Monday, December 29, 2008

Who Said NY is Rude and Pushy?

CNN reports that Carnegie Hall has made the following offer in an effort to extricate its most decrepit form of furniture …

“Carnegie Hall has offered to pay for the rent-control tenants' relocation expenses and move them to apartments which are "equivalent or better" in the neighborhood. The Hall also is offering to pay the difference in rent to each of those tenants for the rest of their lives.”

A remarkably generous offer from a private foundation; a foundation which embodies no public obligation beyond that of any other private entity.

Any rational person would assume this generous offer precludes the possibility of conflict. However, this rationality fails to account for a significant X factor: the stupefying ego of a 96 year old woman.

"They can pay me $10 million. I'm part of history," she said. "You want to tell me they don't have enough rooms? They have a building of rooms. This place is history, and I think Carnegie, the people running it, I don't think they think about that."

Imagine a resident, any resident, of Beijing telling this same story. When did the founding principal of each individual “created equal” morph into “created special”. This woman is only remarkable because of the place in which she happens to reside. I say send in the New York County Sheriffs to remove her for trespassing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Wishing a Merry Yule to all the fine members and readers of this blog.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Scariest Sentence of the Day

I didn't think it possible to epitomize everything that urbanites fear about the rest of America in one sentence. The NY Times (who else?) has proven me wrong:

"This year, news talk ranked as the most popular radio format in the United States, surpassing country music for the first time ever."

- From
For Conservative Radio, It’s a New Dawn, Too

Friday, December 19, 2008

Things we don't understand

Scientists see silver lining in dark matter

Don't try this at home

Something to warm you up today...what happens when you put a lighter in a blender?

Best quip about Gibbs free energy and/or thermodynamics wins a prize.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

All misfortunes are kin

"All misfortunes are kin, speak the same language and show the same generosity, the generosity of those who, because they can call nothing their own, are prodigal of sympathy and lavish of their time and trouble."

Balzac. The Wild Ass' Skin.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Elliott Carter turns 100 at Carnegie Hall

"I’d rather hear them play good contemporary music than old music,” he said of the performers devoted to his work."

An interesting article.

TONIGHT: Biggest, Brightest Moon in 15 Years

From the Daily Telegraph:
If the shortening days are getting you down, be sure to look for tonight's amazing full moon.

It will appear 14 per cent bigger than usual and a stunning 30 per cent brighter thanks to a rare, natural coincidence.

Each month the moon orbits the Earth and tonight it will skim by at its closest distance for the last 15 years.

"Where the Love Light Gleams . . ."

Somehow I don't think Bing meant the "red light district."  Anyway, per Estabrook's request Wednesday night, here's a little Christmas cheer.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If I had a rich man II

I am not sure what excites me more: the rich-man-beautiful-young-woman phenomenon, or saying "you are not a meat" with a fake Eastern European accent. Thankfully, this post will allow me to do both - to sit with one ass on two chairs, as they say in Magnitogorsk.

First, please read this stunningly funny piece from Vanity Fair. Uncertain how to qualify it, I decided to call it hyperbole. Period. Be sure to use the proper accent: it's just not the same if you read the tale of Svetlana Egorova in your pretentiously proper waspy tone (grrr, pronouncing all the t's!). TRY! And if you fail miserably at immitating Georgy Petrov, call jumco and ask him to read the article over the phone to you - the man is a closet ruski.
She is buying so much of the Valentino and Prada for that every day is a fashion show in her dressing suite for the stylists to show her what is coming in new. She is exhausting but she is always thinking how must it be for women who are not sample sizes and have to tailor?
Moving on.

In the wilderness of the interweb tubes I came across the following list of the Top 10 Trophy Wives (and one husband): "...not all trophy wives are empty vessels or with much older men. They are, however, the better-looking half. [...] note that we excluded athletes' trophy wives because there are just way too many to choose from." I think I should call this fantasy, for however hard I might try, I am never making it onto any Trophy Wives list. Not that I don't want to, but my legs and my temper are too short, and there are waaaaay too few millionaires in my surroundings. Which is truly sad, because I really could use a bottomless pocket. And if the depth of the pocket is directly proportional to the length of legs, then I should at least be getting something... I'll just assume that all the bankers are slightly preoccupied with a financial crisis of some kind, and have to postpone proposing to me.

Moving on.

It seems to be time to face the harsh reality. Ready for the headliner? This is the one! It's coming, and don't tell me I didn't warn you!

As previously established, not all gorgeous girls (read: self) end up with spending accounts and rich husbands. Some of them get crappy paying office jobs, blog, and live out their days in boring mediocrity. Others, however, reach for the stars and actually make something of themselves. Read on and be inspired, my friends. Dare to live and be useful! Start your own party! End discrimination! Make a difference! Make a movie! Make love! Especially if it's well paid. For further instructions, below please find an interview from the summer issue of Russia! - an NYC-based English language magazine that happens to 1) make fun of Motherland, 2) be edited by my newly-devirtualized friend Michael Idov (find him on Amazon and NYMag). This interview lifts up a corner of the curtain* and gives the reader a glipse into the mysterious and misunderstood real Russian soul. And even though "[s]he’s a strong and independent woman", to quote the heroine, "without a man, she probably isn’t too happy." I beg you to read to the end.
R!: Why do you think American men have such a thing for Russian women?

