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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The aging superpower (Bloomberg)

"President Xi Jinping’s biggest obstacle to completing China's rise to global wealth and power may not be the U.S. under Donald Trump, but a greying population.

That’s why Xi's Communist Party may soon bring an historic end to its roughly four-decade-old policy of limiting the number of children each family can have. The population-control measures — involving steep fines, forced abortions and sterilizations — could be repealed as soon as this year, Bloomberg News exclusively reports.

The demographic experiment, which once limited families to just one child, has left China with 30 million more men than women and an aging problem similar to those of much more developed economies. By 2030 — when Xi hopes to be completing China’s modernization drive — about one-quarter of the population will be 60 or older.

While the prospect of an end to the policy boosted baby-related stocks in Shanghai, demographers complain the party’s been too slow to relinquish control. Births fell last year, even after a 2015 reform that allowed families to have two children.

Xi may need to take more dramatic steps if he wants to reverse the trend and maintain the dynamic economy that Trump views as such a threat. Will China now start paying families to have kids?

For more on China’s family size limits, read this Quicktake."


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Study shows yogurt may dampen chronic inflammation linked to multiple diseases (Medical Xpress)

"Inflammation can be good. It's part of the body's innate immune system, our first line of defense against illness and injury.

However, if the inflammatory response goes on for too long, it can lead to a condition called chronic inflammation, where the body essentially attacks itself, wreaking biological havoc on our organs and systems. Chronic inflammation is a factor in inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and asthma. It is also associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases.

A recent study—described in two papers, including one published today (May 14) in the Journal of Nutrition—provides new evidence that yogurt may help dampen chronic inflammation. The study explored the hypothesis that yogurt may help reduce inflammation by improving the integrity of the intestinal lining, thus preventing endotoxins—pro-inflammatory molecules produced by gut microbes—from crossing into the blood stream.

"I wanted to look at the mechanism more closely and look specifically at yogurt," says Brad Bolling, University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Professor of Food Science, whose research focuses on the role of food in preventing chronic disease.

While anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, naproxen, hydrocortisone and prednisone can help mitigate the effects of chronic inflammation, each comes with its own risks and side effects. There is a need for additional options—particularly safe, gentle, long-term treatments. Researchers have been exploring dairy products as a potential dietary treatment for more than two decades. Findings have been mixed, setting up a scientific debate about whether dairy products are pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

"There have been some mixed results over the years, but [a recent article] shows that things are pointing more toward anti-inflammatory, particularly for fermented dairy," notes Bolling, citing a 2017 review paper that assessed 52 clinical trials.

Bolling's study enrolled 120 premenopausal women, half obese and half non-obese. Half of the participants were assigned to eat 12 ounces of low-fat yogurt every day for nine weeks; a control group ate non-dairy pudding for nine weeks.

This investigation, among the largest human intervention studies to look at yogurt's impact on chronic inflammation, was funded by the National Dairy Council, a non-profit organization supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national dairy checkoff program.

At various points during the study, Bolling and his team took fasting blood samples from participants and evaluated an assortment of biomarkers that scientists have used over the years to measure endotoxin exposure and inflammation. As described in the British Journal of Nutrition this past December, the results showed that while some of the biomarkers remained steady over time, the yogurt-eaters experienced significant improvements in certain key markers, such as TNF-, an important inflammation-activating protein.

"The results indicate that ongoing consumption of yogurt may be having a general anti-inflammatory effect," says Bolling.

The new Journal of Nutrition article focuses on a different aspect of the study. Participants were also involved in a high-calorie meal challenge at the beginning and end of their nine-week dietary intervention. The challenge, meant to stress an individual's metabolism, started with either a serving of yogurt or non-dairy pudding followed by a large high-fat, high-carb breakfast meal.

"It was two sausage muffins and two hash browns, for a total of 900 calories. But everybody managed it. They'd been fasting, and they were pretty hungry," Bolling explains with a smile.

For both challenges, blood work showed that the yogurt "appetizer" helped improve some key biomarkers of endotoxin exposure and inflammation as participants digested the meal over the ensuing hours. It also helped improve glucose metabolism in obese participants, by speeding the reduction of post-meal blood glucose levels.

"Eating eight ounces of low-fat yogurt before a meal is a feasible strategy to improve post-meal metabolism and thus may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases," says Ruisong Pei, a UW-Madison food science postdoctoral researcher involved in the studies.

