Tat Trouble

In case you’re looking for another reason to not get a tattoo, let me be of assistance — medical researchers are finding that a measurable portion of people who get inked report skin reactions which can last for months, or longer.

A recent study published in the thrillingly named journal Contact Dermatitis interviewed 300 New Yorkers with tats in the area around Central Park in June 2013.  (Wouldn’t you love to know, by the way, whether it took more than 15 minutes to find 300 inked people around Central Park, and how many of the people approached told the researchers to stick it?)  Ten percent of respondents reported having problems with their body art, ranging from rashes to itching, swelling, infections, delaying healing, and skin bumps, with six percent saying the problems continued for more than four months.  Some of the reactions appear to be responses caused by the body’s immune system.

The study also indicates that conditions seem to be related to the color of the ink used, with skin problems reported for red ink at levels disproportionate to the commonness of red ink tattoos. Researchers don’t yet know whether the reactions are due to the ink itself, or to brighteners or preservatives used with the ink — but then, tattoo-related conditions haven’t exactly been a hot topic in the medical research field.  That’s unfortunate because, as Dr. Marie Leger, spokesperson for the study, said, “The skin is a highly immune-sensitive organ, and the long-term consequences of repeatedly testing the body’s immune system with injected dyes and colored inks are poorly understood.”  No kidding!

If you’ve ever had poison ivy or a bad rash, you know that there are few things more maddening than persistently itchy skin.  I can’t imagine dealing with it for months, or even years.  With tattoos becoming increasingly common — Dr. Leger estimates one in five adult Americans has at least one tattoo — maybe it’s time to take a careful and systematic look at just what risks are involved in getting permanently inked up.

Lost Dog

IMG_5592I passed this already weathered poster on my way to work this morning, and the lost, big-eyed expression on Frida’s face made me want to ditch work and go looking for her then and there.  I didn’t, of course, but I did keep an eye out for her on my walks to and from the office.  The picture made it easy to imagine the little dog shivering, rain-soaked, and unable to find her way home.  Unfortunately, Frida was nowhere to be found.

There are few things sadder and more heart-tugging than a “lost dog” poster on a telephone pole.  All dog owners can identify with the person who turned around and found that her dog darted away, or was mysteriously gone from the backyard.  We can envision the frantic, fruitless search, the drive through nearby streets looking for the lost pup, and then finally the desperation that causes the little Xeroxed signs to be stapled to telephone poles and bulletin boards in hopes that someone might have seen the beloved family pet.

Keep an eye out for Frida, will you?

Business Blogger

Richard has started his new job at the San Antonio Express-News, and one of the first things he’s done is restart the blog “Shop Talk,” which will collect news about developments in the retail sector in San Antonio.  His first post on the blog is here.

A lot of newspaper work these days is in the social media sphere, on blogs, Twitter feeds, and other outlets that I can’t even begin to identify.  The reality is that many young people are getting their news electronically, and social media also allows news to be published immediately, rather than waiting until next morning’s newspaper.

The retail area, too, is one that is interesting to most people.  Many of us worked in retail at some point in our lives — as a server in a restaurant, as a cashier at the grocery store, or as a sales clerk at a clothing outlet — and virtually everyone shops at retail stores.  As a result of our significant exposure to retail shops, some questions are just intrinsically interesting, like — how much does shoplifting cost stores, and what are the costs, in reputation and potential liability, in pursuing an aggressive no-tolerance policy?  Are all employers requiring applicants to take drug tests and no-smoking pledges these days?  And is it true that clothing manufacturers, recognizing that Americans are becoming portly, have increased the sizes of clothing, so that what is now marked a 32 waist would have been a 34 waist three years ago?

If you’re interested in retail trends, the Shop Talk blog is worth following — as is Richard’s Twitter feed.

Obese Ohio

Ohio is no longer in the top 10 list of states with the highest obesity rates.  Whoo-hoo!  But that’s where the good news ends.

Gallup and Healthways conduct an annual study to assess obesity rates in the United States, and the results are appalling.  Nationally, the obesity problem keeps getting worse, with the obesity rate in 2014 reaching 27.7 percent.  In Mississippi, which heads up the national top 10 list, the obesity rate is a shocking 35.2 percent.  Ohio dropped from number 8 in 2013 to number 13 in 2014, but that decline seems to be mostly because other people in other states are simply getting fatter, faster, than Ohioans.  Ohio’s obesity rate is 29.9 percent — which means Ohio is just a few sugary sodas away from joining the roster of states where the obesity rates is above 30 percent.

You can quibble about the design of the Gallup-Healthways study; it uses self-reported weight and height information to calculate obesity based on Body Mass Index, a measure that many experts consider to be crude and not entirely reliable.  But anyone with eyes can see that Americans keep getting fatter and fatter, which means that more Americans are dealing with adverse health consequences and increases in health care costs that flow from obesity-related conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

The Gallup-Healthways study also found a strong link between obesity and a sense of overall personal well-being.  That conclusion squares with research that shows poverty and obesity are related — according to a recent USDA study, for example, 40 percent of Americans on food stamps are obese — and is consistent with our everyday experience.  People who are struggling with financial problems, social problems, or a lack of purpose are less likely to get out and exercise or pay much attention to their health and appearance and more likely to find solace in a nightly quart of ice cream.  Their increasing weight then becomes part of a downward cycle that ends in depression and obesity.

