Monday, March 21, 2016

70 years of dubious federal food rules

From a World War II--era food wheel in which butter is listed as one of the seven major food groups to today's much-maligned "MyPlate" serving chart, take a tour through the U.S. Department ofAgriculture's sometimes hilarious attempts to guide Americans toward healthy eating.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Two Numbers: Chris Christie's Big Appetite--and Budget--For Concession Stand Bites; Many New Jersey households could live large on what Governor Chris Christie spent at concession stands

Byline: Polly Mosendz

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, widely known for battling his waistline and bungling his dance moves, has faced backlash over accepting gifts--specifically Dallas Cowboys tickets--and has seen members of his administration implicated in the so-called Bridgegate traffic-halting scandal.

In May, he found himself in another NFL-related controversy, after it was determined he had spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars at concession stands.

New Jersey Watchdog, a nonprofit investigative organization, reported that Christie spent $82,594 in state funds at MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and Jets, during the 2010 and 2011 football seasons.

As governor, he receives a salary of $175,000 as well as a budget of $95,000 for expenses. If he doesn't use the full 95 grand, the surplus is returned to the state. Christie went through $360,000 of his allowance in five years, and the vast majority of that, $300,000, went to food and drinks, the watchdog determined after reviewing state records.

Over the course of two football seasons, Christie made 58 purchases at the stadium, running up an average concession stand bill of $1,424.

The stadium sells hot dogs for $6 a pop, so if he spent the entire $82,594 on wieners, that adds up to 13,765 of them. If brisket was more his style, the governor could have purchased 6,882 sandwiches at $12 each, or if he was only in the mood for cold ones, he could've downed 16,518 12-ounce cans of beer at $5.

Put another way, that Christie concessions total is 1.44 times the state's per capita gross domestic product (GDP).

The per capita GDP is $57,203, said New Jersey Data Bank, a division of the Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration. That's the eighth highest in the United States, with Connecticut at the top ($65,070) and Mississippi at bottom ($29,811).

Though Christie made some steep purchases as governor, his spending on food and drink outside the stadium did drop off following a December 2012 interview during which Barbara Walters inquired if he was too fat to be president.

After the interview and his lap-band surgery, which decreases the size of the stomach to promote weight loss, Christie's grocery bill shrunk to a monthly average of $1,201 from $1,702.

Polly Mosendz

Monday, March 14, 2016

We Can Save Ourselves From Earth-Killing Asteroids, but Someone Has to Pay; A little-known band of scientists are scanning the sky for killer asteroids and drawing up plans to save the world

Byline: Nina Burleigh

Earlier this spring, as violence and chaos drove thousands of refugees onto rickety boats off Libya, with some drowning on the grueling voyage to Italy, scientists gathered on the outskirts of Rome to discuss another sort of catastrophe. Astronomers and physicists from some of the world's top institutions grappled with a dire scenario: An asteroid possibly as large as 1,300 feet in diameter--big enough to cause epochal damage--was hurtling toward Earth, and the countries likely to be hit included some of the poorest and most unstable in the world. Policymakers bickered over whether to try to blow it up or move it, and nations nearly went to war over whether deflecting it would make the fiery rock more likely to land on them.

Relax. It was only a drill. Had it been a real emergency, you would have been instructed to kiss the world--or a large chunk of it--goodbye.

Watching this five-day asteroid war game from the wings were two Americans, one from the scientific world and one from the military. These elder statesmen of what's called planetary defense have been responsible for reminding policymakers that the planet and all life on it have been shaped by big rocks from outer space slamming into it. Dave Morrison was one of the first researchers to suggest that, unlike the dinosaurs made extinct by an asteroid impact, we might be able to defend ourselves. Former U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Lindley Johnson was eventually put in charge of NASA's Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program division after first suggesting in the 1990s that the Air Force track asteroids. These men, along with all the dedicated planetary defenders around the world, are proud (and relieved) that the Big Question has evolved from what if a cataclysm-inducing space rock is aiming for us--we now know an impact is inevitable--to what will we do about it.

That question was the main topic of that mid-April meeting held in a conference hall in Frascati, a pleasant suburb of Rome. The European Space Agency had invited astronomers, physicists, nuclear engineers and mathematicians to discuss the slim possibility of a space rock smashing into Earth and causing regional damage or maybe even the end of civilization. The goal was, as it has been for the last six Planetary Defense conferences, to share information about identifying asteroid threats and the methods for saving us all.

The focus this year was on exploring whether nations would collaborate in the face of such a threat. Scientists today can tell us, with various degrees of certainty, that an object is on track to smash into the planet in, say, 200 years, and they believe we probably have the technology to stop it. But nobody knows how human beings could or would cooperate to face a global peril. And in an age when many politicians deny man-influenced climate change, can we even count on them to believe the asteroid hazard is real?

Huge Blind Spot

Morrison, astronomer Carl Sagan's first doctoral student, was in 1989 one of the first scientists to warn the public about asteroids, with Cosmic Catastrophes, a book he co-wrote with astronomer Clark Chapman. "Thirty years ago, there was no research on near-Earth objects," he says. "There weren't that many known and hardly anything to study."

Since then, the field has grown to include national space agencies, Congress, the United Nations and labs filled with mathematicians, physicists, engineers, rocket scientists and even designers of nuclear weapons. Thanks to their efforts, more than 150,000 asteroids are now registered with the Smithsonian's Minor Planet Center. The defenders estimate there are tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands more out there that we cannot see, many in our blind spot--hidden by the sun. About 12,700 of the identified ones are categorized as NEOs, with orbits that come within 121 million miles of Earth's. NASA estimates that about 1,000 NEOs are civilization-enders--larger than a half-mile in diameter. None of the behemoths seems to be a likely threat, but about 1,600 other mapped NEOs may be headed our way, and an impact could kill millions.

