Archive for the “Government Foolishness” Category

This article about cigar smokers showed up in yesterday’s online edition of  MedPage Today:

Most cigar smokers in America are smoking cheaper, unfiltered versions cigarillos and mass market cigars, a government report showed.

Among the 7% of American adults reporting smoking cigars at least sometimes, 62% said they usually smoked cigarillos or mass market cigars, Catherine G. Corey, MSPH, of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues found.

“These findings underscore the importance of public health interventions to reduce cigar smoking among U.S. adults,” Corey and colleagues argued. “Evidence-based tobacco control interventions such as increased taxes, smoke-free policies, and public education campaigns should also address non-cigarette tobacco products.”

“Regular cigar use is estimated to be responsible for approximately 9,000 premature deaths and almost 140,000 years of potential life lost annually,” according to a conservative estimate, Corey’s group noted.

Cigarillos are little cigars (think Swisher Sweets) made with tobacco filler, and from what I’ve seen, people tend to smoke them like cigarettes – one after another, sometimes even inhaling.  Bad idea. Premium cigars, on the other hand, are larger and made from rolled tobacco leaves.  Try inhaling one of those, you’d probably pass out.

When we lived in suburban neighborhoods with streets and sidewalks, I used to take long walks three or four nights per week and smoke a premium cigar while listening to a podcast or audiobook.  Now that we live in the sticks, I don’t take those late-night walks.  So I smoke maybe a couple of cigars per month, usually sitting outside at night after Chareva and the girls have gone to bed.  I’ve never smoked them indoors.

By pure coincidence, I happened to stop at a cigar shop the day before the MedPage Today article ran.  Even though this particular shop only sells premium cigars, there was a big sign (no doubt mandated by law) on the door to the humidor, warning me that according to the Surgeon General, cigars cause cancer.

Hmmm … I’ve been hearing that one for years.  I’ve had people inform me that smoking cigars doubles my risk of mouth and throat cancer.  So a couple of years ago, I looked up the actual data.  In honor of the MedPage Today article, I thought I’d dig up the data and share it.  This isn’t exactly diet-related, of course, but it illustrates how government officials have no qualms about exaggerating risks when they want to discourage us from a habit they don’t find acceptable.

The data I’m quoting here comes from something called the Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph.  I have a PDF that doesn’t specify the publisher, but from what I can find online, it was apparently produced by the National Cancer Institute.  The paper is a meta-analysis of multiple observational studies on smoking, mortality and disease.   So let’s dig in.

The risks of smoking in the paper are expressed as risk ratios.  In case you’re not familiar with what those mean, here’s the lowdown:  Suppose in a control population of non-smokers we want to use for comparison, 10% of all people end up with heart disease.  That’s what we’d consider normal, so we assign that a risk of 1.0.  Now suppose that among cigar smokers, 12% of them eventually end up with heart disease.  That’s 20% higher, so we’d say their risk ratio is 1.2.  Or we could say for every 1,000 non-smokers, 100 will end up with heart disease, while for every 1,000 cigar smokers, 120 will end up with heart disease — 20 additional cases per 1,000 cigar smokers.

Got the idea?  Good.  On to the data.

We’ll start with the big one: all-cause mortality.  Everyone dies, so I assume they’re talking about premature death.  Cigar smokers as a group have a risk ratio of 1.12.  So that looks kind of bad, doesn’t it?  (Among cigarette smokers, it’s far worse.  The premature-death risk ratio for them is 1.66.)

But who are these cigar smokers?  If it’s the people puffing away on a dozen cigarillos per day, I’d say we can partly blame the cigars, but we might also be looking at people with bad health habits in general.  Not a lot of health-conscious people make a habit of smoking Swisher Sweets.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people like me out there too — health-conscious people who smoke a premium cigar now and then.  In fact, based on the fellow cigar smokers I’ve known, I’d say most people who smoke premium cigars smoke one per day, if that.  After all, we’re talking about a $10 cigar.  Unless you have money to burn (literally), you’re not going to smoke your way through five or 10 of those per day.

The paper doesn’t distinguish between good cigars and cheap cigars, but fortunately it does split out the data by the number of cigars smoked per day, and also by age group.  And that’s where it gets interesting.

