Monthly Archives: December 2011

New Year’s Resolutions: Good Luck

Well, we’re about ready to shove 2011 aside and welcome 2012. I’m saying that in advance of New Year’s Eve, since, as with almost every other year, I’ll be long asleep before the ball starts to drop in Times Square.

I never make New Year’s resolutions. As I opined at this time last year, why set yourself up for disappointment so early in the year? Still, I know many do establish resolutions or goals for the year. According to a story on CNN, as many as 40 to 45 percent of Americans will make New Year’s resolutions this year. And about half of them will be successful after six months. Good for them.

And while I don’t make resolutions, I do try to pull my head out of the sand at the end of December and take a look at the year ahead.

In 2012, I’ll become eligible for Medicare. And I’m starting to grow my hair longer so when I appear before one of the Obamacare Death Panels those in charge will view me as Comrade Rob instead of Mr. Jewell. Just kidding. (Note to self: I hope.)

In May, I’m planning to head to Pittsburgh to run the half marathon. Might as well keep running as far as I can for as long as I can. What else is there to do when every day now is essentially Saturday? Golf? Nah. As one pundit observed, golf is a good walk spoiled.

And I’ll continue at my post as a pajama-clad citizen journalist, keeping a bleary early morning eye out for the important issues and well as for the ludicrous and ridiculous stories and the miscreants Inside the Beltway and elsewhere who are behind them.

So, good luck with your resolutions.

And Happy New Year!

Holiday Eating: Fighting the Battle of the Bulge

Good grief. Will this long national nightmare currently being played out in Iowa ever be over? I spent 60 minutes chasing the treadmill belt this early a.m. and what I found out from the Talking Heads on CNN and Fox News was that Newt was down, Paul was up, and Santorum is climbing fast. And Romney, who most conservatives don’t like, will most likely win the GOP presidential nomination anyway.

As Michael Barone opines in the WSJ, “As Iowa Goes, So Goes Iowa.”

Anyway, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. As we near the end of the year, my running log shows that I’ve hit the concrete or treadmill belt for about 1,400 miles. Still, I’m gaining weight — which I attribute in part to a mutant thyroid and a fondness for Jameson over ice. And like many others, this time of the year is particularly challenging.

I’m a big believer in exercise. But I’m not so sure exercise along wins the battle of the bulge. Here’s from the NYT, “Curbing Holiday Weight Gain With Exercise“:

The next few months, filled with holiday feasting, represent a dire threat to most people’s waistlines. Even those of us who normally eat a wholesome diet can find ourselves gorging on fatty, high-calorie foods and gaining the annual Christmas inner tube. But several new studies promote a simple and effective response: Run or walk from the buffet. Even if you’ve already overindulged, the studies suggest, exercise can lessen or reverse the unwelcome consequences.

For the studies, Paul T. Williams, a staff scientist in the life sciences division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, enlisted the help of more than 100,000 runners and, for a second study published last week in the journal Obesity, almost 40,000 walkers. He had each group fill out extensive questionnaires that asked about their running or walking history, including when they’d begun running more than 12 miles a week or walking at least half a mile most days of the week, as well as, for the runners, their current mileage, best race times, numbers of recent marathons, and so on. The questionnaire also asked about current and previous body weight: how much they had weighed when they started exercising, what they weighed now, their waist size and height. Finally, the volunteers were asked about eating habits, and specifically, how much red meat (beef, pork and lamb) they consumed each week and how many servings of fruit they ate each day.

“We used servings of meat and fruit as markers of the overall quality or type of the diet,” Dr. Williams says. People who frequently eat meat and rarely have fruit are more likely, over all, to be eating a fattier, higher-calorie and potentially less healthy diet, he says.

Certainly, in his new research, they weighed more. Among both the runners and walkers he studied, whether male or female and whatever their age, those who ate more meat and fewer servings of fruit tended to have a higher body mass index, an indicator of overall body fat, than those who ate less meat and more fruit. They had also gained significantly more weight over the years.

Unless they exercised diligently. The more someone walked or, even more strikingly, the more they ran, the less likely they were to have gained large amounts of weight, even if they ate what the study politely calls a “high-risk diet.” Runners who ticked off about five miles a day stayed relatively lean over the years, even if they regularly consumed a meaty and presumably high-fat diet. Most still had gained some pounds, according to their running and weight histories, but less than would have been expected, given their eating habits.

“Usually, B.M.I. and waist circumference increase if you eat more meat and less fruit,” Dr. Williams says. But his data indicate that exercise reduces this effect. The more miles run, the less a person is likely to be affected by questionable dietary choices or by what Dr. Williams calls “lapses, like those that happen during the holidays.”

