Sunday, 29 June 2008

we may be fat, but we still live a long time!

Just over a week ago I reported that Australians are now the fattest nation, with the percentage of overweight and obese people now exceeding the percentages in the US.

But then comes another report that shows that Aussies now have the second longest life expectancy worldwide, after Japan.

Apparently our mortality rates from cancer, heart disease, stroke and injury have been dropping, more than compensating (in statistical terms) for the unhealthy effects of obesity.

The only downside to the report is that the life expectancy of indigenous Australians is a huge 17 years less.

Friday, 27 June 2008

it's time for some mondegreens!

For those who don't know, mondegreens are words of songs that have been heard wrongly, but the result is better or funnier than the original. The term came from an old Scottish ballad which apparently tells how:

"They have slain the Earl O'Murray, And Lady Mondegreen." The real words are: "They have slain the Earl O'Murray, And laid him on the green."

Here are a few classic mondegreens from popular songs:

"Since she put me down there's been owls pukin' in my bed" (the Beach Boys "Help Me Rhonda") Actual lyric: "Since she put me down I've been out doing in my head."

"The girl with colitis goes by." (The Beatles "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds") Actual lyric: "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes."

"There's a bathroom on the right." (Creedence Clearwater Revival "Bad Moon Rising") Actual lyric: "There's a bad moon on the rise."

"Everybody in a wholesale frock, dance to the jailhouse rock" (Elvis "Jailhouse Rock") Actual lyric: "Everybody in the whole cell block, dance to the jailhouse rock

"The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind" (Bob Dylan "Blowing in the wind") Actual lyric: "The answer my friend is blowing in the wind"

"Every time you go away you take a piece of meat with you" (Paul Young "Every time you go away") Actual lyric: "Every time you go away you take a piece of me with you"

Check out more mondegreens here, here and here, and get the background at Wikipedia.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

we didn't really want to win this one

Australians are very competitive when it comes to sport, and most other things. But here's one world championship we didn't want.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australia now has an estimated 26% of its adult population classed as obese, the highest rate in the world, and 1% more than the USA.

Oh the shame of it!

More seriously, the overweight epidemic is expected to cost money in increased hospital admissions for treatment for strokes and heart attacks and surgery for overloaded knees, with consequent increases in the mortality rates.

Monday, 16 June 2008

car dependence

I'm writing this from Houston, Texas. I've only been here for two days so far, but first impressions are that the land is flat, the weather is hot - and the city is highly dependent on the car. There is very little public transport outside the city centre, the suburbs are well spread out, and getting anywhere from where we are staying in the suburbs requires a car. You see few pedestrians in the suburbs.

I don't travel overseas all that much, but last year I spent a week in the east end of London, where the population density is high, there were crowds of pedestrians, public transport has its problems but can get you anywhere pretty quickly, and there is a tax to deter cars from entering the inner city.

So I thought I'd check out how London and Houston compare to Sydney in term of car usage and population density. The classic graph for this is shown by Wikipedia:

I was pleased to see that all three cities appeared on the graph, and my observations confirmed. Houston has the lowest population density of the cities shown and by far the highest petrol consumption. It is an oil city, but you can't help feeling it will suffer the most when the oil prices rise even higher, and eventually the oil runs out. Reduced private transport will be inconvenient in London, but will make life very difficult in Sydney and almost impossible in Houston.

We need to be planning cities differently, I reckon.

Monday, 9 June 2008

out of hatred & violence - a true story

Stephen Lungu was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare in Zimbabwe) in the last days of the white minority rule. His teenage mother left her arranged marriage to a much older man and abandoned Stephen, aged three, and his younger brother and sister to the reluctant care of an aunt.

For the next few years, Stephen experienced abuse and hard times in orphanages and with relatives. He began staying out at nights and drifted into life on the streets, sleeping under bridges, scavenging food from the rubbish bins of well-off whites, and stealing when he could.

Once, when Stephen was in his early teens, he met his mother again, and tried to kill her, but missed with his knife. In despair, he fled and tried to hang himself.

Stephen joined other friends to form an urban gang, the Black Shadows. They combined criminal activity, mostly robbery at knifepoint, with violence and thuggery.

By now it was the late 1950s, and the movement to achieve black majority government in Rhodesia was attractive to young blacks. Members of the Black Shadows, including Stephen, were recruited into the liberation struggle, indoctrinated and trained.

