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Towards a new realism, or why American interventionism fails

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By Uditha Devapriya

In hindsight the interventionists got it wrong: they relied too much on the middle-classes, the civil societies, and the potential for permanent democracy in the countries they intervened in. After four years of entertaining doubts about interventionism, Condoleezza Rice argued, “A rising middle class also creates new centres of social power for political movements.” Today the middle-class in the Third World continues to grow and civil society continues to flourish. Yet democracy, apart from a roller-coaster ride of regime change which never seems to end and always produces electoral backlashes against it, has not. How come?

Charles Krauthammer called the US a “commercial republic.” If it is a commercial republic, it probably is the only one operating in a political system run by an oligarchy, maintained by an upper middle-class, tolerated by a lower middle-class, and suffered by a working class. In this it surpasses not only Athens, but also the European Powers.

What Clinton humanitarians and Bush realists failed to realise was that the rest of the world, barring Western Europe and South-East Asia, does not fit this description: we not only are averse to democracy maintained by a middle-class, we also don’t buy it. Joe Biden may write that “[t]he world does not organize itself” and that for 70 years the US “played a leading role in… animating the institutions that guide relations among nations.” Yet 70 years have ended in the present. Now is not 70 years back. Now is now. The world does not let one country, let alone one superpower, organise everything. The world does not wait.

In trying to intervene and imposing democracy, America hence strove to create an order in its image. “We’ll win hearts and minds”, ran the refrain when US forces pulled down Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square in April 2003. On the eve of the invasion a Congresswoman went on television and declared, “We’ll go in there, take out Saddam, destroy his army with clean surgical strikes, and everyone will think it’s great.” A year earlier, Dick Cheney made his case for regime change quoting Washington’s favourite Arab expert Fouad Ajami, who apparently believed Iraq would “erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.” But then the throngs didn’t greet the Americans in Kabul. They weren’t going to do so in Basra. What resulted from these interventions was an aberration.

US foreign policy has always been guided by national interest. Only once did it enjoy the status of a sole superpower, and that was between 1991 and 2001. Two camps surveying the world came up with two conclusions about the role of the US in the world order then: the end of history theorists and the clash of civilisations theorists.

The fall of the Soviet Union, which was less the work of Reagan Republicans and Thatcherite Conservatives than of Brezhnev’s entrenchment of the Nomenklatura and its contradictions with a supposedly egalitarian Communist state, was followed by ethno-nationalist-religious uprisings outside the West. Yet in the aftermath of Soviet collapse, the US gained supremacy. There was no one to challenge it. Not even Islamic fundamentalism.

The reaction in America was, as Charles Krauthammer put it, first of confusion, then of awe. Even so not all political pundits felt or believed that America should take over the rule of the world: the isolationists, or the paleoconservatives as they were to be called later, wanted out. But then this was not the time of the paleoconservatives: that would come a quarter century later with the Tea Party Movement, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump.

In the meantime, civilisation-states propped up their struggle for regional hegemony with one another: Japanese and Chinese in East Asia, Buddhists and Hindus (or rather Sinhalese and Tamils: the clash of civilisations theorists always get it wrong with South Asia) in Sri Lanka. Yet in the absence of a counterweight, the US attempted to carpet the world with the kind of order it had wanted to impose for over half a century. What resulted was the suppression of nationalism on the one hand and the frothing of nationalist tensions on the other.

Accompanying all this was a shift to the neoliberal right by political parties associated with the left or the left-of-centre: the Democrats in the US, the Labourites in the UK, the Congress in India, and of course the SLFP in Sri Lanka. Underlying them was one simple, undeniable fact: for the first time since the beginning of it all, a disparity of power put one country at the helm of the world. “There is no comparison,” Paul Kennedy famously observed.

I’ve observed that American foreign policy has always been driven by national interest. It has also been driven by the need to promote national interest. Yet with Bill Clinton’s presidency there came an impasse: a dove on the Vietnam War who rejected Reagan’s neoconservatism yet embraced his promise of free markets, how was he to reconcile his anti-conservatism with the imperative to exert US strength abroad? The Clinton administration did this by looking at the world through a new lens: liberal interventionism.

