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Today in Hobbyhorses

[ 0 ] January 3, 2007 |

Via Ezra, I see that Paul Campos’ terrific article (which I’ve tried to link to before) has been taken out from behind the subscriber wall by TNR in time for New Year’s Resolution time. As he argues, if you’re interested in health, make a resolution to exercise regularly and eat a nutritious diet, not to lose weight:

Perhaps America’s most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. This week, as we push ourselves away from the increasingly guilty pleasures of the holiday table, we will be bombarded with ads imploring us to slim down with the help of health club memberships, exercise equipment, or the latest miracle diet. Yet, however common it may be, the resolution to lose weight appears to be a particularly ineffective one: The latest figures indicate that 65 percent of the adult population–more than 135 million Americans–is either “overweight” or “obese.” And government officials are increasingly eager to declare America’s burgeoning waistline the nation’s number-one public health problem. The Surgeon General’s recent Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity labels being fat an “epidemic” that kills upward of 300,000 Americans per year.

Such declarations lend our obsession with being thin a respectable medical justification. But are they accurate? A careful survey of medical literature reveals that the conventional wisdom about the health risks of fat is a grotesque distortion of a far more complicated story. Indeed, subject to exceptions for the most extreme cases, it’s not at all clear that being overweight is an independent health risk of any kind, let alone something that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. While having a sedentary lifestyle or a lousy diet–both factors, of course, that can contribute to being overweight–do pose health risks, there’s virtually no evidence that being fat, in and of itself, is at all bad for you. In other words, while lifestyle is a good predictor of health, weight isn’t: A moderately active fat person is likely to be far healthier than someone who is svelte but sedentary. What’s worse, Americans’ (largely unsuccessful) efforts to make themselves thin through dieting and supplements are themselves a major cause of the ill health associated with being overweight–meaning that America’s war on fat is actually helping cause the very disease it is supposed to cure.

As Ezra notes, Campos also makes the obvious point that the conflation of “fat” and “unhealthy” is an ex post facto rationalization of aesthetic prejudices; it’s got nothing to do with actual evidence. (Needless to say, someone comes along in comments to bring up the Type 2 Diabetes argument.) His book is worth reading too, but the article is a useful summary.

Kaus and Countermobilization

[ 0 ] January 2, 2007 |

In case you’re in the mood for more, I have a post at TAPPED on the subject. Longtime readers will particularly enjoy the fact that Plano, which last year Kaus was using as anecdotal evidence that even the most liberal elitist communities shared recoiled (just like him) from Brokeback Mountain, is now serving as anecdotal evidence that even the most reactionary communities are motivated by a particular set of crackpot beliefs which requires us to accept the contrarian antiliberalism that Kaus brings to every issue.

Racist Scumbag of the Day

[ 0 ] January 2, 2007 |

Virgil Goode.

The Only Year-End Quiz That Matters

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

Roger has it.

Bad Faith

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

Winner of the Bildungsroman Award for Best Coming of Age Matt Yglesias makes a simple but nonetheless not often enough made point here:

The saddest thing about the 3,000th American death in Iraq is that unlike the first batch of casualties, people getting killed or maimed in Iraq these days are really doing so in the course of a bad faith military option. Iraq Year One was a fiasco, but it was a genuine mistake. Since then, and certainly these days, we’re passed all that. Nobody genuinely believes that they (or anyone else) has an Iraq policy that offers any kind of reasonable prospects for success.

Sending young men and women to die based on a policy error is at least forgivable. Sending them to die to preserve people’s egos is quite another matter. (Or, if you’re enough of a psychopath, you can make a horrible, visibly specious attempt to minimize these pointless deaths by comparing them to homicide deaths for the population as a whole.)

…UPDATE: I agree with eRobin and others in comments that it’s more complicated because of the amount of bad faith inherent in selling the war. Still, I can at least imagine someone (although very misguidedly) in 2003 thinking the war might accomplish something.

We Can’t Afford Not To Have Universal Healthcare

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

To follow up on Atrios and Ezra, let me carry the stats in this Times article one step further. Let’s use their figures to extrapolate government health care spending per capita:

United States $2745
France $2464
Canada $2215

Again, our system doesn’t just spend far more money than France’s much better system and Canada’s heavily flawed but still better system, but more government money. And as Krugman says today:

Part of the answer is that our fragmented system has much higher administrative costs than the straightforward government insurance systems prevalent in the rest of the advanced world. As Anna Bernasek pointed out in yesterday’s New York Times, besides the overhead of private insurance companies, “there’s an enormous amount of paperwork required of American doctors and hospitals that simply doesn’t exist in countries like Canada or Britain.”