Soon he was joining in a welter of revolutionary activities - petrol bomb attacks in parks, beer gardens, churches, political meetings and even on police cars. Then, aged just 16, Stephen joined a group of a dozen heading for the local shopping centre to petrol bomb a bank. But on their way they came across a christian mission in a large circus tent.

Stephen's hatred of the white man's religion welled up and he hastily arranged a plan to spread out around the outside of the tent, and mount a coordinated petrol bomb attack.

But before they carried out the plan, the group went inside to check it all out. They were about to leave when a pretty young black girl began to speak. Intrigued, Stephen listened as the girl, from Soweto in South Africa, told of her life and her faith in Jesus. Deep inside he felt a yearning for something better than the dirty life he was living.

Then the preacher got up and talked of violence and death, sin and forgiveness, despair and hope. Stephen wanted to talk to him, and moved to the front of the tent. Then violence erupted as petrol bombs were thrown and people fled. In the midst of the violence, Stephen and the preacher talked.

Stephen could not believe his life had any hope, even with Jesus. But the preacher listened to Stephen's story with compassion, then told him his own story, of abandonment at birth, a similar sense of despair, and the hope and purpose he now knew.

This was exactly what Stephen needed, and he left the tent that night, creeping through the darkness outside where the chaos was being dispelled by the riot squad, with a new faith in Jesus and a sense of hope and peace he had never known before.

Stephen learnt to read, married and had children and became a christian evangelist. Now in his sixties, he is the head of Africa Enterprise, a large mission, reconciliation and social welfare organisation that operates throughout the continent.

Read Stephen Lungu's story in a little more detail, or read about Africa Enterprise.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

exercise makes you happier, smarter, and .......

Photo: Morguefile

Most of us want to be happy. Most of us want to be smart. But probably most of us don't want to exercise all that much, or else we just don't have time. I have some good news and some bad news .....

the good news .....

A new book, "SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" by John Ratey MD, outlines a whole range of benefits of exercise:

  • It makes you happy - it affects the brain in a similar way to anti-depressants.
  • It reduces stress and ameliorates the effects of stress by purging brain toxins and building up antioxidants.
  • It improves our brain, increasing intelligence and improving memory.
  • It reduces the likelihood of responding to threatening situations aggressively.
  • It can help fight addictions - e.g. it reduces the desire to smoke.
  • And of course, exercise is good for health and fitness.

and the "bad" news ....

These beneficial outcomes require at least a 30 minute walk 5 times a week. Better is to make that an energetic walk, or to include some short intervals of sprinting. But even a little is better than none.

Read the article by Simon Usborne which was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, or read further information on what makes people happy and do we REALLY know how to be happy.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

evidence to make you think?

Earlier this year I posted a couple of times (here and here) on an apparent healing miracle after a cardiologist prayed for an apparently dead man. I researched the matter as thoroughly as I could, and found responses to the story fell into three distinct types:

  1. The press generally just reported the story without comment, treating it as if it was true, but just another news story.
  2. Believers accepted it immediately as genuine and a confirmation of their faith, and so rejoiced.
  3. Non-believers were sceptical, if not scornful. Miracles just don't happen, and here's another example of the gullible being duped.

So I posted the story on an atheist website, to test the response. Not surprisingly, they were sceptical, if not scornful. Many offered explanations as to how a natural medical event could be so misinterpreted. Many of their suggestions were contrary to the evidence, but when I pointed this out, people just shifted ground. And when I asked if anyone wanted to work with me to try to verify or refute the story, no-one was interested.

So I wondered, atheists say their belief is evidence-based, but how much do they really base their views on evidence? How much do christians? Which comes first, the belief or the evidence? If you discount evidence before you look at it, is that "evidence-based"?

What would it take to cause you to reconsider your beliefs? Or me?

Then I found another story, about two New Zealanders, Grant Stubbs and Owen Wilson, flying in a microlight plane which ran out of fuel and the engine stopped with no clear landing place in sight. They knew that most people who crash in a microlight plane die, so while one tried to coax the plane over a ridge in hope of finding a spot to land, the other prayed. Over the hill they found a grass landing strip they didn't know existed.

Sceptics will say that the strip was there all along, they were just lucky, and prayer had nothing to do with it. And maybe they are right. I certainly wouldn't claim this as a miracle, more as a funny story. But don't tell that to Grant and Owen, because when they came to rest on the airstrip, right in front of their eyes was a sign which said "Jesus is Lord".

If it happened to you, would that be enough to make you think? Or just laugh? Or both?