Monday, April 24, 2006


Very puzzling -- unless you know of the wide-ranging effects of IQ differences

Swimming-pool drowning cases involve a disproportionate number of black boys and young adults, and public pools appear to be the primary danger zone, U.S. government researchers have found. In one of the most extensive studies to look at the issue, investigators found that nearly half of the swimming-pool drownings they tracked occurred among African Americans - with males being at particular risk. The findings, published in the American Journal of Public Health, not only confirm past research showing that a large number of young drowning victims are African American, but also identify where these deaths are happening.

Nationally, between 1995 and 1998, 51 percent of drownings among blacks ages 5 to 24 happened in a public pool. Most often, it was a hotel or motel pool. That stands in contrast to white children and young adults, 55 percent of whom drowned in a residential pool. It's not clear why young African Americans, males in particular, are more likely than other racial groups to drown. But the new findings point to the places where prevention efforts are most needed, according to the investigators, led by Dr. Gitanjali Saluja of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Hotel and motel pools, they point out, often lack lifeguards. So it's vital for children to always have an adult with them.

The study findings are based on federal data for 678 swimming-pool drownings among 5- to 24-year-olds between 1995 and 1998. Overall, three-quarters of the victims were male, and black males were at greatest risk. Their rate of drowning was anywhere from 5 to 12 times higher than that of white males, depending on the age group. Hispanic males were also at greater risk than whites, but the difference was much smaller. Among females, African Americans had a higher drowning rate through the teen years. White and Hispanic females had similar rates at all ages.

Researchers have speculated that the higher drowning risk among African Americans has to do with income; lower-income families are less likely to be able to afford swimming lessons. However, Saluja's team found that the racial discrepancy persisted even when they factored in income. More research, they say, is needed to understand the underlying reasons.

The researchers lacked information on whether drowning victims had ever had swimming lessons, but they point out that pediatric experts recommend that all children age 6 and older learn to swim.



Sometimes vulgarity is not just acceptable but necessary in the workplace, the California Supreme Court ruled as it threw out a sexual harassment case by a former assistant on the "Friends" TV show. The justices, ruling 7-0 Thursday, agreed with Warner Bros. Television Productions that trash talk was part of the creative process and, therefore, the studio and its writers could not be sued for raunchy writers' meetings. No jury would believe the writers' assistant was the target of harassment during profanity-laced script sessions "for an adult-oriented comic show featuring sexual themes," Justice Marvin Baxter wrote. "Most of the sexually coarse and vulgar language at issue did not involve and was not aimed at plaintiff or other women in the workplace," Baxter wrote.

Amaani Lyle, 32, alleged six years ago that raw sexual remarks peppering work sessions and conversations added up to harassment against women. Lyle said she was offended by repeated references to the actors' sex lives and to the writers' own sexual exploits as they penned the successful NBC sitcom rife with bawdy banter about six New York City friends. She was fired after four months on the job, allegedly because she could not transcribe meetings fast enough or capture the flavor of the meetings.

Jeffrey Winikow - an attorney for the California Employment Lawyers Association, which filed a brief in support of Lyle's suit - said the high court should have let a jury decide whether the behavior was harassment. "There was absolutely no evidence to link any of the conduct at issue with anything that occurred on the show," Winikow said. Warner Bros. acknowledged that some of the sexually explicit talk took place but said it was vital to the show's chemistry. The justices noted that Lyle had been warned when she was hired that explicit discussions were part of developing the sexually charged comedy.

Still, the court added that the same dialogue and behavior might be illegal elsewhere. "Language similar to that at issue here might well establish actionable harassment depending on the circumstances," Baxter wrote.

Adam Levin, an attorney for Warner Bros. who argued the case before the justices in February, said the decision was a boon for Hollywood and other fields that thrive on creativity. "I think employers in the motion picture industry and other industries are going to breathe a collective sigh of relief," Levin said. Warner Bros. Television Productions is a division of Time Warner Inc.

Los Angeles employment law attorney Anthony Onicidi speculated that a ruling in favor of the former assistant have made it virtually impossible to produce TV programs or other creative works. "If your concern is with every statement or gesture, you could be subject to a lawsuit, that is going to inhibit the creative process," Onicidi said.



"America is fat and getting fatter. Today 140 million American adults are overweight or obese. Their bodies carry 4 billion pounds of excess fat, the result of eating 14 trillion excess calories. Numbers of this size belong in the domain of economists, not physicians. And therein lies the solution.

Medical and public health attempts to control obesity should continue, but it is time to add marketplace approaches. The first step is realizing that, nationally, weight gain is not a medical problem, it's a pollution problem.

Food calories are so pervasively and inexpensively available in our environment that they should be regarded as a pollutant. Just as an asthmatic can't help but inhale pollutants in the air all around him, we Americans cannot help but ingest the calories present in the environment all around us. Our Stone Age biology is optimized to survive famine by triggering eating at the slightest provocation. We are not optimized to eat prudently in an environment of cheap and easy calories.

Public policies have succeeded in reducing air pollution. They can teach us how to reduce calorie pollution. Tradable emission allowances, for example, establish markets where permits to emit air pollutants can be bought and sold. Market forces then provide incentives to reduce pollution emissions.

A program for tradable emission allowances could target foods with a high caloric density, that is, foods with a high number of calories per ounce. These foods are more likely to produce weight gain than foods with a low density of calories. It's easier to eat 1,000 calories in dessert than in vegetables, because the calories in dessert are concentrated.

A food's caloric density generally depends on its water and fat content. Dry, fatty foods have the highest caloric density, because water has weight but no calories and because fat has more calories per ounce than proteins and carbohydrates. For example, butter, which is fatty and dry, has 195 calories per ounce. Frozen spinach has seven calories per ounce.

A specific example illustrates how tradable emission allowances could work. Suppose the calorie-emission allowance is set to 100 calories for each ounce of food emitted into the environment (i.e., sold). A four-ounce food item having more than 400 calories could not, therefore, be sold unless "calorie credits" were purchased to cover the excess calories. So a standard four-ounce stick of butter, containing 780 calories, could not enter the marketplace until the butter producer acquired 380 additional calorie-credits from someone having credits to sell.

On the other hand, the producer of a four-ounce block of frozen spinach would emit only 28 calories into the environment and could sell the unused 372 calorie-credits to the butter producer.

With such a program, high-density foods would become more expensive and low-density foods would become cheaper. Unlike a tax, the program could be designed so the net cost change to consumers was zero. Thus, consumers who alter their eating habits need pay no more to eat the same number of calories. The hope, which should be tested, is that the number of calories eaten would drop, owing to the difficulty of consuming large numbers of calories from low-density foods. This would then reduce food costs and, ultimately, health-care costs."

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