Minutiae
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"Chuck Norris doesn't read books; he stares them down until he gets the information he wants out of them."
- ChuckNorrisFactsdotcom

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Eeeg. It'll be worth keeping an eye on
Togo over the next month or so. It could be the next Lebanon or it could be the next Rwanda. The beady eye of uninvolved world attention will be useful here, just as it was useful in Lebanon. It'd be great if people cared enough that the media would take up a presence there.

posted by Rachel 4/27/2005
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This post will enrage and nauseate you. Fair warning.


Words fail me. Fucking profanity fails me. What the
HELL?!? What in all the names of God is wrong with people today? Did no one ever explain to these idiots the legal concept of a mandated reporter? Much less the moral responsibility to people one is responsible for? If not why were they entrusted with the care and safety of vulnerable persons?

After a month of this kind of response, I cannot believe that a concerned parent hasn't met these morons in the parking lot for a little 'discussion' about how one should respond to child rape. Vigilanteism isn't a good idea, it tends to lead bad places. But, when the system fails to function repeatedly, people will eventually stop using the system and begin devising their own methods to deal with child rapists and the people who cover for them. I don't want to live in a society that has to resort to torches and pitchforks to put down the local menace. Don't get me wrong, if the time calls for torches and pitchforks, well that's what you use. I'd sure rather people be selectively violently aggressive than passive victims.

"Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I prefer to use arms in defense of honor rather than remain the vile witness of dishonor ..." -Mahatma Ghandi

posted by Rachel 4/27/2005
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Oferchrissake. I finally caught Supersize Me. My verdict: complete and utter bullshit. This is the same old crap. It's reefer madness only now they've got a doctor telling you that cheese contains opiate-like addictive components and that Narcan will stop people from eating chocolate. (This is where a well-rounded education helps you spot the bullshit, folks.)

The casein protein that has opiate like effects on the brain? That stuff McDonalds put there deliberately to addict their customers? It's in every dairy product. It's in skim milk. You'll find components with a similar action in all wheat products. So in order to avoid these evil forms of food heroin one would have to live on a wheat-free milk-free diet. But McDonalds puts "all the addictive components" in their food because "a 12 year old kid's brain is no match for the combination [of sugar caffine and cheese]." So says a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. This is the equivalent of a Michael Moore film. Ronald McDonald is not Joe Camel. I don't even have the energy to properly fisk this film. The last shot in the movie is a shot of an ER and a graveyard followed by a tombstone with Macdonalds' name on it asking the question of "Who do you want to see go first, you or them."

If you wonder, pick 3 points and google 3 sources and just look up what this guy is presenting as fact. If you were under the impression that this wasn't intended as a propaganda piece, man look again. They presented his girlfriend explaining his post-Mcdonalds "detox diet" as needing to include as many "cleansing organic vegetables" as possible. No bias there. That's also ingnoring the fact that he's consuming like over 1000 calories at each sitting which is in no way an inevitable consequence of hitting the drive thru. Did any of these health professionals actally look at an itemized menu of what this guy was consuming? You CAN eat McDonalds and NOT order a shake. You're going to develop appetite fatigue after a week of eating the same thing even if it's your favorite gourmet meal. 30 days of eating from the same limited menu is going to cause feelings of disgust and apathy no matter what you're eating. Lunch can be a sandwich and beverage, it doesn't need to involve french fries, hashbrowns, or desert. But of course the whole point of the thing was the ultimate worst way you could abuse your body with fast food, not how you could have a meal for under 500 calories at a fast food joint. Otherwise there's no hook. Which would be fine if this film hadn't set everyone off on how evil Cookie Monster is.

So much goddamned CRAP out there and most people lack either the resources or the motivation to do the bullshit litmus test.


I found a fantastic
post on this subject:
"We're a nation of fatties, and getting fatter. At least, I am. (Damn you, 30!) And so, to judge from the media reports, are the rest of you. You're not just getting fatter, either; you're getting diabetes, heart trouble, and joint problems. You're making your kids fat. You're dragging down life expectancy for everyone, and won't that be embarassing at the 2008 International Mortality Olympics in Leopoldsville?

Public health experts, and health journalists, are screaming that we need to do something about this! But most of their ideas, like making television commercials telling us how fat we are, or getting the President to sit in on someone's third grade gym class, don't seem very useful. If nagging people to change their habits without enforceable consequence actually worked, well, just think how clean my room would be right now!

So what would work? It's useful to look at the great public health success of the last 50 years: smoking.

In the 1960's, nearly 40% of adults smoked. By 2000, that number had fallen to 23%. (That's from an LA times story that I accidentally forgot to bookmark and now can't find). After plateauing in the early nineties, smoking once again began to decline in the late 1990s. The number of cigarettes smoked per day has also been declining since the 1980s, again with a plateau in the late eighties/early nineties, and another sharp decline in the mid-to-late nineties.

Smoking cessation seems to have had a number of big "pushes": the original studies, in the 1950s, linking smoking to lung cancer; the surgeon general's finding that smoking caused cancer in 1964; the warnings on cigarette packs; teh division of the world into smoking and non-smoking sections in the 1970s and early 1980s; and the anti-tobacco lawsuits of the mid-to-late 1990s. Now, of course, we have the effort to ban cigarettes in public places--a line of attack which is, to judge by my acquaintances, working. It's just too much of a pain in the ass to be a smoker these days. There is also the considerable stigma that began attaching to smokers in the mid-1990s, and the increasingly hefty taxes being imposed.

What lessons does this give us for designing, an, er "fattening cessation" programme?


* Experts telling people they're going to die doesn't work very well. Smoking kept going up even after the link between smoking and lung cancer was announced.

