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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2006 / 24 Teves, 5766

It's a sick, Thick World

By Niall Ferguson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | And I complain about the weather in Boston! "Be thankful you're not here," a prospective student based in Russia told me last week. For conditions there are truly Arctic. In Moscow alone, more than 100 people have died of hypothermia this winter. This, however, is hardly news. Russia has known colder winters than this, most recently 1978-1979. The real story about life — and death — in Russia today has to do with self-immolation, not snow.


Once upon a time, high mortality was a problem peculiar to the Third World. However, a more puzzling trend today is the dramatic deterioration of public health in what used to be seen as developed countries. Russia is the prime example. Over the last 20 years, average male life expectancy there has fallen from 65 years to below 60, compared with 75 in the United States.


And Russia is not alone. Take Belarus. Male life expectancy in parts of Minsk is down to 54. There has been a 350% rise in alcohol-related deaths in the last two decades. About 13,000 people die every year because of smoking-related diseases. More than a third of Belarus' 12-year-olds are overweight or clinically obese.


Actually, I've played a trick on you. None of those statistics relate to Belarus. They are all from Scotland, which in certain respects really is the Belarus of the West.


So whatever became of good old Progress with a capital P? Why, after about a century of sustained improvements, is public health in some developed countries deteriorating?


The obvious answer is, of course, that Russians and Scots alike lead unhealthy lives. They smoke too much. They drink too much alcohol. They eat too much high-cholesterol food. And they do not exercise enough. The United States too has plenty of self-made invalids. The people of Kentucky are the nation's leading smokers, and few can beat North Dakotans when it comes to binge drinking.


But that doesn't really explain why people choose to shorten their own lives. It's certainly not enough to say "because they are poor." Compared with most Africans, even unemployed Glaswegians are well-off. Nor can one simply blame poor health education. The New Sick know that cigarettes cause cancer, that excessive alcohol consumption causes cirrhosis of the liver and that too much fast food causes obesity and heart disease. Still, they consume all three like there's no tomorrow.


Well, that may be precisely the point. In acting like there's no tomorrow, people who knowingly undermine their own health are, in the language of economists, "discounting the future steeply." They are effectively saying: "The pleasure this cigarette/pint/Mars bar will give me right now is worth more to me than the pain and privation I may one day suffer from premature disease and death." An alternative interpretation is that individuals are simply miscalculating the probability of their dying young.


Either way, this can hardly be regarded as intelligent behavior. I would therefore like to suggest a new designation for these parts of the world where people are deliberately opting for ill health. To distinguish such places from the Third World, where people have maladies thrust upon them by nature and by poverty, I propose referring to them collectively as the Thick World — as in thick-headed. (Note that the Thick World is also the Fat World, just as the Third World is also the Thin World.)


Now I have to confess my own sins. For I recognize only too well the Russian-Scottish-Dakotan traits. True, I don't smoke. I abjure illegal narcotics. I don't even eat Mars bars, deep fried or otherwise. Nevertheless, like a good many other writers and historians, I do abuse both caffeine and alcohol. So how can I possibly criticize those whose range of vices is merely wider than mine?


I used to say facetiously that people who die around the retirement age are behaving with admirable social responsibility, thereby helping to solve the impending pension crisis. Alas, the reality is that such people tend to die slowly and expensively, running up a substantial bill for taxpayers from the moment they first claim disability benefits until the day they finally expire.


So the growth of the Thick World poses a grave fiscal challenge for the First World. Worse, the rise of the self-made invalid is symptomatic of a more general decline of Western civilization, not unlike the fall of the European birthrate below the natural replacement rate. It is surely not without wider significance that by 2050, Russia's population is projected by the United Nations to be less than that of Egypt.


As the snow falls on Russia today, it is burying a society that is literally moribund. But Moscow is only the capital city of the Thick World. The disturbing thing is just how many northern European and North American towns are already headed in the same dumb, downward direction.

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Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is the author of "Empire" (Basic Books, 2003) and "Colossus" (Penguin, 2004). Comment by clicking here.

01/17/06: Tomorrow's world war today
01/03/06: Scotland, it's over, but keep the accents
12/20/05: History, democracy and Iraq
12/20/05: History, democracy and Iraq
11/22/05: Ghost of Napoleon haunts Tony Blair
11/22/05: Can it happen in Britain too?
11/15/05: Red plus blue equals purple
11/10/05: The fires of disintegration
11/01/05: Triumph of an über-wonk

© 2006, Los Angeles Times Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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