Letters

Give US corporations a reason to stay put

Regarding "A Corporate Bermuda Triangle" (May 21, Opinion): In her discussion of Stanley Works tool company reincorporating overseas, Barbara W. Carlson hits the wrong nail on the head. She's correct that small shareholders will be hit with capital-gains taxes when their company moves its charter offshore. But the answer is not to restrict corporations from legally moving to more favorable business environments. The answer is to provide incentives for US companies to stay put.

How? Improve the tax code, so that US firms are not put at a disadvantage to foreign companies. Critics who claim this is a "race to the bottom," similar to abandoning environmental or labor standards to stay competitive, are wrong. It's simply reforming an unfair and uncompetitive tax code.
John Dempsey
New York

The validity of centenarian studies

Regarding "Japan's island of longevity" (May 16): It's an almost universal rule in gerontology that people get to be super-centenarians the same way people get good gas mileage: They lie about it. I'm reminded of the work of another Harvard MD, Alexander Leaf, who wrote in the 1970s of the good life for the elderly in Hunza, Pakistan, in Vilacabamba, Ecuador, and in Soviet Abkhazia (now part of the Republic of Georgia). They were reputed to be the most longevous peoples in the world. After the publication of his book, an article in the Scientific American, another in the National Geographic, and the condensation of his book in the Reader's Digest, Mr. Leaf admitted he'd been a sucker: People with no actual proof had told him they'd lived to unrealistic ages, and he had believed them.

We really want to believe this sort of thing, so we put disbelief on hold. The so-called gerontologists who accept that these people are really super-centenarians are similarly innocent and credulous. The standards of proof for great longevity need to be rigorous, not wishful thinking.
James A. Thorson Department of Gerontology
University of Nebraska

Sources' reply: Professor Thorson rightly points out the dangers of accepting ages reported by so-called super-centenarians at face value. If he reads our book, "The Okinawa Program," he will see that, in Chapter 1, we thoroughly discredit the myth of these so-called longevity areas.

The standards of proof for age-validation must be rigorous and evidence-based. The sine qua non of research in human-longevity studies is the birth certificate. That's what makes the Okinawa sample unique. All of our 600-plus centenarian subjects over the past 27 years have had this proof of birth.

It is relatively easy to verify ages in Japan. Since 1872, the country has had a nationwide system of household registry, kept by the government in the town, village, or city where the household maintains its permanent address. Called the koseki, it contains the names, dates of birth, sex, birth order, and names of the parents of the household head and all family members. Any changes in the household, such as births or deaths, are required by law to be promptly reported.

Thus, the koseki is not a record of periodic census (which is prone to error) but a much more accurate registry that is continuously updated. It is one of the oldest and most reliable sources of information on population statistics in the world.

Finally, Ushi Okushima, the energetic woman who was reported in the Monitor article as 103 years, will actually be 100 years young in August.
Bradley Willcox, D. Craig Willcox, and Makoto SuzukiCo-Principal Investigators, Okinawa Centenarian Study
Harvard University and Okinawa International University

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com.

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