Federal Sugar Quotas Increase Demand for Corn Syrup, Increasing Suffering from Gout

Corn syrup is a substitute for sugar. Federal sugar import quotas increase the price of sugar. As a result, the demand for corn syrup increases. The result, as affirmed in the article quoted below, is an increase in Americans suffering from gout.

(p. 32) As the British and American historians Roy Porter and George Sebastian Rousseau write in “Gout: The Patrician Malady” (1998), the disease, cast by some as “a quasi-deity born of the union of Bacchus and Venus,” appeared to reach epidemic proportions in 18th-century England as more people attained affluence.

. . .

The disease has not been banished to the past, nor is it any longer the exclusive insignia of rich white men (if it ever really was). From the 1960s to the 1990s, the number of sufferers more than doubled in the United States, and that’s continued to rise.

. . .

According to data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), as of 2016, around 9.2 million American adults, 5.9 million men and 3.3 million women, were living with the disease, making up 3.9 percent of the adult population, and another 32.5 million (14.6 percent) exhibited hyperuricemia, elevated levels of uric acid, putting them at risk.

. . .

Some scientists point (p. 34) to the dramatic rise in rates of obesity — from 13.4 percent of adults in 1980 to 42.4 percent in 2017-18, again per the NHANES — since excess weight depresses kidney efficiency, and to the likely not unrelated introduction, in 1967, of high-fructose corn syrup, which can cause the body to produce higher levels of uric acid, and its wholesale embrace in the early 1980s by the American food industry and then the world.

. . .

(p. 35) The disease remains mysterious in its onset. Beyond genetic factors, high-fructose corn syrup poses a greater danger than a lobe of foie gras, cutting across class lines.

For the full story, see:

Ligaya Mishan. “The Disease of Kings.” The New York Times Style Magazine (Sunday, November 15, 2020): 32 & 34-35.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 14, 2020, and has the title “Once the Disease of Gluttonous Aristocrats, Gout Is Now Tormenting the Masses.”)

“A Safe Space for Entrepreneurs to Share Their Stories of Ascent”

(p. 1) Guy Raz is wrapping up an episode of How I Built This, his podcast about the origin stories of late capitalism, when his guest, the Israeli investor Haim Saban, gets to the good part. The throw-your-arms-aloft, finish-line moment of his personal business journey. In the story Mr. Saban is telling, he is about to make a lot of money, and then quadruple it into even more money.

Mr. Raz cuts in, astonished. “But half a billion dollars — that’s a lot of money,” he says. “I mean, wow.”

“Two billion is more,” Mr. Saban says.

“Was money — becoming really rich — did that motivate you?” Mr. Raz asks a moment later.

“You know, it wasn’t only money, but it was also money,” Mr. Saban says. “Money is a marker to success.”

There’s a moment like this in every episode of How I Built This. The guest has let his or her guard down and revealed something intimate, or financial, or financially intimate, and Mr. Raz keeps the disclosures rolling by reacting with total marvelment.

. . .

By creating a safe space for entrepreneurs to share their stories of ascent, Mr. Raz has become one of the most popular podcasters in history.

For the full story, see:

Nellie Bowles. “How Guy Raz Built ‘How I Built This’.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, November 25, 2018): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis added. In the original, the word “more” is italicized.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 23, 2018, and has the same title as the print version.)

Build a Better Chalk and a South Korean Will Beat a Path to Your Door

A cliché usually credited to Emerson says that ‘if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.’ Many, including Peter Thiel in his co-authored Zero to One, argue that the inventor of the better mousetrap needs some marketing to let the world know that her mousetrap is better. I think Thiel is mainly right, but the story quoted below suggests that sometimes the cliché may be true.

(p. A12) The bright-white sticks drop one by one into the whir and clatter of a weatherworn piece of machinery, where they are stamped with the most celebrated name in chalk: Hagoromo.

. . .

Of the thick grayish mass that emerges, four ingredients are known: calcium carbonate, clay, glue and oyster shells. The other three are a secret. In a video posted to YouTube about the chalk, an American fan offers a guess as to one of them: angel tears.

Hagoromo chalk is a cult favorite of elite academics, artists and others around the world who praise it for its silky feel, vibrant colors, scant dust and nearly unbreakable quality. Mathematicians in particular are prone to waxing poetic about it, and buying it in bulk. The YouTube video, produced by Great Big Story, has been viewed more than 18 million times.

Despite its renown, Hagoromo is still produced on a relatively small scale, using custom-made equipment, much of it run by two laborers who are identical twins — a throwback in a high-tech era where interactive displays are replacing chalkboards.

. . .

