Archive for the “Government Foolishness” Category

In his books The Vision of The Anointed and Intellectuals and Society, Thomas Sowell wrote that the intellectuals who consider themselves part The Anointed place great value on what he calls “verbal virtuosity” – i.e., the ability to explain their cockamamie ideas in a way that sounds convincing to us stupid people. The Anointed are always right, you see, so if we’re not on board with their ideas and Grand Plans, it just means we haven’t been properly educated. If our betters can only explain their ideas clearly, we’ll see the light.  Heck, we’d probably even believe those godawful-looking school lunches I featured in my previous post are nutritious.

If you have any lingering doubts that the dietary dictocrats at the USDA view most of us as ignorant yahoos who need proper educating, take a look at this page from the USDA site that offers advice to grandparents on how to help their grandchildren develop healthy eating habits. Here are some quotes:

From time to time during grandchildren’s young lives, grandparents may have the pleasure of being their caregiver. Show them how to be healthy, including how to make healthy food choices–an important way grandparents show how much they love and care about their grandchildren.

They mimic everything you do, so be a healthy role model by taking care of yourself and they will learn to value healthy habits. Use ChooseMyPlate.gov to guide your food choices and better understand the nutrition needs of young children in your life. Take your grandchildren shopping at a farmer’s market and the grocery store. Talk about the choices you are making—choosing the juicier oranges or the fresher vegetables. Help them learn cooking skills, which will benefit them throughout their lives. Encourage them to be active throughout the day.

Show your grandchild games, activity sheets and other fun ways to learn about good nutrition at MyPlate Kids’ Place. For a bedtime story, read The Two Bite Club.

Yup, the good folks at the USDA are actually encouraging grandparents to read government propaganda to their grandchildren at bedtime. Here’s the official description of The Two Bite Club:

This educational storybook, available in English and in Spanish, was developed to introduce MyPlate to young children. Parents or caregivers read the book to children and encourage them to try foods from each food group by eating just two bites, just like the characters in the story. The back of the book contains a MyPlate coloring page, a blank certificate for the Two Bite Club, fun activity pages for kids, and Tips for Growing Healthy Eaters.

Boy, I bet kids would just love having that story read to them …

“And after the boys and girls started eating their mutant semi-dwarf wheat as one-quarter of every meal, they all got healthy and lived happily ever after.”

“Oh, Grandma, what a wonderful story! Can I hear it again – after we eat some whole-wheat crackers together?”

I don’t have to express more opinions on the USDA’s laughable arrogance, because several people did so on the site. The USDA views us a bunch of ignorant yahoos, but here’s what the ignorant yahoos have to say about the USDA’s advice. (Each paragraph is from a different commenter.)

I don’t think I need the government to tell me how to treat grandkids. The government has already ruined the future of millions of grandkds by spending and creating a very “unhealthy” debt.

I love my country so much I’m not going to finish reading this. I am teaching my grandchildren to be self sufficient, and eat whatever you choose, whenever you choose, and however you choose. You see, my kids have raised my grandchildren well, and they don’t need the government to tell them how to think.

Get the HELL out of my kitchen and my family! I served overseas to protect this???

Are you also going to recommend that the members of Congress read the Constitution at night? It seems their education needs some education just like the little children.

Are you people insane? Despots and totalitarian regimes use state propaganda to direct the public. You don’t need to worry about the children who spend time with their grandparents, that’s usually a sign that they live in a good family.

QUIT SPENDING OUR GRANDKIDS’ FUTURE AWAY BY FUNDING THIS CR@P!

This one was my favorite:

This article was parallel to the information I’m looking for but not quite the thing: specifically, I need to know the government regulations for healthy and politically correct toilet training, and I need access to government resources – maybe picture books featuring people who live and work in the White House teaching racially and ethnically diverse toddlers by example how to make important, environmentally sensitive choices while learning to “go” on the “potty”.

Careful there, buddy. The trouble with parodying The Anointed is that eventually the parody becomes reality.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go feed my daughters a high-fat meal that doesn’t include any grains.  Then I’m going to mail my tax returns … after all, I wouldn’t want the government to run out of money for such wonderful education programs.

