Friday, May 25, 2012

Is College Worth the Time and Money Cost?

Peter Thiel discusses the education bubble as well as his alternative to school. Note, that his alternative is not like free education, but it lacks the college costs in both time and money, while providing actual experience in doing. As a Libertarian, you can see why Peter Thiel would want to challenge colleges as they tend to promote the status quo, which bleeds into political views. Also, being able to succeed on one's own, outside of traditional paths, like college, would also be a Libertarian ideal.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Interview: Dr. Carlos Munoz On Health Topics

The responses to the interview questions may not represent the views of The Echo Boom Bomb's author. These interviews are provided to inform readers of information from experts and provide these experts with a medium where they can answer questions without any content changes. You can also read other interviews at this link. All media in articles, unless otherwise stated, was added by Tim Smith.

Is the food pyramid healthy? Are fats bad? What does a healthy diet look like? These popular questions have come up on this blog, and I continue to highlight experts willing to question some of the conventional wisdom, mainly because media increasingly report that obesity is rising. But, why is obesity rising when Americans tend to consume a high carbohydrate diet? This week, I interviewed Dr. Carlos Munoz on these topics. A little bit about Dr. Munoz:

I am a Chiropractor currently practicing in Joshua, TX (He runs the Joshua Chiropractor Center). I was born and raised in France, and graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic. I started getting interested in Nutrition more and more as I would be challenged daily with patients with conditions that would improve, but not resolve totally. Many of them would be overweight, on many medications, and still feel miserable. I started taking countless Seminars in the field of Nutrition and Functional Medicine, and I got rapidly fascinated by the subject of pro. vs. anti-inflammatory foods, and grains in particular. I naturally migrated toward the Paleo Diet and Paleo community, as it is loaded with irrefutable scientific evidence, along with plain common sense. I currently incorporate this ever growing knowledge into my practice, where I offer extensive nutritional advice, supplementation, functional lab testing, in addition to the spinal adjustment, which remains paramount.

1. The food pyramid promotes a high carbohydrate diet, with grains and pasta forming the large base of the pyramid. What, if anything, is wrong with this view?

There are so many things wrong with what the USDA promotes as a "healthy diet" that I don’t know where to begin. I usually have two answers to this common question: one based on verifiable, concise scientific evidence, the other based on more "empirical evidence."

I like to think as carbohydrates as kindling, used to burn quickly and provide an energy surge. A high carbohydrate diet as promoted by the pyramid could almost make sense if we were still living in the same biological and sociological environment as our ancestors, where our energy expenditure as hunter-gatherers would "burn" that fast yielding energy. And if not burned, it would be stored for more dire or cold times through insulin production. Fast forward several thousand of years and this high carbohydrate diet does not make any sense, as we are more sedentary than ever, food is more abundant than ever, and for most of us, exposure to extreme cold temperatures is not really an issue (clothing, heating). All the current recommendations and the ensuing Standard American Diet do is promote a constant insulin surge, leading not only to insulin resistance and diabetes, but to all kinds of other disease processes, as insulin is an inflammatory substance on the long term. The second thing wrong with the pyramid (or the "plate" I should call it, as the USDA desperately tries to make its propaganda simpler), is the absurd amount of grains that are recommended.

In my practice, this is where I usually encounter a lot of resistance, as most people have a deep, almost visceral relationship with grains. In fact, I can only think of religion, gun ownership, abortion, or immigration as topics that can actually trigger more virulent responses than the subject of grains in foods! Why is that? I don’t know. Perhaps it is because the Bible makes several references to bread and grains, or because since the first World Wars, America has truly become the "Bread basket" of the world, and therefore cereal grain agriculture is part of the culture and heritage in many regions.

However, no matter one’s attachment to grains, the current science weighs seriously against grain consumption. Without going into too much detail (I strongly recommend Dr. Loren Cordain’s book: The Paleo Diet for more information), grains were not part of our evolutionary history. In fact, cereal grains were only introduced 10,000 years ago, which seems like a long time for most, but on a historical scale represents less than…a day! The implication of this "recent" introduction of grains is important, as most humans did not evolve to digest and process grains. This still holds true today, and according to certain references, and Dr. Aristo Vojdani in particular, close to half of the world’s population have the genetic inability to break down a very important protein contained in most cereal grains: gluten. Again, without going into too much detail (books have been written on the topic), gluten is substance that if not normally broken down into micromolecules, will irritate our intestinal lining and eventually favor breaking down of the intestinal barriers, promoting a condition called "leaky gut," that in turn can result in chronic infections, pro-inflammatory states, and auto-immunity. Furthermore, grains contain all kinds of other substances also called "anti-nutrients" such as lectins and phytic acid that contribute to their poor digestibility and therefore pathogenesis.

I also mentioned earlier that without looking at the scientific, biochemical evidence, a simple, pragmatic way of refuting the validity of the Pyramid or Plate is to look at what happened to us ever since we started following these recommendations. Adele Hite, a PhD candidate at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill and famous blogger on Eathropology.com, wrote a great post, with supporting charts showing how our health drastically declined since the implementation of the US Dietary Guidelines in 1980. A recent amazing DVD by CJ Hunt, In Search of the Perfect Human Diet, points out why these guidelines were implemented, and why they were going against centuries of accumulated wisdom.

