Health of the State

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New at Reason: Kelly Jane Torrance cuts a rug at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting.

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  1. Love the Onion link!

    I just figured out a way to get some of the right wing on board with this effort:

    If cookie sales are banned, people will have to purchase their own sugar, flour, and shortening to make cookies at home. Baking cookies together is a family experience. Just last week my mother visited my wife and I (my mother lives in the Midwest, we live in California) and the 3 of us made Christmas cookies together. If this encourages families to spend more time together, the traditional family will be strengthened against ongoing assaults by those darn gays!

    Let’s face it, folks, bakeries and snack foods have destroyed a family activity. For the sake of the children and traditional values, we must declare war on snack foods!

    P.S. I hope that none of the “fat Nazis” read this, because they might take it seriously. I’d hate to be the one responsible for starting an unholy alliance between the right wing and the obesity cops. Then again, “personal responsibility” isn’t real anyway, so I guess I’m off the hook. Whew!

  2. The fat Nazis will probably get on your case for using sugar and flour.

  3. I’d be a damned sight more impressed if the fat police took a harder look at how authoritarian institutions — governmental, educational and corporate — promote obesity by forcing people into sedentary lifestyles (e.g., 60 hr/week cube dwelling) and encouraging controversial diets that make us fatter (food pyramid anyone).

    Ah — but attacking things that make us more passive goes against their agenda, doesn’t it?

  4. “personal responsibility” isn’t real anyway

    I don’t understand why anybody would take seriously any human being who can say with a straight face that it’s time to move away from the notion of personal responsibility.

    It’s not surprising though. Public health is an academic subject and I suspect the concentration was developed to help make college graduates of the intellectually void. Toss enough left-leaning professors in there and you can waste four years with aimless moralizing and squeeze out the other side with a degree that isn’t worth the paper its printed on.

    Is this what happens to old people when they become afraid that they’ve wasted their lives in some grand forest-for-the-trees sense?

  5. I need help. Somebody…anybody…PLEASE…stop me before I snack again!

  6. I bet I will hear the same tenor from many people that i heard when the smoking restrictions were passed: “Well, I don’t mind. It helps me cut back or even quit.”
    People like being told what to do. Except most of the ones reading Reason.

  7. Chuck, you have forseen the day when you are given a DWO: Driving While Obese. The sentences will be as severe as DWIs. So you’ll have to walk it off. More likely, you won’t even be allowed to get a driver’s license if your height/weight is not within some balance. Handicapped and government officials excepted.

  8. Chuck, you mean like the hour-long Peter Jennings special on how agribusiness interests get programs like farm subsidies and the food pyramid enacted in order to boost the consumption of grain? Or how the American Planning Association lobbies against sprawl-inducing zoning that prevents people from being able to walk anywhere?

    Reason editor, if you’re going to run crap like this, you should at least put those “Paid Advertisement” borders around the text like newspapers do. I’ve never had much interest in this issue one way or the other, but the dishonesty and shrill ad homenim attacks in this piece of garbage shill-fest make me want to write a big check to Nader.

    “Busybodies are looking to control one of the most basic of human functions?eating.” Um, no, they’re looking to control a highly advanced, heavily subsidized and regulated sector of global corporations engaged in the production, marketing, distribution, and sale of billions of dollars worth of product. No one’s talking about government inspections of your dinner plate, you dishonest asshole.

    And how’s this liberty-loving morsel: “CSPI?the Ralph Nader spinoff that has already ruined movie popcorn for millions of us.” Ruined, of course, by…storming theaters with armed troops? Passing laws to outlaw popcorn, on pain of torture? Uh, no, they carried out their horrible oppression by TELLING CONSUMERS ACCURATE INFORMATION AND LETTING THEM MAKE THEIR DECISIONS. If this woman doesn’t care to distinguish between peacefully making your case in the public arena and coercive measure to dictate people’s choices, why is she getting space in a libertarian website?

    No, Kelly, you’re not working off a list of poll-tested terms created to push people’s buttons. “ready to bust heads” “food fascists” “I wondered if she hoped they would ransack my hotel room” “social engineers” “nannycrats” “don’t expect these activists to be honest” “whose endgame looks a lot like circa-1982 Soviet supermarkets” And then she complains that “Attendees were well versed in obesity-epidemic rhetoric.”

    This is like the AEI mash note to SUVs you published a few weeks ago. I hope running it helps you keep the lights on.