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In a couple of recent posts, including part six of Character vs. Chemistry, I wrote that the Grand Plans designed by The Anointed to battle obesity will fail because those plans are based on the belief that weight loss is about character, not chemistry.  Well, in the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to point out that not every Grand Plan imposed on us by The Anointed fails because of biochemical ignorance.  Most fail because of economic ignorance.

In fact, to believe that the typical Grand Plan proposed by The Anointed will actually work, you pretty much have to be an economic illiterate.  You have to believe, for example, that young people who already refuse to buy inexpensive health insurance will flock to buy insurance that costs three times as much if you just run some cute ads encouraging them to spend the holidays wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate and #GetTalking with their parents about insurance.  That’s how The Anointed believe it should work, so by gosh, that’s how it will work.

Which brings me another Grand Plan to battle obesity:  spending taxpayer money to make sure plenty of fruits and vegetables are available in poor neighborhoods.  That’s why so many poor people are fat, ya see … they don’t have access to the magical fruits and vegetables that guarantee weight loss.  And of course, if we just make the magical fruits and vegetables available, poor people will flock to buy them (elbowing young people flocking to buy expensive insurance out of the way in the process), eat those vegetables, and then lose weight.  That’s how The Anointed believe it should work, so by gosh, that’s how it will work.

If you’re a long-time reader, you may recall that I’ve pointed out the economic fallacies in that Grand Plan before.  Here’s what I wrote in a post three years ago:

Here’s a simple economics lesson:  businesses don’t determine what consumers will buy.  Consumer behavior determines what businesses will produce and sell.  If fast food restaurants thrive in poor neighborhoods while stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables don’t, there’s a good reason for it.  Using tax dollars to bring more fruits and vegetables to areas where people don’t buy fruits and vegetables isn’t going to reduce childhood obesity.  It’s just going to lead to a lot of rotten fruits and vegetables.

In fact, one corner-store owner in Philadelphia agreed, at the urging of The Anointed, to sell 15-cent bags of apple slices so poor kids would eat more fruit.  He ended up throwing most of them away – at a loss of $500 to his business.

Here’s what I wrote in another post two years ago:

Even if we’re talking about neighborhoods where there truly aren’t as many vegetables being sold, people get the causality backwards.  The local residents aren’t fat because they don’t have access to vegetables.  The vegetables aren’t available because people don’t buy them.

… Here’s what people like Mrs. Obama can’t seem to grasp:  if enough people in those neighborhoods wanted lettuce and fruit in their kids’ lunches, plenty of greedy capitalists would happily move in to sell them.

… No problem then.  The government’s on the job and planning a comprehensive response.  That of course means a really expensive and ultimately futile response.

Well, I guess that depends on your definition of really expensive.  Since I don’t work in the federal government, a figure of, say, $500 million sounds to me like a huge waste if some comprehensive response doesn’t work.  (I mean, geez, imagine if you spent nearly double that on a crappy web site that didn’t work and then had to go spend even more to get it fixed.)

But of course, part of what makes it so awesomely wonderful about being a member of The Anointed is that you get to spend other people’s money to institute your Grand Plans.  No need to start small to test your theory.  No need to try opening Uncle Sam’s Cheep Fruits and Veggie Stand in a few poor neighborhoods to see if people eat more vegetables and lose weight.  No need to stock some existing grocery stores with cheap fruit and track the sales.  Nope, if you’re a member of The Anointed, you may as well go whole-hog and plunk down $500 million in taxpayer dollars.

So here are the latest results:

With the obesity epidemic in full swing and millions of American living in neighborhoods where fruits and vegetables are hard to come by, the Obama administration thought it saw a solution: fund stores that will stock fresh, affordable produce in these deprived areas.

But now, three years and $500 million into the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative, there’s a problem: A study suggests it’s not working.

Adding supermarkets to areas with short supplies of fresh produce does not lead to improvements in residents’ diets or health outcomes, according to a report published Monday in the February issue of Health Affairs.

