods, raw foods, whole foods, etc, and dozens or hundreds of each of those. Which one is right? At some level, all of them work for some people, so you could say they're all "right". Few if any of them work for everyone, so you could say they're almost all "wrong". Some of them are also very hard to follow, some don't provide enough of certain nutrients, and some can even be dangerous. I'm not going to tell you which diet to choose, or to choose a diet at all.

All I will offer about specific diets is that moderate carbohydrate, moderate protein, moderate fat diets with plenty of vegetables are what I've found work most effectively for the majority of people. You will see that type of diet easily fits into these guidelines. It's also an easy diet to follow as there are no foods that are prohibited, just some that you have to limit the quantity.

Diets can work to lose weight or address a specific issue, but diets as such don't keep you healthy. Only changing your eating habits can do that. This is not a diet.

For those who are curious, my personal diet is basically from "Eat Right 4 Your Type" by Dr Peter D'Adamo. I was initially very skeptical about the idea that blood type and diet were related, but after reading the theory and science behind it, I thought it sounded plausible. Then, I looked at the specific recommendations for my blood type, I found that it matched very closely to what I had already discovered worked well for keeping me healthy (even though it conflicts with most advice about diet and nutrition). I'm still a uncertain about the connection, but my weight and blood tests show me to be very healthy, so I still say it's plausible. I don't receive anything for promoting that diet/book, it's just what I found works well for me. Using that info, and my recommendations below, I lost about 22lbs (10kg) from the weight I was in the photo on this blog, and I've kept that weight off for years. Your results may differ.

What about organic foods, whole foods, and raw foods?
Remember, I said I wasn't going to get into the specifics of diets. The same applies to these movements. Perhaps I'll address them in another discussion. But for now, I'll just say that these guidelines work whether you're buying these types of foods or not. Buy what you're comfortable eating.

Healthy eating habits:
I'm here to talk about healthy eating habits, guidelines for eating that work with your body. Some, maybe all, of what I present here is information you've heard before. However, very few people have stressed just how important these things are. Let me be clear, these habits are every bit as important as what, and how much, you eat.

These guidelines are designed to speed up your metabolism, minimize the impact on blood sugar, work with your body's daily rythms, and keep your body from initiating "starvation reactions" that cause it to store fat. The "most important" guidelines are listed first, but that doesn't mean the later ones don't matter, they're just more flexible.

You can apply these to almost any diet or no diet at all. These guidelines work with unrestricted diets, calorie restricted diets, carbohydrate restricted diets, diabetic diets, high protein diets, vegetarian or vegan diets, etc. There are few specific foods recommended or restricted, and no food is prohibited, it's about timing, moderation, and balance. These guidelines will tend to naturally limit your caloric intake, although some people may need to impose limits on their calorie consumption, at least when first adopting these habits.

Yes, I realize that these guidelines may disagree with many of the things you've been taught about a "balanced diet". Consider how well that diet has worked for you. For the US overall, it hasn't worked out well. Many people have followed these guidelines and found them to be very effective.

I am not a nutritionist or health professional. If you have any concerns about the safety or appropriateness of these guidelines for yourself, discuss them with your own nutritionist or health professional. If you choose to start a diet, restrict calories, adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, etc, consult a nutritionist and/or health professional first. This is particularly true of vegetarian, vegan, or any diet that severely limits carbs, protein, meat, or fats, or severely limits calories. On those types of diets, it's more challenging to ensure you're getting enough of the essential nutrients, and a professional can help make sure you do.

The Guidelines:
  1. Eat at least 3 times per day: 4-6 times is better. Use small servings. Never skip breakfast, if you're not hungry, eat a snack or small meal anyway (unless you still feel full from the previous meal/snack). If you regularly feel full from the previous meal/snack, you're probably eating too large a meal.

    Do not skip meals, eat a light snack at meal time if you're not hungry. Do not eat until you feel full, eat less than you think you want, then wait 5-10 minutes before deciding if you need more. Better to stop early, and eat an extra meal/snack later if necessary. If you feel full at any point, stop eating. Never "stuff yourself". Once you've been following these habits for a while, skipping an occasional meal (1-3 meals a week on different days) shouldn't cause a problem, but don't make a habit of eating fewer than 3 meals spread throughout the day. Remember, small meals/snacks 3-6 times every day.

    Update: The latest research suggests that eating more frequently makes no difference. Statistically, that's probably correct overall. However, for a large number of people, it does appear to make a difference. It's worth trying if you're having trouble with maintaining or losing weight.

  2. Eat your carbohydrates early: Eat 40%-50% of your daily carbohydrates before lunch (or your mid-day meal), and no more than 25% of them within 4 hours of bedtime. Have more protein and fats at meals later in the day as these are digested and absorbed more slowly and have less impact on blood sugar. Reducing carbs in the evening also seems to help reduce "acid reflux".