These are hardly the first studies, of course, to suggest that exercise can help to control weight or reduce the depredations of an imperfect diet. A 15-year study of more than 30,000 middle-aged women by Harvard researchers found that while virtually all of the women gained weight over the years, those who walked about an hour a day gained the least, averaging less than five added pounds over the 15 years. The study did not examine eating patterns, though.

An interesting animal study published this year looked directly at the effects of exercise on rats eating a high-fat diet, however. The rats were given free access to fatty foods for 12 weeks, by which time they all had become rotund and developed metabolic syndrome, a constellation of unhealthy conditions that includes insulin resistance, poor cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Then the researchers divided the animals into several groups, with some remaining on the high-fat diet but running every day, while others were switched to a standard kibble, and still others changed nothing. This new program also lasted 12 weeks.

By the end of that time, the rats that ran had managed to “reverse almost all the atherosclerotic risk factors linked to obesity,” the researchers found, even though they remained on the high-fat diet. They also had stopped gaining weight. The rats that had been switched to a standard diet but didn’t run improved their metabolic profiles, too, but not as much as the running rats. The researchers speculate that exercise activates certain metabolic pathways that undo the damage of a high-fat diet, even if that diet continues.

Dr. Williams suspects that similar mechanisms are at work in human exercisers, and that the effects are commensurately greater the more a person exercises. “It’s well established that endurance training enhances the body’s ability to burn fat” from foods, he says, so serious runners can incinerate the fat marbling a serving of beef before it is stored as flab around the waist. Which means that, if you work out dutifully, you should “get through the holidays without too many regrets,” he says.

Oh, well. I guess it could be worse. I could be chasing after voters in Iowa, munching on corn dogs and fried chicken.

Wonder how Ron Paul stays so thin doing that month after month?

 

 

Wage Gap: Congress and Federal Employees

OK. It’s the week after Christmas and there isn’t much going on. In fact, there are so few Facebook updates and Tweets that I expect nobody is working. Wonder how the social media gurus generate billable hours under these conditions? I digress. And the most popular story on USA Today: “Maria Shriver reconsidering divorce?

Wow. What happened to the Kardashians?

Anyway, emerging from this information black hole are two stories that point to the salary gap between members of Congress, federal employees and, ah, most other people — if they are fortunate enough to have jobs at all.

First, members of Congress. From the NYT, “Economic Detour Took a Detour at Capitol Hill“:

When Representative Ed Pastor was first elected to Congress two decades ago, he was comfortably ensconced in the middle class. Mr. Pastor, a Democrat from Arizona, held $100,000 or so in savings accounts in the mid-1990s and had a retirement pension, but like many Americans, he also owed the banks nearly as much in loans.

Today, Mr. Pastor, a miner’s son and a former high school teacher, is a member of a not-so-exclusive club: Capitol Hill millionaires. That group has grown in recent years to include nearly half of all members of Congress — 250 in all — and the wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents appears to be growing quickly, even as Congress debates unemployment benefits, possible cuts in food stamps and a “millionaire’s tax.”

Mr. Pastor buys a Powerball lottery ticket every weekend and says he does not consider himself rich. Indeed, within the halls of Congress, where the median net worth is $913,000 and climbing, he is not. He is a rank-and-file millionaire. But compared with the country at large, where the median net worth is $100,000 and has dropped significantly since 2004, he and most of his fellow lawmakers are true aristocrats.

Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.

Next up: federal government employees. Here’s from USA Today, “Federal workers starting at much higher pay than in past“:

Newly hired federal workers are starting at much higher salaries than those who did the same jobs in the past, a lift that has elevated the salaries of scientists and custodians alike.

The pay hikes have made the federal government a go-to place for many young people.

A 20- to 24-year-old auto mechanic started at an average of $46,427 this year, up from $36,750 five years ago. The government hires about 400 full-time auto mechanics a year.

A 30- to 34-year-old lawyer started at an average of $101,045 this year, up from $79,177 five years ago. The government hires about 2,500 lawyers a year. And a mechanical engineer, age 25 to 29, started at $63,675, up from $51,746 in 2006. The government hires about 600 mechanical engineers a year.

Behind the boost: The government is classifying more new hires — secretaries, mail clerks, chaplains, laundry workers, electrical engineers and wildlife biologists — as taking more demanding versions of their jobs and deserving more pay.

The higher pay also reflects the more challenging jobs federal workers often do. The Bureau of Prisons’ 1,250 cooks earn an average of $66,225 a year. “They don’t just cook meals. They’re also correctional workers supervising inmates,” spokeswoman Traci Billingsley says. [Note to self: Say what?]

Other findings in a USA TODAY analysis of federal workers’ pay:

•Job security. Workers are holding on tightly to their federal jobs in the weak economy. The rate of quitting has fallen 29% since 2007. Ordinary retirements are down 11%. Early retirements are down two-thirds. Disability departures have dropped one-third. Layoffs are increasingly rare, too. Under the Obama administration, layoffs from reorganizations have dropped by two-thirds to fewer than 300 a year in the 2.1 million person workforce. Workers are 13 times more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off from the federal government.