So The Anointed in government thought they saw an untapped market for fruits and vegetables that the greedy capitalists somehow missed, but it turns out they were wrong.  Boy, I’ll bet nobody saw that coming.

When a grocery store was opened in one Philadelphia food desert, 26.7 percent of residents made it their main grocery store and 51.4 percent indicated using it for any food shopping, the report found. But among the population that used the new supermarket, the researchers saw no significant improvement in BMI, fruit and vegetable intake, or perceptions of food accessibility, although there was a significant improvement in perception of accessibility to fruits and vegetables.

Well, if people perceive that they have more access to fruits and vegetables without actually buying them, that’s certainly worth $500 million … although it would have been cheaper to just run TV ads telling them that fruits and vegetables were in great supply.

The report was authored by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Penn State University’s departments of sociology, anthropology, and demography. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences with support from the Population Research Institute, although neither had a hand in the research design, collection, or analysis.

Awesome.  So we’re spending taxpayer money to study why spending taxpayer money on yet another Grand Plan didn’t work.  Is this a great country or what?

The study needs to be replicated in other neighborhoods and other parts of the United States to confirm or refute these findings, said lead researcher Steven Cummins, professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The results do, however, mirror findings in the U.K., where researchers created a similar comparison of two neighborhoods in Scotland and observed no net effect on fruit and vegetable intake.

Wow.  It’s almost as if the laws of economics apply all over the world.  But we don’t know that for sure, so we really need to spend more taxpayer money to confirm that spending taxpayer money on yet another Grand Plan didn’t work.

And if the conclusion is borne out, it would suggest that policymakers rethink the Healthy Food Financing Initiative if they want to promote healthier eating and healthier citizens.

Hmmm, let’s see if I can remember what The Anointed conclude when a Grand Plan fails … okay, it came to me:

  • The plan was good but people didn’t implement it correctly because they’re stupid.
  • The plan was undermined by people who opposed it because they’re evil.
  • The plan didn’t go far enough – we need to do same thing again only bigger.

Cummins said in an email that lawmakers ought to consider policies that will change community behavior to incorporate healthy food into everyday diets.

“These might include economic initiatives such as taxes on unhealthy foods and subsidies on healthy foods, marketing initiatives that focus on in-store promotion of healthy food, and programs that focus on skills related to buying and cooking components of a balanced diet,” Cummins said.

Yeah, what we need to do is spend even more taxpayer money trying to tell people what to eat – because it’s worked so well so far.  Then if that doesn’t work, we can spend more taxpayer money to study why spending taxpayer didn’t work.  Oh, and let’s tax the unhealthy foods too.

Anyone care to bet that The Anointed would correctly identify the “unhealthy” foods?

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Someone mentioned in comments that he read The Vision of the Anointed after I talked about it in my most recent speech and it “blew my mind” … but it’s also depressing to see The Anointed following the same pattern over and over.

Yeah, I suppose.  It’s like watching the same bad plot play out in dozens of movies.  But I still think it’s better to recognize the pattern.

In case you didn’t see that speech, here’s a quick recap of how Thomas Sowell describes The Vision of The Anointed at work:

  • The Anointed identify a problem in society
  • The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem
  • Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work
  • If possible, The Anointed will impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course)
  • The Anointed assume anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid
  • If the Grand Plan fails, The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong

I wrote six posts recently explaining why I believe losing weight (or not getting fat in the first place) is mostly about chemistry, not character.  That’s why the current Grand Plans designed by The Anointed to battle obesity are going to fail:  they’re based on the belief that losing weight is a matter of character.  Stop being a lazy glutton, get off the couch, go move around more, stop eating so much, and all will be well.  (And don’t forget your whole grains.)

One of those Grand Plans is, of course, the Let’s Move! campaign.  Just tell those kids to move more.  Get some pro jocks to encourage them to move more.  After all, we The Anointed know kids are getting fat from sitting around too much.

