Thursday, 7 January 2016

Co-op Bank drops ethics

I've blogged many times about the crisis at the Co-op Bank in 2013-14 and attempts to plug their £3.6 billion funding gap by scalping bond and preference shareholders.  This was blocked by Mark Taber and the 3 US hedge funds with a controlling stake in the bank.

Aurelius Capital Management, Beach Point Capital Management, Silver Point Capital effectively owned the Co-op Bank, with their 80% stake, and sought to change the way it worked.  The bank offloaded non-core assets, cut stuff numbers by 21%, closed 62 branches, embarked on a membership drive and fundraising campaign.  Remaining branches have had a face lift and no doubt they are being dragged into the modern world with new computer systems.

One of the components of the drive for new customers was the assurance of their ethical standpoint, one of the major selling points throughout the Co-op Bank's history.

Now we discover that this 'ethical policy' includes closing accounts of humanitarian NGOs with no explanation to account holders.  Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa accounts and others have been closed.  Co-op spokespeople have released statements to the media about 'risk management' and organisations not meeting their standards for due diligence and sending money to certain countries.  None of this was discussed with the organisations concerned, nor negotiations on how they might reach this vague 'standard'.  Presumably the bank is referring to UK money laundering regulations (which seem to be regularly forgotten when high net worth individuals from overseas suddenly want to buy UK property.)

'Such vulture funds are as far from the ideals of the Co-operative Group’s founding fathers as could be imagined.  Where those Rochdale cobblers and cabinetmakers joined together 170 years ago for social equity through mutual ownership of their enterprises, the likes of Aurelius and Silver Point aggressively aim to enrich the few at the expense of the many.'

Various groups plan to take legal action against the bank using equality legislation.  There is no guarantee that they will succeed, given Lloyds Bank's recent success in claiming immunity from prosecution over a prospectus, by arguing that customers 'should have known what they meant to write'.

People seem surprised at the actions of Co-op Bank.  I am not.

Aurelius Capital Management is run by Mark Brodsky, a lawyer formerly employed by Elliott Associates (one of the companies owned by Paul Singer, the notoriously aggressive vulture capitalist).  Aurelius CM (together with Elliott Associates) is attempting to force the government of Argentina to pay $1.3bn following the Argentinian debt default.  Elliott was behind the firm that bought Comet and quietly moved capital offshore before leaving it to fail (and the UK taxpayer to pick up the bill for redundancies).  Paul Singer is openly acknowledged to be pro-Zionist.

'Journalist Greg Palast said their tactics resembled “negotiating while holding the pin of the grenade”.'

The aspect of this that surprises me is the wailing by liberal left-wingers in this country.  They seem astonished by the change in the Co-op bank, but unwilling to move their accounts.  If you keep your money with vulture capitalists, then you support and endorse their activities.  Happily Oxford University students still seem to have their brains switched on after the closure of their PSC account.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Upside down diabetes and heart disease

Diabetes has long been considered a disease of elevated blood sugar and poor insulin control.

Dr Joseph R Kraft was one of the pioneers who turned this belief upside down.  As early as 1975 stated that diabetes is a disease of excess insulin.

He showed that patients could test for normal blood sugars, but have elevated insulin levels.  Fasting blood glucose tests did not reveal the true picture.  His insulin assay demonstrated the real situation.  2 hours after glucose intake, if the insulin levels are at a high plateau (and continue), the person is at risk of arteriosclerosis.

Why does this matter?

Dr Kraft also demonstrated a direct link between diabetes and heart disease.  When diabetes remains undiagnosed, heart disease may develop causing sudden death from a heart attack.

Why didn't his approach receive wider acceptance?

Dr Kraft found that insurance companies were unwilling to change their approach to diabetes diagnosis and treatment.  Colleagues told him that members of the public were not willing to receive a diabetes diagnosis, even though they could treat it with a change in diet and lifestyle.  Dr Kraft found that a reduced intake of carbohydrates helped reduce diabetes and heart disease.

