Zinc!

I used to absolutely swear by Zicam intranasal gel for the common cold, but alas, the FDA pulled it off the market because people who used it incorrectly had a bad habit of losing their sense of smell.   I never seemed to have much success with zinc lozenges so I had given up hope on treating colds unless I could ever find any black market Zicam (no luck when scouring the internet).  Anyway, next cold, I’m trying the lozenges again.  In a major review, scientists have concluded that zinc really does work against colds:

A sweeping new review of the medical research on zinc shows that sniffing,sneezing, coughing and stuffy-headed cold sufferers finally have a better option than just tissue and chicken soup. When taken within 24 hours of the first runny nose or sore throat, zinc lozenges, tablets or syrups can cut coldsshort by an average of a day or more and sharply reduce the severity of symptoms, according to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, a respected medical clearinghouse.

In some of the cited studies, the benefits of zinc were significant. A March 2008 report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, for example, found that zinc lozenges cut the duration of colds to four days from seven days, and reduced coughing to two days from five.

What’s really annoying, however, is that they give you essentially no practical advice when their are dozens of zinc products out there and some are clearly much more efficiacious than others:

While the findings are certain to send droves of miserable cold sufferers to the drugstore in search of zinc treatments, the study authors offered no guidance on what type of zinc product to buy. The authors declined to make recommendations about the optimal dose, formulation or duration of zinc use, saying that more work was needed before they could make recommendations.

Not sure which ones to use, but next time I start getting a cold, its’ definitely zinc lozenge time.

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Social Security: it’s simple math

Great post from Kevin Drum that should be required reading for every journalist who ever uses the words “Social Security.”

I just don’t get it. Why do smart people keep saying stuff like this? [in reference to typical social security is doomed naysaying].  Medicare is a problem. But unless you believe that the United States is literally going to collapse in the near future, Social Security isn’t. Period.

The weird thing about this is that Social Security isn’t even hard to understand. Taxes go in, benefits go out. Unlike healthcare, which involves extremely difficult questions of technological advancement and the specter of rationing, Social Security is just arithmetic. The chart on the right tells you everything you need to know: Right now, Social Security costs about 4.5% of GDP. That’s going to increase as the baby boomer generation retires, and then in 2030 it steadies out forever at around 6% of GDP.

That’s it. That’s the story. Our choices are equally simple. If, about ten years from now, we slowly increase payroll taxes by 1.5% of GDP, Social Security will be able to pay out its current promised benefits for the rest of the century. Conversely, if we keep payroll taxes where they are today, benefits will have to be cut to 75% of their promised level by around 2040 or so. And if we do something in the middle, then taxes will go up, say, 1% of GDP and benefits will drop to about 92% of their promised level. But one way or another, at some level between 75% and 100% of what we’ve promised, Social Security benefits will always be there.

This is not a Ponzi scheme. It’s not unsustainable. The percentage of old people in America isn’t projected to grow forever. Lifespans will not increase to infinity.1 Taxes go in, benefits go out. It’s simple.

Yep.  One of my great regrets as a college faculty member is that I bought into all this media-produced hysteria before I knew better and passed on these misunderstandings to my students the first couple years I was teaching.  I’d like to think I’ve made up for it by being a vigorous advocate for more correct understandings ever since.  Roger Lowenstein’s now 6-year old article on Social Security still sets the standard for explaining the real long-term situation.

Lies and the journalists who call them out

I don’t make a point of checking in on Glenn Greenwald as often as I used to, so I actually came across this really good post via Roger Ebert’s facebook feed (which I recommend, by the way).  I just love this take on how defective the thinking of mainstream journalism is.  Apparently, a number of gatekeepers of journalism ethics feel the need to chastise Anderson Cooper for using the dreaded “L” word.  That’s right: “lie.”  Apparently, to call a spade a spade is a horrible journalistic sin.  Presumably journalists should just point out “inconsistencies” in statements, but to actually call an obvious lie as such, is somehow biased journalistic misconduct.  Absurd!  Anyway, here’s Greenwald:

Over the weekend, The Los Angeles‘ TimesJames Rainey mocked CNN’s Anderson Cooperfor repeatedly using the word “lie” to describe the factually false statements of Egyptian leaders.  Though Rainey ultimately concluded that “it’s hard to find fault with what Cooper had to say” — meaning that everything Cooper identified as a “lie” was, in fact, a “lie” — the bulk of Rainey’s column derided the CNN anchor for his statements (“Cooper’s accusations of ‘lies’ and ‘lying’ got so thick on Wednesday’s show that the host seemed to be channeling comic (and now U.S. Sen.) Al Franken’s 2003 book, ‘Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them'”).  Rainey also suggested that the harsh denunciations of Mubarak’s false statements were merely part of “Cooper’s pronounced shift toward more opinion-making in recent months . . . trying to adopt the more commentary-heavy approach of [CNN’s] higher-rated competitors, Fox and MSNBC.”  To Rainey, when a journalist calls a government lie a “lie,” that’s veering into “commentary-heavy opinion-making” rather than objective journalism (h/t Mediaite).

Yesterday, Cooper’s CNN colleague, media critic Howard Kurtz, sounded the same criticism but went even further.  On his Reliable Sourcesprogram, Kurtz showed a video clip of Cooper and then posed the following question to guest Christopher Dickey of Newsweek:

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Chris Dickey, Anderson Cooper repeatedly using the word lies. Now I think most journalists would agree with him, perhaps most Americans would agree with him. But should an anchor and correspondent be taking sides on this kind of story?

To Kurtz, when a journalist accurately points out that a powerful political leader is lying, that’s “taking sides,” a departure from journalistic objectivity, something improper.  In reply, Dickey agreed with that assessment, noting that “part of the soul of [Cooper’s] show is to take sides” and be “committed to a certain vision of the story.”…

And now, for a classic Greenwald rant that really makes me wish I had written it:

Rainey, Kurtz and Dickey all have this exactly backwards.  Identifying lies told by powerful political leaders — and describing them as such — is what good journalists do, by definition.  It’s the crux of adversarial journalism, of a “watchdog” press.  “Objectivity” does not require refraining from pointing out the falsity of government claims.  The opposite is true; objectivity requires that a journalist do exactly that:  treat factually false statements as false.  “Objectivity” is breachednot when a journalist calls a lie a “lie,” but when they refuse to do so, when they treat lies told by powerful political officials as though they’re viable, reasonable interpretations of subjective questions.  The very idea that a journalist is engaged in “opinion-making” or is “taking sides” by calling a lie a “lie” is ludicrous; the only “side” such a journalist is taking is with facts, with the truth.   It’s when a journalist fails to identify a false statement as such that they are “taking sides” — they’re siding with those in power by deceitfully depicting their demonstrably false statements as something other than lies.

Amen, brother.

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