Category Archives: Social issues ( be civil ! )

Body Mass Index (BMI): mine, yours, and Trump’s

The ‘investigative press’ is quite concerned about President Trump’s height.  If he is 6 foot 3 and 239 pounds, he is overweight but not obese, if he is 6 foot 2 he is obese.  All this is a matter of definition by a single number — the body mass index (BMI).

So let’s all calm down and find out what ours actually is.  There is a website which will do it for you. Here’s the link — — have at it. You can use pounds feet and inches as well as kilograms and meters.

The current definition of obese is a BMI over 30, overweight between 25 and 30, and normal weight under 25.

Who cares?  Well, you should if BMI’s correlate with mortality and they do.

A great paper 5 years ago by Katherine Flegal analyzed nearly 3 million people with 270, 000 deaths reported in a variety of studies —

The problem is that the lowest mortality didn’t occur in those with normal weight (BMI < 25) but was lowest in the overweight group — not by much (6%), and second lowest in the mildly obese (BMI 30 – 35), over 35 it was 20% higher.

Naturally this did not sit well people who'd staked their research careers on telling people to lose weight.  There is a truly hilarious article describing a meeting at Harvard discussing the paper.  Here's a link   It's worth reading in its entirety, particularly for a graph it contains.

One study by a Harvard guy removed 900,000 people from the study leading to the following great comment — “It's hard to argue with data,” says Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist at University of Colorado in Denver. “We're scientists. We pay attention to data, we don't try to un-explain them.”

The Nature paper contains a terrific graph from the following paper — Source: Childers, D.K. & Allison, D.B. Int. J. obesity 34, 1231–1238 (2010).

Look at it carefully.  Mortality vs. BMI is plotted in several curves one for people between 20 – 30, one for 30 – 40, etc. etc.  Under 50 the best BMI to have in terms of mortality is under 25, but over 50 it rises, so that at 70 the low point is around 27 (in the overweight range) and not far from Trump at 6' 3" (29.9) or even at 6' 2" (30.7).

In a way this data fits with the fact that for a long time Americans were getting fatter and fatter, yet living longer and longer.  For details see —

Why should the best BMI for you to have rise after age 50?  I've not seen this explanation anywhere else.

The BMI is far from perfect, but to calculate it all you need are two simple measurements that anyone can make — height and weight. It doesn't rely on what people remember.  However the calculation is not a simple ratio of weight divided by height but weight divided by height squared.

People lose height as they age, so the BMI is quite sensitive to it (remember the denominator has height squared).  Well as a high school basketball player my height was 6′ 1”+, now (at age 75) its 6’0″ (God knows what it is several years later). So even with constant weight my BMI goes up.

Well it’s time to do the calculation to see what a fairly common shrinkage from 73.5 inches to 72 would to to the BMI (at a constant weight). Surprisingly it is not trivial — (72/73.5) * (72/73.5) = .9596. So the divisor is 4% less meaning the BMI is 4% more, which is almost exactly what the low point on the curve does with each passing decade after 50 ! ! ! This might even be an original observation, and it would explain a lot.

As long as I’m on the subject of the ‘investigative press’  here is how they glossed over Hillary’s fainting spell during the presidential campaign, calling it a stumble.  Remarkable discipline that they all used the same word.  So take their worries about Trump’s weight with a grain of salt.

“Like the Michigan poll I started out with, most of the latest campaign surveys were carried out during last weekend and earlier this week, when the news was dominated by Clinton’s stumble outside Ground Zero, which prompted the campaign to reveal that she had pneumonia.” John Cassiday New Yorker

“For Orient—and the many media organizations that have recently been circulating her work—Clinton’s stumble looked like proof that they were right.” Wired —

The Boston Globe had a similar echo of the meme that all Hillary did when leaving the 9/11 ceremony was stumble.

As Richard Pryor famously said when his wife caught him with another woman. He denies anything is going on, and asks his wife, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

See for yourself —



Merry Christmas

From a friend to me.  Enjoy ! Back in business after the New Year. She’s 7.

