November 07, 2009

Keats' trifecta

GIVE me women, wine, and snuff
Untill I cry out "hold, enough!"
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection
For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
My beloved Trinity.--John Keats, 1795-1821

November 06, 2009

Dying for a job

Seventeenth century painting by Philippe de Champaigne.

An article in Wednesday's Washington Post highlighted the Obama administration's efforts to grapple with rising unemployment in the midst of signs of an expanding economy. Both the administration and congress are going to have try to balance the need for action with concern over federal deficits.

Based on some pretty hard social science, there's one thing we know about recession-related unemployment: some people are going to die earlier than they would have because of it.

As British epidemiologist Michael Marmot summed up research on unemployment in Britain in his book The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity, "people who became unemployed had 20 percent higher mortality than those who remained employed at the same social class level."

Obviously, lots of factors could be at work here, including greater stress and anxiety, which are known to have health consequences. Poverty could play a part, but Marmot argues that

it is useful to distinguish the two senses of poverty: a lack of basic material conditions for life; and insufficient resources, private or public, to participate in society. The first is unlikely to be the sole explanation, as unemployed professionals, who might be expected to have some saving,s have worse health than those still employed in the same occupational social class. This is not to say that financial problems are irrelevant. Far from it. Financial strain appears to be the complaint most associated with worse mental health in the unemployed. I would ague that this is consistent with poverty in the second sense--inability to participate fully in society. Whether initially well-off, or poorly off, deterioration in economic circumstances will cause real hardship.

Add to the mix another known factor related to health: being involuntarily unemployed also reduces one's sense of autonomy and control over one's life. Taken together, loss of control and inability to fully participate in society are a poisonous mix.

Economist John Maynard Keynes famously commented that "in the long run we are all dead." For some of the unemployed, the long run is getting shorter.

ON THAT SUBJECT, Congress approved an extension of unemployment benefits yesterday. And while we're at it, here's a call for public jobs creation along the lines of the New Deal.

RAMPAGE. It was a terrible day at Ft. Hood.

IS CLIMATE CHANGE happening in the Senate? Maybe, but we're not there yet. Here's Coal Tattoo on the subject.

EXERCISE AND WEIGHT LOSS. There is a connection, but it's not all that simple.


November 05, 2009

Either binary or not

Portrait of the anthropologist as a young man. Claude Levi-Strauss in the 1930s. Image by way of wikipedia.

A few years back, and for reasons that now escape me, I went on a reading jag of books about anthropology, semiotics (the study of signs), structuralism, and literary theory.

I think I must have been really bored.

It was kind of amusing as long as I didn't take it too seriously. The Spousal Unit was probably right when she said to pretend like it was science fiction.

One person whose work I grappled with was French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who recently died at the age of 100. Not that I read all the way through his major tomes--even El Cabrero has his limits--but I read some snippets and several secondary works.

I probably missed a lot, but it seems to me like he was right about one of his major ideas (assuming I'm getting this right). The human mind seems to kind of like a fishing tackle box and we seem to be hardwired to classify things and put them in different compartments. Each culture seems to have its own classification system but the urge to classify remains the same.

The systems themselves are kind of arbitrary from the outside, with each part only having a meaning in relation to others within it. To use an example from linguistics, there is nothing about the symbols c-a-t that necessarily refer to a feline; it only does so within the context of the system of modern English.

We seem to be especially disposed towards binary categories: us/them, good/bad, raw/cooked, etc. Even when we try to break away from our cultural conditioning, we seem to substitute a different binary system for the old one.

As someone once said, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who break things into two major categories and those who don't. Like it or lump it...

DYING FOR HEALTH CARE. A new study from Johns Hopkins Children's Center found that uninsured children were 60 percent more likely to die after entering a hospital than those with insurance. This is probably because the uninsured typically don't receive preventive care and wait to seek treatment until there is a crisis.

TV NATION. Young children who watch a lot of television may be more disposed to aggressive behavior.