  3. Drink plenty of filtered water daily: For adults, at least 50oz (1.5L) daily, target 67oz (2L) to 100oz(3L), and up to 135oz (4L), in addition to other beverages you may drink. Do NOT drink all the water at one time, spread it out over the day. If you live or work outdoors, in a hot environment, in a dry climate, or perform strenuous labor or exercise, you may need more water and/or fluids that keep you hydrated and keep your electrolyte levels at a safe level. Note that it is possible to drink too much water and deplete your system of critical water soluble nutrients such as sodium and potassium, this can be life threatening. Consult a health professional to determine an appropriate amount before consuming more than 4L of water in a day.

    See the updates below for some potential risks of drinking too much fluid.

  4. Limit sugars: Avoid high-fructose corn sweetener (HFCS), corn syrup, "invert sugar", agave nectar, honey, concentrated grape juice, concentrated apple juice. Fructose and fructose/glucose blends are processed by the body differently than is sucrose ("regular" or "real sugar"). Also avoid all artificial sweeteners. Grape juice high in fructose, apple juice is somewhat better, but still higher than desired.

    Why limit agave nectar and honey, aren't they supposed to be healthier? Chemically, their sugar content is similar to that of HFCS, primarily separated fructose and glucose. Agave nectar is nearly as artificial as HFCS. While they may be slightly better than HFCS, they're not healthy sweeteners. See HFCS significantly worse than sucrose study or summary article. And another source.

    For sweeteners, stick with real sugar (sucrose, raw sugar, turbinado, evaporated cane juice, white sugar, brown sugar), stevia, or limited amounts of honey.

    Watch out for "low fat" foods unless they're "natually low in fat". Most "low fat" foods substitute sugars and starches for the fats in order to make them taste better while being able to claim "low fat". Sugars and starches have a greater impact on blood sugar than fats so that substition may be worse for your body.

  5. Limit consumption of sweet fruits and fruit juices: They can be significant sources of sugars. Apple, pear, mango, and papaya are "sweet" fruits that either don't have much sugars, or have a reasonable ratio of fructose to sucrose, so they're good options for sweet fruits. Grapes, oranges, bananas and most other sweet fruits should be limited.

  6. Limit potatoes and other starchy vegetables. Eat all the non-starchy or low-starch vegetables you want.

  7. Get sufficient protein: Eat seeds, nuts, fish, and/or meats sufficient to get your protein. Most beans and soy products are also good protein sources, however, they may also be a source of starches. Soy can act as an "estrogen mimic", so you should limit soy products.

    Get sufficient omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Several types of fish and "fish oil" are good sources, as are chicken (fats), chia seeds and certain other seeds and vegetables, but most fruits, nuts, and vegetables are not good sources of these essential brain nutrients. This is of particular concern with vegetarian and vegan diets.

  8. Eat grains in moderation: These tend to be high in starches. Whole grains are generally a better choice, having more fiber and nutrients, however, some whole grains are higher in oxalic acid, so some whole grains may be inappropriate for people who have had calcium-oxalate kidney stones. Rice, oats, and barley are generally preferrable to wheat and corn. Yes, I realize the wheat and corn are the two major grain crops in the US, and that it's almost "heresy" to suggest limiting them, not to mention they're so prevalent that they're nearly impossible to avoid completely. They're also two foods to which many people have an allergy or intolerance.

  9. Limit eggs and dairy products: You don't need any of these, it's possible to get all the calcium and other nutrients you need from non-dairy foods. You can eat these foods in limited quantities. Cheese is a good source of calcium, and most cheeses (except soft cheeses such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, "farmer's cheese", etc.) are relatively low in lactose because the enzymes that make the cheese consume most of the lactose. Many people who are moderately lactose intolerant can tolerate 1-2 oz of cheese daily.

  10. Listen to your body: When you have a "craving", it's usualy a sign that your body needs a particular nutrient. If you eat something with that nutrient, it will satifsy the craving, usually quickly. When you have a craving, first stop and think about various foods noting which ones "sound" best, then try a small amount of one of those foods. If it contains the nutrient(s) your body seeks, it will likely taste "better than it normally does" and will be very satisfying. If that's not it, you should know in the first couple bites. Stop, and repeat the process until you find the food that satisfies. Over time, you'll find that certain cravings recur, and you'll be able to identify them more quickly and go straight for the foods (or vitamin/mineral supplements) that will satisfy them.

  11. Don't go to bed full: Don't drink much in the couple hours before bed, that includes water. Too much liquid in your stomach can trigger or aggravate acid reflux. Never go to bed on a full stomach. Wait a couple hours after eating, and at least until that full feeling is gone before going to bed. While this is particularly important for those who have had issues with acid reflux or GERD, it's good advice for everyone. It may also affect blood glucose levels, so it may be particularly useful for diabetics or those who are significantly overweight.
Related Links:
Study links HFCS to autism. Of greatest interest are HFCS effects on the absorption of key minerals, and the metabolic effects that may have.

Updates: 2012-01-24 @ 5pm MST - Seems there are other risks to drinking too much water.
2012-01-29 @ 1:15am MST - added links to HFCS vs sucrose study.
2012-04-04 @ 9:50am MDT - added link to another article on the effects of HFCS. 2012-04-10 @ 11:55pm EDT - added "Don't go to bed full" item.