LB: Oh, we’ll be here all day if you want me to explain that one, but really there is that idea that the most beautiful women in the world are in Russia. But it’s more than that. Russian women know how to feel their men. We know what our men want and what they need at each moment. We’re more attuned to our men.
I think now I can begin writing my dissertation in women hating. As soon as I find someone to sponsor me and my closet for the decade it will take me to finish my masterpiece.

Thank you for listening. Over and out.

*blame Magnitogorsk for all these translated idioms

From Somalia with Love

"The most militant group is the Shabab, a multiclan insurgent force that the United States classifies as a terrorist organization. Just a few weeks ago, the Shabab kidnapped a man it accused of being a spy and slowly sawed off his head with a dull knife, videotaping the whole episode."

The article.

Sixty years after de-colonialization, standards of living in much of Africa continue to decline. No plateau, no hard road uphill, Africa is still declining. How many generations, centuries, can this go on?

Soviet Russia Chronicles

In Soviet Russia, you don't drive the car. The car drives you.

I know nothing about cars. I don't even drive. But I do know that two British dudes driving around an abandoned American air base in ancient Soviet cars and making fun of Russians are really funny. To be fair, anyone making fun of Russians is really funny.

And maybe it will help you take your mind off your governor.

Part I

Part II

And remember, Russian communism is better than British Communism!

Say it ain't so, Blago . . .


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Roundup

Image via lantram at Flickr

Politics & History
  • Sherman Miles revisits the lead up to the attack upon Pearl Harbor in The Atlantic:
    Pearl Harbor struck a country satiated with war's alarms. True, we had put through the draft and had actually reached the shooting stage with German submarines. But as a people we were still talking of war, without really accepting its imminence. Then, into our national complacency, came a surprise blow at our strongest point!
  • Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel and currently Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, who I met while in Israel, along with Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, write A New US Strategy for the Middle East in Foreign Affairs:
    Summary: To be successful in the Middle East, the Obama administration will need to move beyond Iraq, find ways to deal constructively with Iran, and forge a final-status Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
  • Fawaz A. Gerges speculates on how a Palestinian-Israeli resolution may come about and what it may look like within and Obama administration at Dissent Magazine:
    Contrary to the doomsayers and naysayers, there now exists a real potential for a breakthrough in the one-hundred-year-old Middle East crisis. A relative consensus appears to have emerged in the Arab world and Israel alike that a comprehensive peace settlement, as opposed to bilateral agreements, will be most viable and durable. Top leaders in both camps reference the Arab peace plan advanced by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and endorsed by the Arab League which involves recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for its withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.
  • New York Times Sunday Magazine has Roger Cohen, editor of The Times and International Herald Tribune examine what a 21st century Cuba may look like:
    ...on Havana’s streets the name Obama is often uttered as if it were a shibboleth. Many people want to believe he offers a way out of the Cuban web that Fidel’s infinite adroitness and intermittent ruthlessness have woven over a half-century.
Business & Money
  • In The Nation John Nichols explores the fascinating labor sit-in occurring right now within a Chicago factory:
    "We're going to stay here until we win justice," says Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, who was one of the UE members occupying the Republic factory over the weekend for several hours..."Their goal is to at least get the compensation that workers are owed; they also seek the resumption of operations at the plant," explains the union. "All 260 members of the local were laid off Friday in a sudden plant closing, brought on by Bank of America cutting off operating credit to the company. The bank even refused to authorize the release of money to Republic needed to pay workers their earned vacation pay, and compensation they are owed under the federal WARN Act because they were not given the legally-required notice that the plant was about to close."
  • BusinessWeek takes an in depth look at the 'un-retired' with Heather Green's cover story:
    These are The Unretired. Seniors who thought they were set for life just a year ago now face the prospect of going back to work for two, five, even 10 years. They're sprucing up their résumés, calling old work contacts, and flocking to employment sites. There are no reliable stats yet on how many retirees are looking for work, but there are clear signs the number is growing., the largest career site for people over 50, saw traffic more than double, from 250,000 visitors in July to 600,000 in November. In April, before the worst of the market downturn, a survey conducted by the seniors group AARP found that 17% of responding retirees over 50 were considering or already going back to work.
  • Boston Globe publishes "A Field Guide to Economics and Finance Blogs:"
    As the bailout plan unfolded, the bloggers offered historical context along with cutting critiques of the proposal. More important still, they offered counterproposals: direct capital injections into banks, for example, or direct purchases of mortgages. Many of their readers began badgering their senators and representatives to oppose the plan. A few weeks later, Congress rebuffed Paulson, sending shockwaves through global financial markets.
  • American Public Media, an amazing resource and the second largest producer of public radio programming has released their Whiteboard Series, a number of extraordinarily informative videos on the financial crisis such as this one:

    How credit cards become asset-backed bonds from Marketplace on Vimeo.

Arts & Humanities
  • Jenny Eliscu explores "Rocks Best Scene" for Rolling Stone:
    Laurel Canyon is one of rock's most mythic neighborhoods: This is where Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young first folded their voices into one beautiful harmony; where Zappa welcomed artists including Hendrix and Mick Jagger to parties at his infamous "Log Cabin" in 1968. Laurel Canyon was the inspiration for the Doors' "Love Street," the Mamas and the Papas' "12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)," CSNY's "Our House" and an entire album by British blues legend John Mayall. It's where music-business legends David Geffen, Jac Holtzman and Elliot Roberts helped build the recording careers of the singer-songwriters who defined the very essence of the Sixties California sound.
  • The Christian Science Monitor has released their "Best Novels of 2008" list.

