Category for press issues

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Not an optimist. Not on Twitter

The writer, journalist, and thinker Ta-Nehisi Coates has been embroiled in controversy for years now. Seemingly his every move attracts controversy, (for reasons mysterious to small-town hick yours truly). Near as I can tell Coates has not been doing anything another prominent and successful writer wouldn’t like to do, such as moving to Paris for a year with his family in 2009, or writing and publishing the great The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic, or for winning the National Book Award, or for attracting a vast following on Twitter, or for purchasing a brownstone in Brooklyn, or for today abruptly pulling the plug on that media.

Wikipedia:

On December 17, 2017, the philosopher and activist Cornel West published an editorial in The Guardian with the title: “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle”.[33] The premise of the article was that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy” and, in West’s view, represents “narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neo-liberalism” by wrongly casting former PresidentBarack Obama as a successor to such figures as Malcolm X as an African-American hero.[33] West believes that Obama (which on a previous occasion he had called a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface“)[34] should never be compared to activists, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., who in their fight against white supremacy spoke out against systemic biases in predatory capitalism and war; according to West, this is because Obama, while he is of the same racial class, is part of the system that the activists should fight against.[33]

The same day, West shared the article on Twitter, attracting tweets in response from many others, including hundreds of supporters of Coates.[35][36] The next day, West’s tweet was retweeted by the alt-rightwhite supremacistRichard Spencer, who indicated tacit agreement with West’s criticism of Coates.[35][37] Shortly afterwards, Coates, who had enjoyed a following of over 1.25 million other Twitter users, deactivated his Twitter account.[35][38][39]

As Jonathan Chait remarked from bitter personal experience, “neoliberal” has become the Left’s favorite insult, and seems to mean more or less not living up to the legacy of FDR in the Great Depression. In an essay about this insult, Chait includes a pretty great joke from Lyndon Johnson, who although lionized among liberals today for the Great Society and civil rights legislation, in his time was considered a sell-out by the Left:

“What’s the difference between a cannibal and a liberal?” Johnson joked during his presidency. “A cannibal doesn’t eat his friends.”

CoatesNYTimespic

 

 

 

 

But Coates, as that look indicates, isn’t here to joke around, he’s got something important to say, and frankly, part of what he’s saying is that the news isn’t good. That’s part of his message. To make that point (in an interview lost to memory) he spoke admiringly of Elizabeth (Betsyu) Kolbert, the indefatiguable chronicler of climate change and The Sixth Extinction.

That’s why I was so appalled when Krista Tippett, the usually thoughtful spirit animating the On Being podcast, insisted on asking Coates “the optimism question,”: even after specifically promising him she wouldn’t. It’s kind of incredible and it’s right in the transcript.

Ms. Tippett: And I told you before we walked out here that I’m not gonna ask you to be optimistic.

Mr. Coates: OK, but now you are?

Ms. Tippett: No, I’m not, because I see that everywhere you go, you’re telling this truth, and then white people want you to say, “OK, so where can we find our hope?” And I was watching you on Colbert recently — somebody saw that? He really wanted you to give hope.

Here’s what I find when you write: “Our story is a tragedy. I know it sounds odd, but that belief does not depress me. It focuses me.”

Amazingly, that eloquent defense is not enough. It’s as if Tippett is driven to insist on that most American of demands from a public performance: a happy ending.

Ms. Tippett: You don’t have hope. Or you don’t want to use that word, because that word —

Mr. Coates: No, no, no.

Ms. Tippett: But you are — there’s a focus. There’s an energy…

Mr. Coates: You know what it is? I don’t actually think I’m that singular in this. I don’t know — and I don’t know if there are journalists here, but you have to understand: That’s my training. I was trained as a journalist. Journalists go out and look for things that are wrong in the world, and then they write them. And it is not the case that your editor says, “OK, that’s a cool story, but there’s no hope at the end.”

[laughter]

That’s not a thing editors say to journalists, which is what I am. And so it’s not so much that I even object to hope. It’s just that the thing I do, that’s not a criteria for. You know what I mean?

She actually still doesn’t understand, but finally corners him on one corner of American life which does “give him hope” and inspiration.

Ms. Tippett: Where I find you to be closest to what I think other people are wanting from you, when they want you to be hopeful, is when you write and speak about Malcolm X.

Mr. Coates: Yeah, he gave me hope. He did, he did.

Ms. Tippett: You talk about — he presented, more than anybody else, the possibility of what you call “collective self-creation.”

