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Brief Follow-Up

[ 0 ] September 12, 2007 |

I don’t have time to respond to all the comments in this thread, but a couple of quick points:

  • I have learned by now that it is hopeless to expect anyone in the “aesthetic issues are moral issues” camp to ever address this point, but nonetheless I note that the key question is whether weight has a substantial effect on health as an independent variable. What is not in any dispute is that 1)vigorous exercise at least 3-4 times a week and 2)a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains have strongly beneficial health effects, whatever effect they have on what your body looks like. So what, exactly, is the added value of hectoring people about fat as a way of rationalizing one’s a priori aesthetic preferences? Particularly given the quite considerable costs of this moralizing, which are largely absent from addressing the far more important questions of exercise and diet?
  • This article is kind of the worst of both worlds. It characterizes a regulation addressing “the obesity crisis” (sic) as the government trying “to get between you and your cheeseburger.” The regulation in question: a requirement that restaurants provide calorie counts. Although more nutritional information would be better, this regulation is hardly “nanny statism” in the pejorative sense, but in fact reflects exactly the kind of regulations that governments should be passing. Creating informed consumers is perfectly reasonable, and given the incentive that restaurants have to shield information about the potentially bad health effects of their products from consumers it’s appropriate for a measure of regulation in this area. If the government stops people from buying something altogether, then we can talk about “nanny statism.”

My Kinda Town

[ 0 ] September 12, 2007 |

Light posting will continue for another couple days, as I am in Chicago to give a talk at the Northwestern Law School tomorrow. I’m staying at a lovely hotel in Evanston, which would be considerably more clever had I been aware at the time of the booking that the Northwestern Law School is, in fact, in downtown Chicago. Given the proximity of the hotel to the friends I’m seeing here and the fact that the going rate for a Motel 6 scheduled for demolition next month in the Loop is roughly $2,000 an hour, however, it works well enough anyway.

Two salient facts from the flight. The first is that JetBlue is finally flying from NYC-Chicago, sweet. The second is that my flight today (which the attendant assured me was near capacity on most flights) was barely half full. Are people actually superstitious about flying on 9/11?

JAMA Denial

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

You may remember the JAMA study which showed that the range of weight generally defined as “overweight” (as opposed to normal, underweight, or obese) was actually associated with the best health outcomes. (See the full study here.) Paul Campos has an excellent article about how the Harvard School of Public Health has, in spite of these results, continued to push claims that people should optimally be at the low end of their “normal” BMI range (108 and 129 pounds for women and men of average height, respectively.) This “flies directly in the face of the actual data.” The main techniques are mischaracterizing the JAMA study, ignoring their own results when they yield inconvenient data, and relying on their own inferior data pool. The bottom line:

Of course, one reason the Harvard claims are treated with such respect is that they tell people what they want to hear. Their claims dovetail perfectly with social prejudices that declare one can never be too rich or too thin, and with the widespread desire to believe that sickness and death can be avoided if one follows the rules laid down by the appropriate authority figures. Combine these factors with the social cachet wielded by the Harvard name, a willingness to make brazen assertions that run from serious exaggerations to outright lies, and lazy journalism of the “some say the Earth is flat; others claim it’s round; the truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle” type, of which the Scientific American article is only the most recent example, and you have a recipe for an epidemic of wildly misleading statements dressed up in the guise of authoritative scientific discourse.

The conflation of health and weight is about aesthetics and class, not health.

Indefensible Corn Subsidies: This Time It’s Personal

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Apparently, among the many other bad side effects, the massive amount of corn being grown is pushing up the price of other commodities. For example, “Heineken, the brewery giant, said beer prices might have to be raised because so many crops are being planted and diverted to bio-fuel production that the supply of barley and hops is being reduced.”

My question: what the hell does the price of hops matter to Heineken? It’s almost as crazy as saying that the price of dairy products would affect the price of a McDonald’s shake…

Bribery Will Get You (Almost) Everywhere

[ 0 ] September 11, 2007 |

Many thanks to our regular reader Howard for favoring me with some hot jazz selections from my wish list: namely, Abbey Sings Abbey and Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian. Many thanks! Indeed, I’m so grateful I’ll even say something nice about Howard’s beloved Yankees:

OK, not really, but you can see what I’m driving at. However, if a Republican wants to buy me something to say nice about Sam Alito — hey, I’ll betray my principles up to a point!


[ 1 ] September 10, 2007 |

Attaturk notices the most salient aspect of yesterday’s Tom Friedman joint. If you actually needed a war to figure out the staggeringly obvious fact that the utter lack of the civil-society institutions might be extremely important to whether a state riven by sectarian conflict is a good candidate for democratic transition…you really shouldn’t be allowed to write about foreign affairs for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, let alone the New York Times.

A GOP Clark?

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

As with Publius, it’s occurred to me looking at the less-than-rapturous reception to Fred Thompson in some of the blogosphere’s conservative precincts that there are may be a loose parallel between Clark’s campaign in ’04 and Thompson in ’08. The surprising early decline in support for the war created an obvious structural problem for the Dems in the last primary campaign: the best strategy was probably to make a strong case that the Iraq War was a counterproductive strategy that undermined national security and the struggle with terrorism. but a candidate that supported the war initially would be fatally compromised in trying to make this case and there was good reason to believe that although he had the right position Howard Dean probably wasn’t the ideal candidate to make the case. Clark — a Southern four-star general who had the right position on the war — seemed right on paper to address this, but his amateur-night campaign made that inoperative. (The great unanswered question is whether Clark had few innate political skills or whether he was just too green. I frankly lean towards the former; the very fact of his bizarrely late entry and decision to skip Iowa when running against two New Englanders doesn’t suggest a political mastermind.) Thompson, similarly, fills an obvious structural void: a plain vanilla Southern conservative acceptable to both pro-business conservatives and their cultural reactionary junior partners. But while unlike Clark he’s run a successful campaign (although getting elected as a Republican in Tennessee isn’t exactly rocket science), I strongly suspect that his good-on-paper candidacy will prove less effective in practice.