On four occasions under Clinton, liberal interventionism resorted to military action: Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. How did Cold War doves turn into humanitarian hawks there? Simple, Krauthammer argued: they saw in these countries a cause for intervention “devoid of raw national interest.” In other words these were propelled by a call to promote US interests, but those interests weren’t national interests. They were more values than interests: they used the force of moral suasion, rather than the threat of war, to intervene.

The issue here was that while liberal interventionism operated on the premise of multilateral action, it didn’t need multilateralism to act. The truth was that US administrations, regardless of whoever was in power, could have gone there and bombed the living daylights out of an entire civilisation without requiring a by-your-leave from the UN or the EU. Reagan didn’t inform Margaret Thatcher of his intention to invade Grenada even at the tail-end of the Cold War, so why should Joe Biden defend the Chemical Weapons Convention on the grounds of the “moral suasion of the entire international community”?

Liberal interventionism, then as now, works best when one superpower rules them all. It does not work when two or more rising powers challenge the hegemony of the one superpower. It does not work when multilateral institutions are used by these rising powers to pre-empt the choices that the superpower has to make to impose its will upon us all. Thus it was perfectly suited to 1990s, when Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo could happen with consensus. It was ill-suited to the end of the 1990s and the 2000s, when tensions between civilisation-states no longer made “moral suasion” good enough grounds for US intervention.

What could a viable alternative be? Certainly not Kissingerian realism. Even realists had long abandoned Kissinger’s axioms about the irrelevance of morality in relations between nations. The world was too dangerous a place to try that out: unlike earlier, when nuclear powers banded themselves into either of the two main camps (Communist and capitalist, aligned and non-aligned), now they were left to their own devices. Indeed, the flip-side to US power over the world after the Cold War was the “nationalisation” of the nuclear programme: India and Pakistan now would use the bomb not in the backdrop of detente between the US and the USSR, but in the backdrop of clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Amorality was no longer a card on the table because no one dealt that card any more: while nation-states were guided by the force of authority, there was now a moral aspect to that authority.

Iraq would have wanted to bomb Israel to preserve its power, but it also would have wanted to do so because of Arab tensions with a Jewish settlement in their territory.

In other words, what worked for the world before 1939 – Wilsonian idealism – and the world before 1991 – Kissingerian realism – would not work for the world after 1991. Underlying this disjuncture between idealism and realism was another crucial one: between neoliberalism and neoconservatism. The two would meet in the Reagan presidency.

Under Reagan neoconservatism reared its head (mainly but not only) on the foreign policy front, and neoliberalism reared its head (mainly but not only) on the domestic economic front, promoting counterinsurgency in Latin America while cutting down the welfare state and also empowering the Christian Right and ballooning defence spending. It was a potpourri, and its relevance to post-Cold War US foreign policy lies in the fact that despite differences between the two, both tended to justify action with ideal: neoliberalism with its belief in free markets against government intervention, and neoconservatism with its championing of a traditional American order against internal threats and external enemies.

The neoconservatives found their home in the Bush II presidency. For a while, they grappled with what doctrine they could invoke to justify action. Then 9/11 happened. To validate US interventions in West Asia, the Bush troupe – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle – all resorted to what Charles Krauthammer called “democratic realism.” It strove to balance the concerns of liberal interventionism with the imperatives of realism; in other words, “We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is strategic necessity – meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom.”

To say that democratic realism squared the circle would be putting it mildly: in one stroke it assuaged the concerns of liberal interventionists, who didn’t want to impose order without a humanitarian rationale for it, while alienating the isolationists, who didn’t want the US to get involved in any order imposing project, period. What it did was to substitute values for power as the overriding principle of national interest, thereby distancing itself from the Morgenthau-Carr-Kennan-Kissinger school of international relations thought.

Francis Fukuyama criticised this new realism on the basis that it was aimed at a threat far removed from Soviet Communism.

