October 24, 2009

Autumn: A Dirge

The warm sun is falling, the bleak wind is wailing,
The bare boughs are sighing, the pale flowers are dying,
And the Year
On the earth is her death-bed, in a shroud of leaves dead,
Is lying.
Come, Months, come away,
From November to May,
In your saddest array;
Follow the bier
Of the dead cold Year,
And like dim shadows watch by her sepulchre.

The chill rain is falling, the nipped worm is crawling,
The rivers are swelling, the thunder is knelling
For the Year;
The blithe swallows are flown, and the lizards each gone
To his dwelling.
Come, Months, come away;
Put on white, black and gray;
Let your light sisters play--
Ye, follow the bier
Of the dead cold Year,
And make her grave green with tear on tear.--Percy Bysshe Shelley

October 23, 2009

Demand and control

Edith is stressing out the turkeys.

El Cabrero has been blogging off and on about how social status affects health and longevity. As mentioned previously, there's a really clear social gradient that seems to work all up and down the scale.

Those in the highest status positions are healthier and live longer than those with "only" high status positions, who live longer than those with moderate social status positions, and so on.

One key factor in all this, according to British epidemiologist Michael Marmot, is having a sense of autonomy and control over life and work. This tends to increase as you climb the ladder and decreases as you descend it. In The Status Syndrome, Marmot cites research that finds that high demand/low control work situations are particularly toxic.

This problem isn't limited to the workplace however. A typical low income person in the US can face control/autonomy issues all the time, i.e. by living in an unsafe neighborhood and/or in bad housing; facing economic insecurity, from juggling bills to dealing with evictions or foreclosures; and dealing with conflicts with landlords, neighbors, bill collectors, etc. These kinds of experience trigger the body's stress reaction and change body chemistry and hormone production.

And here we face an evolutionary lag. Our bodies developed the stress response (or fight or flight syndrome) to deal with short term dangers and threats. If the stress is chronic, this can trigger all kinds of problems, ranging from heart disease to mental disorders such as depression...all of which explains why diseases and early mortality are as unequally distributed as wealth and status, albeit in the other direction.

PUBLIC OPTION. Here's the latest on health care reform in the Senate.

OUCH. The US economy has lost over 5 percent of jobs since Dec. 2007. The numbers are much higher in some areas than others.

KING SOLOMON DON'T LIVE 'ROUND HERE. This analysis from the Charleston Daily Mail talks about how hard it will be to find "balance" in current coal controversies.

THE LATEST TWIST in the Megan Williams saga is here.


October 22, 2009

Bad for business

You may have heard this rant from me before but here goes again. Around here, the coal industry and its supporters, including most of WV's elected officials, follow flawless logic when it comes to climate change. It goes like this:

1. Anything which goes against the perceived interest of the coal industry cannot possibly be true.

2. Acknowledging the truth of climate change and the permissibility of trying to do something about it goes against the perceived interests of the coal industry


Climate change cannot possibly be true and nothing should be done about it.


Not everybody associated with the coal industry is buying it. Michael Morris, President of American Electric Power supports climate change legislation.

As a matter of fact, the US Chamber (Pot) of Commerce is taking some hits from major corporations for its opposition to climate change legislation. A number of companies have either withdrawn from the Chamber or expressed their differences. This interesting item from the New Yorker compares the Chamber's response to that of Massey Energy. According to James Surowiecki, while many companies in the past may have parroted the party line, things are different now. The new attitude

...may reflect a calculation that global warming is simply too big an issue to get wrong, both economically—few companies are really going to benefit from the melting of the polar ice caps—and from a public-relations point of view. It’s also probably no coincidence that these resignations have come at a time when the Chamber’s anti-regulatory zeal looks not just outmoded but self-defeating. Had the Chamber supported tougher regulation of financial and housing markets, after all, the myriad small businesses it represents would undoubtedly be better off today. And it’s far from clear that across-the-board hostility to regulation is really in the best interests of the free-enterprise system. We assume that lobbies always recognize what’s best for their members. But they don’t, and, in the case of climate change, they may very well be missing what the companies that have resigned in protest have seen: global warming isn’t just bad for the planet; it’s bad for business.

WHACKADOODLE DANDY. Here's another item on our old pal political paranoia.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE and some of it is a mess.

ELECTIONS HAVE (HORMONAL) CONSEQUENCES. Testosterone and voting...who'd have thunk it?

ANOTHER TWIST. Here's the latest in the Megan Williams story.