Megadeath in the Yucatan

The first comet was discovered in the 17th century--although comet-like objects have been sighted throughout history, showing up in biblical and other ancient accounts. The first asteroids were identified in the 19th century, but not until the early 20th century did we realize that some of them cross Earth's orbit. Scientists now know that there are thousands of "Earth crossers," and that we're more than a little fortunate that Jupiter and Saturn absorb many of the asteroids that might otherwise pummel Earth.

The late geologist Gene Shoemaker, a science prodigy who graduated from the California Institute of Technology at age 19, was examining lunar craters in the 1950s for the U.S. space program when he determined that they were caused by impacts. Eventually, he was appointed head of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he and his team began mapping asteroids and studying the mechanics of meteorite impacts. With another scientist, Edward Chao, he discovered coesite, a type of silica produced in a violent impact. But his most important find--in terms of planetary defense--was Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which smashed into Jupiter in 1994. It was the first extraterrestrial impact human beings had predicted and then observed in real time. This gave scientists confidence that similar calculations could be made for Earth.

Around the same time that Shoemaker was compiling his notes about unusual, impact-related silicon deposits around Meteor Crater, near Winslow, Arizona, geologist Walter Alvarez discovered a layer of iridium-infused clay at the geological strata separating the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods--in other words, between the era of the dinosaurs and our epoch. Iridium is extremely rare on Earth but common in meteorites. Geologists soon found a similar iridium layer at the same geological strata in other parts of the world. They then postulated that a catastrophic impact had occurred around the time the dinosaurs became extinct, and scientists even know where the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs likely hit--just off the Yucatan Peninsula, at Chicxulub.

In the decades since, geologists have learned more about how catastrophic extraterrestrial impacts changed our planet. They believe our moon is a chip off a collision between two Mars- and Venus-size objects sometime during Earth's first 100 million years. After that impact, Earth was enveloped in a hot silicate atmosphere, leaving only heat-loving organisms in rocks a half-mile or more beneath the surface, and from that all future life developed. Numerous bigger objects, with diameters in the 5- to 10-mile range, like the one that caused the dinosaur extinction, have also slammed into the planet, causing lesser but still catastrophic changes.

The Bomb Option

When Chapman and Morrison published their 1989 book about cosmic catastrophes, they covered a broad range of menacing events, including comets, asteroids and supernovas. But both men thought the asteroid impact scenario was the most intriguing because mankind could theoretically do something to prevent one. In 1990, congressional staffers invited Morrison to present what he and others were finding about space rock hazards. A year later, Congress authorized NASA to study asteroids and how to deflect them.

Chapman and Morrison gathered together experts in astronomy, physics and geology to study the problem. The team concluded that the most dangerous asteroids were about 1 mile in diameter. Such a rock (one-tenth the size of the one that erased the dinosaurs) could have civilization-ending effects, mainly because weather alterations, caused by impact-related dust, would result in the starvation of billions of people. So they recommended sky surveys to find all objects of that size.

Besides astronomers and geologists, the planetary defender community attracted nuclear weapons designers, about to be left unemployed by the end of the Cold War, who found a new market for their expertise in massive impacts and creating a nuclear option for asteroid defense. Among them was Dr. Strangelove himself, Edward Teller, one of the fathers of America's nuclear weapons program. Peace-loving Sagan was also involved. The two men had argued bitterly over nuclear weapons, but they found common ground in the idea that nuclear weapons could save us from an asteroid.

The Little Prince's Asteroid

Planetary defense was not left to civilian scientists alone. The chief of NASA's asteroid program, Johnson, is a retired colonel who started in the Air Force as a satellite tracker. He got into the asteroid business in 1994 when he wrote a paper on what capabilities the Air Force might need by 2020. Johnson focused on asteroids and called his paper "Preparing for Planetary Defense"--thereby coining the term. After 23 years in the Air Force, Johnson announced he was retiring in 2003, and NASA enlisted him to run its Near-Earth Object Program.

A third American played a pivotal role in the development of planetary defense. Russell "Rusty" Schweickart was the first Apollo astronaut to walk in space, on the Apollo 9 mission. In 2002, he founded the B612 Foundation (named after the asteroid in Antoine de St. Exupery's story The Little Prince). He was inspired by geologist Norm Sleep's lecture about how massive asteroid impacts 3.3 billion years ago--long before the dinosaurs--had boiled the oceans and formed the building blocks of life as we know it. Schweickart devoted several decades to proselytizing for deflection and mitigation technology. He also urged fellow astronauts to get involved and found some like-minded space explorers, including former astronaut Ed Lu, who now heads B612.

Schweickart has traveled the world to encourage a coordinated global response. "I fear there's not enough of a collective survival instinct to really overcome the centrifugal political forces," he says. "That is, in a nutshell, the reason we'll get hit. Not because technically we don't know it's coming, or we can't do something about it."


When an Indian Ocean tsunami killed 230,000 in 14 nations on December 26, 2004, it captured the world's attention and obscured a nearly simultaneous, albeit theoretical, brush with Armageddon. Just 48 hours before the Indian Ocean disaster, scientists made an alarming calculation: An 885-foot-diameter hunk of dark space rock was heading our way with a 1 in 25 chance of smashing into Earth in 2036, an impact with the potential force of 58,000 Hiroshima A-bombs. The Indian Ocean earthquake that launched the tsunami released less than half that force.

