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The body politic

[ 0 ] February 11, 2010 |

Thoughts on Michelle Obama’s dream of a nation with no fat kids.

I’m going to be on the Diane Rehm show on NPR at 10 AM eastern to talk about this.

Update: Shorter Diane Rehm Show

Me: The things Michelle Obama is advocating have been tried a bunch of times in large well-designed studies. They make kids healthier but they don’t make them thinner. We know how to make kids healthier, we don’t know how to make them thinner. So why are you trying to make them thinner?

The other three participants: Clap louder!

Football coaching slowly emerging from Paleolithic era

[ 0 ] February 8, 2010 |

Sean Payton made two great unconventional calls in this game: going for it on fourth and a long yard at the goal line late in the second quarter, and of course the onside kick to open the second half.

The first call didn’t “work” but what happened illustrates why it’s the right decision in that situation. After the play failed the Colts played conservatively since they had the ball at their own two and they were trying to just run out the clock. The subsequent punt gave New Orleans great field position. One first down later they were in FG position, so they ended up losing no points by not kicking the FG initially. Indeed if they had kicked the FG initially, Indy would have gotten the ball back with two minutes to go and probably pretty good field position. The game could easily have been 17-6 at the half.

The onside kick was brilliant — surprise onside kicks are so rare that the recovery rate for them is far higher (55%) than for conventional situation onside kicks. Coming out of the locker room a fresh Peyton Manning was primed to slice the New Orleans defense apart on Indy’s first possession, as indeed he did. But instead of giving the Colts a 17-6 lead midway through the third quarter, the TD ended up merely giving Indy the lead back they had by then lost. The kick fundamentally altered the shape of the game.

Update: Nate Silver does the math. (The value of the surprise onside kick leads to an interesting game theory dilemma — surprise onside kicks are clearly an under-used strategy but they’re underused because they’re underused — if they become too common their value will drop quite a bit because the recovery rate will fall as teams anticipate them).

Law as politics

[ 0 ] January 29, 2010 |

Thoughts on Obama getting uppity with the SCOTUS.

J.D. Salinger

[ 0 ] January 28, 2010 |

J.D. Salinger’s son has announced that his father has died.

I’m not familiar with most of Salinger’s work, but I recently had a striking experience with The Catcher in the Rye. I read it in college and hadn’t looked at it in 25 years when I picked up while browsing in a bookstore. I read the first two chapters while standing there, and I had the distinct and rather unnerving impression that I could remember having read every sentence practically word for word. It was sort of like being transformed into the Rainman character or Borges’ Funes the Memorious. (link is to original; can’t find an English translation on the web).

added by davenoon:

R.I.P. Salinger.

I’m not sure what the Farley twins are reading these days, but Audrey and Imogen are clearly preparing to take on regular blogging duties in the near future…

Obama to ask Congress to repeal DADT

[ 0 ] January 27, 2010 |

CNN is reporting that Obama will ask Congress to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell legislation. Of course “asking” could mean everything from making this a legislative priority to engaging in a largely empty symbolic gesture. Given that Obama almost certainly has the authority to stop discharges based on sexual orientation by issuing an executive order, it will be interesting to see how seriously he pursues what up to now has been perhaps his most egregiously broken campaign promise.

Next up from Paul Shirley: Why did Polish Jews put up with so much anti-Semitism?

[ 0 ] January 27, 2010 |

What if Ayn Rand had been 6’10″ with a pretty good jumpshot?

Dear Haitians -

First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?


The Rest of the World

Shirley’s nuanced social analysis of the situation in Haiti got him bounced this morning from his occasional gig as an ESPN commentator.

I’ve heard that his book about his travels through the world of professional basketball is actually kind of interesting.

Whole Foods, junk science, healthism, and other stuff white people like

[ 0 ] January 26, 2010 |

Union-busting, health care reform-opposing, global-warming denying John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has come up with a super idea for cutting his health insurance costs: giving his employees extra discounts on their company store purchases if they maintain or achieve a “healthy” (sic) weight.