  9. Joe-

    I’ll be the first one to criticize the entanglements between government and business that so often help business at the expense of consumers. No doubt the food pyramid of the USDA is the product of industrial lobbying, and it doesn’t take a Ph.D in economics to see the problems with farm subsidies. And the author of this article could indeed be an industry shill.

    However, I simply cannot bring myself to support regulatory efforts to combat obesity. The causes and solutions of obesity are blindingly obvious: Eat less, exercise more. Other than requiring labeling on food to indicate calorie content and whatnot (a measure that I have no objections to, even though some here undoubtedly see it as the worst form of tyranny), there’s really nothing else for the government to do. OK, the food in public schools should certainly be healthier, but other than that I don’t see any place for government action. (Yes, yes, I know, we shouldn’t have public education, but as long as we do there’s nothing wrong with making sure that the money is spent on healthy food rather than fatty food.)

    Now, it could well be that the food industry is exaggerating some of the regulatory perils it faces to distract people from non-coercive campaigns of information. (e.g. I don’t mind if an advertising and letter-writing campaign caused consumers to prefer and demand different popcorn at the movie theater.) And the conference that she went to could indeed bark louder than it bites (i.e. they may be powerless to implement their bad ideas).

    But the fast food lawsuits are really. They aren’t succeeding, yet, but the tobacco lawsuits took time to get off the ground.

    More importantly, I oppose social engineers of any sort, whether they’re right-wingers seeking to impose their notion of family values or leftists who think that government policy is a substitute for the common-sense notion “eat less, exercise more.”

  10. Joe:

    It is amazing that you have distilled farm subsidies to efforts of agribusinesses to make people fat, and not to efforts of farm state legislators who feel they can either buy off the farmer or not get elected. I am all for eliminating farm subsidies, and I’m glad to see someone on the left on board, but give me a break about the root cause.

    As for sprawl, you don’t feel the connection is even the slightest bit strained? People in inner cities must be in much better shape than people in the ‘burbs, I suppose? After all, they CAN walk everywhere, right?

    “Um, no, they’re looking to control a highly advanced, heavily subsidized and regulated sector of global corporations engaged in the production, marketing, distribution, and sale of billions of dollars worth of product. No one’s talking about government inspections of your dinner plate, you dishonest asshole.”

    False distinction. This highly advanced process results in the food on my plate. Your emphasis is on the regulation of businesses, but the effect of these regulations will be on your dinner plate. It is either delusional or dishonest to argue otherwise.

    The rhetoric is shrill, but no more shrill than Nader and the food police, or yours for that matter.

  11. TELLING CONSUMERS ACCURATE INFORMATION AND LETTING THEM MAKE THEIR DECISIONS

    Banning snack food dispensers isn’t letting them make their decisions.

    The “price controls, minimum age requirements to buy certain foods, zoning limits on the number, density, and location of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores; and even outright product bans” advocated by Edward Bolen don’t seem to indicate a concern for “LETTING THEM MAKE THEIR DECISIONS”, either.

    And in all this you’re getting away from the main point, joe: I alone determine what goes in. The opinions of nutritionists and other such salt are nice, but they can stick their public policy demands where the sun refuse’ to shine.

  12. Damn, Joe, you’re in a bad mood. Is your blood-sugar level too low?

    The problem with these food nanny groups is that they view “junk food” the way drug warriors view narcotics: they think it is absolutely impossible to consume such substances without causing problems. I am not only skinny but underweight, according to those height-weight charts, despite the fact that I consume the occasional ice-cream-cone or Snickers bar. The key word here is occasional: one bowl of ice cream a day won’t cause problems; ten bowls will. Why should I pay more for my Snickers bar, or not be allowed to buy it at all, because some Walter-Hudson-type slob can’t stop himself from consuming a dozen a day?

    But consider: even if you do buy into the assumption that fat people are helpless victims of the food industry, how do you protect them? Assign ration cards to ensure nobody consumes more than X amount of calories a day? Levy fines against those whose food tastes too good? Put scales in food stores and limit how much fat folks can purchase? “Sorry, sir, you can buy the fresh fruit and whole-grain bread, but that well-marbled steak has to go back into the case. But if you lose ten pounds we’ll let you buy the lean ground beef.”

    By the way, Joe, if you are going to criticize people for using ad hominem attacks, calling them “assholes” kind of damages your credibility. Just a suggestion!