The ominous spinning rock was soon renamed Apophis, after an Egyptian god, "the un-creator." For six months after it was first discovered, the asteroid wasn't even deemed interesting by the Minor Planet Center. But by December, astronomers at telescopes in Puerto Rico and Arizona had gathered enough data to enable scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which tracks NEO orbits, to project that Apophis had a 2.4 percent chance of impact in 2029, and an alarming 1 in 25 chance of smashing the Earth on an orbital swing in 2036. That prompted more scientists to start working feverishly. Eventually, they refined the prediction down to a much more unlikely threat of 1 in 250,000. When Apophis makes its close approach, it will pass between us and our satellites and be visible to the naked eye.

For the planetary defenders, such an event is cause for glee, not alarm.

The potential death star was something planetary defenders desperately needed--an event to wake up politicians and the public. But the publicity it garnered was double-edged. The public imagination was already primed by a pair of Hollywood disaster movies in 1998 (Deep Impact and Armageddon) featuring annihilation from the skies. Now, with a real apocalyptic catastrophe in the form of a killer tsunami in Indonesia, as well as an asteroid threat, the public wanted answers. And no one could give an honest answer without highlighting a single word that journalists and the public don't want to hear.

That word is "uncertainties."

'Boom Goes London, Boom Paris--'

Canadian-born astronomer Paul Chodas knows that word only too well, not least because he's often had to repeat it to journalists who know he's the go-to man whenever an asteroid makes the news. Minding asteroids is part of his job at the JPL, where he manages NASA's Near-Earth Object Program office. There, he feeds an asteroid's many variables--spin, mass, the way it reflects and absorbs light and radiates heat, and the gravitational pull of other asteroids nearby--into a supercomputer that then spits out an orbit prediction. Chodas and his colleagues for a time had calculated Apophis had a 1 in 25 chance of colliding with Earth. When I asked him whether those frightening numbers scared or excited him, he smiled and admitted it was a thrill.

His predictions, though, are filled with variables that sometimes involve plus or minus 18 million miles--a fairly significant distance even by space standards. Chodas and his colleagues grapple with uncertainties that start out small and grow in huge orders of magnitude. For example, a loss in weight equal to that of three grapes can mean the difference between an Earth hit or miss. The speed of an asteroid's spin is affected by heat, which is in turn affected by the reflectivity of the rock's surface. The vast variety of asteroids complicates the task--some are flying rubble piles, some are solid rocks, some are dust held together by gravity, and many have satellites.

The JPL crew continually refine complex equations, attempting to predict orbits with as few as six sightings. And they are getting better all the time.

JPL got another real-time chance to test equations seven years ago. One October morning in 2008, Chodas's cellphone rang as he was dropping off his son at school. It was the Minor Planet Center at Harvard, reporting that an object appeared to be speeding toward Earth. Chodas plugged the coordinates of the rock into the computer and was soon able to predict an impact time and location--just 20 hours hence, in the Middle East. JPL then contacted Johnson at NASA, who called the State Department (someone also called President George W. Bush, according to a memoir by his then-press secretary). Johnson was especially concerned that governments in the volatile region be notified. "For a while, we had it predicted heading toward Mecca," he says, drily. "And that was a concern."

At JPL, Chodas and colleague Steve Chesley drilled into the numbers and soon had a precise impact point, near a fly-specked outpost, population 10 people, deep in the Sudanese desert. Chesley identified the location on his GPS, while Chodas grabbed an atlas. When he and Chesley compared notes, they realized they had come up with the same exact impact location. Chodas was elated. "I realized we were the only two people on the entire planet who knew exactly where this thing was going to land," he says.

After the impact, JPL scientists were able to direct a team of university students from Khartoum to the predicted impact point. Even Chodas was surprised when the Sudanese students found remnants right where his equations had led them to look.

Still, frightening uncertainties remain. The last significant asteroid event was one that no one saw coming. In 2013, a "merely" bus-size space rock blew up in the sky near the town of Chelyabinsk, Siberia, with a force similar to a nuclear bomb. Windows were blasted, and 1,000 people went to the hospital. Because many drivers in Russia mount video cameras on their dashboards, scientists had a plethora of YouTube images of a streaking light, followed by a blinding explosion in the sky, that they used to pinpoint the object's trajectory.

Chelyabinsk gave the planetary defenders another lesson in what even a relatively small asteroid, bursting not on impact but in the air, can do. And they know it's only a matter of time before something like that happens over New York, London, Delhi or Tokyo.

Find Them All!

Congress passed the George E. Brown Act in response to the Apophis threat, and President Bush signed it into law in 2005, instructing NASA to detect, track, catalog and characterize the physical characteristics of asteroids larger than 85 miles across. (Brown had been a much-admired chairman of the House Science Committee and an early voice on climate change and near-Earth threats.) In other words, the U.S. was finally doing what Morrison had suggested 15 years earlier: trying to find them all.

