Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Of Note: Fish Tricks

Today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a story about a local man and his son who've trained their goldfish to do the limbo, play football and shoot a soccer ball into a net. The fish's owner, Dean Pomerleau, has written an e-book (called "Fish School Manual"), which he's selling through his website for the low price of $5.95, which means that you too can teach your fish to do tricks ("Money Back Guarantee"). His website is a must-see: It's got videos of fish playing soccer, dancing, you name it.

The website says, in big bold letters, "This is NOT a joke." That's right. Truth is, teaching fish to do tricks is nothing new. People have been training their goldfish for years: The first book on the subject was published in 1995, but people have been doing it far longer than that. When I was working on my story about fish medicine (and interviewing people who spend thousands of dollars taking their pet fish to the doctor), I met several people who'd taught their fish to dance, swim through hoops, swim little flips on command. As one of my favorite fish vets always says, "Fish are a lot smarter than we give them credit for."

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Of Note: The Economics of Obesity

My friend Mike Rosenwald just published a very creepy story called Why America Has to be Fat, about the economics of obesity:

"I am fat," he writes. "Sixty pounds too hefty, in my doctor's opinion. Probably 80 pounds, in my fiancee's view. Being fat makes me a lot of things -- a top contender for type II diabetes, for instance, or a heart attack, or stroke, maybe even a replacement knee or hip. My girth also puts me in familiar company, with about two-thirds of the U.S. population now considered overweight. But in many ways, my being fat also makes me pretty good for the economy."

His story makes the case that the boom in the US economy following the Depression helped cause our current obesity epidemic, and that obesity now actually helps fuel our economy:

"The obesity problem is really a side effect of things that are good for the economy," said Tomas J. Philipson, an economics professor who studies obesity at the University of Chicago, a city recently named the fattest in America. "But we would rather take improvements in technology and agriculture than go back to the way we lived in the 1950s when everyone was thin. Nobody wants to sweat at work for 10 hours a day and be poor. Yes, you're obese, but you have a life that is much more comfortable."

[To which I say, As if those are the only two options: sweat at work and be thin but poor, or have a comfortable work life and be fat?! Please!]

"For many corporations, and even for physicians, Americans' obesity has also fattened the bottom line. William L. Weis, a management professor at Seattle University, says revenue from the "obesity industries" will likely top $315 billion this year, and perhaps far more. That includes $133.7 billion for fast-food restaurants, $124.7 billion for medical treatments related to obesity, and $1.8 billion just for diet books -- all told, nearly 3 percent of the overall U.S. economy."

Never mind the gazillions of dollars obesity-related illnesses cost in health care, disability payments and diminished workforces. People are cashing in on obesity, and those people certainly aren't obese ...

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Monday, January 02, 2006

On Writing: Baltimore Review Interview

I often get emails from writers asking for tips on breaking into magazine writing or making the leap to becoming a full time freelancer. I keep promising myself I'm going to put together a Frequently Asked Questions page as a resource (I actually plan to write a book about this stuff at some point), but my writing schedule has been particularly hectic lately. So, for now, I thought I'd post a link to a recent Baltimore Review interview, where writer Heather Harris asks me about writing, getting published, and more. The answers are very condensed, but some of them touch on points folks may find useful.

It starts with this hilarious (and undeniably true) first line: "Talking with Rebecca Skloot is like sticking your head out the window of a car moving at 70 miles per hour." What can I say ... I've been accused of being a fast-talking whirlwind since I was three. And riding with your head out the window is fun (see above). So I thank her for that, and for making me younger in print than I am in life -- can't complain about that.

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