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The Road to Serfdom

[ 24 ] April 21, 2010 |

Conservatives have evidently worked themselves into something of an incoherent snit over the FDA’s plans to limit sodium in processed foods. If I understand the anxiety correctly, a cooperative effort between the federal government, industry representatives and public health experts to gradually (and I would imagine quite modestly) reduce sodium levels over a ten-year period is pretty much the sort of thing that Pol Pot did before depopulating the cities and having everyone gouged to death with bamboo.

As a public health matter, reducing sodium levels in the food supply seems like a perfectly decent idea and would be the most efficient way of addressing the problems caused by a diet overloaded with salt. Americans consume more sodium (by most estimates twice, by some estimates three times) than we need; most of our sodium comes from processed food; the epidemiological data demonstrate a compelling link between excessive sodium intake and unpleasant health outcomes like coronary heart disease and stroke (among other misfortunes); gradual reductions sodium intake seem to have measurable benefits for blood pressure; and the best available evidence suggests that we might reduce deaths from CHD, stroke and heart attack by tens of thousands (if not more) simply by knocking back average sodium consumption to the levels currently recommended by the CDC (i.e., 2300 mg/day for the general population). Although there’s the usual degree of uncertainty and qualification in the science, critics of the policies being mulled over by the FDA — most notably Michael Alderman, who has long been the go-to guy for salt regulation skeptics — are well-known within the field for overstating the ambiguity in the data and for undervaluing the weight of randomized clinical studies that support the public health consensus on sodium reduction. (That’s not to say he’s a hack, or that the debate about sodium is anything as nonexistent as the “debate” about climate change. Indeed, when boneheads like Ed Morrissey cite his work as “the latest research” — while completely botching his academic affiliation — it’s difficult not to take pity on the guy and wonder if he’s not being ill-served by the attention.)

in any event, there’s obviously always room for debate about the potential efficacy of public policy — but it’s probably not a debate worth having with people harboring primal fears that Barack Obama is coming to steal their Funyuns. Unfortunately, that seems to be the level at which the public discourse about food and public health usually takes place, so wingnuts should at least take heart in that.

UPDATE [SL]: In today’s installment of non-sequitur theater, William Jacobson announces that this plan to set modest limits on the amount of sodium in pre-processed foods totally vindicates his fear that isolated legislators will be able to completely ban the use of salt in restaurants. And, also, giving consumers the ability to control the amount of salt in their food is just the prelude to banning the private use of salt, or something. As a mere political scientist, I must confess that I can’t really follow the logic here.

UPDATE THE SECOND [SL]: See also.

“The conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict between life and death.”

[ 27 ] April 6, 2010 |

Well, sheeeeeeeeeeyit.  It’s Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Heritage Month again, so I suppose we need to remind people like Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell what the “shared history” of Virginia’s Confederate heroes actually entailed. Here’s a choice excerpt from a speech given at Virginia’s February 1861 secession convention by the South Carolinian John Preston, one of the Confederacy’s great apostles of disunion:

You may, as you are at this moment doing, centralize a coercive power at Washington stronger than the Praetorian bands when the Roman eagles shadowed the earth “from Lusitania to the Caucasus,” but you cannot come nearer coalescing the people of Virginia and the people of Vermont, the people of the St Lawrence and the people of the Gulf, than did Rome to make one of the Gaul and the Dacian, the Briton and the Ionian. No community of origin, no community of language, law or religion, can amalgamate a people whose severance is proclaimed by the rigid requisitions of material necessity. Nature forbids African slavery at the North. Southern civilization cannot exist without African slavery. None but an equal race can labor at the South. Destroy involuntary labor and Anglo Saxon civilization must be remitted to the latitudes whence it sprung.

Preston’s speech sent the audience at Mechanics Institute Hall into peals of ecstasy; Richmond newspapers praised his logic. He was unable to convince the delegation to vote in favor of disunion, but when it finally did so less than two months later, it did so entirely within the spirit of that February address. The fact that McDonnell is recognizing — and I think pretty clearly celebrating — the Lost Cause is at some level no better or worse than what Georgia or Mississippi does each year.  At the same time, however, Virginia’s importance to the entire history of the Confederacy means that, for McDonnell, hailing the state’s role in the Confederacy means hailing the state’s role in assuring that the entire nation suffered through a war that killed well over 600,000 people and took four years to conclude.  The state was, of course, critical to the lunatic aspirations of the Deep South planter class.  Its manpower, industrial wealth and agricultural resources (to say nothing of its geographic value, perched across the Potomac from the Great Bearded Satan) were essential to the mission of preserving the institution of slavery against the imaginary assaults being made against it by the miscegenationists in the Republican party.  Lacking Virginia, the Confederacy could easily have been choked to death by a prolonged naval blockade; of course, lacking Virginia on the Confederate side, the war would probably never have turned into an abolitionist crusade, so we can at least thank Virginia’s dead sons for that much — though I don’t suppose Bob McDonnell would appreciate the more self-defeating aspects of Confederate Heritage.