The mapping program involved three main elements: telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii and a JPL project called NEOWISE, the Near-Earth Object Wide Infrared Survey Explorer--a fairly small, space-based telescope operating at infrared wavelengths. In fall 2011, JPL's Amy Mainzer, who heads the mapping effort, announced that the project had collected enough data for experts to declare Earth is--for now--not a target for any huge, civilization-ending mass. But hundreds of thousands of unmapped smaller objects are winging around near our planet; Mainzer says only 1 percent of NEOs above 60 feet in diameter have been found. They pose a different and perhaps more vexing challenge because they are harder to find and more likely to hit us. Objects as small as 450 feet across would cause severe regional damage, and the mapping project has identified only an estimated 25 percent of them. Geologists believe objects between about 150 and 450 feet in diameter hit Earth every 100 to 300 years, and some have wreaked havoc. NASA is considering Mainzer's proposal to build a new space-based telescope that will find and measure many more asteroids. If approved, it could be operational by 2020.

'As Big as the White House'

Deflecting an asteroid is an embryonic science. There are three schemes, roughly classified as Nuke, Kick or Tug. The Nuke option would aim an explosive device (not a conventional bomb)--or, more likely, many devices--at an asteroid on a collision course. Despite its Hollywood-grade visual potential, the planetary defense community regards it as a last-ditch effort.

The other two options are the Kick (aiming a projectile called a "kinetic impactor" at an asteroid to knock it slightly off its orbit) and the Tug (shooting an unmanned spacecraft into the orbit of the asteroid to operate as a "gravity tractor" with enough mass to pull the rock off its natural trajectory).

All three schemes depend on man's ability to navigate a craft to an asteroid. A European Space Agency project did that last November, when the Rosetta craft landed the Philae probe on a comet and sent data back to Earth for 64 hours before its batteries died.

None of the asteroid mitigation techniques have been tested, but NASA hopes to demonstrate the Tug method as part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission expected to take place in 2020, which would launch a robotic spacecraft to break off and grab a chunk of an asteroid. As part of the project, the robotic spacecraft, with its cargo, will remain in orbit around the asteroid for 100 days. Scientists believe the enhanced mass of the craft with its load of rock will eventually pull the asteroid slightly off its trajectory.

The device would then drag the chunk of the asteroid back to the moon's orbit sometime in the 2020s and leave it there, allowing future experiments on it.

The idea of dragging a space rock into orbit around the moon, essentially giving the moon a satellite, still sounds like science fiction, but planetary defenders want nations and space agencies to put real money behind testing, and for policymakers, journalists and scientists to discuss the threat calmly and realistically, somewhere between the poles of mass panic and dubious hilarity.

To that end, the defenders have devoted hours to discussing questions like what and how to tell the public about the risk. Currently, scientists rely on an ad hoc system of news releases from NASA couched in earthbound analogies: Asteroids are "big as the White House" or "an SUV," and their predicted impact effects are measured in numbers of "Hiroshimas."

The public will be hearing with increasing frequency about objects veering relatively close or even speeding toward us. Chodas and others have suggested NASA find a way to talk about asteroid risks as meteorologists talk about hurricanes, with news releases that update tracking hourly, coordinated with a government department for disasters like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local authorities who could oversee an evacuation.

The public will also be hearing more about asteroids later this month, when a motley crew of astronomers, physicists, rock stars and filmmakers get behind what's being billed as the world's first "Asteroid Day," on June 30. The annual event's date was selected because on June 30, 1908, an asteroid flattened thousands of square miles of remote Siberian forest, in what's known as the Tunguska event. The organizers and participants include Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May, U.K. Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees, American scientist Bill Nye and astronauts

Lu and Schweickart. Events are planned in cities around the world, and live presentations will be beamed from London and San Francisco. The Asteroid Day organizers are also circulating an online petition called "The 100X Declaration" calling for a hundredfold increase in the mapping and tracking of asteroids. "There are a million asteroids in our solar system that have the potential to strike Earth and destroy a city, yet we have discovered less than 10,000--just one percent--of them," the document states. "We have the technology to change that situation."

Asteroid Rage

After eight years of deliberating, a U.N. committee in March finally announced the creation of a global early-warning system to protect the planet from a potentially city-destroying, tsunami-causing or, worse, civilization-ending large space object. The planetary defenders tested the concept in mid-April by playing the war game in the suburbs of Rome. Their mission: Save the planet from an asteroid possibly four times the size of a football field. The science and policy they tested were so realistic that their online daily press releases had to be emblazoned with bright red boxes proclaiming, "Exercise. Exercise. Not a Real World Event."

NASA's Johnson says the exercise proved to him that humans can mount an asteroid response--and it can be affordable, a key element when trying to sell politicians on preventing disasters that might very well not occur in our lifetime. "A worldwide effort of a few hundred experts and a few hundred million dollars per year would be quite sufficient to identify any potential impact threat and develop the means to prevent it," he says.

Chodas created a realistic scenario for the game. At the beginning, the conference participants learned that scientists had "discovered" an asteroid estimated to be somewhere between 460 and 1,300 feet in diameter, apparently on course to smash Earth in seven years, on September 3, 2022. The participants had divided into three role-playing groups--national and international policymakers, the media and scientists--and played out over five days what humans might do.

In the first year after the asteroid's discovery (days one and two of the conference), the participants found out that scientists had used available information to estimate a long "risk corridor" that stretched from Southeast Asia to Turkey. As the asteroid moved through its orbit, scientists continually refined their predictions and homed in on its size and likely damage point, and they advised policymakers on the options. By August 2019 (day four of the conference), the participants learned that global policymakers had agreed to fire six kinetic impactors at the asteroid, and they reached their target six months later. But a debris cloud from that impact prevented observers and policymakers from knowing what had worked until January 2021 (day five of the conference), when it was announced that two of the six KIs had missed, one hit and fractured the asteroid, and another hit and broke off a chunk that remained on a path toward Earth and was hidden from view by sunlight. Two others hit the remains of the now-broken asteroid, deflecting the largest piece of it.

