Dorian Rolston Grant, you're right to note that high tide and the full moon augmented Sandy's surge impact. But this only further demonstrates that comparing Sandy to previous storms is a challenge. While not the first of its kind, this combination of unique conditions and the hybrid nature of Sandy is not something that has been previously studied. It will be left to future research to determine where Sandy fits in historically. The study summarized in this article targeted hurricanes, not hybrid storms, and thus cannot be readily applied to Sandy. But it does provide some indication of the role of climate change.
Dorian Rolston Thanks for your comments, Grant. I'll address them as best I can. A very intense storm (e.g., Camille of '69, cat. 5) can produce relatively weak surges, while a moderately intense storm (e.g., Katrina of '05, cat. 3) can produce severe surges. Factors that affect surge severity, independent of storm intensity: coast geometry/bathymetry; storm size; sea level rise. Your 1st point, then, that in the past there have been "hurricanes of intensity sufficient to produce storm surge..." should account for these other factors, too. Your 2nd point too, about hurricanes during a cold period, should consider that storm intensity and surge severity are not necessarily mutually dependent. The recent study linked AGW to surge, not storm intensity.
Dorian Rolston Thanks for your comment, Tyler. I'm not sure I understand your reasoning, though. Are you suggesting that spending restrictions should apply to social program benefits, but not to earned income? If so, that sounds fallacious. That someone depends on a social program for support is not in itself a reason to restrict their freedom. Of course, government dollars should be spent effectively. But if that is your concern, then food freedoms should be restricted for those not receiving public benefits, too, since their choices will ultimately affect public spending--on medical care associated with unhealthy eating habits, for example. Public solvency requires that we all make smart choices, no matter where our earning power comes from.
Dorian Rolston Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. The big soda companies market their sugary products far more insidiously--tying their vending machines to public school funding, for example, to target the young--and consumption is more widespread than for candy. Your general point about effectiveness, though, is well-taken. But I see Bloomberg as trying to raise awareness about the obesity crisis, not necessarily offer a remedy. That will come later when we start acknowledging the pervasive ramifications (like ballooning health spending) of being obese.
Dorian Rolston You're right, Nate. Criticism stemming from pragmatic concerns--will the ban temper obesity incidence, or even limit soda consumption?--is fair, and especially warranted given the absence of supporting research. (There is some evidence that combating the culture or 'social determinants' of obesity holds promise.) But as it happens, the ban has prompted instead an ideological divide, one we see playing out throughout our policy debates elsewhere. I find it particularly surprising here, though, since both sides of the aisle agree we are fat and dangerously so. If Bloomberg only wanted to raise awareness, whatever public attention he hoped for has been hijacked by these ideologically-driven concerns.
Dorian Rolston Your thoughts are much appreciated, Haley. I wish I had more space to flesh out the background: the case could be made that at least Zakaria, if not Lehrer (before he lied) too, are generally reputable and enlightening sources. (And some of the Coursera students may have had entirely different notions of intellectual property to begin with, imparted by their respective cultures from around the world.) If such trusted journalists get busted, though, you have to wonder how prevalent this problem really is.
Dorian Rolston Thanks, William. Glad to see someone else looking ahead on the issue, yet offering another perspective: maybe industry standards in journalism were waning without help from social media? Hard to say. But in any case, it's time to have an open discussion.
Dorian Rolston Your points are well-received, Nate. An informed consumer is an empowered one--empowered, in the case of food, to make healthier choices. But I disagree about the ultimate difference more information would make, and that conservatives welcoming the change. If the identity of campaign donors--whose actions have no direct impact on our health--can't be shared with the public, why would food labeling be treated any different? The Citizens United decision suggests the far Right finds information more objectionable than you think. Better labeling, even if it passed, would ultimately be negligible. (Who reads those labels, anyway?) The reality is that a food environment--what's available and what others eat--dictates consumption, not knowledge.
Dorian Rolston This is timely commentary, Sivaram. In an election year defined by the economy's health, our candidates have belied one of the greatest leaks in the federal budget: national security. But I hasten to add that their silence is no coincidence. We have very little data accounting even for where our military spending has gone, let alone what it has achieved. The vast, undefined terrain of Afghanistan surely magnifies this incapability. What we do know is that counterinsurgency doctrine has changed. Restoring order, reducing violence, and fighting insurgents in conflict areas is increasingly about development aid and info gathering, only supplemented by carefully targeted attacks. These are long-term investments the American people loathe.
