Monday, March 27, 2017

Teetotalling is bad for you

That's the basic conclusion of the research below. The findings are in fact fairly conventional.  Moderate drinkers get fewer strokes and heart attacks than either teetotallers or heavy drinkers.  The good old Golden Mean again.  All the associations were quite weak in absolute terms but are fairly high in the context of what one generally finds in medical research.  It is also interesting that the various subtypes of cardiovascular disease all seem to be alcohol influenced.  So the conclusion embodied in my heading above is reasonably safe.

What's amazing is the spin that "New Scientist" put on the findings.  Their conclusion is:

“This study suggests that sticking within alcohol guidelines may actually lower your risk of some heart conditions,” says Tracy Parker, of charity the British Heart Foundation, who was not involved in the study. “But it’s important to remember that the risks of drinking alcohol far outweigh any possible benefits. These findings are certainly no reason to start drinking alcohol if you don’t already.”

Which is actually the reverse of what the study found.  It's just do-gooder lying.  But when is lying doing good?  Far from "the risks of drinking alcohol outweighing any possible benefits", alcohol actually confers the benefit of helping you to live longer!  There were fewer "unheralded coronary deaths" [fatal heart attacks] among moderate drinkers.   That's a pretty good benefit.  The British Heart Foundation should fire the lying Tracy Parker.  She is a preacher of some Puritanical ideology, not a competent science commentator

Association between clinically recorded alcohol consumption and initial presentation of 12 cardiovascular diseases: population based cohort study using linked health records

Steven Bell et al.


Objectives: To investigate the association between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease at higher resolution by examining the initial lifetime presentation of 12 cardiac, cerebrovascular, abdominal, or peripheral vascular diseases among five categories of consumption.

Design: Population based cohort study of linked electronic health records covering primary care, hospital admissions, and mortality in 1997-2010 (median follow-up six years).

Setting: CALIBER (ClinicAl research using LInked Bespoke studies and Electronic health Records).

Participants: 1 937 360 adults (51% women), aged ≥30 who were free from cardiovascular disease at baseline.

Main outcome measures: 12 common symptomatic manifestations of cardiovascular disease, including chronic stable angina, unstable angina, acute myocardial infarction, unheralded coronary heart disease death, heart failure, sudden coronary death/cardiac arrest, transient ischaemic attack, ischaemic stroke, intracerebral and subarachnoid haemorrhage, peripheral arterial disease, and abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Results: 114 859 individuals received an incident cardiovascular diagnosis during follow-up. Non-drinking was associated with an increased risk of unstable angina (hazard ratio 1.33, 95% confidence interval 1.21 to 1.45), myocardial infarction (1.32, 1.24 to1.41), unheralded coronary death (1.56, 1.38 to 1.76), heart failure (1.24, 1.11 to 1.38), ischaemic stroke (1.12, 1.01 to 1.24), peripheral arterial disease (1.22, 1.13 to 1.32), and abdominal aortic aneurysm (1.32, 1.17 to 1.49) compared with moderate drinking (consumption within contemporaneous UK weekly/daily guidelines of 21/3 and 14/2 units for men and women, respectively). Heavy drinking (exceeding guidelines) conferred an increased risk of presenting with unheralded coronary death (1.21, 1.08 to 1.35), heart failure (1.22, 1.08 to 1.37), cardiac arrest (1.50, 1.26 to 1.77), transient ischaemic attack (1.11, 1.02 to 1.37), ischaemic stroke (1.33, 1.09 to 1.63), intracerebral haemorrhage (1.37, 1.16 to 1.62), and peripheral arterial disease (1.35; 1.23 to 1.48), but a lower risk of myocardial infarction (0.88, 0.79 to 1.00) or stable angina (0.93, 0.86 to 1.00).

Conclusions: Heterogeneous associations exist between level of alcohol consumption and the initial presentation of cardiovascular diseases. This has implications for counselling patients, public health communication, and clinical research, suggesting a more nuanced approach to the role of alcohol in prevention of cardiovascular disease is necessary.