The following year (later on day five), the participants found out that the broken fragment was still hurtling toward Earth and remained a significant hazard. It would slam us on September 3, 2022, somewhere in India, Bangladesh or Myanmar. About a month before its projected impact, scientists were able to pinpoint the object's size (about 261 feet in diameter), as well as the likely time of impact (9:50 a.m.) and precise location (Dhaka, Bangladesh, population 15 million). They predicted the explosion would release 18 megatons of energy, similar to that asteroid explosion in 1908 that flattened thousands of miles of Siberian forest.

"The number one lesson I took away is that we need infrared, in-space telescopes that could tell us more about the sizes of these objects," Chodas says.

The exercise ended on a cliff-hanger, with a massive, flaming rock closing in on a teeming, impoverished Asian city. Having done the best they could, the planetary defenders hung up their hero lanyards, packed their suitcases, checked out of their hotels and headed for the airport, leaving the planet forewarned.

Nina Burleigh

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spilled milk

What claptrap! A lot of what's in the article "Got milked?" (Bazaar, May 4) is based on outdated research, such as the assumption that cholesterol is bad for you. Demonizing milk is just the latest food fad. The whole anti-fat fallacy was similarly suspect and never supported by research, causing many Americans to substitute carbohydrates instead and making them the most overweight nation in the world. Milk, butter and animal-based fats are good for you and necessary for the body to function properly. Anyone's attempt to turn public opinion against that goes against generations of documented usage.
E.M. Schooff, Orangeville, Ont.
We know that the average female never reaches her maximum calcium load, which potentially occurs up to the late teens, when we tend to have our worst diets. The level thus attained cannot be added to; it can only be maintained. But just because we are advised that something is good for us does not mean that there are no unwanted side effects. A current example of this is the increase in long bone fractures in people on bisphosphonate drugs, commonly prescribed for osteoporosis. While taking the drug--intended to increase bone density, particularly for the reduction of pelvic fractures--is very effective, it also has the unwanted side effects of increased mineralization of long bones, such as the femur (leg), which renders these bones increasingly brittle and therefore more liable to fracture. Many sources outside the milk industry advise us that there are healthy alternative sources to all of the nutrients found in milk. Surely we need to rethink the issue of whether drinking milk is beneficial.
Dr. Peter M. Munns, Vancouver
Are so-called experts like Alissa Hamilton, author of Getting Milked, causing more nutrition confusion? My dietitian colleagues and I published research showing higher blood levels of satiety hormones (messengers sent from your stomach to your brain to let you know you are full) and increased reported levels of satisfaction in overweight and obese adults on a 12-week weight-lossdiet who consumed three to four servings each day of milk or yogourt, versus a comparison group who had one serving each day of milk or yogourt. The group that consumed more dairy lost more weight. We had no dairy-industry funding. By the way, why all the hype around nutrition claims coming from someone trained as an environmentalist? Anyone can write a book about anything, it doesn't make them an expert. Alissa Hamilton is not a nutrition professional.
Kim Wagner Jones, registered dietitian, Calgary
So now we are to believe this book and shun dairy products--because milk is "possibly racist"?! Please, this is mad. Of course, one can thrive without milk. However, many of thousands of years ago, my Swiss ancestors domesticated the ancestors of the goats I now raise. Pastoral Europeans have been drinking milk and eating cheese for eons; it is how we survived, especially in cold, mountainous terrain unsuitable for crops. The Sami of Scandinavia have used reindeer milk; traditional nomadic Bedouin and Tuareg people in Africa have survived on camels' milk for centuries to eke out a living in their harsh environments. The diet of the traditional Maasai of Kenya consists mostly of milk, meat and blood from their cattle. I grew up in Japan in the '60s. Since the advent of school milk there, the height of the Japanese has increased dramatically. A sedentary lifestyle prevents one from adequately utilizing the calcium found in foods, which leads to bone fractures. The modern nations that consume the most dairy products also happen to be the most sedentary. If milk and cheese are so harmful, why are the milk-drinking cultures even here? The Hunza of northern India, who eat lots of yogourt, stay active and live to ridiculously old ages. This whole article is an insult and a slap in the face to farmers and these wonderful animals that share our lives.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Giving up alcohol is not as much fun as I'd hoped Toby Young

Two months ago, I set myself the target of losing 11 pounds in time for the Spectator's summer party on 1 July. To help achieve that, I swore off alcohol and, had I succeeded, my plan was to start drinking again at the party. I managed the weight loss, but didn't make it to the party because it clashed with a board meeting of the educational charity I set up five years ago. The upshot is that I haven't started drinking again and I'm debating whether to remain teetotal in perpetuity.

Temperance has its advantages. I've experienced almost no headaches or stomach aches since I gave up the booze, although that may also be connected with my diet. I've cut out bread, biscuits, crackers, potatoes, pasta, ice-cream and chocolate and tried to limit myself to about 1,000 calories a day. I'm permanently hungry and often gagging for a drink, but the upside is a sense of moral superiority when seeing my less abstemious friends, particularly when they're washing down carbohydrates with copious quantities of wine.

I remember hearing Keith Richards say that one of the few compensations of giving up heroin was watching the different emotions flitting across the faces of his former drug buddies when he declined to partake. First they looked shocked, then bereft, then resentful, as if he was passing judgment on them--which, of course, he was. My friends' reaction, when I tell them I've given up drinking, is similar.