A few Thanksgiving thank you’s

As CEO of a very large organization, it’s time to thank those unsung divisions that make it all possible.  Fellow CEOs should take note and act appropriately regardless of the year it’s been for them.

First: thanks to the guys in shipping and receiving.  Kinesin moves the stuff out and Dynein brings it back home.  Think of how far they have to go.  The head office sits in area 4 of the cerebral cortex and K & D have to travel about 3 feet down to the motorneurons in the first sacral segment of the spinal cord controlling the gastrocnemius and soleus, so the boss can press the pedal on his piano when he wants. Like all good truckers, they travel on the highway.  But instead of rolling they jump.  The highway is pretty lumpy being made of 13 rows of tubulin dimers.

Now chemists are very detail oriented and think in terms of Angstroms (10^-10 meters) about the size of a hydrogen atom. As CEO and typical of cell biologists, I have to think in terms of the big picture, so I think in terms of nanoMeters (10^-9 meters).  Each tubulin dimer is 80 nanoMeters long, and K & D essentially jump from one to the other in 80 nanoMeter steps.  Now the boss is shrinking as he gets older, but my brothers working for players in the NBA have to go more than a meter to contract the gastrocnemius and soleus (among other muscles) to help their bosses jump.  So split the distance and call the distance they have to go one Meter.  How many jumps do Kinesin and Dynein have to make to get there? Just 10^9/80 — call it 10,000,000. The boys also have to jump from one microtubule to another, as the longest microtubule in our division is at most 100 microns (.1 milliMeter).  So even in the best of cases they have to make at least 10,000 transfers between microtubules.  It’s a miracle they get the job done at all.

To put this in perspective, consider a tractor trailer (not a truck — the part with the motor is the tractor, and the part pulled is the trailer — the distinction can be important, just like the difference between rifle and gun as anyone who’s been through basic training knows quite well).  Say the trailer is 48 feet long, and let that be comparable to the 80 nanoMeters K and D have to jump. That’s 10,000,000 jumps of 48 feet or 90,909 miles.  It’s amazing they get the job done.

Second: Thanks to probably the smallest member of the team.  The electron.  Its brain has to be tiny, yet it has mastered quantum mechanics because it knows how to tunnel through a potential barrier.   In order to produce the fuel for K and D it has to tunnel some 20 Angstroms from the di-copper center (CuA) to heme a in cytochrome C oxidase (COX).  Is the electron conscious? Who knows?  I don’t tell it what to do.   Now COX is just a part of one of our larger divisions, the power plant (the mitochondrion).

Third: The power plant.  Amazing to think that it was once (a billion years or more ago) a free living bacterium.  Somehow back in the mists of time one of our predecessors captured it.  The power plant produces gas (ATP) for the motors to work.  It’s really rather remarkable when you think of it.   Instead of carrying a tank of ATP, kinesin and dynein literally swim in the stuff, picking it up from the surroundings as they move down the microtubule.  Amazingly the entire division doesn’t burn up, but just uses the ATP when and where needed.  No spontaneous combustion.

There are some other unsung divisions to talk about (I haven’t forgotten you ladies in the steno pool, and your incredible accuracy — 1 mistake per 100,000,000 letters [ Science vol. 328 pp. 636 – 639 ’10 ]).  But that’s for next time.

To think that our organization arose by chance, working by finding a slightly better solution to problems it face boggles this CEO’s mind (but that’s the current faith — so good to see such faith in an increasingly secular world).

Time for a funny

Members of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators are calling for additional steps to combat sexual harassment on Beacon Hill  — including mandatory training.  For those from other states, Beacon Hill is the site of the Massachusetts legislature in Boston.

One irate lawmaker complained that mandatory training was a waste of hard-earned taxpayer dollars as he was already quite adept at it.