In any event, and for what it’s worth, I’m proposing that April be known henceforth as West Virginia Appreciation Month. Feel free to e-mail the Governor’s office and ask him to take a few moments this April to recognize the patriotism of those nearly three dozen Virginia counties that refused to make war in defense of white supremacy.

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Easter Daddyblogging

[ 7 ] April 4, 2010 |

An egg appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.

Primitive accumulation.

A free market economy generates vast and enduring inequalities of wealth.

The rich, unsatiated even by their own gluttony, brazenly steal the crumbs from the proletariat during a moment of distraction.

Good news in the Simon Singh case

[ 39 ] April 2, 2010 |

The British journalist Simon Singh received excellent news yesterday when an appeals court ruled that he was not necessarily committing libel by describing chiropractic care as “bogus.”  Singh’s should have been a completely uncontroversial observation, given the gaping distance between the (minimal-to-nonexistent) scientific evidence in favor of chiropractic efficacy and the elaborate claims made by chiropractors (e.g., most diseases are preventable and treatable via spinal “adjustments” that relieve mysterious vertebral “subluxations” and restore the body’s “innate intelligence.”)

Now, it must be a great disappointment for chiropractors to be reminded that their practice — like everything else in the goofy solar system of “alternative medicine” — is complete garbage. The perversity of British libel law, however, enabled the British Chiropractic Association to bring suit against Singh, claiming that he’d recklessly damaged the reputation of a profession that tries to make a virtue of pseudoscience.  (Anyone familiar with the Lipstadt-Irving case will know how this all works.)  The suit placed the burden of proof on Singh himself to demonstrate that the BCA was being “conspicuously dishonest” by promoting chiropractic woo as the solution to infant colic, asthma, breastfeeding problems, and an array of other disorders that chiropractic techniques do not actually help. An earlier ruling held that Singh was attempting to make a factual statement not simply about chiropractic treatment but about the motives of BCA officials; demonstrating that chiropractic theory and practice is a sham wouldn’t be difficult, of course, but proving the dishonesty (as opposed to the simple idiocy) of the BCA would have been a steeper hill to climb. Moreover, the professional and financial expense of the suit (which has already cost Singh 200,000 pounds while forcing him to suspend his career) would have had predictable and stifling consequences for other journalists who might feel compelled to call out sham science in print.  Fortunately, the latest ruling overturns that previous holding and asserts that Singh’s remarks should indeed be considered “fair comment” — that is, informed opinion — a judgment that gives his statements greater legal protection and, barring any unforeseen twists, will likely mean the death of the case.

As an entertaining footnote to all this, the publicity over the Singh has caused some unanticipated difficulty for British chiropractors; when science bloggers realized that government regulations prohibited chiropractors from making the sorts of claims being made by the BCA in its complaint against Singh, they began looking closely at chiropractic advertisements and websites throughout the UK.   As of a month ago, roughly a quarter of the nation’s chiropractors were under investigation for making garden-variety — that is to say, bogus — statements about the health benefits of chiropractic treatment.

“There’s always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area”

[ 3 ] March 26, 2010 |

So how many babies can we expect to be conceived at Douchestock?

Lying liberal liars and their loathsome lies

[ 27 ] March 24, 2010 |

Kevin Levin has been having some fun with Larry Schweikart’s recently published — and oddly titled — 48 Liberal Lies About American History. (I mean, only 48? Seriously? He couldn’t find two more? Clearly, he hasn’t reviewed the latest scholarship on George Washington’s ursine sex fetishes and contributions to the early cocaine trade, to say nothing of his extra testicles and his callous disregard for the British children.)