Of course, if this turns out to be true, the structural void is still there: somebody who would be disqualified by some factor in a normal year has to win by default. One implication of this is that –while I still don’t think he will win — my categorical assertions that Giulani has no chance are probably mistaken. Part of me is even tempted to say that even McCain could pull off a miracle Kerryesque comeback, although the fact that Steve Hayes and David Broder see it coming means that it’s probably safe to keep writing it off. If it’s not Romney, I still think that Huckabee may be able to appease the business wing of the party enough to be the next most likely nominee.

St. Pedro Day

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

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Went to the Mets game yesterday courtesy of the great Roy Edroso and his lovely and gifted significant other. And the spirit of 1994 lived, as Pedro pitched five shutout innings and Moises Alou homered. Even more than before, Pedro isn’t going to throw a lot of innings; he has to nibble enough that batters will work some deep counts, and though his pitch count will be stretched a bit he’s a 6 inning pitcher at best now. But he’s still beautiful to watch, gutting it out without his A stuff and outsmarting hitters. (And he somehow hit a double.) Moises is unbelievable in his own right; he’s injury prone and 41, and yet he’s almost as good a hitter now as he’s ever been. (The last time he had an OPS+ significantly under his career total was ’03.) And I still can’t figure out how he hits out of that stance…

We were discussing that Shea is one demolition that nobody can lament; it’s a Robert Moses project that combines the charm of the 70s toilet bowl stadiums with the amenities of the relics. One thing I will miss, though, is the large capacity, which the new stadium (like most of the new ones) won’t have. One great thing about baseball is that outside of a few markets like contemporary Boston there are generally many games one could go to on a whim for a reasonable price, as we did this week: Pedro’s Shea debut, Sunday, let’s go! At the new park, though, one will have to split a season ticket or plan out purchases in advance, which isn’t as much fun.

The Horror of a Giuliani Presidency, Summarized

[ 0 ] September 10, 2007 |

I think this is sufficient: “Podhoretz, remember, is advising Rudy on foreign policy.” If that doesn’t make a Rudy! presidency scare the living piss out of you, I’m not sure what will. (cf. also here, here. And here.)

Force To Be Free?

[ 0 ] September 9, 2007 |

The Quebec government requires everyone to vote with their faces uncovered, even if they have religious reasons for not doing so. Elections Canada has issued a ruling permitting women to vote with their faces covered in federal byelections in Quebec, although the rule will still apply in provincial elections. On balance, I would side with the federal government and zuzu over The Liberal Avenger on this issue:

  • I don’t believe that, at least on their face, Quebec’s actions should be held to violate the guarantee of religious freedom in Section 2 a) of the Charter. Over the years I’ve become more convinced that Scalia’s broadly criticized opinion in Oregon v. Smith was correct; unless a regulation is just a pretext for religious discrimination, fairly applied general regulations representing a legitimate state interest can burden the exercise of religion.
  • Even if the Quebec government can do it, however, we need to ask whether it should. Absent a showing that facial covering was being used to a significant extent to commit voter fraud, I cannot agree that this regulation is remotely justifiable. The state should accommodate minority religions absent a good reason not to do so.
  • Although I certainly agree that “multiculturalism and tolerance should not serve as a pretext for denying gender equality,” to think that this prohibition on ornamental choices advances gender equality in any significant way is silly. I certainly agree that “multiculturalism” cannot justify domestic violence, coerced genital mutilation, denying emergency contraception (although, oddly, that last form of multicultural exemption seems to get brought up a lot less when conservatives gin up these largely phony dilemmas), etc. But people are fooling themselves if they think that forcing Muslim women to vote with their faces uncovered does anything for gender equality. In cases where Muslim women in relatively egalitarian relationships with men are forced not to be covered, the regulation represents a diminution of women’s freedom. In cases where women are coerced in some way to wear facial covering to symbolize their subordinate status, the gain to women’s freedom of compelling them to remove their facial covering every few years to vote are trivial. The law is simply too crude an instrument to effectively distinguish between these cases, and it is obvious that similar regulations would not (and should not) be applied to women from the majority group. Non-Muslim women, as we know, also feel compelled to engage in any number of burdensome and expensive fashion practices that most men do not. Before they are permitted to vote, would the Quebec government force women to abandon makeup, wear flats, and meet a minimum pubic hair quota? Obviously not; that would be ridiculous. Why it’s any less ridiculous when applied to Muslim women I can’t tell you.

No! We Were Owed the Comedy…

[ 0 ] September 8, 2007 |

The most risibly frivolous lawsuit since Bill O’Reilly’s attempt to prevent AL Franken from using the term “fair and balanced” has been dropped. Too bad; the judicial opinion dismissing the case could have been funny…

Fraud Caucus Down A Man

[ 0 ] September 8, 2007 |

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Oh. Goody.

Hagel’s out. One the one hand, this means an open seat for the GOP to defend. On the other hand, “Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, president of the New School University in New York City, has voiced interest in returning to the Senate.” I guess if only for counting purposes virtually any Democrat is better, and it’s not like Kerrey’s straightforward demagogic support of perpetual war in Iraq is substantively different than Hagel’s nominal, never-applied ambivalence, but gad do I not want Bob Kerrey back again. Any of our midwestern correspondents know anything about Mike Fahey?

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