•$100,000. The portion of federal workers earning $100,000 or more grew from 12% in 2006 to 22% in 2011.

Note: “Workers are 13 times more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off from the federal government.” LOL

I know. I know. It’s easy to criticize members of Congress and federal government employees. And I’m sure that most are hard working, conscientious and capable. (Well, maybe that’s stretching it a bit for members of Congress.)

But at a time when unemployment or under-employment is well in the teens, when the middle class is shrinking and the number of people living in poverty is  increasing something doesn’t smell right here.

Oh, well. Back to Maria Shriver and the Kardashians.

Air Jordan Shoes: Worth Fighting Over?

OK. I guess this is a sign that I really am getting older. Admittedly, the only sport I dislike more than pro football these days is pro basketball. And the chances of me going mano-a-mano on the floor at a shopping mall  to grab a pair of basketball sneakers are, well, zero.

Again, as with most matters, I must be missing the big picture. Nike unveils the new version of the shoe the end of last week and in many USA cities it’s more dangerous being a clerk in a shoe department than being a valet parking attendant in Baghdad.

Here’s the action in Seattle, as reported by Business Week, “Police pepper spray rowdy shoe shoppers in Seattle“:

Police used pepper spray to break up fights among pushing and shoving customers waiting outside a Seattle area mall to buy the first Nike retro Air Jordan basketball shoes that went on sale early Friday.

Tukwila (tuhk-WIL’-uh) Officer Mike Murphy says about 20 people were sprayed in a group. One man was arrested for assault after police say he pushed an officer. No one was injured.

Murphy says more than 1,000 people lined up to buy shoes at 4 a.m. at four stores in the Westfield Southcenter mall. He says the stores sold out and all but about 50 people got their Air Jordans.

Hundreds of customers also lined up outside shoe stores in downtown Seattle and at a mall in Federal Way.

Across the country, at least four people were arrested at a suburban Atlanta mall after a crowd of customers broke down a door before a store selling the Air Jordans opened.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Police reportedly used pepper spray to break up fights among shoe buyers who pushed and shoved outside a Seattle area mall to pick up some of the first Nike retro Air Jordans that went on sale early Friday.

Seattle TV stations report hundreds of customers had been waiting for hours outside the Westfield Southcenter mall and police were on hand to control disputes that broke out over line-cutting or pushing.

Hundreds of customers also lined up for hours outside stores in downtown Seattle and a mall in Federal Way.

One buyer walking away with the shoes told KING-TV it’s a classic style and the shoes that retail for $180 are selling for $400 on the Internet.

Gee. Kind of like the good old days when I had to get into a scrum on Christmas Eve and hope to grab a Honey Baked Ham. I digress.

And if you are venturing out shopping on this Monday after Christmas, heed the advice of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues fame: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

And by the way, who is Air Jordan?

 

Happy Festivus: Enjoy the Holidays

Wonder if some of the House Republicans will be returning to DC today to celebrate Festivus. Clearly, some must have some grievances about how the House leadership created such a major debacle over extending the payroll tax.

No matter. Festivus, as I opined last year, is the best holiday of the year. And since I have given my vast editorial staff the day off to being celebrating the holidays, here’s my post from a year ago:

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m pretty much of an asshat when it comes to most things these days.  But when it comes to political correctness, I’m indifferent about the controversy that engulfs the nation this time of year. Is it Merry Christmas? Or Happy Holidays?

Hard for me to get my shorts in a knot over all that. Why? Because the best holiday of the year is celebrated on December 23: Festivus.

For the thousands one or two of you who read these posts regularly, you may recall that I opined on this celebration a year ago: “Happy Festivus: Grievances Anyone?” An excerpt:

Ah, “A Festivus for the Rest of Us” — a day set aside to “air our grievances.” Gotta love it. But for those not yet into the spirit of Festivus, here’s the back-story:

“Happy Festivus” is the traditional greeting of Festivus a holiday featured in “The Strike” episode of Seinfeld. The episode first aired on December 18, 1997. Since then many people have been inspired by the goodness of the Seinfeld holiday and they now celebrate Festivus as any other holiday.

According to the Seinfeld model, Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23rd. However many people celebrate it other times in December and even at other times throughout the year.

The original slogan of Festivus is “A Festivus for the rest of us!” Instead of a tree an unadorned aluminum pole is used, in contrast to normal holiday materialism. Those attending Festivus may also participate in the “Airing of Grievances” which is an opportunity to tell others how they have disappointed you in the past year, followed by a Festivus dinner, and then completed by the “Feats of Strength” where the head of the household must be pinned. All of these traditions are based upon the events in the Seinfeld episode.

