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My previous post got one of the lowest rankings ever. It was a perfect storm of crappiness. Some people objected to the validity of the study I mentioned, others bristled at the suggestion of any kind of control on what they eat. Some folks pointed out that if vegans had demonstrably lower health risks, there would already be special low-cost insurance for that group.

This got me wondering if vegetarians actually have fewer chronic diseases. So I put the question to you. Do you personally know anyone who has been a vegetarian for over twenty years and then got diabetes or heart disease or cancer?

For this purpose I will lump vegetarians (who eat some dairy) with vegans who don't. And remember to include only people you know personally; no celebrities and friends of friends.

Let me acknowledge that this will prove nothing. Personally, I don't know any vegetarian who has ever died, but that probably doesn't prove they are immortal. I just wonder if you collectively know plenty of vegetarians who are dropping dead from diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Obviously you know plenty of non-vegetarians with all of those problems.
 
I now present two pieces of information that are supported by the data, as far as I know. Provide a link if you know otherwise.

First, 80% of healthcare costs go toward chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Second, a huge study on diet and its correlation to disease, called The China Study, found that chronic diseases, particularly the ones I just mentioned, only get triggered if you eat a plant based diet, for the most part, regardless of your genetic propensity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study

The author's thesis, backed by a mountain of data, is that the only safe level of animal based food is zero. No milk or cheese either. Moderation simply doesn't work when it comes to eating meat. That's the data talking, not me, according to this expert. I haven't seen any data that contradicts that notion. Provide a link if you have.

As a practical matter, it would be impossible to ban meat from the diets of average Americans. But when you are talking about insurance of any sort, whether it is health or auto or hurricane, we accept the principle that risk factors can be considered in pricing. So all we need to do is charge meat eaters four times as much as vegetarians for health insurance. Over time it will create more vegetarians, for economic reasons alone, and healthcare costs will plummet.

You might say it is unfair for the insurance company to charge a higher premium for earthquake insurance to people who actually live on a fault line. But I say that's just good business.

Insurance companies shouldn't charge more to people who have preexisting or genetic problems of course, as these are things which can't be controlled. But people can certainly control their diets if they want to save money. As it stands now, vegetarians are subsidizing your cheeseburgers by paying more for health insurance than they should. (Insert counterpoint involving the non-existence of free will here.)

I want to stress that I'm not the sort of vegetarian who cares if you live or die, so long as you're enjoying yourself along the way. You can eat rusty tin cans and medical needles for all I care, so long as I don't have to subsidize it.

 
Our laws recognize a number of legal ages for various activities. You need to be 16-years old to get a driver's license, 18-years old to enlist in the armed forces, and 21-years old to drink. One can argue that the various legal ages should be adjusted up or down, but everyone generally agrees that there needs to be minimum legal ages for some types of activities.

I think we need to extend that concept. Once you reach the age of 80, a new set of legal rights should kick in. Specifically, you should be able to imbibe any drug you want, and you should have the right to doctor-assisted euthanasia.

A typical 80-year old might need a little chemical boost to make life tolerable. There isn't much chance an 80-year old will join a street gang or shorten his lifespan by much. Perhaps the law could require a full-time nurse or family caretaker to be around if the oldster wants to drop acid. I could see some restrictions on the activity, but it seems cruel to force grandpa to have a crappy last few years when science provides options.

Likewise, euthanasia should be legal after the age of 80. The cost of keeping people alive in the last months of their lives is a huge part of overall healthcare costs, and a big deal to the economy. I say if you're 80-years old, and you want to spare yourself, and society, from a painful and expensive last act, that should be your legal right.
 

A Dilbert readers sends this story...

I work at a national chain bookstore and a customer wanted to return agift he got from a different bookstore that went out of business. Forget the fact it wasn't bought from us, or the fact the customer didn't have a receipt, and forget the added insult that the product was used(the pages were written on), but it was a 2006 wall calendar. When asked why he wanted to return a 3-year-old calendar, the customer stated he just got divorced and did not want anything his wife got him and he figured all bookstores were the same. We are thinking this is why she divorced him in the first place.
 
(See prior posts if you don't already know what Cheapatopia is.)

I learned a lot about green building practices recently because we're building our own home right now and trying to make it as energy efficient as possible. Here's the main thing I learned so far: There's no practical way to know if you are making the right decisions.