To that Krauthammer retorted: “So what?” Islamists may not have had the means of “actualising their vision”, as Fukuyama claimed it didn’t, yet as Krauthammer observed, borrowing an analogy from Nazi Germany, Hitler did not have the means of actualising his goal of overrunning Europe when he marched into the Rhineland either. The argument was convincing, and it won over mild neoconservatives in the Bush II presidency. You see it crop up in Condoleezza Rice’s article, quoted above: she envisions an “American realism for a new world”, a fusion of power and principle. Instead of imposing our will upon them, she contends, an international order “that reflects our values” would be “the best guarantee of our enduring national interest.”

How prophetic those words were – not. 12 years later, we’re gorging on the leftovers of the Trump presidency, which in the popular consciousness of Republicans got the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan, reduced its military obligations in Europe, steered the country from globalist-internationalists and democratic realists to America First, and got the job done in the economy. Were it not for the “China virus”, his supporters declare, Trump would have easily won, a point confirmed in less than expected Democratic victories even in states where they were expected to lead by wide margins.

If, for a brief moment at least, the paleoconservatives had their day in the US, it was because democratic realism, which combined the humanitarian ideals of the Clinton presidency with the neoconservatism of the Bush presidency, ended up promoting a variant of interventionism which could not really go or think beyond recreating the world in America’s image. In that sense one can say it differed in degree and not in substance from the Wilsonian idealism and the Kissingerian realism which it eschewed. Coming in the wake of the “unipolar moment” in human history, it could not survive China’s rise and Russia’s shift to the East, or the coming up of regional powers, unless it evolved a strategy of engagement with them.

America’s belief in messianism must end, not because it isn’t a superpower, but because it’s not the only major power. Therein lies the key difference between the bipolarity of the Cold War, the unipolarity of the 1990s, the nonpolarity of the early 2000s, and the multipolarity of now: this is a world which pits the US and China on a collision course with each other, with regional players siding with either side. Interventionism by the US, no matter how pure the intentions it exhibits to the world may be, will invariably end up as a failure because every country it intervenes in will oppose it. Thus the world, contrary to what President-elect Biden says, can and will organise itself, and it will do so to oppose any one power leading the race to sort everything out. Think of it as a more interlinked order in which Rome reigns in one corner and the Persians and Chinese reign in another. In that sense this is not a Cold War. It is hotter than any Cold War. And interventionism will only make it hotter. To prevent that from happening, the US needs a new doctrine. A new realism, for a new order.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

Health benefits of veganism

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That a vegan diet helps in reducing, and even removing diabetes and heart disease, is fairly well known. While generally higher in carbs, vegan diets are up to 2.4 times more effective at improving blood sugar management in people with diabetes. Vegan diets are also more effective at reducing total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to omnivorous diets

But what effect does it have on other problems of the human body.

In a study done by C. M. Clinton et al. in 2015, 40 people with osteoarthritis followed either a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet, or their regular omnivorous diet for six weeks. The vegan group reported greater improvements in symptoms, energy levels, vitality, and physical functioning, compared to the regular diet group.

Since I have had rheumatoid arthritis for the last 20 years, I was particularly interested in this study done by R. Peltonen et al printed in the British Journal of Rheumatology, 1997. This study took 43 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants consumed either a raw, vegan diet rich in lactobacilli, or their habitual omnivorous diet for one month. Participants in the vegan group also experienced significant improvements in disease symptoms, such as swollen and tender joints, much less pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness, than those continuing with their existing diet. A return to their omnivorous diet, after the study was over, again aggravated their symptoms.

A raw vegan diet is actually the answer to almost everything. But it is the most difficult thing to do. When I binge on rice and curries over several weeks, I give myself two days of just “green juice”- a mixture of whatever green vegetables/leaves we have in the kitchen, a few neem and coriander leaves, ginger, tomato, haldi, celery, beetroot, and a fruit, four times a day. This brings me back to good health immediately and makes me lose weight! In fact, every study done, on the effects of a vegan diet on weight loss, shows it to be far more effective than any other diet. I tried a vegan diet during the Covid lockdown and lost 11 kg in three months – without feeling hungry at all. In fact, now I eat only once a day and my feeling of fullness could be due to the higher intake of dietary fibre which can help people feel full. But it could also be because studies show that a vegan meal reduces the hunger hormone, ghrelin, less than a meat-containing meal, in healthy participants.