The findings help expand the overall body of scientific knowledge about how foods impact inflammation.

Bolling's study doesn't identify which compounds in yogurt are responsible for the shift in biomarkers associated with the health-promoting effect—or how they act in the body. Solving that piece of the puzzle will require more research, Bolling notes.

"The goal is to identify the components and then get human evidence to support their mechanism of action in the body. That's the direction we are going," he says. "Ultimately, we would like to see these components optimized in foods, particularly for medical situations where it's important to inhibit inflammation through the diet. We think this is a promising approach.""


Monday, 21 May 2018

Wishing on a Star

Wishing on a Star (1978) by Paul Weller (2004 cover)

I'm wishing on a star
To follow where you are
I'm wishing on a dream
To follow where you be

And I'm wishing on all the rainbows that I see
Wishing on all the people, uh, we've been
And I'm wishing on tomorrow, when it'll come
And I'm wishing on all the lovin' we've ever done

I'm wishing on a star
To follow where you are
I never thought I'd see
A time when you would be

So far away from home
So far away from me

Just think of all the moments that we'd spent
I just can't let you go, from me you were meant
I didn't me to hurt you and i know
That in the game of love you reap what you sow

I feel it's time for us to make up, baby
I feel it's time for us to get back together
And make the best of things, oh, baby
When we're together, oh, whether or never

I feel it's time for us to make up, baby
I feel it's time for us to get back together
And make the best of things, oh, baby
When we're together, yeahhhh... whether or never

And I'm wishing on a star...

And I wish on all the rainbows that I see
Wishing on all the people,uh, we've ever been
And I'm wishing on tomorrow, when it'll come
And I'm wishing on all the lovin' we've ever done

And I'm wishing on a star
To follow where you are (oh rich out)
(I'm) wishing on a dream
To follow where you be

(said) I'm wishing on a star...

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Closer I Get To You

The Closer I Get To You (1978) by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

The closer I get to you
The more you make me see
By giving me all you've got
Your love has captured me

Over and over again
I try to tell myself that we
Could never be more than friends
And all the while inside
I knew it was real
The way you make me feel

Lying here next to you
Time just seems to fly
Needing you more and more
Let's give love a try

Oh, sweeter than sweeter love grows
And heaven's there for those
Who fool the tricks of time
With the hearts in love they find
True love
In a special way

The closer I get to you
The more you make me see
By giving me all you've got
Your love has captured me

Over and over again
I try to tell myself that we
Could never be more than friends
And all the while inside
I knew it was real
The way you make me feel

The closer I get to you
The more you make me see
By giving you all I've got
Your love has captured me

The closer I get to you
A feeling comes over me
(Me too)
Falling closer, sweet as the gravity

The closer I get (to you)

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Oslo thaws on UK joining EEA after Brexit (FT)

PM Solberg says London should reconsider Norwegian model despite its ‘political deficit’ (FT)

"Norway is open to the UK joining the European Economic Area, its prime minister has said, signalling a thawing in Oslo’s attitude to Britain taking the “Norway option” where it would be outside the EU but inside the single market. 

Erna Solberg told the Financial Times in an interview that the Nordic country was prepared to see the UK join the EEA, conceding that the option was “on the shelf” and readily available to London. 

“I think we will cope very well if the Brits come in. It will give bargaining power on our side too. And it would ease Norway’s access to the UK,” she said. 

The UK is Norway’s biggest trading partner thanks to gas sales to Britain. 

Senior Norwegian diplomats and business people have repeatedly warned that UK membership of the EEA would distort the small group — which includes Iceland and Liechtenstein — away from Norway’s priorities of protecting its agriculture and fishing. 

We would go from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in still a pretty small pond,” said the chairman of one large company close to the Norwegian government. 

The so-called Norwegian model is playing an increasingly significant role in the debate over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The House of Lords voted last week in favour of British membership of the EEA once it leaves the EU, although Theresa May’s government opposes such an outcome and the House of Commons is likely to overturn the vote. 

Mrs May’s Brexit cabinet committee will meet on Tuesday as it continues to wrangle over customs options — including her preferred “customs partnership” — with the prime minister keen to finalise an agreed position before next month’s EU summit. 