    Now if you will excuse me, I have to go prepare a magnificently fattening lasagna for Christmas Eve. With whole-milk ricotta cheese; none of that low-fat junk.

  13. joe,

    Two words: PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!

    Every ‘liberal’ I know (or read) rails against those words as if they were Sauron himself.

    Food pyramid or not, anyone with even a whiff of initiative and personal responsibility will be able to determine a workable, healthy diet. Whether the pyramid is a subsidy based principle (bad as that is) or not, is TOTALLY irrelevant to the issue.

    If you eat (whatever) and sit on your ass until you’re as big as a house, the only person at fault is you. Period. End of story. The government isn’t to blame, the fast food industry isn’t to blame, that chocolate candy bar you inhaled at the gas station isn’t to blame. YOU ARE TO BLAME!!!!!! Don’t like being fat? Get off your fat ass and do something about it. Quit playing the victim and stop trying to pass off your problems on the rest of us.

    Not one of these ‘evil’ fast foods, etc. would exist if there wasn’t a market for them.

  14. Jason, there are other variables to control between people living in sprawly suburbs and people living in cities. The best studies show exactly what common sense tells us; that when similar cohorts living in sprawly suburbs and walkable communities are compared, the people in the walkable communties walk more.

    Farm subsides aren’t “an effort to make people fat.” They’re an effort to, as you say, buy votes from farmers (and contributions from Big Ag). But their result is to distort the food market by, for example, making corn sweeteners and oils artificially cheap, and increasing the amount of these products that get used in food manufacture, thereby making the options that people choose from less healthy.

    Regulations are already determining what food is on your plate. Torrance has not a word to say disparaging these regulations, and doesn’t even make a nod towards acknowledging that the “food police” spend considerable amounts of effort doing just that.

    rst, the example she gave was movie popcorn. No one has eliminated movie popcorn. The only thing CSPI did was test the product, and send out press releases reporting their findings, so that consumers could make more informed decisions. Torrance, in her obviously pored-over, finely-crafted essay, presents this as a reason to dislike CSPI, singling it out to demonstrate the hatefulness of the organization.

  15. “Damn, Joe, you’re in a bad mood. Is your blood-sugar level too low?”

    I’ll tell you why I’m in a bad mood; I come to this site to read principled, honest, reasonable arguments from people whose positions are different from my own, in order to sharpen my own arguments, modify my thinking by enlarging my scope of thought and information, and generally enriching myself intellectually by engaging in an honest search for the truth with conservatives/libertarians who are motivated by a genuine set of principles, not just a tendency to side with the wealthier, more powerful party in any dispute. I come here, because my experience with the site has led me to believe that the writers and editors who choose what to print are going to deal with the reader in manner more honest than is associated with television ads and “vote for John!” press releases.

    When I read corporate whoring in this space, it disappoints me.

  16. What’s funny is, only a couple years ago, this entire thread would pass as satire. How low we have sunk, and the bottom is nowhere in sight.
    Pass the ice cream.

  17. joe,

    So your solution to bad government regulation is more bad government regulation?

  18. I wasn’t talking about the popcorn, I was talking about the lawyer. The popcorn is a benign example that Torrance exaggerates into a component of the larger problem, for which it is accurate as an indicator but as a realizeable problem in and of itself, not so much.

    The lawyer, however, is a different story.

    Their core belief is flawed, that corporations are responsible for people’s obesity. If obesity was an overnight phenomenon, or even an overweekend phenomenon, there might be something credible in that position. But a reasonable human being notices the consequences of eating like a pig before that person becomes obese. If they choose to do nothing about it, and then continue on to become obese, then they have only their lack of willpower to blame. You don’t have to grab that Twinkie, fatass. You can walk a few aisles over and get some crackers instead. There is no string from your finger to the snack food aisle. Only your feeble mind leading you there.

  19. Joe,

    I’ll agree that in some cases it does seem that libertarians tend to side with the rich. But in the food case, I am soundly pro-corporation. What, exactly, are these companies doing that is wrong? Are they lying and saying that high-fat diets make people lose weight? Are they claiming that a Twinkie a day keeps the doctor away? If so, then by all means crucify the lying bastards.

    But they’re not doing this. And ever since the mid-1990s, processed foods have had to post those “nutrition information” charts on their food packages. How can any American seriously claim that if their diet makes them fat, it is not their fault? And why should certain foods be banned because some people eat too much of them?