  • Three stories published by the Paris Review were nominated for the 2008 National Magazine Award and all of them are available for free online:

  • Art Basel began on December 3 and ends today. Financial Times' Georgina Adams takes a look (free registration may be required):
    Light relief at the fair’s opening night was offered by the Japanese art superstar Takashi Murakami, who dressed up in one of his plush flowerballs. He didn’t have to fool about for long, as the rapper Pharrell Williams (of N.E.R.D. and the Neptunes) quickly acquired the piece, “Gigantic Plush Flowerball Small”, for a cool $70,000.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Death With Dignity

Image via Haral Fischer Varlag

When asked if the state of Montana has the power to keep a terminally ill man alive against his will, Judge Dorothy McCarter ruled, "The Montana constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity, taken together, encompass the right of a competent terminally (ill) patient to die with dignity." Going further, Hon. McCarter wrote, "The patient's right to die with dignity includes protection of the patient's physician from liability under the state's homicide statutes."

Recently, Washington State passed the Death With Dignity Act. On October, 27, 1997, Oregon made history by being the fist state to pass such legislation after a 3 year fight to enact voters' will as demonstrated in the successful 1994 Ballot Measure 16.

Oregon, Washington, Montana (pending further legal challenges), join Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands in their progressive stance on legal aid in dying. In Canada, Sue Rodriguez, suffering from the terminal illness, ALS, posed the question, "Whose body is this?" all the way to the highest courts in the land. Despite losing her legal battles, a physician, in the presence of a member of the Canadian Parliament, assisted Ms. Rodriguez in ending her life. Neither the doctor nor the MP were charged with crimes.

Who is sponsoring the fight against initiatives to allow the practice of physician-assisted suicide (PAS)? Despite internal debate with respect to how PAS aligns with their professional motives, doctors appreciate the protection from the law. Patients, suffering unspeakable anguish and facing the prospect of nothing other than a continuation of such anguish for their remaining heartbeats have mercy available to themselves and their families while maintaining agency over their lives and bodies. Medical ethics groups and other rights' groups tend to look approvingly upon such legal protection, as the question over state force vs. autonomous sovereignty are well argued and reasoned in such instances. In Gonzales vs. Oregon, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that, "The CSA (Controlled Substances Act) does not allow the Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure."

So, who is fighting against the Death with Dignity movement and why? For one, some legislators are not bringing such bills to a vote while hiding behind weak excuses such as insurance complexity and legal hang-ups. These are certainly not the causal arguments against PAS. According to the Seattle Times, "the Catholic Church's political arm has aggressively opposed such measures." Yet, that same article notes that a lot of the hangup appears to be lexical, "A 2005 Gallup Poll appeared to show that voters were more enthusiastic — by 17 percentage points — about allowing doctors to take an incurably ill patient's life than to "assist the patient to commit suicide." The question here does not appear to be about faith, as the faithful's opposition generally revolves around the notion that life itself is a god given gift, and that gift requires protection and care.

That argument is noteworthy for its lack of recognition that medicine, not god, has often kept the terminally ill alive. A Christian Scientist, or one of the other groups who refuse medical treatment would be dead long before the terminally ill patients seeking a legal right to death with dignity would ever consider their decision. Moreover, if this is a consideration of faith, why do the faithful get to impose their will on the less-or-non-or-divergently-faithful via the state? Certainly, if a person of faith chooses to die an agonizing death, waiting for the hand of god to take them, they already have every freedom and right available to them to do so. Is it just to allow them to force that decision upon other terminally ill people who may seek a different path?

I do not accept that such force, making death with dignity beyond the law, is just. We are not discussing cases such as that of Terri Schiavo here. Nor are we discussing the admittedly radical stance on suicide I hold and has already been discussed on this blog. Here, we are discussing a very narrow instance of a cognizant and terminally ill person choosing, for themselves to have a prescription for a lethal dose(s) of medication written for them. Again, the question is asked, why shall the state force sufferers of terminal illnesses to live against their will?

I'll Live a Lush Life in Some Small Dive . . .


I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come-what-may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails

The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distingue traces that used to be there
You could see where they'd been washed away
By too many through the day, twelve o'clock tales

Then you came along with your siren song
To tempt me to madness
I thought for awhile that your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness of a great love for me
Ah yes, I was wrong
Again, I was wrong

Life is lonely again and only last year
Everything seemed so sure
Now life is awful again
A trough full of hearts could only be a bore

A week in Paris could ease the bite of it
All I care is to smile in spite of it

I'll forget you, I will while yet you are still
Burning inside my brain romance is mush
Stifling those who strive

So I'll live a lush life in some small dive
And there I'll be
While I rot with the rest of those
Whose lives are lonely too

Greatest Photo of All Time (Cont'd: Amazing Nature Edition)

These amazing images of fantastically camouflaged creatures were found via Boing Boing at Conservation Report

Be sure to check out the link to see the whole set.


I'm certain creationism is responsible for the astounding beauty found in these images. I hope that creationism is able to answer how the creatures resembling dying leaves came about, as there was no death in the Garden of Eden on the fifth day when God created the flying creatures. I have little doubt there is an explanation.

Friday, December 5, 2008

In Perspective: A Few Factoids To Better Understand Today's Jobs Number

Map from BLS showing a state-by-state map of 12 month change in unemployment rates. Dark blue is a 1.1% point to 40.0% point increase. You can generate your own maps here.

