Battle of the Nannies


Do attempts to crack down on smoking increase obesity-related deaths as those who've quit chunk up? Quite a dilemma… if only there were some simple way of making the complex tradeoffs between health risks for millions of people. A board of experts? Supercomputers monitoring personal consumption habits? It's a puzzler.

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  1. Of course, when faced with such a question, the supercomputer would inevitably answer "42."

  2. Probably not a bad guess at my daily cigarette consumption when I'm on a tight deadline...

  3. We have become a society that spends so much time fearing death that we've forgotten to actually enjoy life.

    Dying sucks, no doubt. But we've elevated our anxiety about it to ridiculous levels.

  4. Sounds like another good argument for making cocaine legal.

  5. The nannification of society sucks. I don't smoke, but hell I love my beer and so what if I am about 15 lbs. overweight. Could you please pass me that slice of pepperoni pizza.

  6. I've got a shocking suggestion: Why not let people decide for themselves? Oh, but wait. Then we wouldn't need the nanny state.

  7. A board of experts? Supercomputers monitoring personal consumption habits? It's a puzzler.

    Don't give Matt Yglesias any ideas. It'll become law in the next administration


    Also, I must say that the trade-off that you implicitly hypothesize is probably bullshit. Here in the South, fat people are everywhere. A traditional diet consisting mostly of fried chicken and sugar water (sweet tea) is likely to blame. And with cigarettes costing ~$2 a pack--really you should visit--we've got tons and tons of smokers, too. (Yes, demand for tobacco is highly elastic.)

  8. Um, here in San Diego, we have a good number of smokers (not as many obviously, and most are lower middle class), but with cigarette stores in every other strip mall, I don't think that demand for smoking is as elastic as you think it is.

  9. Sam, I suspect life is harder to enjoy if you're 80 lbs overweight, or can't walk three blocks without resting.

  10. So know we're making decisions about what other people find enjoyable, absent any evidence but what we personally believe we would find enjoyable/unenjoyable were we to experience it?
    And driving policy from that?
    How curious...

    Shirley Knott

  11. Sam, I suspect life is harder to enjoy if you're 80 lbs overweight, or can't walk three blocks without resting.

    Hate to say it, but obviously this person is enjoying all the dinners, snacks, and TV time on the couch. It may suck when they are walking those 3 blocks or trying to get laid, but it must not be that bad to move them away from the fridge and into a gym.

  12. Who said anything about policy, Shirley?

    It's a weakness to deny factual statements because you perceive them to be inconvenient for your preferred policy outcomes. I'm pretty much a noncombatant in the "nanny state" wars; I comment only because I'm a process guy, and no good conclusion is going to be drawn from bad assumptions. Garbage in, garbage out. IBSam has a much more mature take on my post.

    Every heavy smoker I know wants to quit, tries to quit, and can't. And they cite the detriments to their enjoyment of life just as much as the long-term health effects.

  13. joe, please ease up on your narcississism and entertain the possibility that she wasn't responding to you specifically.

  14. Sam, I suspect life is harder to enjoy if you're 80 lbs overweight, or can't walk three blocks without resting.

    Um, yeah... And I suspect the same thing. But in what way is this a response to my observation about society? It's a non sequitur.

    My point is that America has developed this mindset that not dying is more important than living. That's probably a product of the times in which we live. Things are now so good, technology and human progress have made things so much better, that we have the luxury of worrying about relatively inconsequential stuff.

    It's not just health; it applies across the board, including social issues. Take race relations, for instance, where situations that might once have been chalked up as minor grievances, or just ignored altogether, are magnified into these over-the-top battles. Because we've vanquished the big concerns -- like, you know, government discrimination against blacks -- we have the time to obsess on more piddling stuff, like pretending we're offended by the word "niggardly" and so on.

    I think the same applies to health issues. Progress has put us into such a good spot that we now have the luxury of fretting over things that we'd never before have considered a big deal. Hence, fatness becomes a "disease," cigarette smoke becomes a national "crisis," etc. And amid it all, we have come to fetishize Not Dying over actually Living.

  15. Sam I Was,

    Could you calculate the correctly rational level of death aversion for me? 🙂

  16. The rational level of death aversion would be that which avoids the chronic stress responsible for heart attacks and strokes. Of course, it won't be too long before stress is officially classified as a "disease," leaving us free to sue our bosses, our spouses and those assholes who cut us off on the freeway.

    But seriously, folks (as if the above paragraph were a particularly successful piece of humor), it's not like I've made some groundbreaking observation here. Plenty of thinkers far smarter than I have noted this condition of contemporary America -- the idea that we have succumbed to an overblown phobia of death. It's like the better things keep getting, the more we're tying up our lives trying not to die.

