Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rethinking African Political Structures Along Ethically-grounded Lines - Draft Thoughts

[This article constitutes some rough 'draft thoughts' and is a work-in-progress, potentially subject to substantial re-editing - input and comments welcome - these ideas are not 'fully-formed', and it's a complex issue. The slightly ambitious question is really, what political changes 'should' we make in Africa if we were to broadly expand liberty and increase the protection of individual rights.]

"Africa Before the Scramble, 1876"
The concept of "illegal immigrant" as it pertains to African countries is historically based primarily on colonially defined borders (e.g. Berlin Conference 1884-85, i.e. the "Scramble for Africa", and later 'tweaks' to the lines drawn on maps ... in some cases the colonists even effectively drew these lines right through local communities, splitting them - e.g. the Batswana groups have been split across four countries: Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe). As compared to precolonial Africa, the borders (and the concept of "illegal immigrant" itself) were effectively an 'invention' of the colonists, imposed by force, that restricted people across Africa from exercising their right to freedom of travel across the African continent - e.g. they were (by and large) more free to travel before colonists came and declared that such traveling is "illegal". How can an African be "illegal" just for traveling in Africa? *

On the other end though, I largely (at least, in the current context) disagree with the concept of a 'unified African government' or even (roughly speaking) a 'United States of Africa' (I think if based on the current framework, that would be a disaster - it would only make it easier for corrupt politicians and 'Corporatocrats' to commit injustices, and current injustices within countries - e.g. crony-capitalist mineral 'ownership/rights' models, e.g. South African Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act which benefits mining cartels at the expense of the people, would probably be tragically 'writ large' on a continental scale). If a 'federated African government' were to arise, it would have to be with the express purpose of protecting individual rights, not violating them - it is unclear how in the current climate this could be prevented from happening and seems unlikely (there would need to be a widespread culture of respecting individual rights to begin with - this is absent) ... a Constitutional 'Bill of Rights' seems to have helped a little bit for the USA, but only to a limited degree, and hasn't prevented large-scale individual rights violations. I also would be in objection to any attempts to impose a single 'African fiat currency'.

I think a more appropriate and ethical approach for Africa would be something between what we have now (e.g. we might consider** [debatable?]) retaining most borders themselves, but re-conceptualize their purpose - e.g. perhaps just do a criminal/terrorist background check at the border, but otherwise mostly just rubber-stamp the movement of most travelers), and a 'Wisslerian' city-state model ***. (I think the city-state model is in some (perhaps rather loose/limited) ways conceptually closer to Africa's civilizational structures prior to colonization than what we have now.)

I also think we should create something similar to the Schengen area for Southern Africa (or ideally ultimately most [all?] of Africa) - e.g. members of Southern African countries should (by and large) be allowed to travel, move, settle, start businesses etc., and work in the other member countries. However, this should never be at the expense of 'ceding local rights' to centralized authorities/governmental structures - the primary and express purpose should be to free individuals - i.e. allowing individuals to exercise their natural rights (e.g. freedom of movement, freedom to travel and settle and work in other African / Southern African countries, the right to own property, the right to freedom of trade, freedom from imposition of unjust customs duties and taxes, etc.). Apart from being more just, this would likely 'incidentally' foster greater economic prosperity and more economic opportunities for Africans. (E.g. in the USA or EU it's easy, say, for members to move to other states or member nations to work, start businesses, trade, etc. - in Africa, Africans cannot easily do any of these due to the restrictive borders and legal regimes between African countries - so e.g. much basic trade or travel cannot take place, workers can't easily move to where there are employment opportunities across borders, etc.)

* Migrants who actually commit real crimes (e.g. theft) should be arrested and subjected to due process (or deported [debatable?]). The majority of so-called "illegal" immigrants don't commit crimes - most attempt to interact with locals on a mutually voluntary basis, and try to earn a living from 'honest employment'.

** Or perhaps the members of countries themselves should decide on this - but only insofar as they aren't violating the natural rights of others (it seems to me that many/most Africans today seem to feel a sense of 'national identity' with their colonially-defined jurisdictions - it seems unlikely they would want to shed this - my impression is most Africans identify in a positive way with their 'national identities', in spite of the historical origins thereof - so I'm not sure the answer is 'do away with the colonial borders' [open question?]).