What effect does a vegan diet have on the brain? Scientists Medawar, Huhn, Villringer and Witte, reviewed 32 studies done on the effects of plant-based diets on cognition, and printed the results in Translational Psychiatry.

This is what they write, “We found robust evidence for beneficial effects of plant-based diets versus conventional diets on weight status, energy metabolism and systemic inflammation in healthy participants, obese and type-2 diabetes patients. Considering neurological or psychiatric diseases and brain functions, the systematic review yielded in six clinical trials of diverse clinical groups, i.e. migraine, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Here, mild to moderate improvement, e.g. measured by antibody levels, symptom improvement or pain frequency, was reported in five out of six studies, sometimes accompanied by weight loss”

The most important thing they found was that the body’s inflammation was much less in plant-based eaters. “The reason could be due to the abundance of anti-inflammatory molecules in plants and/or their avoidance of pro inflammatory animal-derived molecules.” This is important because inflammation leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of dementia.

A study by Song et al. estimated that statistically replacing 3% of animal protein, especially from red meat or eggs, with plant protein would significantly improve mortality rates. “This beneficial effect might however not be explained by the protein source itself, but possibly by detrimental components found in meat/eggs and milk (e.g. heme-iron, opioid-peptides, nitrosamines, antibiotics, dioxins).”

In a study done by Winston Craig on the “Health effects of vegan diets”, printed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009, he writes :

 “A vegan diet appears to be useful for increasing the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and for minimizing the intake of dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases.” In a recent report by World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO), different plant food groups were rated with respect to their ability to influence chronic disease reduction. Cancer risk reduction, associated with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, was assessed as probable/ possible risk of heart disease reduction as convincing, and lower risk of osteoporosis was assessed as probable.

Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that non vegetarians had a substantially increased risk of both colorectal and prostate cancer than did vegetarians. A vegetarian diet provides a variety of cancer-protective dietary factors. In addition, obesity is a significant factor, increasing the risk of cancer. Because the mean BMI of vegans is considerably lower than that of non-vegetarians, it may be an important protective factor for lowering cancer risk.

Fruit and vegetables are described as protective against cancer of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, and stomach, and to a lesser degree at some other sites, whereas the regular use of legumes provides a measure of protection against stomach and prostate cancer. In addition, fibre, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals in the diet, are shown to exhibit protection against various cancers, whereas allium vegetables provide protection against stomach cancer, and garlic against colorectal cancer. Foods rich in lycopene, such as tomatoes, are known to protect against prostate cancer.

Red meat and processed meat consumption are consistently associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Those with the highest intake of red meat had elevated risks, ranging from 20% to 60%, of oesophageal, liver, colorectal, and lung cancers than did those who ate the least. The use of eggs was recently shown to be associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Data suggest that legume intake is also associated with a moderate reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. Consumption of isoflavone-containing soy products during childhood, and adolescence, protects women against the risk of breast cancer later in life, whereas a high childhood dairy intake has been associated with an elevated risk of colorectal cancer in adulthood. Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that consumption of soy milk by vegetarians protected them against prostate cancer, whereas in other studies the use of dairy was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Bone health depends on more than just protein and calcium intakes. Research has shown that bone health is also influenced by nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium, and by foods such as soy and fruit and vegetables. Vegan diets do well in providing a number of those important substances. Results from 2 large cohort studies support an association between vitamin K intake and the risk of hip fracture. In the Nurses’ Health Study, middle-aged women consuming the most vitamin K, green leafy vegetables, had a 45% less risk of hip fracture. In the Framingham Heart Study, elderly men and women, who ate the largest amount of leafy vegetables, had a 65% decreased risk of hip fracture than did those who ate the least.”

Fruits and vegetables provide phytochemicals and vitamin C that boost immune function and prevent certain types of cancer. A meta-analysis on the effect of a plant-based diet concludes a beneficial effect on heart disease, cancer, overweight, body composition, glucose tolerance, digestion and mental health. You have only one body. Why don’t you take care of it ?