A very long answer to a short question, but it really hits a nerve with me, as this pyramid reflects a lot what is wrong with current public health policies. They are based on corporate profit, not on recent science. And we are the ones paying the price.

2. What are some popular misconceptions regarding fat and protein, and what is the truth regarding these two macronutrients?

Another question that could take years to answers, because these macronutrients are molecularly highly complex, and because again, there so many misconceptions regarding them, that the "cognitive dissonance" is extremely high. Indeed, fat has been vilified over the past 30 years, to the benefit of high carb diets, with the consequences that we know and we’ve already discussed.

I labeled carbs as "kindling" earlier, so think of fats and proteins as wood logs. They provide slow burning energy. They are also essential building blocks of everything we are. Fats are necessary for cell membrane, brain, hormone production. They are essential for the absorption of vital nutrients, such as Vitamin A, D, E, and K. Fats won’t make you fat. Carbs will make you fat. The other big misconception that sadly is still spread through the media and in the medical community is that saturated fats are bad for you and that vegetable oils are good for you. We could go on forever on this subject, but think of fat saturation as stability. The more saturated, the more stable, therefore the more resistant to heat changes, and the less likely to turn rancid or –trans. Diane Sanfilippo on her great website Balancedbites.com has great handouts that illustrate which fats are best for us for cold or hot uses. Check it out. And for those interested in the biochemical aspects of things, Chis Masterjohn is the fat nerd and has an excellent website that also refutes long-accepted myths (cholesterol causing heart disease for example), it is called www.cholesterol-and-health.com/.

Proteins. Plenty of misconceptions going on here as well. I hear often that proteins are needed to get bulky and that high proteins diet can cause kidney damage. Again, proteins are essential as they are the building blocks of every tissue in our bodies. I think that the best sources are going to be from animal sources, such as fish, poultry, red meat. Nuts and seeds are great too, and so is seaweed. One misconception that I am guilty of propagating is that one can not obtain enough protein through a vegetarian diet. Just look at a gorilla (vegetarian) and ask if he’s "bulky" enough. I just find that some people turn to vegetarianism for the wrong reasons sometimes (mainly misconceptions about animal fats and proteins), and that they don’t do it right, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. I therefore encourage them a lot to get their protein from animal sources. Soy protein probably scores high also on scale of diet myths. Through powerful marketing, women have been suckered into believing that soy would be the key to health and longevity. It is a far cry from a seed whose genes have been mangled by man, heavily contaminated with carcinogenic herbicide, and made into an unnatural chalk paste for mass consumption that raises estrogen levels, shrinks your brain

As far as your question regarding the truth, again, hard to answer without coming off in a “despotic” way. I will go with a very politically correct answer by saying that there are no truths. There is no one-size-fits all diet, and therefore no "truth" to what macronutrient is better than the other. One truth I can offer however, is that these nutrients are going be the best if they come in their wholesome, unprocessed, not denatured form (no powders for example).

3. What three behaviors contribute to poor health in the United States, and how can these be addressed?

I address this issue with every single patient as I truly believe that every disease process is a result of a body malfunction rooted in:

  1. Excessive physical stress and trauma resulting in undetected nerve damage.
  2. Poor nutrition due to over consumption of denatured, processed food-like substances.
  3. Excessive, chronic stress due to our environment.

You fix them by restoring nervous system function by working on the body structure, through adjustments and activity, by introducing human foods only, and by reducing stress effects through meditation, exercise, and good sleep hygiene.

4. If someone asked you how they can increase their insulin sensitivity, how would you advise them?

There are several things that have been proven to improve insulin sensitivity. Of course, following a diet that does not promote insulin resistance makes sense (higher fat and protein intake, lower carb intake). High Intensity Interval Training type of activity such as CrossFit has also shown benefits in that regard. On the supplementation side, I use different products containing a great herb called Gymnema Sylvestre, Vanadium, Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Cinnamon. B Vitamin, Zinc, Chromium, L-Carnitine are essential as well.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Massive Recession From the Education Bubble


Image used from xkcd.

One might think that the education bubble won't bring any recession, as some will decide to opt out of going to college. However, if the demand for college decreases, this will affect the current educational climate. For instance, will we need as many teachers and professors if people decide to opt out of school? Will some financial institutions make as much money if they don't receive interest from student loans? Will these unemployed professors and teachers create more problems in the business world by creating an over supply of people with degrees and high level credentials? Keep in mind that as a group of people join the unemployed ranks, consumption decreases, which affects other businesses not directly tied to education.

You think the job market is competitive now: just wait. Many of these professors have credentials that make average workers look like high school dropouts and some of these professors will be entering the work force to compete for the same jobs (after the education bubble explodes). This will compound the student loan debt crisis that students face - they'll have five or six figures of debt and will be competing for the same jobs that their more qualified professors will need.