What Theresa May can do about her Brexit woes Ms Solberg and other Norwegian politicians have previously warned that it would be difficult for London to join the EEA because it involves both agreeing to free movement of people and nearly all rules from Brussels as well as continuing to pay into the EU budget. 

One of the main reasons Mrs May opposes continued single market membership is because long-term free movement of EU nationals is seen as politically unacceptable. 

“You have to accept a couple of things that were difficult in the discussion before Brexit,” Ms Solberg said, adding there would be “costs and benefits” to UK membership of the EEA. 

She acknowledged what some have termed the EEA’s “political deficit”, in which members have to accept rules decided in Brussels. 

Oslo, in principle, has a veto over EU laws but has never used it due to the fear of how Brussels might respond. It agreed to adopt controversial plans for energy union several weeks ago despite widespread public opposition and concern over the impact on electricity prices. 

The EU as a whole accounts for almost three-quarters of trade with Oslo. 

Ms Solberg pointed to rules that she said Norway was forced to adopt despite being unsuited to them. They included regulations for slides in kindergartens, which Ms Solberg said were more appropriate to protect children from burns in relatively hot countries such as Spain, and several rules on how livestock are kept. 

“Of course there are limits [to being in the EEA]. It shows that small countries like Norway are dependent on stable rules. But I won’t speak it up as a big problem,” the prime minister said. 

Ms Solberg also warned that Norway was increasingly worried about being caught in the crossfire of a US-European trade war. EEA membership puts it inside the single market but outside the EU’s customs union, leaving it potentially exposed in trade battles between Washington, Brussels and elsewhere. 

Norway has not received the temporary exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium that the EU has, and policymakers in Oslo said they were even more worried about counter-measures from the EU. 

“What we are most afraid of is the secondary effects, how it increases the tension on trade, how it introduces new types of tariff barriers,” Ms Solberg said. 

Ine Marie Soreide, Norway’s foreign minister, said in a separate interview that the US tariffs “undermine the whole rules-based trading system.” 

But she noted that Oslo had still more at stake should the EU increase trade barriers in response to the US move: “Our main concern is that most of our exports go to the EU . . . We are an EEA member: we should be exempt from any tariffs and safeguards that the EU might have.”"


Big Four accountancy firms plan for forced break-up (FT)

"The Big Four accountancy firms have drawn up contingency plans for a break up of their UK businesses, an option politicians and regulators are increasingly pushing to solve conflicts of interest embedded in the industry.

The pressure on the four firms that dominate the sector — KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC — to prepare for a forced break-up has increased following high-profile corporate collapses that have called into question the quality of their work as both auditors and consultants for the UK’s largest companies.

Executives from all four and the next largest UK audit firms, Grant Thornton and BDO, said they had planned for a potential break up, in case regulators force them to spin off their audit from their consulting businesses.

A parliamentary report this week urged the competition watchdog to consider breaking up the four, saying they operated as a “cosy club incapable of providing the degree of independent challenge needed”. It followed a probe into the collapse of government contractor Carillion in January.

The investigation triggered sharp criticism of KPMG and Deloitte, Carillion’s external and internal auditors respectively over the past 19 years, and of EY and PwC, which had various consulting roles.

A break-up scenario could involve two options: either forcing each large firm to split into two smaller multidisciplinary firms; or making all of them spin off their consulting work to create audit-only businesses. This second option was backed by Stephen Haddrill, head of the UK accounting watchdog, in February as a potential remedy for the lack of competition in the market.

Bill Michael, chairman of KPMG’s UK business, said his firm had been thinking about break-up scenarios “for some time” as the current business model of the Big Four — which generate a growing portion of their revenues from consulting — is “unsustainable”.

“We are an oligopoly — that is undeniable,” he said. “I can’t believe the industry will be the same [in the future]. We have to reduce the level of conflicts and . . . demonstrate why they are manageable and why the public and all stakeholders should trust us.”

PwC said it had “a documented business continuity plan covering a range of scenarios that could threaten the existence of the firm”. EY said: “Working alongside regulators and standard setters, the profession can evolve to best serve business, investors and stakeholder needs.”

BDO, the UK’s sixth-largest auditor, has developed contingency plans in case regulators decide to “ringfence” audit work.

