Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health Hazard – Sugar

Americans weigh about 40 pounds more than 40 years ago. 36% of our population is obese. Why this sudden increase in weight? The answer is sugar. Not the cane sugar from Hawaii, but corn sugar made from modified corn.

During World War II, fat man was the code name for the atomic bomb. An actually fat man didn’t appear until two hundred years ago. It was a medical rarity then and his picture still hangs in England’s Leicester Museum. Being too bariatric to work—bariatric being a polite word for obese—he charged a shilling for people to see him, which made him a rich man!

Why corn sugar?
It all started with Mr. Nixon’s appointment of Earl Butz as Secretary of Agriculture. He abolished farm subsidies and advocated that farmers “get big or get out.” His policy drove many small farmers off the land.

Large Agribusiness corporations took over. They mass-produced corn and focused on how to make it profitable. Corn became abundant and cheap, and was used to make oil, fatten pigs and cattle, and feed people. In Michael Pollan’s words, corn was turned into a huge array of “edible food-like substances.” Small farmers suffered, but the big farm corporations grew rich.

Corn became so profitable it glutted the market, and the search was on for new uses of corn. They found it in Japan where a new process had been developed to turn corn commercially into High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS, a cheap sugar substitute. Congressmen came to the industry’s aid and changed the sugar tariffs, making HFCS vastly cheaper than cane sugar. Soon, cheap HFCS was pumped into most processed foods. It gave baked goods a glossy shine and other foods a delightfully sweet taste.

Better yet, HFCS could be used to replace fat. Now low-fat yogurts, desserts, and all sorts of fat-free foods could be produced that were cheaper and supposedly “good” for you! They even tasted better because of their delightful sweetness. It caused a huge financial bonanza for the food industry.

Yet people suddenly got fat and no one could explain why, until Prof. Anthony Sclafani at the University of New York found the answer. He was experimenting with rats; when he fed them regular rat food, they did fine; when he fed them food from the supermarket, they grew huge.

Why the weight-gain?
Scientists found that sugar is highly addictive creating a warm feeling of bliss. It shuts down the hormone leptin that normally tells us that we are full. Instead, our gut keeps sending messages to the brain that we need more food. And we happily continue eating. Research shows that sugar coalesces into fat and builds up around the liver causing diabetes 2; therefore the enormous increase of the disease in children. It also coats the semen making obese men less fertile.

Research studies. The food industry and its mighty lobby are fighting these findings tooth and nail. Millions of dollars are at stake. It provides countless counter-studies to prove the contrary, while independent, objective research is lamentably underfunded. When in 1990 the World Health Organization drafted a recommendation to limit the use of corn sugar, unbelievable as it may seem, our Secretary of State, Tommy Thompson, flew to Geneva to lobby on behalf of the sugar industry. The recommendation was not made.

Sugar Synonyms. The food industry is constantly looking for new names to hide the sugar contents in our food. Here is a partial list of words used for sugar: HFCS, barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and maltose.

Did I mention the major beverage using corn sugar? Soft drinks.

Until next time,

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hitler's brief Delusion of being the Greatest Conqueror

On this fateful date, June 22nd 1941, Hitler’s mighty Wehrmacht crossed the border into Russia. 

Barbarossa was the codename for his secret preparations of the attack. He even signed a Peace Treaty with Russia—to the delight of the world and the German people who eagerly wanted peace.

Yet peace was far from Hitler’s mind; he was planning the largest military attack ever launched—three million men, 750,000 horses, 3,500 tanks, and on and on. Within seventeen days his army took 300,000 Russian prisoners and pushed deep into Russia.

However, the deeper the troops penetrated, the wider the front became. Soon it extended from the Baltic Sea in the North to the Black Sea in the South—over a thousand miles. In three short weeks German panzer divisions had pushed 450 miles into Russia. They were within 200 miles of Moscow.

Hitler was exuberant. In September, he issued orders that his Eastern Divisions be reduced because he needed men at home to build ships and planes for his final push against England and his  conquest of America.

The naval ships on his drawing board were eight times larger than the largest ship ever built. They were to carry an enormous army to invade the American continent. He could barely contain his impatience to attack that rich land of resources. After that conquest, he would be the uncontested ruler of the world. It was his vision, his goal. Then he would settle down and build his capital, the most spectacular city the world had ever seen, with monuments so grand that for millennia people would come to admire them.

“Russia is done with,” declared Hitler’s press chief Dr. Otto Dietrich in October 1941. 

That fall, German troops had crossed the Dnieper River. Kiev, the capital of the fertile Ukraine, the food basket of Russia, had fallen into German hands.

“The Ukraine is ours; it is unable to resist any more,” the radio announced, while Hitler elatedly declared to a visiting general: “No sow will ever get me out of there!”

