Monthly Archives: July 2011

Thai Parliament: It’s all systems go

A follow up on my post yesterday about the Election Commission deadline: It’s all systems go, with Parliament set to open Monday.

The AP, via the WSJ, says:

Thailand’s Election Commission has certified enough winners of this month’s election for the new Parliament to convene Monday as scheduled.

Today’s Bangkok Post has more details:

The Election Commission yesterday cleared the way for the House of Representatives to convene after it endorsed a batch of 94 poll winners as MPs, while still refusing to lift its suspension of red-shirt core leader Jatuporn Prompan.

With the elections of 496 MPs affirmed, which exceeds the required number of 475, the House is on track to open for business within 30 days of the election as required by the constitution.

The first session is expected to be held on Monday.

Thailand: EC deadline for certifying candidates is Aug. 1

Reuters reports today that:

Thailand’s election authority was racing on Wednesday to endorse dozens of winning candidates from the July 3 general election to pave the way for a new parliament to convene and select a prime minister, tentatively expected in early August.

So far, 402 of the 500 winners have been approved by the Election Commission (EC), which is struggling with a deluge of complaints that it must process in the next few days.

If all goes as expected, Yingluck Shinawatra, a sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, will become Thailand’s first female prime minister after her Puea Thai Party won the election in a landslide.

By law, the EC needs to confirm 95 percent of the winners, or 475 of the 500 house seats, to give the lower house a quorum to hold a formal opening by Monday, August 1. The EC has indicated it could complete the process by Wednesday, July 27.

Stay tuned.

Off topic: calories, carbs, and a new long-term study on weight gain

2011 07 26 carbs

I’m interested in nutrition, and a New York Times story that ran last week caught my eye. The piece looks at a new study on diet and weight gain that was conducted by experts at Harvard.

The researchers followed nearly 121,000 non-obese men and women for 12 to 20 years. The study tracked the subjects’ weight gain or loss over that time and associated these changes in weight with particular foods.

The study also looked at exercise, smoking, and other factors. But what I found most compelling was the bit about calories, macronutrients, and what seems to be shifting perceptions regarding what causes weight gain. More on that below.

First, here’s the Times on the foods that were associated with the most weight gain:

French fries led the list: Increased consumption of this food alone was linked to an average weight gain of 3.4 pounds in each four-year period. Other important contributors were potato chips (1.7 pounds), sugar-sweetened drinks (1 pound), red meats and processed meats (0.95 and 0.93 pound, respectively), other forms of potatoes (0.57 pound), sweets and desserts (0.41 pound), refined grains (0.39 pound), other fried foods (0.32 pound), 100-percent fruit juice (0.31 pound) and butter (0.3 pound).

Foods that didn’t cause weight gain were full fat dairy, nuts, and especially yogurt, which was associated with weight loss.

The Times story focuses on how the study challenges the conventional notion that weight ultimately comes down to calories-in vs. calories-out, but there is also this bit about carbohydrates:

But, consistent with the new study’s findings, metabolism takes a hit from refined carbohydrates — sugars and starches stripped of their fiber, like white flour. When Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston compared the effects of refined carbohydrates with the effects of whole grains in both animals and people, he found that metabolism, which determines how many calories are used at rest, slowed with the consumption of refined grains but stayed the same after consumption of whole grains.

The overview of the study itself, which is available on the New England Journal of Medicine Web site, is also an interesting read. The study’s title is “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men.”

From the “Discussion” section, under the “Article” heading:

Overall, our analysis showed divergent relationships between specific foods or beverages and long-term weight gain, suggesting that dietary quality (the types of foods and beverages consumed) influences dietary quantity (total calories). Several dietary metrics that are currently emphasized, such as fat content, energy density, and added sugars, would not have reliably identified the dietary factors that we found to be associated with long-term weight gain.

It continues:

For example, most of the foods that were positively associated with weight gain were starches or refined carbohydrates; no significant differences were seen for low-fat and skim milk versus whole-fat milk, and the consumption of nuts was inversely associated with weight gain.

And here’s a particularly interesting passage:

Our findings highlight gaps in our mechanistic understanding of how particular dietary characteristics alter energy balance, suggesting directions for future research regarding pathways involved in hunger, satiety, absorption, metabolism, and adipocyte growth or hyperplasia. In general, changes in the consumption of refined or processed foods and liquid carbohydrates or alcohol were positively associated with weight gain, whereas changes in the consumption of unprocessed foods such as whole grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables were inversely associated with weight gain. These results suggest that future policies and research efforts to prevent obesity should consider food structure and processing as potentially relevant dietary metrics.

So, on one level, it’s not surprising that eating more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products is associated with losing weight. After all, if you’re consuming good, fiber-rich stuff, you feel satiated. If you’re full of healthy food, perhaps you’re not as inclined to eat processed foods.

However, what struck me about the study is the identification of refined carbs as a potential culprit in weight gain. My impression was that most traditional nutritional thinking still adhered to the idea that “caloric balance” is all that matters. That is, if you consume more calories than you use, you gain weight.

It seems notable that the study references conventional “dietary metrics” — fat, caloric density, and sugars — that might not be clearly associated with weight gain, and that it points out potential “future policies” that involve “food structure and processing.”

Of course, Gary Taubes, in his 2007 book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” points to evidence that excess carbohydrates are to blame for rising rates of obesity and other “diseases of civilization.”