  1. The 'jobs' number normally is referred to as the jobless claims number released every Thursday. NFP refers to non-farm-payrolls, the report released the first Friday of every month by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  2. As per Congressman Rush Holt's (D - NJ) email today, the report represents the most jobs lost in a single month since 1974.

  3. "The share of all men ages 16 and over who are working is now at its lowest level since the government began keeping statistics in the 1940s." (NYT)

  4. "Coupled with sharp upward revisions to September and October figures, the US has lost about 1.2m jobs since the start of September, the largest three-month loss in any period since the months immediately following the end of the second world war, according to Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research." (FT)

  5. "The number of jobs lost in the current recession [1.9 million this year, so far], which began in December 2007, surpasses the 1.6 million jobs lost in the 2001 recession." (CNN)

  6. Before getting excited that the worst is behind us, few economists believe this to be true. In fact, "[Mickey] Levy (BoA Economist)...notes that in the past five recessions, the total number of U.S. jobs declined from its peak by about 2%. In this downturn, a loss of that scale would translate into a decline of 2.8 million jobs in all -- or about 900,000 additional jobs." (WSJ)

Brahe's Golden Schnoz

With a golden nose, a pet moose, and a clairvoyant dwarf named Jepp at his disposal, Tycho Brahe managed somehow to find the time to make the most accurate astronomical observations of his time.

He also made a blunder or two (erm, for instance, doing his best to prove that the sun does in fact orbit the earth; a fact that 1/5 of Americans still believe today), but for this, I for one am willing to forgive him. I'm not certain if that inclination stems from the vast scientific advancements that CAN be chalked up to him, or from the moose. Either way.

Missing atheist sign found in Washington state

Image via CNN and the FFrF

I like this story because it tests my biases. My first reaction was a vision of two hicks in their pick-up, cruising down the road with their freshly stolen sign.

However, it might well be a Reichstag fire situation. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is benefiting from the press.

So Brain, what are we going to do tonight?

(c) Illustration by Peter Schrank

Hoping to get my mind out of the gutter I turned to a respected and proper (read: British) publication as a source of blogging inspiration. Nature took its course, however, and led me to the following article. I will not quote much of it - it is short and should be read by all. Especially those gentlemen temporarily suffering from low self-esteem. One line, boys, which should raise your moods.

"Brainy men, it seems, do have better sperm." (c)
1. I would like to see a similar study done on women. What would be the reproductive attraction parameter? Somehow the phrase "i am smart and have killer eggs" just does not seem that sexy.

2. If smart men are more likely to reproduce, as they seem to have higher sperm counts etc., and are likely to pass on their smarts to offspring (or no?), why are there so many stupid people in the world? Those smart people must be making "better choices about how to conduct their lives", and thus choosing not to breed.

This Is Your Brain; This Is Your Brain On Science

Image thanks to the Proch. Interactions. Blog

SCIENCE! leads to this; Creationism leads to this. Any questions?

At least two news stories involving Texas made the headlines today. The following is written as a way to process the fact that the Texas State Board of Education is still, as of yesterday, deliberating what form of creationism, if any, should be required in Texas public schools. Nee, how much would elected officials like to weaken SCIENCE! education in the second largest state in the Union?

Certainly, the initial comparison in this post is hyperbolic and unnecessary, but the point is the following non-hyperbolic assessment. SCIENCE! makes amazing things possible. Things that are novel, new, original, non-existent-previously-and-possible-now-type things. What is it that creationism makes possible that wasn't here yesterday, or last year, or last century, or last millennium? Nothing. Creationism adds nothing to the system of human knowledge. Nothing. Meanwhile in the land of faithless reason, a team of surgeons and scientists just put an electrode in a mute person's brain and connected it to a synthesizer so that he may communicate verbally again. Get that?

In fact, creationism does the opposite of adding net-knowledge to the ongoing human condition. SCIENCE! is cumulative. The findings of Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin influence the body of human knowledge when they were written, today, and in a century from now. SCIENCE! builds upon itself. What is built on creationism? Nothing. Nothing other than obfuscation and ignorance is built on creationism.

Flame Alert!

SCIENCE!: Brought to you by reason; Creationism: Brought to you by faith.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy Friday!

Friday is soon enough. This is far from brilliant. But it is kinda cool.

Public Poster Project by dopludo collective

one of my new favorite songs

The New Pornographers, "Challengers"

I'm not sure the lyrics line up with this interpretation, but the video, and the feeling I'm left with after this song, seems to speak to the challenges inherent in establishing a relationship with someone else, specifically the sacrifices one has to make of themselves in order to accommodate another's life into one's own.  This seems to illustrate it by depicting the latent feeling two people still have for each other that reunite even though they have grown so far apart, and now have lives accommodating others.

Bacon Galore

From Paul "The Tall" and the three knights of the UK Village Pork Castle, comes a blog about ... Bacon!

You veggies don't despair, the blog covers the same social/personal interest which we like here at No, You're Hyperbolic.

In that spirit, I would like to extend a formal invitation to Paul to join our little conversation.

Think you can be hyperbolic Paul?

Lead A Horse To Water; It May Drown Itself

CDC trends in obesity 1985 2001
The human genome did not change drastically in The United States over the past thirty years; yet, the American waistline has. In fact, as seen in the video above, fat has been engulfing the American map. How can one explain the 300,000 deaths a year related to obesity and overweight-related conditions? Here, American culture will be examined in the new indictment that obesity, despite its lack of direct biological vectors, might actually be a ‘communicable disease.’