The current composition of the legislature is 123 Democratic 34 Republican 1 Independent 2 Vacancies.

Collusion !


With apologies to West Side Story (and Maria)


I’ve just found a thing called collusion

And suddenly that game

will never be the same

To me

Collusion !

I’ve just found the source of collusion

And suddenly I’ve found

How wonderful a source can be

Collusion !

Say it loud and there’s Hillary running

Say it soft to the media, it’s stunning


I’ll never stop saying collusion


The most beautiful sound I ever heard

WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee paid for research that was included in a dossier made public in January that contained salacious claims about connections between Donald J. Trump, his associates and Russia.

A spokesperson for a law firm said on Tuesday that it had hired Washington-based researchers last year to gather damaging information about Mr. Trump on numerous subjects — including possible ties to Russia — on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C.

The revelation, which emerged from a letter filed in court on Tuesday, is likely to fuel new partisan attacks over federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort.

Here’s a link to the whole article —

A possibly useful computer tip and two social notes

Since the computer was down last week, no science to report, but here’s a possibly useful computer tip and two social notes.

If you’ve been using computers as long as we have (30+ years), you were probably told that it was better to leave the computer on all the time rather than turning the power off and on.   Not so any more — the Apple tech who fixed it told me it should be shut down then rebooted once a week.

Two narratives beloved by the mainstream press since the loss by their candidate  suffered major body blows the past week.

Narrative #1. Trump is a Nazi.  Surely you remember the way a far-Right rally was reported shortly after the election.  Read all about it as reported in the Atlantic —  It got a lot of press, here and elsewhere.  There may have been all of 300 people there.  Then there were his unfortunate comments after Charlottesville.

Unfortunately for the meme — the following appeared this week in the New York Times  —

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization, after years of the United States distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”

Here’s the link —

Narrative #2:  The Russians did everything they could to swing the election to Trump.  Well we finally are finding out just what the Russians actually did — this from Facebook and Cheryl Sandberg (hardly friends of Trump).

The following is from a Wall Street Journal article appearing 13 October 2017.  Here is the link —

“Two accounts that Facebook Inc. FB 0.69% said appear to have ties to Russian operatives amassed more than half a million followers in the past couple of years with posts, ads and events that stoked strong emotions over issues including race and immigration.

Most followers never suspected that people with possible Russian ties were behind the accounts—except for a few users who interacted in real life with the people running the sites.

Some users said the content from these accounts seemed like something their peers would share. “Blacktivist,” an account that supported causes in the black community and used hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, frequently posted videos of police allegedly shooting unarmed black men. ”

If the Russians were trying to elect Trump, do you think they would have thought inflaming a group that votes overwhelmingly Democratic was a good idea?.

Basically they were trying to inflame the body politic with divisive material.

The Voice of America had a similar effect behind the Iron Curtain.  The difference, of course, is that our source was quite undisguised.

The Russian government is not our friend.  I’m glad my grandparents got out of the Baltics and Poland in the late 19th century.

How fast is your biological clock ticking — latest results

Our family breeds like sequoias.  Medicine has improved, but biology hasn’t changed, and problems with fertility and miscarriages have emerged in the generation behind me.   A cousin had a child at 46 who is now in grad school.  My brother had a child at 48, also doing OK. One son, who is north of 50 has an infant and a 3 year old.  That’s why the following paper from Iceland is so relevant.  I’ve posted on this subject before, but the new paper has 10 times the data of the old [ Nature vol. 549 pp. 519 – 522 ’17 ].

The paper is from Iceland, and whether the data can be extrapolated to other populations isn’t clear — but the biology in question is so basic that I think it can. Some 1,548 mother father child trios had their entire genomes (to 35 fold coverage).  In addition, 225 of the children had reproduced, providing a few 2 generation families.  If any position in the 3,200,000,000 bases of the genome differs from that of the mother and the father, than a mutation has taken place.  It isn’t clear how old the children were when sequenced, so possibly some of the mutations arose since birth.

