Stupid and counter-stupid

Henry Kissinger famously said about the Iran-Iraq war, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose.”  I feel kind of the same way about this column by MSNBC’s Arthur Caplan, criticizing an AMA suggestion that fat kids be put into foster care.

The underlying suggestion is horrifying.  The geniuses behind it are Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and David Ludwig,  an “obesity specialist” at the Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital, two people who have obviously never had to deal with Child Protective Services in their lives.

Is it really necessary to detail what is wrong with taking children away from parents?  To I really have to list all the ways this policy, if enacted, will inevitably go wrong?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  Anyone who has ever tried to get any government agency to do anything will instantly see that letting it steal children to raise as its own is a bad, bad idea.

So MSNBC gave University of Pennsylvania bio-ethicist Arthur Caplan the easy task of pointing out all the reasons Murtagh and Ludwig are wrong.  He does a just-barely-adequate job (you should only take kids away when death is imminent, see, and obesity is a slow killer) before launching into his preferred solution: a huge government program that raises taxes on foods Caplan doesn’t like and that forces food companies to run advertisements blaming food companies and not fat people for fat people being fat.

In summary, since Caplan admits that putting kids in foster care is a bad idea, instead he wants to put the whole country in foster care.

Seriously, what is wrong with these people?  They all have PhDs, so they can’t be total mouth-breathers, right?  Is the contradiction between believing the average person is too stupid to figure out what to eat and believing he’s smart enough to figure out how to vote (and thereby select someone to tell him what to eat) really so obscure?  Is it really so difficult to admit that some individual problems are individual’s problems and are out of the scope of the government’s authority and responsibility?

Bonus innumeracy: Caplan says there are “an estimated 2 million children with body-mass index above the 99th percentile” in the US.  By definition, that would mean there are 200 million children total (out of a population of only 300 million).  No, there about 80 million children and, necessarily, only 800,000 of them are in the top 99th percentile.  Heck, half of them are below average weight!


People you thought were dead and now are: Elizabeth Warren

Trivia question are among my favorite pastimes.  Not too long ago, I composed the following:

  1. ????
  2. Claudia Taylor
  3. Thelma Ryan
  4. Elizabeth Warren
  5. Eleanor Smith
  6. Anne Robbins
  7. Barbara Pierce
  8. ????

Fill in (1) and (8).  Either one would make the sequence incredibly obvious (at least to me, maybe it’s obvious to you anyway).

The missing names are:

1. Jacqueline Bouvier
8. Hillary Diane Rodham

They are the First Ladies from Kennedy through Bush, all of whom changed their surnames upon marriage (a common custom in the Western world) and many of whom adopted some sort of pseudonym.

I bring it up here only because they seem to be dying off in order and yesterday, Betty Ford joined the Choir Invisible. In pace resquiescat.

Politics is a dirty business but most First Ladies manage to come off as pretty good sports.  With the exception of our current Secretary of State, they mostly use their celebrity to do low-key good works, and the late Mrs. Ford was the epitome of that habit.  While she herself stayed mostly out of the public eye, she managed to turn a personal failing — an addiction to alcohol and pain killers — into a cause and then an institution.  By founding the Betty Ford Center, she kick-started the modern rehabilitation movement.

And that has been a mixed blessing.

Addiction can be a crushing burden.  An ordinary disease can only kill you.  An addiction destroys your will, makes you watch yourself willing your own death.  You might think that anything that can loosen the terrible grip is automatically a God-send.  But I don’t know.

“Rehab” has evolved from a treatment for addiction to merely a part of the addiction cycle.  It goes like this: Indulgence, then Addiction, then Decline, then Rehab, then Sobriety.  Then repeat

Rehab has become just a way station for any kind of celebrity.  Even Amy Winehouse, who famously bragged “I ain’t gonna go to rehab” eventually did — and probably will again.  Worse, it’s become a sort of moral car-wash, where any politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar or any performer who calls a heckler or paparazzo a racist name can call himself “an addict” and check into Betty Ford, then come out a few weeks later, not just sober but innocent as the day he was born.

Call me unforgiving but while addiction is a disease, your actions while addicted are not symptoms.  Alcoholism is the desire to drink, it’s not the drinking, and it’s certainly not all the stupid but enjoyable things you do when you’re drunk.  In the words of Roger Daltrey, “This is no social crisis, this is you having fun.”

I have my own questions about AA, but two aspects I unqualifiedly endorse are its insistence on the addict’s making a fearless moral inventory and its requirement he make amends.   I even recommend those step for people who aren’t addicts and it’s those steps that I think modern rehab (through no fault I’m aware of on the part of the late Mrs. Ford) has evolved to dodge.

In case you’re curious about First Lady names:

  1. Known as “Jackie” or “Jacqueline”
  2. Known by her nickname, “Lady Bird”, after her nanny said she was “purty as a ladybird” (i.e. a ladybug)
  3. Known by her nickname, “Pat”, because she was born just before St Patrick’s Day
  4. Known by her nickname, “Betty”
  5. Known by her middle name, “Rosalynn”
  6. Adopted the stage name “Nancy Davis”
  7. Known as “Barbara”
  8. Known as “Hillary” or worse

Weird stuff that happens to you in other countries: a true story

The previous post reminded me about my time in Laos and I thought I’d republish this.

The room was spartan, but large and clean and only 30,000 kip a night, about $4 US. I paid in advance, showered, and left my pack in the room to go get dinner with some friends. I came back near midnight, dead on my feet from the 20-hour bus ride and the heavy meal.

But the room smelled foul. It stank of sewage and corruption and something else. I checked the bathroom, thinking the drain had failed in some discernable way. No, the bathroom looked, and smelled, fine. I went to the lobby, but the clerk was gone and the hotel seemed deserted.

Forget it, just go to bed. Continue reading