    The only way I would even consider supporting a food ban is if a one-to-one ratio can be proven: every time a person eats this food, that person will become fat regardless of whatever else happens. But no such ratio exists; I myself eat a lot of junk food but still stay skinny, for two reasons: 1. I only eat moderate amounts of the stuff, and 2. pressing buttons on the TV remote is NOT the only exercise I get.

  20. Joe,

    Still have yet to answer the personal responsibility question?

    I beleive in personal responsibility- for example if I want to have a Twinkie I understand that I am the one responsible; to exercise to keep a healthy weight, or sit around and deal with being obese- either way I want to make the choice to eat the twinkie. mmmmm cream filling.

  21. So defending people’s freedom of choice is ‘corporate whoring’? How horrible for these evil corporations to provide me with convienent cheap food that tastes good and is easy to prepare! The horror! Something clearly needs to be done.

    Seriously though, why do you think people are too stupid to make their own choices? As a free person, I have the right to choose what I put into my body, even if you don’t agree with those choices. It’s difficult to claim coercion when, in the US at least, food producers are required to provide fairly detailed information about the nutritional content of food. If you don’t care to pay any attention to that, don’t blame other people for your obesity.

  22. In small ways, measures like this are already starting. For example:

    Last weekend, my wife and I stopped by Williams-Sonoma and purchased a few things. Among them were a set of Xmas cookie cutters, and a cookie decorating kit with sprinkles, nonpareils, decorating pens, food coloring, etc.

    I noticed when we got home, and I was entering the receipts into Quicken, that not only were we charged the regular Virginia sales tax, we were charged an additional 4% “Snack Tax” on the cookie decorating kit. Snack tax. On COOKIE DECORATIONS!

    I can only imagine what else this tax is charged on, and what the rationale is for doing it. One is almost certainly, “People eat a lot of this stuff, so taxing it means instant revenue.” But another is almost certainly, “Incentives matter, and taxing junk food means people will eat less, and thus we save them from their own bad behavior.”

    (It’s also a terribly regressive tax, for obvious reasons, as will be most any such punitive junk food tax. I thought liberals opposed regressive taxation, but whatever.)

  23. “Regulations are already determining what food is on your plate. Torrance has not a word to say disparaging these regulations, and doesn’t even make a nod towards acknowledging that the “food police” spend considerable amounts of effort doing just that.”

    If you’ve ever wondered why as a libertarian I sound more like a conservative than a liberal, it is because I am terrified by this line of reasoning. On a fundamental level, I feel that the FDA does more harm than good, but even if we agree that the government has an obligation to ensure the safety of food, but there is a world of difference between eating chicken seasoned with bacteria and eating a Twinkie. This is the same oogie feeling I get when I hear the ‘fire in a crowded theatre’ defence of, say, banning handguns.

  24. “I hope that none of the “fat Nazis” read this, because they might take it seriously”

    Henry David my friend, you must come into town from the pond more often. Back in the 1980’s when I was active in the LP (august & serious orginization that it is) we used to talk about the fact that if the drug warriors were serious about the “health effects” & “social effects” of drugs they’d go after nicotine and alcohol. Guess what, they did. And like tax collectors, once they have found a new target, they do not give up on the old ones. Never underestimate the capacity of self-righteous busy-bodies to interfere in your life.

    “magnificently fattening lasagna for Christmas Eve. With whole-milk ricotta cheese; none of that low-fat junk.”

    Jennifer, that’s the way. The whole low-fat thing is bogus anyway. The relationship between dietary fat and obesity is weak, and, in fact, it may be that some people are simply not getting enough fat to provide basic energy needs.

    Also “low-fat junk” just doesn’t have the flavor.

  25. but there is a world of difference between eating chicken seasoned with bacteria and eating a Twinkie.

    To them, Jason, there isn’t. Nor is there any difference between eating *a* Twinkie and eating ten Twinkies in one sitting. Sort of like the drug war. Alcoholics Anonymous as well. To them, moderation does not exist because like cattle, the will of a human being is subject to his appetites at all times. Perhaps any belief that a person must control themselves is considered default victimization of those who cannot or will not control themselves. As though we should stop and wait for the weakest links.

  26. joe,

    First off, you appear to be operating under the presumption that a pro-corporate viewpoint is automatically bad.