In 2014, Takayasu Watanabe, the grandson of the company’s founder, announced that Hagoromo would halt production, partly because of the industry’s declining fortunes and partly because of his own ill health.  . . .

As Mr. Watanabe was preparing to shut it down, he received a visit from Shin Hyeong-seok, who had been importing the chalk to South Korea for nearly 10 years. Mr. Shin sold the chalk through the company he started, Sejong Mall, named after King Sejong the Great, who in the 15th century created Hangeul, the Korean writing system.

Mr. Shin had discovered the chalk years before in Japan while investigating the workings of cram schools.   . . .

“I went into the teachers’ lounge and remember being mesmerized by the fluorescent-colored chalks,” he said. “And when I started writing with one, I could not put it down.”

On his trip to see Mr. Watanabe, Mr. Shin presented what he called a “crazy idea.” He, a teacher and importer with no manufacturing experience, would take over production of the chalk in South Korea. Mr. Watanabe laughed.

But Mr. Shin kept pressing. “My pitch to him was that there are many things in the world that will disappear one day, but the best-quality item should be the last to do so,” Mr. Shin said.

. . .

Takako Iwata, the second of Mr. Watanabe’s three daughters, who served as interpreter for Mr. Shin and her father, . . . said she wasn’t exactly sure how Hagoromo had become so beloved outside Japan. “I guess people who came to Japan just kept on bringing the chalk back to their home countries,” she said. “When my father was still running the company, he did not know about this huge following.”

That changed a bit, though, in his company’s final months, when he received a flood of orders, including from American professors who hoped to buy supplies large enough to last 10 years or more.

David Eisenbud, the director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, said he had bought enough to last the rest of his life.

Dr. Eisenbud is a key figure in the chalk’s popularization in the United States. He was first introduced to it years ago during a visit to the University of Tokyo. “Everything about the chalk was exquisite,” he said. “I thought, ‘Chalk is chalk,’ but I was wrong.”

He later persuaded an acquaintance to import the chalk into the United States. (Mr. Shin now sells it to American buyers through Amazon.)

Yujiro Kawamata, a Japanese mathematician who introduced Hagoromo to Dr. Eisenbud, marveled at the turn of events.

“I happened to tell Eisenbud about the chalk, which was just a tool that was a part of my everyday life, and now the whole world knows about it,” Dr. Kawamata said.

For the full story, see:

Hikari Hida and Jean Chung. “How a Beloved Chalk Bridged a Bitter Divide to Survive.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 18, 2020): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 17, 2020, and has the title “A Ride on the Assembly Line With the World’s Most Famous Chalk.”)

PayPal entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s co-authored book mentioned above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.

A.I. Lacks Common Sense: “A Broad and Often Unspoken Understanding of How the World Works”

(p. A15) Journalists like to punctuate stories about the risks of artificial intelligence—particularly long-term, humanity-threatening risks—with images of the Terminator. The idea is that unchecked robots will rise up and kill us all.

. . .

Melanie Mitchell, a computer scientist at Portland State University, is in the too-soon-to-worry camp. “My own opinion is that too much attention has been given to the risks from superintelligent AI,” she writes in “Artificial Intelligence,” “and far too little to deep learning’s lack of reliability and transparency and its vulnerability to attacks.”

. . .

Object-recognition software, for instance, can track pedestrians, detect tumors and sort photo libraries. But it doesn’t understand the content the way we do. Its obtuseness becomes sharply apparent in so-called adversarial attacks, in which only minimal changes to an image (or a sound or text file) can fool an AI into misidentifying it. Such attacks even transfer to the real world. A stop sign with a few innocuous stickers becomes a speed-limit sign.

The researchers first elucidating such vulnerabilities in neural networks—machine-learning programs inspired by the brain’s wiring—called them an “intriguing property.” Ms. Mitchell writes, “Calling this an ‘intriguing property’ of neural networks is a little like calling a hole in the hull of a fancy cruise liner a ‘thought-provoking facet’ of the ship.”

Ultimately, these systems lack common sense, a broad and often unspoken understanding of how the world works. Common sense, in turn, might require embodied experience in the world, plus the ability to abstract from it and form analogies. Much of Ms. Mitchell’s academic work concerns helping AI form analogies. It hasn’t progressed far. (No fault of hers.)

For the full review, see:

Matthew Hutson. “BOOKSHELF; Learn Like a Machine.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, November 20, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 19, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Human Compatible’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Review: Learn Like a Machine.”)

