January 2, 2013

Don’t let your BMI scare you (too much)

Filed under: Health, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

A quick reminder that the Body Mass Index (BMI) is more a convenient mathematical trick than an actual healthy weight guideline:

In a finding that could undermine many New Year’s resolutions, a new government study shows that people who are overweight are less likely to die in any given period than people of normal weight. Even those who are moderately obese don’t have a higher-than-normal risk of dying.

Being substantially obese, based on measure called body mass index, or BMI, of 35 and higher, does raise the risk of death by 29%, researchers found.

But people with a BMI of 25 to 30 — who are considered overweight and make up more than 30% of the U.S. population — have a 6% lower risk of death than people whose BMI is in the normal range of 18.5 to 25, according to the study, being published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

People who had a BMI of 30 to 35 — considered the first stage of obesity — had a 5% lower risk of dying, but those figures weren’t considered statistically significant.

In other words, a few extra pounds are not going to threaten your life (a lot of extra pounds might). In the western world, few of us have the kind of jobs that require much in the way of physical exertion and we also have both relatively low food prices and much greater access to calorie-dense food. Our parents tended to have jobs that required more physical effort and their access to food was not as great as ours (they were less wealthy overall, and didn’t eat at restaurants or fast food joints as often as we do). Two otherwise positive trends that combine to produce a less-positive result on the scales.

Earlier discussion of the limitations of BMI as a guideline here, here, here, and here.

The corporate welfare pork in the fiscal cliff negotiations

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

As widely expected, Congress did finally put something to a vote to “save” the country from going over the fiscal cliff. And as everyone should have expected, even a bill to “save” the country was still amply provided with pork for certain corporations:

Throughout the months of November and December, a steady stream of corporate CEOs flowed in and out of the White House to discuss the impending fiscal cliff. Many of them, such as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, would then publicly come out and talk about how modest increases of tax rates on the wealthy were reasonable in order to deal with the deficit problem. What wasn’t mentioned is what these leaders wanted, which is what’s known as “tax extenders”, or roughly $205B of tax breaks for corporations. With such a banal name, and boring and difficult to read line items in the bill, few political operatives have bothered to pay attention to this part of the bill. But it is critical to understanding what is going on.

The negotiations over the fiscal cliff involve more than the Democrats, Republicans, the middle class and the wealthy. The corporate sector is here in force as well. One of the core shifts in the Reagan era was the convergence of wealthy individuals who wanted to pay less in taxes — many from the growing South — with corporations that wanted tax breaks. Previously, these groups fought over the pie, because the idea of endless deficits did not make sense. Once Reagan figured out how to finance yawning deficits, the GOP was able to wield the corporate sector and the new sun state wealthy into one force, epitomized today by Grover Norquist. What Obama is (sort of) trying to do is split this coalition, and the extenders are the carrot he’s dangling in front of the corporate sector to do it.

Most tax credits drop straight to the bottom line — it’s why companies like Enron considered its tax compliance section a “profit center”. A few hundred billion dollars of tax expenditures is a major carrot to offer. Surely, a modest hike in income taxes for people who make more than $400k in income and stupid enough not to take that money in capital gain would be worth trading off for the few hundred billion dollars in corporate pork. This is what the fiscal cliff is about — who gets the money. And by leaving out the corporate sector, nearly anyone who talks about this debate is leaving out a key negotiating partner.

Potential hotspots for 2013

Filed under: Africa, Asia, China, India — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:37

Strategy Page has the advance listing of places around the world where peacekeeping or peace-making may be required this year:

Planning for peacekeeping works a lot better if you have a good idea of where the next crises will occur. For 2013 there are several potential hotspots where diplomats can’t handle the mess and armed peacekeepers may be needed. In some cases, there might also be a call for more peacekeepers in an existing hotspot. That might happen in the eastern Congo, where the largest force of UN peacekeepers has been trying to calm things down for nearly a decade, but the violence just keeps going. There’s increasing hostility between Sudan and newly created South Sudan. There are some peacekeepers there, but, like Darfur (western Sudan) the violence never seems to stop.

There’s always been the possibility of large scale fighting between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s been more and more small scale violence on the border and growing threats from both countries. There is still a lot of tension between Pakistan and India, over Pakistani support for Islamic terrorists making attacks in India. Pakistan denies any responsibility, despite a growing mountain of evidence. Neither country would be very hospitable to peacekeepers.

And then there the developing mess in the Western Pacific off China, where Chinese claims to a lot of uninhabited rocks and reefs is causing a growing outrage from the neighbors. China keeps pushing and with all those armed ships and aircraft facing off, an accidently, or deliberate, shot is possible. China will also be a major player if North Korea finally does its political collapse. The North Korean economy has already tanked as has morale and living standards. If the government loses control China and South Korea have both made claims on responsibility for taking over and dealing with the mess.

Oh, this is ironic…

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

Several years ago, I got the only takedown notice I’ve ever received. The person objecting to me posting a short quotation of hers (with full attribution and link to the original) is now in the news herself:

An Ottawa wine writer used reviews from other writers on her website without properly crediting them. And as if that’s not ripe enough, a U.S. online wine magazine says she requires some wineries to buy a subscription to her website before she’ll review their wines.

Call it a tempest in a wine bottle. Writer Natalie MacLean has uncorked a debate about journalism etiquette and ethics online and touched off an oenophilic flap that’s produced underlying acidity and a bitter aftertaste in the usually genteel subculture.

“It’s all very tawdry,” says wine writer Tony Aspler. “The wine writers’ community is very close and collegial. To have someone behave this way, to take reviews and not attribute properly, it’s not done.”

MacLean, who writes at nataliemaclean.com, says she was surprised when Michael Pinkus, president of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada, objected to her use of others’ reviews. She got legal advice, she says, and has now gone back through past postings to fully attribute the reviews. She denies that wineries must pay to subscribe to her site to get reviewed.

“It’s been extremely painful,” says MacLean, named the World’s Best Drink Journalist in 2003 at the World Food Media Awards. “I’m more than happy to discuss the issues, to focus on the facts, but this has gone well beyond that. There’s been a lot of personal attacks. You can look for yourself on the blogs.”

So the person who objected to me quoting her was actually engaged in ripping off her fellow wine writers without attribution? That made my day.

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