    Maybe it can be argued that the CCF is just a front for all the evil corporations that are out there just chomping at the bit for the opportunity to control and oppress the unsuspecting populace, but the way I read the article (and I reread it again prior to this missive) is as a reasonable rebuttal to the virulent anti-corporate and anti-personal responsibilty agenda of the APHA (not to mention their antagonistic attitude to anything that smacks of honest debate [yes, to be fair, that attitude exists all over the spectrum]).

    Pro corporate or not, the article in question is utterly rational in contrast to the ‘we are all victims who must be saved from ourselves, by force, if necessary’ crowd of nanny state busybodies.

  27. Joe-

    You said that you come here to sharpen your rhetorical skills, see what the other side has to say, learn from the other side, etc.

    I have to ask: Why come here, instead of a more conservative site? Yes, a lot of people here have a conservative slant (especially, but not solely, on guns, economics, and the war in Iraq). But we aren’t all that representative of conservatives (I mean, come on, we want to legalize drugs, gambling, prostitution, and some even want to legalize all immigration). From the standpoint of a left-liberal like yourself, we aren’t really that representative of the “other side”. Not to mention that even when we are conservative we’re much more philosophical than most conservatives (and that’s not always a good thing, since we can start debating how many Murray Rothbard essays can dance on the head of a pin).

    If you’re looking to sharpen your skills for confrontations with people from “the other side” that you’ll encounter in daily life, we just don’t seem like very good sparring partners. If, say, you want to run for public office as a Democrat some day, wouldn’t you be better off learning to debate against Republicans?

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy your posts a lot. I’m just curious how we got the honor of being your sparring partners instead of a more Republican-leaning bunch.

  28. i would venture that it becomes pointless after a while to rebutt charges of “poopyhead” after a while.

  29. I just love it at the grocery store when they stick a “non-fat food” label on a 5 pound bag of sugar!

    People are likely too lazy to learn or too gluttonous to remember what happens to sugar in the body when it is not used.

    We must protect them from their ignorance and outlaw sugar.

  30. RDale-

    I don’t think Joe means any pro-corporate viewpoint is bad. But he raises a good point in that the article was written by somebody from a group funded by the food industry. There is conflict of interest. Now, if she had disclosed her conflict of interest in the article then we could figure she’s being honest and laying all the cards on the table. No matter how much you agree with somebody, it’s always best to prefer sources with no conflict of interest. It’s like medicine: If a drug company tells me a drug can do x, y, and z I’ll think that’s pretty good. But I’ll want to see a study by a doctor or scientist who isn’t funded by that drug company or that drug company’s competitors, just to be sure.

    But, given that she failed to disclose a conflict of interest, how could it compromise her: Although I enjoyed the article, I don’t know if the people she railed against in the article were strawmen. It isn’t entirely clear that all 13,500 attendees at the conference were interested in this “war on food”. Although there were apparently quite a few speeches and sessions on the “war on food”, we don’t know if it was the same few dozen attendees at each session, while the other 13,000 people were at sessions on AIDS, vaccinations, flu epidemics, etc. (Insert caveat that I’m not defending government policies on AIDS, vaccinations, flue epidemics, etc., just pointing out that most people could have been there for subjects unrelated to the “war on food”.)

    Then again, maybe most of the 13,500 attendees were there for the “war on food.” But it’s a point she doesn’t make clear. It’s significant, because we don’t know whether this particular organization that she singles out really is the dangerous enemey that she makes them out to be.

    There’s a difference between this article and, say, an article on the latest fast food lawsuit, or an article on John Banzhaf’s latest anti-fat efforts, or an article on some piece of anti-fat legislation. Such articles would be specific to something actually going on. This article, however, simply presents a conspiracy of people who are supposedly going to do certain things, rather than pointing to what actually is going on. It suggests a big threat and points to what people supposedly want to do without telling us if they’re actually enjoying any success or even trying to do something other than talk about it.

  31. did she get journalist credentials as being part of a publication, like a trade rag?

    and i do wonder how’d they treat a rep from one of the fatcop groups doing the same thing at one of their conventions.

  32. “[By] making corn sweeteners and oils artificially cheap, and increasing the amount of these products that get used in food manufacture, [they are] making the options that people choose from less healthy.”

    Then poor people should be fat.
    Kenny and his family are skinny because they are poor.
    Cartman’s mom spends a lot of money on food, but Cartman is fat.