Obesity as a societal problem; obesity as an epidemic.

In 1998, scientist James O. Hill, director of the Colorado Clinical Nutrition Research Unit at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, published a new look upon obesity in America. Dr. Hill surmised that largely an environment that promotes excessive food intake and discourages physical activity has caused the current epidemic of obesity. Despite the best efforts of Natural Selection and the other components of evolution that have awarded humans physiological mechanisms to defend against body weight loss, they have only weak physiological mechanisms to defend against body weight gain when food is abundant. Hill continues, that control of portion size, consumption of a diet low in fat and energy density, and regular physical activity are behaviors that protect against obesity, but it is becoming difficult to adopt and maintain these behaviors in the current environment.1

These are words that shook the world. His paper was so convincing that obesity could no longer be blamed on ‘the media,’ fast food, the 'government', ‘fat genes,’ or anything else for that matter. The problem of bigness now encompassed the biggest monster of them all, American culture as a whole. Certainly, all of the elements listed above contributed to the problems: The media, as a whole was missing the point; The government doing little in the name of health care; There are, in fact, ‘fat genes,’ as many as 400,2 but, they are polygenic and heterogeneous (nearly all of us have some genetic ‘predisposition' to obesity;3 And so and so forth, however, what academics are now beginning to understand, from historians and sociologists to biologists and health professionalsobesity as epidemic, not necessarily as disorder is largely the resulting nexus of contemporary culture.

Astounding results; extraordinary numbers. Such a cultural nexus has led to the following: Today Americans are the fattest people on the face of the earth…About 61 percent of Americans are overweight overweight enough to begin experiencing health problems as a direct result of that weight. About 20 percent of us are obese so fat that our lives will likely be cut short by excess fat. More than five million Americans now meet the definition of morbid obesity; they are so obese that they qualify for a radical surgical technique known as gastroplasty, wherein the stomach is surgically altered so as to keep food from being digested. In fact, The American Bariatric Society, the people performing these surgeries, report that its doctors’ waiting lists are months long and that they “can’t keep up.” 4,5 The crisis continues and deepens. Obesity seems to be on the rise in all segments of the population. There is a suggestion that the increases are a little greater in middle-aged men than in other groups, but beyond that the increase is similar for men and women, for nonsmokers and smokers, for people of all educational levels and for people of all ages including children.6,7 Are parents to blame? Well, a recent study suggests that parents who display high levels of dis-inhibited eating, especially when coupled with high dietary restraint, may foster the development of excess body fat in their children.8

Summation: the current surge in the global prevalence of obesity reflects the failure of mechanisms that regulate body weight to cope with environments that promote overeating and discourage physical activity. Yet, within any obesity-promoting environment there is considerable variation among individuals regarding their susceptibility to weight gain.9 What else would we expect? In a society where serving sizes are gargantuan, attractive foods are ubiquitous, bargains are abundant and variety is overwhelming ad nauseum, it comes as little surprise that waistlines are expanding. Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale and an expert on eating disorders, has gone so far as to label American society a "toxic environment" in terms of food.10

The questions rise endlessly from this sea of fat. First, how did we get to this point and how did it happen so quickly? Second, can anything be done about obesity as an epidemic today and in the future?

Politics as usual; 1970s as formative.

By early 1973, with food price inflation at unprecedented levels, the unrest of the public had transformed into an all-out ‘silent majority’ protest.11 Across the nation, food fear took hold at a trail-blazing pace. Stores selling horse meat opened in Portland and Chicago.12,13 Nixon needed to control food prices, ‘or else.’ Nixon placed Earl Butz, his lively Secretary of Agriculture, in charge of finding and implementing a solution. Butz, nearly single-handedly, deregulated the American farm system, ended mandatory siloing, and abandoned export approvals or large shipments.14,15 In addition, Butz, single-handedly, may have forever changed American agriculture in larger ways. In 1976, as with the rest of his career, Butz reversed old conservative notions about American agriculture. He proved that free trade truly was the best system for the farmland of America and for underwriting democracy abroad by visiting, and defending, open trade for Malaysian palm oil.16 He thereby may have been one of the largest single contributors to American consumption of saturated fat. By the conclusion of Butz’s career as Secretary, he had transformed American agriculture and the American consumer; his policies laid the groundwork for cheap, plentiful, and, as will be seen, sweet calories.

Productive farmland; Market hungry farmers.

Meanwhile sugar prices were erratic. Instability in production, an embargo on Cuba, and other factors made it difficult to forecast sugar prices for business purposes. Where to sell all of the surplus production that Butz's plan was creating was the question to be answered. In 1971 the solution was invented and by the later 70s ubiquitous. This was the year when scientists in Japan discovered a way to instantaneously halt market advances in the sugar cane and sugar beet growing developing world. These scientists developed a sweetener six times as sweet as cane sugar, and made from a crop far cheaper than sugar canes or beets that increased product stability, maintained a caramelized state if desired, and more. They invented High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) while forever providing a market, and expanding for, corn.

Earlier this year, we saw $7.50 corn, an unprecedented price, triple that of the $2.50 that corn hovered near for years. The results of this, along with some technological innovations in production are as follows: According to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), consumption of various sweeteners, often in calorie-dense food and drink, from fruit-flavored drinks to energy bars, has risen in the United States from an estimated 113 pounds per person in 1966 to 147 pounds in 2001. Also from the USDA, in 1966, refined sugar, also known as sucrose, mainly grown in the third world, and highly susceptible to price change, held the premier slot, accounting for 86 percent of sweeteners used. Today, sweeteners made from corn are the leader, racking up $ 4.5 billion in annual sales and accounting for 55 percent of the sweetener market. That switch largely reflects the steady growth of high-fructose corn syrup, which climbed from zero consumption in 1966 to 62.6 pounds per person in 2001.17,18

Cheap sweeteners; Cheap cola; High profit margins.