In addition, insurers often refuse to pay for preventive care, even though such care saves a lot of money in the long run, because those long-run savings won’t necessarily redound to their benefit. And the fragmentation of the American system explains why we lag far behind other nations in the use of electronic medical records, which both reduce costs and save lives by preventing many medical errors.

The truth is that we can afford to cover the uninsured. What we can’t afford is to keep going without a universal health care system.

The truth to be gleaned from the fact that private insurance companies are willing to spend truckloads of money to ensure that they only insure the healthiest people is not that Corporations Are Evil per se–they’re just acting rationally. Rather, the moral of the story is that while markets are valuable tools for many things they’re horribly inefficient and grossly inequitable means of delivering health care, and having to fill in the gaps with such things as excessive use of emergency rooms also leads to more government spending than is necessary unless we’re just willing to let uninsured people die the the streets. Until people figure this out, Americans will continue to spend far too much money for far too little.

[Cross-posted to TAPPED.]

…see also Echidne and Stoller.

Happy Irrational New Year!

[ 0 ] January 1, 2007 |

I really try to be optimistic about things early in the year, and then I see that the Calgary Herald today features eight bloody pages of horoscopes. Weren’t there at least some sightings of the virgin Mary in refrigerator mold they could have thrown in for some variety?

But, in a world where the defenders of a horrible war argue that “Iraq is a far better place, if only for the moment potentially,” “Capturing Bin Laden is a success that hasn’t occurred yet,” and that Democrats are to blame for the war…it seems sadly appropriate.

New Frontiers in Authoritarian Gibberish

[ 0 ] December 30, 2006 |

Following up on Josh Marshall’s take, Jim Henley notes:

And it’s also true that the US and its Iraqi allies chose to try Saddam on one of his relatively minor crimes because if they did so they could get him safely hung before they had to try him for the major ones, the gas attacks and massacres that happened during The Years of Playing Footsie with the United States. The Dujail reprisals were a war crime, no doubt about it, a bigger sham of justice than Saddam’s own trial, by two orders of magnitude. They were also the sort of war crime that people like Ralph Peters and a hundred other pundits and parapundits think the United States should be committing. Every time you read a complaint about “politically correct rules of engagement” you are reading someone who would applaud a Dujail-level slaughter if only we were to perpetrate it. Those are the people who are happiest of all about tonight’s execution. Smells like – victory! It’s the pomander they don against the stench.

And, as if on cue, Jeff Goldstein shows up to claim that the fact we haven’t stopped sectarian violence is “the fault of a military strategy that has been too introspective and politically circumspect.” If only we had learned more from Hussein before he was executed! This is followed up by his familiar stab-in-the-back routine–apparently Iraq would look like Belgium if only the United States were a little less democratic and showed a little more uncritical reverence for a failed President’s catastrophic policies–but my very favorite part has to be this:

Let them, for one brief moment, bracket their partisan aggressions and reflect on what the US and its allies have done in removing this butcher from power—which, contrary to received wisdom, has made Iraq a far better place, if only for the moment potentially.

And as the year ends, I will reflect on and celebrate the fact that I made a trillion dollars this year, if only for the moment potentially.

Hatchet Jobs: "The Worst Kind of Middlebrow Horsehit" Edition

[ 0 ] December 29, 2006 |

What better way to spend a slow blogging season than by posting some favorite hatchet jobs? In comments to yesterday’s post, many people are bringing up Matt Taibbi’s classic review of The World Consists of Cabdrivers Who Repeat the Same DLC Cliches I’ve Written Many Times, and what better place to start:

The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I’ll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here’s what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It’s not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It’s that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it’s absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that’s guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

It’s pretty much all that good.

Sebelius Watch

[ 0 ] December 29, 2006 |

Again, I say: Sebelius for VP!

[Link Fixed.]