Field Marshal Rundstedt’s troops were pushing toward the rich oil fields in the Caucasus. When Rostov was taken, Hitler declared it the greatest victory in the history of the world. It confirmed his conviction that no Greater Conqueror than he, Adolf Hitler, had ever lived. From his underground bunker in Berlin, he ordered divisions from the Ukraine to march North toward Moscow. He wanted Moscow without delay before the Russian winter set in. He also wanted the oil fields in the South. And he wanted Leningrad, the capital of Tsar Peter the Great, a thousand miles to the North. “Wipe it from the face of the earth,” he ordered.

No farther. Hitler’s field marshals objected. They had achieved the nearly impossible. They could not be pushed any further. They tried to reason with their Commander-in-Chief. They wanted to attack one area at a time, not over a thousand-mile front. Their troops were exhausted. They were cut off from supplies and repair parts. In short, they were spread too thin over too large an area. Further advances would have dire consequences.

Hitler refused to listen. He knew better. He was in charge.

Several generals flew to Berlin to talk with Hitler in person. Yet Hitler wanted no discussions. He wanted absolute obedience. His orders were to be executed precisely as he gave them. He flew into violent tantrums during the meeting. His eyes bulged, his face flushed. His fist kept pounding the table while he roared at them like a man possessed.

Slimy cowards you all!” Hitler shouted at his generals. Possessed by his fantasy of greatness, he wanted Leningrad in the North, Moscow in the center, and the oil fields in the South. He wanted them now! He wanted his greatness confirmed and the world awed by his might. He threatened to recall any general who dared to differ with his strategy, and did not comply with his Wunschliste, his list of desired conquests conceived in the safety of his Berlin bunker far removed from the realities of the battlefield. With absolute determination Hitler stuck to his guns—and many of his generals lost their command or their life for daring to differ.

The first reversals. The Russian colossus shifted into gear and mobilized division after division. They fought with unexpected resilience and fierce resolve. Rostov fell back into Russian hands. Hitler furiously recalled Field Marshal Rundstedt who had brilliantly led the southern advance. Rundstedt had pleaded with Hitler for a different strategy, but Hitler had stubbornly refused to listen, he wanted nothing but accelerated victories.

Rasputiza, the Period of Mud, set in. Heavy rains turned the Russian roads into quagmire. Everything on wheels sank meter-deep into the mud and could not be moved. The men had no cables to pull them out, nor replacement parts to make repairs. They were cut off from supplies and ran out of fuel as well as food.

Yet Russia was far from being done with. It trained division after division, and four years of the most harrowing and deadly warfare ensued. Slowly, Russia annihilated Hitler’s mighty Wehrmacht.

No food, no winter clothing. A month after the Period of Mud, the barometer dropped to 30 degrees below zero. The men had no winter clothing—Hitler had denied it as unnecessary, and many, many thousand men in the prime of their life starved and froze to death. Among them two of my uncles.

Tears are clouding my vision. Until next time,

(Much of this post is taken from my book, The Madman & His Mistress—History in the Making)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's in a Name—Different Pay?

There’s no sweeter sound than to hear one’s name! It means someone is addressing us, knows us, and is talking to us. Over the years we color our name with who we are and thus identify with it. Our name obtains meaning.

It jolts us if someone misspells or mispronounces it, or calls us by someone else’s name. There may be exceptions, though. I had an aunt who was extraordinarily beautiful and was always surrounded by countless beaus—too many to remember their names. So she called them all Peter—it was her favorite name, she told them, and she got away with it. Two of them even made the change of name legal.

It’s quite important to get people’s name right. I remember a beau who wanted to marry me, but I turned him down because he kept misspelling my name. Years later when he was between marriages he asked me a second time, and years later a third time. My friends were greatly in favor of it, he had looks, money and fame; but he still misspelled my name and I kept turning him down. I’m glad I did!  Who needs a life partner who’s so absorbed in his own world that he notices nothing else?

My grandmother chose my name after the Nun Roswitha von Gandersheim who lived a thousand years ago in Germany and is still famous today for the plays she wrote—not in Latin, as was the custom then, but in German so everyone could understand them. They were all about prostitutes! and their redemption to virtue and grace.

In the 70s I applied for a job as head of a research department. The director liked my credentials and the prospect of having to pay me only half as much as the male applicants. But something bothered him. In those days, the head of a department could not be a female! It had to be a man, after all, he had to sign research reports and letters for the company and would be receiving considerable mail.

Then it came to him. His face brightened and he turned to me, “Roswitha is a nice name, but you don’t mind if we shorten it to Ros—Mr. Ros McIntosh.

How about a man’s pay?  No way!

I nodded in stunned silence. A few months later I sent him my resignation: “Thank you for hiring me as Head of your Research Department,” it said. “But change my name and hide my gender—all for a secretary's meager wage? No thank you.”

It’s an up-hill battle for women to gain equal compensation, but then, it's just as tough for men to give up that pleasant status of male superiority.