It is know well known that the profit margins on cola are enormous, but how did we get to drinking so much of it? Much of the current trend in sizing, especially in fast food, can be traced to a man by the name of David Wallerstein. In the early 1960s, Wallerstein had realized that the movie business was a truly margin based industry while working at the Balaban Theaters chain. He saw that it was not the minuscule markup on ticket sales where the theaters actually profited, but on the sale of popcorn, soda, and the like. In an attempt to expand profits, he began to sell larger sized popcorn servings for only slightly more money. Sales began to steadily climb, not only of pop-corn, but of high profit cola as well. Later, this theater experience translated into fat dividends at McDonald’s. Wallerstein was asked to solve the dilemma of a la carte style dining at McDonalds. With the profit margins on burgers being slim, and the opposite being true for French fries and soda, his challenge was to find a way to get consumers to buy more of the latter. The birth of super-sizing ensued.19 The value meal, however, can be attributed to two other men, Max Cooper, a McDonald’s franchisee, and John Martin, the savior of Taco Bell. 20,21 The bottom line was this, people perceived value, and perceived value heavily influenced demand. Scientific evidence garnered by recent sociological work has bolstered this concept. As a result, marketplace food portions have increased in size and now exceed federal standards. Portion sizes began to grow in the 1970s, rose sharply in the 1980s, and have continued in parallel with increasing body weights.22

Nominal and Inflation Adjusted Corn Prices (1973-2008)

Chart Via>

You can lead a horse to water; It may just drown itself.

In a recent study, researchers compiled information from two surveys involving 1,000 adults each. One was conducted in 2000 and the other in 2003. In 2000, 7 percent of those surveyed said they ate their entire meal all the time when dining at full-service restaurants. That number rose to 37 percent in 2003. Scientific studies show that people can and do unconsciously consume more calories, as much as 56 percent more, when served larger portions. In these studies, volunteers all reporting equal levels of hunger were served lunch four times over four weeks. Each day, the meal was consecutively increased in size from 500 to 625 to 750 to 1000 grams of food. As the results were analyzed, the researchers were astounded.

As the portion sizes increased for each individual, so too did the consumption by each participantdespite their initial equality in self-remarked hunger levels.23 Essentially, the researchers found you can make someone eat more, almost certainly, simply by putting more food in front of them. Unfortunately, this debate is largely academic at the moment. Dr. Barbara Rolls of Pennsylvania State University recently told a news conference, "In a country where 64 percent of us are overweight or obese, there is an alarming tendency to overlook the sheer amount of food we're eating."24

Leading a horse to water in a puddle; leading a horse to water in a pond; leading a horse straight into Marianas Trench.

Now that it has been established that to make an adult eat more, simply place more food in front of them, we must ask ourselves, how much food has been being placed in front of them? As of 1996, nearly 25 percent of the $97 billion spent on fast food came from items promoted by size. A serving of McDonald’s French fries had expanded from 200 calories in 1960 to 320 calories in the late 1970s to 450 calories in the mid-1990s to 540 calories in the 1ate ‘90s to the current energy for your ‘half-an acre of potatoes’ at 610 calories. The one time 590 McDonald’s meal is now 1550 calories on average.25,26

Conclusions drawn; solutions suggested.

It is now clear that people will eat more if you put more in front of them, and will buy more if you make the items appear slightly cheaper, so the ballooning of the average American plate positively correlates to the ballooning of the average American. American grandeur is eating itself to death. Child obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, 300,000 deaths a year, and on, and on, as our waists grow larger, and our lives grow shorter. Unfortunately for many, the problems of their girth are unlike the other fights of the seventies; they cannot be blamed on others or on ‘human nature’ or on ‘your mom’s thighs.’

Although the poor are disproportionately affected, no single group has been able to successfully escape the wrath of the scale. Moreover, the nastiness of public diversion, with various forms of dieting, the fight against fat, proteins, carbohydrates, or pick your nutrient of the week, to all of the various blames, etc. have led to a population with an overwhelming majority overweight and at risk for significant maladies, but where obesity is not confronted boldly nor systemically, especially in childhood, due to fears of ‘self-esteem’ issues. The one universal truth, despite all other attempts, culture or region, race, or class, is portion size. People simply eat too much in a nation of plenty with few boundaries or borders.

The solution I propose here is a progressive tax. Not a ‘fat-tax’ as some have proposed, or a ‘junk-food’ tax as others have, for it is clear that these things are not necessarily causal to obesity. Instead, I propose a progressive portion scale tax. For example, a ‘standard’ 8 ounce can of soda is taxed at the standard sales tax rate of X percent. For any size over this amount, up to double, in this case 15.9 ounces, there is an additional X percent tax. For sizes greater than double, 20 ounce soda bottles for example, the tax rate gets to sin tax levels. Wholesale is exempt, as the intent is not to disrupt business, but to modify consumption. This is justified by the enormous cost to society of obesity, much like the justification for sin taxation on cigarettes, alcohol, and gaming cards.