Every home is different. Every house has a different size, shape, orientation to the sun, shadiness, climate, mix of materials, and so on. Likewise, every family lives differently. So the right energy-saving solution for one lifestyle might be totally wrong for another.

On the surface, most of the energy saving ideas you will encounter seem like no-brainers. For example, radiant barriers in the roof are known to be hugely effective. But if you have radiant barriers, how much do you need to insulate your walls in your particular climate, with your particular sun exposure, considering all the other energy features in your home? It would take a team of engineers to figure that out.

And how about simple decisions such as tankless water heaters versus the newer continuous hot water systems that are remarkably efficient? Common wisdom says tankless is the way to go. But does your decision change if you have a larger house with lots of bathrooms? And has anyone factored in the maintenance cost and longevity of tankless systems? And how much hot water does my particular family use anyway? A consumer can't make educated choices about this sort of thing.

Our home will have a whole house fan. It's a great technology for climates where it is hot during the day and cool at night. Unlike an attic fan that moves hot air out of the attic, the whole house fan sucks air out of the main house and pushes it into the attic and out. But do I really need it, given all the thermal mass in my home, the shaded windows on the west side, the radiant barriers, the insulation, etc.? Beats me.

My point is that even professional housing developers have no idea which energy saving solutions should be designed into their homes. At what point do you reach diminishing returns? No one knows.

In Cheapatopia, all homes will be tested with computer models before they are built. The goal will be to make the homes so well designed that heating and cooling costs (the biggest drains on energy) are minimized. Obviously the location of Cheapatopia will drive the specific energy-saving choices. Even the orientation of residential streets in Cheapatopia will be designed with sun exposure in mind. And perhaps there will be lots of underground pipes for geothermal heating and cooling. That's as "ground up" as you can design a city.

I'll bet energy use per new home could be decreased by about 75% from the current average, using existing technology, if we simply engineered homes from the ground up to be as efficient as possible.

You might have seen press reports of so-called zero energy homes. They tend to be one-of-a-kind models that are meant to make a PR point for some large energy company or developer. The basic approach is to build a modest sized home, which is automatically energy efficient, give it some good insulation, and slap a big photovoltaic system on the roof, thus generating more energy than it uses. The rest of the things they do right, from the fluorescent bulbs to the Energy Star appliances get lost in the rounding.

In Cheapatopia, all homes will be zero energy, but they won't need such large photovoltaic systems because everything else will be done right.
 
If you read the article in Wired about my voice (see yesterday's post) you know I'm interested in helping other people who have spasmodic dysphonia get the same cure that I got. They just need to know that the fix exists, and of course their health insurance needs to pay for it. As demand for the operation increases, additional surgeons will presumably learn how to do the procedure.

All you need to do is vote up the Wired article on Reddit or Digg, thus making it more likely that anyone who has spasmodic dysphonia learns there is a solution. That's the first health problem you will fix today. But I have another health issue for you to fix this morning.

Several years ago I got adult asthma. Apparently a lot of adults are getting asthma lately, which is unusual. Experts don't know why adults are suddenly getting it in large numbers. Obviously it has something to do with lifestyle or environment. But what? That's what you're going to help me answer today, thus finding a solution to a second health condition in one morning.

For the past several years my asthma was nothing more than inconvenient, and I only needed prescription inhalers for a few weeks every years. It was no big deal. But about two months ago my asthma jumped into overdrive. Even the prescription inhalers couldn't keep up. I could barely walk up stairs. What changed?

Unfortunately there were too many variables. It didn't seem to depend on where I was, or whether the pets were around. It got worse at night, but that is typical of everyone's asthma.

Perhaps it was the weeds or trees or plants sprouting in the springtime, but could they be that much worse this year than last? Maybe, but that seemed unlikely. I wasn't having any allergy symptoms.

I fired up Google and started doing some research on what opens the bronchial airways. According to several sources online, i.e. strangers with no credibility, several common foods are excellent for relieving asthma symptoms. They included apples, pears, grapes, garlic, and onions. Antioxidants in general were reportedly good, but those particular foods were singled out.

So I started snarfing down lots of apples, pears, grapes, and garlic extract pills. Within 24 hours my asthma was reduced from about a 9 on a scale of 1-10 to maybe a 3, and it has stayed that way for a week. My prescription meds easily mop up the remaining problem, and I started my regular exercise regime again.