    Having a relatively non-serious column with a relatively serious message should be called satire. But I’m glad Joe made everyone feel good about being right.

  33. I can’t understand why the American life expectancy continues to rise.

  34. “When someone from a institute funded by large, subisidized corporations starts throwing around words like “fascist,” “Utopia,” “food (or whatever) police,” “social engineers,” “nannycrats,” etc., it would do you some good to look at it with a critical eye.”

    It depends on one’s expectations, I suppose. Much of the rhetorical angle of the left is to paint their position as simultaneously centrist and unclouded by ‘corporate interests’ (as though those were monolithic or are more nefarious than, say, Mott Foundation Interests).

    I am aware that these angles exist up front, and their mere presence doesn’t prevent me from looking critically at underlying claims.

    As a side note, an oddity of lefty argumentation is the idea that such and such a libertarian piece is shrill and one sided, as though I could expect Sarah Brady to tell us all the good things about private gun ownership. You are in a libertarian space, and you will get articles with a libertarian flavor, some more balanced than others.

  35. I just love it at the grocery store when they stick a “non-fat food” label on a 5 pound bag of sugar!

  36. “As a side note, an oddity of lefty argumentation is the idea that such and such a libertarian piece is shrill and one sided, as though I could expect Sarah Brady to tell us all the good things about private gun ownership. You are in a libertarian space, and you will get articles with a libertarian flavor, some more balanced than others.

    Does the fact that I’ve been reading this site since it was founded, and have only called “corporate shill” twice indicate anything to you? How about the fact that there have been, I dunno, a couple dozen articles on this same subject printed in the past month or two, and I haven’t pulled out the “dishonest propaganda” card until now?

    I come here expecting, indeed desiring, articles with a libertoid flavor. It’s why I come here. One of the things I’ve learned is that libertarian and pro-corporate are not one and the same. This was not a libertarian piece based on principled argumentation, but a piece of corporate propaganda dressed up in language carefully crafted to get people like you on board.

  37. joe:

    My point is that this particular piece of corporate propaganda speaks to a pre existing set of libertarian sensibilities, dressed up or no.

    I do respect both that you poke around here and that you are less inclined to pull out the ‘corporate shill’ card than most on the left.

  38. Joe et al.: I am perplexed by the ire directed against this site and Ms. Torrance for that article. I DO NOT CARE if the Center for Consumer Choice is funded by the food industry, because I share virtually all of its positions — if my perusal of its web site yields an accurate picture of said positions.

    Moreover, I absolutely value being informed of what speakers and notions are currently given play by the American Public Health Association. Can there be any doubt these folks are as dead serious in their jihad against food as they and their ideological bretheren have been vis-a-vis tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs? I and many others –many if not most of us libertarians — were saying long ago that food would eventually become a target of the health Nazis. That eventuality was/is the only logical consequence of the nanny-staters’ belief that “they know best” for us all, and their previous successes in imposing their preferences.

    And yes, the hysteria about movie popcorn is of a piece with other campaigns, like that about the evil weed cannabis, second-hand smoke, or so-called crack babies. Even if a campaign is not directly designed to bring about regulation/ coercion, it can and does feed a climate of coercion and lays the groundwork for rendering coercion achievable.

  39. at the very least the author pushing herself as a journalist is misleading. and it certainly wasn’t written as well as most reason pieces, which may be due to the PR nature of the story.

  40. Look at it this way, Reason: the material your staff produces is sufficiently honest, fair, and responsible that articles like this stick out like a sore thumb.

    thoreau, I don’t come here to debate Republican-type righties. They don’t generally have reasoned positions so much as prejudices, except for on economic matters, and on those issues, libertarians generally do a better job clarifying their first things, and drawing logical conclusions.

    Right wingers aren’t generally worth debating, but ultimately it comes down to “You’re unpatriotic” or “You’re going to hell,” and where are you supposed to go from there?

  41. “Joe et al.: I am perplexed by the ire directed against this site and Ms. Torrance for that article. I DO NOT CARE if the Center for Consumer Choice is funded by the food industry, because I share virtually all of its positions”

    That’s a problem, Mona. You should apply the same rigor and scruples to arguments you like as to those you oppose, and hold your own partisans to the same standards you hold your opponents.

    And the problem was not the Ms. Torrance is funded by the food industry. The problem is the words that she wrote were deliberately dishonest, misleading, and aggravating, and were written not the spirit of airing truths, but of pushing her funders interests, whether they happen to coincide with the truth or not.