Anyhow, Schweikart — last seen writing a book that should have embarrassed his mother — has discovered some remarkable untruths that are, he claims, standard leftist issue in US History texts. Among them:

  • “John F. Kennedy was Killed by LBJ and a Secret Team to Prevent Him from Getting Us Out of Vietnam”
  • “Ronald Reagan Knew ‘Star Wars’ Wouldn’t Work but Wanted to Provoke a War with the USSR.”
  • “September 11 Was Not the Work of Terrorists. It Was a Government Conspiracy.”

It hardly needs mentioning that none of these claims are even remotely endorsed by any current US history textbooks — or at least those that haven’t been self-published by unmedicated crazy people — and that Larry Schweikart must be confusing “liberal US history textbooks” with “amateur videos I found on YouTube.” None of that will matter to the Texas School Board, for whom I’d guess Schweikart is eagerly preparing a high school version of his Patriot’s History, complete with its reassurances that the men who died at the Alamo were “freedom fighters” and that Mexico’s finest soldiers ran from San Jacinto like screaming children.

But since Schweikart seems particularly concerned about the alleged presence of delusional conspiracy theories in American history texts, perhaps it’s worth reviewing his and Michael Allen’s treatment of the Oklahoma City bombing for a point of comparison. From pp. 785-786 of A Patriot’s History of the United States, the authors treat us to this:

[I]n his haste to lay the blame on antigovernment extremists, Clinton and the entire U.S. intelligence community missed several troubling clues that perhaps McVeigh and Nichols had not acted alone. Nichols, for example, was in the same part of the Philippines — and at the same time — as Al Qadea [sic] bomb maker Ramzi Yousef. Moreover, numerous witnesses testified that McVeigh and Nichols lacked sufficient bomb-making skills, but that their bomb was a near-perfect replica of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb devised by Yousef.

The footnotes to this section lead us to a handful of books published by the distinguished Regan Press and — the phrase “no shit” comes to mind here — World Net Daily’s publishing house. All of which makes me wonder if the University of Dayton’s history department allows Larry Schweikart to teach its undergraduate methods seminar. At any rate, the “Third Terrorist” theory has long been a staple of right-wing mythology and was promoted vigorously in 2001 and 2002 by such totally credible experts as Bill O’Reilly, Frank “Sharia” Gaffney and Larry “Whitey Tape” Johnson. The fact that the theory has no basis in evidence hardly disqualifies it from inclusion in Schweikart’s book; apparently, its top-shelf wingnuttery more than compensates for its actual flaws. It’s an impressive trick, though, to follow up this sort of insane conspiracy-peddling by publishing a book that indicts “liberal” historians for circulating conspiracy theories they’ve actually done nothing to promote.

Couldn’t he at least have mentioned the greatness of Richard Nixon?

[ 25 ] March 23, 2010 |

I’m not sure how Ben Stein’s understanding of Constitutional law compares with his understanding of science or the convolutions of the market, but he certainly has a flair for atom-splitting hyperbole. But Stein — who’d beaten the curve on the Obama-Hitler comparisons back in July 2008 — watched the dolchstoss on the House floor last night and wandered strangely off-message.

This is not how the U.S. government is supposed to work. This is how a South American junta does its work with a puppet legislature and a supreme Caudillo above law. This is, tragically, Barack Obama’s America. It took a mere 14 months to get us from the government of Jefferson to the government of Trujillo.

Well, now I’m completely confused. I thought Jefferson had been unpersoned. I also thought the passage of this bill meant we were all going to be sodomized by the Four Socialist Horsemen of the ACORNocalypse, or that in the very least we could look forward to a slow ride down the slope toward involuntary hypothermia studies, experimental malaria vaccinations and anesthesia-free surgery.

But Trujillo? Really? I mean, he was a corrupt, illiberal motherfucker so far as it goes, but I would assume conservatives would at least applaud El Jefe‘s pathological anti-communism and border security policies. Then again, I guess I just don’t understand conservatives anymore.

Channeling his inner Redshirt

[ 5 ] March 21, 2010 |

In light of Rep. Paul Broun’s nutty invocation of the “Great War of Yankee Aggression” the other day, it’s good to see that actual Confederate wannabees aren’t completely losing their shit over the prospect that 95 percent of Americans might be covered by health insurance.

Never mind. I forgots t’ check with the gomers at the gun counter.

I ran out on some errands this morning, and noticed several things.