Friday, February 26, 2016

New paintings

I'll be exhibiting four new paintings at the Members Exhibition of the Arts Association of Bellville, opening Wednesday 2 March 18:30 and running until 19 March (public library building, Carl Van Aswegen St, Bellville, Cape Town -33.9019889,18.6265181). Please stop by and have a look if you're around. (If any interested buyers, or if you want any more info etc., please contact me via this form.)

nude on couch - oil on canvas

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New oil paintings

I'll be submitting these two small oil paintings for the fundraising exhibition "Tiny Treasures II" (more info) at Art.b community gallery in Bellville (Cape Town) (8 - 29 July 2015) (stop by and have a look if you're in the area!)

Nude by Window - Oil on canvas 20x20cm

Woman on Couch - Oil on canvas (click here for painting process video)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Some Science on Low-Carb Diets

The 'tl;dr' summary here is that basically, with relatively minor caveats, scientific studies generally increasingly seem to show low-carb diets to be either as good or better than alternatives, for both weight loss, and other health markers:

[Added 2016] The effects of ketogenic dieting on skeletal muscle and fat mass
"Lean body mass increased to a greater extent in the VLCKD [
Very low carbohydrate (<5 %), high fat (>70 %) ketogenic diets] ... as compared to the traditional group. Ultrasound determined muscle mass increased to a greater extent in the VLCKD group ... as compared to the traditional western group. Finally fat mass decreased to a greater extent in the VLCKD group"
[Rauch et al, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014;11(Suppl 1):P40]

[Added 2015] Dietary Intervention for Overweight and Obese Adults: Comparison of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. A Meta-Analysis
October 2015
"The probability of greater weight loss associated with low carbohydrate was >99% while the reduction in predicted risk favoring low carbohydrate was >98% … LoCHO diet was associated with modest but significantly greater improvements in weight loss and predicted ASCVD risk"
[Sackner-Bernstein J, Kanter D, Kaul S (2015) Dietary Intervention for Overweight and Obese Adults: Comparison of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. A Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0139817. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139817]

[Added 2015] Effect of low-fat diet interventions versus other diet interventions on long-term weight change in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis
December 15
"In weight loss trials, low-carbohydrate interventions led to significantly greater weight loss than did low-fat interventions … Low-fat interventions did not lead to differences in weight change compared with other higher-fat weight loss interventions … and led to a greater weight decrease only when compared with a usual diet … In weight loss trials, higher-fat weight loss interventions led to significantly greater weight loss than low-fat interventions"
[Tobias, Deirdre K et al., The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology , Volume 3 , Issue 12 , 968 - 979]

Both a Mediterranean diet and diets low in available carbohydrates protect against type 2 diabetes, study suggests
August 15, 2013
"New research shows that a Mediterranean-style diet and diets low in available carbohydrates can offer protection against type 2 diabetes"

Comparison of named diet programs finds little difference in weight loss outcomes
September 2, 2014
"In an analysis of data from nearly 50 trials including about 7,300 individuals, significant weight loss was observed with any low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet, with weight loss differences between diet programs small, findings that support the practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight"
[JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association]

Cut down on 'carbs' to reduce body fat, study authors say
June 24, 2011
"A modest reduction in consumption of carbohydrate foods may promote loss of deep belly fat, even with little or no change in weight, a new study finds"
[The Endocrine Society]

Cutting carbs is more effective than low-fat diet for insulin-resistant women, study finds
June 21, 2010
"Obese women with insulin resistance lose more weight after three months on a lower-carbohydrate diet than on a traditional low-fat diet with the same number of calories"
[The Endocrine Society]

Dieting? Study challenges notion that a calorie is just a calorie
June 26, 2012
"The study finds diets that reduce the surge in blood sugar after a meal -- either low-glycemic index or very-low carbohydrate -- may be preferable to a low-fat diet for those trying to achieve lasting weight loss"
[Children's Hospital Boston / Journal of American Medical Association]

Intermittent, low-carbohydrate diets more successful than standard dieting, study finds
December 8, 2011
"An intermittent, low-carbohydrate diet was superior to a standard, daily calorie-restricted diet for reducing weight and lowering blood levels of insulin, a cancer-promoting hormone" … "Researchers at Genesis Prevention Center at University Hospital in South Manchester, England, found that restricting carbohydrates two days per week may be a better dietary approach than a standard, daily calorie-restricted diet for preventing breast cancer and other diseases"