Except that’s not what the evidence shows.  Kids don’t get fat after they start sitting around.  They sit around after they start getting fat.  Here’s what one study concluded:

Decreased physical activity may have little to do with the recent spike in obesity rates among U.S. adolescents, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prompted by growing concern that the increase was due to decreased physical activity associated with increased TV viewing time and other sedentary behaviors, researchers examined the patterns and time trends in physical activity and sedentary behaviors among U.S. adolescents based on nationally representative data collected since 1991. The review found signs indicating that the physical activity among adolescents increased while TV viewing decreased in recent years.

And here’s what another study concluded:

Physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness rather than its cause. This reverse causality may explain why attempts to tackle childhood obesity by promoting physical activity have been largely unsuccessful.

So telling kids “Let’s Move!” to battle obesity isn’t supported by the actual evidence.  But once again, The Anointed don’t believe they should be bothered with little annoyances like evidence that a Grand Plan will work before instituting it.  If their intentions are good, then by gosh, the results will be good too.  So we have a national Let’s Move! campaign, and organizations like the NFL have been recruited to promote it.  That’s why you see those Play 60 ads during football games now.

I respect NFL players who donate their time to what they consider a good cause.  But … does anyone really believe these guys are so athletic and full of energy because they were active kids?  I’d say it’s more likely they were active kids because they were athletic and full of energy.

Chareva’s not a sports fan at all — perhaps the biggest flaw in her otherwise fine character — but once in awhile she’ll plop down next to me when I’m watching football and ask how many home runs the Titans have scored.  (Since she doesn’t know diddly about the game, I’ve explained some terminology to her:  when a player runs the ball into the end zone, it’s called a home run. When a player catches the ball in the end zone, it’s called a fly ball. When a player kicks the ball through the uprights, it called a three-point shot or a triple – take your pick.)

Anyway, after a dramatic home run, some Titans players were running around and fist-pumping and leaping into the air to chest-thump each other in the end zone, and Chareva turned to me and said, “I bet when these guys were in grade school, they were the little boys who couldn’t sit still and drove their parents and teachers crazy.”

Yup.  And I’ll bet you a year’s pay nobody had to encourage them to go play outside.  Then I’ll bet you another year’s pay nobody involved with Let’s Move! or Play 60 stopped and asked themselves: Hey, if exercise is the key to battling obesity, why are so many NFL linemen fat? Does any sane person think those guys don’t exercise enough?

That being said, Let’s Move! doesn’t annoy me all that much.  I don’t think it will accomplish anything, which makes it a waste of taxpayer money, but at least it’s not a case of The Anointed imposing a Grand Plan on us.  But school lunches are another matter.  The USDA’s “healthy” choices are being imposed on kids.

As I explained in my speech, The Anointed are so inexplicably confident that the Grand Plan will bring about The Good, they view anyone who resists having the Grand Plan imposed on them to be opposing good itself.  That’s why anyone who resists the Grand Plan must be either evil or stupid.  (As in: you only thought that inexpensive, high-deductible insurance plan we took away was a better choice than what we’re ordering you to buy now because you’re stupid and can’t spot bad insurance.)

It couldn’t be that people who oppose the Grand Plan are convinced by evidence that it’s a bad idea – The Anointed don’t come up with bad ideas.  And of course, it couldn’t simply be that people who oppose the Grand Plan believe in that silly “it’s a free country” concept and don’t want other people’s ideas imposed on them, good or bad.  Nope.  Evil or stupid are the only explanations.

I didn’t want to give actual examples in that part of my speech, so I used a generic and silly version of The Anointed imposing a Grand Plan:  mandatory bleeding in schools to release the bad humors that experts say are making kids lethargic.  Here are two of the slides:

Now let’s take the actual example of the USDA’s new “healthy” school lunches, which were mandated by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Kids are rebelling because they’re hungry.  Understandably, they don’t like the low-fat foods.  Look at how this article describes the result:

More than one million U.S. schoolchildren stopped buying school lunches during the 2012-2013 academic year, after new nutrition standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama took effect.

