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Sun, 25 Mar 2012

Statement on the Occupy Movement

My political site now contains a page about the Occupy movement. Participants in this movement are united by a deep concern for economic justice. I share this concern.

Here is the link to my Occupy page. The document contains links to my political writings, which should be of interest to anyone sympathetic to the Occupy movement.



posted at: 20:59 | path: /political | persistent link to this entry



Sun, 21 Feb 2010

Say It Isn't So, Mrs. Obama! The New War on Fat Children

As everyone has probably heard by now, Michelle Obama is starting a crusade against childhood obesity. This crusade is disastrously wrong. Unless it is changed or stopped, it will likely cause untold harm to children.

Kate Harding's article on the subject in Salon.com, and this letter by a group of health and nutrition professionals, tell exactly what is wrong, scientifically and socially, with Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" crusade. I don't really need to say more. Indeed, part of what I am going say here will overlap with what those authors said. However, I want to talk louder about it. Why? Because "Let's Move" isn't just wrong; it's desperately wrong.

I am not saying that the proposed health measures in "Let's Move" are all bad. Some of these ideas are good. However, as Harding clearly points out, the campaign's emphasis on "obesity" instead of on good health for all will lead to problems. My guess is that it will lead to disaster.

You cannot generalize much about heavy children. Some of them have unhealthy habits, just as some thinner children do. However, a high body weight in children is not always the result of bad habits. Some children are naturally heavier than average. It is sheer folly to assume automatically that a child's high body weight must be a matter of overeating or laziness. This assumption is especially silly when "obesity" is defined by BMI, which (as Harding points out) is an undependable measure that ignores many individual differences. [1] 

Michelle Obama, like many other Americans, needs to get used to a simple fact: some people are naturally heavier than others. Plus-sized people are not pathological cases or problem people just because of this single personal trait.

American society contains many different kinds of diversity. Thoughtful people usually respect diversity. Yet as a society, we seem to be too stupid to realize that there is such a thing as diversity of weight. Given the genetic variability of the human body, how could there fail to be a normal diversity of fat content, BMI, and weight? We seem to think that slight variations in weight are acceptable, but that any large difference on the high side is a crime.

The most disastrous problem with "Let's Move" is that it will lead to more cruelty against large-sized children. Harding points this out clearly; she recognizes that this initiative is likely to increase discrimination (including bullying) against large children. Here I'd like to go further in pointing out how monstrous the results of "Let's Move" could be. In our society, fat children suffer tremendous bullying and teasing. As a schoolchild I witnessed many vicious acts - including a child being pushed off the top of a piece of climbing equipment, and taking a long fall to the ground, for being too fat. (Who did this? His fellow kindergarteners. American children learn fat hatred at a young age.) Now imagine some kids doing an act like that or worse, and then giving the teacher the excuse that "the President's wife says kids shouldn't be fat." If "Let's Move" isn't stopped or seriously altered, such things are bound to happen.

According to a quote in Harding's article, Mrs. Obama mentioned the problems of "teasing and bullying" that large-sized children face. Doesn't Mrs. Obama realize what her crusade really will do to large-sized children? As Harding's article points out, "Let's Move" portrays large children as a problem to be eliminated, and this portrayal can contribute to prejudice. When you think about it, how could the initiative not trigger bullying? Telling the school bullies that fat kids are a problem could fan the flames of schoolyard violence beyond anything seen today.

Harding points out, correctly, that "it's not ideal" to try to stop the bullying of fat children by getting the children to change instead of by fighting the discrimination. I'd like to add that it's more than just non-ideal - it's downright evil. If we were talking about any other oppressed group besides fat people, the idea of making the people look different instead of fighting the prejudice would be condemned. Yet Mrs. Obama's approach to large-sized children plays into this bigoted mindset.

One can only guess that the First Lady has been influenced by the widespread but wrong beliefs that only thin people are normal and that fatness is a matter of bad personal behavior. In reality, high body weight has a strong genetic component, and does not always equal bad health. The fact that some thin people gain weight by overeating or being inactive does not imply that all fat people get fat that way. For many children, their natural weight is simply heavier than what the obesity warriors will accept. These children are not to blame for being "fat" - and neither are their parents.

Labeling and hounding children for their weight differences will not lead to anything positive. The fact that some fat people have been able to lose weight - usually only temporarily, or else because they are genetically cut out to be thin - does not change this. It is time to face reality: weight diversity is a part of normal life.

The list of links near the end of this article will provide some alternative ways to think about fat people. The truth is different from what you might have been told. Prejudices run deep in our society. Even doctors and nurses can have them.

The main point of Harding's article is that Mrs. Obama should campaign for good health for all, instead of against "obesity." Harding is exactly right about this. Campaigning for good health is not the same as fighting against the existence of fat children! It is immoral and cruel to start a crusade against large-sized children in the name of "health."