Limiting carbs, not calories, reduces liver fat faster, researchers find
April 19, 2011
"Curbing carbohydrates is more effective than cutting calories for individuals who want to quickly reduce the amount of fat in their liver, researchers report"
[UT Southwestern Medical Center]

Limiting carbs could reduce breast cancer recurrence in women with positive IGF1 receptor
June 10, 2014
"Dartmouth researchers have found that reducing carbohydrate intake could reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence among women whose tumor tissue is positive for the IGF-1 receptor"
[The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth / Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention]

Losing belly fat, whether from a low-carb or a low-fat diet, helps improve blood vessel function
March 13, 2012
"Overweight people who shed pounds, especially belly fat, can improve the function of their blood vessels no matter whether they are on a low-carb or a low-fat diet, according to a new study" … "… participants on the low-carb diet lost more weight and at a faster pace, on average, which has also been seen in several other studies. He says eating higher amounts of carbohydrates can slow down the rate of body fat loss while on a weight reduction diet."
[Johns Hopkins Medicine]

Low-carb, higher-fat diets add no arterial health risks to obese people seeking to lose weight, studies suggest
June 2, 2011
"Overweight and obese people looking to drop some pounds and considering one of the popular low-carbohydrate diets, along with moderate exercise, need not worry that the higher proportion of fat in such a program compared to a low-fat, high-carb diet may harm their arteries, suggests a pair of new studies by heart and vascular researchers at Johns Hopkins"
[Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions]

Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets may reduce both tumor growth rates and cancer risk
June 15, 2011
"Eating a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet may reduce the risk of cancer and slow the growth of tumors already present, according to a new study" [IN MICE] … "The study was conducted in mice, but the scientists involved agree that the strong biological findings are definitive enough that an effect in humans can be considered"
[American Association for Cancer Research]

Low-carbohydrate diet reduced inflammation in study
May 8, 2014
"A low-carbohydrate diet, but not a low-fat diet, reduces inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to research. It is known that patients with type 2 diabetes have higher levels of inflammation than those who do not have the disease, and it is believed that this may contribute to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and other complications"
[Linköping Universitet / Annals of Medicine]

Low-Carbohydrate Diets
"There is some evidence that a low-carbohydrate diet may help people lose weight more quickly than a low-fat diet and may help them maintain that weight loss ...

POUNDS LOST ... a two-year head-to-head trial comparing different weight loss strategies, found that healthy diets that varied in the proportions of different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) worked equally well in the long run, and that there was no speed advantage for one diet over another ...

The DIRECT study compared low-carb, low-fat, and Mediterranean-style diets and found that after 2 years, weight loss and maintenance were better for low-carb and Mediterranean-style diets as compared to low-fat diets. ...

... The low-carb diet was most beneficial for lowering triglycerides, the main fat-carrying particle in the bloodstream, and also delivered the biggest boost in protective HDL cholesterol ...

... a moderately low-carbohydrate diet can help the heart, as long as protein and fat selections come from healthy sources ...

A 20-year prospective study of 82,802 women looked at the relationship between lower carbohydrate diets and heart disease; a subsequent study looked at lower carbohydrate diets and risk of diabetes. Women who ate low-carbohydrate diets that were high in vegetable sources of fat or protein had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease and about a 20 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to women who ate high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets ... women who ate low-carbohydrate diets that were high in animal fats or proteins did not see any such benefits

More evidence of the heart benefits from a lower-carbohydrate approach comes from a randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart).  A healthy diet that replaced some carbohydrate with protein or fat did a better job of lowering blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol than a healthy, higher-carbohydrate diet.

Similarly, the small “EcoAtkins” weight loss trial compared a low-fat, high-carbohydrate vegetarian diet to a low-carbohydrate vegan diet that was high in vegetable protein and fat. While weight loss was similar on the two diets, study subjects who followed the low-carbohydrate “EcoAtkins” diet saw improvements in blood lipids and blood pressure."

