The Nation's Pulse

Beach Neurons and D.C. Craziness

After the age of 20, they say we lose about 50,000 brain cells a day. What's Washington's excuse?

By 7.1.09

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SEA ISLE, N.J. -- After the age of 20, they say we lose about 50,000 brain cells a day. That means you'll probably lose a couple hundred just during the few minutes it takes to read this column.

For those big guys on Wall Street with the two-hour train commutes each way from Connecticut, that means a loss of about 4,000 brain cells just while they're on the way into the city, and a loss of another 4,000 on the way home, plus a drop of an additional 16,000 brain cells between the train rides for every eight hours they put in at their desks at Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers. No wonder things collapsed.

The good news for me is that the health experts say we can cut back on that vanishing of our brains through exercise and the ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids, exactly the kind of things that come easy here at the ocean.

To get my newspaper in the morning, it's a three-mile bike ride, round-trip. For lunch (and here's where both the exercise and the omega-3 come in), it's another three or four miles on the bike to get to the local bars for some high-octane bluefish and red wine.

It's another run (on foot, no bike) when one of our golden retrievers makes a quick escape and heads for the beach. Doing a quick cost-benefit analysis, they don't run off like that at home, where there's not much to run to but Lowe's, but here they look for any split-second opportunity to sneak out and dart to the ocean for some totally devil-may-care frolicking in the waves and seagull chasing (both illegal here for dogs after Memorial Day).

On fish with omega-3 as brain food, UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a member of the school's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, points to why fresh salmon here at Mike's on the bay beats a Big Mac when it comes to going to the head of the class: "A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in rodents results in impaired learning and memory."

What all that means is that I'm getting dumber more slowly here, having fewer brain cells going missing per day than if I had just stayed in Pittsburgh and had the paper delivered to the driveway, skipped the bluefish, chased down no dogs and took the car to lunch.

That should mean I'm sharper here this month than at home in spotting the craziness in the latest pie-in-the-sky schemes that are coming out of Washington, whether it's the "cash for clunkers" legislation or President Obama's plan for health care reform.

With "cash for clunkers," car buyers who go into dealerships to swap a 1984-or-newer model that gets 18 mpg or less for a new model that's more "green" will get up to $4,500 from the federal government, i.e., from the taxpayers.

Isn't that how we got into the current economic mess in the first place, through government red ink and consumers being encouraged to buy what they couldn't afford, like houses? And now the answer is to do more of both, more federal deficits and more consumers being incentivized by the government to sign on the dotted line for higher monthly payments? What it looks like to me is more shiny new trucks being repossessed by the banks and more federal borrowing from the Chinese.

With health care reform, President Obama and his allies in Congress are saying they can design a "revenue-neutral" system that will somehow expand coverage to everyone while simultaneously cutting costs and improving quality. Nice trick.

In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Congress's own watchdog on spending, estimates that the price tag on the various reform plans being advanced by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats could run as high as $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

To be "revenue-neutral" means the price will be paid through some combination of tax hikes, benefit cuts for patients, and reduced reimbursements for doctors, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.

Already, the Obama administration's stimulus bill has allocated the money to launch something called the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research, an entity that's precisely designed to provide the central planners with federal guidelines on which "cost-effective" medical treatments we'll be permitted to receive. That means the knee operations will be "free," but unavailable for those of a certain age.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.