Feeling sanctimonious is one of the by-products of self-denial and, pleasurable though it is, should be resisted. In the same way that born-again non-smokers are the most virulent anti-smoking bores, I find myself leaning towards all sorts of authoritarian causes I've previously rejected. A sugar tax, for instance. In the past, I've dismissed this as a form of thinly disguised puritanism, wanting to penalise people on low incomes for indulging in the simplest of pleasures, but now that I'm abstaining from that pleasure myself I feel a sadistic inclination to deny it to others. Inside every fat man there's an Andy Burnham struggling to get out and demand a Frosties ban.

At least in the case of sugar my zeal is tempered by the knowledge that I'll start consuming it again before long. With alcohol, I'm not so sure. I used to have a wonderfully uncomplicated relationship with booze, but I made the mistake of giving it up for a couple of years in 1999 to prove to Caroline, then my fiancé, that I wasn't an alcoholic.

I started drinking again about an hour after we'd got married and it wasn't as much fun as I'd expected. I turned into a more self-conscious drinker than before, monitoring how many glasses of wine I'd had, sometimes switching to water for a bit and generally trying to delay the point at which I moved on to hard liquor. Alcohol ceased to be a source of pleasure but one of neurotic self-examination. After 14 years of this tedious drama, it's a relief to be free of it.

There is a psychological cost, though. The most pleasurable part of drinking is the first glass of the day --that warm sense of euphoria as the alcohol enters your bloodstream, buttressed by the sure knowledge that you're not going to do any more work. Later in the evening, midway through the second bottle, the self-loathing begins to kick in, climaxing the following morning when your children burst into the bedroom at 6 a.m. It may sound weird, but these swings between peaks and troughs provide my life with a kind of structure; it's a rhythm I've become familiar with. Now, with no cork to pull at 7 p.m., I find myself in one mood all the time, neither euphoric nor depressed. Emotionally, it's a flat line.

I'm quite enjoying the stability, but I can see myself getting bored with it. I had dinner last week with a man who's been teetotal since struggling with a bout of cocaine addition when he was young, and I asked him whether this was a problem for him. I was hoping he'd say that, in time, the body's natural rhythms kick in, but no. 'I haven't experienced anything resembling euphoria for over 20 years,' he said. As he looked at me wistfully, it was obvious that a little part of him still hankered for it.

Am I prepared to pay that price? Probably not. Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

Young, Toby

Friday, March 11, 2016

Don't Get Cancer if You're in Prison; If you do, chances are the correctional health care system will hem and haw until it's too late

Byline: Victoria Bekiempis

"I'm 76 years old. Please renew my wasting diet as soon as possible," Manfred Dehe begged health care workers at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman on September 28, 2012.

Dehe stood at 5 feet 11 inches and weighed at least 200 pounds, boasting a considerable paunch and a head of thick, white hair, when he entered Eyman in February 2012. But soon after, his weight began to plummet.

"My diet card [for the wasting diet, to help him put on weight] expired in September," he again pleaded on another request form, in December. "I have been trying to get it renewed ever since. I submitted HNR [a Health Needs Request form] requests on 9/28/2012 and 11/6/12. It's now 12/10/12, and my diet card is still not renewed. My weight continues to decline." By February 2013, his body weight had dropped to about 150 pounds.

"I started noticing his clothing looked very loose," says Dehe's son Mark, who visited him regularly at Eyman, in Florence, Arizona. "It looked like he had borrowed clothes from somebody else, because they were too big for him."

Dehe's weight loss wasn't a medical mystery. Almost immediately after he came to Eyman, a series of symptoms indicated he might have prostate cancer. Providers of Dehe's medical care--first, a private, for-profit prison health care company named Wexford Health Sources, followed by another private, for-profit prison health care company named Corizon--were well-aware of these symptoms, according to records provided to Newsweek.

Lab results dated March 31, 2012, indicated Dehe had a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level of 23.3 nanograms per milliliter. The lab report flagged this level as "high"--the range listed there for a healthy individual was 0.0 ng/mL to 4.0 ng/mL--and according to the National Cancer Institute, "the higher a man's PSA level, the more likely it is that he has prostate cancer. Moreover, a sustained rise in a man's PSA level over time may also be a sign of prostate cancer." By June 2, Dehe's PSA had shot to 31.4 ng/mL.

Despite that alarming bloodwork, as well as multiple hospitalizations and Dehe's repeated requests for help, he didn't undergo a prostate biopsy until August 9, 2013. The results came back a month later: metastatic prostate cancer.

Cutting Corners & Pointing Fingers

There is little hard data on the quality of medical treatment behind bars, says Dr. Marc Stern, a correctional health care consultant and former health services director for the Washington State Department of Corrections. Nor is there much regulation of correctional facility health care.

No one disputes that prison care saves lives and often treats people who might not otherwise be treated. Many who end up imprisoned are too poor to get adequate health care on the outside. Hepatitis C is a useful case in point: An estimated one-third of those infected with hep C in the U.S. pass through the prison system. Outside of prison, this is a population that is unlikely to seek professional help when experiencing symptoms of a disease like hep C, and probably couldn't afford treatment ($25,000 to $189,000 for a full course of hep C drugs) if they did. In prisons with adequate health care services, these sick prisoners are more likely to be screened and diagnosed, and then are given the drugs at no cost to them.

However, after working in prisons across the country, Stern says his impression is that "the places that are excellent are more rare than the places that are not." The problems tend to stem from underlying financial issues: There is little public investment in correctional health care systems, and generally speaking neither public nor private providers can offer competitive salaries to prison health care workers.