BMJ 2017;356:j909


Time to Repeal the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act

America is the only major country in the world to have an extraterritorial tax system, demanding its expatriate citizens pay tax on their foreign earnings. For many years this rule was obeyed more in the breach than the observance, but in 2010 the Congress, looking for new sources of revenue to shore up America’s teetering finances, passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act – FATCA. This law has empowered the IRS to demand extraordinary compliance from expats and those who provide banking services for them, at home and abroad, to demonstrate their incomes and pay taxes on them.

The consequences have been devastating. Families have been broken up, passports cancelled, citizenships have been revoked, and dictators have been given a glimpse into dissidents’ finances. Expat Americans have found it increasingly difficult to find anyone willing to offer them banking services. FATCA amounts to a fine levied by the U.S. on any of its citizens who have the temerity to live abroad.

It is time for the law to go, as a simple matter of justice. That’s why I signed this coalition letter along with 22 other leaders from think tanks, taxpayer groups, and grassroots organizations, calling for the repeal of FATCA. As the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which organized the letter, says:

The letter makes 5 key points: 1) FATCA fails in its primary goal to catch wealthy tax cheats; 2) It ensnares innocent Americans with excessive reporting requirements and draconian penalties for the slightest oversights; 3) It makes U.S. citizens living and working abroad toxic assets in the eyes of both financial institutions and employers; 4) Its compliance costs far outstrip the revenue it collects; and 5) It encourages other nations and international organizations to pursue aggressive tax grabs that threaten American businesses and the global economy.

Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute said, FATCA may be “the worst provision in the entire tax code.” He’s right. Moreover, if other governments start thinking FATCA is a good idea, we could start seeing large numbers of people in this nation of immigrants taxed by foreign powers. Extraterritoriality was a bad idea to begin with. It should end before it gets any worse.



Ted Cruz Exposes Dem Hypocrisy Over Criticizing Federal Judges

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) made an interesting observation on day three of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings. The Democrats, he said, have no right to criticize President Trump for his negative treatment of U.S. federal judges who defy his executive orders, when they have done nothing but impugn Judge Gorsuch’s integrity all week.

The senator offered an abbreviated list of the Democrats’ smear campaign against the judge.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cruz recalled, told Gorsuch he has a tendency to “choose corporate interests over people.”

He then reminded Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) that he told Gorsuch he was guilty of "rejecting families" and failing to defend their freedoms.

Other Democrats, I would add, have been trying to corner the judge into revealing his personal opinions on controversial issues like abortion and torture, despite his reiterating how inappropriate that would be to future litigants.

Later on, Sen. Ben. Sasse (R-NE) said there is a “danger in not condemning reckless attacks” considering most Americans don’t watch these hearings and will only see sensational headlines once the Senate Judiciary holds the vote on Gorsuch.



This reckless Russia-baiting must stop

And so this weekend, with the first deployment to Estonia of a prospective 800 UK troops, the NATO plan to ‘project… stability’ against Russia, agreed upon at a summit last July, continues to move up a gear. In total, NATO members will soon have deployed four battalions, consisting of nearly 4,000 troops, in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – that is, right along Russia’s western borders. This will be supplemented by the provision of hi-tech weaponry, vehicles and aircraft, and the construction in Romania and Poland of missile-defence systems.

The narrative justifying this display of military might has been repeated to thought-nullifying effect. UK defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon was the latest to rehearse this deadeningly familiar story, as he explained that the aim of the NATO plans is to ‘deter [Russian] aggression’. After all, that’s what Western political and media elites seem to think Russia is: an aggressor. We know this because that’s what we are constantly being told: that Russia is now in the grip of the imperialist delusions of Mad Vlad Putin; that it wants, in the words of US defence secretary James Mattis, to break the postwar global order; that it will stop at nothing to order the world according to Putin’s grand designs.

