Saturday, July 28, 2012

A health problem that made me sit up and take notice

I spend lots of my time at airports waiting for planes and I rarely sit down.  Even when an opportunity presents itself I prefer to pace around or just stand and stretch a bit.  The way I see it, I am shortly going to be glued to a seat for several hours and a voluntary sit-down is the last thing I need before the journey.

It seems like my anti-sitting stance (if you will excuse the pun) is backed up by hard science.  That's if you believe the reports in the press about new evidence suggesting sitting more than three hours a day can take 2 years off your life.  Apparently you can take off another 18 months if you do a lot of your sitting in front of the TV.  Sorry Homer.

Some exercise during a day of heavy sitting doesn't seem to counteract the effects of long motionless periods: the results were similar for people who exercised and those who didn't.

You have to question the statistical value of taking an average lifespan difference and applying that to individuals.  Presumably this 2 year figure relates to a sample of lives examined where some "sitters" died very young because of possibly related issues (heart attacks, obesity, dementia, cancer, diabetes) but some lived to a ripe old age.  Just because the average worked out to two years doesn't justify the "sitting takes two years off your life" headlines.

Some other scientists have also cast doubt on the findings saying that the results take insufficient account of associated lifestyle factors - people who sit a lot are maybe more likely to have other unhealthy habits so don't pin all the blame on sitting.

But it was a worrying finding for several reasons not least of which is the fact that I spend at least 10 hours a day seated.

It was a serous study covering over 150,000 people for several years.  The findings fit in with previous research (see this Australian study reported here - Sitting too long raises death risk) and frankly what you might intuitively think:  humans weren't designed to sit for hours staring at screens and there will be a cost.

Brits are among the least active people in the world according to this chart:

But the it is in America where the issue of sitting too long has provoked the most discussion.  There is even a trend towards standing at work which is supposed to offer a myriad benefits such as weight loss, better attention spans and less back trouble.  Office supply shops sell adjustable desks which allow you to stand or sit.

As ever with these health trends there are contradictory voices which cast doubt on the benefits of standing and studies which show it has little or no effect.

One thing that is no in dispute is that modern man and woman is not active enough full stop; sitting for long periods is just an extreme manifestation of this.  

So I am going to try and make myself get up and walk round the office at least three times an hour.  Sounds a lot but when you consider that you get up naturally quite a lot any way it is not such a hard thing to do.  If I get up to go to the printer I go a long way round the office and I find more reasons for standing up and stretching my legs, like getting a cup of water.

From our website :  Beckham's Law survives

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Spanish families squeezed for €415 more tax

€415.  That's the estimated annual cost per household of the increase in IVA recently announced by the Spanish government to try and close the fiscal deficit.

The general rate applicable to anything sold in the country apart from reduced or VAT-free categories (see below) is up to 21% from the current 18%.

Beneath this headline-grabbing rise is a second increase to the "reduced" rate category of taxable goods and services which goes up from 8% to 10%.  This 25% hike in tax is important as it is the rate applicable to such things as some food and non-alcoholic drink, health products, transport, entertainment etc that ordinary people consume every day.  So it will really make everyone feel poorer and reduce spending power right through society.

This reduced rate also applies to new build construction so a new house will cost an extra 10% in tax on top.  This does not apply until 2013 as the previous government brought in a temporary VAT cut to 4% for new homes which expires this year.

And that's just IVA of course.  Spending cuts have targeted unemployment benefits and the pay of public sector workers.  The latter seems bound to lead to strikes.

Another move, specifically at the request of Spain's new fiscal masters in Brussels apparently, has been to abolish the offset of housing costs versus tax except for buyers of property post-2006.

Economists foresee the already shrinking economy declining further as a result of the new hits to demand, with forecasts of recession through to 2014.  No surprise there but there is a surprise, to me at any rate, in the size of the expected contraction.  For example the IMF is talking about a 1.5% fall in GDP this year and actually growth of 0.6% next year.  Hardly Greek style-collapse but the IMF have been wrong before.

If they are right and Spain can muddle through with the economy merely stagnant while these deficit measures take effect and the banks are sorted out then perhaps a full blown bail-out or euro exit can be averted.

I have my doubts.  Looking around the country it seems like there is an air of desperation and bewilderment among the population even before these latest tax rises and spending cuts.  Big price rises across the board, wage and benefit cuts, higher income tax, regional spending cuts etc will surely crucify what is left of economic confidence.  And I wouldn't rule out the Spanish people rising up and demanding that some of the measures are reversed as the pain becomes too great to bear.  We'll see.

From our website:  Allowable business expenses in Spain

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fifty shades of the same old same old

One way to judge just how phenomenal a cultural phenomenon is, is to start typing the person/scandal/film etc into Google and see how many letters it takes to predict what you are looking for.

Right now typing "5" into Google brings up 'Fifty Shades of Grey' - an impressive one character score which handily beats 'Jesus' which requires three characters to predict.

This is the novel which, unless you have been living in a darkened room with a blindfold on (a bit like the heroine of the book probably), you will know is the fastest selling book of all time - excluding Harry Potter.  A remarkable achievement for a book which is aimed only at the female half of the population and which, unlike the Potter series, is not being bought by the vast young adult market.

I haven't read any of the trilogy but I am always fascinated by the phenomena of bestsellers and have read a few articles like this one: Why women love Fifty Shades of Grey.

The thing that interests me about the story of Fifty's success is not its adult content but rather the fact that it has been universally panned as a piece of writing, even by its readers who have then proceeded to rush out and buy the other two books in the trilogy.

We are not just talking about some highbrow (and probably jealous) literary reviewers slagging off the quality of the prose.  Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' and JK Rowling came in for this kind of criticism but people were still captivated by the story and the fictional worlds the authors had created.  Most of us recognise that the popularity of a book has little to do with elegant writing of the kind that say Sebastian Faulks* is capable of.

* - great author but with a woeful Google test score of 10

But the criticism of EL James' novels is of a different order.  It's not just the prose style that gets a pasting.  I saw one article which estimated that 95% of online reviews were negative, criticising the plotting, characterisation and even the much-hyped sex scenes.

Just look at the parodies that are springing up such as "Fifty Sheds of Grey" on Twitter which is an inspired collection of snippets from the book as written by a gardener.  Sample: 'I lay back exhausted, gazing happily out of the shed window. Despite my concerns about my inexperience, my rhubarb had come up a treat . .'  or 'Lady Christina bit her lip as she eyed my dripping brush.  Somehow I knew it wouldn't be long before I was touching up her gazebo'.

The book is a joke, but  an amazingly successful one.  Obviously the press hooha about the adult content and the natural desire to see what all the fuss is about are now driving the sales to warp speed, but there must be some core appeal particularly to explain the success of books two and three.

Distilling all the explanations I have read about what this appeal might be, it seems that the romance rather than the eroticism is the key: how will the relationship between the two leads work out?  Will she?  Should she?  In other words the staple content of all romantic fiction since time immemorial.  The genius lies in the choice of a novel and daring device for creating the romantic tension: the hero's dubious sexual predilections.

Readers can read a very old and hackneyed fictional form and feel they are reading something fresh, original and controversial.  It's the same trick that works in every field of entertainment - put a new twist on an old favourite - but it's devilishly hard to do so hats off to EL James.  Now back to the parodies:

Spanish wealth tax 2012

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