  42. Joe-

    Fair enough. Glad you see us as better than Republican righties. Now, if only the voters could see that…. 😉

    As to the problems with this article: I see 2. The first is a lack of full disclosure. In and of itself it means nothing, but the failure to do so means everything else must be taken with far more skepticism. My hierarchy of skepticism is this:

    Least skeptical if the author has no conflicts of interests (that I’m aware of when reading, at least).

    More skeptical if the author declares conflicts of interests.

    Most skeptical if the author fails to declare conflicts of interests and I somehow learn of these conflicts.

    This isn’t a matter of ad hominem. I don’t believe that everything she’s saying must be false if she has conflicts of interest. I simply believe that I must filter everything more carefully. And yes, I know, everything I read must be regarded with skepticism, but in the delicate balance between an open mind and a skeptical mind, I fine-tune my balance based on the source.

    The other problem: When using my extra skepticism filters after learning of the conflict of interest (from looking at her employer’s site, which I did before noticing Joe’s complaints), she makes it seem as though this conference is ground zero for a massive campaign against fatty food. However, she doesn’t quite make all of the connections, so what’s left is more suggestion than reporting.

    For instance, she describes a lot of sessions where people clearly seem to be arming for a “war on fat.” She even says (exact quote):

    It was ground zero for planning Public Health’s “next big thing.”

    However, we don’t know who the actual participants in these sessions are. We know who the participants in the conference are:

    More than 60 percent of the full-time researchers and policymakers at state Departments of Health are APHA members. And over 13,500 members attended last month’s San Francisco meeting.

    But we don’t know whether the “war on fat” sessions were the main draw for these attendees, or if instead most attendees went to sessions on AIDS, childhood vaccinations, the annual flu season, and various other mundane matters for a conference on public health. For all we know it could be the same handful of lunatics who went to all of the sessions on food, while most people spent their time on mundane matters.

    Also, although she gave some sort of profile of the organization and conference attendees, she strung together facts that weren’t quite related. Let’s re-examine the statement

    More than 60 percent of the full-time researchers and policymakers at state Departments of Health are APHA members. And over 13,500 members attended last month’s San Francisco meeting.

    OK, but what percentage of the APHA members work at state Departments of Health? How many are academics, or employees of private hospitals and health care organizations? How many are physicians in private practice who deal with AIDS, flu season, and other subjects discussed at public health meetings? How many are activists with no power?

    More to the point, how many attendees at the sessions in question are public policy-makers, and what fraction of public policy-makers were in attendance at these sessions?

    Knowing what fraction of X belongs to Y doesn’t tell you what fraction of Y belongs to X.

    Some might say that I’m being too much of a scientist here in my critique. I don’t think so. I expect a journalist to say “This many public policy-makers participated in sessions devoted to the War on Fat”, not “This many public policy-makers belong to this organization, and a bunch of people from this organization participated in sessions for a War on Fat.” The first statement tells me something interesting. The second statement is really two facts that haven’t been linked together.

    Finally, let me re-iterate that I vehemently oppose most of the “war on fat” efforts (in the realm of public policy, not in the realm of non-coercive efforts), but I like criticisms that are based on fact, not articles that sound really bad but fail to paint an actual picture.

  43. thoreau,

    I agree with your reasoning. I still largely agree with the text of the article, also.

    Even though it wasn’t printed in a subheading disclaimer, she does state outright that she is representing the CCF in the article (and at the APHA meetings). And while I admit that she does focus only on the food nannies, and gives no attention to the rest of the meeting agendas, the desire of some of the members of the APHA to regulate food *is* the focus of the article, and so I consider that a valid framework for the article. Most of the statements she quotes from the speakers I have heard in other venues, and the accuracy of those quotes (that I can confirm) is pretty good.

    As I mentioned before, corporate shill or not, the tone of the article, in response to the ideas presented by those speakers, is reasonable, IMHO.

    Even if you take the most positive spin on the position of the APHA and the most negative spin on the CCF, I would still prefer the world that would derive from the CCF position over the one that would derive from the APHA position.

  44. RDale-

    I too probably agree with CCF’s goals more than those of the people described at the APHA conference. But I nonetheless do not like this article by the person from CCF, because she is sloppy in her reporting. A good cause deserves a good defense, not a bad one. And if the defense is not only bad but also shifty with numbers, that cause winds up with egg on its face when it deserves respect.