Some New Entries: Althouse Edition

[ 0 ] December 28, 2006 |

As noted by many commenters, the inevitable meltdown as Althouse refuses to acknowledge the plain meaning of her remarks or suggest another coherent one has occurred [no link because she not only refuses to link to anybody she's dishonestly criticizing but whines endlessly when Andrew Sullivan links to her only through third parties]:

So many people — in the comments and on other blogs — are attributing things to me that I did not write here. Reading with comprehension has, apparently, become optional. Amusingly, the blundering blowhards out there keep calling me and [sic] idiot. Mirrors are in short supply these days.

Look, it’s very simple–you talked about the Iraq Death Toll equaling that of 9/11, and then ask how many people would have died in future attacks had we not “fought back.” The only plausible reading of this sequence of sentences is that Iraq constituted “fighting back” against 9/11. Given the farcical nature of this claim, I can understand why she wants to disown it, but it’s what she said. Which is why, of course, she refuses to identify any of the specific “misreadings” she alleges in general, or to explain what she did mean when she wrote something that didn’t explain what she meant (and why her defenders argue that Iraq was too connected to 9/11.)

Anyway, although the comments are the predictable treasure trove of new variants of “flypaper theory,” enough. I know discussing Althouse by definition requires belaboring the obvious, but this episode seems particularly depressing. Instead, let’s coin some new terms for the Wingnut Debate Dictionary:

The Althouse Defense Initiative (ADI): All incoming substantive critiques of ridiculous arguments are deflected by claims that the critics lack “reading comprehension skills,” without any explanation of why the critics were misreading the post or any substantive rebuttal to the critics’ arguments.

Althouse Apathy Aggrandizement (AAA): Wearied claims by complacent, affluent, moderate reactionaries that nothing is more vulgar that people who actually care about politics, perhaps even going so far as to become minimally informed about them before pontificating about them on vanity websites.

Project Runway Politics (PRP): A political philosophy that holds the fashion choices of various political enemies as being of greater importance than the merits of substantive issues that the blogger often nominally pretends to care about. [See also: Mickey Kaus, passim.]

Better wordings, titles, or entries welcome…

Hatchet Jobs Against Worthy Targets: First in a Hopefully Extensive Series

[ 0 ] December 28, 2006 |

Apropos of nothing, I would like to note that this John Leland [thanks to commenter for the typo correction] review of some compilation of the unread profit-taking by famous authors and unfunny dirty jokes from the pages of Playboy has some excellent lines:

In the first issue of Playboy magazine, published in December 1953, Hugh M. Hefner wrote an essay speaking for its envisioned readers: “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” On first blush his commercial strategy here seemed straightforward: Men who make a habit of inviting female acquaintances in to talk Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz and sex will have a lot of free nights for reading Playboy magazine.


With its ribald jokes and cartoons, airbrushed “pictorials” and prose selections from America’s best-paid writers — all wrapped up into a glossy connoisseurship that Mr. Hefner called the “Playboy Philosophy” — the magazine can be seen as a mad plot: to create a race of men more boring and insecure than any before.


In the 1950s and 1960s Cavalier, Nugget, Escapade and other euphemistically dubbed “men’s magazines” published some of the most adventurous new writing in the United States, jump-starting or sustaining the careers of Mario Puzo, Bruce Jay Friedman, Terry Southern, Jack Kerouac and others. The magazines could risk a little raunch, so they were in the right place for the earthier fiction emerging from the margins. The writers collected in “The New Bedside Playboy,” by contrast, are established brand names, apparently selling from the back of their files. One thing about the Playboy mystique: the paychecks were real. And it is good to know there is still a remunerative home for an Ian Fleming story that begins, “The stingray was about six feet from wing tip to wing tip and perhaps 10 feet long from the blunt wedge of its nose to the end of its deadly tail,”


Was there really a time when swingers imagined themselves in silk jammies chatting about Nabokov and Brubeck and the latest Cognac? No doubt. Ring-a-ding-ding. The right literary reference, the right hi-fi gear, and voilà: the freedom to go home alone, unswung, to a bit of light fiction, corny jokes and an airbrush that liberated the white-collar male from the uncomfortable burden of human curiosity.

I have nothing against Heidi Julavits in general, but is appropriate snark in reviews is wrong, I don’t want to be right. (And apparently serious attempts to elucidate the “Playboy Philosophy”… it doesn’t get much more appropriate than that.)