Thursday, October 29, 2015

How Australian English acquired its unique accent: Booze!

I tend to doubt this theory, but an Australian university lecturer says his country's accent came about as a consequence of that nation's earliest English-speaking settlers being drunk all the time:

In an impassioned call for Australian schools to teach verbal expression and delivery, Dean Frenkel, a public speaking and communication lecturer at Melbourne’s Victoria University, said “drunken Aussie-speak” was formed generations ago but has continued to be passed on to children by sober parents. “Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns… Aussie-speak developed in the early days of colonial settlement from a cocktail of English, Irish, Aboriginal and German – before another mystery influence was slipped into the mix.”

Mr. Frenkel suggests that Aussies don't use the muscles in and around their mouths, and as a result they don't articulate certain vowels and consonants the way other English speakers do:

“The average Australian speaks to just two thirds capacity – with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch; and that's just concerning articulation,” he wrote. “Missing consonants can include missing ‘t’s (impordant), ‘l’s (Austraya) and ‘s’s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially ‘a’s to ‘e’s (stending) and ‘i’s (New South Wyles), and ‘i’s to ‘oi’s (noight).”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

More proof that eating sugar is bad for your health

Many studies in the past 10 years have shown how eating less sugar will lead to weight loss in people who are obese. This Forbes story regards new research by Dr. Robert Lustig of UCSF:

A new (study) in the journal Obesity goes a little further by trying to tease apart the difference between cutting out sugar and losing weight. It argues that sugar isn’t bad because it makes you gain weight. It’s bad because it brings about other, more sinister changes to the body – metabolic changes that are distinct from weight. ...“This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it’s sugar,” said study author Robert Lustig. “This internally controlled intervention study is a solid indication that sugar contributes to metabolic syndrome, and is the strongest evidence to date that the negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity.”

Dr. Lustig showed this by examining what the effects of a sugar-free diet would be over nine days without having his obese test-subjects lose weight. The only control variable was the absence of sugar. They did not go on a calorie restrictive diet or increase their levels of exercise:

At the end of the nine days, the kids’ metabolic parameters did shift significantly: Their average diastolic blood pressure decreased by 5 mmHg; their triglycerides were lowered by 33 points; their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol went down 10 points; insulin levels were reduced by a third, and fasting glucose and liver function tests improved. “All of the surrogate measures of metabolic health got better, just by substituting starch for sugar in their processed food – all without changing calories or weight or exercise,” said Lustig. “This study demonstrates that ‘a calorie is not a calorie.’ Where those calories come from determines where in the body they go. Sugar calories are the worst, because they turn to fat in the liver, driving insulin resistance, and driving risk for diabetes, heart, and liver disease. This has enormous implications for the food industry, chronic disease, and health care costs.”

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stocks are on the rise

In a column I wrote for The Davis Enterprise, published Nov. 26, 2014, I noted this: "On Friday, the S&P 500 index closed at 2,063.5, an all-time high."

From that date until Aug. 17 of this year, that large stocks' index stayed in a relatively narrow, 155.5 point trading range: from a low of 1,972.74 on Dec. 16, 2014 to a high of 2,128.28 on July 20, 2015. And then the bottom seemed to fall out of the S&P.

In one week in August, the index lost 229.3 points. On Aug. 18 it sold for 2,096.92; on Aug. 25 it was down to 1,867.61. All of the year's gains had been wiped out, and it was worth 90.5% of what it had been when I wrote that Enterprise column.

Much of the worry had little to do with the performance of the U.S. economy or our interest rates. It was a combination of the troubles in Europe and the declining growth rate in China. Events abroad threatened profits for American companies. But since its bottom two months ago, the S&P 500 has incrementally climbed back to where it was last November -- albeit with some big down days thrown in.

As I am writing, the index is selling for 2,065.9, almost exactly what it cost on Nov. 26, 2014. On the one hand, that represents nine months with zero gains. On the other, it is a market which has regained the confidence it had at the end of 2014, and perhaps that suggests it is poised to climb some more the last few months of 2015.

According to an article in USA Today, the optimism in stocks the last several days has largely been fueled by news from Europe and China: 

Thursday’s rally was driven by a surprisingly strong profit report from burger giant McDonald’s and hints from the European Central Bank that more stimulus could be on the way to boost flagging eurozone growth. Those drivers built on prior ones, namely the belief that the Federal Reserve will hold off on interest rate hikes until 2016 and the fact China’s economy did not implode.

An interesting, and I think important question, is how the stock market itself and the economy more generally in 2016 impacts the election hopes of each party. I would think that a strong, or at least stronger economy would serve to benefit the Democratic candidate, as long as she (Hillary Clinton?) embraces Barack Obama's economic platform. Most voters are less likely to throw out the party in power when the economy is in good shape. But no matter how strong the economy is or is not, what counts is perception. If Mrs. Clinton wants to run on the Obama economy, she will need to convince the voters that it is good. And at the same time, the Republican nominee (Donald Trump?) will do everything he can to make voters believe that the economy is in terrible shape, no matter what the stock market or other indicators suggest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why so many kids today have food allergies? Maybe our tests are the problem

Perhaps one reason why there are far more children today diagnosed with food allergies, especially peanut allergies, is that they have symptoms of another ailment, are then tested for food allergies, and they test positively, but it is a poor test.

This is exactly what happened in Dallas to “a 15-month-old girl—her stomach, arms and legs swollen and her hands and feet crusted in weeping, yellow scales.” She “was rushed to the emergency room at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.”

When eliminating the foods the child had tested allergic to did not clear up her illness, a more sophisticated test was employed. And it showed the girl did not have any food allergies.