Mr. Coates: Right. Well, you know what? I would listen to his lectures, and I just felt free. It’s not “hope” like — I think what people want is, “Tell us that we’re going to get past this.”

Ms. Tippett: That it’s going to be OK.

Mr. Coates: “Tell us it’s going to be OK.” So that’s one thing, right?

But there’s a different kind of hope. There are people in the world who accept that their life ends in death, and that’s bad, but that’s what’s gonna happen. And then within that, they find joys and hopes in between: “Oh, I have the ability…”

So for Malcolm — to me, it was: I can speak about the world in a way that is reflective of my life and my community. I can do that. I don’t have to calibrate my speech. I don’t have to calibrate how I look. I don’t have to calibrate how I walk to make other people feel a certain way. I have that right.

And so that was big for me, as a writer. When I started writing, there was a school of writing that says: Given that the audience is obviously — when you reach to any size, is not gonna be majority-black — that you have to hold people’s hands. You have to explain to them. And the Malcolm influence on me said: No, you don’t. Write as you hear it. Write as you hear it.

And in fact, I don’t even think that’s a particular black thing, because if you’re black in this world, and you are gonna become educated on the — what is considered mainstream art in this world, mainstream traditions — nobody slows down for you. Nobody is gonna hold your hand [laughs] and explain The Brady Bunch to you. Nobody’s gonna do that. Catch up.

Yes. “I don’t have to calibrate how I walk to make other people feel a certain way.” Or talk, or write. Facing unpleasant facts, as Orwell said, is a job too — a job for a writer.

Full Story »

TEN EXCELLENT CLIMATE STORIES/LINKS

A New York Times primer on the 17 biggest questions people ask about climate change:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html

A New York magazine story about climate change and the dangers of extreme heat.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

A Vanity Fair article about climate change and the danger of extreme heat.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/06/extreme-heat-global-warming

A Scientific American story about the great California megaflood.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atmospheric-rivers-california-megaflood-lessons-from-forgotten-catastrophe/

A PBS Newshour primer on climate change and the civil war in Syria.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/a-major-contributor-to-the-syrian-conflict-climate-change

Daniel Swain’s superb and popular blog on California weather: Weather West.

http://weatherwest.com/

Top Eight climate change stories in the Washington Post this year:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/29/here-are-our-top-8-climate-change-stories-of-2017/?utm_term=.1ff05120d9a0

New Yorker story on why facts on important matters such as climate may not change our minds.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-mind

Stories by Andrew Revkin, of ProPublica and the NYTimes, on climate:

https://www.propublica.org/people/andrew-revkin

And, for a moment of hope, a Mother Jones story on why flying is less damaging for the atmosphere than it once was:

Why Flying Home for the Holidays Might Be Greener Than Driving

 

 

Full Story »

Free falling from disgrace: team Trump

The New York Times hired a new right-wing columnist about six months ago, and a couple of weeks of weeks back added a new leftist for the first time in a while, Michelle Goldberg, and what can I say but wow. She throws down almost as well as the recent Newsweek cover:

So here’s where we are. Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Russia also ran a giant disinformation campaign against Clinton on social media and attempted to hack voting systems in at least 21 states. In response to Russia’s election meddling, Barack Obama’s administration imposed sanctions. Upon taking office, Trump reportedly made secret efforts to lift them. He fired the F.B.I. director James Comey to stop his investigation into “this Russia thing,” as he told Lester Holt. The day after the firing, he met with Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to America, and told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

We’ve had a year of recriminations over the Clinton campaign’s failings, but Trump clawed out his minority victory only with the aid of a foreign intelligence service. On Monday we finally got indictments, but it’s been obvious for a year that this presidency is a crime.

PruittinfallfromTrumpadmindisgrace

Full Story »

Extreme hiking in Sierra and The Guardian

We’re seeing more and better coverage of hiking in the media, I think that’s fair to say. Here are today’s examples. From Sierra (magazine) a sponsored content story about two hikers, young women, working their way up the length of the Americas. 20,000 miles. Which will take years.

The hikers’ next challenge is to make it through the deserts of Chile. In these parts, precipitation is all but unheard of. The Atacama stretches a thousand kilometers south to north, with few services or natural water sources. The hikers scoured satellite maps for water sources, and reached out to social networks to find volunteers willing to make water drops.

Other solutions are decidedly low-tech. In the Atacama, they will follow roads, not trails, Hughes says. “We have made it through two of the longest dry stretches, ninety-plus kilometers [56mi], with a large ‘water’ sign on my backpack. Again and again, the generosity of strangers has carried us through the toughest stretches.”