Perhaps the idea that refined carbs lead to weight gain, then, has become more widespread that I had thought? Are we witnessing an evolution of consensus, or this study an outlier?

If any readers have a perspective on this, I welcome any insight.

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: NEJM.)

Thailand: 17 killed in 3 army helicopter crashes

2011 07 25 thailand helicopter

The AP notes that:

A third Thai military helicopter has crashed near the country’s forested border with Myanmar in just over a week, killing three soldiers Sunday and bringing the toll from all three accidents to 17

AFP also has a story.

The Bangkok Post says the Bell 212 fleet has been grounded.

A third helicopter crashed near the Thai-Burmese border yesterday killing three people on board, forcing the army to ground its Bell 212 helicopter fleet.

The Bell 212 transport helicopter crashed in the morning while on its way to pick up the bodies of the nine victims in the Black Hawk helicopter crash on Tuesday.

The Black Hawk crashed in a Burmese forest opposite the Kaeng Krachan National Park during an operation to retrieve the bodies of five soldiers who had died in an earlier air crash involving a Huey helicopter.

The Post also notes that some believe “spirts” are to blame:

With three army helicopters crashing in just eight days, questions are being asked as to whether the tragedies were the result of accidents, a conspiracy — or supernatural powers.

A number of soldiers, officers and civilians working or living in Kaeng Krachan National Park, the site of the initial stranding of a group of officers, journalists and encroachment suspects which prompted the disastrous chain of fatal rescue and retrieval operations, believe bad omens are to blame.

“The guardian spirits here are very fierce,” said one resident of Ban Panern Thung village in Phetchaburi’s Kaeng Krachan district.

(Image: @lekasina on Lockerz.)

Now on Amazon.com: Bizarre Thailand

2011 07 21 bizarre thailand

A quick note to point out that Bizarre Thailand: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic, a book by old Thailand hand and all around good guy Jim Algie, is now available on Amazon.com.

The book’s official site has info on its contents and details on Jim’s interesting background.

I understand that the book’s first print run has sold out, but that it can now be purchased from all of Amazon’s many country-specific sites.

I haven’t had a chance to read the entire book yet, but I’ve seen a copy. My impression is that it captures, as the official site says, not just the country’s many delightful peculiarities, but “how the profound, profane and frankly quite odd intertwine with the rhythms and flows of everyday Thai life…”

UPDATE July 22: Jim tells me another print run is in the works, so the book will continue to be available in bookstores, as well.

Off topic: Analyzing the US federal deficit and GDP to debt ratio

I wanted to point out two excellent resources for explaining some of the macroeconomic issues related to the debt ceiling standoff in Washington at the moment.

The first is a dispassionate piece from FactCheck.org that examines U.S. federal spending versus income. The current problem is represented in this graph:

2011 07 20 outlays revenues

The red is outlays — or spending — and the blue is revenues. Not a pretty picture.

(Interestingly, on the one hand, the gap between spending and revenue is especially big now. But on the other hand, running a significant deficit has been the norm since the 1970s.)

To summarize the piece: For the last several years we have had increased federal spending due to the stimulus package, banking bailout, and Social Security and Medicare payouts. In addition, military costs are up due to post-Sept. 11 wars.

At the same time, federal revenues are down partly due to reduced income tax receipts because of the Bush tax cuts. And the recession has meant less revenue from corporate taxes.

Read the whole thing.

And second, I suggest listening to the most recent episode of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast. It’s called “How Much Debt Is Too Much?”

2011 07 20 debt to gdp

Harvard economist Ken Rogoff discusses historical rates of sovereign debt and examines various countries’ GDP to debt ratios. This is a measure of the total value of nations’ economies compared to how much they owe.

What do you think this ratio is for three countries in the news of late: Greece, Italy, and the U.S.?

Listen to the show to find out. The figures may surprise you.

(Image: Global debt to GDP ratio, via Wikipedia.)

WSJ on Yingluck’s EC endorsement: more MPs needed for parliament to convene

The WSJ says today that:

Thailand’s official vote monitor confirmed this month’s election of Yingluck Shinawatra, but more approvals will be required before her party can assume power and she can take office as the nation’s first female prime minister.

The Election Commission…

…hasn’t yet confirmed some other parliamentarians, leaving legal obstacles that could mean Ms. Yingluck’s Puea Thai, or For Thais, party can’t yet assume power. To convene, parliament needs 475 of its 500 members. So far, 370 have been confirmed.

It isn’t unusual for weeks to pass after a Thai election before a new government is formed.

NYT on ICJ Preah Vihear ruling

The New York Times says:

The top judicial body of the United Nations on Monday sought to defuse tensions at a Southeast Asian flash point, ordering Cambodia and Thailand to withdraw troops from a disputed temple and establishing a demilitarized zone along their mountainous border.

The piece also contains a couple of graphs of helpful background info:

The dispute over the temple has its roots in the period when French colonizers controlled what is modern-day Cambodia. In the early 1900s, French surveyors traced the border line along the watershed of the Dangrek mountain range, but deviated from the watershed at Preah Vihear, placing the temple inside Cambodia. It was an awkward demarcation because of the temple’s location on a bluff more easily accessed from Thailand.

But Thailand’s government made no protest at the time and used the French maps as their own, according to a judgment by the International Court of Justice in 1962. That judgment established that the temple should be inside Cambodian territory. But the ruling did not address the sovereignty of the land surrounding the temple, which is the subject of the ongoing dispute.

Again, here’s my post on the subject from yesterday.