For all-cause mortality, here are the risk ratios by age group for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day:

35-49: 0.70
50-64: 1.10
65-79: 1.02
80+: 0.97

Holy smokes, Batman, look at that low risk ratio among the 35-49 age bracket!  If we saw that result in a study of whole grains, there would be headlines splashed all over the media telling us that A DAILY SERVING OF WHOLE GRAINS REDUCES RISK OF DEATH IN MIDDLE AGE BY 30%!

But we’re talking about cigars, and the Surgeon General doesn’t want us to smoke cigars, so this interesting bit of data remains in the research closet, so to speak.

I’m not suggesting cigars prevent early death, of course – and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who doesn’t already smoke cigars to start.  My guess is that people in the 35-49 age bracket who smoke a cigar or two per day are more well-to-do, and people with higher incomes tend to have better health outcomes for all kinds of reasons.  But I think we can safely say that smoking a cigar now and then isn’t killing people in that age bracket – and probably not in any age bracket.

Here are the risk ratios for lung cancer among men who smoke one or two cigars per day, divided by the age brackets available in the data tables:

50-64: 0.83
65-79: 1.27
80+: 0.66

CIGARS PREVENT LUNG CANCER IN MIDDLE AGE, OLD AGE, STUDY SHOWS

Okay, just kidding.  That spike in the 65-79 group is interesting, but again, given that cigar smokers in the other two groups have lower rates of lung cancer than non-smokers, I think we can safely say smoking a cigar per day doesn’t cause lung cancer.  The combined risk ratio for all groups, by the way, was 0.90, which means we could say that smoking cigars lowers your risk of lung cancer by 10% — which again is what we’d see in the media if we were talking about whole grains or soy milk.

Here are the risk ratios for coronary heart disease – once again, these are only for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, not people who puff away on a dozen cigarillos.

50-64: 0.72
65-79: 0.97
80+: 0.99

Another media headline you’ll never see:  A CIGAR PER DAY PREVENTS HEART DISEASE IN MIDDLE AGE

You get the idea.  But let’s look at the big one, the disease several people (including my mom) warned me about after learning I smoke an occasional cigar: cancer of the esophagus.  We’re talking about men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, and I smoke maybe two per month now, but for the sake of argument I’ll assume these risk ratios apply to me:

50-64: 1.86
65-79: 2.62

So that’s why I’ve been warned that those Macanudos are doubling my risk of throat cancer.  But as I pointed out in my Science For Smart People speech, whenever you’re presented with a relative risk, the question you want to ask yourself is: What’s the absolute difference?  In other words, how many actual extra cases of esophageal cancer are we talking about?

I found some data on esophageal cancer in another paper put out by the National Cancer Institute.  In the U.S., the incidence rate of esophageal cancer for white males is 8 per 100,000 per year. That number, of course, includes smokers of all kinds, including heavy cigarette smokers.  The NCI didn’t list the rate among non-smokers, but from what I can find elsewhere online, it appears to be around 1.5 per 100,000 per year.  Smoking 1-2 cigars per day more or less doubles that risk.

So here’s the absolute difference:  Among non-smokers, 3 in every 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  Among men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, 6 in 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  That’s one extra case of cancer per year for every 67,000 men who smoke a cigar or two per day.

I think I can live with those odds … no matter how many signs the Surgeon General tries to make me read as I walk into the humidor.

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Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Thought I’d go ahead and get that out of the way before proceeding.  You may want to do likewise.  Go ahead and bang your head on your desk (or any nearby hard surface if you’re reading this on a tablet) while you’re calm and can control the momentum.

Okay, good.

Now, let me begin this post by quickly reviewing how The Anointed react when one of their Grand Plans fails:  they never, ever blame the plan.  The plan was, of course, brilliant and should have worked … after all, it was designed by The Anointed.  So if the plan fails, it can only mean that:

  • People didn’t implement the plan correctly because they’re stupid
  • People undermined the plan because they’re evil
  • The plan didn’t go far enough

The USDA’s Grand Plan to improve the nation’s health by telling us what to eat began with the Food Pyramid – you know, base your diet on 6-11 servings per day of grains, cut way back on fats, switch to vegetable oils, etc.  Strangely, the launching of the Grand Plan coincided with a decades-long rise in rates of obesity and diabetes.  So the USDA reached the only logical conclusion:  the Food Pyramid must be too complicated.  In other words, people didn’t follow it correctly because they’re stupid.