Some 108,778 de novo mutations were found in over 1548 + 225 (at least) individuals — so each individual carried an average of 61 de novo mutations.  When the number of mutations were plotted against the ages of both parents, it was found that each year a father waited to reproduce added 1.51 mutations.  Previous work (with much less data) stated that the age of the mother didn’t matter.  No so, although the mutational burden of an additional year before reproduction in a woman increased the mutations 4 times less (.37 extra mutations/year of maternal life).

The previous paper reported on was somewhat suspect, because the 78 parent child trios had a child with autism.  Not so in this population study.

The numbers were large enough, that the type of mutation could be studied.  Mothers and fathers had different types of mutations in different frequencies.   They found one 20 megaBase region on chromosome #8 with a mutation rate of cytosine to guanosine (C to G) 50 times higher than the rest of the genome.

People use ‘molecular clocks’ to time evolution of species, based on the assumption that the mutation rate is constant.  But it isn’t with age, and a shift in the average age for reproduction could seriously screw up the molecular clock predictions.

An average of 61 de novo mutations per individual sounds pretty horrible, but it isn’t when you consider that 3,200,000,000 – 61 positions were copied faithfully (an error rate of 1 in 50 million).


Puerto Rico

Reporting on the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico seems to be more about scoring political points than helping out.   The mainstream press (NYT, CNN, Washington Post) is attempting to paint this as another Katrina, while the conservative side (WSJ, the White House) says that everything is just wonderful.

I don’t like to get into politics, but the following is worth reading.  It is from a good friend who had a long career at Chase Manhattan Bank rising high enough to go on yearly dog and pony shows with the head (David Rockefeller).  It actually has some data.  Unsurprisingly, it has a rather conservative take on things, but it is still interesting.

“The abject irresponsibility of Puerto Rican politicians has been evident for 25+ years. Back some 15 years ago, a  former colleague at Chase Manhattan , Alfredo Salazar,  was for a short period in the Puerto Rican government responsible for finance. He went very publically and very loudly with the  warning to the political establishment that the ongoing fiscal irresponsibility of the PR government was unsustainable. He was purged quickly.

The buying of votes continued to escalate the debt –  reaching a climax of the territorial bankruptcy this year. As usual the politicians get off from, in effect, a crime spree lasting decades without being held accountable. It is one of the weaknesses of our governmental system. There should be no forgiving of debt without a charter change inhibiting the politicians from going back to “business as usual”. Incidentally since 1965 Puerto Rico has only had Democrat Governors.”


–       xxxxx

Here’s a link to Wkipedia about Salazar —,_Jr. — it doesn’t mention any falling out of Salazar with the government — but these things are edited and re-edited by partisans.

Oct 4, 2017 | 14:29 GMT

Puerto Rico: U.S. President Says Territory’s Massive Debt Will Have To Be Forgiven


While on a visit to Puerto Rico to observe recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, U.S. President Donald Trump said the island’s massive debt will have to be wiped out, Reuters reported Oct. 4. Facing massive debt, Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and is struggling to regain economic stability.

Jerry Lewis R. I. P.

Jerry Lewis died while I was at band camp for adults.  Although regarded in this country as a bozo, he did a lot of good.  The muscular dystrophy association wouldn’t be what it was without all the work he did for it.  I ran one of their clinics in the 70s and 80s.  Back then, they were so flush that they didn’t even submit claims to insurance companies for visits to the clinics (initially at least, but they wised up eventually).

 I went to two directors’ meetings, one in LA the other in Tucson.  They were purely scientific.  Jerry would have received quite a round of applause, but he didn’t show.  A major topic of conversation between directors was why and how Jerry became interested in muscular dystrophy.  No one knew, and I don’t think anyone does to this day.  The New York Times obit said he raised 2 billion for the MDA.

We will never understand the French.  They thought Jerry was a comic genius and took his work very seriously.  At first I thought it was a form of condescension, but it wasn’t.