Before encountering the Atacama, as the two women walked north from Uspallata, Argentina, they entered the southernmost outposts of the Qhapaq Ñan, the famed Inca road system connecting a diverse empire that now encompasses six countries. The stone walls, irrigation channels, and rounded huts of the tambos (former forts and storehouses) remain. The hikers set up camp among the ruins. For Hughes, it was a transcendental moment of arrival. But she also noted, “To them, this was the end of the road, the middle of nowhere. The only Incas who made it down this far were the well-walked, outcast odd-balls—like us.”

Speaking of outcasts, the next example, from The Guardian, focuses on a legendary hiker known as Nimblewill Nomad, who has left all conventional life and family behind as he became a man who walks everywhere ceaselessly.

In his 61st year on this earth, the man who calls himself Nimblewill Nomad left home and walked a very long way through the mountains – about 10 million steps, he estimates, or 4,400 miles. Then, he took another, even longer walk. And then another one. And then another. Soon, he had given away almost all of his money and taken to walking almost year-round, roaming the post-industrial wilderness of North America in what he called “a desperate search for peace”.

Excellent and personal story from the writer Robert Moor, who for three days walked with Nomad by the roads of west Texas. Nomad no longer bothers with trails, but still finds islands of wildness along the way.

The next night, we slept in a copse of gnarled oaks beside a graveyard, a shady grove carpeted with slender, rippling leaves. It was strangely lovely. Eberhart found them everywhere, these forgotten little shards of wilderness. The problem, he said, was that hikers tended to divide their lives into compartments: wilderness over here, civilization over there. “The walls that exist between each of these compartments are not there naturally,” he said. “We create them. The guy that has to stand there and look at Mount Olympus to find peace and quiet and solitude and meaning – life has escaped him totally!”’

It’s true that nature is not “out there” as Gary Snyder likes to say, but “home.” Unfortunately, it’s also true that those in search of life at home in nature are considered “odd balls” and perhaps always have been, if Bethany Hughes and Lauren Reed’s accounting of Incan walkers can be trusted. Maybe that’s okay?

SIERRA Thru-Hiking the Americas 4 WB (1)

Full Story »

Blaming the media turns vicious: May 2017

If there’s one fact in a tempestuous and confusing political scene that the vast majority of Americans agree about, it’s this:

You can’t trust the media.

According to Gallup, about 3/4ths of Americans disrespect the media. Among Republicans only 14 percent trust the media. Folks, it’s not daring and rebellious to blame the media for being irritating. It’s a daily occurrence.

Hell, it’s boring. It’s near idiotic.

Over the top? Not so much. Especially since the blaming has escalated. Reporters have gone from being verbally attacked as “among the most dishonest people on earth” to being attacked legally and physically. Funny how that happens.

A little over a week ago, a reporter in West Virginia was arrested for trying to talk to an agency director in a hallway. His crime? Asking a question. Pulitzer Prize-winner Deborah Blum reports in Undark:

On that morning in early May, Heyman, a 54-year-old journalist with the Public News Service, was running down a hallway in the West Virginia State Capitol building, waving his cell-phone recorder at Thomas E. Price, the newly installed Secretary of Health and Human Services. He was trying to get an answer on whether changes to health care law proposed by Congressional Republicans would allow health insurance companies to consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition. Such a designation could allow insurers to deny coverage to victims of abuse — principally women — or to charge them higher premiums.

Audio of Heyman’s encounter with Price went viral. “I heard that domestic violence is going to be a potential pre-existing condition,” Heyman called out upon encountering the secretary in a public corridor. “Do you think that’s right or not?” The recording is notable for many things: for the rapid thud of footsteps, for Price’s stony silence, and for Heyman’s increasingly out-of-breath and ultimately unfulfilled requests for an answer. It is also notable for concluding with the reporter’s arrest on a charge of “willful disruption of state government processes.”

But that was West Virginia, right? Couldn’t happen here.

Five days ago, in Washington, D.C. a reporter from Roll Call was pinned against the wall by two Federal Communications Commission employees and then throw out of the building. His crime?

He tried to ask a question.

From the NYTimes:

Fire days ago, a reporter said he was pinned against a wall by two security officials in a public hallway at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Thursday after he tried to ask a question of a commissioner.

The reporter, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, said the officials’ behavior did not end there. They then waited for him outside a restroom, one of them followed him to the lobby and, under the implied threat of force, ejected him from the building, Mr. Donnelly said on Friday.