STATE BUDGET. West Virginia may be looking at budget shortfalls in excess of $100 million, although it is doing better than many other states. This highlights the need to make maximum use of funds available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


November 04, 2009

Houses and sniffles

A Rhinovirus, courtesy of wikipedia. I think they magnified it a time or two.

There is a large and growing body of scientific research about how things like inequality, class and social status engrave themselves into our bodies. Generally speaking, people in higher social positions are less likely to develop conditions like heart disease or diabetes than those in lower positions. The same affect seems to apply to infectious diseases as well.

In a fascinating study, healthy adults first answered questions about their socio-economic status (SES) and that of their parents when they were growing up. They were then exposed to one of two forms of rhinovirus (aka common cold viruses) and kept in quarantine to monitor the symptoms.

Here's a surprising finding:

For both viruses, susceptibility to colds decreased with the number of childhood years during which their parents owned their home...This decreased risk was attributable to both lower risk of infection and lower risk of illness in infected subjects. Moreover, those whose parents did not own their home during their early life but did during adolescence were at the same increased risk as those whose parents never owned their home. These associations were independent of parent education level, adult education and home ownership, and personality characteristics.

The researchers concluded that "A marker of low income and wealth during early childhood is associated with decreased resistance to upper respiratory infections in adulthood. Higher risk is not ameliorated by higher SES during adolescence and is independent of adult SES."

In other words, poverty or relative deprivation during early childhood can have negative health affects throughout a lifetime. That's something to think about now, as the recession has driven more families on a downward economic spiral.

SIGN OF THE TIMES. Half of all US children and 90 percent of African American young people do or will receive food stamps, according to a new study.

THIS NEEDS FIXED. The House version of health care reform would phase out the Children's Health Insurance Program. Senator Rockefeller is not amused. Nor is El Cabrero. This needs to be fixed in conference.




November 03, 2009

That's a relief

Chamber pots. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

A while back, I posted an item about how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was losing members due to its policy of denying climate change and opposing measures to address it. Last week, the Huntington WV Chamber held an event with a similar theme.

I guess that settles it.

On the other hand, I imagine they'd deny the Pythagorean theorem, the law of gravity, the War of 1812 and the virtue of their mothers if they thought it might inconvenience a corporation or two.

SICK DAYS. The fact that 40 percent of US workers lack paid sick days is contributing to spreading a pandemic.

GIRL POWER. Investing in them pays off for everybody.

LIES, DAMN LIES, AND statistics.


IS IT A TANK or a dinosaur?

HUMMING. Bears do it when they're content. Speaking of which, a neighbor said he saw one on our road recently.


November 02, 2009


I let Halloween come and go without picking up on the theme. Until, that is, I saw this article in the Gazette about ghosts and how people reconcile belief in them with more conventional religion.

I take no position on whether such things exist, but it seems that West Virginia has more than its share of if not ghosts then at least stories about them. I guess our history--what with the Civil War and other armed conflicts, feuds, industrial disasters, and other mayhem--is a good climate for generating them.

I think it's interesting that in most ghost stories that I know about, the apparitions don't tend to be free rangers. Rather, they seem to be tied to particular places where certain things happened.

Sometimes I do think that events can leave a mark on places. Some places I've been to seem to be more loaded than others. I'm thinking about places like Harpers Ferry, the old state mental hospital at Weston, the old state prison at Moundsville, and an old family farm in Tazewell, Virginia.

There are, after all, more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

NOT ENOUGH OF A GOOD THING. It looks like the stimulus helped pull the US economy back from the brink--up to a point. Here's another argument for another one.

SELF DESTRUCTIVE HABITS. Gazette columnist Perry Mann ponders unbridled capitalism here.

SEALING THE DEAL. Here's E.J. Dionne on the future of health care reform legislation.

SPEAKING OF HAUNTED PLACES. Here's an item about a scientist who artificially designed one.