That’s why Russia supposedly semi-rigged the US elections, why it bombed Syria into Russian line, why it invaded Ukraine. Because it wants to dominate its enemies, and where its desire exceed its means, undermine and disorient them. As UK defence chief Mike Penning told parliament in October, it’s time ‘to look back to the old foe’ and defend ourselves.

Yet to see Russia as the aggressor, and the NATO-fronted West and its allies as the picked-upon, is a distortion of historical reality. For every cruise missile test by the Russians, there has been a ‘military training exercise’ by NATO – such as that in June, when NATO members embarked on the largest movement of foreign allied troops in Poland since the Second World War. For every annexation of former Russian territory in Ukraine, there has been a Western-backed coup to install a pro-EU premier. For every heavily highlighted sign of Russian aggression, there has been an accompanying, obscured, misrepresented act of Western aggression to prompt it.

In fact, since the end of the actual Cold War, the West, with NATO its institutional and organisational expression, has seemingly been set on antagonising Russia. Not deliberately, exactly, but almost as a byproduct of the West’s post-Cold War disorientation, its want of purpose – a want writ large in NATO itself, a remnant of the Cold War that has lived on in search of an enemy to justify its mission. And where better to look for this enemy than towards the ‘old foe’, as Penning tellingly called Russia.

That’s why after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and despite promises to the contrary, NATO actually became more pro-active, more expansionist, extending its membership eastwards towards the Russian border, taking in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. It was reaching out for a point, enemies against whom it could define itself. As then US president Bill Clinton insisted in 1997, in almost existential terms: ‘The bottom line is clear: expanding NATO will enhance our security. It is the right thing to do.’ Then, following the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the former Soviet satellite states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were admitted in 2004, followed by Croatia and Albania in 2009. A 2012 NATO strategy statement captures well its expansionist logic: ‘[NATO’s] goal of a Europe whole and free, and sharing common values, would be best served by the eventual integration of all European countries that so desire into Euro-Atlantic structures.’

In the West of course, NATO’s expansion is seen as benign and right. Every intervention in territories picked almost at random, from Kosovo to Afghanistan, Iraq to Libya, is presented and perceived as an intervention in the service of the good, the ethical (no matter the often terrible consequences). And every new member admitted, almost entirely from the old Eastern Bloc, is presented and perceived as an extension of peace and security. But it’s not difficult to see that from the perspective of Russia, the perspective of the Kremlin, NATO’s wars, its expansionism, might be seen as at least something approaching an act of aggression.

And now, incredibly, NATO is amassing troops on the Russian border. So while Fallon et al might try to paint Russia as the aggressor here, it doesn’t take an FSB agent to see a rather less West-flattering counter-narrative. This is why, following the announcement of NATO’s plans to deploy troops to its eastern frontier states, former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, a man well-versed in old-school Cold War diplomacy, declared: ‘[NATO’s rhetoric] screams of an intention practically to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence, but in fact they are preparing an offensive.’

Yes, Russia has made its own moves. It did annex Crimea in the aftermath of the EU-backed, de facto coup in Ukraine in 2014. It is involved in the rebel-controlled eastern region of Ukraine. And Russian armed forces did help Assad’s Syrian regime roll back ISIS at great civilian cost. But these actions are not those of a power-crazed military aggressor — they’re those of a nation state with relatively clear strategic interests, chief among them being the protection of its borders, and beyond that, preserving regional stability. Russia is not so much driving conflicts as it is responding to them – responding to the West’s unravelling of the Middle East, responding to NATO and the EU’s various entreaties to the Baltic states, and responding, above all, to the transformation of Ukraine from a long-term ally into a EU-ified and NATO-encouraged antagonist.

Yet if NATO’s reckless sabre-rattling on the ground continues, Russia might really become what its Western antagonists presently only imagine it to be: a clear and present danger to the West.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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