He has published a new book on the subject, which is well worth reading:

He is interviewed here (with subtitles for clarity):

Youtube:  KRAFT - Father of the Insulin Assay

Other Youtube videos present some of the material from the book:

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Blog spammer and the 'innocent' comment

I received a comment on one of my posts recently, which went something like this:

'Hi, I've been a long-time reader of your and just wanted to share something? Please email me back. Thanks! Livia 3Bisto6liviasham4'

I was sceptical and let it sit there.  Long time readers tend to sign on for updates.  I can spot regular readers in my stats by other means.  This was not one of them.

Today I did a Google search and found the same comment had appeared on a mass of blogs covering a whole range of topics from nutrition, travel, porn etc.

Whatever this person wants, they're clearly aiming to harvest email addresses.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Nigel Lawson and the Green Deal

Nigel Lawson was a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher.  He presided over the Big Bang, the deregulation of the City of London and various tax cuts.

He was interviewed recently and defended his record, blaming other governments for irresponsible deregulation, which contributed to the financial collapse in the last decade.

He criticised the burden of taxes for environmental measures, claiming that taking care of resources for future generations placed unnecessary financial pressure on current generations.

The Green Deal was an initiative introduced in 2012 by the Coalition government.  It provided loans for energy saving measures and recouped the money through energy bills.  It was criticised for being bureaucratic and enriching some unscrupulous providers.

After Nigel Lawson's interview the initiative was scrapped by the Conservative government.

Was Nigel Lawson right?

I've written before about a young couple who renovated their house to Passive House standards and regret installing central heating.  Their cosy home only required two hours of heating in 18 months.  This could have been achieved with one oil filled radiator or heated towel rails.  They could have avoided lots of  pipework, radiators and expensive boiler.  Their energy bills are very low.

My local council introduced higher building standards and required more energy saving measures.  Small builders resisted and attacked them for imposing regulations that increased costs.  The same builders returned a year later to apologise.  They explained that the projects had resulted in offers of new contracts, so the increased costs were offset by the unexpected free positive PR.

Another developer was asked to install solar panels in 6 out of 10 new build flats.  He was reluctant, but agreed.  Later he returned to request permission to install panels in the 4 remaining flats.  He realised that solar helped with marketing and enabled him to sell the development very quickly.  The aim is to build and sell as quickly as possible so that the money can be used for the next project.

My local council demolished its council buildings and commissioned new offices to reflect their aim for transparency of local government.  The architects interpreted this as a request for glass boxes.  The council now has a set of very modern and high tech greenhouses, which need a lot of heat in winter and cooling in summer.  What a pity they didn't retrofit and extend the original council building.

Businesses and individuals always take time to adapt to change.  I've yet to witness an environmental regulation that hasn't been embraced by businesses and used to their advantage, contributing to the bottom line.

One business that works with local councils to help social housing tenants reduce energy bills (by simple changes) finds that tenants are enthusiastic and more likely to pay their rent, if their bills drop.

Sadly central and local government in the UK are far behind other Northern European neighbours in taking practical steps to improve housing stock and work premises now and for the future.

Apparently we demand the right to piss money out of windows (with poor U values).

Labour leadership contest and the blue elephant

The Labour Party in the UK is currently preparing to select a new leader after the resignation of Ed Miliband.

The 4 candidates are Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.

Jeremy Corbyn was nominated by some members who wanted to stimulate debate, but didn't actually support him.  Now the campaign seems to be focussed mainly on keeping Corbyn out.  Various elder statesmen and business donors have weighed in to warn that if Corbyn became leader, Labour would lose the next few elections and the support of major donors.

Sadly no one seems to understand the way the mind works.

If I say to you "Don't think of a blue elephant!" it's likely that you may picture an elephant and/or something blue.  The more people warn against Jeremy Corbyn, the more they increase 'brand awareness' and raise his profile.

Say "Don't vote for Jeremy Corbyn" and the mind deletes the negative.

What remains is:  "Vote for Jeremy Corbyn!"

It would be much better to focus on policies and ideas that engage the party.

Comedians in the media satirise Corbyn as a man stuck in the 1970s and 1980s.  They continue to raise his profile.  Jeremy Corbyn travels around talking about his ideas and refusing to talk about criticisms levelled at him by opponents and commentators.