October 21, 2009

That's just the stress talking

Workplace stress is probably not a major issue for this green heron.

Goat Rope has been running an off and on series lately about the links between social status health. The short version is that there is a big connection between the two and that people's health tends to be better the higher up the social ladder they are.

It's not just that people who are poor and/or have relatively low social standing get sicker and die younger, although that is true as far as it goes. Rather, it's like a social gradient that works all the way up or down. People who have very high status are healthier than people who just have high status. And so it goes.

British epidemiologist Michael Marmot, who has spent decades studying this, identifies some key components that might explain the gradient. One big one has to do with autonomy and a sense of control. This is especially true in the workplace.

While most people on the job talk about stress, research indicates that not all stresses are created equal. As Marmot puts it,

Ask more successful people if they are stressed at work and they will tell you, in slightly macho fashion, about how many e-mails they receive a day, how much in demand they are, how many different tasks await their attention, about their deadlines. If you ask about stress, they are unlikely to tell you that work is monotonous, boring, soul-destroying; that they die a little when they come to work each day because their work touches no part of them that is them. But this is the reality of many jobs; and the lower the status, the more likely that is to be so. Ask the people with all the e-mails which job they would rather be doing, the high-status job with continuous demands, and the company BMW and the firm's credit card, or the soul-destroying job with tasks that ask for little use of skills, that are completely determined by others, and, oh yes, that offer little in the way of self-fulfillment, financial rewards, or status enhancement. There are not too many high-status people who would swap their "stressed" place in the boardroom for a place on the production line.

More on that to come.

HEALTH CARE REFORM. A new poll shows strong support for a public option.

TWO CENTS MORE. Here's economist Dean Baker on the same.

CHILD WELFARE. El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia doesn't come out too well in this report.

MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. There's been another strange turn of events.



October 20, 2009

A little Elizabethan trivia

Quick, apply the makeup!

El Cabrero has been reading and thinking a good bit about social status these days, a subject that can be both funny and sad. Today I'm going for a little of both.

It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England that sugar first became widely available, at least to those who had the money to buy it. Given that people weren't too big on dental hygiene then, lots of folks who ate a lot of it had teeth go bad and turn black.

But one difference between then and now was that then black teeth were cool--they showed you could afford to eat lots of sugar. Some people not "fortunate" enough to have the real thing cosmetically blackened their teeth to look like they did.

Thinking about that--and about the political economy of sugar plantations in the "New World"--gives a whole new meaning to the phrase about being "slaves of fashion."

You can find lots more Elizabethan and Jacobean tidbits in Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as Stage.

CLIMATE CHANGE. While the coal thugs around here are all singing the same tune, the NY Times reports that energy companies are all over the place on proposed climate change legislation in the Senate.

HOLY MARKET FAILURE, BATMAN! A new study looks at the hidden costs of coal. Will this set off another coal-fired hissy fit or are they already too busy having one?

NATURAL SELECTION in real time here.

FOOD FIGHT. Here's another salvo from the food revolution.

GOD, MONKEYS AND MORALS. Here's another item by my favorite primatologist.


October 19, 2009

Been there, done that

The Gadarene swine take a dive in this Anglo-Saxon tapestry.

Well, I guess I can scratch "contract swine flu" off my to-do list. My case must have been a mild one, but it seems to have passed and I've been fever free since Friday (sorry about the alliteration in the last part of that sentence, although Anglo-Saxons were kind of into that).

Here's the official Goat Rope verdict on H1N1: if it doesn't kill you, it's not that bad. I guess you can say that about lots of things, but in this case it fits. IF your fever doesn't spike and IF you don't develop trouble breathing, it's pretty much like any other flu. The thing I remember most about it is how it made my body feel like I'd been in a pretty decent car wreck, which is something I'm pretty used to as a martial arts person.

I learned one thing from the experience: blogging can be good for your health. After mentioning symptoms in a post last week, a friend and co-worker emailed me about a medicine that could help if taken within 48 hours. I tried it and it helped. Thanks to her and to others who send good wishes.

On the down side, I missed a couple of events I'd been looking forward to. On the bright side, I got to sleep a little more and finish season 5 of The Sopranos.

Now, once more unto the breach...

DEMOGRAPHIC UPDATE. Among those swelling the ranks of the homeless are those who lost everything due to foreclosures.

WAGES are taking a dive.

ARDI'S POLITICS. A leading primatologist ponders human origins here.