"The problem is a structure that creates incentives to delay and deny care," says David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "The reason to deny care is obvious--because you save money, particularly when you're talking about conditions like cancer, which can't be treated on-site by the prison doctor. Those patients have to be sent out to specialists. That gets very expensive. That's an area where we very often see private providers cutting corners."

Managers of correctional institutions typically have a background in criminal justice and don't have medical training, which exacerbates the situation, Stern says. "They don't keep an eye on things closely enough."

There are constitutional requirements for providing adequate health care to our incarcerated populations. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Estelle v. Gamble that "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain'...proscribed by the Eighth Amendment," and ruled that correctional facilities must provide appropriate health care to prisoners. In 1993, in Helling v. McKinney, the court decided that prison officials cannot expose inmates to environments that "pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage" to their future health.

Since then, however, frequent reports and lawsuits charging negligent care of inmates--including numerous deaths--strongly suggest that many U.S. prisons and jails have ignored these rulings.

Allegations of subpar care in Arizona provide a good example of how correctional health care dysfunction puts cancer patients at extreme risk. In March 2012, the ACLU and allied prisoners' rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) and several state officials, alleging that "grossly inadequate" health care puts "all prisoners to a substantial risk of serious harm, including unnecessary pain and suffering, preventable injury, amputation, disfigurement, and death." The suit points to several cases of what it describes as poorly treated, or untreated, cancer. (The ADC oversees the state's 16 prisons, six of which are privately run.)

For example, an inmate named Ferdinand Dix complained for two years of lung cancer symptoms such as chronic cough and shortness of breath, and tested positive for tuberculosis--but never received proper treatment. The cancer spread "to his liver, lymph nodes, and other major organs, causing sepsis, liver failure, and kidney failure," according to the suit. Dix's liver "was infested with tumors and grossly enlarged to four times normal size, pressing on other internal organs and impeding his ability to eat." The suit claims medical staffers didn't "even [perform] a simple palpation of his abdomen. Instead, medical staff told him to drink energy shakes." In February 2011, Dix fell into a "non-responsive state," and "his abdomen was distended to the size of that of a full-term pregnant woman." The prison brought him to an outside hospital, where he died a few days later.

The American Friends Service Committee-Arizona released a report in October 2013 titled "Death Yards: Continuing Problems With Arizona's Correctional Health Care." The Quaker organization found that some 105 prisoners died in custody from March 2012 to June 2013. The AFSC studied 14 deaths in depth, and the report said that they "raise a number of 'red flags' regarding conditions that, if treated in a timely manner, might have been resolved." Of these 14 deaths, six involved metastatic cancers. "This clearly indicates that the conditions were long-standing and suggests that these deaths might have been preventable had the individuals received more timely care," the report charges.

Asked about allegations of subpar health care in general, and Dehe's case specifically, the ADC directed Newsweek to a press release that states: "Arizona's inmate mortality rates, including incidents of suicide, are within the national average for corrections departments. In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Arizona reported 215 deaths per 100,000 inmates, compared to the national average of 254 per 100,000."

In 2013, the ADC terminated its contract with Wexford and handed over prison health care to Corizon. The state alleged that Wexford improperly dispensed medication and wasted state resources. Wexford, however, says the decision to end the partnership was mutual--while pointing fingers at the prison system. "Once it began operating the program, the company discovered the (now publicly documented) dysfunctional nature of the ADC system," Wexford told Newsweek in a written statement.

'I Don't Feel Right'

The prison renewed Manfred Dehe's wasting diet several days after his December 10, 2012, request, but it did not address his request for prostate treatment until months later. Meanwhile, he started needing to urinate constantly. Sometimes, he had to get up four or five times at night, and each time it was a struggle to urinate. "I'm 77 years old & I don't feel right," he wrote in a Health Needs Request form.

By January 1, 2013, Dehe could barely pass urine. He was admitted to the hospital, where he was found to have a urinary tract infection and an enlarged prostate. The hospital staff inserted a catheter, prescribed a dose of antibiotics and then sent him back to Eyman.

But according to Dehe's letters, his medication was cut off 10 days later and his catheter wasn't changed for weeks. Finally, on March 19, Dehe was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with urosepsis, a condition that develops when a urinary tract infection spreads into the bloodstream.

In May 2013, lab test results revealed that Dehe's PSA had topped 100 ng/ml. By June 3, his PSA had soared to 174.4 ng/ml. "The patient needs a prostate biopsy," an off-site urologist wrote on July 2. Dehe had his biopsy August 9. A month later, the doctor wrote in his report, "I am almost positive that he has widespread metastatic disease." The urologist prescribed a testosterone suppressant injection every three months. (Male hormones encourage prostate cancer cell growth, according to the American Cancer Society.)

In February 2014, Mark visited his father. "He had to hold on to my arm for his support," Mark recalls. "I knew he didn't have too much longer to live." His care, Mark says, was consistently subpar. When Dehe went to the urologist on March 28, 2014, the doctor noted in his report, "His last known injection was 9/23/13.... His follow up injections should have been on 12/25/13 and 3/25/14."

From April 2014 onward, Mark noticed that his father's nose and ears had become overgrown with hair. He was too weak to take care of himself, and nobody was helping him groom. He had only two teeth and " joked he looked like Bugs Bunny," Mark says. His skin was blotchy and red with bruises, and bedsores had erupted on his feet and buttocks. Dehe, who had always loved to walk, spent his days lying motionless, too sick to leave his bed.