( To join the animal welfare

movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

 

 

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Sat Mag

Sugar is the villain, not fat

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By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

After the Second World War, with increasing affluence, the consumption of fat, sugar and fast foods increased notably, and concurrently the incidence of coronary heart disease stroke and metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, diabetes and obesity), in the U.S and Europe. It is reported that fast food outlets in the U.S doubled from 1972 to 1999 whereas obesity jumped by 113% and currently remains at 18.5%! Worldwide, obesity has tripled since 1975 and is now 9% whereas childhood obesity is even higher, being 10.9%, having increased more than tenfold across the world over the past four decades! Obesity is now a serious worldwide malady, especially of young ones for which diet is key, sugar being the main culprit!

However, since the 1950s the blame on heart disease and strokes has been laid squarely on saturated fat (SFA) consumption and elevation of blood serum cholesterol (BSC), and in the early 1970s the lipid hypothesis came into being and was globally accepted. It states that SFA consumption increases serum lipids and BSC which clogs arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. Of the three types of cholesterol, HDL, LDL and VLDL the latter two, also called the bad cholesterol are believed to clog arteries via the formation of plaques inside blood vessels whereas HDL, the so called good cholesterol, scavenges the excess serum cholesterol and transports it back to the liver. The lipid hypothesis was based on the exhaustive research findings; but despite substantial evidence contradicting the findings, the medical authorities of the U.S, supported by the American Heart Association, stood by its decision. It was reported then that in the U.S, the people feared saturated fat more than ghosts!

However, despite substantial reduction in the consumption of fat and cholesterol, over the last five decades, the incidence of heart disease hardly decreased.

Overwhelming evidence

contradicting the saturated

fat- heart disease hypothesis

A major study relating to the lipid hypothesis was the Framingham study, a longitudinal cohort study, a type of epidemiological study, that followed a group of individuals over time to determine the natural history of coronary heart disease and strokes. However, the study failed to demonstrate the expected relationship of SFA and BSC. Interestingly, William P. Castele, M D, the Director of the Study, writing an editorial in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ in July 1992 states that “in Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more calories one ate, lower the persons BSC, …. they weighed the least and were the most physically active”

Similarly, the Framingham Ischemic stroke study reported in the article titled ‘Inverse association of dietary fat with development of ischemic stroke in men’ published in the Journal of American Medical Association, by Gilman, M.W et al (1997), the authors reported an inverse association of dietary fat with the development of ischemic stroke in men; and the lowest incidence of strokes was with the highest saturated fat consumers. The duration of the study was 20 years and included 832 men.

A much publicised study by the anti-SFA lobby was the Seven Countries study of Ancel Keys, considered the leader of the ‘diet-heart hypothesis. He claimed establishing a correlation between SFA consumption and CHD . His demeanour was most confident and convincing, and many nutritionist of the day believed him and fell in line. However, this study was also subjected to a critical evaluation by a famous biometrician of the period, Wood W D P. In a publication in Statistician in 1981, he questioned how Ancel Keys selected the seven countries out of the 21 OECD countries. He pointed out that, statistically, there were 116,280 ways of selecting seven samples out of 21, and fewer than 10% of the samples gave a correlation coefficient equal to or more than 0.84, and his correlation varied from +0.9 to – 0.9 !

Then in 1990, a famous cardiologist at the time, Sir Walter Willet writing an eeditorial in the American Journal of Public Health’stated that ‘even though the focus of dietary recommendation is usually a reduction of saturated fat intake, no relation between saturated fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease was observed in the most informative prospective study to date’.

 

A landmark happening of the epoch was the diametrically opposite stand taken by Paul Dudley White, M.D, famous cardiologist in the 1970 s to support Keys from what he did in 1956! He was the President then of the American Heart Association and later cardiologist of President Eisenhower. On invitation to a television programme to support the SFA- CHD in hypothesis in 1956, he said: “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921, and I never saw an MI (myocardial infarction) patient until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil” In 1961, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and Keys diet heart hypothesis was the belief of the day. Eisenhower too was convinced by it; and apparently Dudley White changed his thinking through conviction or otherwise!