The book under review is:

Mitchell, Melanie. Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

“When I Knew More Thank Hayek” AIER YouTube Video

The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) premiered on Mon., Jan. 4, 2020, a neat YouTube video they created based on a shortened version of my article “When I Knew More Than Hayek.” [Hayek, Covid & The Use of Knowledge in Society | Kate Wand via @youtube] #Hayek #localknowledge

Water Entrepreneurs in Kathmandu: “The City Depends on Us”

(p. 1) KATHMANDU, Nepal — It had been 11 days since a ruptured valve reduced Kupondole district’s pipeline flow to a dribble, and the phones at Pradeep Tamanz’s tanker business wouldn’t stop ringing.

A Malaysian embassy residence had run perilously low on water, and the diplomats wanted to shower. They’d pay extra for a swift delivery. A coffee processing plant was on the verge of shutting down production after emptying its storage tank. It, too, would shell out whatever amount of money it would take. Across the neighborhood and other parts of the city, the calls were coming in so feverishly that Sanjay, a tanker driver, jokily wondered if he might get carjacked. “This is like liquid gold,” he said, jabbing at his precious cargo, large amounts of which seeped from every hatch. “Maybe more than gold.”

Dashing from filling stations to houses and factories and back, Mr. Tamanz tried to meet demand. His (p. 6) three tanker crews slept in one or two-hour spurts, often in the cramped, refrigerator-sized truck cabins, and kept the tankers on the road for up to 19 hours a day. He fobbed off business to competitors, an unusual practice in the cutthroat world of Kathmandu tanker men, and even sounded out a mechanic about converting a flatbed truck into a new tanker. With fat profits pouring in, the young businessman figured it might soon repay its cost.

But no matter how hard the crews worked or how furiously they pushed their lumbering vehicles over the potholed roads, there was no satisfying the city’s needs. The going was too slow. The water shortage too severe. By the time the pipeline was fully restored, some households had subsisted on nothing but small jerrycans for almost an entire month. “You know it’s not even peak season, but this is what happens here,” Mr. Tamanz said. “Just imagine what things would be like if we didn’t exist?” He trailed off as his phone rang once more.

In Kathmandu, as in much of South Asia and parts of the Middle East, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, these men and their tanker trucks sometimes prevent entire cities from running dry. Without them, millions of households wouldn’t have sufficient water to cook, clean or wash. Or perhaps any at all. And without them, an already deteriorating infrastructure might break down completely, as the tanker men know well. “The city depends on us,” said Maheswar Dahal, a businessman who owns six trucks in Kathmandu’s Jorpati district. “There would be disaster if we didn’t do our work.”

For the full story, see:

Peter Schwartzstein. “Merchants of Thirst.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, January 12, 2020): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated on January 13, 2020, and has the title “The Merchants of Thirst.”)

Chinese Communists “Denounced Pet Dogs as a Self-Indulgent Trend Imported From the West”

(p. A13) HONG KONG — In a southwestern corner of China, walking a dog can potentially get the animal killed by the authorities.

After receiving complaints of dogs biting children in Weixin County in Yunnan Province, officials have said they would ban dog walking and put in place a harsh three-strike penalty system.

For pet owners who flouted the ban the first strike would be a warning. Caught a second time, they would be fined. For a third offense, their dogs would be seized and killed, according to the new rules, and apparently regardless of the dogs’ behavior. The ban is set to take effect on Friday [November 20, 2020].

. . .

As recently as 2014, an op-ed in People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, denounced pet dogs as a self-indulgent trend imported from the West and a blight on “social peace and harmony.” It said that the animals’ droppings were like “land mines” on China’s streets.

For the full story, see:

Tiffany May and Amy Chang Chien. “For Some Dogs in China, A Walk Is a Capital Crime.” The New York Times (Friday, November 20, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 19, 2018, and has the title “A Chinese County Aims to Curb Dog Walking by Threatening to Kill the Dog.”)

To Force Gaffney to Retire at Age 65, They Only Let Him Teach Intro Courses; So He Taught Intro Courses Until Age 89

(p. B11) Professor Gaffney died at 96 on July 16 at Loma Linda University Medical Center, not far from the University of California, Riverside, where he taught economics for 37 years.  . . .

Taxing land is less intrusive than taxing income or estates, Professor Gaffney taught, drawing on Henry George’s influential 1879 book, “Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry Into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want With Increase of Wealth: The Remedy,” reportedly the best-selling popular book in America in the 1890s.

. . .

The idea that land creates a natural economic surplus that can be taxed with minimal economic damage has drawn supporters from across the political spectrum.

Winston Churchill declared in 1910 that the “land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

The economist Milton Friedman, another conservative, called the land-value tax “the least bad tax.”

And Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Labour Party leader, urged a land-only tax as a “fairer and more rational system of property taxation.”

The idea has never been widely embraced by lawmakers, though. Only about 20 communities in Pennsylvania impose a version of the land-value tax concept. It has also been applied in parts of Australia and Taiwan.

. . .

Mason Gaffney enrolled at Harvard University in 1941. Drafted in 1944, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Forces and served in radio communications in New Guinea and the Philippines until 1946.

Returning to civilian life, he transferred to Reed College in Oregon to complete his bachelor’s degree, unhappy that his professors at Harvard knew little of Henry George’s work. He then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, to get his doctorate.

. . .

He started teaching at the University of California, Riverside, in 1976. He once said in an interview that as he was about to turn 65 he was pressured to retire. He refused, he said, and was told he had to teach Econ 101.

“I was delighted,” he said. “I got a chance to indoctrinate students about economic theories so they weren’t stunted by the standard neoclassical texts.”

He retired in 2013, at 89.

For the full obituary, see:

David Cay Johnston. “Mason Gaffney, 96, Economics Professor Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Not Buildings.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 30, 2020): B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 26, and has the title “Mason Gaffney, Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Dies at 96.”)

The influential book by Henry George mentioned above is:

George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. 5th ed. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881.

Grandma Wong Waves a Union Jack as “a Symbol of the Rights Protected by the British Government”

(p. A11) HONG KONG — When protests swept Hong Kong last year, Alexandra Wong, better known as “Grandma Wong,” always seemed to be there. Day after day, she stood out among the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators as a small woman with short gray hair waving a large British flag.

Then, during a few tumultuous days in August [2020] when the police fired tear gas in a subway station and protesters shut down the city’s airport, Ms. Wong, 64, suddenly vanished.

. . .

Ms. Wong said she had been detained while crossing the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen on Aug. 14, and spent 15 days in administrative detention without being told of her crimes. Investigators grilled her about the protests, the British flag and whether she used violence, she said. They showed her photos of protesters and asked her if she knew them.

. . .

She was eventually released on a form of bail that prevented her from leaving Shenzhen.

. . .

Before she was released, she said, she was forced to say on video that she had not been abused while in custody, that she would not talk to the news media about her experience and that she would never protest again.

Last month, one full year after the initial bail period began, she was given the necessary paperwork allowing her to leave Shenzhen and return to Hong Kong.

. . .

For Ms. Wong, protesting now comes with greater risks. Waving a Union Jack — in her mind a symbol of the rights protected by the British government, not an endorsement of colonialism — has become “very dangerous,” she said. But detention has only strengthened her resolve for democracy.

Despite the pledges she made under duress, she continues to protest, and recently took the subway for an hour to the northeast corner of Hong Kong Island, where a trial is scheduled to begin for six young demonstrators charged with illegal assembly.

She walked to the courthouse carrying a handwritten sign: “Save HK Youths.”

For the full story, see:

Austin Ramzy. “After Vanishing in August, ‘Grandma Wong’ Returns to Hong Kong Protests.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 11, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 12, 2020, and has the title “Hong Kong Protest Icon Mysteriously Vanished. Then She Returned, Unbowed.”)


U.A.W. Spends $60,000 on Leaders’ Cigar Expenses

(p. B1) On a single day in December 2015, Gary Jones, who resigned last month as president of the United Automobile Workers, spent more than $13,000 of the union’s money at a cigar store in Arizona. His purchases included a dozen $268 boxes of Ashton Double Magnums and a dozen boxes of Ashton Monarchs at $274.50 each. “Hi Gary, Thank you & Happy New Year,” read a handwritten note from the store.

The purchases, documented by a federal complaint filed against a union leader in September, were part of more than $60,000 in cigars and cigar paraphernalia that Mr. Jones and other U.A.W. officials expensed to the union between 2014 and 2018. And the cigar purchases were in turn just a small portion of the roughly $1 million in union money that court filings say U.A.W. officials spent on golf outings, four-figure din-(p. B2)ners and monthslong villa rentals during regular retreats in Palm Springs, Calif., and elsewhere.

The scandal comes on top of an investigation into company and union officials’ improper use of millions of dollars from a joint Fiat Chrysler-U.A.W. training center. Mr. Jones’s predecessor as president, Dennis Williams, is accused of encouraging the use of Fiat Chrysler funds meant for worker education as a way to pay for the extravagant spending in Palm Springs and other places.

For the full story, see:

Noam Scheiber and Neal E. Boudette. “Living the High Life On the Workers’ Dime.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 26, 2019): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Behind a U.A.W. Crisis: Lavish Meals and Luxury Villas.”)