"It was very, very painful to see that--to watch somebody deteriorate in front of you, to see the nurses not care, like he was an inconvenience," Mark says. He adds that one infirmary staffer said to him, "Why don't you just throw a sheet over him? Because he already smells like he's dead."

On October 14, 2014, the ACLU and the ADC reached a settlement requiring that the state improve prison health care in publicly managed facilities and comply with continued monitoring and oversight by the prisoners' attorneys, to make sure the department abides by the agreement. That same day, Dehe died from "complications of metastatic prostate carcinoma."

Corizon says it's barred by federal privacy laws from commenting on Dehe's treatment, but "can affirm" that his oncology "met medical standards of care and was appropriate for his condition.... As health care providers, we are deeply saddened by any negative medical outcome. We take providing care for our patients very seriously. We extend our sincere condolences to Mr. Dehe's family."

This article is one in a series from Newsweek's 2015 Cancer issue, exploring challenges and innovations in cancer treatment and research. The complete issue will be available in newsstands and on digital platforms from July 24.

Victoria Bekiempis

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The cupcake cops

What is the correct number of federal regulations concerning school bake sales? Let's ask all the political strains in the country:

Libertarian: You lost me at "federal regulations," but I'm going to say one, and it shall say, "There shall be no regulations."

Establishment liberals: If Ted Cruz wants to defend levels of salt that science has found to be "too salty," to use the technical term, he can go right ahead and be a sodium denier while kids die. Those of us who are serious about the cumulative caloric impact of bake sales realize that there's no perfect number of regulations, because in a dynamic society there are always new challenges that require new safeguards in response to perils discovered by new studies. This isn't just about ensuring diversity in the candy colors of an M&M cookie. It's about securing a healthy future for all our kids while the Republicans just want to talk about Benghazi. Oh, the correct number? I don't know. Forty-seven. Hundred and twelve.

Establishment conservatives: It's a matter for the states to decide. Too long has an overreaching, out-of-control, out-of-touch, out-of-body, out-of-warranty, out-of (clang! the speaker is struck on the head and temporarily returned to the issue at hand). What? Oh. For too long, Washington has dictated preposterous rules to the states, which are the Labradors of democracy. Forcing small, distant, powerless towns to follow a law from on high is a job for the states.

Progressives: The mere existence of school bake sales shows how underfunded our public schools are, and in a just world Wall Street profits and money parked offshore to avoid taxes would be sent directly to the Drama Club. Remember that old slogan "It'll be a great day when the Pentagon has a bake sale to buy a bomber and the schools get all the money they need"? How many school lunches could be bought with what we gave Israel so its Iron Dome could knock down rockets and let the shrapnel fall onto innocent neighborhoods in Gaza? When there's a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that takes into account the ravages of colonialism, we can talk about relaxing the maximum allowable caloric intake on a choco ration, but not until. No Justice, no Pieces! Reese's, I mean.

Let's ask another question: Is there anything more illustrative of our current predicament than the idea of federal regulations on school bake sales in the first place? The Wall Street Journal reported that nutrition regs designed to keep kids from becoming waddling mini-blimps are crimping the traditional options for extracurricular fundraising, such as The Candy Bar the Length of an NBA Player's Femur and various baked goods glazed with Demon Sugar. Schools that used to sell non-approved items will switch to wrapping paper or fruit or bales of kale or whatever the state deems appropriate.

Those who fume about overweening government will earn eye rolls from the credentialed puritans who want to dictate the nation's meals and from the lickspittle transcription service we call the media. The end result--thin kids--is a good thing, and the means by which it is accomplished matter little.

The culprit, of course, is Big Lard. Ask the FLOTUS. An NPR story quoted the first lady and discussed the troubles faced by the new healthy-school-lunch initiative, noting that schools are losing money and kids don't want to eat the stuff:

"We are currently spending $10 billion a year--did you hear that, $10 billion a year--on our school lunch programs," she said last month at a White House lunch with schoolchildren who won a healthy recipe contest. "So it's not surprising that there are certain interests that are resisting change and trying to take us back to the old ways of doing business, because for them there's a lot of money on the line."

Fight those big evil grease-pushers, kids! Help your peers develop "healthy eating habits," because an eighth-grader has no idea that a burger and French fries has more calories than a plate of radishes and celery. Well, it's rather simple. It works like this:

Salad: a naturally occurring substance that grows and then gets harvested, washed--especially if it's an organically fertilized product that spent its existence steeped in night soil--and eaten, usually with "dressing," which has the nutritional value of bacon-flavored motor oil. If you eat a lot you get vitamins and roughage and the sense that this somehow makes you virtuous.

Salty snacks: a fictitious substance that begins as corn, which is pulverized into malleable mush, formed into geometric shapes, soaked in a scary-sounding chemical that has at least one "X" in its name--which ensures that the snack will have the crunchiness of a chitinous bug shell well into its second decade--and, for awesomeness, dusted with stuff that is Technically Cheese. If you eat a lot you become an ambulatory bolus of junk.

If you eat everything in moderation, then (a) you'll be okay, and (b) you can ignore the scolds and food prigs. No regulations needed. Terrifying as that sounds.

Here's another reason healthy school lunches might not be catching on: Never underestimate the ability of a school-lunch program to make a crisp, healthy salad into something that looks like a truck ran over a head of lettuce and dragged it through a sandbox. My child rejected everything at the school-lunch line because it was always limp, moist, gluey, and salty enough to parch a perch.

And that was the plastic cutlery. The food was even worse.

Mr. Lileks blogs at

Lileks, James