In regard to association of SFA and CHD then, the following conclusions can be drawn:

1. International epidemiology is flawed by confounding factors and selection biases;

2. Within countries, epidemiology gives little support for diet and heart disease;

3. Risk factors have largely been established by epidemiological studies, and only provide evidence of associations not of cause and effect;

4. Trends in CHD mortality not consistent with changes in amount and type of fat in the diet;

5. Less than 50% of CHD risk is accounted by known risk factors; and

no research has proved high BSC or High SFA intakes cause CHD

Villain remains at large

Concurrently with the evolution of the lipid hypothesis, Professor John Yudkin, the highly reputed British Physiologist claimed that sugar was a hazard to public health. In fact, reviewing the Ancel Keys’ data relating to the lipid hypothesis, he was astounded by the correlation of heart disease not with fat consumption but sugar. His research established that sugar processed in the liver is converted to fat before entering the blood stream. Ancel Keys was intensely aware of Yudkin’s research but called it ‘mountain of nonsense’, and accused of producing ‘propaganda’ in support of the meat and dairy industry. Sadly, the mild character Yudkin, did not positively respond to Keys. He was also vulnerable to attack by the British Sugar Bureau which dismissed his claims as ‘emotional assertions’!

Although Keys had shown a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, he failed to exclude the possibility that the disease could also be caused by something else; but his Italian partner in the Seven Country Study Allesandro Menotti, re-analyzing the data showed that sugar was the food that correlated the most with heart disease deaths, and not saturated fat! It was too late as in most countries saturated fat hypothesis was already the official position!

John Yudkin retired from his post at Queens Elizabeth College in 1971 to write his book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ which the current day nutritionists consider a masterpiece. The College, however, reneged on a promise for him to continue to use the facilities, as it had hired a fully committed supporter of the fat hypothesis to replace him, the man who built the nutrition department of the College from scratch!

Villain convicted

There is now overwhelming evidence that excessive sugar, in fact fructose, consumption in the key cause of the metabolic syndrome: hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, Alzeimer’s disease and cancer. Sucrose breaks down in the liver into 50% each of fructose and glucose.

In the US for example, the per capita sugar consumption has doubled in the last 50 years from 32kg to 63kg, and that is why despite the majority opting for a low fat diet with the advent of the lipid hypothesis, CHD rate increased. The global consumption of sugar is 23 kg per capita per year whereas, that of Sri Lanka and India, for example, are 23 and 19. The highest sugar consumer is UAE at an unbelievable 214 kg per capita per year!

Robert Lustig, M.D, a pediatric endocrinologist and a leading campaigner against excessive sugar consumption claims that fructose is a poison! Much of it is consumed via high fructose corn syrup, which is a major component in many of the sugary drinks such as coke; and 12.1% of the daily caloric intake of an adult American is via fructose. He states that hepatic fructose metabolism leads to visceral adiposity (abdominal fat accumulation) leading to all manifestations of the metabolic syndrome. Thirty percent of the fructose is said to be converted to very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) which block the blood vessels through synthesis of plaques. The LDL cholesterol, he claims is not as bad as we think.

Lustig in his much quoted 90 minute lecture titled Sugar: the bitter truth, uncompromisingly claims that sugar is the main cause of the global obesity syndrome. He argues that governments catering to the sugar mafia have overlooked the facts. It is sad that the world overlooked John Yudkin’s warning for half a century with catastrophic consequences! The American Heart Association now recommends only 9 teaspoonfuls of sugar per capita per day as against the average US consumption of 26!

In conclusion, whilst sugar is the main culprit, saturated fat cannot probably be totally absolved. Sadly the global food industry cabal too should be blamed for overlooking the health warnings. They have been hell bent on fighting one another for grocery shop space rather than heeding public health: and it is up to the governments now to be more resolute in controlling the food quality from the health perspective.