Dorian Rolston This introduces the fascinating new field of neurolaw in light of recent human tragedies and their subsequent legal proceedings, which I thank you for doing, Lowell. But there are worthy additional considerations. First, neurolaw is interdisciplinary. So, it's unlikely philosophy will have much clout--at least compared to the "hard" cognitive sciences unmentioned here. Second, settling the ultimate matter of free will is not the pressing concern. Perhaps more relevant: Do the guilty enjoy some degree less free will than average? It's not needed, to establish their guilt, that they be free in any ultimate sense--only that their actions not follow their mental lives in an appropriate way. The difference is one of degree, not of kind.
Dorian Rolston Joshua, this piece is provocative and reassuring. Provocative for challenging part of the TFA ethos--that for urban school children, college-readiness can only be achieved by correcting for defects in the home. And reassuring for coming from a TFA alumnus who clearly cares about education reform, and thus defies the stereotype that TFA is for burnishing resumes only. And yet, I wonder: Supposing college was not the intended destination for TFA students, would TFA teachers playing the role of parents be just as inappropriate? To me it seems that building character--cultivating habits of mind, values, and realistic goals--is as essential for the day laborer as for the academic. For some students, intruding on family life may be a blessing.
Dorian Rolston You're right to point out that obesity, like smoking, generates negative externalities in the form of health costs, but that, unlike smoking, it is not held accountable. But it is misleading to say of obesity that it "hits poor and minority populations the hardest." If you mean the associated ills of obesity--poor health, subsequent treatment costs, etc.--hit the poor hardest, then perhaps we are keeping with the facts. But if you mean, instead, that obesity is most prevalent among the poor and minority populations, then this would be false. Among men, obesity is equally prevalent at all income levels, and most obese women are not low income. As for race, non-Hispanic Black men and women show higher rates, but still, it's unclear why.
Dorian Rolston This article raises the important point that an aging population is tied to Social Security spending. But it also suggests that America is unique in facing the challenge of demographic change, which is false. Most developed countries, in fact, are aging. This is due not only to a drop in fertility rates after the end of the baby boom, but also to increasing longevity. Like in the U.S., many of these countries anticipate greater fractions of the elderly and very elderly. Regarding public expenditures, it is worth noting that additional entitlement recipients is not the only factor affecting cost. With fewer young adults, productivity will sag, making it harder to meet the greater tax burden.
Dorian Rolston Your despair at food options is shared, Mark. My understanding is that it's the bounty of simple carbs, in particular, that is most unhealthy. And it's precisely this problem that is most devastating in poor communities, where corner stores are the only food outlets and, as a result, pre-packaged, refined, additive-laden goods are the only food options. Then again, we can't all find a home on the range, where the wheat is picked whole and the vegetables are plentiful. We need some way to mass distribute high quality foods, but the food industry, as Robert observes below, has no reason to accomodate this wish. Maybe maps of America that chart obesity as topography will move the dial...
Dorian Rolston You're right to express concern over business incentives in the food industry, Robert. There are likely many additives in what we eat that do no good. The most insidious industry failing, though, could be the subtle marketing efforts that hook us early (as kids, in school) and never let up. Consider portion size: the biggest soda cups in the 70s have been normalized as the smallest available today. As James Surowiecki's recent New Yorker piece suggests, this could be the result of our tendency to avoid either opting in or opting out, to simply accept the default option (known as our "default bias"). It's in our nature to consume whatever's put in front of us, and it's unfortunate that the companies doing the most harm know it best.
Dorian Rolston Thanks for raising these great points, Jonathan. Researchers have studied the rise in obesity prevalence alongside the decline in manufacturing jobs, spread of the internet, and other boons to workplace activity. Beginning in the 1960s, there appears to be a correlation, according to a study led by a researcher from Louisiana State. The issue of family life, something James notes below, is front and center, especially for obesity among children. Something as seemingly innocuous as skipping family meals appears to have a huge impact on weight gain in the home. Genetics play a role, too, but not independent of overeating after missing meals and mindless eating in front of the TV, according to researchers at Penn State.