It has also planned for regulators deciding that “public interest” entities — listed companies and systemically important institutions — should be audited by audit-only firms. In this scenario, BDO would drop its 232 listed clients.

Other senior executives at the top six firms are deeply concerned that a forced break-up of their businesses would cause significant disruption for the firms and their clients, with one executive saying there would be a “bloodbath”. David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte, told the FT in March that creating audit-only firms “would be to the detriment of the capital markets”.

Grant Thornton, the UK’s fifth-largest accounting firm, said: “We fundamentally do not believe that this is the solution to the existing systemic issues in the audit market.”

Accounting executives also argue that a forced break up of audit firms in the UK alone would be ineffective and messy without similar initiatives from international regulators.

Mr Michael said: “The [Big Four] are big beasts because there are big global companies. There will still be big, complex, hairy companies around the world [even after a break-up]. If you want to split the firms up that has to be done internationally, although maybe the UK could lead the way.”

But many academics, politicians and shareholders support calls for a break-up to tackle the dominance of the Big Four, which audited all but nine of the UK’s 350 largest listed companies last year, despite the introduction of sweeping reforms aimed at reducing their hold on the market.

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the “only way” to improve competition was to break them up. “Unless you do that, three or four companies will continue to completely dominate,” he said.

Natasha Landell-Mills, head of stewardship at London-based asset manager Sarasin & Partners, who has previously called for a break-up, said: “In the past, the audit firms argued strongly that mandatory audit firm rotation would lead to weaker audits and potentially chaos. This has not transpired.

“[A break-up] would be difficult for the accountancy firms’ business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be bad for the public interest.”


Friday, 18 May 2018

In sickness and in health

Since 2016, I have seen more hospitals than any other year before in my life. I'm not the patient, however. I’m the boyfriend, accompanying the patient. Like many other people, I don’t like hospitals. Hospitals remind me of sickness and of death, not of birth and/or life. There’s little doubt in my mind that the increased frequency of hospital visits relates to (my/our) ageing.

Since December 2017, I have been trying to contact my current girlfriend. She ignored me as she was abroad and recovering from a prior hospital admittance. In April 2018, she replied to my newest message. Our first phone call was emotional as she informed me that she was recently diagnosed with cancer.

The first thing that went through my mind was: “Not again!” Her words immediately reminded me of 2 other sick girlfriends, of whom one died in 2016. I’m not a saint and thus my mind briefly considered stopping this developing contact. It was not an option for me. Instead, I invited her to my home to assist her in her healing process.

Since 21 April, we are mostly together at my home. The surprise is on her side, not mine. Each working day, she visits the Amsterdam Academic Medical Center for radiation treatment. The chemotherapy is through daily pills, apart from the initial chemo. I learned that chemo is not an abbreviation for chemical (poison) but originates from plants: camptotheca and topotecan.

I am genuinely worried about how much time is left for her and me together, despite the regular jokes that we both make about her (not) getting better. In our case, humour and laughter works better than tears and sympathy.

The hardest part for me is emotional attachment. The rational Leon is keeping some distance in order to avoid (my) future devastation, like in 2016. Fortunately, she prefers the rational Leon as an emotional Leon would be a burden on her. The last thing she needs is helping me stay afloat. The rational Leon does create some guilt, however, for hardly showing the emotional Leon.

Recently, I said to her that we would probably not have met, let alone be still together, when she would not be sick. After some thought, she agreed with me. She likes this thought and so do I. Some how, it feels like that we were supposed to meet. Initially, I was immediately drawn to her picture. She reminds me of two very special persons in my life.

My girlfriend is optimistic about her recovery. She told me that she told her doctor that I deserve part of the credits. In my view, she’s the only one who is accountable and responsible for her healing. Like her other friends, I’m just facilitating and being supportive.

My concerns over her health occupy my mind and interfere with my writing. It’s hard to focus on "petty" topics, like Mrs May’s Machiavellian Moves (a.k.a. Brexit) or Trump’s revolution of disruption, chaos & destruction. The rising oil prices due to Trump’s abundant chaos are a major economic boost for his Russian friends but why should I care when my friend is ill?

Save Me (1976) by Joan Armatrading - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Caught up in a whirling motion 
Such a strange sensation 
The currents uncertain 
Like sails of a mill 
I spin 
Like wheels I move in a circle 
While you stand on the bank 
Immune or evasive