He may not win the leadership contest, but the other candidates do not inspire confidence.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How to kill rabbits and other medical research tricks

Dr Malcolm Kendrick used the analogy of sexual abuse in a new interview.  Victims who spoke out were disbelieved and told they were making mischief and should shut up.

He compares this to modern day medical 'heretics', who challenge government health statements and guidelines, that have no basis in science.

A simple, logical narrative that is easy to understand, becomes a fixed idea in public perception, even if it is wrong.  This makes it difficult to change people's minds.

One example Dr Kendrick gives is the contention that a high saturated fat diet causes heart disease.  Researchers feed rabbits such a diet and they die.  Rabbits are vegetarian and not designed to eat a high animal fat diet.  If we ate the same diet as a koala bear (ie eucalyptus leaves), we'd eventually die, because humans are designed to eat  a mixed diet including other animals.

Scientific evidence has no impact on erroneous, but deeply ingrained ideas, such as the cholesterol hypothesis.  Evidence seems only to make it stronger, as it bends out of shape to accommodate and neutralise contradictory data.

Listen to the full interview here.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Weak maths can seriously damage your health

Here's a typical news story quoting alarming figures about risk of death from eating red meat.

'The researchers analysed data from 37,698 men between 1986 and 2008 and 83,644 women between 1980 and 2008.
They said that during the study period, adding an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to someone's daily diet would increase the risk of death by 13%, of fatal cardiovascular disease by 18% and of cancer mortality by 10%. The figures for processed meat were higher, 20% for overall mortality, 21% for death from heart problems and 16% for cancer mortality.
The study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, said: "We found that a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality.'
The study is refuted here and here and here.

The focus of this post is not on any particular health problem.  I'm looking at mathematics and how medical science journalists and doctors tend not to understand the difference between relative and absolute risk.  Researchers and their publicists may grasp the distinction but blur it with alarming numbers so that their work sounds more significant.  This in turn can lead members of the public to accept prescriptions and treatment that won't improve their health or increase their lifespan.
The above article includes a number of percentages used to express risk of death by heart disease and cancer.  

Dr Malcolm Kendrick was recently interviewed on a health blog to discuss his latest book, 'Doctoring Data': 
'Say you do a study of blood pressure lowering medication with groups of 100 people.  You give one group the medication and the other group a placebo.  At the end of the year 2 people have died in the placebo group and 1 person has died in the treatment group.  The relative risk reduction is 50%.  The absolute risk reduction is 1 in 100 or 1%.  You can keep increasing the group size and the relative risk stays the same (2 versus 1 or 50% difference in the end), but the abolute risk drops:  eg in a group of 1000 the absolute risk reduction is 0.1%.  10,000 people = 50% relative risk and 0.01% absolute risk.'
How ever good the research, the news headline becomes:  "50% fewer people died on blood pressure medication."
'Saying that there is a 50% risk reduction is meaningless and pointless.  What matters is did you have a 1 in 10,000 risk to start with, a 1 in a million risk to start with or 1 in 2 risk.  If your risk is 1 in 2, then a 50% reduction is pretty damn good.  If your risk is 1 in a million, then a 50% reduction is so unimportant that it doesn't matter'.
'Medical researchers come out with relative risk reduction when talking about the benefits of a drug.  "This drug will reduce your risk of heart disease by 30%."  Well 30% of what?   Is it 30% of a really big number or a really small number?  So unless you know the underlying risk was, the relative risk is meaningless.  You can't work out what that means to you.'

This is especially important in dealing with drugs with significant side effects, such as statins.  Understanding the numbers can help you weigh up the risks and benefits of a course of treatment and help you decide what's best for you.

Dr Kendrick states that he wasn't brilliant at maths, but his father taught him a healthy level of scepticism towards the printed page.  He has found that his medical colleagues seem ignorant of the distinction between relative and absolute risk, asking him to explain the concept to them.  
If you want to be healthy and enjoy life for as long as possible, read the book and watch the video.  Learn enough maths to distinguish between risks and benefits of various treatments for you, rather than blindly accepting the advice of your doctor.  It's your life.