Ahmadinejad answers Bush's prayers

U.S. President George W. Bush wasted no time yesterday in capitalizing on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest gaffe. This time, the Iranian president wasn't threatening to wipe Israel off the map or denying the Holocaust; he merely promised to fill the "power vacuum" in the Middle East that will inevitably arise when U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.

For Bush, who is desperate to head off growing congressional opposition to the Iraq war, Ahmadinejad's blunder was like manna from heaven. He wasted no time in responding:

Mr Bush accused Tehran of destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan and threatening the Middle East with the "shadow of a nuclear holocaust". "We will confront this danger before it is too late," he said.

It would be a "disaster" if the "forces of radicalism and extremism", including Iran, succeeded in driving the US out of Iraq, Mr Bush said.

"The region would be dramatically transformed in a way that could imperil the civilised world," he said. "Iran could conclude that we were weak and could not stop them from gaining nuclear weapons. And once Iran had nuclear weapons, it would set off a nuclear arms race in the region."

The White House immediately followed up with a leak to the Washington Post saying that Bush would soon ask Congress for another $50 billion for Iraq. After all, who in Congress wants to be blamed for giving Iran free reign in the region?

But there's just one problem: Iran's rising influence in the Middle East has happened precisely because there are U.S. troops occupying Baghdad, not in spite of it. Perhaps ol' Mahmoud is foxier than he appears.


Food scares, the new shark attacks?

Whether it's suspicious spinach, suicidal snack foods, or, most recently, fatal fish, this has been the summer of food scares. Not even your pet is safe. Fido's Kibbles are just as deadly as the salad you're about to eat for lunch.

But is our food supply as deadly as news reports suggest, or have food attacks simply replaced shark attacks as cable news' filler of choice on slow news days? I'm not trying to minimize the seriousness of food-borne illness here. As stats (pdf) from the Center for Science in the Public Interest show, it's a real threat, particularly to developing nations. Contaminated food contributes to 1.5 billion cases of diarrhea in kids each year, resulting in more than 3 million unnecessary deaths.

In the United States, food-borne diseases result in 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths annually. These numbers sound large—until you put them in perspective. Influenza and pneumonia, for instance, together kill more than 61,000 Americans a year. But unless that flu is of the bird variety, we don't hear much about it. Food threats make for good news copy because they almost always emanate from the developing world.Wealthy nations have become so far removed from their food supplies that it's easy to shock people with stories of sketchy Chinese catfish farmers and uncouth Thai salmon brokers.


But the real dangers inherent in our global food chain are far more quiet, and potentially more deadly, than headline-grabbing cases of E. coli. Consider obesity. Not that long ago, people everywhere ate with the seasons and with tastes that were dictated by regional conditions. But as it has become possible to eat anything, anywhere, at any time, the world has grown fatter. "Who cares?," you might say—it's nice to have fresh strawberries in the dead of winter.

Well, chew on this:

Global increases in the incidence and prevalence of obesity are grounded in the globalization of Western post-industrial food systems," writes Cornell University's Jeffrey Sobal. "Global corporations are establishing industrialized agro-food systems in almost all nations that will provide constant 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week/365 days a year consumer access to virtually unlimited volumes of relatively inexpensive calorifically dense foods to all people in all places at all times.... Global food systems and global vehicles, appliances, and mass media are the underlying causes of increases in global obesity."

Apparently, a flat world is a fat world.