* Social stigma works moderately well, but only if you can involve the person's peer group. A bunch of self-righteous wheat-germ eating yoga instructors telling people not to smoke didn't work. Neither did sanctimonious lectures from teachers, doctors, or health-department-sponsored ads.

* Social stigma has to be strong. Telling people they were unhealthy had little effect. Telling people they were filthy and disgusting, and refusing to kiss them, did.

* Taxes work. Smoking seems to be dropping in New York City. However, to work, taxes need to be very high; tax, and the cost of the tobacco settlement, now account for something like 90% of the price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City. There is also high deadweight loss, and promotion of criminal activity, as people resort to smuggling.

* Reminding people that their habit is unhealthy has, at best, a marginal effect. Whenever I write about weight loss issues, I run into people who are astonished by how many calories common foods have. This, despite the fact that that information is right there on the box. They don't look at the nutrition information, or they don't realise what a serving size is, or in some other way have no idea what they're putting into their mouths. And many who know (the seriously overweight, mostly veteran dieters, are experts at calorie counting) ignore what they know.

* Lecturing people has, as far as anyone can tell, absolutely no effect at all. This is true with drugs, with smoking, and of course, with eating. Every so often you'll see a nice news story about some innovative anti-smoking or drug ad--the media is currently infatuated with commercials implying that rapacious tobacco companies are trying to get one over on kids. (Fight the power, dude!) What you won't see is any evidence that they actually reduce smoking, because as far as I can tell, there isn't any. (The ads focus group well. Lesson #1 of marketing: everything focus groups well.)

* Making it difficult to indulge your habit publicly does work--if it can be done. Prohibition illustrates how often it can't.

In other words: incentives matter. If you want to get people to stop doing something (and I don't concede that that's a legitimate project for the government, but let's assume for the moment that it is), you need to make it very costly, in both money and other pleasures, to indulge. If you want people to stop being fat, you need to make it expensive and unpleasant to be overweight.

How might we do this? I'll tell you how we won't: public health advertising, "National Fitness Day", getting elected officials to badger their constituents or "set a good example", a 3 cent tax on soft drinks.

Here are things that would work, in my opinion:


Make discrimination against the overweight not only legal, but mandatory

Encourage health and life insurance companies to jack up their premiums. Make seats in public accomodations, from stadiums to subways, physically impossible for the obese to fit in. Force airlines to charge them for an extra seat.

Also, get their peers to be mean to them. It's no coincidence that the subcultures in which fat is most stigmatised--the white upper middle class ones--are also the ones in which obesity is least prevalent. Don't pay for public health announcements; pay sitcoms to make cruel jokes at the expense of overweight characters, who should all be written as lazy and stupid. Any scenes involving food should show the overweight characters as revolting gluttons, with food running out of their mouths and down their shirts as the other people in the room watch in stunned horror.

Make unhealthy food extremely expensive

We're not talking about some measly 1%, 5%, or even 50% tax. If you want people to cut down on unhealthy eating, you need to usher in the era of the $5 can of soda, the $10 big mac. I'd guess that an increase in the price of fatty and/or sugary food somewhere on the order of five to tenfold would be the minimum effective tax.

Make being sedentary even more expensive

Slap a 50% tax on automobiles, a 500% tax on power lawnmowers. Limit elevators to buildings of five stories or more, and force them to stop only at every other floor. Give tax credits for "heart healthy buildings": ones with no elevators, and parking at least 1/4 mile away. (Obviously, I assume there would be a--small and slow!--elevator for the disabled.) Slap a 300% surcharge on cable or satellite television, and an additional Britain-style TV tax besides. Jack up the cost of broadband, video games, and MP3 players. Subsidize sports leagues and parks.

Would all this work? I think it probably would. If it becomes even more difficult to be fat, I assume people will do less of it.

(How insensitive I am! Me, with the lanky frame and the 19.5 BMI! Don't I realise that if fat people could stop being fat, they would?

Look, I do understand that there are probably all sorts of genetic and metabolic and environmental reasons that I am not fat, and other people are. I don't think overweight people are lazy, or bad, or less strong-willed than I; I assume that their hunger signal must be, for whatever reason, much more insistent than mine is, and also, that they probably didn't grow up with quite the morbid fear of fat that pervades the private schools of New York.

But the number of fat people has gone up dramatically in the past fifty years, and the number of fat children is skyrocketing. Did we undergo some massive change in our genes? No, we underwent a massive change in our environment: cheaper food, less activity. If we change that environment to a less fat-friendly one, I assume that the number of fat people will also change.)

But it's ridiculous to even contemplate, because unlike smokers, fat people are not a shrinking minority; they're a growing majority. They are us. And we are not going to pass laws making our lives harder, even if many of these suggestions weren't a gross affront to liberty.

But given that we're not going to do what works, I don't see why we should waste time and money doing what doesn't."
Of course all of this hysteria is all the more ironic because, as with almost all of the threats to public health, the numbers have been erroneously extrapolated to put it kindly, and cooked to put it bluntly.
"Last week's bombshell announcement that excess weight was accountable for just 26,000 deaths each year stands in stark contrast to the bloated 400,000 deaths statistic produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year and has left many demanding answers as to why the agency made such grave errors in its calculations.

The fifteen-fold decrease in the number of deaths places obesity at number seven on America's preventable death rankings -- right behind septicemia and nephritis. Despite the new, more accurate findings, CDC Director Julie Gerberding refuses to change course on the agency's earlier estimate, even as her once-heralded study now appears completely bankrupt."

posted by Rachel 4/27/2005
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