    Sure, like any species, we're biologically driven to survive. But this is different, this near-hysterical obsession we've developed.

    That's why we hear the constant histrionics from the health nuts. That's why environmentalism has become a religion. And, most distressing for us Reason types, that's why Americans have eagerly given up fundamental freedoms for The Noble Cause of protecting us from ourselves: smoking bans, seat belt laws, drug criminalization, etc.

    We live in an age when "universal health care" is increasingly seen by our fellow citizens as a "right." I think it's safe to say the old give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death stuff is the one thing America has no problem killing off.

  17. Since this thread is about food, does anybody have any recipes for salmon steaks that they'd care to share? I'm thinking about making salmon steaks this weekend to surprise my wife when she gets home from working late.

  18. I swear, I've got to learn to start posting on threads that still have some life left in them. I've got a knack for writing lengthy posts in threads that are clearly dwindling, and watching as they sit there like big fat orphans.

    Of course, maybe I'm just a thread-destroyer. Maybe my posts just stop everything in its tracks.

  19. Thanks for the recipes. My wife will thank all of you as well, no doubt.

  20. thoreau,

    I prefer grilling salmon, but this might be what you're looking for (you'll have to adjust for two people).

    British Columbia Poached Salmon (serves 4)

    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
    2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts
    2 tablespoons drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes
    2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
    Pinch of sea salt
    Freshly ground pepper
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    1 bay leaf
    4 3-ounce salmon fillets

    Coat a large skillet with nonstick canola oil (so says the recipe ? I prefer sunflower seed oil) and cook the garlic in low heat for 30 seconds.

    Stir in the bread crumbs and pine nuts, tossing continuously for 2 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Turn off the heat.

    Stir in the tomatoes, cheese and basil. Adjust seasoning to taste with sea salt and pepper. Set aside.

    Put about 4 cups of hot water, the lemon juice and bay leaf in a large skillet and bring to a boil.

    Place the salmon fillets in the boiling water, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes, or until cooked through. (Add water if the fillets are not fully covered.) Drain.

    Transfer the fillets to four plates and spoon 1 1/2 tablespoons of the bread crumb mixture on top of each serving. Serve.

    (It?s also not in the recipe, but I would recommend John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman during dinner.)

  21. Oops, you said salmon steaks. In that case, grill those mofos, but brush lightly with oil so they don't stick.

  22. Joe, a contrasting data point -- I know heavy smokers who relish their habit, would not quit or try to quit not matter what, and are fully aware of the presumptive consequences of their choices.
    The fact that *your* personal data sample does not include such specimens does not mean they do not exist.
    And the same can be said for the "morbidly obese" and any others who fall outside statistical norms.
    One might go so far as to question whether it is even possible for there to be a group such as smokers or the obese that contains no members unwilling to persist in their current 'state', unwilling to change, unwilling to see their situation as the problem others see it as.
    The root here is that we cannot decide for others how they will feel about being in any given situation based solely on how we would feel about being in that situation. That is (a major part of) the point about the invalidity of interpersonal comparisons of utility.

    Shirley Knott

  23. thoreau,

    Heat the oven to 350-375. Turn your burner up near high, and put on a skillet with olive oil. Rub the salmon with spices - red, orange, and yellow spices mainly (garlic powder, curry, crushed red pepper, corriander, cumin, whatever you like). When the pan and oil are hot, sear one side of the salmon in the pan, turn over, and pop the pan right in the hot oven (you need to use a pan that can go in the oven). The other side of the salmon will sear against the already-hot pan, while the hot oven will bake the fish through (and the seared outside will keep it moist). I use fillets, and bake them for about 10 minutes - thicker steaks might need a little longer.

    When you take the pan out, drizzle some lemon over the salmon and give it a good shake. Careful not to touch the handle unprotected.

  24. Joe, who makes them start to smoke in the first place? No one but themselves.

  25. Well, I made the salmon last night. The store was out of salmon steaks so I used fillets instead. I used joe's cooking method and my own seasoning and marinade:

    Rub the fillets with ground ginger. Marinade 45 minutes in hot sesamee oil, soy sauce, and vinegar. Heat oven to 350. In skillet with olive oil cook fillets with pine nuts, dried ground parsley, and chopped green onions until one side is done. Flip fillets over, put skillet in oven 10 minutes.

    The fish was cooked perfectly! Ever so slightly charred on the outside, just the way we like it, and tender inside. My wife said it's the best salmon she's ever had.

    Maybe when I get tired of the whole physics thing I'll become a chef.

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