Dorian Rolston Thanks for these further thoughts, James. Children appear to be in the throws of some of the most accelerated spreading of obesity prevalence. Before their 5th birthday, 1 in 3 children are already obese, triple the rate from when their parents were growing up. And, as you say, health norms are set in the home--which, for children, is largely the extent of their food environment. The cost to society of all this added weight, from children and adults alike, runs in the hundreds of billions annually. But this only includes what we can measure. Irrespective of any religious implications, obesity and the associated health risks weigh heavily on families and communities. How long this can be sustained is unclear.
Dorian Rolston Yes, they are chronic conditions. And yes, they take time to develop. But the dis-analogy between childhood obesity and parental neglect/abuse is still not clear. There are forms of parental maltreatment that, while posing no immediate physical threat to a child, have profound and tragic implications for the child's future behavior and psychology. The link between childhood maltreatment--which includes even basic neglect--and future crime, for example, suggests that "present physical threat" is not the only criterion we care about. Future effects matter. If obesity can be tied to parental maltreatment, too, why should we view it any differently? (To be clear, there are still other problems with this policy in Australia.)
Dorian Rolston Using these two examples--yoga and the internet--to distinguish between inner and outer connectivity and ultimately enlightenment is certainly an interesting take. In general, I am really intrigued by the implications this holds for our understanding of the internet, and of our compulsive drives tied to its use. I would caution, however, that drawing broad brush strokes for cultural comparisons--east vs. west--can get pretty imprecise pretty quickly. Some spiritual/religious doctrines from the east do not even distinguish between inner and outer life--the distinction is artificial and unhelpful, if not wrong (metaphysically, I suppose) to begin with, according to such views. Just a further consideration.
Dorian Rolston It's likely many of us agree that prevention is the answer. But deciding what should be done with the children already obese--for whom preventative measures now would have no effect--is another matter entirely. It is wrong, then, to argue against government overreach by citing action that should have been taken sooner. More to the point, it is not clear that obesity holds no immediate threat to children. Our CDC cites the following "immediate health effects" of childhood obesity, which include risk factors for: cardiovascular disease; prediabetes; and bone and joint problems, sleep disorders, and psychological pathologies. Add to these the long-term health effects, and we may have grounds for parental neglect, if not outright abuse.
Dorian Rolston You're right to clarify that the Obama administration, or any other for that matter, is not responsible for outsourcing--or, to be specific, for 'offshoring' jobs overseas. The next question, explored by Alan Blinder (in '05), who served on Clinton's Economic Advisory Council, is: How will offshoring change? The issue is not whether but how offshoring will happen. The IT revolution enables impersonal services (like customer service) to be traded over long distance without affecting quality. Personal services (like social work), by contrast, can't so easily be packaged in an electronic box. Education reform needs to catch up to this reality, and politicians need to distinguish between these types of service-sector offshoring.
Dorian Rolston You're right about the pressue on Murray leading up to the match, and how Federer, it turned out, was the one fighting nerves in the opening set. Let's not underestimate this: Murray switched coaches only six months ago, had already set a record--and further buoyed up British hopes--by reaching the final, and had done all this, I might add, during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Talk about pressure (even if he is from Glasgow). But we have to wonder: Did Murray ever really have a shot at the title? He is no doubt a tremendous athlete, and one who exceeds Djokovic and Nadal is some ways. But Federer's game--the slice, net play, angles, effortless blasting--was tailor-made for grass. The match wasn't Murray's to win but Federer's to lose.
Dorian Rolston This is an interesting take on our need to experience a sensation of oneness. I have never thought of internet connections as approaching anything like mystic universality. Even if both mediums stem from the same psychological drives, though, I wouldn't hold my breath for e-nlightenment. If you haven't already, listen to Jill Bolte Taylor's Ted Talk, "Stroke of Insight," which recounts her experience of 'oceanic' oneness during a stroke. There seems to be a biological story to the spiritual.
Dorian Rolston Whether or not the proposed ban will affect obesity is another discussion entirely. On this, many are skeptical. The present correlation between obesity and soft drinks may be weaker than in the past. That said, Bloomberg has had success with similarly impropable policies--against smoking and trans fats, for example. Public health research shows that such measures targeting the 'food environment', not the consumer, are most effective. And yet, if you take a Buddhist perspective, perhaps, what we really need is not freedom from government but freedom from ourselves. An interesting piece in the NYT, "Don't Indulge. Be Happy," adds a wrinkle to the idea, suggesting there's nothing wrong with desire itself--just with how we regulate it.