The Economy

Good Week/Bad Week: Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Meditate

Researchers find that routine jobs, TM are bad for the heart. Plus: Why Steve Jobs doesn't fear the reaper. And: Carrots, the greatest (marketing) ...
John GoffJune 17, 2005

Disclaimer: Good Week/Bad Week does not adhere to normal standards of journalism, or even those of The New York Post. It is intended to be read, then pretty much forgotten. It is not intended to be taken internally.

In addition, the prose contained within does not meet the high artistic, literary, or intellectual standards set by Sadaharu Oh, O. Henry, Henry Fielding, Fielder Cook, Dr. Frank Fields, Totie Fields, or the editors of Field and Stream of Consciousness.

Please, no lawsuits.

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Workers with Stressful Jobs

In a study that took years to complete (and miles to go before I sleep), researchers in the United Kingdom have found that workers with lots of responsibility are less likely to have heart attacks than employees with dull, unexciting jobs. This somewhat contradicts the findings of an earlier study, which found that workers with menial jobs “live a life filled with pink taffeta gowns and bon-bons.”

The research team, from the University of London, studied 2,197 men ages 45 to 68 who worked for the British government. All of the surveyed workers described themselves as “moderate drinkers,” which, in England, means consuming at least 14 pints of Old Speckled Hen at the drop of a hat. Of note: 3 percent of the group indicated they believed Spurs had a “good” or “reasonably good” chance of winning the F.A. Cup next year, a statistical aberration that researchers are at a loss to explain.

The five-year old study (they looked at toddlers, too) found that workers who mostly handle routine tasks — things like filing or stacking papers on a spindle — tend to have less stress. While that might seem to be a good thing, it’s not. Physicians have long known that the heart, a muscle, benefits greatly from spikes or continual agitation, a fact that may help explain the unusually long life expectancies of members of the Northwest Airlines frequent-flyer club.

The U.K. researchers found that subjects with lower social positions or less job control had consistently low standing heart rates. In some cases, the heart rates were on a par with those of meditators and long-distance runners. Indeed, the researchers found that subjects who had menial jobs, ran a lot, and meditated at least five times a week also tended to nod off during questioning.

Writing in the journal Circulation, one of the researchers noted that the heart rates of men in low-level positions were an average 3.2 beats per minute faster than men in top-level positions. Conversely, researchers found that the sizes of the hearts of many of these workers’ bosses were three times too small. Said one member of the University of London team: “Arteries behave as if they know how much a person makes, how much education they have had, and whether they routinely pair a salmon-colored jacket with a pair of lime-green pants.”

Dr. Harry Hemingway, an expert in the physiognomy of working stiffs and the leader of the study, observed, “This finding helps explain why men with low-paying jobs and less education have a higher risk for heart disease, a trend that has been evident for the last 30 years.” Hemingway spoke about other results from the groundbreaking research, including one startling finding that employees who work in mailrooms generally attend fewer spring cotillions than chief executive officers. The survey also revealed that employers who complain incessantly about the salaries of workers are almost always making a bundle themselves.


Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple Computer

In what can only be described as an oratorical example of thinking different, Apple Computer Inc. chief executive officer Steve Jobs stunned some 5,000 graduating seniors during the commencement ceremony at Stanford University on Sunday.

During a highly personal — and often morose — speech, Jobs told the graduating seniors: “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent, it clears out the old to make way for the new.” He went on to tell the suddenly somber audience: “Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.” Jobs then proceeded to play selected cuts from the Cure’s first two albums, along with “Honey,” Bobby Goldsboro’s 1969 ballad about a deceased wife.

Jobs, who co-founded the Macintosh maker with Steve Wozniak, was let go by the company 10 years later. Staying on theme during his address, Jobs spoke about that difficult period of his life. “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” he said. “It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.” After that, Jobs used a hand puppet to recreate a particularly maudlin scene from Gigot while simultaneously playing “Tom Dooley” on a dulcimer.

Students in the crowd appeared unsure how to react to the speech, which lasted for 45 minutes and included 14 references to “that great disk defragger in the sky.” Wang Ping-li, who graduated with double honors in mass spectrometry and quantum physics, seemed annoyed by Jobs’s words. “My 93-year old ba-ba flew in from Taipei to see this and he starts talking about ‘the big sleep?’. She cried all the way back to the Marriott.”

Jobs finished his speech by telling the graduating seniors — many of whom shelled out more than $150,000 for their degree — that higher education is vastly overrated. “If I had never dropped out [of Reed College], I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do,” he noted. “Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference,” Jobs told the graduates, cribbing freely from Robert Frost in much the same way that he cribbed from Xerox PARC when he “hit upon” the graphical user interface and mouse.

(Author’s note: The humor expressed in “Good Week/Bad Week” — such as it is — does not reflect the views, thoughts, or opinions of CFO Publishing, or anybody else who lays awake at night wondering just how many attorneys a litigious company like Apple Computer might keep on retainer.)