The stunning drop in cafeteria meals came despite annual increases in the number of children who receive free, taxpayer-subsidized lunches every weekday, the GAO report concluded.

They almost can’t give the stuff away, and parents are complaining about their kids going hungry.  So what should we conclude?  That the new lunch rules were a bad idea?  Of course not.  The Anointed don’t come up with bad ideas.  Take another look at part of the newspaper editorial I quoted in my previous post:

Yet here we are in 2014, grappling with a troubling childhood obesity epidemic but allowing children to reject nutritionally balanced fruit-and-vegetable laden lunches that are designed to be filling and healthy.  Not only are children rejecting the food outright, parents and schools are actually complaining to elected officials about the guidelines.

The conclusion from The Anointed:  those parents must be evil or stupid.  Let’s update my slides.

Like I said, it’s all very predictable.  Same old pattern, over and over.  That’s what makes books like The Vision of the Anointed so useful.  If nothing else, you learn to quickly spot The Anointed at work and can predict their next move.

The next move, as I explained in my speech, will be to blame anyone but themselves when the Grand Plan fails – which it will.  According to The Anointed, when the Grand Plan fails, it can only mean that:

  • The plan was good, but people didn’t implement it correctly because they’re stupid.
  • The plan was undermined by people who are evil.
  • The plan didn’t go far enough … in other words, we need to do the same thing again, only bigger.

So stay tuned.

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Probably didn’t see that coming if you didn’t read it at the end of my last post, eh?

Well, I’m not under any illusion that the ACA is going to do anything its creators, supporters, and apologists ever talked about or promised.  But I do believe it’s got a chance of dramatically shifting Americans back to better health via some of the most dramatic Unintended Consequences in modern economic history.

Unintended Consequences is an actual and pretty self-explanatory economic term.  Like unemployment rising among the  most vulnerable people when the minimum wage is raised, for example.  It wasn’t intended, its degree isn’t necessarily predictable, but it isn’t really a mystery once they show up.  Normally, however, they’re only some fraction of the benefit of the new policy, law, regulation, or what have you.  This whole Obamacare thing is looking to be all about Unintended Consequences.

I’m going to get to how this is going to make for a better, healthier life for you fellow Fat Heads out there, and even more so for those who aren’t, but first I’m going to have to torture you with a quick primer on insurance.  Because even if you have health coverage right now, it’s important to understand that you probably still don’t really have insurance.

What do I mean by that? Let’s consider what true insurance is. It consists of:

1) Some large, definable risk (my house could burn down) within

2) a group of people (50,000 homeowners) that can’t/don’t want to assume the sole financial risk of same, which

3) will occur with some reasonably predictable frequency (100 houses per year in x market)

4) at a reasonably predictable cost to make whole ($175,000 per house)

[3) and 4) are what Actuaries do, and they're generally incredibly good at it and make great money, kids, so stay in school and study that math!]

So we pretty much know how many times this is going to happen and how much it’s going to cost to rebuild all of those houses — $17,500,000.

The thing nobody knows is — which 175 people out of that 50,000 homeowner group is it going to happen to?  So since none of those 50,000 want to be on the hook to rebuild their $175,000 house (remember, they still have to pay off the mortgage even if the house is nothing but ashes), they all chip in (via premiums) $350 to cover the rebuilding costs, maybe another $120 for admin and overhead, another $20 or so as profit, and there you go — you sleep easy in your $175,000 house in exchange for a $490 annual premium.

How is what most Americans who do have a health insurance policy not really insurance? Here’s a couple of the most blatant distortions from what real insurance is…

Does your homeowner’s insurance cover having your lawn mowed and windows washed?  Of course not.  Those expenses don’t comprise a risk to your financial well-being,  and we know exactly who it’s going to happen to — because it’s pretty much everyone.  If people did have that coverage, it’d be expensive as hell because 1) the cost of administering all of those small transactions would drive the overhead — and your premium — up way over the value of those routine expenses; and 2) with a low deductible or say a $2 co-pay, people would use the services way more often.  But how many people are aghast at the idea of “insurance” not paying for those one or two routine doctor visits a year, or not covering the one or two bottles of pink stuff for little Johnny’s ear infections.  Even though we all know it’s going to happen — to everyone.