[Harvard School of Public Health]

Low-carb vegan diet may reduce heart disease risk, weight
May 22, 2014
"In addition to weight loss, a vegan low-carbohydrate diet may also reduce the risk of heart disease by 10 percent over 10 years"
[St. Michael's Hospital / British Medical Journal Open]

Low-carb vs. low-fat diets: Clinicians weigh in
September 1, 2014
Two articles recently published review and compare the low-carb and low-fat diets. A low-carbohydrate diet is more effective for weight loss and reducing cardiovascular risk factors than a low-fat diet, they conclude
[American College of Physicians]

Starch intake may influence risk for breast cancer recurrence, study suggests
December 23, 2011
"Researchers have linked increased starch intake to a greater risk for breast cancer recurrence, according to results presented at the 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium ... "The results show that it's not just overall carbohydrates, but particularly starch" ... "Women who increased their starch intake over one year were at a much likelier risk for recurring.""
[American Association for Cancer Research]

Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors
"A systematic review and meta-analysis were carried out to study the effects of low-carbohydrate diet (LCD) on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors … A total of 23 reports, corresponding to 17 clinical investigations, were identified as meeting the pre-specified criteria. Meta-analysis carried out on data … showed the LCD to be associated with significant decreases in body weight, body mass index, abdominal circumference, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, plasma triglycerides, fasting plasma glucose, glycated haemoglobin, plasma insulin, and plasma C-reactive protein, as well as an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol … Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and creatinine did not change significantly, whereas limited data exist concerning plasma uric acid. LCD was shown to have favourable effects on body weight and major cardiovascular risk factors; however the effects on long-term health are unknown"
[Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G., Obes Rev. 2013 Feb; 14(2):183-4.]

Systematic review and meta-analysis of different dietary approaches to the management of type 2 diabetes
March 2013
"A total of 20 RCTs were included ... The low-carbohydrate, low-GI, Mediterranean, and high-protein diets all led to a greater improvement in glycemic control ... with the largest effect size seen in the Mediterranean diet. Low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diets led to greater weight loss ... with an increase in HDL seen in all diets except the high-protein diet"
[Am J Clin Nutr March 2013 vol. 97 no. 3 505-516]

List generated with tlDatabase

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Naked Truths on Women's Rights

[Image credit]
Marlise Richter, a self-described “Sex Positive Feminist”, writes on the apparently vexing question of whether women should be 'allowed' free agency:

"Stripping the tears of bleeding-heart feminists and other sex abolitionists":

"Liberal feminist Emma Powell visited Mavericks Revue Bar to investigate two pressing questions. One was how “places like this” could exist under the South African Constitution. The second was whether the stripper “girls” looked happy. Her impressions were captured in a Daily Maverick article dramatically titled “House of the Rising sun, built on misery” ...

I ask to meet some of the dancers.

Early one evening, before their work starts, I sit with four well-groomed women. They are from the UK, Romania, Brazil and South Africa. I give them copies of Ms Powell’s article. (Yes, they can read! Yes, they have opinions!)

Indignation and annoyance reign. With voices high in irritation, they describe the advantages of the job. These include making lots of money, meeting a range of interesting and well-connected men, having fun, growing their confidence, and being appreciated.

Samantha has a degree in commerce and worked in retail. She tells me she is financially independent for the first time in her life. She wished she started dancing 15 years ago. She provides me with a well-argued feminist critique of stripping, and how she is empowered by her work. There are good days and bad days, but so it is with everything in life, they say philosophically.

With some trepidation, I ask if they have been trafficked. Elizabeth shakes her head. Vehemently, she explains how no one could be forced to dance here, since they would speak up. “You could just open the window and scream across the road to the police,” she says.

One refrains is: “Why did the writer not speak to us and ask?” "

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Myth of the "Cycle of Abuse"

It's a commonly held belief that victims of child abuse are somehow 'pre-destined' to become abusers themselves. Research shows, however, that only a minority of abuse victims go on to become abusers, and that this is thus (in short) a myth: A related comic:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On "Generating Discussion"

"Generating Discussion" is not per se virtuous - after all, Hitler also "generated discussion" - a lot of discussion. It's only a virtue if you generate useful discussion.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Legal Protections for Robots?

"Please don't kick me!"
This article contemplates Extending Legal Protection to Social Robots:

"Even for fully informed adults, the difference between alive and lifelike may be muddled enough in our subconscious to warrant adopting the same attitudes toward robotic companions that we carry towards our pets. A study of Sony AIBO online message boards reveals that people were dismayed to witness the story of an AIBO being tossed into a garbage can. Not long after the Pleo robot dinosaur became commercially available in 2007, videos of Pleo “torture” began to circulate online. The comments left by viewers are strikingly polarized – while some derive amusement from the videos, others appear considerably upset, going so far as to verbally attack the originators and accuse them of horrible cruelty.