To get you in the mood for your own Festivus celebration, here’s from Seinfeld:

And regardless of how you celebrate, I hope you enjoy the holidays with your family and friends.

A Gift Idea: Slap Leather by Jessica Jewell

OK. I know there is a lot of stress this time of the year as everyone is trying to finish the last-minute holiday gift shopping. Even Prez O and the First Dog, Bo, got into the act yesterday, sneaking out of work early to do some shopping.

So as a public service and stress reducer I offer the following. My daughter, Jessica, found out last night that her first book of poetry, Slap Leather, has been published by Dancing Girl Press & Studio.

Here’s from Jessica’s blog, Budajest:

I don’t like to do a lot of self promotion on this blurb, but tonight my chapbook, Slap Leather, published by dancing girl press, came out. I am very happy and very proud of the book and the press. Thank you to everyone who made it come together. Here is a little sample. Happy Holidays everyone!

THE GRASS WIDOW

If you haven’t heard
of the grass widow,
hang around. She’s fond
of fires, is half seas over
for flumes. Doesn’t draw
the blinds at night—

prefers the moon
and her convolutions.

They say she stitched
closed the beak
of a meadowlark.

Sing-songed, the grassland
ocean in her throat.

Full as a tick and twitching.

If you want to order the book, here’s the link to Dancing Girl Press.

And I’ll bet the Prez wishes I would have sent this info to him yesterday. Then he could have avoided a trip to the shopping mall.

Lisbeth Salander: Did China Strike Again?

I guess it’s OK to let women and children back on the streets in DC. Members of Congress are heading for the hills — without approving an extension of the payroll tax cut or forcing Prez O to say yes or no to the proposed energy pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Ho-hum.

Here’s a much more interesting story coming from Inside the Beltway this morning.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that hackers in China gained access to the computer systems and networks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the primary lobbying group for businesses in this country. Here’s from the WSJ story, “Chinese Hackers Hit U.S. Chamber“:

A group of hackers in China breached the computer defenses of America’s top business-lobbying group and gained access to everything stored on its systems, including information about its three million members, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The break-in at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the boldest known infiltrations in what has become a regular confrontation between U.S. companies and Chinese hackers. The complex operation, which involved at least 300 Internet addresses, was discovered and quietly shut down in May 2010.

It isn’t clear how much of the compromised data was viewed by the hackers. Chamber officials say internal investigators found evidence that hackers had focused on four Chamber employees who worked on Asia policy, and that six weeks of their email had been stolen.

It is possible the hackers had access to the network for more than a year before the breach was uncovered, according to two people familiar with the Chamber’s internal investigation.

One of these people said the group behind the break-in is one that U.S. officials suspect of having ties to the Chinese government. The Chamber learned of the break-in when the Federal Bureau of Investigation told the group that servers in China were stealing its information, this person said. The FBI declined to comment on the matter.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Geng Shuang, said cyberattacks are prohibited by Chinese law and China itself is a victim of attacks. He said the allegation that the attack against the Chamber originated in China “lacks proof and evidence and is irresponsible,” adding that the hacking issue shouldn’t be “politicized.”

And more:

When sophisticated cyberspies have access to a network for many months, they often take measures to cover their tracks and to conceal what they have stolen.

To beef up security, the Chamber installed more sophisticated detection equipment and barred employees from taking the portable devices they use every day to certain countries, including China, where the risk of infiltration is considered high. Instead, Chamber employees are issued different equipment before their trips—equipment that is checked thoroughly upon their return.

Chamber officials say they haven’t been able to keep intruders completely out of their system, but now can detect and isolate attacks quickly.

The Chamber continues to see suspicious activity, they say. A thermostat at a town house the Chamber owns on Capitol Hill at one point was communicating with an Internet address in China, they say, and, in March, a printer used by Chamber executives spontaneously started printing pages with Chinese characters.

“It’s nearly impossible to keep people out. The best thing you can do is have something that tells you when they get in,” said Mr. Chavern, the chief operating officer. “It’s the new normal. I expect this to continue for the foreseeable future. I expect to be surprised again.”

The ability of rogue nations like China and Russia, criminals and other miscreants to easily gain personal information, security documents and so on represents a serious risk to our economy and national security. Here’s an interesting article in Time, “Hackers Are the New Mob: White House Gets Serious on Cybercrime.”

When I read the story this morning about the US Chamber I kind of chuckled. Not because it’s funny. It’s not. But because opening this week in theaters around the country is the flick “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

It’s based on one of the books in Stieg Larsson’s popular trilogy “Milennium” series.

And the main character is Lisbeth Salander — who among other things has the ability to essentially hack her way into any computer or access any organization’s entire network.

I read the three books in the series, and it strikes me that what Lisbeth was doing in the world of fiction is, ah, doable in the real world.

And that’s scary.

Maybe the nation that has access to the most Lisbeth Salanders will win.

Think about it.