[That type of true medical insurance -- no-frills, high deductible plan where you cover all of the regular stuff -- makes for a very affordable premium and is what Tom had -- until the ACA made it illegal.]

Or this — think this phone call ever takes place?:

“Acme Home and Auto, may I help you?”

“Yeah, um, I want to buy an insurance policy on my house.”

“OK, sir, do you know about what your house would cost to replace?”

“About $175,000 I think.”

“Good.  About how many square feet is your house?”

“Well, right now it’s zero.”

“Excuse me, how could you have a $175,000 house with no livable space?”

“Well, it burned down last night.  Say, I’d also like a really low deductible, OK?”

Of course that’s insane.  But it’s not called insane in the health insurance debate — there it’s called a “pre-existing condition.”  We should have a dialogue in this country about how to help uninsured people who already have medical conditions, but to think it belongs in the insurance market is no less insane than the above conversation.

OK, that’s real insurance, but for the rest of this I’ll be using the term to refer to the current stuff many of us have, mostly through employers.

 

…Now, let’s see how the ACA is going to help us all start getting healthier.  One of the main ways is this — odds are pretty good that by the end of next year, you’re not going to have insurance.  I don’t mean you personally.  That would be a major setback.  I mean you and probably 50-70 million of your closest friends.  Company-provided health care will be exiting the scene in rapid and dramatic fashion, and good riddance.

It’s a major setback if it happens to a few or even a few thousands of folks, because now they’re out there naked in the market where everyone else is able to pay for all of those expensive doctors visits and specialists and prescriptions.

But when 50 million people find themselves looking for health care with only their own resources, you don’t have a disaster — you’ve just created a monstrous consumer-driven market overnight.  Fifty million people who yesterday would’ve gone to the drug store (the closest one), given the nice person behind the counter their insurance card and $15 copay, and then gone home without a thought.  Now they’ll be saying things like:

“How much does this cost?”

“It’s $10 cheaper if I drive six blocks to your competitor — can you match that?”

Magic.

Another thing that’s coming to light if you’ve followed this at all is that the Obamacare policies, besides having major increases in both premiums and deductibles (out of pocket expenses before you get a dollar covered by insurance will probably range from $4,000 for the most expensive policies up to over $12,000 for the “cheap” ones) have made drastic cutbacks in the formularies.  That’s the approved drugs that they’ll pay for or count towards deductibles.  They have to have at least one drug from each class, and that’s pretty much what you’re going to have.

Many people are going to find that even if they have insurance, they drugs that have worked for them aren’t on the list, so they’ll be out of pocket. So even more important than that conversation at the pharmacy counter, more people will be asking their doctors things like:

“Isn’t there a generic for this?”

“Why’s it so expensive?”

“Why do you want me to take a drug for the rest of my life?”

“Shouldn’t I be looking at changing my diet and habits BEFORE trying drugs, instead of the other way around?”

Or even,

“It’s costing me $120 for this visit, not counting the hour I just sat in your waiting room.  I’d like a little more than 8 minutes and a prescription.  How about you explain why you’re making these recommendations.”

Another way this reshuffles the current incentives in our system in a major way is this:

I think most Fat Heads will agree that part of America’s problem is that the commodity, Frankenfoods are just plain cheaper calories than eating good food even before all of the subsidies and price distortions that work in their favor.  So, eating crap that has disastrous long term health effects is cheaper in the short run.  Then people get cheap drugs to treat the chronic conditions they develop as a result.  First we buy you the sugar, then we buy you the insulin.  Perfect.

If people suddenly find themselves actually footing the bill for their own poor lifestyle and diet decisions, I believe it will trigger a paradigm shift in how they view their food.  Perhaps even a paradigm shift in how they view the people who have been telling them what to eat for the last couple of decades.

These things don’t have to be voted on, or spelled out for the many people who won’t be that focused.  But they’ll be listening to the people who do care, and are focused, because now it matters to them, and their positive actions will yield positive results.