“To her mother's astonishment, the toddler showed no adverse reaction to any of them. After a few days of steady nourishment and a course of antibiotics to clear her skin of various infections, she was released from the hospital into a life free of food restrictions.”

According to this piece in Scientific American, the problem is with false positives in the most-used food allergy tests:

Common skin-prick tests, in which a person is scratched by a needle coated with proteins from a suspect food, produce signs of irritation 50 to 60 percent of the time even when the person is not actually allergic. “When you apply the wrong test, as was the case here, you end up with false positives,” says pediatric allergist J. Andrew Bird, who co-authored a paper describing the Dallas case in 2013 in the journal Pediatrics. And you end up with a lot of people scared to eat foods that would do them no harm. Bird has said that he and a team of researchers found that 112 of 126 children who were diagnosed with multiple food allergies tolerated at least one of the foods they were cautioned might kill them.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NYT: "The Asian Advantage"

Why do Asian-Americans have so much success? As Nicholas Kristof understands, it is a simple formula: hard work, strong families and passion for education.

That is it. Yet, Kristof tries to complicate matters by suggesting that others -- well, at least blacks -- cannot emulate this model, because he says they are victims of racism and "marginalized." Kristof ignores the obvious: If blacks followed the same formula that Asians and Jews and several other groups in the U.S. have followed, any racism they faced would not matter and their success would stop them from being marginalized.

In the end, Kristof's conclusion is patronizing. He might not have intended it, but his suggestion that "others" are holding back blacks makes it clear that he does not think blacks are capable of overcoming obstacles like other groups have done.

Here is Mr. Kristof's conclusion:

To me, the success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education. Bravo! Ditto for the success of Jews, West Indians and other groups that have shown that upward mobility is possible, but let’s not exaggerate the lessons here. 

Actually, Nick, that is just what we need to do. We need to start preaching to all people the success formula, and stop telling them that their failure is someone else's fault. We also should be giving poor young people who grow up in broken homes a big financial incentive to put off having kids until they are established and capable of supporting themselves.

Why should the success of the children of Asian doctors, nurtured by teachers, be reassuring to a black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace? 

Because Asians, almost all of whom came to America destitute, have shown that discrimination is no barrier to success if you have a strong family, you work hard at school, and you have a passion for education. That would be the lesson to those blacks who fail, except folks like Kristof want the message instead to be, "You have no chance to succeed, because some people are racists. So go ahead and have out-of-wedlock births, drop out of school, and fail economically your entire life. After all, it is someone else's fault, not yours."

Disadvantage and marginalization are complex, often deeply rooted in social structures and unconscious biases, sometimes compounded by hopelessness and self-destructive behaviors, and because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can. 

That is total nonsense. Look at all the blacks who do succeed in the United States. Almost all of them follow the simple formula of family, hard work and education. It is unbelievable that this message is not being hammered home to the millions of blacks who are failures.

So, sure, let’s celebrate the success of Asian-Americans, and emulate the respect for education and strong families. But let’s not use the success of Asians to pat ourselves on the back and pretend that discrimination is history.

This is just wrong. We need to stop focusing on discrimination, as if in our society what others think can hold back those who work hard, who have strong, traditional family values and who have a passion for educational achievement. The surest route to ridding our society of lingering discrimination is that exact formula. The worst avenue is to emphasize that the formula cannot work for poor blacks because others don't think highly enough of them. The truth is that Americans think highly of those who are high achievers.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

NYT: "Carly Fiorina Really Was That Bad"

Anyone remotely interested in the campaign of Carly Fiorina for president ought to first read this biting, yet entirely reasonable column about her by Steven Rattner in the New York Times, where he explains that Mrs. Fiorina was a failure in business:

"Americans should pause on her biggest professional credential for our highest office: a short, disastrous stint atop one of America’s iconic technology companies, Hewlett-Packard. The clearest measure of her performance — and the report card preferred by Wall Street — is H.P.’s stock price, which dropped by 52 percent during her tenure of almost six years."

Fiorina did one big thing at H.P. and it was a huge disaster:

"The most ruinous aspect of Mrs. Fiorina’s tenure was her decision to acquire another “old tech” hardware company, Compaq Computer Corporation, instead of moving more heavily into services and software, as IBM did."

Virtually everyone who has examined her years as the C.E.O. of H.P. agrees she was terrible:

"Investors were so down on her that H.P.’s shares jumped by almost 7 percent on the day of her firing. And in ensuing years, she appeared on several “worst C.E.O.” lists, including those of CBS News and USA Today. In 2009, Portfolio magazine ranked her the 19th worst C.E.O. of all time and described her as a “consummate self-promoter” who was “busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered.” 

Despite being an utter failure, the idiots on the H.P. Board of Directors who hired her and later fired her paid her millions of dollars to leave that company after she ruined it:

"She banked $21 million in severance payments as part of the more than $100 million in compensation she received during what one critic called her “destructive reign of terror” (which included pushing for H.P. to acquire five corporate jets.)"

Mr. Rattner exposes the fact that Mrs. Fiorina was not just a failure as the C.E.O. at H.P. She also played an important role in destroying Lucent Technologies, a spin-off company of A.T.&T., previously known as Bell Labs:

"Less attention has been paid to her time at Lucent Technologies, where she rose through the marketing ranks, learning the sales techniques that she is now putting to good use on the stump. Soon after she left, Lucent veered off a cliff, and while she was never the chief executive, part of the company’s collapse stemmed from overly aggressive sales and loans to financially shaky customers made under her supervision."

It is especially odd that anyone thinks Fiorina is qualified to be president, given that she failed in business and has no experience in elective office:

"The lack of public service or sustained business success makes Mrs. Fiorina unqualified for the nation’s highest office. By comparison, Mitt Romney had built an extraordinarily successful investment firm and served for four years as governor of Massachusetts."