A little perspective

By Times Wires
Published February 24, 2008

half-pound of bad beef per american

It can be hard to fathom the size of this month's beef recall, the largest in U.S. history. But think of it this way: At 143-million pounds, that is nearly half a pound for every American. Little is known about the undercover investigator who documented the dirt, except this. He's a vegan. In a telephone interview last week with the Los Angeles Times, the investigator for the Humane Society of the United States sketched a vivid, bleak account of his six weeks at a slaughterhouse that supplied meat to school lunch programs and supermarkets. By day, the investigator said, he helped drive cattle from trucks and pens into a chute that led to the killing floor. He employed a tiny, hidden camera to film animals too weak or sick to walk to slaughter. Under federal regulations, only animals able to walk on their own can be used for meat. At night, the agent said, he retired, exhausted and manure-flecked, to a motel to chronicle his findings in a notebook and lock his videotapes in a closet safe. The video led a district attorney to file criminal charges against two workers at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. and prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to announce its recall. The plant is now closed.

New thinking on the cost of obesity

It's conventional wisdom that obesity is expensive to a society because of the associated higher health costs. But Slate points out it isn't necessarily so. Citing a study by a Dutch team in the journal PLoS Medicine, Slate challenges the assumption that fat people are more expensive. It's true if you compare two people of the same age and wealth, one slim, one obese, you can expect the fatter one to have more chronic diseases. But obese people have shorter life spans. Indeed, the analysis in PLoS Medicine revealed that lifetime health expenditures were highest for healthy-living people of optimum weight. A second study, published in American Journal of Public Health, looked at body image and health. The authors compared similar people and examined how often they reported feeling under the weather over a 30-day period. Body image had a much bigger impact on their health than body size. Two equally obese women would have very different health outcomes, depending on how they felt about their bodies. The stigma associated with feeling fat may itself be a major contributor to obesity-related disease and ill health.

The BBC is waving goodbye to shortwave

If a little gizmo could have feelings, the small gray Sony shortwave radio that has faithfully graced your Perspective editor's bedside table for 25 years is a bit sad today. In a nod to modern realities, the BBC World Service, which started its scratchy shortwave transmissions to listeners cut off by "desert, snow and sea" 75 years ago, ended its last English-language shortwave services in Europe last week. The New York Times points out the Beeb has been reducing its shortwave transmissions for years, eliminating services to North America and Australia in 2001 and South America in 2005. The abdication speech of Edward VIII was broadcast on shortwave, as was news of the Hindenburg's explosion and Hungarian Free Radio's last anguished call for aid as Russian tanks rumbled into Budapest. But the Internet has squeezed out the shortwave in the West (the BBC World Service, sans static, can be streamed to a computer). So that little Sony shortwave will no longer be packed for trips to Europe, and by the bedside it is tuned mostly to local public broadcasting on the FM dial, hardly the task for which it was soldered. The immortal phrase "This is London" will no longer be heard on it. Still, BBC shortwave transmissions continue in Africa and Asia, where the medium remains important.

What's the word for that again?

The Atlantic Monthly challenges readers to create words for new situations. A teacher sought a word for the skill of "rapidly turning off a cell phone that rings at an inappropriate moment." Cellerity, demobilization, having good ringflexes, and rapid bye movement were contenders. But a Vermont man quietly won: "While I was attending a Quaker worship service (which is predominantly silent), the Friend sitting next to me had his cell phone ring and scrambled to turn it off. This action prompted the word tone-deft to come to mind. You could say that it was divinely inspired." Read the Atlantic's Word Fugitives feature at theatlantic.com.