January 8, 2013

Obesity meta-study challenged the media narrative

Filed under: Government, Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:00

In sp!ked, Timandra Harkness explains why the publication of “Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) got such a strongly negative reaction from the media and various government spokespeople:

The reason this unassuming paper drew howls of outrage was the same as the reason the benefits of moderate alcohol intake are never noted without criticism: it spoils the headline health message that Fat is Bad.

Even worse, it blows the cover on the great myth — that an epidemic of Bad Fatness is sweeping the developed world. By including the dangerously obese, the innocuously tubby and the healthily plump in one category, ‘overweight including obese’, 60 per cent of the English population are labelled as potentially At Risk.

Being At Risk means these people need guidance and protection from their own vulnerable state, from the temptations of our obesogenic world and the frailties of their own sugar-addicted brains. At such a time of national peril, no measure is too extreme.

But less than a quarter of English adults are obese, according to new figures released just before Christmas, a fraction almost unchanged since 2007. And the ‘morbidly obese’ category — BMI over 40, the ones for whom it really might be worth shedding a few pounds, medically speaking — also remains steady since 2009 at 2.5 per cent of the UK population.

If only one in 40 of us is in significant weight-related danger, why do the other 97.5 per cent of us need to be protected by the state against sugary cereals and fizzy drinks? Could it be because only a few of us have fallen, but all of us are in peril? Weak, foolish and easily led astray, we need to be frightened back on to the right path. Thus Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum — who has called for children to be monitored from birth for signs of obesity — told the Independent: ‘If people read this and decide they are not going to die… they may find themselves lifelong dependents on medical treatment for problems affecting the heart, liver, kidney and pancreas — to name only a few.’

So there we have it. Those extra post-Christmas pounds aren’t going to kill you. If you’re approaching an age at which there’s any real prospect you will die, they probably have a tiny protective effect. But if you’re told the truth, suggest the obesity obsessives, you’ll gorge yourself into a disgusting ball of flab.

Charles Stross on vampires

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:41

Now that he’s committed the act of writing a novel that has vampires (The Rhesus Chart, the next “Laundry” story, to be published in July next year), Charles Stross examines the current role of vampires in fiction:

So what are vampires good for?

Leaving aside a whole bunch of different mythological tap-roots, some of which are quite interesting in their own right, the modern western interpretation of the vampire is largely the fault of Bram Stoker (although he, in turn, was working in a literary tradition with notable antecedents such as Varney the Vampire).

The interesting thing about vampires in fiction is what they’re used to represent. Vampires are the talkative reflection of our fears; unlike horde-shambling zombies they’re singular entities, intelligent and outwardly handsome, the exterior shell concealing festering horrors within. And the nature of the horrors in question changes with time. Back in Stoker’s hey-day, the fear of contagion, of the degeneration and insanity that went with syphilis, was clear: so was the clash of uptight Victorian public morality and private lascivious debauchery that went with it. (It’s no accident that Vampirism-as-AIDS was the big metaphor of the 1980s: blood, sex, and death are deeply intertwingled in our collective id.)

More recently, we have a whole bunch of other vampire metaphors. There’s the untrammeled greed angle, the psychopathic serial killer angle, the sexual predator. Vampires are rapists, non-consensual sadists and torturers, serial killers. They are, above all, parasites and sociopaths — you can’t be a vampire, a successful apex predator upon people, and feel much empathy for your prey.

So what do we make of that sub-species of vampire that fucks its food?

One of the weirder twists in the development of a sub-genre happened some time in the early 1990s, with the advent of the paranormal romance. In retrospect it’s fairly obvious what they’re for; they allow the reader to vicariously explore emotional aspects of BDSM without the troublesome need to find a partner with a roll of duct tape and a flogger who also understands the need for safe words. (This may also be a side-effect of changing gender/power relationships in society at large causing confusion, uncertainty, or dissatisfaction with traditional power roles: don’t tell the Pope. Ahem. There’s a really complex knot of issues here, including the implications of the demographic transition for human interpersonal and familial relationships, that is probably food for several PhD theses.)

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