The Kantian philosophical argument for animal rights is that our actions towards non-humans reflect our morality — if we treat animals in inhumane ways, we become inhumane persons. This logically extends to the treatment of robotic companions. Given that many people already feel strongly about state-of-the-art social robot “abuse”, it may soon become more widely perceived as out of line with our social values to treat robotic companions in a way that we would not treat our pets."

This thinking appears to undermine individual rights to private property. Whether something is "property", or an independent being capable of suffering is an objective facet of reality that is independent of the subjective 'social sentiments' of those around it - e.g. if a robot is sentient and intelligent then no amount of convention can make it "my property" and legal protections should apply; conversely, if my Tamagotchi or Roomba are not sentient, then no amount of social convention or social notion of "inhumane treatment" can rightly make it illegal for me to vandalize them: Making it illegal for me to vandalize (my own) Tamagotchi would be tantamount to initiation of force against me for a victimless crime. These realities exist as objective facts - e.g. whether a Tamagotchi or R2D2 are sentient and/or can perceive pain - what really remains is for us to figure out how to determine the nature of the reality - e.g. the question is how could we know if a machine is 'sentient' enough (or capable of suffering) in some meaningful sense that it should have either full or limited 'rights' (e.g. protection from abuse, as we'd grant an animal, even if not intelligent). Not whether enough people around us are so incapable of overriding their base human instinct of anthropomorphization that they believe we should give in to popular demands to use force against innocent people for victimless crimes that irrationally upset them. This kind of thinking has led to many other unethical interventions in society, e.g. 'vice crimes'.

printf("Ouch! Stop! Please stop!");
The concept of abuse of animals doesn't inherently "logically extend" to robots because the reason animal abuse is illegal is because animals can suffer - if some particular robotic device cannot suffer then it would be an illogical "extension" - by definition, there is nothing "inhumane" about vandalizing non-sentient property*, because the definition of "inhumane" has to do with whether or not suffering occurs. Worse, laws against vandalizing your own Tamagotchi or Roomba or Aibo would actually harm someone - i.e. the person punished for a victimless crime. Thus if we are to claim "humanity", we cannot deliberately harm someone for a victimless crime - by definition that would be inhumane. So this very argument is self-contradictory. Does it seem ethical or "humane" to arrest someone and put them in prison for vandalizing (their own) piece of property that is incapable of suffering? No.

Of course if some particular robotic device is capable of suffering, then yes, protections must apply. Based on our current knowledge of physics, it's very unlikely that any existing robot matches this criterion.

(*Irrationally believing it to be inhumane doesn't make it inhumane, and much of how the modern legal system was conceptualized was precisely to protect against such emotionally-driven justifications for harming innocent people.)

(Edit: The article author, Kate Darling, gave the following brief response via Twitter: "Thanks! I discuss property in the paper this article is based on. The "crime" should only ever be one if harm to society outweighs." ... I think the notion of "outweighs" is misguided.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Receding Intelligence?

An interesting article by Natalie Wolchover on the blue-skinned people of Kentucky, and recessive traits: Will Humans Eventually All Look Like Brazilians?
"Stearns says globalization, immigration, cultural diffussion and the ease of modern travel will gradually homogenize the human population, averaging out more and more people's traits. Because recessive traits depend on two copies of the same gene pairing up in order to get expressed, these traits will express themselves more rarely, and dominant traits will become the norm. In short, blue skin is out. Brown skin is in.
Already in the United States, another recessive trait, blue eyes, has grown far less common. A 2002 study by the epidemiologists Mark Grant and Diane Lauderdale found that only 1 in 6 non-Hispanic white Americans has blue eyes, down from more than half of the U.S. white population being blue-eyed just 100 years ago."

I wonder, perhaps related mechanisms could explain why humans may be getting dumber (if it is true that we are), and if so, how we could have gotten dumber so (relatively) quickly - e.g.:
"Dr. Gerald Crabtree from Stanford University writes in the journal Trends in Genetics that humans have been steadily losing intelligence for thousands of years"