The details: employees with a Body Mass Index of between 28 and 29.9 will get a 22% discount on their purchases; those with a BMI of 26-28.9 will get a 25% discount; those with a BMI of 24-25.9 will get a 27% discount; and those below 24 will get a 30% discount (employees must also meet blood pressure and cholesterol criteria and not use nicotine).

How crazy is this? Let me count the ways:

(1) In terms of BMI, the Whole Foods discounts correlate with increasing mortality risk. The most sophisticated study on this subject, published in 2005 in JAMA by Katherine Flegal et. al., used a BMI of 23-24.9 as its referent category for baseline risk of mortality. (This corresponds with the higher end of the government’s “normal/recommended” weight range of 18.5-24.9. The lower one goes in the “normal” weight range, the greater the mortality risk becomes, so using the top of the “normal” range as the referent category actually minimizes the risks associated with “normal” weight). It found 86,000 excess deaths per year in the United States associated with “normal” weight when compared to the mortality risk among people with BMIs in the 25-29.9 range.

You’re reading that right: Whole Foods’ employee discounts based on weight are inversely related to mortality risk. So you have a policy that’s not merely discriminatory on its face, but completely irrational on its own terms.

(2) The highest employee discount has no floor, only a ceiling. In the Flegal study, underweight (BMI <18.5) was associated with a stratospheric increase in mortality risk. (This remains true even when the data is controlled for smoking and pre-existing disease). But if you're an underweight college student suffering from an eating disorder and working as a checker at the Boulder Whole Foods (not a hypothetical as anyone who has ever shopped there can attest) you get a 30% discount for maintaining the "healthiest" weight.

(3) Even if one decides to enter John Mackey’s Epidemiological Fantasyland, where good health is achieved by purchasing $27 a pound Ahi tuna in order to achieve Optimal Thinness, how much sense does it make to make it more expensive for your non-thin employees to purchase said tuna?

All this is a classic example how the habitus of upper class people in America ends up getting projected onto the broader culture, under the rubric of “a healthy lifestyle.” It’s also an example of how healthism and junk science are powerful weapons in the fight to avoid that most dreaded thing, a fair and efficient health care system for all Americans. Few myths in that fight are more pernicious than the idea that if you get sick it’s your fault, because you didn’t make healthy choices, such as searing that Ahi tuna you bought at Whole Foods after lightly coating it in $30 a bottle olive oil.

Relatedly, here’s a talk I gave last week on the general topic. The first link is the talk; the second is the Q&A.



C. Everett Koop fights to keep Medicare free from government interference

[ 0 ] January 26, 2010 |

Not the Onion.

More thoughts on Citizens United

[ 0 ] January 22, 2010 |


I was reading a review yesterday of a collection of Henry Farlie’s essays, and discovered that The Daily Beast and The Daily Brute were lightly fictionalized versions of The Daily Mail and The Daily Express in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, which sounds like fun.

Fat and Identity Politics

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

I’m doing a talk on this topic at UCLA tomorrow. The price is right for any LA LGMers looking to stretch their entertainment dollar.

I’m staying at a guest house on campus tonight and there’s a photo of Lew Alcindor on the wall.

Health care reform is dead for another generation because a Senate candidate couldn’t remember who Curt Schilling pitched for

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

I’m pretty sure that David Broder will conclude this means the system works.

UPDATE [BY SL]: I believe that Massachusetts swing voters have sent a clear message, and the message is, “we already have ours, so piss off!” At any rate, if Congressional Dems want to get clobbered in the 2010 midterms and accomplish absolutely nothing, they should take Evan Bayh’s advice very seriously.

Update #2 [PC] Also, Yglesias

I hope this isn’t some sort of sign

[ 0 ] January 14, 2010 |

If you type a word into Google, it will pull up the most common searches that begin with that word. Currently, the three most common searches that begin with “Is” are (in order):

(1) Is Lady Gaga a man?

(2) Is Lady Gaga a hermaphrodite?

(3) Is the world coming to an end in 2012?

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