What, then, is the answer to the obesity problem?  Government programs and hectoring don’t seem to work.  The key is getting individual Americans to care more about their own circumstances and develop more self-awareness and self-respect.  But how?

Debatable

The sheer number of current and likely Republican candidates for President in 2016 is testing the boundaries of how the candidate selection process should work.  Currently, there are more than a dozen announced and anticipated candidates whose names you are likely to have heard of — and if you credit a website called 2016.republican-candidates.org you’ll see many more candidates who have, until now, wallowed in the realm of obscurity.

Believe it or not, the first Republican debate for the 2016 campaign is less than three months away.  It will be held in Cleveland on August 6, 2015 and broadcast by Fox News.  But how do you broadcast a meaningful debate with more than a dozen participants?  Fox has decided that you don’t.  It will allow only the top ten candidates, as shown in the five most recent national polls prior to the debate, to participate.  CNN, which is broadcasting the second debate in September, has taken a different approach:  it will hold one debate with the top ten and another with a second-tier group of candidates that get at least 1 percent support in the polls and have at least one paid campaign worker in at least two of the first four states that will hold caucuses or primaries.

Already people are wondering what these decisions mean, both in terms of the role of networks in the selection process and how campaigns are organized.  Should networks be able to winnow out those who can participate in a public debate, and won’t the Fox and CNN rules mean that campaigns will have to be conducted with an eye toward getting the candidates into the top ten tier prior to the debates?  And what does it all mean for the chances of dark-horse candidates and the Republican process?

I think networks have the right to limit participants in forums they provide.  They shouldn’t have to give valuable air time to every person who has declared their candidacy — a list that, according to the 2016.republican-candidates.org website, includes people named Skip Andrews, Michael Bickelmeyer, Kerry Bowers, and Dale Christensen (and that’s just going through the first three letters of the alphabet).  At some point, too, “debates” in which there are throngs of debaters become unmanageable and pointless, either because they turn into scrums in which people are talking over each other or are given so little time to respond that you learn almost nothing meaningful about the candidates’ positions on the issues.  You might question how the field is winnowed — it seems to me, for example, that any person who has been elected governor of a significant state is sufficient serious to warrant inclusion — but some selection mechanism inevitably will be used.

Will it change how campaigns are run?  Certainly.  A process that has become increasingly front-loaded will now become even more so, with candidates planning appearances and spending money so that they increase their chances of getting into the initial top ten and get that national debate exposure.  It also means that people who seem to be on the fence, like Ohio Governor John Kasich, had better make a decision so they are included in the crucial public opinion polls.  And will it hurt dark-horse candidates like former CEO Carly Fiorina or Dr. Ben Carson?  Not necessarily, in my view.  If candidates have an appealing message, they will get noticed.  Now, they’ll just have to work on doing it earlier.

You’ll hear people saying that all of this is bad for our democracy, but let’s not kid ourselves.  The role of money in politics, and the increasing focus on early caucuses and primaries, have made it increasingly difficult for outlier candidates to become mainstream.  That’s just the reality of the world.  Not being included in a debate in August 2015 isn’t necessarily going to be fatal to a 2016 presidential candidate, either.  How many people aside from political junkies are going to be watching it, anyway?

These early debates may be of great interest to pundits and provide strong performers with alleged momentum, but they’re not going to make a significant dent in the national consciousness.  They’ll be the first shows in a long series of shows — so why not let the producers set rules that they think will make the shows more entertaining?

Rosy Future

IMG_5590The flowers in our front beds are starting to show themselves.  They include a small rosebush which has now produced striking orange flowers.  I’ve not seen roses this particular shade before — so orange that I almost wish it were Halloween.

I’ve never tried to grow roses; I’ve always heard that they are a challenge.  Given the beauty of these blooms, however, I might have to reconsider that decision.

Tag

Last weekend Kish and I saw some of the kids in the neighborhood running around on a warm spring day.  I listened carefully, but didn’t hear the dreaded cry of “Tag!  You’re it!”

Every kid loves summer, and games like kickball and red rover were were as much a part of summer as hot dogs and riding bikes and roasting marshmallows.  But I hated tag.  The reason?  I was a tubby youth who was by far the slowest kid in the neighborhood.

Every game of tag that I was involved in followed the same humiliating pattern.  Someone else would be chosen to be “it.”  That kid would then immediately scan the kids in the neighborhood.  His eyes would find me and light up with a feverish gleam.  As I tried to run away — in reality moving at a stately pace that could be timed with an hourglass — he  would zip up, easily tag me, and dart away.  Then I would spend seeming hours trudging unsuccessfully after other lightning-quick kids.  After a while the speediest kids would come closer and closer, taunting me with their proximity and daring me to tag them — but I couldn’t.

Hide and seek wasn’t much better, but at least there I could hope to find a good hiding place, then trot to the base while the seeker went far away after somebody else.  But with tag, there was no hiding option or strategy that could compensate for the lack of quickness and speed.  After I was reduced to a hot, sweaty, red-faced mess and the game got boring, another kid would inevitably allow me to make a “pity tag” so the game could go on.  I didn’t care.  I was just happy to not be “it” for a while — or at least until the second-slowest kid decided he needed an easy target.