This Date (More or Less) in History

A regular reader of TD(MOL)IH, Mrs. Elsie Cavanaugh of Bald Knob, Arkansas, writes:

I was at the Piggly Wiggly the other day (the one near the Knights of Pythias, not the one near Odd-Lots), and I noticed they were selling purple carrots in the produce isle. Can this be right? Shouldn’t carrots be orange, like they are on TV?

Elsie, you raise an interesting point. Strictly speaking, carrots do not have to be orange to qualify as carrots. In fact, carrots have been not orange for a longer period of time than they’ve been orange — if such a thing is thinkable. Indeed, orange carrots happen to be one of the great branding campaigns of all time (corporate types, take note). But first, a little night music.

Horticulturists surmise that farmers in Asia Minor (or D-flat major) first began growing carrots back in the 10th century. Most likely, it was a Tuesday. It took time for the lowly root vegetable to catch on, but by the flowering of the great Hellenic civilizations on the Mediterranean (and Phoenicians, you didn’t make the list), the carrot had firmly established itself a part of the food ecosystem, food chain, or, as it’s known today, food parallelogram.

Pliny the Elder tells us that the Romans enjoyed a good carrot. Other things Romans enjoyed: oiling up, ostrich eggs, and hitting subjugated peoples with big metal poles (called “fasces,” hence our word “fascism”). Historians remain divided over the global impact of the Pax Romanae (roughly, be quiet or we’ll hit you with a big metal pole). Some scholars argue vehemently that the Roman empire did more harm than good. Others believe these scholars need to use their inside voice. A few Cro-Magnons defend empire building on the grounds of “cultural propagation.” In layman’s terms: say what you will about the Romans, at least the water got to town.

Anyway, Elsie, here’s the topic sentence, buried three graphs in. The carrots the Romans ate all those years ago were black, purple, yellow, even white. In fact, carrots were almost any color but orange. Now aren’t you surprised? And a little bit rashy?

Well, people kept eating strangely colored carrots all through the Dark Ages. Deep down, they knew something wasn’t quite right, but they couldn’t put their finger on it. Then, in the 16th century, patriotic Dutch farmers — and they’re the best kind — began experimenting with the hue of carrots. Eventually, they come up with an orange carrot, which is exactly what they wanted. You see, these PDFs felt an orange carrot was a fitting tribute to the royal family of the Netherlands, which happened to be — wait for it — the House of Orange. Seems the PDFs figured every time someone saw an orange carrot at the local corner shop, they’d think of tulips and windmills and Johann Cruyff.

In actuality, people saw orange carrots and thought of oranges, which may explain why the sales of citrus fruit shot up in Europe in the 18th century (that, or scurvy). By the late 1700s, though, you were more likely to see orange carrots than any other type. You were also likely to see (depending on location) slavery, indentured servitude, and child labor. Historians call the 18th century the Age of Reason, or the Age of Getting Rich off Other People’s Sweat. Analogs are hard to find in our modern era, but it is possible your boss makes more a lot more money than you. A whole lot more. No, really. Check the bonus.

Anyway, in the 1800s, a French horticulturist named Vilmorin-Andrieux set out to build a better carrot. The thinking here is that it was probably one of those mid-life crisis things. Working with the wildflower Queen Anne’s Lace, Vilmorin-Andrieux eventually produced reasonably good garden types of carrots. Moreover, they were biennial. That is, the plants lived for two seasons. Most vegetables are annuals, meaning they live only one growing season. Perennials come back every year as soon as the weather turns nice. New Yorkers, too.

Well, Vilmorin kept at it until he finally had had a plant with a thick fleshy root. Some were white, others yellow or red. He then crossed these varieties with orange carrots from Holland. Biographers insist he was thinking of windmills as he did it.

So, Elsie, as you can plainly see, carrots don’t have to be orange to be carrots. And now, farmers in the United Kingdom and the United States are attempting to bring back different-colored varieties, including, later this year, a black-and-white carrot. Reportedly, growers of these carrots are hoping the variety will make consumers think of Jerry Colonna when they see them.

In case you’re interested, non-orange carrots taste slightly better (that is, sweeter), and contain lots of antioxidants — at least, the purple ones do. Red carrots contain lycopene, a pigment which is thought to prevent heart disease and coronary blockage. Exercise wouldn’t hurt, either.

Russell Crowe, a Sainsbury, England root buyer who, to the best of his recollection, has never thrown a phone at anyone, is ginned up about the new carrots. “We are very excited to have dug up old ground and sell the purple carrot exclusively. Hopefully, this unusual color will influence children to eat more vegetables.” Memo to Mr. Crowe: You might want to revisit your strategy. Experts in early childhood development report that the vast majority of teenagers can spot a carrot peel in an endive salad at 200 yards.

As for baby carrots: They’re not babies at all. They’re actually a full-sized variety that grows quickly. These long carrots are eventually peeled and cut into thirds. Then they’re tumbled and polished to give them the kind of shape we think young carrots should have when were not too busy thinking about other, non-vegetable-shape topics (Montesquieu, v-neck sweaters). The U.S. Department of Agriculture developed the baby carrot and introduced it in 1988. Apparently, they’ve got some free time on their hands.