It’s all about that “Wisdom of Crowds” effect that Tom is lecturing on (which his how you got stuck reading this!).

OK, you’ve suffered enough.  Tom should be back next week.  I may put up a couple of corollaries to this line of thought over the weekend, like how the continuing collapse could trigger a sudden outburst of fiscal sanity, and how to decide whether or not you should be trying to get insurance, or just wait until your house burns down and then let Obama buy you a new one.

See you in the comments!

The Older Brother

 

 

 

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Before I was a programmer, I was a software trainer for Manpower in Chicago.  In fact, I started teaching myself programming to pass the time during long stretches when the trainees were busy working away on their tutorials.  I was stuck at a desk with a PC, reading books or magazines in front of the paying customers was a no-no, so why not make use of the time?

The training consisted of step-by-step instructions that walked the trainee through the basics of working with, say, Microsoft Word or Excel.  I soon noticed that the trainees fell into one of two categories:  those who viewed the instructions as gospel that must be followed to the letter, and those who viewed the instructions as a means for learning the software.  I thought of them as process-oriented vs. goal-oriented.

The process-oriented people would drive me a little nuts sometimes.  We’d have conversations something like this:

“Excuse me, I did something wrong here.  The next step shows that I should have a table with six columns, but mine only has five.  Should I start over?”

“No, you’ve already typed all that data into the table and I’m sure you don’t want to type it again.  Do you understand how to create a table?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Then just move on.”

“But the picture in the sample shows a table with six columns.”

“That’s okay.  You probably just typed the wrong number of columns in the dialog box when you created it.  If you understand how to make a table, you can move on.”

“But mine doesn’t look like the instructions say it should.  Can I do this exercise again?”

“If you really want to, sure, go ahead.”

These people had learned what they needed to learn.  But they hadn’t followed the process to the letter and seemed to think they’d get a black mark on their permanent records if they didn’t go back and successfully complete every instruction.

By contrast, the goal-oriented trainees usually skipped past some of the instructions once they knew they’d grasped the concept.  They understood that the point of the training was to learn the software, not to be a slave to training process.

I witnessed a laughable example of the follow-the-instructions mentality when I was working as a contract programmer at Disney.  This was 1999, and most of us were busy rewriting database systems to make sure they were Y2K compliant.  We had regular meetings to ensure that we met conversion deadlines set by upper management, and some dim-bulb administrative assistant was put in charge of running the meetings and writing progress reports.

At one of those meetings, she announced that we were supposed to certify seven systems that day.   I had created one of those systems using Access 2000, which was Y2K compliant.  I demonstrated the system’s functions, showed that it would handle four-year dates, and figured that was that.  My boss (who unfortunately wasn’t also the dim bulb’s boss) nodded his approval.

Then the dim bulb explained that her Y2K process manual said we should have a document from Microsoft stating that Access 2000 is Y2K compliant.  I told her I’d already gone online and checked Microsoft’s technical specs, which stated specifically that Access 2000 is Y2K compliant.

“But we’re supposed to have a document.”

At that point, my boss jumped in.

“Tom just demonstrated that it’s Y2K compliant, and Microsoft has stated that it’s Y2K compliant.  It’s Access 2000.  They wouldn’t release software called Access 2000 that can’t handle dates starting in the year 2000.  Let’s move on.”

“But we don’t have a compliance document from Microsoft.  The manual says we should have a compliance document for the files.”

My boss sighed.

“Okay then, Tom will find out how to get a compliance document.  Let’s move on and certify the other systems.”

“We can’t do that.  We’ll have to reschedule.”

“Reschedule?  Why would we reschedule?  Everyone’s here and we have the meeting room for another hour.”

The dim bulb referred to her printed meeting agenda.

“It says here we’re going to certify the following seven systems at this meeting.  But we can’t, because we don’t have the document for Tom’s system.”

“Yes,” my boss said slowly, as if speaking to a toddler.  “So let’s certify the other six and we’ll come back to Tom’s system next time.”

The dim bulb checked her agenda again.