The gun store downtown was doing what I suspect was unusually brisk business for an early Saturday morning outside of hunting season. This same gun store’s parking lot was overflowing mid-afternoon yesterday shortly after 3:30 PM, with traffic filling the lot, the nearby on-street parking filled, and overflow parking spilling into the gravel lot next door.

I’ve also seen a minivan with a warning/threat against Obamacare written in red paint on the windows (I didn’t get a great look at it as it was moving in the opposite direction, but I got the gist of it).

This is hardly the equivalent of militiamen forming on the village green, but there seems to be a distinct undercurrent of frustration and rage building against the federal government in general, the tricks of Democratic Party in specific, and tomorrow’s Obamacare may be the catalyst.

Of course, when the “distinct undercurrent” happens to come from your own blog — in which you’d just one day earlier ruled that HCR is a “capital crime” and predicted, a la Orval Faubus, that blood will soon enough drench the streets — I suppose you’d have to be a complete numbskull to overlook the trend.

As for the wider relevance of the War of Northern Aggression to all this, I can only encourage opponents of reform like Rep. Broun to continue insinuating some sort of comparison between the non-existent Obama-Reid-Pelosi conspiracy to seize the  health care system and the non-existent Lincoln-Seward-Sumner conspiracy to seize the South’s human chattel.  It’s a winner for sure.

Out-crazying Nixon

[ 5 ] March 16, 2010 |

Kathy Olmsted has a fine list of standout moments in the clinical history of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Though we could toss a dart at the White House transcripts or select random audio excerpts and strike paydirt, it occurred to me that a few of Nixon’s recorded conversations take place with people who are considerably more insane than he is and who, against all possible odds, make Nixon appear grounded by comparison.

For example, there’s this exchange with Ronald Reagan from October 26, 1971, the day after the United Nations General Assembly had voted to admit and seat the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate representative of the Chinese nation. Before the vote, Nixon had badgered George H.W. Bush — the US ambassador to the UN — to make sure the US position prevailed, but he’d fallen a handful of votes shy of denying the PRC’s admission. At the time, of course, Nixon was laying the groundwork for an eventual visit to China, and so while he complained to Kissinger that “the United States is getting kicked around by a bunch of goddamned Africans and cannibals and such,” he was also wary of the pressure he was receiving from the conservative right to make aggressive use of the issue against both China and the UN itself. A few hours after the vote, Nixon’s wariness was rewarded as he received a call from Gov. Reagan that caused him some audible discomfort.

REAGAN: I know it is not easy to give a suggestion or advice to the president of the United States, but I just feel that — I feel so strongly that we can’t — and in view of ’72 we can’t just sit and take this and continue as if nothing had happened, and I had a suggestion for an action that I’d like to be so presumptuous as to suggest. My every instinct says get the hell out of that kangaroo court, and let it, uh…

NIXON: [Laughs] Yeah.

REAGAN: …sink. But I know that’s very, that would be extremely difficult, and not the thing to do. But it has occurred to me that the United States — I just, the people, I just know are — first of all, they don’t like the UN to begin with. It seems to me, if you brought Mr. Bush back to Washington, to let them sweat for about 24 hours, as to what you were thinking of, and then if you went on television to the people of the United States and said that Mr. Bush was going back to the UN, to participate in debate and express our views and so forth, but he would not participate in any votes — that the United States would not vote and would not be bound by the votes of the UN, because it is a debating society. You don’t have to say that, but it is a debating society, and — and so we’d be there, our presence would be there. But we would just not participate in their votes. I think it would put those bums in the perspective they belong.

NIXON: [pauses, laughs] It sure would! Uh….

REAGAN: I think it would make a hell of a campaign issue. Because I am positive that the people of the United States are thoroughly disgusted, and I think that this would put any candidate from the other side — the constant question to him would come, in the midst of the campaign, “What would you do now?” And if he was stupid enough to open his mouth and say, “Oh, hell, you know — we’d go back to operating just as usual,” I think he’d be hung out to dry.

The audio of that conversation is interesting and certainly worth a listen if you happen to be a connoisseur of such things.  Nixon is clearly not impressed by the advice, and spends a good bit of time trying to change the subject, as if he’s perhaps speaking with an unhinged missionary or a jabbering incontinent on a Greyhound bus; at the same time, though he recognizes Reagan’s ascendant wingnuttery and encourages him to complain publicly about the UN’s “moral bankruptcy” and its diminishing support among Americans.  He also tries to reassure Reagan that he hates the United Nations as much as anyone and that he wouldn’t be attending any of the dinners being given in recognition of UN Week.  Reagan, for his part, vows to find out if UN Week is still going on and — if so — withdraw the proclamation he’d signed to create it.