So the USDA took pretty much exactly the same dietary advice and repackaged it as MyPlate.  Much simpler, you see, because it’s shaped like a plate.  All the stupid people have to do is put grains on the brown section of the plate marked “grains,” vegetables on the green section marked “vegetables,” etc.

The “protein” section of MyPlate is purple, which I admit might be a problem.  Stupid people could end up wandering all over the store looking for purple foods, then end up eating unpeeled eggplants for protein.  In fact, the USDA appears to have zeroed in on grocery-shopping as the weak link in the whole plan.  After all, how are you supposed to properly fill all the sections of your MyPlate at home if you didn’t buy the correct foods in the first place?

Never fear … The Anointed at the USDA have a new plan to help the stupid people fill their shopping carts with MyPlate-approved foods.  Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

Talking shopping carts, free movie tickets and supermarket cooking classes are just a few of the latest recommendations the government is proposing to trim America’s waistband.

The new proposals were detailed in an 80-page report released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is focused on the 42 million Americans receiving food stamps.

The problem isn’t that 42 million Americans are receiving food stamps, you see.  Nope, the problem is that they’re buying the wrong foods.  So we need talking shopping carts to tell them what to buy while they’re buying.  Can’t trust them to remember all that good USDA advice once they get past the greeter in the big-box store.

The new recommendations are designed to reward healthy eating and change supermarket layouts and programs to highlight more nutritional foods.

A shopping cart telling you what to buy and a reward if you comply … if you didn’t already believe The Anointed in government view people who don’t follow their advice as ignorant children, this should convince you.

‘Most Americans, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, do not purchase enough whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, and legumes, and purchase too many items with excess calories from fats and added sugars,’ the report said.

The USDA first recommends that SNAP shoppers be rewarded for their healthy food choices with movie tickets or discounts.

And if that doesn’t work, we’ll threaten them with a spanking.

So let’s see … first we have the taxpayers pony up for food stamps, then we have them pony up for movie tickets if the people on food stamps buy foods approved by The Anointed.  Meanwhile, we’re $17 trillion in debt.  Is this a great country or what?

At least by offering bribes, The Anointed have indicated that they don’t believe everyone buying the (ahem) wrong foods is stupid.  Some of them are just mildly evil — gluttonous, undisciplined, whatever you want to call it — and are therefore willing to buy vegetables and whole grains if there’s a reward in it.  So let’s give them free tickets to a movie theater.  It’s not as if they’d buy a big tub of popcorn and a Coke or anything.

These so-called ‘MyCarts’ will be color-coded and physically divided by differently healthy food groups and notify when the shopper has enough to qualify for a reward.

‘You achieved a MyCart healthy shopping basket!’ it will say.

Well, that is inspiring.  Perhaps the cart can also print out little smiley-face stickers for the shoppers to stick on their report cards.

Other recommendations detailed in the report cooking classes held in grocery stores and employees who would act as ‘ambassadors’ to explain the different rewards programs.

‘In this role, floor staff has the ability to re-direct consumer purchase towards more healthful choices by explaining the incentive or the nutrition labeling system,’ the report said.

I see.  So if an electronic nanny doesn’t convince people to buy more whole grains, we’ll go with the human touch.

The USDA hopes to implement these programs in order to ‘change the choice architecture of the food retail environment’.

Allow me to interpret that:  The Anointed don’t like the choices people are making, so now they’re considering a big, stupid, expensive program to change the “choice architecture.”

How expensive?  Glad you asked.  Here’s the headline for article:

Will grocery stores be forced to install $30,000 talking carts that help shoppers make better food choices?

Forced?  Nawww, The Anointed would never use force to implement a new “choice architecture.”  All those Americans over age 50 who are now buying expensive insurance policies that cover infertility and maternity really wanted that extra coverage.

The headline gives the impression that the MyCart carts would cost $30,000 each.  That’s not true.  The report estimates that as the average cost to each grocery store.  (And we all know how accurate government cost estimates are.)  I know that because I read some of the USDA report.  I read some of the USDA report because this Grand Plan is so absurd – even for The Anointed – I thought the article must be a joke.

Nope.  It’s real.  Like I’ve said before, it’s difficult to separate comedy from reality when The Anointed in government start cooking up Grand Plans.

Now if you’ll excuse me, one head-bang on my desk wasn’t enough.

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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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