And today, a Republican candidate running for Congress in Montana’s sole district, physically attacks and “body slams” a reporter to the ground for, what? Yes, asking a question:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

The attack was witnessed by a FOX News television team, which added this jaw-dropping detail.

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave.

Jacobs went to the hospital for x-rays. After a couple of hours, the police charged the candidate with assault.

When do we start calling attacks on the press attacks on our democracy?

Maybe it starts with the Billings Gazette. Tonight they pulled their endorsement of Gianforte and added:

Although we’re greatly troubled by this action against a member of the media who was just doing his job, to make this an issue of media intrusion or even a passionate defense of the role of a free press during an election would be to miss the point.

If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn’t condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn’t accept it from a man who is running to become Montana’s lone Congressional representative.

We will not stand by that kind of violence, period.

[edit]

We’d point out that all the other questionable interactions Gianforte had with reporters, including one case where he joked about ganging up on a reporter, must now be seen through a much more sinister lens. What he passed off as a joke at the time now becomes much more serious.

Last month, it turns out, Gianforte made an appearance at a high school. A man in the crowd made an allusion to strangling a reporter in the crowd. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported what happened:

According to the Ravalli Republic, at a campaign event in Hamilton in April, a man in the audience asked Gianforte “how can we rein in the news media?” The man then looked at the Republic reporter and “raised his hands as if he would like to wring his neck,” the newspaper reported. In response, Gianforte said: “It seems like there is more of us than there is of him. I don’t have a simple solution for you. I will say that doing town hall meetings and getting out and visiting with people is very important.”

Yes, in other words, it was “a joke.” About killing a reporter. Ha ha ha.

Blame the media: what a hoot!

 

Full Story »

Prez enraged by fake news of global cooling

The most amazing detail in a story today on Politico a story today on Politico is not that a piece of news sent President Trump into a rage. That seems — if reports of him shouting at CNN can be trusted — to happens on a daily basis. No, the shocking/appalling news is that 45 exploded in rage at when an aide slipped him a fake news story about how global cooling was feared by scientists back in the 1970’s.

This myth has been thoroughly disproved. John Fleck, an excellent reporter, and two highly reputable scientists published a paper on this myth almost ten years ago for the American Meteorological Society. They wrote:

An enduring popular myth suggests that in the 1970s the climate science community was predicting “global cooling” and an “imminent” ice age, an observation frequently used by those who would undermine what climate scientists say today about the prospect of global warming. A review of the literature suggests that, on the contrary, greenhouse warming even then dominated scientists’ thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth’s climate on human time scales.

Yet a national security aide named K.T. McFarland, a former candidate who lost to Hillary Clinton, and subsequently worked for FOX News, somehow put a fake Time magazine cover on this myth that sent him into a rage against the media. Politico reports:

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

Brings to mind a scary quote from “1984” recently posted by a NYTimes critic:

“When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science.”

To see the fake news cover that sent this duped individual over the edge, click here. One can only imagine the comedy routine that must have been Ivanka talking her dad out of this insanity.

Full Story »

Jerry Brown challenges Trump on climate

In a fiery speech on science, climate, and policy at the American Geophysical Union today, Gov. Jerry Brown challenged the “miasma of nonsense” from the incoming Trump administration on climate questions and promised the thousands of earth scientists in the audience that the state of California would support their work.

“Never has so much power been lodged in so few hands,” Brown said to the scientists. “But it’s not about this politician or that politician. It’s about big oil, big financial institutions. We need to mobilize all your efforts as truth tellers to fight back.”

brownspeech

Brown’s pugilistic rhetoric inspired several standing ovations from the scientists, who are being attacked in the right wing press. The incoming administration has already sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking for the names of scientists working on climate issues — an implicit threat of a witchhunt (Politico).

“The time has never been more urgent or your work never more important. The climate is changing, temperatures are rising, oceans are becoming more acidified, habitats are under stress – the world is facing tremendous danger,” said Brown at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco. “We’ve got a lot of firepower. We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the universities, we have the national labs and we have the political clout and sophistication for the battle – and we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”

Brown reminded the scientists that California has a long history of taking the lead on questions of the environment — with clean air standards from the California Air Resources Board that were eventually adopted by the Obama administration for the nation, for example. He spoke of signing memorandums of understanding with over 100 nations, states, and provinces (for more detail see the statement from his office).

I’ve never seen a more inspiring speech given at the AGU (and I’ve seen many, from the likes of James Hansen, Lonnie Thompson, et al).