1 Hill, James O., John C. Peters. Environmental Contributions to the Obesity Epidemic. Science; 280, 1371-1373 (29 May 1998).

2 Ashrafi, Kaveh, et al. Genome-wide RNAi analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans fat regulatory genes. Nature; 421, 268-272 (16 Jan 2003).

3 Mokdad, A.H. et al. The Spread of the Obesity Epidemic in the United States, 1991-1998. Journal of the American Medical Association; 282, 1519-1522 (27 October 1999).

4 Satcher, David (Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 1-5 (2001).

5 Gawande, Atul. The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating. The New Yorker, 78 (9 July 2001).

6 Taubes, Gary. DEMOGRAPHICS: As Obesity Rates Rise, Experts Struggle to Explain Why. Science Magazine; 280, 5368, 1367-1368 (May 1998).

7 Strauss, Richard and Harold Pollack. Epidemic increase in childhood overweight, 1986-1998. Journal of the American Medical Association; 286, 2845-2848 (2001).

8 Hood, MY et al. Parental eating attitudes and the development of obesity in children: The Framingham Children's Study. International Journal of Obesity; 24, 1319-1325 (2000).

9 Dullo, Abdul G. A Sympathetic Defense Against Obesity. Science; 297, 780-781 (2 August 2002).

10 Goode, Erica. The Gorge-Yourself Environment. The New York Times, Health, 22 July 2003.

11 As Food Supplies Dwindle…Prices Go Soaring. U.S. News & World Report; 75, 16 (16 July 1973).

12 A Threat of Food Shortage. Time; 55, (9 July 1973).

13 The Great Meat Furor. Newsweek; 81, 19 (9 April 1973).

14 Duscha, Julius. Up, Up, Up Butz Makes Hay Down on the Farm. New York Times Magazine; 73 (16 April 1972).

15 Why a Food Scare in a Lande of Plenty?. U.S. News & World Report; 75, 15-20 (16 July 1973).

16 Andelman, David A. Business in Malaysia. The New York Times; D1 (6 August 1976).

17 Squires, Sally. Sweet but Not So Innocent?; High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Ubiquitous in the American Diet, May Act More Like Fat Than Sugar in the Body. Some Researchers Are Starting to Suspect It's Feeding the Obesity Epidemic. The Washington Post; Health, F01 (11 March 2003).

18 King, Patricia. Blaming it on Corn Syrup. The Los Angeles Times, Health, (24 March 2003).

19 Love, John F. McDonald’s: Behind the Arches. Bantam: New York; 242-246, 296-297 (1986).

20 Kroc, Ray. Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s. Contemporary Books: Chicago; 173-175 (1977).

21 Carson, Teresa. Taco Bell Wants to Take a Bite Out of Burgers. BusinessWeek; 63 (4 August 1986).

22 Lisa R. Young and Marion Nestle. The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic. American Journal of Public Health; 92, 2, 246-249 (February 2002).

23 Morris et al. Portion size of food influences energy intake in adults. FASEB Journal; 15, A890 (8 March 2001).

24 Survey: Americans clean their plates, no matter how full. Reuters,

Friday, July 18, 2003.

25 Horovitz, Bruce. Portion sizes and fat content out of control. USA Today; 1 (20 February 1996).

26 Brody, Jane. Fighting the lessons that schools teach. New York Times, D5 (16 April 2002).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Some Day . . .

A star Studed Cast turns out for "Prop 8 - The Musical!"

Ah the power of reason, comedy and celebrity all combining into one entertaining educational and admirable endeavor. I think this little Viral video from Funny or Die is something for America to be proud of!

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

New Enhancements

Thanks to Katya and Shams Mahmood we have a new threaded commenting system. This means that we can now reply directly to a comment and keep a discussion going in a more organized way. The one annoying part, is that in order to reply to a particular comment, you'll be instructed to include something along the lines of @jumco or @1234567890987654321 (which is provided for you, so simply copy and paste) as the first line of the comment. Unfortunately this bit of annoyance will persist until Blogger, the host of the blog, fully enables the code this system relies upon. When posted, there will be an indented, color-coded reply to a specific commenter or comment, respectively. Let me know what you think, or if there are any problems.

If I Had a Rich Man

Thanks to jumco I have a new hero: Melissa Beech, a college senior reaping the benefits of her high-end education and aesthetically pleasing bone structure. She is living in Philadelphia, shopping in London, and is in a "mutually beneficial" relationship with a man who interviewed her for a job, did not hire her, but offered her the following arrangement:
He offered me a monthly allowance, guaranteed a steady stream of desirable gifts, and promised regular vacations. He offered to send my friends and me on girls’ weekend getaways to spas and resorts. Other trips, he said, could be working vacations for the both of us, some fun mixed with some hands on learning for me. And yet others could be just the two of us seeing the most amazing and beautiful places in the world.

I rent a $1,600 apartment in the city, for which he pays the rent in full. I carry an AmEx Black card in both our names, and use it for things like shopping, spa trips, manicures, and tanning; the bill goes to him. And the company car I drive costs him around $700 a month for the lease and the insurance. I’ve even managed to build up a little nest egg over the past yearat his insistenceputting away around $12,000. All in all, he probably spends in the ballpark of $5,000 a month on my lifestyle. (c)
Unfortunately for Ms. Beech, there is a crisis going on. One that might cause her gentleman caller slash sponsor to reconsider her conditions.
According to a new survey by Prince & Assoc., more than 80% of multimillionaires who had extra-marital lovers planned to cut back on their gifts and allowances. Still, only 12% of the multimillionaire cheaters said they plan to give up on their lovers altogether for financial reasons. (c)
I sincerely hope he runs out of money before she runs out of cynicism, falls in love with him and ruins the entire arrangement. I suppose then Ms. Beech will be one of those plain college students who wears pijamas and slippers to lectures, not Christian Louboutins. "Nothing gives one away as belonging to the lower classes of society as his ability to distinguish expensive watches and cars." (V. Pelevin, translation - mine)

Akbar Ganji Asks: Who Rules Iran?