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Ranjith Rubasinghe’s journey into television (Part II)

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By Uditha Devapriya

Continued from last Saturday

Never one to abandon his education, Ruba proceeded to obtain diplomas and qualifications in journalism from the University of Colombo (where he was taught by Edwin Ariyadasa), the Open University, and the Sri Lanka Press Council. How he balanced these pursuits with what one can only describe as a hectic, rigorous schedule is probably grist for another biography; suffice it to say that, among other important lessons, he learnt that “filmmaking is no nine-to-five business.” 20-hour shoots with short breaks were very much the norm then. “Basically, if you were planning to enter the industry, you had to be prepared to work on time, overtime, all the time. Shoddiness was never tolerated. Not once.”

But these are the same values that seem to be deteriorating in the industry today. That, Ruba tells me, is attributable to the race for popularity actors and directors are enmeshed in. “They are only interested in what they can buy with what they earn. They are not interested, at least not as much as their forbearers were in my time, in sustaining the industry that fed them.” In other words, consumerism and advertising, which by no means were lacking on film and TV back in the day, have come to monopolise popular culture now.

Unfortunately for Ruba, this has a personal bearing on him also: in the early 2000s, he made the decision to jump from the assistant’s to the director’s chair.

His first television directorial venture, Ruwan Sakmana, came out in 2002. Helped by the late H. D. Premaratne and scripted by K. B. Herath, it was telecast on Swarnavahini, featuring the likes of Deepani Silva and Janak Premalal. Five years later, in 2007, his second TV venture, Mosam Rella, got a slot on Rupavahini; again scripted by Herath, it featured a stellar cast: Tony Ranasinghe, Daya Tennakoon, and Grace Ariyawimal all took part in it. Like Ruwan Sakmana, it was half morality tale, half thriller, and it ends, again as with his first serial, with redemption for the protagonist and comeuppance for the villain. Sumitra Peries liked both: “they are good,” she told me, “not only because they are technically proficient, but because, seeing them, you can discern the director’s love for storytelling.”

Rubasinghe’s latest television miniseries, Yathrakaya, has a frustratingly long history. Shot in every conceivable location, from Anuradhapura to Nuwara-Eliya, and spanning 30 episodes, Ruba spared no expense to instil authenticity to the narrative, “which is basically about a man who, thought dead, is caught up in an investigation.” I’m surprised to hear that it’s based on a series of incidents which took place “a long, long time back.” Indeed, the minute he heard of the story, he had collected almost every newspaper article on it.

I put to Ranjith that he must have taken some effort to scout for locations. He agrees. “We went almost everywhere to be honest, from Anuradhapura to Dankotuwa to Negombo and to Gampaha and Nuwara-Eliya. We even shot a character’s death from a train accident ‘live’, taking advantage of a slow moving train coming from the Awariwatta Station in Katunayake. The driver didn’t know what we were doing. We heard the train sounding its horn frantically, but we waited until the last minute.”

Yathrakaya

, as with his previous ventures, was written by K. B. Herath, and it starred, among a galaxy of other names, the late Tony Ranasinghe; apparently the crew were putting together the final cut when he passed away in 2015. Having edited and reedited it, Ruba lobbied for sponsors for the finished product; that he hasn’t received word from them even today is cause for concern, especially since Rupavahini granted a slot for the show. Frustrated as he is by the patronage lavished on “mega-series”, he is nevertheless still hopeful.

For me, however, this is tragic. It is especially tragic since, given Rubasinghe’s enthusiastic ramblings about his hopes and dreams, Yathrakaya appears to be unlike Ruwan Sakmana and Mosam Rella. This one isn’t just a morality tale cum thriller; it’s more an epic thriller in the vein of The Fugitive or No Country for Old Men. God knows we’re missing that kind of film or miniseries these days. To have come up with such a production a decade and a half ago is laudable, and to not have scored points with sponsors yet is regrettable. “I still have hope,” he wistfully repeats. But hope can last only for so long. Where will we get the serials we deserve on our TV screens, if we don’t pay attention to getting their directors the money?

Rubasinghe has made his case there. It is up to us to listen, and up to sponsors to act. Perhaps we should listen harder, and they should act faster. We’re missing out on a lot.

 

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

 

 

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