“This is a big fight,” Brown said, and made it clear that he welcomed the fight. He even promised that if the incoming administration “turns off the satellites, that California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data.” (From the Sacramento Bee story, the best I’ve seen on the speech.)

But one of the most interesting turns (which has not been reported as of yet) came when the former Jesuit acolyte Brown reminded the scientists of the spiritual vice of “tepidity.” He went on to suggest that by “reduction ad absurdum” the incoming administration will make ridiculous its own dismissal of climate change.

He scoffed at right-wing “clowns in the media,” calling out Brietbart by name, for claiming that global warming is due to “cow farts.”

“Eventually the truth will prevail,” Governor Brown continued. “This is not a battle of one day or one election. This is a long-term slog into the future and you are there, the foot soldiers of change and understanding and scientific collaboration.”

Full Story »

“It’s getting worse”: Alt-Right denies NASA data

Charlie Sykes, a popular and sane host of a right-wing talk show called Right Wisconsin, a man who declared his opposition to Trump early in the campaign, just penned an editorial in Politico that warns that the “Alt-Reality” media attack/denial machine will be “emboldened” by President-Elect Trump’s victory.

As Trump slouched toward the nomination he was backed by a conservative media that had successfully created an alternative reality bubble around his candidacy. When Trump claimed that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey had celebrated the attacks on 9/11, for instance, callers to my show lined up to provide supporting evidence the only source of which was an echo chamber of partisan bloggers; listeners chimed in with evidence they had seen on Facebook linking Ted Cruz’ father to the JFK assassination.

Sykes is talking about a problem for the conservative media (such as himself) that opposed Trump, but he quickly adds that the problem will be even worse for the mainstream media.

For years, Rush Limbaugh has gibed about what he calls the “state-controlled media”—the fawning liberal news outlets that Limbaugh has long decried for their lack of critical coverage of President Obama—but we may be about to see what one actually looks like—an alt-reality news outlet operating from within 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The new media will not only provide propaganda cover for the administration, but also direct the fire of a loose confederation of conservative outlets against critics and dissenters. Already, Fox’s Sean Hannity has urged Trump to freeze out the mainstream media and talk directly to the nation.

Worse, Sykes — who was vilified by Trump followers for his lack of faith — warns of “counter-narratives” to be launched by conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and alt-right warriors such as Breitbart, run by Trump’s newly named chief advisor. Such as denying global warming for example — as in a post this week from Brietbart. Also known as lies and lying.

The headline says it all. No need to read it in the original German.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/11/24/german-professor-nasa-fiddled-climate-data-unbelievable-scale/

So the battle lines are drawn: the Trumpers will deny NASA data on global warming, using “politcally correct environmental monitoring‘ as an excuse to defund the agency, according to his science advisor Bob Walker.

Even as the Arctic is 36 degrees above normal in November (not reflected in this graph of a couple of years ago).

Which is more terrifying: the lying of the Alt-Right or a physical reality our species has never experienced?

arctic-temperature-increase-since-1880-nasa

Guess we’ll find out.

Full Story »

Earth will become like Mars: Discoverer of Global Warming

The great science reporter Andrew Revkin has been posting early newspaper stories about global warming (as we call it today). These stories go back a hundred years and more.

From his Twitter account, here’s an interesting example, featuring a talk given at a Midwestern college by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, who first calculated the consequences of adding vast amounts of a trace gas, carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere.

In an Illinois paper focusing on a talk Arrhenius gave in May of 1911, the story is headlined:

EARTH LIKE MARS?

The subheadlines (characteristic of the era) read:

Dr. Arrhenius of Sweden says Change is Gradually Taking Place

WILL NOT SUSTAIN LIFE

However, It May be 10,000 Years or More Before Carbon Di-Oxide Is Exhausted. 

The first lines of the story (sent by a reader and excerpted by Revkin) read:

“That this earth will become like the planet Mars, incapable of sustaining life, was the prediction made by Dr. Svante A. Arrhenius, Stockholm, Sweden, in a lecture at Augustana college on the subject, “The Development of the Atmosphere of Planets,” Saturday night. Dr. Arrhenius, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in l903 because of his electrolytical dissociation theory, is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on cosmogony.”

Arrhenius may have been too optimistic by 9795 years, argues Matt Davies, a Pulitizer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for Newsday.

marsmattdavies

 

 

Full Story »

Low fat, saturated fat, and sugar: the confusion continues

This month two reputable doctors, horrified by the rise in bariatric surgeries to reduce the harms associated with diabetes, published an op-ed on the front page of the Sunday Review of the NYTimes sharply suggesting that we’re doing it all wrong with it comes to medical measures recommended for diabetics.