Three weeks later, Nixon described Reagan as “shallow” in a long and hilarious conversation with Kissinger.

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Quacks in Haiti

[ 0 ] March 3, 2010 |

Peter Lipson has an interesting post about the unsurprising failures that naturopathic peddlers have faced in the wake of the Haitian catastrophe. Apparently, people wallowing in the aftermath of a natural disaster tend to be unimpressed by the results of cure-all vitamin C injections and are audacious enough to reject magic beans homeopathy in favor of actual medicine — though Lipson notes that homeopathic water, which will likely contain “fewer fecal coliforms than the local water,” will probably do no harm so long as no one expects it to resolve any illness.

Then again, it’s less than clear that homeopaths even know how to use water properly. As this story explains, a group styling itself “Homeopaths Without Borders” recently sent a troupe of faith healers to Haiti, where they laid hands upon the afflicted.

The group set up shop in two tents next to a clinic and hospital, and treated more than 2,000 patients in three days. Much of the treatments were for itchy eyes and itchy scalps, probably brought about by the dust generated by the quake. There were also problems with itchy skin and upset stomachs.

The more serious injuries went into the clinic or hospital. And many of the gravest cases, such as amputees, were at the main base of relief operations some five miles away at the airport. The mission of the homeopaths was to deal with what [Nancy] Eos called the walking wounded.

Perhaps I’m being ungenerous by wondering if these well-meaning featherbrains actually offered sugar pills and tinctures in lieu of eye flushes and showers, but I’m glad to see they were sensible enough to pass along the amputees to a proper hospital — an approach that nevertheless seems not to be widely shared among a community that believes homeopathy is more effective at treating malaria than amodiaquine and mosquito nets. Then again — lest we understate the irrational insertion of quack medicine into a disaster zone — we need only to remember that if the producers of homeopathic “remedies” actually followed the production steps necessary to generate 25ml of a 200C dilution, they would actually dump roughly 500 liters of water. I’m sure the people of Haiti would appreciate homeopathy even more if its practitioners would simply ship them all the water they waste to make the tiny bottles of water they tote with them.

You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of fiat currency…

[ 0 ] February 18, 2010 |

Faster, South Carolina, faster!

South Carolina will no longer recognize U.S. currency as legal tender, if State Rep. Mike Pitts has his way.

Pitts, a fourth-term Republican from Laurens, introduced legislation earlier this month that would ban what he calls “the unconstitutional substitution of Federal Reserve Notes for silver and gold coin” in South Carolina.

If the bill were to become law, South Carolina would no longer accept or use anything other than silver and gold coins as a form of payment for any debt, meaning paper money would be out in the Palmetto State.

Pitts said the intent of the bill is to give South Carolina the ability to “function through gold and silver coinage” and give the state a “base of currency” in the event of a complete implosion of the U.S. economic system.

The bill itself is a model of hilarity that justifies a return to 19th century monetary policy by insisting that such a move would be an essential first step to “protect the safety, health and welfare of the people of this State.” If I read it correctly, the bill would not only permit the good people of the Palmetto Republic to use gold and silver coins minted outside the United States, but — given that the US hasn’t really minted silver for general circulation in four decades — it would essentially require that everyone pay their state income taxes using dental amalgam and novelty coins. Since the former are somewhat impractical for voluntary use and the latter are exceedingly rare and valuable, I would expect that South Carolina will rapidly spiral into a lawless hellhole, governed by ferocious criminal gangs specializing in hit-and-run tooth harvests and numismatic home invasions. Only time will tell if South Carolina’s Black Friday gun-tax holiday — the fruit of Mike Pitts’ last great idea — will help restore public order.

Niall Ferguson is a terrible economist, too

[ 0 ] February 9, 2010 |

Now that one of the great wankers of our era has turned out to be a serial adulterer as well, would it be possible for NPR to desist from quoting Niall Ferguson every time it runs a story even remotely connected to the problem of the US national debt? I understand the logic in the sentence I just wrote makes utterly no sense, but neither does anything Ferguson has to say about monetary policy or, for that matter, the sloppily-defined term that helped make him a wealthy academic playboy in the first place.

(via Ralph Luker)

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