Michelle Obama's campaign against the bogeyman of childhood obesity is sure to backfire. Sadly, this campaign will only increase anti-fat hatred - a hatred that has roots in shallow ideals of beauty, in class prejudice, and even in racism. [2]

Mrs. Obama, for the sake of America and of human dignity, don't persecute the fat kids!

 

----------------------------

A Few Links to Read and Think About

Kate Harding's article

The letter that I mentioned early in this post

ASDAH - the professional organization that issued that letter

NAAFA - a civil rights organization for people of size

ISAA - an organization working against size discrimination

Big Fat Facts

----------------------------

 

Notes

[1] On the poorness of BMI as a measure of health, see these references:
(a) Raj Jayadev, "Muscle vs. Fitness". Metroactive. From Metro (newspaper), December 1-7, 2004. (http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/12.01.04/weight-0449.html) Accessed 2/18/2010.
(b) Richard Telford, "Measure for measure, BMI has big flaws". The Age, May 22, 2009. (http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/measure-for-measure-bmi-has-big-flaws-20090521-bh2s.html) Accessed 2/18/2010.

[2] See Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth (New York, Gotham Books, 2004), regarding the sources of anti-fat prejudice.

 

Minor update 4/28/2010



posted at: 23:30 | path: /political | persistent link to this entry



Tue, 01 Sep 2009

Study Does Not Show that Fat People Are Brain-Damaged

A recent study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping [1] suggests that obesity and overweight are statistically linked to brain degeneration in elderly people. The LiveScience news website reported these results in a way that suggests that all obese people have brain damage [2]. The LiveScience article's title, "Obese People Have 'Severe Brain Degeneration'," is enough to create this misunderstanding. Other news outlets, such as FOXNews.com [3], have reported the same story in a similar manner.

DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ ABOUT THIS STUDY!

The study does NOT prove that fat people are brain damaged.

The study does not even show that being fat causes brain degeneration in the elderly.

The study suggests there is a statistical correlation between a high body mass index (BMI) and certain kinds of brain deterioration in elderly people. This is not the same as saying that being fat causes anything. One part of the original journal paper suggests that high BMI is not likely to be the actual cause of the observed brain changes, and that something else might be causing both the high BMI and the brain changes ([1], p. 9).

Misinformation about this study is a serious matter. If the media present this study the wrong way, people might take it to mean that all fat people are brain-damaged. This misunderstanding is sure to increase the widespread hatred of fat people, and to worsen the abuse of fat children, who often suffer vicious bullying, teasing, and social rejection because of their size. Even though the study involved elderly people and not children, the idea that being fat causes brain damage plays right into the "fat kids are stupid" stereotype, which already causes great harm to children who are genetically heavier than average.

There are at least two possible ways to explain the study's results without assuming that fat causes brain damage.

One explanation, which the paper already mentions, is that something could be causing both the high BMI and the brain changes. The paper mentions "reduced exercise" as one such possible cause ([1], p. 9). If this were the real cause, then fat people who get enough exercise should be able to avoid the brain problems. (Despite the widespread belief that fat people don't exercise, in reality many fat people do exercise - and some remain fat even when they are exercising a lot. [4])

Another possible explanation is that social stress and isolation are causing the brain problems. Fat people experience serious discrimination in our society, and this discrimination can affect health. (See reference [5] for relevant information.) Few thin people can fully imagine how much teasing, bullying, loneliness, and employment discrimination many fat people go through. It's no secret that social stress has bad effects on physical and mental health. Maybe some fat people develop brain problems because of a lifetime of social stress. If this is the explanation, then discrimination, not fat, is the cause of the brain problems. We can address this cause by working to end the discrimination.

In view of these possible explanations of the study's results, THERE IS NO BASIS FOR THE BELIEF THAT ALL FAT PEOPLE ARE BRAIN-DAMAGED OR THAT BEING FAT IS A CAUSE OF BRAIN DEGENERATION.

Aside from the misleading media coverage, the study itself contains a feature that can be called into question. This is the study's use of BMI as an indicator of overweight and obesity. Although it is common to use BMI this way, BMI does not appear to be a very good measure of fatness or of poor health. (See references [5], [6] and [7] below for relevant information.)

Any scientific study is subject to future criticism by other scientists; results sometimes fade in the light of further studies. However, even if this study withstands the test of time, it does not show that fat people in general are brain-damaged.

These same warnings apply to any study that suggests that fat people of any age have brain problems. Studies of this sort do not automatically show that fat causes brain damage, or that fat people are stupid. The cautionary remarks given here might well carry over to other studies also.

-----------

Notes

[1] Cyrus A. Raji, April J. Ho, Neelroop N. Parikshak, James T. Becker, Oscar L. Lopez, Lewis H. Kuller, Xue Hua, Alex D. Leow, Arthur W. Toga, and Paul M. Thompson. "Brain Structure and Obesity". Human Brain Mapping (2009). Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/hbm.20870. Accessed 8/25/2009.