    If somebody from CCF wants to point to specific proposals and say “These are bad proposals”, hey, great, go for it. I’ll probably agree with them in most cases. But don’t tell us “A whole bunch of powerful people met to discuss nefarious plans! They’re part of a group that includes some influential people! They’ll soon be setting their evil schemes in gear! Help!” Especially don’t tell us this if you’re going to be sloppy with numbers.

    If you want to scare me, tell me who was actually at these sessions. In Ms. Torrance’s article, I found only the following speakers named at these sessions, and no audience members named:

    Marion Nestle (affiliation? job?)
    Margo Wootan (Center for Science in the Public Interest)
    Skip Spitzer (Pesticide Action Network )
    Kelly Brownell (Yale psychologist)
    Robert Ross (CEO, California Endowment)
    Edward Bolen (lawyer, Public Health Institute)

    These are all advocates and activists, unless I’m mistaken. They may be influential, but as far as I know they do not set policies. This distinction is important because she implied earlier in the article that a lot of policy-makers would be there. Yet she makes no mention of a policy-maker presenting these ideas at the meeting (she mentions a few policy-makers who have made such suggestions on other occasions, admittedly) nor does she even mention policy-makers in the audience voicing agreement during Q&A sessions.

    So, basically, just give us the facts, ma’am. Don’t give us images of cabals with powerful members unless you can show some of them.

  45. Tchad,

    I’m not going to debate semantic political labels with you. But if you genuinely can’t distinguish between, say, Barney Frank and the CPUSA on issues of freedom, then you need to do some reading.

  46. Joe-

    The problem is that a lot of people here can’t see the difference between Barney Frank and the Communist Party. It’s not a lack of perspective per se, rather it’s a devotion to consistency.

    You, Joe, might look at some economic policies and say “This one is good, this other one isn’t so good.” However, an uber-philosophical libertarian says “This policy is anti-market, this other policy is even more anti-market. Anybody who supports the first one obviously opposes economic freedom, so after the first one is in place he’ll continue lobbying to destroy even more economic freedom, and eventually wind up supporting the second proposal.”

    Now, this may indeed be true of elected officials (give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile), but anybody who’s actually engaged a liberal in conversation (as opposed to simply criticizing) will realize that it’s not true of your average liberal. Your average liberal believes that a certain amount of economic regulation is good, but too much economic regulation would be bad (hence the difference between Democrats and Communists). Such a person is not going to push for ever more economic regulation, but to see that requires an open mind and a sense of perspective.

    And we can’t have open minds on a site devoted to free minds and free markets! 😉

  47. Thoreau, can you go a single post without being sarcastic towards libertarians or being outright condescending and critical?

  48. Joe,

    When a man posts that he is a left winger and then claims to share no core beliefs with some of the worlds most notorious left wingers I suggest it is he who needs to do some reading.

    Thoreau,

    Devotion to consistenct indeed. It is a luxury one can afford when ones philosophical ducks are in a row.

  49. OOps….consistency….its late

  50. “So defending people’s freedom of choice is ‘corporate whoring’? How horrible for these evil corporations to provide me with convienent cheap food that tastes good and is easy to prepare! The horror! Something clearly needs to be done.”

    Freedom of choice?

    A horror indeed!

    At least it is to central planning leftists like Peter Jennings (and Joe) who are constantly trying to rationalize more govt meddling by claiming that the results of prior free choices made by people were actually engineered by the govt, hence all that nonsense about people being fat because of farm subsidies, etc – and the continual nonsense from Joe that the “sprawling” suburbs that he hates so much were the result of govt engineering that dragged people who “really” preferred urban lving kicking and screaming into living that way.

  51. So disagreeing with some ideas of left wing thinkers precludes me from being a left winger? That may be true on your side of the fence, but I don’t think you grok how the left works.

  52. Ok joe, this is the last time I’m gonna respond to this because this is not the type of discourse I’m looking for. I wish I had just let your original statement go but silly me, I tried to take you seriously so I guess I have nobody to blame but myself. Anyways……

    The question is not whether or not one can disagree with others within a given movement they claim to be a part of but whether or not you can claim to be a part of said movement while at the same time claiming to share none of that movements CORE beliefs. It seems to me it doesn’t work that way. At least it never would within a right wing movement. But that’s just me.

    As to how the left wing works, give me a break. Later.

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