Most doctors — and the diabetes associations — portray diabetes as an incurable disease, presaging a steady decline that may include kidney failure, amputations and blindness, as well as life-threatening heart attacks and stroke. Yet the literature on low-carbohydrate intervention for diabetes tells another story. For instance, a two-week study of 10 obese patients with Type 2 diabetes found that their glucose levels normalized and insulin sensitivity was improved by 75 percent after they went on a low-carb diet.

At our obesity clinics, we’ve seen hundreds of patients who, after cutting down on carbohydrates, lose weight and get off their medications. One patient in his 50s was a brick worker so impaired by diabetes that he had retired from his job. He came to see one of us last winter, 100 pounds overweight and panicking. He’d been taking insulin prescribed by a doctor who said he would need to take it for the rest of his life. Yet even with insurance coverage, his drugs cost hundreds of dollars a month, which he knew he couldn’t afford, any more than he could bariatric surgery.

Instead, we advised him to stop eating most of his meals out of boxes packed with processed flour and grains, replacing them with meat, eggs, nuts and even butter. Within five months, his blood-sugar levels had normalized, and he was back to working part-time. Today, he no longer needs to take insulin.

The paper ran a follow-up story by one of its best medical reporters, Gina Kolata, that cast some doubt on the simplicity of this recommendation.

But there are no large and rigorous studies showing that low-carbohydrate diets offer an advantage, and, in fact, there is not even a consensus on the definition of a low-carbohydrate diet — it can vary from doctor to doctor.

“There have been debates for literally the whole history of diabetes about which kind of diet is best,” said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, chief academic officer at Joslin, and no relation to Dr. Richard Kahn. But, he said, “the answer isn’t so straightforward.”

The diet question arose again in the public discourse with the revelation last week that the sugar industry (the Sugar Foundation) backed a study way back in the 1960’s that shifted blame for heart disease from sugar — which is where the evidence was pointing at the time – to saturated fat.

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.

It’s now the medical consensus that processed foods — which typically include unnecessarily added sugar — worsen heart disease. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that — then and now — researchers also suspect that saturated fat worsens heart disease. Saturated fat vs fat overall was an issue I wrote about a couple of years ago: although unsaturated fats, such as the olive oil that is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet, are considered healthy, the saturated fats found in butter, meat, and cheese do not get off so easily.

As NPR said, discussing the sugar study from the l960’s:

The review minimized the significance of research that suggested sugar could play a role in coronary heart disease. In some cases the scientists alleged investigator incompetence or flawed methodology.

“It is always appropriate to question the validity of individual studies,” [JAMA author] Kearns told Bloomberg via email. But, she says, “the authors applied a different standard” to different studies — looking very critically at research that implicated sugar, and ignoring problems with studies that found dangers in fat.

Exactly. As Dr. David Katz, editor of Childhood Obesity, and a professor at Yale, put it in a Forbes column:

Almost everyone who ultimately winds up considering bariatric surgery has tried every diet under the sun. When you recall that some of the most popular diets of recent years, from Atkins to South Beach, have been “low-carb,” the notion that this is the road too seldom taken can only be proffered by those lost in the woods.

A low-carb diet has certainly been among the attempts made by almost every patient I have ever referred for bariatric surgery, helped to find an alternative to it or treated after. Low-carb diets work in the short term like almost every other diet, and generally fail over time like every other diet for just about everybody.

Katz writes unusually sharply for a doctor:

As I noted recently, there is a booming cottage industry now, amplified at every turn by those directly interested in selling beef and perhaps butter, in peddling the notion that saturated fat has not only been exonerated of all ills (it has not), but is actually good for us now (but for biochemical nuance, this is plain baloney).

The problem with “the sugar did it!” is that we tend to process such revelations as an endless sequence of either/or choices: it was either sugar or saturated fat. That’s perilously silly.

Leaving aside the truly devastating environmental implications of encouraging moremeat intake by nearly 8 billion Homo sapiens at a time of climate change, desiccating aquifers, deforestation and biodiversity itself on the endangered list–there is the simple fact that dietary patterns reliably associated with good health outcomes across study methods, global populations and decades are high neither in sugar nor in saturated fat. They are, instead, high in wholesome foods, mostly plants–every time.

Or, as HL Mencken put it:

There is always a well-known solution for every problem — neat, plausible, and wrong. 

Full Story »