At about the beginning of my two months of asthma hell, I had consciously deleted citrus and spicy foods from my diet because I read that they excite the bladder and make you feel the need to pee more than you should. I'm all about efficiency, so I figured peeing less would be a good thing. And it worked, on that level. (Try drinking a glass of orange juice and see how long before your bladder starts yelling at you. I'll bet you never noticed it before.)

The downside is that those same foods are, as I now hypothesize, what protected me from the worst of the asthma symptoms. And this makes me wonder if the reason more adults are getting asthma these days is a change in what we eat. Are we getting fewer antioxidants than previous generations? Or are there more pollutants and irritants now, so we need more antioxidants than before?

If you have asthma, try apples, grapes, pears, and garlic for a week. Then tell me if you feel any different. Obviously the placebo effect can't be ruled out, but if it works for you too, researchers might want to take a closer look.
 
Here's a great piece of writing in Wired about my voice.

http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/magazine/17-08/ff_adams#
 
I see in the comments that many of you believe Cheapatopia, as described in several of my blog posts, can't work because communes have been tried and failed. And besides, you wouldn't want to live in such a socialist place.

But keep in mind that Cheapatopia is designed with individual self-interest as the founding principle. The only difference between Cheapatopia and capitalism in general is that capitalism has inefficiencies that don't benefit anyone. As I write this, I'm looking out the window at seven parked cars, each of them requiring auto insurance, and none of them being used. And every home in my neighborhood has poor roof insulation because there was no market pressure on the developer to do better. Cheapatopia aims to fix the low hanging fruit. What I've described so far might not do that, but keep reading and see how close we can get.

Remember that living in Cheapatopia is optional. Plain old capitalism will always surround it. You might move to a place like Cheapatopia if, for example, you wanted to save a high percentage of your income for a period of time. Or maybe you simply don't want to work full time but still want a high quality of life. Or maybe the simple living and elevated social life appeals to you. There would be lots of different reasons for wanting to live in Cheapatopia, if only for a few years.

I submit that the closest model for Cheapatopia is not the Amish, and not any commune you have heard about. The best model is college dormitory living. In college, the meals are communal, the buildings are inexpensive, and the social life is organized and abundant. Dorm living is only appropriate for a few years of your life, to accomplish a goal. Cheapatopia is similar in concept, but more high-end and designed for families.

Today's topic is collective buying power. Imagine that the elected leaders of Cheapatopia negotiate discounts for services that are used by all residents. That would include all manner of insurance, phone service, Internet, TV, paper goods, food, and so on. You'd never again need to waste a weekend trying to figure out which cell phone plan is best, or shopping for the best insurance. Obviously the city negotiators would need to be rotated out every year to minimize corruption.

To keep health insurance rates low for all citizens of Cheapatopia, smoking would not be allowed anywhere within city limits. And no junk food or fast food would be sold in the city. I'll stop short of suggesting that everyone must be a vegetarian, but only because that's such a hot button.

Imagine that most of your meals in Cheapatopia are eaten at the city run all-you-can-eat buffets located in each neighborhood. You'd always see your neighbors at meals, and you'd never need to shop or cook or clean. Prices would be lower than regular restaurants because these eateries would be operated at cost, and food would be purchased in bulk. The food quality and variety would be excellent, at least by family standards, because this is one area in which Cheapatopia would not skimp. But if you want lobster and high end steak, you have to go to a regular restaurant.

I can also imagine that residents could get further discounts on their buffet meal plans by agreeing to work shifts at the cafeteria. Working there would be optional, and you might find it fun to work with your neighbors if only for a few hours every week. That sort of work can be fun if you know it's not your real job.

If you have guests in town, or don't want to eat at the cafeteria, you could pick up your food to go. Just place our order by Internet and your food will be ready when you show up.
 
Okay, so most of you believe the Karma system of payment that I described in the last post is redundant with cash, or at least contrary to human nature. I disagree, since I wouldn't walk your dog for cash, but I would do it for Karma points, so that I would feel free to ask you for a favor in return someday.

But I'll drop that from the plan because if Cheapatopia works in other ways, you will get to know all of your neighbors well enough to arrange for a free dog-watcher when you need one anyway.

The backbone of Cheapatopia would be social networking via the Internet. You might say Facebook does what you need, but I think something far more robust is called for.