Image of Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei via WikiMedia

During numerous discussions about Iran, it has become apparent that a pervasive ignorance exists regarding the Islamic Republic. The complexity of its political arrangements, demographics, and strained history. I've recently completed Akbar Ganji's dense article on the political structure of Iran in Foreign Affairs. Ganji delicately parses this structure as a 'Sultanate' in the words of Weber as opposed to the 'fascist' or 'totalitarian' labels he argues are misrepresentative while bluntly discussing the terror the nation has employed. I sincerely recommend it to all those interested. A few highlights:
  • But this analysis [Ahmadinejad has brought the country to ruin] is incorrect, if only because it exaggerates Ahmadinejad's importance and leaves out of the picture the country's single most powerful figure: Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader...Formally or not, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government all operate under the absolute sovereignty of the supreme leader; Khamenei is the head of state, the commander in chief, and the top ideologue.

  • Judging by the freedom of Iran's elections, there has been little progress. Whether they are for the post of president, the unicameral parliament (known as the Majlis), or local councils, elections in Iran are rigged pseudoelections.

  • If instances of political repression have decreased over the past three decades, it is largely because notions of democracy and human rights have taken root among the Iranian people and thus it has become much more difficult for the government to commit crimes.

  • Ahmadinejad's populist rhetoric has also had the unexpected effect of allowing greater scrutiny of his policies. By using plain language to criticize his political opponents, Ahmadinejad has prompted them to speak in plainer and more forceful terms, too. Early this year, when Ahmadinejad dismissed reformist politicians as being "ill qualified" to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Mohsen Armin, a prominent reformist, shot back: "If ill-qualified people are being advised to desist from registering as candidates so that they don't inflict a cost on the country, Ahmadinejad is undoubtedly the first person who should be banned from standing in elections."

  • Iran today is indeed a neosultanate, not a totalitarian state, nor even a fascist one. Such regimes create single-voiced societies, and many different voices can be heard in Iran today. Contemporary Iran is still officially an Islamic theocracy, but no single ideology dominates the country. In the totalitarian Soviet state, there was nothing but Marxism and the official Bolshevik version of it at that. In Iran, liberalism, socialism, and feminism have all been tagged as alternatives to the ruling ideology, and many Iranians openly identify with these currents. Iran has no single all-embracing party in charge of organizing society. It has dozens of parties -- such as the pro-reform Mosharekat (Participation) Party and the pragmatic conservative Kargozaran-e Sazandegi (Executives of Construction) Party -- and although they are not as free or autonomous as parties in democratic countries, they represent views that deviate from the government's. To some extent, too, Khamenei has to address their concerns.

  • A major lever of power is the supreme leader's ability to appoint and dismiss senior government officials. President Rafsanjani allowed Khamenei to choose his culture minister, interior minister, intelligence minister, higher-education minister, and foreign minister.

  • More broadly, Khamenei exercises control over all of Iran's elected institutions by virtue of a constitutional provision (Article 110) that empowers him to set the state's general policies. Khamenei draws up countless military, economic, judicial, social, cultural, and educational policies and conveys them to state bodies for implementation via the Expediency Council.

  • [This one is for Pericles] Based on his [Khamenei's] interpretation of the Koran and the early history of Islam, he said at this meeting, "The majority of the people in the state are silent. A selfless group of individuals can make the state endure by using terror." This theory has served as the justification for assassinating dissidents in Iran and abroad and otherwise silencing anyone who has posed an ideological challenge to the regime.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sexy Santa?

The advert has been created by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which says women and girls should ensure they have the morning-after pill in their medicine cabinet, in the same way as they would have headache pills or hangover remedies.

But critics claim the service's scheme to hand out emergency contraception 'gift kits' will fuel promiscuity and the spread of sexually-transmitted infections.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to hump a cute Santa, especially if he happens to be in your living room and not at the mall. I think there is almost nothing wrong with safe single promiscuity. Using the morning-after pill as emergency contraception is neither immoral nor murder. It is also quite reasonable to keep a one or two occasion supply in the cabinet -"just in case". It is generous and rational of the BPAS to give the pill away for free, especially since many stores will be closed over the holidays. I do not think the ad is too crude (though not teeeeerribly witty), and there is no chance it will find its way to Cartoon Network, or whatever the kids who do not know where babies come from watch these days.

But it does seem to me that promoting Plan B and the likes as the method of contraception is at least irresponsible. The stress has always been placed on the emergency element of the morning-after pill, on the time sensitivity of its administration. It has become OTC partly because it needs to be administered within a very limited window, and not when the doctor has the next opening in his schedule. I am somewhat perplexed by the campain by the BPAS, which seems to be a Planned Parenthood-like UK organization, to position emergency contraceptives in this non-emergency light, and give food for protest to the "life-at-conception" crews.

NB: I did not read but one comment to the article, which states that condoms are also included in the gift pack.