“But it says here we’re going to certify these seven systems.  We can’t certify one of them today, so we’ll have to cancel this meeting and reschedule when we’re ready to certify all seven of them.”

For a minute, I’d thought I’d actually see my boss (a very affable man) blow a gasket.  Instead, he pointed to her printed agenda and spoke through gritted teeth.

“Well, you see, what you have in front of you there is just some ink on a piece of paper. The goal here is to get systems certified.  There’s no reason we can’t certify the other six systems on the list and then come back to Tom’s system next time.”

“But it says here we’re supposed to certify seven systems today.”

“There are seven systems on the list because that’s how many we thought we could demonstrate in the time allotted for this meeting.  These systems have nothing to do with each other.  They just happen to be on today’s list.  So let’s certify the other six.”

The dim bulb looked confused for a moment, then sought clarification in her printed agenda.

“No, it says here we’re supposed to certify seven systems.  We can’t do that today.  We’ll have to reschedule.”

So the meeting ended with eight of us rolling our eyes and the dim-bulb satisfied she hadn’t violated the dictates of some ink on a piece of paper.

It took me about 10 minutes to find and download the document the dim bulb needed.  I forwarded it to my boss and told him I would have found it sooner, but Chareva had called me from the grocery store.  She’d gone there with a list of 12 items to purchase but discovered the store was out of one of them.  So she had no choice but to put the other 11 items back on the shelves and reschedule the shopping trip.  My boss liked that one.

So what does all this have to do with health and nutrition?

Well, I thought about the slave-to-instructions mentality when several readers sent me a link to an article about a mom in Canada who (eek!) violated government nutrition guidelines:

A Manitoba mom was slapped with a $10 fine because the lunches she packed for her kids’ lunches didn’t have any Ritz crackers.

Kristen Bartkiw sent her children Natalie and Logan to daycare with lunches of leftover roast beef, potatoes, carrots, milk, and oranges.

That sounds like a pretty decent lunch for a kid.  What could possibly be the problem?

The daycare providers evidently didn’t think the wholesome lunch fit the nutritional bill because Bartkiw was subsequently charged for the Ritz crackers that the lunches had to be ‘supplemented’ with.

According to Metro News, Manitoba laws require that daycares provide children with a nutritious meal as prescribed by the Canadian Food Guide.  That means one milk, one meat, one grain, two fruits.

Oh, dear.  Mrs. Bartkiw didn’t include a grain product in those lunches.  The Canadian Food Guide says each lunch must include a grain product, so by gosh, the rule-followers had to jump and give those kids a Ritz — because we must always obey the process, and because everything (including stupidity) sits better on a Ritz.

Let’s look at the ingredients for Ritz crackers:

Oh, yes, definitely … those are the ingredients that turn a nutritionally deficient meal into a nutrition powerhouse.

This is what I mean by confusing the goal with the process.  The goal is for kids to be healthy.  Anyone with a brain should recognize that there’s nothing about the meal Mrs. Bartkiw packed – beef, vegetables, fruit and a potato – that’s going to harm her children’s health.  And anyone with a brain should recognize that adding Ritz crackers to that meal isn’t going to make her kids any healthier.

That’s why I want governments to get out of the nutrition-advice business.  The “advice” becomes a set of rules, and then the rules must be followed.  Everyone involved becomes a slave to the process.  The original goal that the process was intended to support – helping people become healthier – ends up having nothing to do with any of it.

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I mostly avoid overtly political posts on this blog.  (Yeah, I know … you can all point to a few exceptions.)  I tried to save the straight-up political stuff for my other blog, which I’ve since let go dormant because I’m WAY busy and something had to go, at least until I wrap up some current projects.

So while I haven’t said much about Obamacare on this blog, I have expressed my opinions in other forums — most recently on Richard Nikoley’s Facebook page.  Richard decided to share some of those opinions today on his Free the Animal blog.  So if you want to see some Obamacare comments I’ve made and a little video I produced, go visit his post.

Just don’t come back here and complain about me getting political.  You were warned.

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