[2] "Obese People Have 'Severe Brain Degeneration'". (http://www.livescience.com/health/090825-obese-brain.html). Posted 8/25/2009. Accessed 8/29/2009.

[3] "Study: Obese People Have 'Severe Brain Degeneration'". (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,542480,00.html) Posted 8/25/2009. Accessed 8/29/2009.

[4] For relevant information, see the following article on a U.S. government website: Marcia Wood, "Health At Every Size: New Hope for Obese Americans?" (http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar06/health0306.htm) Published in Agricultural Research magazine, 3/2006. Accessed 8/29/2009. See also The Obesity Myth (reference [5] below).

[5] Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth (New York: Gotham Books, 2004).

[6] Raj Jayadev. "Muscle vs. Fitness". Metroactive. From Metro (newspaper), December 1-7, 2004. (http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/12.01.04/weight-0449.html) Accessed 8/29/2009.

[7] "Science of HAES". (http://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=21). Accessed 8/29/2009. Includes articles by Dr. Paul Ernsberger.



posted at: 11:30 | path: /political | persistent link to this entry



Wed, 24 Sep 2008

Why Libertarians Should Tolerate the Big Bailout

As readers of my political website know, I lean toward libertarianism. Libertarians usually oppose government intervention in markets. However, I think the U.S. government's impending Wall Street bailout is OK if it's done the right way.

Why would I think this?

Because the bailout would reduce, not increase, the effects of government interference in markets.

Corporations, as we know them today, are creations of governments. They are extremely powerful creations. Corporations are legal "persons" with powers and privileges that no real person can possibly have. For example, corporations can own other "persons" of their own kind, and potentially can exist forever. The special legal status of corporations is the main force that lets some companies become tremendously large and powerful.[1]

Some so-called libertarians seem to think a "free market" is a market in which corporations are allowed to run wild. This is not what real libertarianism is about! A truly free market, with only a minimum of government intervention, would not contain state-created corporations at all. A market dominated by state-created corporations is not even close to being free.

In today's world of state-created corporations, corporations have a big advantage over individuals. Workers need corporations much more desperately than corporations need workers. The corporations' extra power originally comes from the state. This extra power lets corporations grow much larger and more powerful than a truly free market would likely allow.

Today, some corporations are so large and powerful that their collapse would be a humanitarian disaster. Their failure would affect the markets in ways that could damage the lives of countless hardworking people.

Is the government justified in trying to prevent this collapse? Yes. True, a government bailout is a violation of the free market. However, the bailout is a way of correcting the effects of an earlier, and much worse, violation of the free market: the government's own creation of corporations.

The government entity that bails out the corporations need not be the same one that granted the corporate charters. There are Federal and state governments, and different departments within each of these. The point is that government power created corporations, and now government power is being used to mitigate some of the effects of that creation.

Like all modern corporations, the corporations being bailed out were not part of a free market to begin with. They were created with the help of government power. By preventing the bad effects of their collapse, the bailout would reduce the effects of government power more than it would increase those effects. Paradoxically, the bailout could make the market more like a free market.

So, should libertarians tolerate the big bailout? Yes. The bailout is a government intrusion into markets, but it will reduce the damage from a worse government intrusion that is built into our present economic system. The bailout is the lesser evil.

This toleration of the bailout comes with one warning: the bailout must be done right. It must be done in a way that prevents damage to working people, not in a way that simply lets the ultra-rich get richer.

Aside from the bailout, this same logic holds for many of the laws designed to regulate corporations. Such laws are designed to restrain corporate power that originally comes partly from the state. Viewed in this light, regulation of corporations can be a way for the state to help undo some of its own excesses.

Ideally, our society would be able to do without state-created corporations and their excess powers. This is not an impossible dream. The libertarian economist Murray Rothbard described a business structure, not backed by state power, that is like a corporation in some respects.[2] Perhaps this structure, or other arrangements, will replace the modern corporation. But unless and until this sweeping reform happens, careful government regulation of corporations will prevent a bad situation from becoming even worse.

----------

Notes

[1] On the expansion and dangers of corporate power, see especially: Ted Nace, Gangs of America (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2003), and Walter Lippmann, An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1937), pp. 13-19, 308-310.

[2] Murray N. Rothbard, Power and Market (2nd ed.; Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1977), pp. 79-80.



posted at: 23:59 | path: /political | persistent link to this entry



Sat, 06 Sep 2008

New Political Manifesto Goes Online

The left wing and the right wing are not the world's only political choices. Go beyond left and right - to the future!

For further details, read my new political statement, Manifesto of the Good Society. The document is in PDF format.

Be sure to visit the rest of my political site too.



posted at: 02:27 | path: /political | persistent link to this entry



 

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