The French will never understand us.  At the band camp I was fortunate enough to play a Poulenc sonata with a marvelous flutist.  Years ago I heard an interview with the great French pianist Pascal Roget, when here to play some of Poulenc’s music.  He noted that Poulenc wasn’t highly thought of in France being regarded as somewhat of clown.  He is greatly admired here in the states.

Band camp had the usual collection of amateur musicians — out of 115 or so, there were (at least) two full professors of mathematics, a physicist, a programmer, a PhD in mathematics education, and numerous MDs.  And those were just the ones I met and talked to. This always seems to be the species of people interested in playing music not professionally (but not unprofessionally).

Happy Fourth of July

Only immigrants truly appreciate this country.  So it’s worth repeating an earlier post about them. Happy fourth of July.

Hitler’s gifts (and Russia’s gift)

In the summer of 1984 Barack Obama was at Harvard Law, his future wife was a Princeton undergraduate, and Edward Frenkel a 16 year old mathematical prodigy was being examined for admission to Moscow State University. He didn’t get in because he was Jewish. His blow by blow description of the 5 hour exam on pp. 28 – 38 of his book “Love & Math” is as painful to read as it must have been for him to write.

A year earlier the left in Europe had mobilized against the placement of Pershing missiles in Europe by president Reagan, already known there as a crude and witless former actor, but, unfortunately possessed of nuclear weapons. Tens of thousands marched. He had even called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire that year. Leftists the world over were outraged. How unsophisticated to even admit the possibility of evil. Articles such as “Reagan’s image in Europe does not help Allies in deploying American missiles” appeared in the liberal press.

The hatred of America is nothing new for the left.

Reset the clock to ’60 – ’62 when I was a grad student in the Harvard Chemistry department. The best place to meet women was the International house. It had a piano, and a Polish guy who played Chopin better than I did. It had a ping pong table, and another Polish guy who beat me regularly. The zeitgeist at Harvard back then, was that America was rather crude (the Ugly American was quite popular), boorish and unappreciative of the arts, culture etc. etc.

One woman I met was going on and on about this, particularly the condition of the artist in America, and how much better things were in Europe. I brought up Solzhenitzen, and the imprisonment of dissidents over there. Without missing a beat, she replied that this just showed how important the Russian government thought writers and artists were. This was long before Vietnam.

It was definitely a Saul on the road to Damascus moment for me. When the left began spelling America, Amerika in the 60s and 70s, I just ignored it.

Fast forward to this fall, and the Nobels. The 7th Chemistry Nobel bestowed on a department member when I was there went to Marty Karplus. The others were Woodward, Corey, Lipscomb, Gilbert, Hoffman, Bloch. While Bill Lipscomb was a Kentucky gentleman to a T (and a great guy), Hoffman spent World War II hiding out in an attic, his father being in a concentration camp (guess why). Konrad Bloch (who looked as teutonic as they come) also got out of Europe due to his birth. Lastly Karplus got out of Euruope as a child for the same reason. Don Voet, a fellow grad student, whose parents got out of Europe for (I’ll make you guess), used to say that the Universal Scientific Language was — broken English.

So 3/7 of the Harvard Chemistry Nobels are Hitler and Europe’s gifts to America.

Russia, not to be outdone, gave us Frenkel. Harvard recognized his talent, and made him a visiting professorship at age 21, later enrolling him in grad school so he could get a PhD. He’s now a Stanford prof.

So the next time, someone touts the “European model” of anything, ask them about Kosovo, or any of this.


Those of you in training should consider the following. You really won’t know how good what you are getting really is until 50 years or so have passed. That’s not to say Harvard Chemistry’s reputation wasn’t very good back then. Schleyer said ‘now you’re going to Mecca’ when he heard I’d gotten in.

Also to be noted, is that all 7 future Nobelists in the early 60s weren’t resting on their laurels, but actively creating them. The Nobels all came later