December 29, 2007

Drunk driving dames

The same cautionary holiday season tale makes its way into papers in Auckland and Minneapolis ...

Posted by eroberts at 1:28 PM

December 27, 2007

Marathons reduce mortality

This is an interesting looking article in the British Medical Journal:

Objective: To determine from a societal perspective the risk of sudden cardiac death associated with running in an organised marathon compared with the risk of dying from a motor vehicle crash that might otherwise have taken place if the roads had not been closed.

Design: Population based retrospective analysis with linked ecological comparisons of sudden death.

Setting: Marathons with at least 1000 participants that had two decades of history and were on public roads in the United States, 1975-2004.

Main outcome measures: Sudden death attributed to cardiac causes or to motor vehicle trauma.

Results: The marathons provided results for 3 292 268 runners on 750 separate days encompassing about 14 million hours of exercise. There were 26 sudden cardiac deaths observed, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100 000 participants (95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.1). Because of road closure, an estimated 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented, equivalent to a relative risk reduction of 35% (95% confidence interval 17% to 49%). The net reduction in sudden death during marathons amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed (95% confidence interval: 0.7 to 3.8). The net reduction in total deaths could not be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decades of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, degree of competition, and course difficulty.

Conclusion: Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media.

Posted by eroberts at 2:30 PM

December 21, 2007

Shooting rats, hitting people

How common was shooting at rats but hitting a person in early twentieth century America?

I pose this question because twice in the last couple of weeks I've come across small-town-newspaper stories from the early twentieth century Midwest that report on people shooting rats—trying to shoot rats might be a better description of activities—missing, and hitting a person. I haven't gone looking for these stories, I've just happened upon them while looking for stories about a [New Zealand] Maori entertainer in small-town America in the 1910s and 1920s. Maybe I got lucky, and I happened upon the couple of rare instances of "man shoots at rat, hits person" stories that ever appeared. But I suspect not. A cursory search on Newspaper Archive brings up more similar stories. Do a similar Google News search today and you don't get anything.

To my modern eyes these stories appear tragicomic, and a little absurd. But historians can't merely laugh at the past, they have to explain it. Why did people get hit by stray bullets aimed at rats? A plausible explanation would include the following elements

  • There really were more rats around the city in the late 19th and early 20th century. Cities were dirtier.
  • People were more inclined to shoot rats rather than trap them. Other articles about the sorry perpetrators of these shootings mentioned that hordes of rats undeterred by traps drove people to shoot them.
  • When there's no-one around to contradict your claim, what a convenient excuse for an accidental shooting!
  • What a great story for the newspaper! I suspect the tragicomic appeal of the story was not lost on the editors of small town papers competing for readers.

Merry Christmas, and don't get shot by the rat catcher!

Posted by eroberts at 9:49 AM

December 10, 2007

International arbitrage in Christmas ornaments

At the current exchange rate, some Canadians could be doing very well by driving to the U.S. (we bought this at a Michaels store), importing these into Canada, and selling them a little below $3.49.

Possible explanations for this arbitrage opportunity include
(1) the packets were printed a couple of years ago when the Canadian dollar was worth less
(2) cheap Christmas tree angels attract higher tariffs or taxes in Canada
(3) there is higher demand (or less supply) of cheap Christmas tree angels in Canada, allowing the seller to charge a higher price.

Posted by eroberts at 11:31 AM

December 6, 2007

Homeland security

At a Flying J gas station in Evansdale, IA

Draw your own implications, but I was struck by the effort that had gone into making the sign in the first place, indicative of the concern with terrorism after 9/11 ... and now it's turned off. Guess we don't need to be worry anymore! Moreover, Evansdale, IA is not a known major target of terrorists.

Posted by eroberts at 8:09 AM