For example, if you wanted to arrange an impromptu get together for any sport or activity, it would be nice to have a web service that matched just the right number of players, at just the right mix of skills, without much human intervention. I should be able to tell the system what I'm interested in, when I can do it, and how skilled I am. Then the system should find other players. And it should happen in minutes, because alerts would be sent to the smart phones of anyone nearby who was interested in the same thing. In Cheapatopia, every citizen is required to have a smart phone. And the city would have free WiFi everywhere.

Preparing meals could also be more organized and less expensive. It would be a lot easier to make a bunch of just one thing - say a big bowl of pasta salad - than to make several items for a meal. Imagine a system that matches you with the neighbors who have complementary dishes, and you all get together to trade Tupperware containers with your contribution. The system would keep track of whether you gave more than you got, and even things out over time.

Food preparation and games would be the primary way neighbors got to know each other. And it would substitute for more expensive recreational and dining options.

The web service should also match people who have no pets, but wish they did, with people who need their pets walked or watched while they are away. No money needs to change hands because both parties benefit in the transaction. Few things are more fun than a borrowed dog.

Likewise, you could easily find someone to watch your kid for an evening if doing so gave their own kid a playmate to keep him occupied for that time. Babysitters would be unnecessary. Parents know it's often easier to watch two kids that are amusing each other than one kid who has nothing productive to do.

Ride sharing would be made easy in Cheapatopia by this same Internet system. But the only rides you would ever need would be to the nearest airport. There would be no cars within Cheapatopia. More on that later.
 
I didn't read all the suggestions for location, but it seems clear that there could be more than one great place to put Cheapatopia. For example, some people might enjoy desert living, where the inexpensive land and plentiful solar power are a good combination. Others might prefer to live in a place with four seasons, preferably above a geothermal power source. I can imagine the roads, driveways, and sidewalks in Winter Cheapatopia being heated to 33 degrees after a snowfall, so snow removal is never an issue.

Let's assume there can be more than one Cheapatopia, and that economists and engineers can identify the best locations. Our next question is energy costs.

I'm going to back into energy costs by discussing a barter system first. Imagine that Cheapatopia uses money just like the rest of the world, but for convenience, cash is banned. All payments are made by a credit/debit card (the same card).

Beyond regular money, the citizens of Cheapatopia would have a barter system whereby they earn what I will call Karma Points for services performed. For example, if you babysit for a neighbor, or walk someone's dog, you get some Karma Points that you can later spend to pay a neighbor to mow your lawn. You can still buy all of those services with regular money too, so this is just an option.

And perhaps seniors get double Karma Points for any services they perform, and kids get half points. That way the seniors can easily get help without feeling it is charity.

The key to making Karma Points work is a robust Internet-based service that sets prices for various services and keeps track of who has how many points. The real purpose of this system is not just the convenience of getting stuff done, but the social interaction it causes. Most people make their friends from their organized activities, past or present. They find their spouses and lovers the same way. Cheapatopia increases your social involvement and therefore your social life.

Bringing this back to energy costs, I wonder if there is some modern equivalent of pyramid building, without the alleged slavery, that can be applied to modern times. Could a community build an energy source through its volunteer labor that would be otherwise uneconomical?

For example, if you build an enormously tall tower, and put a wind turbine inside it, the natural air flow from the chimney effect creates energy. It's called a solar updraft tower.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower


Could citizens be enlisted, voluntarily, to contribute labor to building such a massive energy structure in return for Karma Points, or even reduced energy bills? I don't see it being practical either, but maybe you do, using some sort of pyramid design instead of a tower. Assume real estate and labor are both cheap, and the project can last 20 years. The immediate benefit is in the social interaction it causes, and the collective goal.

Or suppose the city of Cheapatopia creates its own factory for building the type of equipment used in huge solar power plant generation. The most economical types are the plants that concentrate sunlight on tubes filled with water, thus generating steam to power turbines. Cheapatopia could be its own first customer. The beauty of this system is that it is modular. The more units you set up in the desert, the more power.

If Cheapatopia is located where there is more wind than sun, then the enterprise could busy itself making windmills. The point is that the city could be organized around the production of its own energy, both for social reasons and for economics. Once Cheapatopia met all of its own energy needs it could become a provider to others, using the profits for city improvements.

 
 
 
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