Also, just as Americans lost faith in housing, Americans will lose faith in education. But where will they turn to next? Part of the increasing demand for college has been because of the housing bubble. Americans thought that housing never declines. It does. Americans think that education always pays. Actually, education isn't paying as well as you'd think even though its prices are rising.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In the Media

The New York Times recently wrote an article about the education bubble, a media outlet which has been stubborn about its possible existence. In fact, in the article listed above this, Mish, Peter Thiel and I warned about the education bubble, while New York Times' writers continued to defend education. Now, as mentioned yesterday, many students are hurting and feel misinformed.

What is the next misinformation? That the education bubble won't create any problems. Keep in mind that similar sentiments were said before the housing bubble. Nonetheless, these assertions are addressed in The Education Bubble Won’t Create A Disaster, Right?.

Think my predictions are dire? Review Mark Cuban's perspective:

It’s just a matter o time until we see the same meltdown in traditional college education. Like the real estate industry, prices will rise until the market revolts. Then it will be too late. STudents will stop taking out the loans traditional Universities expect them to. And when they do tuition will come down. And when prices come down Universities will have to cut costs beyond what they are able to. They will have so many legacy costs, from tenured professors to construction projects to research they will be saddled with legacy costs and debt in much the same way the newspaper industry was. Which will all lead to a de-levering and a de-stabilization of the University system as we know it.

And it can’t happen fast enough.

IMHO, the biggest problem the economy has is the enormous student debt new college grads and those leaving college find themselves with. In the past leaving college meant getting a job and getting a used car and/or an apartment with some friends. Yes there was student debt, but it wasn’t any where near your car payment. You could still afford the car and the apartment. Now its the exact opposite. Today, the minute you graduate college you face the challenge of debt against a college education whose value is immediately “underwater”

He nails it too: the economy won't be getting better anytime soon.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mish, Peter Thiel and I Nailed It

Once again, Mish, Peter Thiel and I continue to be right (see the education bubble) and the New York Times finally sees it:

The situation has parallels to the mortgage crisis of a few years ago, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The for-profit colleges are like the subprime lenders — attracting the limelight because they represent the worst of the problem, he said.

Ironically, other New York Times writers, like Catherine Rampell, have helped contribute to the education bubble by promoting articles showing that education always pays (I've offered to write articles for the New York Times showing the other side, especially for Economix, but they don't want that). However, this article, like many other media articles now, is helping create a zeitgeist toward education, as I predicted in when will the education bubble pop:

2. The perception of education changes. Echo Boomers were inculcated with "get a degree" messages from everywhere. As Echo Boomers mature and make less money than they expected, they will communicate their disappointment with education to the next generation. Unless Echo Boomers look back on education with rose color glasses, the next generation will hold a different outlook on education than their parents.

...

4. Students become overwhelmed by negative news. The education bubble could pop tomorrow if students suddenly became depressed about their prospects and stopped attending school. Ironically, in this case only, students might receive much better prices later if every student in higher education boycotted educational institutions (won't happen). However, if students stop believing that their education is serving them, what's the incentive for continuing to pay?

Yes, this is an education bubble warning sign:

However, this admission means that people are starting to see that education does not pay. While I expect Generation Y to continue pursuing college, Generation Z may start looking at other options. As I predicted, when students begin to believe that education no longer is worth their time and money, the bubble will pop.

On a pertinent note, applied mathematics is by far the most useful skill on the planet. A fundamental application of mathematics would have predicted both the housing and education bubbles. "To infinity and beyond" is an impossibility in reality; likewise, doing what others do only leads to a regression toward the mean.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Romney Closes In On Obama

Thanks to polls, Romney's probability of winning the 2012 election increased. Even though his popularity dropped among Twitter users, the demographic make-up of Twitter could explain this. Nonetheless, Obama also saw an increase in his probability of winning, though his popularity in some polls dropped (while his popularity on Twitter increased).

Even with Obama's comment, which many have discussed this week, the election is far from ending and anything could happen, especially if Obama decides to hurt his own probability of winning (this would encourage a "Not-Obama" vote; I don't see many people supporting Romney, but it's possible people may vote a "Not-Obama" ticket in favor of Romney).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This Is How the Education Bubble Pops ...

The education bubble is moving closer to popping, note:

What is edX?

An organization established by MIT and Harvard University that will develop an open-source technology platform to deliver online courses. EdX will support Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning on campus through tools that enrich classroom and laboratory experiences. At the same time, edX will also reach learners around the world through online course materials. The edX website will begin by hosting MITx and Harvardx content, with the goal of adding content from other universities interested in joining the platform. edX will also support the Harvard and MIT faculty in conducting research on teaching and learning.

(You can continue reading the article)

The edX program will come with a fee (I imagine this will be significantly less than annual tuition), while Khan Academy offers its material free. As these programs find users, the reputation of their users will affect their perception. This reputation will either encourage more followers (which would cause other school systems to lose members), or discourage people from using these tools.

For-profit schools will receive the first blow, with state schools eventually receiving the next blow. Currently, politicians, like with the housing bubble, are trying as hard as they can to extend to expand this bubble - keeping student loan rates as low as possible (this only encourages more borrowing for education, which devalues the significance of this "education").